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After performing well in Puerto Rico, Rusney Castillo might be re-entering conversation with Red Sox

01.11.17 at 1:46 pm ET
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Rusney Castillo (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Rusney Castillo (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

There isn’t much buzz around Rusney Castillo. That’s understandable.

Considering what the outfielder has done since signing his seven-year, $72.5 million deal with the Red Sox, expectations have diminished to next to nothing. Over parts of three seasons, Castillo’s contributions to the big league club have amounted to a .262 batting average and .679 OPS with seven home runs over 99 games.

So, with that in mind, even one of Castillo’s biggest supporters, Houston bench coach Alex Cora, is tempering expectations even after the righty hitter’s performance with Cora’s team (Caguas) in the Puerto Rico Winter League.

“I’ve been on this train before and I got burned the first time,” Cora said when appearing on the Bradfo Sho podcast. “A lot of people on Twitter remind me.” (To listen to the entire podcast, click here.)

But, according to Cora, there has been a change in Castillo.

The first thing he has noticed has been a different demeanor off the field, thanks in large part to the presence of the 29-year-old’s mother and child, who have arrived from Cuba.

“One thing about him, and I’m not going to get caught in all the hype and the numbers and all of that, his Mom is here, his kid is here, and there’s something different as far as off the field stuff,” Cora said.

There is also a slightly slimmed down body, which has, according to Cora, led to better baserunning and improved fielding. (He has primarily played left field with Caguas.)

But the biggest change has been Castillo’s approach at the plate. The league’s playoffs are currently unfolding (he scored a pair of runs in Caguas’ Tuesday night win). But prior to the postseason, Castillo managed a .392 batting average and .892 OPS in 14 games.

“There are a lot of balls he drives to right-center, especially against lefties, but against righties you see the red ‘C’ in between shortstop and third base, the roll over,” Cora said. “He has problems catching up to that pitch, but he doesn’t have problems with pitches outside that he can drive to right field.”

He added, “For me, he’s too passive. He understands the strike zone. It’s more like he sees the ball and he’s going to attack instead of thinking, ‘I’m hitting, hitting, hitting and then I’m going to take.’ I said, ‘You feel discipline enough?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m discipline.’ ‘So get off the plate and this is winter ball and you see guys throw 87 and guys who throw 95, 96, so don’t go by the results. So, get off the plate and be disciplined enough on the inside part of the plate to take that pitch. You might be 2-0, 3-1, then they have to go outside and that’s your strength.’ So far, so good.”

The challenge for Castillo once spring training rolls around is to get back in the good graces of the Red Sox brass, having to enter camp not on the 40-man roster. But considering how thin the Sox may be in the outfield at the Triple-A level, with Junior Lake and Brian Bogusevic around on minor-league deals, and Bryce Brentz still in the mix, there might be some semblance of an opportunity.


Cubs reportedly set to visit White House before Obama leaves office, avoiding Trump

01.11.17 at 9:49 am ET
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You may have heard Donald Trump’s name in the news today. Apparently the Cubs want no part of that (bleep)-show.

According to Mary Ann Ahern of NBC, the Cubs will be honored at the White House on Monday, before President Obama leaves office. President Trump will be inaugurated on Friday, Jan. 20.

The Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs, has an up-and-down history with Trump. Todd Ricketts, who sits on the team’s board of directors, was recently named deputy secretary of commerce for the new administration. But Trump has also clashed with the family over political donations to groups dedicated to stopping him during the election, and he threatened to spill dirt on the family in a tweet from last February.

Cubs president Theo Epstein, the Brookline native and former Red Sox general manager, is a known supporter of Democratic causes. While it is often reported that he skipped the White House visit after the Red Sox won it all in 2004 and George Bush was president, he actually just chose not to appear on stage with the team, instead sitting in the audience. He did, however, skip the team’s second visit after winning in 2007, citing family reasons.

