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Coolest Play of the Week: Mookie Betts go-ahead 3-run double in extra innings

04.21.17 at 10:52 am ET
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Each week, we will be picking the F.W. Webb “Coolest Play of the Week.” This week’s highlight is from Thursday afternoon, when the Red Sox headed to extra innings after Craig Kimbrel blew the save in the ninth. With the bases loaded in the top of the 10th, Mookie Betts cleared the bases with a double down the line that lifted the Sox to a 4-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. Watch the play below.

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The injury nobody knew was holding Craig Kimbrel back last season

04.21.17 at 10:43 am ET
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Craig Kimbrel (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Craig Kimbrel (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

After striking out all three batters he faced against the Rays Monday, Craig Kimbrel talked about the differences between last season and this one.

“I think last year I was battling through some things and maybe got in some bad habits,” he said. “Right now, everything feels great. Hopefully I can keep it going.”

The immediate assumption was that Kimbrel was referencing his knee injury, the one that required midseason surgery and forced him to miss about a month.

Not so, according to the closer.

“I banged my finger up a little bit last year and it kind of got me into some bad habits, yanking the ball,” Kimbrel told WEEI.com.

As it turned out, the biggest issue for the reliever in his first season with the Red Sox was dealing with an injury to his right index finger, suffered while working out in late April.

“You’re going to adjust off of it. You can do that to a certain extent,” explained Kimbrel. “You have to in this game. You’re not going to feel the same every time out there. There are going to be times where you do one thing where you overcompensate for another thing, but over the course of a season you can into some bad habits doing that.”

It was a problem that those outside the clubhouse weren’t aware of, but the Red Sox had been keeping a close eye on.

“He obviously pitched with it,” said Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis. “But with pitchers, with hands and fingers, it doesn’t take a lot sometimes to cause you to change a little bit of pressure that alters the release of the ball. I think when you look at his strength and his power, he’s able to compensate. Obviously it’s a lot more natural where he’s at right now.”

“Knowing he was dealing with it, only he knows how much it was affecting him,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “There was constant checking in with him to make sure it wasn’t putting him in a position to create further discomfort or take away from his performance, overall. We knew it was there, but to his credit he never used it as a distraction more than it might have been.”

Ironically, Kimbrel points to his knee injury as somewhat of a blessing.

Not only did the time down allow for the finger to properly heal, but gave the closer a chance to breakdown the bad habits he had fallen into partly because of the ailment.

“It did [help with the finger]. And the time with my knee really helped me heal mentally, as well,” he said. “We looked into what I was doing wrong. We were making sure my knee was healthy, but we also made sure my mechanics were going in the right direction.

“We looked at release points and yanking the ball. It was just something I did all year. Not to say I won’t have some games where I won’t do it this year, it’s just trusting my stuff and so far I’ve done that.”

What Kimbrel has been delivering this season is undeniably more powerful than what had been a somewhat up and down 2016 campaign.

Yes, he did blow his first save Thursday when allowing a second-pitch home run to Kendrys Morales in Toronto. But the fact he struck out five of his next six batters offered more proof of why Farrell trusted him to follow up Chris Sale in the first place.

Kimbrel has now faced 34 batters and struck out exactly half of them, walking just two along the way.

Thanks in part to a finger that works properly, and a year under his belt in Boston, the Red Sox have clearly found themselves an improved game-ender.

“We just dealt with it. There was nothing we could do about it,” Kimbrel said of the finger.

“Anything that happened last year I can’t go back and change it. Going into this year, I know there are going to be new obstacles. That’s part of the game. I’m just trying to enjoy each day I’ve got for what it is and not really worry about the other stuff. I have to worry about today and this year. I can’t get caught up in what happened last year, going out and trying to prove anything. All I can do is show up, play ball and do what I can do.”

Friday Red Sox Farm Report: Henry Owens strikes out 8 in PawSox loss

04.21.17 at 9:55 am ET
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Here is what happened in the Red Sox farm system on Thursday:

Henry Owens

Henry Owens

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX (7-7): L, 6-4 at Charlotte 

— The PawSox lost to Charlotte on Thursday after the Knights put together a four-run rally in the seventh inning.

— Henry Owens pitched 4 2/3 innings where he allowed two runs on four hits, but walked four and struck out eight. Owens has 18 strikeouts in his last two appearances.

