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Mookie Betts looks to join early-season Red Sox bash

04.11.16 at 1:09 pm ET
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Mookie Betts has struggled to get off and running in 2016. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

Mookie Betts has struggled to get off and running in 2016. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

The irony of the situation is not lost on John Farrell.

In the first four games, the Red Sox scored at least six runs before being shut out 3-0 Sunday in Toronto.

One of the few players not off to a great start is Mookie Betts, the player expected to be one of the most consistent table-setters at the top of the Red Sox order and one of the most trusted batters in the lineup.

Since going 2-for-5 in the season opener with a homer in the 6-2 win in Cleveland, Betts has just one hit in his next 18 at-bats with seven strikeouts. Betts is 3-for-23 (.130) with eight strikeouts, and has just one walk in 24 plate appearances.

It’s just five games into the season, so it’s hardly time for wholesale changes to one’s plate approach but what makes Farrell comfortable in leaving the team’s table-setter at the top of the order is Betts’ attitude.

“He’s not looking to change,” Farrell said. “He gets off to a good start and then he’s getting pitched to a little bit. Might have been expanding the zone on some at-bats.”

And a good home opener can always change one’s perspective. It was last year at Fenway against the Nationals that Betts exploded on the scene after experiencing a nearly identical start to this season. After five games, he was batting just .192 with seven strikeouts.

In that game against the Nationals, he homered, drove in four runs, stole two bases and robbed Bryce Harper of a home run in right-center. He finished the ’15 season batting .291 with 18 homers and 77 RBIs with an OPS of .820.

“He’s in the leadoff spot again here today,” Farrell said before Monday’s game with the Orioles, hoping perhaps for a repeat of the ’15 home opener.

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Hanley Ramirez predicts ‘special’ year for Red Sox

04.11.16 at 12:49 pm ET
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Hanley Ramirez predicts it will be a "special" year of the Red Sox. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

Hanley Ramirez predicts it will be a “special” year for the Red Sox. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

The Red Sox are coming off of two straight last place finishes going into 2016, but there is plenty of optimism given the 3-2 start and strong showing from the offense, as well as the addition of David Price at the top of the rotation.

One player on the team — Hanley Ramirez — believes this year will be much different than the previous two.

“The team we have right now, it’s going to be a special year,” Ramirez said prior to the Red Sox’ home opener Monday. “We were talking about it last night, this team is really together. Chemistry is unbelievable. We’re pulling for eachother.”

Ramirez is off to a hot start at the plate going 10-for-22 in the first five games of the season with three extra-base hits. Even more impressive has been his play at first base, which given all the attention it got during spring training hasn’t been much of an issue to open the year.

He was asked what has been the reason for his success.

“Just going out there early, giving everything I’ve got everyday and play hard,” he said.

Given all the negative talk during spring training about Ramirez playing first base and him looking comfortable to start the year, does the new first baseman feel vindicated?

“Never. Never,” he said. “It is what it is. You’re here to win. You are going to hear some negative stuff, positive stuff. You always have to stay the same and keep working.”

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Travis Shaw wants to ‘just kind of take [starting role] by the throat’

04.11.16 at 12:23 pm ET
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Travis Shaw (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Travis Shaw started his first home opener Monday. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Living on the edge has worked out for Travis Shaw to this point, so why stop now.

For instance, Shaw still wasn’t certain of his starting status a week ago, even after being tabbed the Red Sox’ Opening Day third baseman. Seven days later and he has been on the lineup card for each of his team’s first six games.

“All they said was, ‘You’re starting on Opening Day.’ That’s all I got,” Shaw said Monday morning prior to his first major league home opener. “I honestly didn’t know how that playing balance was going to work. If I was going to play, then he was going to play. It’s still kind of a trial. I’m just going to do the same thing I did in spring training, just kind of take it by the throat.”

The approach has worked so far.

First was putting himself to make the team. Then came convincing the Red Sox he should compete for the starting third base job with Pablo Sandoval. Then, after winning the spot, there was the task of Shaw remaining in the lineup.

Heading into Monday’s game against the Orioles, where all of that has led Shaw has been a .313 batting average, .859 OPS and standout defense at third in his first five 2016 games.