Obama is a Chicago native who grew up rooting for the White Sox.

Read More: cubs, Obama, Ricketts family, Theo Epstein

David Ortiz invoked in Jeff Sessions attorney general confirmation hearings

01.10.17 at 2:40 pm ET
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David Ortiz

David Ortiz

David Ortiz may be retired, but he hasn’t been forgotten on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Speaking at the confirmation hearings of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who has been nominated for attorney general by President-elect Donald Trump, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse invoked Ortiz while questioning Sessions’ history of questionable racial positions.

“We have a vibrant Dominican community, who look at Big Papi, David Ortiz, swinging his bat for the Red Sox, and wonder why you said, ‘Almost no one coming from the Dominican Republic to the United States is coming here because they have a provable skill that would benefit us,'” said Whitehouse in reference to a 2006 speech that is available on Sessions’ official website.

In response to Whitehouse, Sessions explained that he was referring to the fact that most immigration is based on family connections, rather than proof of skills that could be useful in the U.S.

“The immigration flow from almost all of our countries, frankly, is based on family connection and other visas, rather than a skill-based program, more like Canada has today,” Session said. “And that’s all I intended to be saying there. . . . Please don’t see that as a diminishment or a criticism of the people of the Dominican Republic.”

Red Sox fans would certainly question Sessions’ opinions on the issue.

Read More: David Ortiz, Jeff Sessions, Senate confirmation hearings,

Mookie Betts ranks ahead of Bryce Harper as baseball’s best right fielder in ESPN poll of evaluators

01.10.17 at 11:13 am ET
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Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts

A case can be made that Mookie Betts was the best all-around player in baseball last year. He’s certainly the game’s best right fielder.

That is the conclusion of ESPN’s Buster Olney in his latest positional roundup, conducted via a poll of industry evaluators, which places Betts ahead of even former NL MVP Bryce Harper among all right fielders in baseball.

Olney cites Betts’ emergence as a WAR monster (9.6) last year, when he hit 31 homers, stole 26 bases in 30 chances, won a Gold Glove with an astounding 32 runs saved, and stepped forward as one of the best young players in the game’s history.

If that sounds like hyperbole, consider this:

From Sarah Langs of ESPN Stats & Information: Betts had 9.6 WAR in 2016 in his age-23 season. The only Red Sox player with more WAR in an age-23 season or younger was Ted Williams, who had 10.6 in 1941 in his age-22 season and 10.6 in 1942 at age 23. The only position players overall with higher WAR in age-23 or younger seasons were Williams, Trout, Harper, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Cal Ripken and Rogers Hornsby.

Those are all Hall of Famers or future ones. Betts is off to one heck of a start.

Read More: bryce harper, mookie betts, Red Sox, washington nationals

David Ortiz launches Red Sox fans into frenzy by cryptically tweeting at Boston Globe

01.09.17 at 11:31 pm ET
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Red Sox fans can’t quit David Ortiz. It’s understandable.

What makes far less sense is the frenzy Ortiz whipped them into on Monday night when he tweeted a blank message at the Boston Globe.

What did he mean to say? That he’s coming out of retirement to lead the Red Sox to one more World Series title? That he has decided to outlast Tom Brady? That he wants Isaiah Thomas to be an All-Star?

Or maybe it’s just that he never got his paper today.

We may never know, because despite over 600 retweets — as well as a response from the Globe reminding him, “You can tell us anything!” — Ortiz hasn’t clarified what he meant, if it was an accident, or what. Maybe he never will.

In any event, we breathlessly await an update.

p.s. He’s definitely staying retired. Let’s stop being a bunch of idiots.

Read More: Boston Globe, David Ortiz, Red Sox,

Red Sox sign player picked immediately after Jacoby Ellsbury in first-round of 2005 MLB draft

01.08.17 at 3:20 pm ET
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Former first-round pick Brian Bogusevic has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Red Sox. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Former first-round pick Brian Bogusevic has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Red Sox. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

You might not be very familiar with Brian Bogusevic, one of the newest players to agree to a minor-league deal with the Red Sox. But the players taken just before and after him in the first-round of the 2005 will ring a bell.

