|Yankees 3, Red Sox 1: This team from New York might pose a problem||04.26.17 at 10:26 pm ET|
While everybody was worrying about suspensions, clubhouse rifts and Twitter updates, the Yankees came to town. It proved unfortunate for the Red Sox.
This New York club, which many discounted coming to 2017 because of no significant starting pitching upgrades, offered the Fenway Park faithful a taste of why it might make life uncomfortable for the Red Sox. It was just one, 3-1 win for the Yankees Wednesday night, but it was enough to highlight what may becoming an American League East reality.
If Luis Severino pitches like he did on what was admittedly a less-than-perfect hitters night — not giving up a run over seven innings — that’s a problem for John Farrell’s club.
The Yankees’ weakness still isn’t exactly a no-holds-barred strength, with their starters coming into the two-game series carrying a middle-of-the-road 4.05 ERA. But really what would put them in the conversation for the top tier in American League East would be to find some top of the rotation talent.
That’s what Severino offered the impression of on this dreary night.
Perhaps the results were more a product of an anemic Red Sox attack. That would be a fair take considering how punch-less they have been too many times this season. Seven of the Sox’ 20 games has seen them score two runs or less. They are now hitting just .119 with runners in scoring position over the last six games.
But even if a couple of the Yankees’ starters step in the manner that Severino did, all the pieces are in place for Brian Cashman’s club. As was evident in Aaron Judge’s seventh homer of the season — a two-run blast off Rick Porcello — there should be enough offense to keep up appearances. The did have the third-best OPS in baseball coming into the night.
And then you have the game-enders, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, whose existence works if they can actually pitch with leads. That blueprint was available for viewing Wednesday night, although Chapman did allow a run in the ninth before ultimately stranding the tying run at first. (The lefty fireballer ended his uncomfortable night throwing 33 pitches.)
The narrative could very well change in a hurry thanks to Chris Sale’s start Thursday night. He does, after all, hold the best-ever ERA of any pitcher in baseball against the Yankees.
Still, this one offered a glimpse of what might be. And that should be a wake-up call for those just looking forward to next week’s latest showdown with the division-leading Orioles.
Porcello pitched well, but not well enough. The righty starter allowed three runs over 6 2/3 innings, striking out nine and walking four. The 118-pitch outing put his ERA at 4.75.
|Blue Jays 3, Red Sox 0: Figuring out Pablo Sandoval hasn’t been easy||04.19.17 at 9:53 pm ET|
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.
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.
|Why David Price wasn’t throwing any breaking balls in his latest bullpen session||04.15.17 at 4:04 pm ET|
The Red Sox pitcher executed another bullpen session, this time implementing a few breaks in the routine to further simulate actually pitching. All of a sudden, Price isn’t far away from throwing to actual hitters.
“I haven’t had any setbacks yet. It’s going pretty smooth,” Price said.
But there is one aspect of Price’s game that he hasn’t surfaced when throwing off a mound: throwing breaking balls. On flat ground? Yes. Yet not when participating in these bullpen sessions.
Both Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis and manager John Farrell relayed, however, the reason behind the lack of anything but fastballs and changeups so far.
“We’re just building arm strength. He’s spun a few balls on the flat ground and in the throwing program. It’s building arm strength and maintaining arm strength before we go to that,” Willis said. “It’s no different than a throwing program preparing for spring training. I think we are approaching the time where we will see those breaking pitches on the mound.
“I don’t necessarily think that once we get to the point where we are facing hitters in a batting practice setting that it’s necessary to already have your breaking ball in play. You can go out and face those hitters in a BP situation with a fastball and changeup and then you progress forward because your breaking pitch comes off your fastball and release point with the arm speed.”
“The one thing that we’re trying to do is not throw a number of variables in at the same time so there’s a progression,” Farrell added. “You go from the long toss to the flat ground to spinning a breaking ball. Then incorporate the angle of the mound. Incorporate some ups and downs, and then also at that point, start to add in a full assortment of pitches. So there’s a little bit more of a systematic approach toward the addition of each variable going forward.”