— Bryce Brentz had two hits in the game, including a solo home run with two outs in the ninth.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: Postponed due to rain 

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: Postponed due to wet grounds 

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE (9-6): L, 6-1 vs. Rome 

— The Drive scored their only run in this blowout in the fourth inning before Rome responded with six unanswered runs to come away with the win.

— Drive starter Robby Sexton threw 5 2/3 innings with five strikeouts and gave up eight hits, three earned runs and one walk. Hunter Smith came into the game in relief and gave up two runs.

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It’s official: Chris Sale is pitching like Pedro Martinez

04.20.17 at 8:26 pm ET
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Chris Sale (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Chris Sale (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

TORONTO — You can start with the numbers.

In case you forgot, Pedro Martinez was really good in his first four starts with the Red Sox. He pitched 32 innings and gave up three runs for an 0.84 ERA. Opponents hit .148 against him, with Martinez striking out 44 and walking seven.

Chris Sale?

After his eight innings in the Red Sox’ 4-1, 10-inning win against the Blue Jays, he is sitting with a 0.91 ERA, having allowed three runs in 29 2/3 innings. He has struck out 42, walked six and allowed a .147 batting average.

But it’s more than that. It’s the image he’s portraying. Complete dominance.

In this case, it was a 102-pitch outing in which he struck out 13, and didn’t allow a run. And while he was torturing such Blue Jays hitters as Jose Bautista (4 strikeouts) and Jarrod Saltalmacchia (3 strikeouts), Sale was throwing virtually every pitch for a strike. There was 80 of them, to be exact.

It left an impression.

“It’s the best game I’ve ever caught,” said Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon. “He was throwing every pitch in every count. He likes to attack.”

As Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis explained when talking about watching Sale, “It’s different.”

You know it when you see it. You did when Pedro pitched. Willis realized it back when serving as the coach for Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia and Felix Hernandez, all of whom went on Cy Young runs. It’s just different. That’s how watching Sale has felt.

“The pace he works. The strikes that he throws. The confidence that he throws each pitch with, regardless of the speed,” Willis said. “I think that’s the key. He’ll show you 96 or 97 [mph], then he will reel it back at 91 or 88 and then he will change speed with the breaking ball. And it’s all with total confidence and conviction. I’ve seen guys have good runs. The way Chris does it, some of the movement he gets, and some of the swings you see him get, it’s just different.”

Yes, the Red Sox don’t score runs for Sale. They didn’t before Thursday, and they couldn’t get one before the starter exited his latest outing. The same thing happened to Martinez in his first season with the Red Sox, with his new club scoring more than three runs just twice over his first nine starts.

It’s no coincidence. These are the guys who pitch at a level where opposing pitchers know they have to be their absolute best. It’s part of the deal.

“Nobody is perfect,” Sale said. “Get after these four days and try and do the same thing next time around.”

True enough. But around these parts, this seems as close to pitching perfection as we’ve seen in some time.

Does Chris Sale's starts remind you of Pedro Martinez when he joined the Red Sox?

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John Farrell explains why Chris Sale didn’t pitch in the ninth inning, but Craig Kimbrel did

04.20.17 at 5:24 pm ET
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Chris Sale (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

Chris Sale (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

TORONTO — The first sign that Chris Sale probably didn’t want to come out of the game after the eighth inning was where Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis had to find the starter.

The lunch room.

Thursday afternoon’s game between the Red Sox and Blue Jays was in a scoreless tie. Sale had thrown 102 pitches (80 strikes), having struck out 13 and walked just one. So while the Red Sox went to bat in the ninth, the pitcher adjourned to the area that was about as far away from the dugout as a player can get during the game.

It wasn’t far enough away.

After the Red Sox took a 1-0 lead on Xander Bogaerts’ two-out single (which was immediately followed by a one-minute, 54-second review of a tag at second), Red Sox manager John Farrell chose to end Sale’s day and bring on closer Craig Kimbrel.

“He probably figured we were going to ask him,” joked Willis.

“I came in and literally had to go all the way down to the food room just to ask how he felt, how his legs were. He was adamant that he was good. He was ready to keep throwing. I got back in the dugout and I told John. But once we took the lead, as good as Craig has been the last few times out, it made sense,”

“I’m going to want the ball in that situation 10 times out of nine,” Sale said. “It is what it is. Do I want to? Yeah. But at the end of the day, he’s the manager and makes the calls. Check the book. Craig’s been pretty damn good back there.”

The move back-fired, with Kimbrel allowing a solo homer off the bat of Kendrys Morales on just the closer’s second pitch, an 96 mph fastball.

