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Blue Jays 3, Red Sox 0: Figuring out Pablo Sandoval hasn’t been easy

04.19.17 at 9:53 pm ET
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Pablo Sandoal (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports)

Pablo Sandoal (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports)

TORONTO — This we know: Pablo Sandoval has come a long way since his belt exploded in this same building just more than one year ago.

After the embarrassment of that swing, Sandoval went on to undergo surgery on his right shoulder before losing some pounds and regaining his starting job at third base.

And Wednesday, Sandoval got what appeared to be another vote of confidence when Red Sox manager John Farrell gave him the start against left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano. It was an assignment that, even without a logical right-handed hitting complement available, seemed noteworthy considering before the previous night the switch-hitter didn’t have a hit in 10 at-bats against lefties.

But what the Red Sox’ 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays did was leave us once again scratching our heads as to what we should make of Sandoval. (For a complete recap, click here.)

What he did this time around was open the door to the Blue Jays’ three-run second inning with a throwing error on a routine grounder off the bat of Troy Tulowitzki leading off the home half of the frame. It was his third error of the season (tied for the most for any third baseman in the majors), and followed a night in which he was unable to range to make a few key plays down the line early in Brian Johnson’s outing.

“I did too much with the ball,” said Sandoval of the error. “It came out. I should have made that play. I tried to do too much on that play, and I made a bad throw.”

“I think there’s been at times, better range, there’s been times where there’s been plays that quite frankly should be made,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “Tonight was an example of that.”

And then, in his first at-bat against Liriano, Sandoval looked like the hitter who went 2-for-41 as a righty against southpaws two years earlier, striking out looking.

Even with the optimism around how the ball was coming off his bat — which was highlighted by the Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato in pointing out Sandoval had the 15th-highest exit velocity in the big leagues coming into the series — the fact was that Sandoval still sat at .191 after that first at-bat.

Yet with this version of Sandoval, there is always something that doesn’t quite allow you to define him.

You look at the batting average, but then get distracted by the team-leading three homers and 10 RBI. And, in this case, there was that first AB, which was followed by a sharp single (hitting right-handed) and another base-hit to leadoff the eighth.

It’s hard to say that Sandoval was the reason the Red Sox lost Wednesday. Gold Glove infielder Mitch Moreland made his first error of the season immediately after the third baseman’s miscue. And starting pitcher Rick Porcello proceeded to three singles in the third for the three-run deficit.

And, on a night when the team with the most hits in the majors only managed six, Sandoval was the only Red Sox’ player to claim more than one.

But there was that one error. And it’s still hard to be convinced Sandoval shouldn’t be platooned once Josh Rutledge returns. Oh, and Travis Shaw is carrying an .890 OPS with the Brewers after hitting his fourth home run of the season, Wednesday.

It’s early and the judgment is still out, which is fine. Just don’t expect any clarity to come out of this night.

Shattering Perceptions Game Note Image

Porcello rebounded from a rough third inning to give the Red Sox seven innings, finishing his 110-pitch outing by allowing just the three runs on six hits. He struck out five and walked one. Eduardo Rodriguez got some work in after his return from paternity leave, pitching a flawless eighth inning, striking out a pair.

Before the Patriots, Jarrod Saltalamacchia had his own issues with going to the White House

04.19.17 at 8:12 pm ET
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Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

TORONTO — The day the Red Sox visited the White House — April 1, 2014 — to celebrate their world championship from the previous year, Jarrod Saltalmacchia wasn’t available, getting ready for his second game as a Miami Marlin.

“I wasn’t going to miss a game for it, that’s for sure,” Saltalamacchia told WEEI.com prior to his Blue Jays’ game against the Red Sox Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.

As it turns out, the former Red Sox’ catcher’s unwillingness to prioritize the trip wasn’t just due to his professional commitments. Much like many of the New England Patriots when it came to choosing not to visit with President Donald Trump Wednesday afternoon, Saltalamacchia was in no rush to participate in the Red Sox’ meet-and-greet with then-President, Barack Obama.

