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Red Sox agreement with Dominican prospect Simon Mercedes represents sea change

03.16.12 at 9:52 pm ET
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In its own right, the Red Sox‘ agreement pending MLB’s background investigation with right-hander Simon Mercedes to a signing bonus of $800,000 (first reported by Ben Badler of Baseball America and confirmed by a major league source) is noteworthy because it represents the addition of a high-ceiling power arm into the Sox system.

Mercedes has what one evaluator called an “XXL power frame” at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. He features an above-average fastball that registers in the low- to mid-90s as well as what the evaluator called an above-average curveball. He will enter the Sox system as a starter, though for him to remain there, it will require some development of his repertoire. At the least, however, he has the makings of a power arm out of the bullpen.

The Sox viewed him as one of the top eligible arms available. He represented one of the last available opportunities for the Sox to flex some financial muscle in the international market, given the coming restrictions on international amateur spending in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, something that will change the way business is done internationally starting on July 2.

So, the signing of Mercedes is notable for the fact that the Sox added what they hope is a high-ceiling prospect. However, it is noteworthy for other reasons as well that underscore that the Sox’ approach to the international amateur market has changed with the change from former VP of International Scouting Craig Shipley to new director of international scouting Eddie Romero. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: carlos martinez, carlos matias, craig shipley, eddie romero

Daniel Bard: ‘I just kind of felt dead’ in shellacking

03.15.12 at 10:57 pm ET
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As seamless as Daniel Bard‘s transition to the rotation has seemed at times this spring, it has not been without practical challenges. That notion was underscored on Thursday, when Bard got shelled for the first time this spring, allowing seven runs on six hits and four walks in just 2 2/3 innings. He walked one.

Bard had never before allowed more than five runs in a game at the big league level, including his spring outings. And so, after he was hit as in no other game since establishing his credentials at the game’s highest levels, even after an exhibition outing, the development was unexpected and raised questions about where Bard is in his transition to the rotation.

That said, there were unique circumstances that made it possible to view Bard’s outing as an isolated event in spring training. Bard has been working to figure out a starter’s routine. That being the case, he readied for Thursday’s outing in the same fashion that he had prepared for his previous two starts, in which he pitched five shutout innings.

However, unlike the other two outings, in which he started, Bard came on in the sixth inning on Thursday, after Alfredo Aceves and Justin Thomas had pitched. Then, after he pitched to one batter (a groundout by Carlos Beltran), there was a brief rain delay. The net effect was that Bard was not in the same state of mind for Thursday’s outing than he had been for his previous starts.

“It was weird because I was trying to treat it like a start, yet I did my stuff in the training room like I did before my other starts. But then I go out and sit in the bullpen for three, four, five innings. I couldn’€™t really use the whole routine that I’€™ve tried to establish,” Bard acknowledged to reporters. “You get that one pitch to the hitter in the rain and then it was inevitable the [delay] was going to happen.

“You’€™re straight killing time back there behind the dugout. I probably if anything I lost that adrenaline that keeps you going out there and keeps you aggressive. I just felt kind of dead the rest of the inning. It’€™s not an excuse. It wasn’€™t the same conviction behind the pitches that needs to be there.’€

When Bard returned to the mound following the delay, he gave up a solo homer to Matt Adams, the first of three runs (on four hits and two walks) he would allow that inning. After a 1-2-3 seventh, Bard walked the leadoff man in the eighth, retired the next two batters and then allowed a single, steal, walk and bases-loaded triple before being lifted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: alfredo aceves, Daniel Bard,

Red Sox close out compensation for Theo Epstein with right-hander Aaron Kurcz

03.15.12 at 9:21 pm ET
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The book is now closed in terms of what the Red Sox got from the Cubs in exchange for GM Theo Epstein. The Sox will get Aaron Kurcz as their player to be named, making him the second player whom the Sox received from the Cubs (along with reliever Chris Carpenter).

Kurcz, 21, has had an interesting path as a professional. He initially enrolled at the Air Force Academy where he went for a year before transferring with the Academy’s blessing to go to the College of Southern Nevada to pursue his baseball career. The short (5-foot-11) right-hander ended up being taken by the Cubs in the 11th round of the 2010 draft. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: aaron kurcz, Chris Carpenter, Theo Epstein,

Karl Ravech called it: Kevin Youkilis latest to lead off for Red Sox

03.15.12 at 10:16 am ET
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Two days after ESPN commentator Karl Ravech revealed on the air that, after conversations with Bobby Valentine, it should not surprise anybody if Kevin Youkilis leads off for the Red Sox, sure enough, Kevin Youkilis is leading off for the Red Sox.