After the game, Farrell explained his thinking.

“It was a tough decision, but one where, we take the lead, we’ve got Craig Kimbrel, who’s thrown the baseball extremely well,” he said. “He’s been dominant in his own right. He’s well-rested. After kind of a long inning after we get a challenge review, we score that run late in the inning, felt it was time to turn it over to a guy that was fresh and powerful. Unfortunately, the second pitch goes out of the ballpark. But we’ve responded as we’ve done many different times where either the game’s been tied late or we’ve had to come from behind, and we did it again today.”

As it turned out, the manager explained the delay caused by the review of Bogaerts’ sliding into second ultimately might have been the tipping point.

“The additional time, yeah, that was part of the decision,” Farrell said.

Farrell also noted that even if the Red Sox hadn’t tied the game in the ninth, there was a strong chance Kimbrel — who hadn’t pitched since Monday — would be called upon.

“We had talked about it and actually had Kimbrel warming up in the event that … knowing that they’ve used their closer already, likely that Kimbrel’s in that game as well,” said the manager of his closer, who would go on to strike out five of the six batters he faced.

“It’s not an easy decision, but when you have a guy like Kimbrel and how he’s throwing the baseball the last few times out, that’s why he’s here,” Willis said. “It didn’t work out, but more times than not it does.”

The 102 pitches would ultimately be the lowest total of Sale’s four starts this season, with the lanky lefty totaling 104, 108 and 111 pitches, respectively, leading up to this start.

Coming into the game, Morales was 5-for-25 against Sale, and had gone 1-for-3 this time around, singling in his most recent at-bat. The switch-hitter had faced Kimbrel just one other time, getting hit by a pitch.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, Mookie Betts’ bases-loaded double with two outs in the 10th inning landed Kimbrel with the win and some solace for the team.

“I didn’t want to lose the game. I still had a job to do,” Kimbrel said. “Carl came through and told me if we scored some runs I was going back out. I want to go back out in a tie ballgame. Just that frustration. I gave up the game. I felt like it was my job to keep the game close and keep it going. Guys did a good job, great at-bats. Mookie got a big hit. It was a great ballgame.”

Red Sox 4, Blue Jays 1: Mookie Betts the hero, but Chris Sale was undoubtedly the star

04.20.17 at 3:45 pm ET
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Chris Sale (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Chris Sale (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

TORONTO — Mookie Betts came up biggest when it counted the most Thursday afternoon.

The Red Sox right fielder’s double into the left field corner with two outs and the bases loaded in the 10th inning allowed for John Farrell’s team to claim a 4-1 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

But, even after the game-winner, it was Chris Sale who everybody was buzzing about.

The Red Sox starter continued to offer a Pedro-esque appearance, this time needing just 102 pitches to go eight innings and not allow a single run. The lefty struck out 13, walked one and threw 80 of his pitches for strikes.

It wasn’t just a good performance. It was historic. Sale joined Nolan Ryan and Frank Tana as the only pitchers to go eight or more innings and allow no runs while striking out 13 or more and not get a win.

Through four starts, Sale’s ERA now stands at 0.91.

The only reason Sale didn’t come away with a win this time around was because of a lack of run support, and a decision to replace in the ninth inning that back-fired.

Back-to-back hits in the ninth by Mitch Moreland and Xander Bogaerts gave the Sox a short-lived 1-0 lead, as Kendrys Morales’ solo homer to lead off the home half of the ninth off Craig Kimbrel tied the game at one.

The Morales shot came on Kimbrel’s second pitch of the game, a 96 mph fastball. The Red Sox closer did come back and earn the win by completing his two innings, striking out the side in the 10th. (For the explanations and reaction regarding the move to replace Sale, click here.)

For a complete game recap, click here.

It doesn’t look like Hanley Ramirez will be using his first baseman’s glove all that much

04.20.17 at 11:29 am ET
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Hanley Ramirez is in the lineup Monday. (Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports)

Hanley Ramirez is in the lineup Monday. (Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports)

TORONTO — Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez’s sore shoulder. Those two things have made the Red Sox adjust their initial plan when it comes to managing the first base position.

It’s looking more and more like Ramirez isn’t going to be using his first basemen’s glove as much as the Red Sox initially thought.

“He and I have had many conversations about this,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “We know we have inter-league coming up relatively soon in National League ballparks. He’s aware of that. I’m not throwing the towel in on him playing first base. At the same time we’ve been able to be pretty darn productive with Mitch going every day.”