Even talking about it three years later, Saltalamacchia wrestles with what might have happened if the opportunity was presented.

When first discussing the Patriots’ boycott, Saltalamacchia said, “Everyone has got their own opinion. I’ll be honest with you, I probably wouldn’t have went because Obama was in. I didn’t agree with a lot of his political beliefs and the way he ran the country. I honestly probably wouldn’t have went.”

But, as he talked through the scenario, the 31 year old admitted the decision to attend would be a tough one. Even now, within the short conversation, it’s clear he remains conflicted.

“Talking to it beforehand, talking about it now, I feel the same way. I still respect my country. I probably would have went just because of that reason alone. I respect my country and it’s an honor to go to our country’s capital,” Saltalamacchia said.

“It would have been tough just because of my thoughts on Obama and his belief system. I feel like he did a lot of things completely opposite of what this country believes in. … I just think he didn’t do a lot for our veterans. That’s my beliefs. I’m sure those those Patriots players aren’t doing what their beliefs are. I understand it and that’s what is so great about our country, the freedom to make that choice.”

Saltalamacchia had already visited the White House in 2008 with his previous club, the Rangers, when Texas’ former owner, and then-President, George Bush, invited the team to the residence, which included a visit to the Oval Office.

But, as the catcher pointed out, that was a different time, and a different President. And for Saltalmacchia, it all made for a choice he really didn’t want to make.

“Honestly, I didn’t want to [go to the White House in 2014], but just because of how close I was with those guys, still am with those guys, I would have went because my boys, my guys were going,” he said. “So I would have gone with them. Despite beliefs and all of that stuff, because of my respect for my country I probably would have went. Regardless of what you think of what you think of the President, he’s the President, so you have to honor that even if you feel he didn’t honor America. It’s tough. I think there’s a lot of military buddies I have in the Seals who don’t believe in a lot of what Obama did, but they still have to do their job and their duty in protecting our country.”

There has obviously been precedence in players and executives choosing not to attend the traditional championship celebration at the the White House, with Theo Epstein’s absence in 2015 and the 2012 decision by Bruins goalie Tim Thomas serving as two notable examples.

And the reasons for the absences, whether made public or not, remain consistent, with the Patriots offering the latest example. It’s a dynamic Saltalamacchia fully understands, and obviously feels strong about.

Taking a stand is clearly something the catcher was, and is, prepared to do.

“Nothing surprises me anymore the way things are going,” he said. “We all have a choice.

“What happened last year, [with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick] kneeling down, to me that upset me more than anything because it’s like, you know what, our brothers and sisters are across seas fighting for our freedom to be able to do something like that and you can’t even respect them enough to stand for our National Anthem. People who die before us and fought for us. Just like in the baseball world, there’s people who fought before us to have the union we have and have the rights we have in this game. Same thing with our country. I think a lot of people lose sight of that. It’s not fair. Yeah, you don’t like what’s going on but you can’t venture one way because of what’s going on now. You have to remember how this country …. It’s not their fault their country is the way it is right now. It’s our own fault. You want to talk about kids, the Millennials, there’s a reason why they are the way they are. Because of the parents. Same thing down the line. We got to do our job as parents to teach our kids the right way.”

Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 7: Home runs have become luxury item for this team

04.18.17 at 10:57 pm ET
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Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts celebrate Betts' seventh inning home run. (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports)

Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts celebrate Betts’ seventh inning home run. (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports)

TORONTO — Mookie Betts hit a home run in the seventh inning. It didn’t seem like he needed to.

Such is life with these Red Sox, with Tuesday night’s 8-7 win over the Blue Jays serving as the latest example. Against Marcus Stroman, who had been Toronto’s best starting pitcher, John Farrell’s team managed to kick the Jays’ ace to the curb after just 4 2/3 innings on the way to a 15-hit night. (For a complete recap of the Red Sox’ win, click here.)