(Update: When talking with reporters Thursday morning, Valentine insinuated Youkilis would not be hitting leadoff during the regular season: ‘€œI don’€™t want to rule anything out, but probably not. That’€™s more on the idea of getting him a couple of quick at-bats because he’€™s going to have a lot of games here.’€)

The Sox third baseman, who has made it clear in the past that the leadoff spot was his least favorite in the batting order, is at the top of the lineup for the Sox’ in their game against the Cardinals at JetBlue Park Thursday afternoon. This is how the batting order looks: Youkilis 3B, Jacoby Ellsbury CF, Dustin Pedroia 2B, Adrian Gonzalez 1B, David Ortiz DH, Cody Ross RF, Ryan Lavarnway C, Darnell McDonald LF, Nick Punto SS, Alfredo Aceves P.

Also scheduled to pitch for the Red Sox will be Daniel Bard, Matt Albers and Justin Thomas.

For his career, Youkilis has manned the leadoff spot 98 times, totaling a .282 batting average, .382 on-base percentage and .806 OPS. He hasn’t started a game in the spot since 2006.

Here are the other players who have hit leadoff this spring: Mike Aviles (4), Punto (2), Jose Iglesias (2), Ellsbury (2), Nate Spears (1), Pedroia (1).

Read More: Bobby Valentine, karl ravech, Kevin Youkilis,

How the new CBA is hitting Red Sox players in the back pocket

03.15.12 at 7:36 am ET
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Dustin Pedroia cruised through the clubhouse the other day, took one look at the footwear of a reporter — which consisted of spring training flip-flops — and started screaming that the new collective bargaining agreement was being violated. He was right. Reporters are being forced to dress (gulp) more respectively this season per the new CBA.

Then Pedroia went on the defensive: “Look. Not in my pocket. In my hand.”

What the second baseman was holding was a tin of chewing tobacco. What he was referencing was another new CBA rule that fans might not notice right away, that players aren’t allowed to carry tobacco products in their uniforms. You know what means: No more of the trademark tobacco tin ring in back pockets of players.

Another CBA-related item comes from Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra, who outlines baseball’s new social policy. In a nutshell, here are the new rules:

Players can’€™t make what can be construed as official club or league statements without permission;

Players can’€™t use copyrighted team logos and stuff without permission or tweet confidential or private information about teams or players, their families, etc.;

Players can’€™t link to any MLB website or platform from social media without permission;

No tweets condoning or appearing to condone the use of substances on the MLB banned drug list (which is everything but booze, right?);

No ripping umpires or questioning their integrity;

No racial, sexist, homophobic, anti-religious, etc. etc. content;

No harassment or threats of violence;

Nothing sexually explicit;

Nothing otherwise illegal.

Are the Red Sox pushing the envelope? Probably not. The last tweet from Cody Ross (@IamCodyRoss) was a caption contest, with the winner passing along this for the following picture: “So this is what Pedroia sees when he steps up to the plate…”

Other recent Red Sox tweets: Darnell McDonald (@MacDime54) – “Don’t really get into college hoops”; Ryan Sweeney (@RyanSweeney12) – “Our bed is like a concrete slab so I caved and bought a memory foam mattress cover AND a down mattress cover, this crap better work…”; Kelly Shoppach (@ShopHouse10) – “Ft. Myers Beach is packed. Spring Break”

Read More: Cody Ross, Dustin Pedroia,

Ryan Lavarnway is still impressing … Bad news for Quiznos, good for the Red Sox

03.14.12 at 11:57 am ET
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Bobby Valentine says any time you talk about the Red Sox catching situation, he demands Ryan Lavarnway‘s name be included in the conversation. The manager also passes along that he hasn’t seen a young hitter the likes of Lavarnway — one which understands what he is doing and needs to be done — in quite some time.

In a camp which is being kept buzzing with the potential of such prospects as Will Middlebrooks and Jose Iglesias, it’s the 24-year-old catcher who may be offering the most complete package among the youngsters. It started with a home run in his very first at-bat of the spring, has continued with obvious defensive improvements — (for more on this, see the excellent Minor Details podcast with Alex Speier talking to Lavarnway about his evolution as a catcher) — and, of course, been punctuated by the overall offensive presence, one which resulted in 32 minor league home runs in 2011.