“I wasn’t worried. I guess I was more focused I didn’t start off slow up here, because if you start off slow up here that can be trouble,” Shaw said. “Luckily, the first couple of games I was able to get a couple of hits. I feel like I’ve had great at-bats all year. For me, it’s definitely a step in the right direction to start the year this compared to previous years.”

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Red Sox notes: Fenway Park undergoes changes including new infield, more netting, TV’s in dugouts

04.11.16 at 12:14 pm ET
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The Fenway Park infield looks a little different this year. (WEEI.com photo)

The Fenway Park infield looks a little different this year. (WEEI.com photo)

If Fenway Park looks a little different on Monday, your eyes aren’t deceiving you.

During the offseason the Red Sox put down a new infield where there is less dirt and more grass. This was due to the number of events Fenway Park hosted over the winter. The base cutouts are significantly smaller and there is less dirt in the outfield.

Manager John Farrell said before the team did it there were conversations with Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts who expressed some ways to improve the surface, which is challenging to keep up with given the cold April weather.

“With so many events last year [at Fenway Park], we were in the position to put down a new infield,” Farrell said. “At the time there was some discussion that went on internally if there were adjustments that we would like to make. Typically this has been an infield where there’s so much expansive dirt or exposed dirt. We looked around Major League Baseball, saw some different styles and just wanted to put a little bit more grass in for continuity of a ground ball.”

In addition to the infield, there will now be TV’s in each dugout viewing the bullpens. This is something more and more fields are doing around the league given how tough it can be to see the bullpens from the dugouts.

“It’s something we added this year — both sides have it just to be able to see more clearly who is getting loose rather than call upstairs or try and figure out who in fact is the next guy getting ready,” Farrell said.

Finally, as expected there is new netting going from dugout-to-dugout to help with fan safety given the few incidents that occurred at Fenway Park last season.

“We recognize our fans want to be uninterrupted in the action, but our priority and I think Major League Baseball’s priority is fan safety,” Farrell said. “We’re seeing it in every ballpark with the netting that is there. I think like many changes that you see around the league, we’re going to get accustomed to the netting there. We saw a pretty scary thing here and I don’t think any of us want to see that again. We feel like this will remedy some of those potential issues.”

OTHER RED SOX NOTES

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Red Sox lineup: Brock Holt returns, Travis Shaw starts at 3B in home opener

04.11.16 at 10:08 am ET
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Brock Holt

Brock Holt

A day after being unavailable because of a bruised foot on Sunday, Brock Holt returns to the Red Sox lineup as he will start in left field in the home opener against the undefeated Orioles.

As expected, Travis Shaw will get the start at third base and Pablo Sandoval will be on the bench. Other than that it is a standard lineup with Blake Swihart catching starter David Price.

The Red Sox will be going up against right-hander Yovani Gallardo.

Here is the complete Red Sox lineup:

Mookie Betts, RF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Xander Bogaerts, SS
David Ortiz, DH
Hanley Ramirez, 1B
Travis Shaw, 3B
Brock Holt, LF
Blake Swihart, C
Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
David Price, P

For an extensive look at the pitching matchups, click here.

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Monday’s Red Sox-Orioles matchups: David Price vs. Yovani Gallardo

04.11.16 at 9:10 am ET
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David Price

David Price

Red Sox ace David Price will look to move to 2-0 on the young season in Monday’s home opener at Fenway Park. He is set to face off against Orioles righty Yovani Gallardo.

Price started off his Red Sox career on the right foot last Tuesday, throwing six strong innings against the Indians on a cold day in Cleveland. He finished with two earned runs on five hits with two walks and 10 strikeouts. Outside of a rocky fourth inning, it was smooth sailing from the get-go.

“We had our ace out there, showing up, doing his job, holding the other offense down. That’s him,” Sox slugger David Ortiz said after the win. “That’s what Price always brings to the table. That’s why we got him this offseason. Happy to watch him do what he does out there. That’s what we always see from him.”

Price will be eager to face an Orioles team that he has enjoyed much success against in his career. In 19 starts vs. Baltimore he has a record of 8-4 with an ERA of 2.65 and 120 strikeouts.