“The home runs are coming,” said Hanley Ramirez while walking through the visitors clubhouse prior to the game. To repeat, they should be in no rush.

With Betts’ solo shot, the Red Sox now have a total of seven homers, the fewest in the majors. Yet here they sit at 9-5, having scored four or more runs in nine of their 14 games.

“I don’t know if it’s more cold-weather related or not. You look at the number of hits that we’ve compiled has been I think pretty high,” said Farrell before the game. “I will say this: We don’t as an organization preach home runs. We preach quality at-bats as best as possible. Put your best swing on pitches in areas you’re typically going to handle. In terms of trying to hit home runs, they’re going to come. If you look back to the way we hit last year, through the middle of April or middle of May even, we were probably in the bottom third of home runs hit and still scored runs. That’s a compliment to the type of hitters we have and the depth of our lineup overall.”

He’s right.

Through April last season, the Red Sox owned the most runs in the American League while having hit the third-fewest home runs in Major League Baseball (19).

And this time around, the Red Sox are sitting with the most hits in baseball. And coming into Tuesday, they had the second-best batting average with runners in scoring position (.328).

The win against the struggling Blue Jays might have offered the best definition of what the Red Sox’ offense has become. In the third inning, the Sox used four singles to score three runs and tie the game. Then, in the fifth, back-to-back doubles from Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland after a Betts single drove Stroman from the game, ultimately tagging the starter with six runs on 11 hits.

Maybe the most subtle, yet meaningful, hit of them all came from Pablo Sandoval after Toronto manager John Gibbons replaced Stroman with lefty Aaron Loup.

Sandoval, who had been 0-for-10 against southpaws coming into the at-bat, rifled a single back up the middle to score Moreland to cap the three-run sixth.

“I’ve been working hard with [hitting coaches] Victor Rodriguez and Chili Davis,” Sandoval said. “I’ve been putting in the work together to get in the right position and get my swing back the way I was swinging in spring training. That’s what I’ve been doing. That’s why I’ve been watching videos to compare swings that were working.”

Can the Red Sox keep living life without the long ball? That remains to be seen. The championship teams of 2004, ’07 and ’13 all had greater punch, hitting 25, 27 and 26 home runs, respectively, in April.

For now, even in the homer-friendly Rogers Centre, it’s working out just fine.

Shattering Perceptions Game Note Image

Brian Johnson picked up his first major league win, finding a way to navigate through five innings while throwing 97 pitches. The lefty allowed four runs on seven hits.

Why has Brock Holt disappeared?

04.18.17 at 5:49 pm ET
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Brock Holt

Brock Holt

TORONTO — It would seem that there would be plenty of opportunities.

For one, with the absence of Jackie Bradley Jr. in the outfield, and the Red Sox facing predominantly right-handed starters, Holt would normally be John Farrell’s go-to guy to put in left field during this last week. But during that span there has just been two starts, with Chris Young getting the majority of playing time.

There has also been the occasional opportunity to spell Pablo Sandoval at third base against lefties. Yet, still, Holt is sitting at two starts for the season, one at third and the other in left.

Then came the series opener at Rogers Centre.

With Farrell identifying Tuesday as a logical opportunity for Dustin Pedroia to get some rest, it was Marco Hernandez, not Holt, who the manager turned to. The explanation wasn’t complicated — Hernandez is swinging better than Holt, who entered the game 1-for-11 with five strikeouts.

“You try to keep everyone involved as best possible,” the Red Sox manager said. “The fact is, Marco’s at-bats have probably been a little bit more consistent whether that’s coming out of spring training a little bit more timely, he’s had more opportunities as the season has begun, Brock is still going to play a vital role on this team as we go forward but Marco is in there [Tuesday].”

Hernandez hasn’t exactly torn up the majors since his promotion, hitting .261 with a .565 OPS coming into the three-game set. But coming off his stellar Grapefruit League season, the lefty hitter has shown Farrell enough to want to see a bit more.

