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Observations from JetBlue Park: Red Sox might start season with 8 relievers

03.23.15 at 4:41 pm ET
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Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly

FORT MYERS, Fla. — It wasn’t a memorable game at JetBlue Park Monday. In fact, it never really officially took place.

The meeting between the Red Sox and Cardinals was halted due to rain after 4 1/2 innings, with St. Louis carrying a 2-0 lead. Even though the stats don’t count, let it be known that Rick Porcello went five innings for the Sox, giving up two runs on six hits while striking out five and walking one.

The real news, however, came after the sort-of-game with John Farrell suggesting his team could break camp with eight relievers.

Such a scenario would take place if the Red Sox decide to keep Joe Kelly back in extended spring training. Kelly, who hasn’t pitched in Grapefruit League action since leaving his March 16 start with biceps soreness, is slated to pitch in a minor league Friday.

Farrell noted that the situation should be clearer after Friday. Kelly isn’t pitching in the Red Sox‘ scheduled game against the Braves in Orlando that day in order to keep the option of retroactively placing the pitcher on the 15-day disabled list in play. (If a player performs in front of a paying spring training crowd, it limits the club’s ability to retroactively DL him.)

The Red Sox won’t need a fifth starter for their first two series in Philadelphia and New York due to the April 7 off day. The first time they would need the extra starter would be April 12.

Kelly threw a bullpen session Sunday without incident, integrating starts and stops to simulate game situations. (“I don’€™t anticipate him not being ready at this point, but we’€™re just keeping the other scenario as an option,” the manager said.)

“I think that group has probably narrowed some, the guys in competition,” said Farrell regarding the competition for the last bullpen spot. “We’€™ll have more information to factor in by Saturday, which would include Kelly’€™s next outing. There’€™s one scenario that could have us break with eight relievers. And the first time we would need a fifth starter would be on the 15th. That’€™s all being factored into this as well.”

Clay Buchholz will pitch against the Braves in Orlando Friday, with Steven Wright joining Kelly in facing minor leaguers.

The group of relievers projected by this writer to make the team in such a scenario would be: Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Edward Mujica, Craig Breslow, Alexi Ogando, Anthony Varvaro, Tommy Layne and Matt Barnes.

— Porcello was optimistic in regards to his outing, having now allowed three earned runs over 10 innings.

“I feel strong,” the pitcher said. “My sequences and the way I’m thinking on the mound is there. The consistency of the pitches isn’t where I want it to be. That’€™s why we’re here in spring training right now. I’ve just got to keep working on the consistency. I like the sequences. The changeup was really a lot better today, and that was really the one pitch I had been working on in between starts. It’s there, and there’s spots where everything is really good and working together, and there’s some spots where it’s a little inconsistent. Overall I feel strong and healthy and ready to go.”

David Ortiz could see some at-bats in minor league games over the next few days, but is still eyeing a Thursday return to the regular lineup.

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Shane Victorino explains why he’s hitting exclusively right-handed

03.23.15 at 2:32 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — With two weeks to go in spring training, Shane Victorino has weighed his options and made his decision — hitting exclusively from the right side will be the way he goes from here on in.

The right fielder attempted a return to switch-hitting earlier in camp, having felt his newfound health could withstand swinging from the left side. Victorino hadn’t routinely hit lefty since the middle of the 2013 season.

Speaking to WEEI.com, Victorino offered the reasoning behind giving up switch-hitting:

“I just felt doing so much work, trying to get comfortable and trying to find my left-handed swing was taking a toll,” Victorino said. “It had been countless hours in the cage trying to hit from the left side, feeling comfortable to work on that and continuously doing that. I felt like it was starting to physically take a toll and was setting me back in regards to what I was dealing with my hamstring and some typical leg soreness and kind stuff we were dealing with. I felt it led to what a lot what going on where my lower half was tired, because I was spending a lot of time working on things in the cage. Beyond that, it was a decision I felt like I thought it was necessary to make. Why go down that path (of potentially getting injured) again? I don’t want to put myself behind the eight ball. Whatever it takes.

“Then to have an organization say, ‘If that’s what’s going to make you feel better and allow you to go out and play every single day then we’re more than fine with it,’ that helps a lot in making that decision. When you signed me I was a switch-hitter and physical things led me down another path. I wanted to feel as good as I was and be a switch-hitter again, but it was taking a physical toll.”

While there will be continued adjustments to be made, the outfielder felt it was time to prioritize his health.

