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Friday’s Red Sox-Rays matchups: Anthony Ranaudo vs. Chris Archer

08.29.14 at 10:42 am ET
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Chris Archer

Chris Archer

With the Red Sox and Rays holding firm in the bottom two spots in the American League East, Friday’s game in St. Petersburg, Florida, holds little importance in terms of postseason implications. However, with Chris Archer on the mound for Tampa — opposite young Sox hurler Anthony Ranaudo — there could be some intensity to the series opener.

When Archer (8-6, 3.09 ERA) last faced the Sox on July 27, he surrendered a three-run home run to David Ortiz and lost the game 3-2. Afterward, Archer echoed then-teammate David Price‘s assertion that Ortiz “feels like he’s bigger than the game” because the slugger “pimped a home run off me.”

Ortiz, who is 5-for-12 against Archer, said the 25-year-old is “not the right guy to be saying that. I don’t think, you know, you’ve got two days in the league, you can’t be just [whining] and complaining about [expletive] like that.”

Archer has struggled again the Sox, going 1-3 with a 4.75 ERA in six career starts, but he’s pitched well of late. When he held the Blue Jays to one run over seven innings in his last outing Sunday, it was his eighth quality start in 10 appearances. He has a 1.40 ERA and 30 strikeouts over his last four appearances, encompassing 25 2/3 innings.

Ranaudo (2-0, 4.50) will be called up from Triple-A to pitch in Friday’s game. The 24-year-old last pitched in the majors Aug. 13, allowing four runs in six innings to the Reds.

On Tuesday Ranaudo was named the International League‘s Most Valuable Player. He is 14-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 24 starts for Pawtucket.

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Red Sox minor league roundup: Brian Johnson, Pitcher of the Year; Michael Chavis making his mark in GCL

08.29.14 at 9:46 am ET
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Left-hander Brian Johnson wrapped up his regular season with a 1.75 ERA in Double-A Portland. (365DigitalPhotography.com / Portland Sea Dogs)

Left-hander Brian Johnson wrapped up his regular season with a 1.75 ERA in Double-A Portland. (365DigitalPhotography.com / Portland Sea Dogs)

Left-hander Brian Johnson, in a five-inning tuneup outing for Double-A Portland before the start of the playoffs, was once again dominant, tossing five shutout innings in which he allowed two hits (both singles), didn’t walk anyone, struck out a batter and elicited 10 groundball outs. He retired 13 straight at one point.

The outing represented a continuation of a completely dominant five weeks. In his last six starts, Johnson has four outings of two or fewer hits allowed (three in which he’s given up just one hit) with a 0.67 ERA, 37 strikeouts, 10 walks and a staggering .093 batting average against.

Of course, those totals didn’t even represent that drastic a departure from the season for a pitcher whose 1.75 ERA is far and away the best in the Eastern League (the second-best mark is 2.55, with Eastern League Pitcher of the Year Henry Owens ranking third with a 2.60 mark).

Between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, Johnson went 13-3 with a 2.13 ERA, 8.3 strikeouts and 2.4 walks per nine innings. Perhaps more significantly, he’s logged 143 2/3 innings, up 69 percent from the 85 frames he was able to pitch in 2013 when he missed roughly two months with shoulder tendinitis, following an offseason where he couldn’t have a normal offseason conditioning program while rehabbing from a line drive off the face that prevented him from eating solids for months and from being able to work out for much of the winter.

But with a healthy winter this past offseason, the 23-year-old looked like the pitcher whom the Red Sox hoped to see when they drafted him in the first round in 2012. With health, he showed a consistent delivery that permitted him to thrive based on his feel for pitching and precise execution that was second to none in the organization. His changeup made considerable strides, to the point where he had a fairly complete mix (fastball, curve, change, sometimes a cutter/slider) that permitted him to attack every part of the strike zone, with dazzling results.

In his last 22 starts of the year between Salem and Portland, he permitted more than two earned runs just once. While Owens was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year and Anthony Ranaudo was named the International League Pitcher of the Year, Johnson had the best season of any pitcher in the Red Sox organization. He is WEEI.com’s 2014 Red Sox Pitching Prospect of the Year.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Johnson will join Down on the Farm on Sunday morning from 8:30-9 a.m. to take stock of his 2014 season. The program will also feature an interview with the Red Sox Prospect Player of the Year.

