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Mookie Betts unfazed in pursuit of learning Fenway outfield: ‘It’s a big adjustment, but I think I can handle it’

08.20.14 at 7:27 am ET
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Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts

The challenge of learning the ropes out in center field still looks to be a work-in-progress for Mookie Betts.

The Red Sox center fielder looked both capable and hesitant during Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Angels. In the second inning, Betts looked like the heir apparent to Jackie Bradley Jr., robbing David Freese of a potential home run out in the triangle in the second inning before doubling off an advancing Erick Aybar just a few seconds later with a throw to first base.

However, Betts also looked inexperienced at times, making an ill-advised dive on a Freese line drive in the fourth that resulted in a triple for the Angels third baseman. In the ninth inning, Angels designated hitter Brennan Boesch drove a Koji Uehara pitch out to the center-field triangle. While Betts gave pursuit, the ball bounced down and into the stands for a ground-rule double.

In the following at-bat, catcher Chris Iannetta would then drive in Boesch with an RBI double to give Los Angeles the lead for good.

While it was a mixed showing from a defensive standpoint, Betts took it all in stride after the game.

“It’s a learning experience, that’s how I look at it,” Betts said, adding, “You have your good and your bad. Some days are better than others.”

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Read More: Angels, John Farrell, mookie betts, Red Sox

Closing time: Red Sox falter in 9th en route to loss to Angels

08.19.14 at 10:40 pm ET
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Mookie Betts' center field defense appeared as a work-in-progress on Tuesday night. (Getty Images)

Mookie Betts’ center field defense appeared as a work in progress on Tuesday night. (Getty Images)

The Red Sox fought their way back from an early two-run deficit on Tuesday night, but they were unable to shut the door on the Angels. Closer Koji Uehara took his third loss of the season as the bottom of the Angels order pushed across a run in the top of the ninth and Los Angeles defeated the Red Sox by a 4-3 score.

It feels unusual for the Red Sox closer to give up a run in any game, but Uehara has been touched for runs in each of his last two outings, both times allowing two hits in an inning of work. The pair of hits the 39-year-old allowed Tuesday were no cheap shots, either.

The Red Sox may have missed Jackie Bradley Jr.’s spectacular defensive capabilities on Tuesday night. Brennan Boesch reached base with two out in the ninth on a long fly to the deepest part of the park, as center fielder Mookie Betts pulled up and the ball bounced in the triangle, hopping up into the stands for a ground rule double. The next batter, Chris Iannetta, drove him in with a double off the scoreboard in left that Daniel Nava made a solid bid on.

Uehara has appeared in 10 of the Red Sox’ last 17 games, racking up an even 10 innings of work. The strikeout numbers have dipped slightly for Uehara as of late; he’s averaging under one per inning since the beginning of August, while he’s averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings on the season as a whole. With the increased workload, Uehara’s decrease in strikeouts could be a result of fatigue.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

 Betts had an interesting night in center field. He certainly still looks like a player who is learning the intricacies of playing the outfield, and his inexperience showed a few times on Tuesday. Betts’ poor read and ill-timed dive on a fly ball off the bat of David Freese resulted in what should have been a catchable ball turning into a triple. He also made an off-line throw into the infield that missed the second baseman and shortstop entirely, as it was backed up by the pitcher. At the same time, he did move smoothly and directly to some balls that were hit behind him.

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Will Middlebrooks day-to-day after exiting with hamstring tightness

08.19.14 at 9:34 pm ET
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Will Middlebrooks

Will Middlebrooks

Will Middlebrooks exited Tuesday night’s game against the Angels with what the Red Sox described as right hamstring tightness, one batter after he’d appeared to pull up lame after beating out an infield single against Angels starter Jered Weaver. Though he stayed in the game for a batter (a Xander Bogaerts strikeout), he was then visited by a team trainer and manager John Farrell. He walked off the field under his own power.