“Physically everything is going good, and that’s the most important part for me,” Victorino noted. “It’s not about being lefty or righty or being a switch-hitter. I want to be healthy. That’s the most important thing for me. Whatever is going to get me to play 162 games. Obviously I hope to play 162, although I doubt they’ll look at it that way. From my standpoint, things have come along. I tried but I felt there were some physical setbacks that were starting to kick in and everything was happening on the left side. So I said, ‘Let’s not make it worse.’ I felt like it was getting to that point, and that’s why I made the decision to be a right-handed hitter.”

He added, “This year I feel like I’m healthy going into the season, knock on wood. Hopefully nothing changes. But the way I feel now, and where I’m at, I feel confident I can go out there and be an everyday player and hit solely right-handed. But there are going to be adjustments I have to make from a hitting standpoint. At some point is there going to be a little bit of fear or discomfort in the box? Of course. It’s something that I’ve never really done over the course of a year. But I have confidence in myself I’ll make adjustments and I’ll figure it out.”

To read all of Victorino’s comments, click here.

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Relay race results in long ride for Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez

03.22.15 at 10:44 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox manager John Farrell had been cooking up the idea for some time.

Sunday morning, he hatched the plan — a relay race between two groups of position players that would determine the who was to make the three-hour trip to Jupiter Tuesday when the Red Sox took on the Marlins.

“That’s something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while, back in the offseason. Knowing where our travel schedule is going to put us,” Farrell said. “I thought it was a chance to get a good conditioning day in. Looking for ways to have a little bit of a team building event. I think it accomplished all that, maybe more, the way guys took to it. nobody wants to make that bus ride so there was a little incentive.”

What it also accomplished was sending some regulars on the trip across the state, with the team consisting of Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, Jemile Weeks, Jackie Bradley, Humberto Quintero, Quintin Berry, Rusney Castillo, Xander Bogaerts and Daniel Nava taking the loss.

The competition came right down to the end, with Mookie Betts narrowly beating out Weeks on the final leg.

The winning team — which was officially identified by referee David Ortiz (who dressed in full referee garb) — included Betts, Luke Montz, Garin Cecchini, Pablo Sandoval, Brock Holt, Jeff Bianchi, Deven Marrero, Bryce Brentz and Matt Spring.

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Observations from Red Sox’ victory over Phillies: Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts turn on power, Clay Buchholz on track for opener

03.22.15 at 4:30 pm ET
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Just call them Thunder and Lightning.

For all the questions about the Red Sox rotation, one aspect of their club no one disputes is the offense, which should be one of the best in the game.

Two examples were on display in Sunday’s 7-6 victory over the Phillies at JetBlue Park — Hanley Ramirez (thunder) and Mookie Betts (lightning).

Ramirez blasted a titanic three-run homer to dead center and Betts added an inside-the-park shot that paced a 13-hit attack and made a winner of knuckleballer Steven Wright, who tossed four shutout innings.

Betts and Ramirez both went deep in the third inning. Betts led off with a drive to the wall in center that eluded Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera. Thinking two bases out of the box, Betts turned on the jets around second, and when Herrera struggled to find the ball at his feet, raced safely for home, waved in aggressively by third-base coach Brian Butterfield.

After Dustin Pedroia and Pablo Sandoval reached, Ramirez followed with a monstrous blast to dead center with a swing reminiscent of Manny Ramirez, fully extending his arms on a fastball over the plate and punishing it.

“I mean, I was working on stuff,” Ramirez told reporters. “Like I told Panda, we’re not trying to make the team. We’re just trying to get ready for the season.”

The homer was Ramirez’s first of the spring. Betts, meanwhile, went 2-for-2 with a pair of runs to raise his average to .471.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Fort: Joe Kelly not making scheduled start; Shane Victorino abandons switch-hitting

03.21.15 at 12:31 pm ET
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Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly

BRADENTON, Fla. — A few days ago, Joe Kelly was sure he would be making his scheduled start Sunday after experiencing right biceps tightness in his last outing. Despite his confidence, he will have to wait a bit.

Red Sox manager John Farrell said prior to his team’s game against the Pirates at McKechnie Field that instead of starting Sunday, Kelly will throw a 50-pitch bullpen session with simulated starts and stops.

“Even though he came out of his bullpen the other day with no issue, still at 70 percent, which might be a normal bullpen, we just want to get him up to normal game intensity, but not in a game setting,” Farrell said. “Maybe it’s a little precautionary, but it’s something I feel like he walked off the mound in a middle of a start and we’ll take that extended bullpen tomorrow with an eye on him making his normal start next Friday. … Not a setback whatsoever, just an intermediary step towards getting to game speed.”

— Other than Kelly, the news of the day was Farrell announcing Shane Victorino deciding to give up switch-hitting.