Back in 2005, Bogusevic was a left-handed pitcher out of Tulane University who was good enough to be taken with the 24th overall pick by the Houston Astros. (He ultimately switched to outfielder in 2008).

The pick before him? The Red Sox’ selection of Jacoby Ellsbury. The two picks after? Matt Garza went to the Twins before the Red Sox made their second selection of the draft, taking pitcher Craig Hansen. The Sox would go on to take Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden to round out their four-pick first-round.

Bogusevic would ultimately get his best chance in the major leagues in 2012 when he appeared in 146 games, primarily playing in right field for the Astros. Unfortunately for the outfielder, he wasn’t able to take advantage of the opportunity, hitting just .203 with a .596 OPS.

The lefty hitter went on to sign with Cubs for 2013, playing in 47 games. Chicago would deal him to the Marlins prior to the 2014 season in exchange for Justin Ruggiano.

His last major league experience came in 2015 with the Phillies, getting in 22 games. Last season Bogusevic played for the Orix Buffaloes in Japan, hitting just .183 in 193 plate appearances.

The 32-year-old figures to offer the Red Sox some much-needed outfield depth at the Triple-A level, with Bryce Brentz, Rusney Castillo and non-roster invitee Junior Lake joining Bogusevic in currently making up the likely PawSox’ outfield.

Bogusevic will participate in major league camp. The Red Sox are expected to announce a few more minor-league agreements in the coming week, with Lake, catchers Jake DePew and Dan Butler and former first-rounder, infielder Matt Dominguez, serving as the position payers already locked up.

Why Dave Dombrowski is suggesting Drew Pomeranz, Steven Wright favorites to crack Red Sox rotation

01.08.17 at 1:40 pm ET
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Drew Pomeranz is still considered a front-runner to remain in the Red Sox' rotation. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Drew Pomeranz is still considered a front-runner to remain in the Red Sox’ rotation. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

There is a long way to go before the Red Sox actually set their starting rotation for the 2017 season. But you have to start somewhere. Now we know where Dave Dombrowski is starting.

Appearing on Buster Olney’s “Baseball Tonight” podcast, the Red Sox president of baseball operations offered some insight into how the team views fitting six legitimate starters into five spots.

After Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and David Price, it appears the two pitchers who are out of options will enter spring training with the upper-hand.

“We have three guys basically battling for those spots, but if everybody is healthy come the start of the season it’s a great situation to be in because Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz both made the All-Star team last year and they’re penciled in fourth and fifth, along with Eduardo Rodriguez, who we think is one of the best young pitchers in the game,” Dombrowski said. (Click here for the entire podcast.)

It has yet to be determined if Rodriguez will be playing in the World Baseball Classic, as the lefty originally planned. But after tweaking his right knee while playing in winter ball, there might be some adjustments when it comes to the original blueprint.

If all the starters do stay healthy, and the spring training performances of Pomeranz and Wright don’t take a downturn, it would make sense that Rodriguez keeps evolving while in Triple-A considering the need for roster flexibility.

Some would point to Pomeranz as a potential out of the bullpen, with the lefty displaying a much more formidable fastball in his three relief appearances at the end of 2016 season. But the potential he showed as a starter, ultimately convincing Dombrowski to surrender the Red Sox’ top pitching prospect (Anderson Espinoza) to the Padres, is considered enough for the organization to keep going down that road.

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Curt Schilling calls Kirk & Callahan to battle New Jersey writer who called him ‘scumbag,’ won’t give him Hall of Fame vote

01.05.17 at 2:48 pm ET
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Another day, another Curt Schilling meltdown over Hall of Fame voters questioning his character.