“Don’€™t know the extent of it. Certainly he’s day-to-day at this point,” Farrell said after the game. “He strained it on that infield base hit, and then when he was leading off coming back to second base in that next at-bat, it looked like it grabbed him again. Got him out of there precautionary. It’s day-to-day right now.”

Middlebrooks has already been on the disabled list twice this year, once for a calf strain in April and again for a fractured finger suffered in May. The 25-year-old has been on the field for just 35 big league games this year, hitting .188 with a .275 OBP and .282 slugging mark.

Red Sox look for Jackie Bradley Jr. to ‘build some momentum’ down in Pawtucket

08.19.14 at 9:06 pm ET
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Jackie Bradley Jr.

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Despite hitting at a productive .308 (4-for-13) clip over his last four games with Boston, the Red Sox had evidently seen enough of Jackie Bradley Jr. at the major-league level.

Boston optioned Bradley down to Triple-A Pawtucket prior to Monday’€™s game against the Angels –€“ the final stage in a long series of evaluations that general manager Ben Cherington and the rest of Red Sox management went through to determine Bradley’€™s standing as a big-league hitter.

“€œWith Jackie, I think we had gone through several phases through the year,” Cherington said. “Obviously it looked like, before the All-Star break, that there were some things that were starting to take hold and some momentum, so we certainly hoped and expected that might continue after the All-Star break, and he started to struggle again. I think as we got past the deadline and as the direction of the team changed, I think we started about how do we give him the best chance to build some momentum going into the offseason knowing that he’€™s a really important guy for us going forward.”

Bradley already emerged as a Gold Glove candidate in his rookie campaign, leading all major-league outfielders in assists (13) while seemingly tracking down every fly ball hit near him out in center field.

However, Bradley’€™s great defensive play could not carry over to when he stepped up to the plate. At the time of his demotion, Bradley was hitting just .216 with a .288 OBP and .290 slugging percentage this season. The 24-year-old was on pace to register the lowest batting average from an American League starting center fielder since Mike Cameron hit .210 in 1998.

“Certainly there’€™s no questions about the defense, so it was really more focused on the offense,”€ Cherington said. “We just got the point where we felt like …  it would be best for him to get a bunch of at-bats in Pawtucket and try to lock into a routine that works for him – that he can feel good about.”

Cherington made it a point to mention that this will likely not be the last that anyone sees of Bradley at Fenway this season, as the club will not need to use one of their two remaining options on him if he’€™s called up when rosters expand in September.

“We fully expect him to be back in September, but then to be able to go into the offseason feeling like he has a good, solid routine plan in place to build off of in 2015,” Cherington said.

Read More: ben cherington, jackie bradley jr., Red Sox,

Ben Cherington: ‘For the right player, of course we would consider trading prospects’

08.19.14 at 6:42 pm ET
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Ben Cherington

Ben Cherington

There may be 37 games remaining on the schedule this year, but for a Red Sox squad that’€™s 15 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East, it’€™s already time to look forward to the offseason.

Possessing both a deep farm system and a multitude of talented players at the major-league level, the Red Sox certainly have the means and resources to orchestrate a quick rebuild this winter, possibly by contemplating landmark trades with other clubs.

For Boston general manager Ben Cherington, the offseason provides a multitude of avenues for the team to take en route to constructing a winning team in 2015, but he added that parting ways with some of the organization’€™s blue-chip prospects would only become a tangible scenario if the right offer presents itself.

“€œI don’€™t think we’€™ve ever been unwilling to trade prospects. … For the right player, of course we would consider trading prospects,”€ Cherington said. “Clearly, there’€™s some areas that we’€™d like to add to this offseason. We have to figure out what makes the most sense –€“ whether that’€™s trying to add through free agency, trades. … There’€™s definitely times when a trade makes more sense than free agency, and there’€™s times when it’€™s vice-versa.”

One of the first prizes of the offseason may be claimed by the end of the week, as Cuban defector Rusney Castillo is reportedly “moving rapidly”€ towards a decision on signing with a team.