“He’€™s going to hit from the right side exclusively, so I think with all the work he’€™s been doing in the cage swinging left-handed, some of the tightness that he has, felt as a result of the left-handed swing, that gets alleviated and I think that has a chance to free up his mind as well,” Farrell said. “That’€™s the plan going forward with him, he’€™s going to hit right-handed.”

Victorino has been hitting from both sides throughout spring training, having gone 2-for-16 in Grapefruit League action.

“You want the most productive at-bats, regardless of what side they come from,” Farrell said. “And in Vic’€™s case, it was starting to take its toll, just the reps he was going through to try to get that swing productive. I think at the point of the work, it was starting to become counterproductive on the way he was feeling physically. That’€™s the rational behind him going right-handed.

“It’€™s kind of the whole right side. The torque and the twist, the rotation I should say with the number of swings taken. He feels it on the left side of the body.”

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Rusney Castillo goes deep in first Grapefruit League at-bat

03.20.15 at 6:36 pm ET
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Rusney Castillo

Rusney Castillo

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Maybe Rusney Castillo is going to make things interesting in these final couple of weeks.

While most have ticketed Castillo for the minors to start the regular season due to time missed thanks to an oblique injury, along with the play of center fielder Mookie Betts, the Cuban outfielder began to make his mark Friday.

Entering the Red Sox‘ game against the Orioles in the top of the seventh, Castillo launched a three-run homer in his first official at-bat of spring training. (He had three at-bats in the Sox’ exhibition game against Northeastern, while playing in minor leagues Wednesday and Thursday).

“I was obviously happy it turned out to be a home run,” Castillo said through translator Adrian Lorenzo. “More than anything, I was just happy that I was able to go out there completely healthy and pain free and felt really good out there. It’s really good to be back out there.”

Castillo will get the start in center field against the Pirates in Bradenton on Saturday.

And while his landing spot for Opening Day will remain uncertain for at least a week or so, for the time being Castillo is solace in the certainty of being on a baseball field.

“To be honest, it’s not something where I’ve ever felt any pressure to play baseball,” Castillo said. “Baseball is my one safe haven. I’ve just never felt pressure playing, even with the contract and everything. It’s not something I think about.”

The Red Sox ultimately lost the game, 11-5, with starter Justin Masterson making some strides after a disappointing outing his last time out.

Against the Orioles, Masterson allowed four hits and a run over four innings.Tommy Layne followed the starter with a perfect inning, while Mitchell Boggs (3 walks, no outs) and Zeke Spruill (1 IP, 3 runs, 4 hits) struggled in the late innings.

“It was better,” Masterson said. “Started off kind of babying the ball a little bit then it got better. Trying to get into my arm slot, stay there. It’s still a little bit inconsistent but for the most part, right there. … In the overall sense I was happy with it. A nice progression from where we were in the last outing to this outing. Perfect. Spring training.”

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Buster Olney on MFB: ‘I have real concerns about the Red Sox’

03.20.15 at 1:08 pm ET
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Buster Olney

Buster Olney

ESPN baseball analyst Buster Olney joined Middays with MFB to discuss the Red Sox and the upcoming MLB season. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

One of the biggest question marks for the Red Sox heading into opening day on April 6 concerns the reliability of the pitching staff.

“Other teams are seeing real problems with the rotation,” Olney said, adding: “I have real concerns about the Red Sox, I just don’t think they’re going to have enough pitching to win this division.”

As of now, the Red Sox starting rotation will consist of Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley and Joe Kelly. Olney raised doubts about the reliability of each of them.

Said Olney: “The reviews of Wade Miley’s outing last week were awful, and people were talking about how flat his stuff seemed. … Earlier this spring, scouts were telling me they had Buchholz at 90-93, in an outing last weekend, one scout told me he had him at 87-89, and if that’s going to be the case, that could be an issue. … Joe Kelly has been hurt, and he hasn’t thrown more than 128 innings.”

Regarding Masterston, Olney said, “He could not get the ball down [in his last start].”

The Red Sox reportedly have been looking at ways to strengthen their rotation. One of the more prevalent rumors concerns Phillies veteran Cole Hamels.

“I have no doubt that Cole Hamels will be traded by July 31,” Olney said. “But … if I’m the Red Sox, I’m waiting.”

Added Olney: “I think there will be a lot of opportunities to trade for pitching during the course of summer.”

To combat the potential inconsistency of the pitching staff, the Red Sox added some bats in the off season, including Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.

“In the eyes of other clubs, this is a team that’s going to have to hit it’s way to success if they’re going to win this year,” Olney said, adding, “I think it’s possible that they could hit so well that they wind up making the postseason, but I just don’t see it.”

For more Red Sox news, visit the team page at weei.com/redsox.