So how did he keep the momentum going?

Work Ethic. Continued maturity. Attention to detail. Acceptance of instruction.

There was another key, however.

“I lost 25 pounds twice this offseason,” he said.

The first wave of weight-dropping came when he became ill while playing in Venezuela. But then, after returning to the United States and regaining the poundage, the real significant transformation started kicking in. While working out at Athletes Performance in Phoenix, Lavarnway discovered the art of eating better. Particularly of note was the understanding of why he had found himself in a bad place weigh-wise at the conclusion of  the ’11 season.

“I definitely needed to lose the weight. I got big at the end of last year,” he said. “I got into a rhythm where I was hitting well where I would eat something that wasn’t great for me. So I was thinking, ‘I have to eat the same thing as I ate yesterday because I hit well yesterday.'”

That “same thing” became a Quiznos “Traditional” sandwich.

“I thought it couldn’t be that bad for me, but looking at the nutritional information afterwards I was eating it for breakfast and it was 1,500 calories,” Lavarnway said.

“I could definitely feel the difference. My body isn’t fighting itself any more. I feel lighter, which helps me on my feet, my flexibility, helps me recover faster. I’ve put on some weight in each season and that’s just the way my body works, but I’m going to try to put on less weight this year.”

There was one last concern upon showing up to camp, however: would the power still be there if the additional weight wasn’t? Well, thanks to that first at-bat, in a ‘B’ Game over at Hammond Stadium against the Twins, that question appears to be answered.

“It was definitely nice,” he said. “One of the few worries I had when I did lose all that weight was wondering if any of the pop was going to go with it. It was nice to know that I didn’t even get all of that ball and it still got out. It’s nice to know I can be leaner and physically have less body mass and still hit with power.”

Should Ryan Lavarnway start the season in the major leagues?

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Read More: Bobby Valentine, ryan lavarnway,

Bobby Valentine really liked what he saw from Red Sox pitchers Tuesday night

03.13.12 at 10:33 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was understandably pleased with what he witnessed when watching Red Sox pitching Tuesday night against the Yankees in Tampa. Sox hurlers allowed New York just four hits while striking out 13 and walking one. Here’s what he told reporters after the Sox’ 1-0 win:

Felix Doubront: 4 IP, 2H, 0R, 3K, BB

“I thought Felix was outstanding. I thought he had really good control of his changeup, which is a devastating pitch for him. He had good control and command of his fastball. His breaking ball was good. His composure was good. He pitched four good innings.”

Michael Bowden: IP, H, 0R, 3K 0BB

“First off, I thought Michael worked the runner as well as I’€™ve ever seen him do it on film or live. He’€™s been practicing his stretch and varying his speeds. He had a pretty veteran runner on base, a very veteran runner in Andruw Jones, and he really broke his tempo. I think he was trying to steal, and he never could. His stuff down in the zone was good. His breaking ball was good. We didn’€™t get to see his split, but his slider was a good pitch for him tonight. He threw them back-to-back, too, and did a good job with it.”

Vicente Padilla: 3IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 4K

“Padilla made it look easy, didn’€™t he? There’€™s probably a change of the lineup a little there that made it — but he does that. Vicente can throw a lot of pitches to get ahead of the bat. He’€™s a strike-thrower. He’€™s probably the best strike-thrower we have. He pitched well tonight.”

Junichi Tazawa: IP, H, 0R, 0BB, 3K

“This was his best outing tonight. He kept the ball down very well tonight. His other outings, he was scattering it a little more. He spotted his fastball, that two-strike fastball up in the zone, and that was right where he wanted to throw it. His breaking pitches were sharp, much sharper than they have been.”

Read More: Bobby Valentine, felix doubront, junichi tazawa, Michael Bowden

Mark Melancon: The man who would have been Mo

03.13.12 at 3:06 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — It has been a quiet spring for Mark Melancon. The Red Sox acquired the 26-year-old — who spent 2011 closing for the Astros — early in the offseason, but ever since the team followed that move with another to acquire Andrew Bailey from the A’s, Melancon has moved into the shadows.