Described by Red Sox left fielder Yoenis Cespedes as “at least a four-tool player,”€ Castillo, 27, could fetch a deal for around $50 million when he eventually signs.

While he would not discuss Boston’€™s evaluation of Castillo, Cherington did acknowledge that the Red Sox have been one of several teams that have established an open dialogue with the intriguing outfielder.

Said Cherington: “There’€™s obviously been attention on this, he’€™s a player that we’€™ve seen and have talked to, but we’€™re just one of several teams that have done that, so there’€™s nothing more I can say about that.”

Read More: ben cherington, Red Sox, Rusney Castillo,

Red Sox pregame notes: Making sense of Yoenis Cespedes; Daniel Nava navigating back to himself

08.19.14 at 6:35 pm ET
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Yoenis Cespedes

Yoenis Cespedes

When it comes to evaluating players during these last couple months of the season, the Red Sox aren’€™t just concerned with taking stock of rookie performances. It’€™s been a chance to see how newly acquired outfielder Yoenis Cespedes fits into the lineup as well.

Cespedes’€™ approach at the plate is a little different than the two players he’€™s sandwiched between in the lineup, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli. While Napoli and Ortiz are accustomed to drawing a lot of walks (Napoli has walked at a 16 percent rate this season), Cespedes embodies a much more aggressive approach and doesn’€™t work many free passes (less than six percent of plate appearances this season).

“With it will come some quick outs, but at the same time the ability to impact the baseball is a result of the aggressiveness as well,” Farrell said of Cespedes’€™ plate approach, which has yielded a .251 average, .294 OBP and .456 slugging mark on the season, including a .219/.231/.406 line with one walk and 11 strikeouts with the Red Sox. “€œHe hasn’€™t become more aggressive since coming over here. This is the player we were well aware of and pursued heavily. We’€™re fully accepting of the style of player he is.”

Batting in between Ortiz and Napoli, Cespedes provides some contrast in the lineup. Farrell says that the outfielder may be shifted in the order to find what combination works best.

“€œHe’€™s been accustomed to hitting in the four hole. [We're trying] to transition him in here with as much comfort as possible. That doesn’€™t mean that going forward there won’€™t be an alignment that flips him and Napoli,” Farrell said. “I’€™m not saying that’€™s going to be tomorrow, but we’€™ll take a look at every combination that’€™s available to us.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Allen Craig, daniel nava, David Ross, Yoenis Cespedes

Passing the test: Christian Vazquez impressing Red Sox in extended evaluation

08.19.14 at 6:26 pm ET
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Christian Vazquez

Christian Vazquez

Many prospects don’€™t get a chance to get their first taste of the big leagues until September call-ups, when their playing time is limited thanks to the sheer number of players on the roster and, often, the importance of the games played if the team is in the playoff race. But the Red Sox‘ otherwise awful season has presented the team with some unusual opportunities, such as a chance to get prospects like Christian Vazquez some consistent playing time at the major league level in the midst of the regular season.

Manager John Farrell sees value in exposing someone like Vazquez to starts on a regular basis before September call-ups.

“€œI firmly believe that April through August is your typical and normal regular season,”€ Farrell said. “You’€™ve got 25 guys that you can’€™t mix and match to always get the right matchup. You’€™re part of a team that, in many cases, is contending or hoping to, so you’€™re exposed. It’€™s more of an accurate evaluation of what a player is capable of.”

In his particular case, Vazquez has seen an increase in playing time over the past month or so with the Red Sox than he had experienced even in Triple-A. With the injury to David Ross, Vazquez has started 12 of the last 15 games for the Sox, a workload that had been unavailable with the PawSox due to the logjam of catchers that included Dan Buter and, at times, Ryan Lavarnway and Matt Spring, with Blake Swihart now up in Triple-A while Vazquez and Butler handle the catching duties at the major league level. Read the rest of this entry »

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