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Mike Napoli scratched with sore right ankle

03.20.15 at 12:28 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — A full offseason of activity, along with a month of spring training, seemingly finally has caught up to Mike Napoli.

The Red Sox first baseman was scratched from his team’s lineup against the Orioles at JetBlue Park Friday with a sore right ankle.

“Nothing serious,” Napoli said. “I’ve been getting after it pretty much in camp and just got a little right ankle soreness. I was able to hit [Friday]. I’m going to be able to hit the next couple of days but I’m just going to let it be, rest up and then get back out.”

Napoli is 8-for-21 (.321) with two home runs in Grapefruit League action this spring training.

“Everything is good, but to keep on trying to play through it right now is probably not the smartest thing to do,” said the first baseman, who noted the ailment had nothing to do with his toe injury of a year ago. “I feel good. I’ll let it calm down and get back there.”

He added, “With my offseason and everything, I’ve been cramming a lot of stuff in. I’ve been working out a lot. I was able to run a lot in the offseason, running in cleats. I’ve played three days in a row twice already. But just let it be for a little bit. It’s not serious, but I just want to go out and play, not have to worry about it.”

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Morning Fort: David Ortiz not expected to play over weekend; Rusney Castillo back

03.20.15 at 10:49 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — It has evidently gone beyond dehydration.

After David Ortiz‘ missed games earlier in the week with the aforementioned diagnosis, Red Sox manager John Farrell said Friday morning that his designated hitter most likely won’t play over the weekend while dealing with “general soreness.”

“He’s under the weather,” Farrell said. “He’s dealing with a couple of things. He’s going to remain going through overall treatment just getting some of the general soreness out of it. I don’t anticipate him in a game over the weekend.”

Asked about being prepared for Opening Day — which, in this case, might include playing in the field in Philadelphia — Farrell noted, “In a couple of games before we break camp. That’s going to get enough familiarity. Even when we’ve been in interleague play before in National League ballparks … there’s been some days of ground balls, which he’s already been taking here. So he’ll have enough time to prepare for Philadelphia.”

Farrell said that Ortiz’s ailment is not related to the Achilles tendon issue the 39-year-old previously dealt with.

Ortiz is 4-for-15 with a home run in Grapefruit League action, having also gotten a pair of at-bats in the Red Sox‘ exhibition game against Northeastern.

— Koji Uehara was scheduled to play long toss Friday for the first time since aggravating his left hamstring.

“Our target is sometime in the middle of next week by the time he gets back on the mound after we get through some physical testing,” Farrell said of Uehara, who has three spring appearances under his belt. “But he can still keep his arm in shape. I still don’t question if he’s going to be ready for the start of the season. I fully expect him to be ready when the season begins.”

— Rusney Castillo is returning to game action at JetBlue Park after having spent the past two days getting playing time in minor league games.

Farrell said the plan was to get Castillo into the Red Sox’ game with the Orioles on Friday at some point, with an eye on starting the outfielder Saturday in Bradenton.

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Blake Swihart, Eduardo Rodriguez assigned to Pawtucket

03.20.15 at 9:22 am ET
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Blake Swihart

Blake Swihart

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Their time will come, just not in the near future.

The Red Sox ended Blake Swihart’s and Eduardo Rodriguez’s stints in major league camp Friday, sending both players to Triple-A Pawtucket.

Swihart acquitted himself well throughout his first major league spring training, going 7-for-18 (.389) with one home run and a 1.006 OPS.

“Both very strong. You look at two young guys who are talented, strong in their own respective positions,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Both had very good springs for the positions that they’re in. That is Blake coming in and not just being happy to be in big league camp, but to come in and compete. To know he, himself, is getting closer to becoming a major league player. When that time comes, who knows? And I think there are some areas that we recognized he has to continue to develop, and that’s probably as much on the receiving side, some blocking. That’s ongoing maintenance for any catcher. But I thought he showed well, very well.”

Farrell noted last week that he would not hesitate to call on Swihart if the need arose at the major league level, although the 22-year-old wouldn’t necessarily be the first option.

Rodriguez opened eyes as well, giving up one run over 7 2/3 innings, striking out nine and not walking a batter. While it would appear both Steven Wright and Brian Johnson might be ahead of the lefty in regard to the starting pitching depth chart, it is believed that the 21-year-old Rodriguez has the most upside of the group.

“In Eduardo’s situation, we don’t have the history with Blake, but a young, poised, extremely talented left-handed pitcher that has got a bright future,” Farrell noted. “There was one outing in particular in Bradenton where he didn’t have his best stuff and yet he didn’t let the traffic or the challenge of the inning effect the body language and poise to make pitches. He’s an impressive young guy.”

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