Gallardo, signed to a three-year, $35 million deal as a free agent in the offseason, got off to a solid start with his new team as well, getting a win after allowing just two hits and one earned run over five innings of work in Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over the Twins. He walked three and struck out four.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter credited Gallardo with finding a way to win on a night when he didn’t have his best command.

“He’s a guy who’s going to add and subtract. I think he’s a guy who’s kind of evolved and knows who he is and who he isn’t,” Showalter said. “A guy who keeps you in the ball game and gives you a chance to win it if you catch it and score some runs. On a given night, he’s carrying a little extra stuff, get a little deeper in the game. He’s a pitcher and he doesn’t give in in counts and knows when to pitch backward.”

After spending his first eight big league seasons with the Brewers, Gallardo played the 2015 season with the Rangers. The 30-year-old from Mexico finished with a record of 13-11, a career-best 3.42 ERA and 121 strikeouts.

In four career starts against the Red Sox, Gallardo is 2-2 with a 4.35 ERA and 14 strikeouts.

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Monday Red Sox Farm Report: Christian Vazquez reaches in 9-of-12 plate appearances

04.11.16 at 4:19 am ET
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Here’s a look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Sunday.

Christian Vazquez

Christian Vazquez

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX (2-2): L, 9-1 vs. Buffalo (Blue Jays)

— Catcher Christian Vazquez continued his hot start at the plate on his rehab assignment with the PawSox, going 3-for-4 Sunday with three sharply hit singles (two up the middle, one to the opposite field) and another hot shot that required a diving stop at first base. Including his three walks so far this year, Vazquez has now reached base in 9-of-12 plate appearances.

The 25-year-old Vazquez missed all of the 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last April. Vazquez served as the DH on Sunday but caught games in Pawtucket both Friday and Saturday and, per reports, fielded and threw well.

“I’m feeling great,” Vazquez told the Providence Journal before Sunday’s game. “I don’t want to rush it. Day-by-day, it’s coming. … I’m close to 100 percent. I’m getting there.”

Vazquez saw time in the majors in 2014, throwing out 15-of-29 would-be base stealers while committing five errors in 54 games. The Red Sox have until April 28 to option Vazquez or bring him back to the big leagues.

— Other than Vazquez, who drove in the team’s lone run of the game in the first inning, the Pawtucket offense struggled with just seven total hits and one extra base-hit (a double from left fielder Allen Craig). Shortstop Marco Hernandez (Boston’s No. 13 prospect at MLB.com) went 1-for-4 with a single and a run scored, while first baseman Sam Travis (Boston’s No. 7 prospect at MLB.com) cooled off with an 0-for-4; Travis was also charged with an error in the field as he was unable to backhand a grounder to his right in the third inning.

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Red Sox president Sam Kennedy: Pitching David Price in home opener ‘100 percent John Farrell’s call’

04.10.16 at 10:32 pm ET
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Sam Kennedy

Sam Kennedy

Perhaps the controversy will have died down a bit by the time David Price takes the mound Monday afternoon, but ever since John Farrell announced the ace would be pushed back a day, letting Steven Wright make Sunday’s start, there has been buzz.

Was this a mandate from above, such as Red Sox ownership, to get Price the start in the home opener? Why would there be such a priority to make sure the No. 5 starter, Wright, stayed on his regular turn?

While appearing at the second annual WEEI Baseball Round Table at the Cathedral Station Sports Bar and Restaurant, team president Sam Kennedy offered his explanation as to how things transpired.

“Selfishly, as someone who will be at Opening Day, I’m excited to watch David Price in person. I think ownership and those in the front office weren’t sure what was going to happen, but it was 100 percent John Farrell’s call,” Kennedy said. “I think the thinking was that you had right-handers going against a right-handed lineup, and No. 2, the knuckleball hopefully works better in the [Rogers Centre] dome, and No. 3, you want to keep the rotation early in the year. It didn’t seem to be that big of a deal, but I understand it has become a big talk radio issue, and I understand that any time you have David Price going.

“[Kennedy and ownership] were at Fenway and we heard from Dave Dombrowski who was with the club that that was the decision they had made inside the clubhouse. I can assure you that was not a decision that was mandated by me or John [Henry] or Tom [Werner] or anybody else. That was a baseball decision and hopefully it will work out.”