So, what about the plan to have Ramirez play first base, giving Chris Young an opportunity to serve as a designated hitter?

“That still is an alignment I would like us to achieve,” Farrell said.

With Ramirez’s shoulders not allowing him to play first throughout spring training, it delayed the process of implementing the original strategy. And when Ramirez was stricken with an illness, eliminating the plan to play him in the field in Detroit, it paved the way for Moreland to show he could handle the first against lefties and righties.

Moreland came into Thursday afternoon’s game hitting .351 with an 1.010 OPS. Against left-handers the lefty hitter was managing a .273 batting average and .839 OPS.

“After the missed the series in Detroit, we kind of backed away from that, giving him a chance to regroup physically,” said Farrell of Ramirez working out at first base. “But that’s not something we’re turning the page away from.”

Farrell also pointed out that, after his conversations with the righty hitter, Ramirez is still open to playing in the field.

“[He’s] not resistant,” Farrell noted. “We’re getting to the point with Jackie [Bradley] coming back, getting to full strength that this is going to be more of the intent than it’s been because quite honestly we haven’t had the pressing need with the injuries we’ve dealt and guys being sick.”

If Ramirez isn’t going to play in the field until the Red Sox’ first inter-league road game, coming May 9 in Milwaukee, one of the challenges for Farrell will be finding playing time for Young. Bradley is returning to the lineup Friday, and Andrew Benintendi has been hitting lefties at a .357 clip.

“Where he’s going to filter through and be in a similar role that he was when he signed here,” said Farrell of Young. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to take at-bats away from him. obviously Jackie coming back and having that alignment against right-handed pitching is likely going to be a better matchup for us. But Chris has done an outstanding job in the role that he has here and he’ll continue to be a valuable guy on this team.”

Thursday Red Sox Farm Report: Jackie Bradley Jr. homers on his birthday; Michael Chavis hits 3 home runs, including walk-off

04.20.17 at 10:16 am ET
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Here is what happened in the Red Sox farm system on Wednesday.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX (7-6): W, 4-0 at Charlotte 

— The PawSox hit two home runs in their 4-0 win over Charlotte and one came courtesy of Jackie Bradley Jr. on his 27th birthday. Bradley went 1-for-3 in the second game of his rehab assignment with the PawSox for a right knee sprain. Josh Rutledge, also with the team for his rehab assignment after a left hamstring strain, went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. Bradley Jr. is expected to rejoin the Red Sox in Baltimore on Friday.

— Brandon Workman and Noe Ramirez pitched a combined three innings in relief. Workman recorded five strikeouts in his two innings of work.

— Yoan Moncada started at second base for Charlotte and struck out three times.

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Red Sox lineup: Brock Holt in lineup in series finale vs. Blue Jays

04.20.17 at 9:58 am ET
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Brock Holt

Brock Holt

The Red Sox and Blue Jays will play the rubber match of a three-game series Thursday afternoon in Toronto.

Brock Holt will get the start in left field as the Red Sox will take on Jays right-hander Marco Estrada. Andrew Benintendi will be in center and Mookie Betts in right. Chris Young gets the day off.

Other than that, it is a standard lineup with Sandy Leon catching lefty Chris Sale.

Here is the complete Red Sox lineup.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Andrew Benintendi, CF
Mookie Betts, RF
Hanley Ramirez, DH
Mitch Moreland, 1B
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Sandy Leon, C
Brock Holt, LF
Chris Sale, LHP

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Mookie Betts’ pretty impressive streak of not striking out has ended

04.19.17 at 11:04 pm ET
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Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts

TORONTO — Wednesday night, Mookie Betts struck out.

It was the first time Sept. 12, 2016 that he had suffered such a fate.

To understand what a feat it was, realize that Minnesota’s Byron Buxton — once deemed the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball — fanned 49 times during that time period. Seven other big leaguers struck out at least 40 times since that last Betts punch-out.

But Wednesday, during the Red Sox’ 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays, it all came to end after 129 plate appearances of not whiffing. One 84 mph slider from Francisco Liriano left the Red Sox’ outfielder 18 plate appearances shy of matching Juan Pierre’s 2004 streak of 147 trips to the plate without a punch-out.

“I don’t think you really realize it when you’re in the midst of it until you’re asked questions daily an things are made of it,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “He’s a special player. He punches out the one time, comes right back with a base hit the next time. We’ll get more very good production out of him.”

During the 31-game stretch, Betts hit .356 with an .860 OPS.

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