And then there’s Price’s take.
“Didn’t want to push it too much, with it being the first time I’m throwing pitches and then taking a break and getting back up and throwing more,” the pitcher said.
When Price will throw again is still yet to be determined, although it will likely be at Rogers Centre with the team in Toronto. He is also waiting on something else — the birth of his first child.
“Count the days down until my son gets here, that’s about it,” Price said.
|Why in the world are they shifting on Sandy Leon?||04.04.17 at 12:31 pm ET|
Hitting left-handed with two outs in the fifth inning and Pablo Sandoval at first base, Leon put adeptly placed a 95 mph fastball from Pittsburgh starter Gerrit Cole to a wide open left side of the infield. After Cole wasn’t able to reach the bunt in time, it kept the inning going long enough for a Dustin Pedroia RBI single and Andrew Benintendi three-run home run.
Why would Leon try such a maneuver with two outs? Because the Pirates had put their third baseman in the shortstop position, leaving virtually the entire left side of the diamond vacant.
“I was getting ready to hit and I saw the shift way over to second base. I just wanted to get on base,” he said. “I’ve got Pedey on deck, and I know what he can do. Just playing for the team, just trying to get on base for the team and for Pedey.”
What is going on?
A few years ago, the notion of shifting on the No. 9 hitter in the batting order, a career .187 at this time a year ago, was unheard of. For instance, in 2012 teams shifted on the last batter in the lineup for 118 plate appearances. But 2016? The nine-hole batter saw 1,195 such situations.
Times have certainly changed, as is evident by the amount of times balls were put in play with shifts on last season.
According to Fangraphs, in 2012 there were 4,576 plate appearances with shifts. The next season it was at 6,881. In 2014 the number crept to 13,298, and then 17,737 in ’15. And last season the ploy went to another level, with major leaguers totaling 28,072 PAs with a shift in the mix.
And here’s the thing:with more shifts came less success for the defenders, with batting averages finishing at .299 vs. the maneuver in ’16, the highest since they started tracking such things.
Perhaps Leon represents how crazy it has gotten.
Sure, the spray chart shows that he is primarily a pull-hitter when putting balls on the ground from the left side. But here’s the thing: Nobody in baseball had a better average in 2016 when facing shifts than Leon.
In 83 plate appearances against shifts, Leon managed a .438 batting average. Even the year before, when he was still being classified as a well below-average offensive threat, the switch-hitter had eight hits in 24 at-bats (.333) vs. the strategy.
Then there is the reality that Leon is probably the Red Sox’ best bunter, and executed an identical strategy last Sept. 9 against the Padres — leading to a single, which was followed by a Jackie Bradley Jr. homer.
Maybe shifting will reach a tipping point, thanks in part to the realization that players can do what Leon did Monday. But don’t count on it. Baseball has come to believe it can’t possibly out-think itself.
|Red Sox lineup: Mitch Moreland fights off flu to make Opening Day lineup||04.03.17 at 9:16 am ET|
The only question coming into the team’s regular season-opening game against Pittsburgh Monday morning was whether or not Mitch Moreland would be well enough to participate. The first baseman had missed the Red Sox’ trip to Washington due to the flu.
But with Pirates righty Gerrit Cole on the mound for the visitors, Moreland will get the start and hit fifth.
With Rick Porcello on the mound for the Red Sox, here is John Farrell’s first batting order of the season:
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Andrew Benintendi LF
Mookie Betts RF
Hanley Ramirez DH
Mitch Moreland 1B
Xander Bogaerts SS
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Pablo Sandoval 3B
Sandy Leon C
|Hanley Ramirez’s shoulder putting Chris Young’s new role on hold||03.28.17 at 10:22 am ET|
Against left-handed starting pitchers, Hanley Ramirez would move to first base with Chris Young sliding into the designated hitter spot. Considering how Young typically tortures southpaws — finishing last season with a .999 OPS — it made sense.
But, as we sit here, the blueprint is murky.