A brief look at rest of the action in the Red Sox farm system on Thursday: Read the rest of this entry »

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Overshadowed but rarely overmatched: Red Sox OF Allen Craig has made a career of shattering expectations

08.28.14 at 11:45 am ET
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Allen Craig has yet to show it to Red Sox fans, but he has a history of reliable production. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Allen Craig has yet to show it to Red Sox fans, but he has a history of reliable production at the plate. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Jeff Luhnow is leaning against the padded railing at the top of the visiting team’s dugout at Fenway Park, looking on as the Red Sox take batting practice on the field. It’s a Saturday evening in mid-August, and the Astros general manager is in town to watch his team play the third game of a four-game series in Boston.

Within shouting distance is Allen Craig, who is sporting a red jacket with “Red Sox” emblazoned across the chest. Craig quietly works out alone, unnoticed and unbothered. He is testing out the left ankle he tweaked while running over first base in his Red Sox debut Aug. 1. He rounds third base and heads toward home. He begins shuffling down the third base line and back. He’s preparing himself for a short rehab stint in Pawtucket that will begin two days later.

It’s a simple exercise that doesn’t garner attention. But Craig’s obscurity is prominent as Luhnow reflects on arguably one of his greatest discoveries as the Cardinals’ scouting director.

Luhnow recalls a conversation with Mark DeJohn in the summer of 2006. DeJohn then was the manager of the State College Spikes, St Louis’ Class-A short-season affiliate in the New York-Penn League, and had just coached Craig’s first summer as a professional baseball player.

Back then, Craig was a skinny shortstop who had just graduated from the University of California. He was an eighth-round pick who, at 6-foot-2 and still growing, Luhnow said would need to rely on his bat and versatility in the field to make the big leagues.

In the top 10 rounds of the amateur draft, Luhnow said, teams are looking for players who will impact the major league team. But by the eighth round that probability is slim.

Coming off an impressive senior season at Cal, Craig’s first summer in the pros was expectedly unspectacular. He hit .257 for the Spikes with four home runs in 48 games. But DeJohn saw something special in him that at the time took Luhnow by surprise.

“He came into our system without a lot of fanfare as a senior out of college,” Luhnow said. “€œI remember Mark DeJohn said, ‘This guy is a prospect.’ I said, ‘What makes you think that? He hit [four] home runs.’ He said, ‘This is a hard league and he was tired after a long college season. But this guy is a prospect. Wait until you see what he looks like in the spring.’ ”€

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Red Sox minor league roundup: Garin Cecchini’s hot August; Carlos Asuaje on fire; Javier Guerra, future breakout candidate

08.28.14 at 11:24 am ET
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Garin Cecchini

Garin Cecchini

A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Wednesday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-1 LOSS AT LEHIGH VALLEY (PHILLIES)

(BOX)

– With a 2-for-3 night, Garin Cecchini has put togther multi-hit performances in three of his last four games. Cecchini had a couple of singles, a walk and drove in the PawSox’ only run on Wednesday night. He’s now 9-for-20 over a mini-five-game hit streak, and driven in five runs over his last four contests. The third baseman has been hot all month long after struggling at the plate for the better part of the season, hitting .341/.419/.537 in August with 10 doubles after collecting just 11 two-baggers in the previous four months combined.

Jackie Bradley Jr. followed up his three-hit showing on Tuesday with an 0-for-4 night. Since being demoted to Triple-A, the outfielder is hitting .204 with a .220 OBP and a couple of extra-base hits. He’s drawn just a single walk, but his strikeout problems followed him to Pawtucket, where he’s fanned in 12 of 50 at-bats.

Steven Wright was hit hard, lasting six innings but allowing five runs on 12 hits (which represents a season-high, and the first time he’s permitted double-digit hits in an outing) and two walks while fanning four. It’s the second outing in a row and third time in his last five starts in which Wright has allowed five earned runs. He owns a 5.56 ERA over his last five starts compared to a 2.37 mark through his first 10 outings of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: carlos asuaje, garin cecchini, javier guerra, kevin mcavoy

Agent: Rusney Castillo eligible to start playing in games

08.28.14 at 12:53 am ET
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Juan Perez, the president and CEO of Roc Nation Sports, told ESPNBoston.com  Wednesday that Rusney Castillo has secured a work visa from the United States government and is immediately eligible to start playing in games. Perez’s agency represents Castillo, who signed a seven-year, $72 million deal with the Red Sox last week.

Castillo began working out in Fort Myers, Fla. Wednesday, and was scheduled to continue is workouts at JetBlue Park Thursday. There would be an opportunity for the outfielder to see game action with the Red SoxGulf Coast League team, which is scheduled to participate in a one-game playoff Friday with the chance to move on to a best-of-three final round with a win.