“There’s been a lot to like. His at-bats have been overall aggressive,” Farrell said. “I think, with the exception of maybe an occasional at-bat against a left-hander where there’s been a little bit of a tough matchup, I thought he has swung the bat well. He’s played with a lot of athleticism and energy. He’s a good fit to be able to play at multiple positions.”

Red Sox lineup: Dustin Pedroia starts on bench, Xander Bogaerts leads off

04.18.17 at 3:38 pm ET
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Dustin Pedroia

Dustin Pedroia

TORONTO — Dustin Pedroia might not play every game this season, after all.

The Red Sox second baseman starts the Red Sox’ series opener on the bench, with Marco Hernandez getting the nod at second base against Toronto starter Marcus Stroman. Xander Bogaerts takes Pedroia’s spot at the top of the lineup.

“We’re in a stretch of I think 30 of 31. His been in all 13 games,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell of Pedroia. “We come off a stretch where we’ve had so many different start times and just felt like today was a day to keep Marco rotating through the infield somewhat and give him a day down.”

Here is the entire Red Sox’ batting order, with Brian Johnson getting the nod for the visitors:

Xander Bogaerts SS
Andrew Benintendi CF
Mookie Betts RF
Hanley Ramirez DH
Mitch Moreland 1B
Chris Young LF
Pablo Sandoval 3B
Christian Vazquez C
Marco Hernandez 2B

For all the Red Sox news, go to the team page by clicking here.

Tuesday Red Sox Farm Report: Former 1st-round pick Michael Chavis returns from DL, collects 2 hits

04.18.17 at 9:59 am ET
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Michael Chavis

Michael Chavis

Here’s a look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Monday.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX (6-5): Scheduled off-day.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS (6-4): L, 8-3, at Binghamton

— Starter Kevin McAvoy took the loss as he had major control issues. The right-hander went 3 1/3 innings and allowed just one hit, but allowed four earned runs because of seven walks. The Sea Dogs trailed 4-1 when he exited the game.

— Offensively, each member of the Sea Dogs batting order recorded at least one hit, except for No. 9 batter Joseph Monge.

— First baseman Mike Olt paced the offense by going 2-for-4 and third baseman Rafael Devers added a double.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX (7-5): W, 11-2, vs. Wilmington

— Tate Matheny and Chad De La Guerra led the Salem offense by collecting three hits apiece in the blowout win. Second baseman Josh Tobias added a home run. He was acquired in return for Clay Buchholz.

— Michael Chavis returned from the disabled list as the designated hitter and went 2-for-4 with a double and a walk. He missed about 10 days with an elbow injury.

— On the mound, Matt Kent got the win by going 6 1/3 innings and allowing two runs on five hits, while striking out six.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE (7-5): L, 5-3 at Lexington

— Greenville starter Darwinzon Hernandez was pitching well until the fifth inning when things fell apart. He finished the outing allowing five runs in 4 2/3 innings to take the loss. He walked three and struck out five.

— Tyler Hill and Isaias Lucena paced the offense by collecting two hits each.

— As a team, Greenville finished with just five hits.

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Through 13 games, Red Sox have already proven to be different than 2016 team in one big way

04.17.17 at 4:06 pm ET
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The Red Sox already have four comeback wins this season. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Red Sox already have four comeback wins this season. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Even though it has only been 13 games, the 2017 Red Sox have already shown they are different in one key way than last year’s team.

The 2017 Red Sox can come back in games when they are down.

Last year, it seemed every time the Red Sox trailed in the late innings, or at any point at all really, they were done. Even though it is only two weeks into the season, the 2017 Red Sox have proven they are different.

Of the eight wins so far this season, four have been of the comeback variety, including Monday’s 4-3 win over the Rays.

It’s something that has stood out to manager John Farrell in the early going this season.