Ramirez still hasn’t played in the field due to an ailing right shoulder, and it is unclear if he will be able to man first when the regular season rolls around next week. That would leave the righty hitter in the DH spot on a full-time basis, putting Mitch Moreland at first on a more regular basis, or allowing Josh Rutledge to get some action at the position.
Where it has left Young is with a whole lot of uncertainty.
“You think about it, for sure,” said Young regarding the possibility that Ramirez remains at DH due to his shoulder. “But you have no control over it. I can control what I can control. That’s all I try and focus on. I try and stay ready and be prepared for whatever situation comes my way, which is the same thing I did last year. Last year I didn’t know how things would fall into place, and they fell into place alright. Unfortunately I got hurt and that kind of changed the plan, but before that I was able to earn my way into the lineup. My goal is to earn my way and to show I can help the team in whatever aspects they need and stay ready.”
If the DH spot doesn’t open up, that would leave Young having to serve as a sub for an outfield that wouldn’t appear to need much turnover. The days Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts might need a down day would seem to be few and far between.
It would seemingly put Young in a similar spot as he found himself last April, when he got just five starts in the entire month.
There is always the strong likelihood that something changes as the schedule unfolds, as Young remembered happening last season. There ended up being 10 starts in May, and then 17 in May before he was sidelined for two months with a hamstring injury.
“That’s all you can do, is to continue to prepare every day like you’re playing that day and continue to show up ready to take advantage of any opportunity that comes,” he said. “If you let off, or sulk, or let too much from the outside influence your head, when that opportunity does come your way you’re not prepared for it. I choose not to go that route. I choose to go the route of being prepared all the time.”
And then there is the adjustment he will have to make if Ramirez actually does start playing the field. For his entire career, Young has only hit out of the designated hitter spot in for 35 plate appearances, going 4-for-29. Last year he managed just two at-bats as a DH.
“It will be different, but players have to make adjustments every year,” Young said. “I’ve always had to make adjustments. Even when I was playing every day I had to continue to make adjustments in my game. That work never stops. I’ll stay ready for whatever.”
|Red Sox have plenty of questions to be answered heading into final week||03.24.17 at 10:32 pm ET|
While the Red Sox were lulling you to sleep throughout this marathon of a spring training, some possible concerns crept up. And now, with just about one week left, John Farrell’s team is hoping these final few Grapefruit League games will allow for some answers.
Here are the still undefined issues facing these Red Sox heading into April 3:
It was assumed that Hanley Ramirez would have played the field by now. He hasn’t.
While Ramirez’s right shoulder hasn’t presented a problem when it comes swinging a bat, with the righty hitter hitting .318 with a .971 OPS in his 44 Grapefruit League at-bats, there hasn’t been any opportunity to brandish his first baseman’s glove.
Because Ramirez can now occupy the designated hitter spot, this isn’t the be-all, end-all, but it does through a monkey wrench into the Red Sox’ plans. If the shoulder continues to eliminate opportunities for Ramirez to play first, Mitch Moreland would become an everyday player while not allowing to use Chris Young as a DH vs. lefties.
It could still work out, but the concern would be over-exposing Moreland, while not being able to take advantage of Young’s mastery against southpaws.
WHO WILL PITCH THE EIGHTH?
The good news for the Red Sox was that Tyler Thornburg resurfaced in a minor league game Friday and looked pretty good. After a few days down, the reliever who struck out 90 batters in 67 innings last season, will be back at it.
If all goes well, Thornburg could be relied on come Opening Day. But will he represent the kind of eighth-inning security blanket Farrell will be looking for?
Joe Kelly would seem to be the Red Sox’ back-up plan in the eighth, but he has had some ups and downs of late, most recently giving up two runs in an inning against minor leaguers Friday. The righty would still seem to be first in line after closer Craig Kimbrel and Thornburg.
WILL DREW POMERANZ BE READY?
Pomeranz and Farrell insist the lefty is on target to make his first scheduled regular season start, which would figure to come April 9 in Detroit. He did manage to rebound from a rough first two innings against the Blue Jays Friday to turn in an encouraging four-frame outing, offering optimism heading into the final week.