With Bailey on board, the expectation immediately became that the former A’s closer would be the successor to Jonathan Papelbon. Melancon was thought of as the likely setup man.

Of course, while Bailey has been unflinching in the idea of following up a closing great in Papelbon, Melancon has some experience in that peculiar art as well. After all, Melancon was once viewed as the potential successor to Mariano Rivera as the Yankees closer.

Melancon was a dominant closer for both the University of Arizona and Team USA during his college career. In 2006, he was being considered a potential first-round talent before he suffered an elbow injury in the middle of his junior year that shut him down and squashed his draft stock.

Still, the Yankees were in the process of flexing their financial muscle in the draft. They selected Melancon in the ninth round but gave him a second-round bonus ($600,000).

Though Melancon would need Tommy John surgery for his elbow condition in late 2006, he came back in dominating fashion in 2008, marching through three levels of New York’s system.

By the next spring training, he was not only on the Yankees’ radar for a big league call-up, but there was even discussion that Melancon might be the heir apparent to Rivera — then in the middle of a three-year contract that ran through 2010 — as the Yankees closer.

“That was talked about,” Melancon said. “I guess it’€™s neat, but it doesn’€™t mean anything until you’€™re there and you’€™re doing it. It’€™s an action.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Mariano Rivera, mark melancon,

It’s Felix Doubront vs. Ivan Nova and Red Sox vs. Yankees

03.13.12 at 2:39 pm ET
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The Red Sox are in Tampa, playing the Yankees with a game that is on the WEEI Sports Radio Network and starts at 7:05 p.m.

Here are the lineups:

Red Sox: Mike Aviles SS, Dustin Pedroia 2B, Jacoby Ellsbury DH, Jarrod Saltalamacchia C, Will Middlebrooks 3B, Lars Anderson 1B, Juan Carlos Linares CF, Josh Kroeger RF, Alex Hassan LF, Felix Doubront P.

Also slated to pitch for the Sox will be Michael Bowden, Vincente Padilla, Junichi Tazawa, Brandon Duckworth, Will Inman.

Yankees: Brett Gardner CF, Russell Martin C, Alex Rodriguez 3B, Mark Teixeira 1B, Raul Ibanez DH, Andruw Jones RF, Eduardo Nunez SS, Bill Hall 2B, Jayson Nix LF, Ivan Nova P.

Also on the pitching docket for the Yankees will be Mariano Rivera and Boone Logan.

A quick update on Red Sox spring training leaders (not including ‘B’ games): At-bats: Aviles (19), Middlebrooks (16); Aviles, Cody Ross (7); Home runs: David Ortiz (2); Avg.: Pedro Ciriaco (6-11, .545), (7-14, .500).

Nuggetpalooza: Walk-off-a-palooza!

03.13.12 at 9:49 am ET
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In honor of Red Sox farmhand Pedro Ciriaco (No. 77 in your program), who homered in walk-off fashion on Monday afternoon in Fort Myers, here are some walk-off nuggets:

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* – There were 74 walk-off home runs last season in the major leagues. The Rays and Indians each had seven such blasts to lead the league on the offensive side, while the Cardinals, Mariners, Royals, and Braves each allowed five, the most on defense. The only team that did not allow a walk-off homer last year was the Mets, and the only two that failed to hit at least one were the Twins and Yankees. The Yankees had hit at least one such homer in each of the previous 15 seasons.

The Red Sox hit one walkoff shot last season (Jacoby Ellsbury‘s Aug. 3 shot against Cleveland), extending their streak to 17 straight seasons with at least one walk-off bomb. That’s the longest current streak in the AL, but is just the fourth longest in the majors:

47 – Dodgers (since 1967)
18 – Reds (since 1994)
17 – Red Sox (since 1995)
17 – Phillies (since 1995)

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* – Since 1950, the all-time leaders in walk-off home runs are Jim Thome, Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson, with 12. Tony Perez is next with 11, while nine players have 10, including Boston’s David Ortiz and the Angels’ Albert Pujols.

The Red Sox’ leaders:

9 – David Ortiz
6 – Jackie Jensen
5 – Jim Rice
4 – Carl Yastrzemski
4 – Dwight Evans

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* – The only time since ’50 that the Red Sox have hit walk-off homers on consecutive days was May 10-11, 2005, when Kevin Millar and Jason Varitek each hit game-winners, both coming off Oakland’s Octavio Dotel.

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