On Thursday’s Kirk & Callahan Show, NJ.com writer Randy Miller called in to defend his column declaring Schilling a scumbag. Citing his behavior as a teammate, and not some recent questionable internet memes, Miller said he decided to stop giving Schilling a vote for the Hall of Fame.

Miller, who covered Schilling for five years in Philadelphia during 16 years on the Phillies beat, was in the midst of explaining his reasoning when Schilling called in to let him have it.

“I have a problem with people that lie and don’t have a spine to stand up for the things that they say when they get confronted on them,” Schilling said.

Schilling went on to note that he never liked Miller when he was a player, while Miller countered that when they had a very loud argument during BP, Phillies players commended him for standing up to the Big Schill. They also spent a lot of time arguing over underachieving Phillies right-hander Garrett Stephenson for some reason, whom Schilling called, “Clay Buchholz before Clay Buchholz.”

“If Schilling is such a good teammate, then why was it when we had that argument and he’s yelling at me during team stretch when he should be working on his body, he’s yelling at me in the dugout saying I should be a movie critic, why was it afterwards players were coming up to me patting me on the back like I hit a home run, or saying oh my God, we love that, we love seeing you give it to him,” Miller asked.

Responded Schilling: “The guys that had problems with me were the guys that didn’t do their job.”

Miller contended that in numerous off-the-record conversations, former teammates and executives who knew Schilling said he was a terrible teammate, which prompted the scumbag line, which was really just a repurposing of an adjective Schilling has used to describe writers.

“Should I really put this guy over the top who is a scumbag?” Miller asked. “I’ve never really used the character clause. I thought to myself, you know what, he doesn’t deserve my vote, because of the way he was as a teammate.”

Countered Schilling: “This is why I don’t lose sleep over this. When you understand human beings like this guy have a control over the Hall of Fame vote … they invoke the character clause randomly. This is why I don’t lose sleep.”

Read More: Curt Schilling, hall of fame, Kirk & Callahan, NJ.com

Sorry Red Sox fans, introduction of Edwin Encarnacion reminds us Indians still team to beat

01.05.17 at 1:45 pm ET
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Edwin Encarnacion’s agent Paul Kinzer confirmed once again Thursday that the Red Sox were never really engaged in the pursuit of the free agent slugger. It was a reality that Kinzer discovered in early November after talking with Dave Dombrowski at the Arizona Fall League All-Star Game.

The Red Sox lack of interest (which was likely primarily due to concerns over luxury tax implications. ended up being the Indians’ gain. And thanks to Encarnacion’s introductory press conference in Cleveland Thursday, that reality has officially been punctuated.

With Encarnacion wearing the Indians’ No. 10 thanks to his three-year, $60 million deal, it’s hard to argue that Cleveland isn’t the on-paper team to beat in the American League.

For those Red Sox fans just sobering up from their Chris Sale-induced intoxication, understand that their team would have to be classified as the on-paper No. 2. But even the foundation of any argument propping up the Red Sox as the A.L. favorite — their pitching — takes a hit when looking at what the current American League champs have to offer.

Corey Kluber. Danny Salazar. Carlos Carrasco. Josh Tomlin. Trevor Bauer. Andrew Miller. Bryan Shaw. Cody Allen.

Chris Sale. Rick Porcello. David Price. Eduardo Rodriguez. Drew Pomeranz. Steven Wright. Tyler Thornburg. Joe Kelly. Craig Kimbrel.

It’s certainly not cut and dried. But tipping point in the Indians’ favor, right now, would be the proven work of Miller and the return of a healthy Carrasco and Salazar. The 29-year-old Carrasco has been one of the best young starters in the league over the past two seasons, and Salazar was the Cy Young favorite heading into the All-Star break with a 2.75 ERA. Neither were factors in the Indians’ World Series run due to injuries.