“The one thing that’s starting to show is that we’ve come from behind a number of games already,” he said. “To tack on some runs late, to take some leads. And that goes hand in hand with a bullpen that has pitched very well, but we haven’t abandoned our approach at the plate. Guys haven’t come out of their approach. They haven’t had the one game with the one swing of the bat. We’ve built innings. We’ve faced very good pitching from a number of teams. I think it’s that relentless that we’ve been trying to preach and continue to have it filter over from the trust in that lineup from top to bottom.”

Starter Steven Wright had a tough first inning by allowing two runs before the Red Sox even stepped to the plate, but the offense got a run back in the bottom half and then scored three runs in the bottom of the second to take a 4-2 lead and wouldn’t look back.

The Red Sox actually caught a break in the second inning when Rays second baseman Brad Miller dropped a ball, which would have ended the inning on a force play. Andrew Benintendi (two RBIs) and Mookie Betts (RBI) made Tampa Bay pay with back-to-back singles to give the Sox a 4-2 lead.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Why Brian Johnson’s first-ever trip to Canada means so much

04.17.17 at 3:44 pm ET
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Brian Johnson (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Brian Johnson (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Bahamas. Japan. Taiwan.

Brian Johnson has been to all of those ports of call. But Canada? Never. Until Monday.

Instead of hopping the plane to Charlotte with the rest of the Pawtucket Red Sox, the 26 year old found himself driving up to Boston in time to catch the Red Sox’ plane to Toronto. Eduardo Rodriguez was on paternity leave, John Farrell needed a starter, and Johnson was the deemed the guy.

“You definitely appreciate the call up more when you don’t know what lies next,” said Johnson, who gets the start against the Blue Jays Tuesday at Rogers Centre. “It took two years but it was a long path in between that but I’m excited to be here.”

To be exact, it will be 637 days — or one year, eight months and 28 days — from the last time Johnson pitched in a major league game. And considering what happened that first time around, when he allowed four runs in 4 1/3 innings in Houston before being shut down due to elbow issues, it’s understandable that the Florida native is anxious to put that debut in the rear-view mirror.

Then factor in what Johnson has gone through since that 2015 season. There was the offseason he was car-jacked, which led to a 2016 season that was derailed by anxiety issues. And even this season with the PawSox, he was struck in the head by a line-drive (the second time in his pro career), forcing him from his first start.

“Honestly, I think the only way I think you can shake it off is to take one in the face before that,” he said, referencing the liner he took off the face while pitching for Single-A Lowell. “You take one in the face, one in the head is not too bad. Honestly I’d take that one, any day of the week before I take that first one so it wasn’t bad.”

And now, he will be relied upon to keep the Red Sox’ winning ways going against a Blue Jays team that entered Monday with a major league-worst 2-10 mark. Not hurting matters is the momentum he’s riding via his last start, a 6 1/3-inning gem which resulted in just one run allowed.

And the fact that he gets to get another stamp on his passport is just an added bonus.

“I’ve been throwing more off my fastball,” Johnson said. “I think last year I got into the habit of more maybe trying to throw it for a strike and kind of babying. Now I’m really just throwing it as hard as I can like my fastball and it’s worked out well so far.”

Red Sox 4, Rays 3: This bullpen isn’t that bad, after all

04.17.17 at 2:13 pm ET
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Ben Taylor (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Ben Taylor (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The hold-your-breath feeling is still there. That’s what happens when you have all but one guy trying to do something on a regular basis that they’ve never consistently been asked to do.

But try as we might to ignore what this Red Sox bullpen is doing, it’s getting more and more apparent that there might be something here. All of a sudden, you have a bunch of relievers who carry the fourth-best ERA in the majors (1.84) and the third-best batting average against in the bigs. And they still have given up just one home run.

“Once they get a little success, their confidence is starting to grow,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “And I think they settle into that pecking order that has emerged. It still comes down to executing, which they’ve done a very good job at.”