A team source suggests that Castillo will still need 2-3 days of team-monitored workouts before a decision is made regarding where he might start game participation.

According to the report, the P-1A visa extends for five years, with the opportunity to extend another five years. Castillo will be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship while holding the visa.

Prior to Wednesday, Castillo’s only other visit to the Red Sox‘ minor league facility came Aug. 1 when the team put the 27-year-old through a private workout.

Closing Time: Rogers Centre, Blue Jays doom Junichi Tazawa once again

08.27.14 at 9:48 pm ET
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Junichi Tazawa had yet another rough outing in Rogers Centre, Wednesday night. (Getty Images)

Junichi Tazawa had yet another rough outing in Rogers Centre, Wednesday night. (Getty Images)

Joe Kelly deserved a better fate. Junichi Tazawa’s fate? Well, that was all too familiar.

The Red Sox starter hurled his second straight solid start, Wednesday, but ended up with nothing to show for it. Kelly was pulled after just 86 pitches, leaving the Sox’s fate in hands of their bullpen. It didn’t work out for John Farrell or his starting pitcher.

The Sox fell victim to a four-run seventh inning by the Blue Jays, paving the way for a 5-2 loss to the hosts at Rogers Centre.

As has been the case so many times against the Jays, Tazawa took the brunt of Toronto’s offensive attack. This time the Red Sox reliever finished his inning being charged with two runs, having allowed a key, pinch-hit, three-run homer off the bat of former Sox third baseman Danny Valencia.

After the game, both Farrell and Tazawa suggested to reporters they had identified the issue against the Jays, believing the reliever might be tipping his pitches.

“They picked up something that we felt like we corrected two and a half months ago,” Farrell said. “Tonight was a matter of a ball that ran back to the inner third of the plate against Valencia rather than staying down and away from him.”

“I think that was a fact in the past,” Tazawa noted via a translator. “It was mentioned in the past when I had some meetings with my coaches but I think that I have already eradicated that.”

Kelly started the pivotal seventh inning, allowing a lead off double by Edwin Encarnacion. With the Red Sox clinging to a one-run lead, Farrell brought on lefty Tommy Layne to face left-handed hitter Dioner Navarro. But — after a dropped pop-up by Sox catcher David Ross — the Jays catcher kept things going with a single to left.

That paved the way for Tazawa, who entered the game with a 7.71 ERA in eight games at the home of the home of the Jays. The righty promptly surrendered the three-run blast to Valencia, who was pinch-hitting for Juan Francisco, giving the Blue Jays a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Tazawa allowed another run later in the frame when Kevin Pillar came home on a fielder’s choice grounder to shortstop by Jose Reyes. Pillar initially reached on a double one batter after Valencia’s homer.

The Red Sox had claimed the lead with two runs in the sixth, coming on a David Ortiz RBI single and a run-scoring wild pitch by Jays starter Marcus Stroman.

Kelly finished his six-plus-inning outing allowing just two runs on three hits, striking out four and walking two. The reason for his early departure, according to Farrell, were precautionary measures after the shoulder soreness the pitcher felt in his previous start.

“After he came out of the last game, we had every intention to hold his pitch count down in the 85 range. He pitched exceptional tonight,” the manager said. “He was very good. He and David Ross worked well together. But we felt like in light of five days ago, we were going to hold him shorter than normal, and knowing we were going to have to match up through the bottom of the order, it didn’t work out the way it looked like we could match up.”

“It’s a manager’s decision. I have no right to say anything,” Kelly told reporters. “I respect everything every manager I’ve ever played for has for the game. I should have never let that guy on. It was one of the more missed fastball command pitches I had all night, especially a fastball down and away, and I threw it up and right down the middle and he put a barrel on it, kind of, and got a double out of it. Credit to him. He’s a really good hitter.”

Recently-recalled Edwin Escobar made his major league debut, pitching a perfect eighth inning for the Red Sox.

Red Sox lineup: David Ortiz returns, Yoenis Cespedes sits

08.27.14 at 4:44 pm ET
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David Ortiz will return to the Red Sox lineup in his customary third spot for the series finale against the Blue Jays. With his return, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes will get the day off.

RED SOX LINEUP

Brock Holt, SS

Dustin Pedroia, 2B

David Ortiz, DH

Mike Napoli, 1B

Daniel Nava, LF

Allen Craig, RF

Mookie Betts, CF

Will Middlebrooks, 3B

David Ross, C

Joe Kelly, RHP

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