Offensively, the Red Sox are basing a big chunk of their post-Ortiz approach on projecting turnarounds from Pablo Sandoval and Mitch Moreland, with the hope the young core at least don’t take a turn for the worse. And there will be a heavier reliance on the health and production of Hanley Ramirez.

The Indians? Encarnacion is upgrading their rotating DH/first base spot (replacing Mike Napoli), and arguably Cleveland’s best all-around position player, Michael Brantley, figures to return after playing in just 11 games in 2016. This was a guy who combined to hit .319 with an .876 OPS, 35 homers and 38 stolen bases in 2014 and ’15.

It’s not a lay-up, and playing on paper is what it is, but thanks in large part to Encarnacion, this is where we stand. It could be worse. You could live in Minnesota.

Which team is, on paper, the best in the American League?

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Story of how Joe Kelly invented dominating new pitch 10 minutes before playoffs

01.04.17 at 9:09 am ET
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Joe Kelly's new pitch helped him retire all 11 of the postseason batters he faced. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Joe Kelly’s new pitch helped him retire all 11 of the postseason batters he faced. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Getting classified as the best player for the losing team on the wrong end of a three-game sweep in a best-of-seven American League Division Series probably carries the same satisfaction as a participation trophy. But for Joe Kelly, the honor should mean something.

The three games he pitched in — retiring all 11 batters he faced — might represent a pretty good jumping off point for defining the reliever in 2017.

And, if nothing else, Kelly can say he managed the feat in large part to the last-minute invention of a new weapon he didn’t use once in the regular season.

Appearing on the Bradfo Sho podcast, Kelly explained:

“In the playoffs, it was all sliders. I kind of tweaked the sliders with (assistant pitching coach) Brian Bannister I think the first day in Cleveland. We held the same grip, but did something with my wrist, the way I cocked it a little bit different and I played catch with them warming up before batting practice for about 10 minutes. I liked how it spun, and he liked how it spun and how it went straight down and disappeared, kind of like a Chris Archer-type slider. I got into the game and I shocked to it because I wanted to test it out and got a good swing and miss on it. So I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to keep throwing it.’ There was one point probably in my third appearance in the playoffs where 10 of my 13 pitches I threw were all sliders. I didn’t want to throw it that much but I kind of fell in love with it because it was generating so many swings and misses and so many foul balls and weak contact. It was something I learned probably 10 minutes before Game 1. I was like, ‘You know what, why not?’ That is kind of my personality. If I see something I see works, or I think will work, it’s something I’m going to try.

“It’s another game. It’s just baseball. It’s something where I know they were scouting me. The hitters were saying, ‘OK, high velocity fastball thrown in the top of the zone, and he’s bouncing curveballs. If I break out a third pitch they hadn’t seen, obviously on the video, it was something I thought I had the advantage on their hitters because I didn’t throw it prior to the playoffs. It ended up working and I saw some really bad swings and some really bad timing. Guys were baffled because they didn’t know I had that pitch. I kept throwing that pitch just because it probably wasn’t in the scouting report and it got more swings and misses than I thought it would.”

Check this out on Chirbit

So now Kelly is heading into spring training with a chance to join newly-acquired Tyler Thornburg, Matt Barnes, and, eventually, Carson Smith, as a candidate to set-up closer Craig Kimbrel.

The righty had already started to establish his identity as a high-leverage reliever, holding opposing hitters to .180 batting average, while striking out 20 and walking just three, in his 11 games after being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket. During that span he was charged with just one run (the walk-off grand slam by Mark Teixeira on the night the Sox clinched the American League East in Yankee Stadium).

He had accomplished the month-long success thanks to better command of a 100 mph fastball, and a revamped curveball that came from the same arm slot as his heater. But now he has his new slider, which maxes out his repertoire heading into the new season.

“One hundred percent,” said Kelly when asked if those were the three pitches he would be leaning on from Day 1 in 2017. “That’s what my game-plan is, trying to simplify pitching for this season.”


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