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Closing Time: Steven Wright pitches well, but punchless Red Sox shut out by Blue Jays

04.10.16 at 5:19 pm ET
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Steven Wright wasn't the problem in Sunday's loss to the Jays. (Nick Turchiaro-USA Today Sports)

Steven Wright wasn’t the problem in Sunday’s loss to the Jays. (Nick Turchiaro/USA Today Sports)

Not even David Price could’ve saved them.

The controversy all week over the Red Sox’ choice of starter for Sunday’s finale in Toronto was rendered irrelevant by Jays right-hander Marco Estrada, who combined with two relievers to shut out the Red Sox in Toronto’s 3-0 victory.

Knuckleballer Steven Wright got the start on Price’s regularly scheduled day to pitch, with the Red Sox opting to hold Price back a day for Monday’s home opener at Fenway Park. Wright certainly did his part, limiting the high-octane Blue Jays to six hits and two runs in 6 2/3 innings, striking out five, but the Red Sox could do nothing with the crafty Estrada, who went seven shutout innings, striking out eight.

“Outstanding job on his part,” manager John Farrell said of Wright. “Kept us in the game into the seventh inning. He minimized the damage as much as possible in the first, but after that first inning, he settled in and controlled and commanded the knuckleball very well. He used his fastball at times to get ahead in the count, to get back into counts. But we ran into an outstanding pitching performance by Estrada today.”

The Jays basically won this one by the time they recorded their first out on offense. Singles by Kevin Pillar and Josh Donaldson leading off, followed by a walk to Jose Bautista, loaded the bases with one out. Edwin Encarnacion hit a double-play grounder to short, but Dustin Pedroia threw away Xander Bogaerts’ relay, allowing Encarnacion to reach and two runs to score.

Wright escaped further damage and kept the Jays off the board the rest of the way, their only other run coming on a mammoth solo homer by Donaldson off of reliever Noe Ramirez in the eighth.

The Red Sox return to Fenway 3-2 after a successful season-opening road trip, however, having taken two of three from the Jays.

Closing Time note

Until Ramirez allowed Donaldson’s homer, Red Sox relief pitchers had held opponents to a .100 average (5-for-50), the lowest mark among big league bullpens.

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Sunday Red Sox Farm Report: Sam Travis delivers walk-off hit for PawSox

04.10.16 at 8:39 am ET
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Here’s a look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Saturday.

Sam Travis

Sam Travis

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX (2-1): L, 3-1, Game 1 and W, 4-3, Game 2 vs. Buffalo (Blue Jays)

— First baseman Sam Travis (Boston’s No. 7 prospect at MLB.com) was the hero of Game 2 with a walk-off single ripped down the left-field line that gave Pawtucket a 4-3 victory. Second baseman Josh Rutledge led off the bottom of the seventh (the final inning as in standard minor league doubleheader formats) with a single to center and advanced to second with a stolen base. Catcher Christian Vazquez was then intentionally walked, bringing Travis to the plate for the finish.

Travis, 22, had also singled home a run in the fifth — a laced single to center on a 2-0 pitch that scored shortstop Marco Hernandez — to tie the game at 3 as Travis finished the nightcap 2-for-4 with two RBIs after going 1-for-3 with a run scored in Game 1. Selected by Boston in the second round of the 2014 draft out of Indiana University, Travis was named the Red Sox Minor League Offensive Player of the Year in 2015 after slashing .307/.381/.452 in 131 games split between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland.

— Rutledge, Hernandez and Vazquez combined to go 8-for-11 with four runs scored hitting in the top three spots of the PawSox order in Game 2. Hernandez tripled home Rutledge in the first with a shot off the left-center wall, and later came home on a Vazquez single past third base. Hernandez would add a double in the third as well, pulling one into right field and hustling in to second ahead of the throw.

Hernandez, a 23-year-old switch hitter, slashed .305/.330/.454 last season split between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket as he finished with nine homers, 30 doubles and six triples in 114 games played. Hernandez was acquired by Boston from the Chicago Cubs as part of the return in the Felix Doubront trade in December of 2014.

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