The latest resume builder came Monday morning/afternoon in the Red Sox’ 4-3 win over the Rays at Fenway Park. (For a complete recap of the game, click here.)

With Steven Wright’s day finally coming to an end after leaving following a Tim Beckham leadoff single to kick off the seventh inning, Robbie Ross Jr. came on clinging to a two-run lead. He was greeted by a fluky ground-rule double from Corey Dickerson that shortstop Xander Bogaerts should have caught down the left field line.

But with runners on second and third and still nobody out, Ross Jr. came back to strike out Kevin Kiermaier, paving the way for an intentional walk to Evan Longoria.

With Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly presumably unavailable, Farrell turned to a guy who had just been summoned to join the Red Sox at about 9 a.m., Ben Taylor. Taylor did allow an RBI single to Steven Souza Jr., but came back to induce an inning-ending fly out to right field off the bat of lefty hitter Logan Morrison.

“I was actually putting gas in the car, ready to go to Pawtucket to get on the bus to get on a plane to go to Charlotte,” said Taylor of when he found out about the promotion. “I got a call from [Kevin Boles} Bolesy, our manager, and he told me I was coming up here for the day. I drove over here as quick as I could.”

Taylor paved the way for Farrell’s other late-inning right-hander, Heath Hembree, who hadn’t pitched since Thursday. Hembree cruised through the eighth against three straight right-handers, sandwiching strikeouts vs. Rickie Weeks Jr. and Beckham around a Derek Norris fly out.

“You want to pitch in those late innings, tight-ballgame roles,” Hembree said. “But anyone in the bullpen can do that. Everybody down there has quality stuff. We’re not surprised.”

Then came the one guy who was being counted on to offer a bit less uncertainty, Craig Kimbrel. And the closer once again managed to do exactly that.

Kimbrel converted his 25th straight save opportunity, which is the second-longest streak the majors, while making it 21 in a row at Fenway Park. This time the closer struck out the side to punctuate the win. He became the first Red Sox pitcher since Mike Timlin in 2006 to notch three saves in a single series.

So, is Farrell surprised that he has ended up with this bullpen?

“No, because it’s one that has good stuff,” the manager said. “When you anchor it with a guy who is an elite closer in Craig it allows those roles to emerge. As long as they execute there is a lot of big league stuff out there. There’s power. There’s the ability to match-up. Robby Scott has come in in some key moments and gotten some key outs. I’ll tell you, it’s a pretty strong vote of confidence to bring a kid like Ben Taylor into a spot like that knowing he’s going to throw strikes and quality strikes. They’re pitching well.”

Shattering Perceptions Game Note Image

Wright walked off the mound having surrendered two runs over six innings, with both of those scores coming in an uncomfortable 31-pitch first inning. He did leave with the lead, however, with the Red Sox scoring one in the first and three more in the second against Tampa Bay starter Blake Snell. Andrew Benintendi capped his successful homestand (12-for-28) with three more hits.

Red Sox lineup: Hanley Ramirez in, Pablo Sandoval out on Marathon Monday

04.17.17 at 10:18 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)

After leaving Sunday’s win against the Rays due to a cramp, Hanley Ramirez is in the lineup for the annual Patriots Day morning game.

“He came in and he check out OK,” manager John Farrell said. “I think even after he went through some treatment at the end of the yesterday’s game, the cramp, which was what it was not a pull, started to ease up on him and feels he’s ready to go.”

Pablo Sandoval will sit against Rays left-hander Blake Snell and Marco Hernandez will get the start in his place at third base.

Xander Bogaerts has jumped Mitch Moreland in the batting order, as the shortstop is now batting fifth and Moreland is batting sixth.

Sandy Leon will catch knuckleballer Steven Wright.

Here is the complete Red Sox lineup.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Andrew Benintendi, CF
Mookie Betts, RF
Hanley Ramirez, DH
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Mitch Moreland, 1B
Chris Young, LF
Sandy Leon, C
Marco Hernandez, 3B
Steven Wright, RHP

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