Pomeranz said on the Bradfo Sho podcast that two weeks ago he finally felt the stem cell injection shot kick in, and Friday offered the opportunity to rediscover his mechanics.
But Pomeranz certainly hasn’t hit the ground running like Steven Wright, who had been on the same delayed track as the southpaw. For peace of mind, it would certainly behoove the starter and his team to build on the momentum built in his last two innings.
WILL FARRELL PINCH-HIT FOR PABLO SANDOVAL?
With the possible exception of Dustin Pedroia — who is 13-for-26 this spring — here hasn’t been a hotter hitter than Sandoval. Entering Saturday, the third baseman was hitting .362 with a 1.065 OPS.
But the problem is the Red Sox still don’t know what they have with Sandoval against left-handers. He only has eight at-bats against lefties this spring, collecting one hit. And while Farrell, Sandoval and hitting coaches Chili Davis and Victor Rodriguez can relay all kinds of optimism that the switch-hitter will be serviceable from the right side, there still has to be some trepidation.
It took Farrell a while that first month in April, 2015 before understanding that Sandoval needed to be pinch-hit for against lefties late in games, and it cost the Red Sox. The guess is that if Josh Rutledge and/or Young are available vs. left-handers in the final few innings, in games the Red Sox are tied or trailing in, Sandoval might get the hook.
WHICH SANDY LEON ARE THEY GOING TO GET?
Farrell has made it very clear Leon is being viewed as the starting catcher, beginning with the opportunity to catch Rick Porcello on Opening Day. But there has to be some uneasiness about which switch-hitter the Red Sox are going to get, the one that tore up the American League in June, July and August, or the September version of Leon.
Leon has looked better at the plate of late, collecting hits in each of his most recent four Grapefruit League games. But he is just 3-for-19 vs. right-handed pitching, having collected three hits in four at-bats when hitting from the right side against lefties.
WHEN WILL DAVID PRICE BE BACK?
Considering he hasn’t even played long-toss yet, probably not really soon.
Right now, considering the need to start from scratch when he does start throwing from a mound, a May return would seem to be the earliest option.
|It’s been three weeks, so what should we make of David Price’s situation?||03.22.17 at 10:44 am ET|
Two days later, Price and the Red Sox were celebrating the good news: no surgery, no PRP injection and just 7-10 days of rest before potentially launching the road back to pitching again.
But here we sit here. No games. No bullpen sessions. No long toss. Only some throwing into a net.
So, what should we make of where Price is at?
The pitcher offered this explanation to WEEI.com when asked about the situation.
“It’s making sure whenever I come back, it’s to stay back, not to be back,” Price said. “I know that some people can’t understand that.”
The Red Sox are still proclaiming that there is nothing to see. He went through another check-up Tuesday and the plan remains the same.
“Strength gains have been had but we’re going to continue to stay in the strengthening phase of this,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “We’re continuing to get his arm moving in the cage, in the workout room. But as far as initiating a full-blown throwing program, we’re not at that point yet. We’re getting closer. That’ll be happening ideally in the coming days.”
Farrell then added, “You go into these kind of open-ended. You’re not really sure what specific day it’s going to take place. You don’t really attach yourself to a calendar. You’ve got to listen to the pitchers situation, how his body is responding and what the objective tests are telling us. He’s getting closer to getting a ball back in his hand.”
The way this is unfolding, there is a very real chance we don’t see Price pitch in April. And as long as there continues to be no news of an injection, or change of course, that would be OK.
The thinking is that as much as Price might want to pitch, this is about getting a guy who has thrown more pitches than anybody in baseball over the past three years to a good place come the final two months. Thanks to the Red Sox’ rotation, they seemingly have that luxury.
It’s not what people want to hear, but in this case it has become a necessity.
One American League manager recently surmised that Price’s postseason struggles might be, in part, due to the tractor pull that is getting through the season. It might not be the be-all, end-all when it comes to the postseason narrative, but it does make some sense.
There is nothing wrong with Price not pitching 200 innings. There is everything wrong with not being able to lean on your $30 million-a-year pitcher when it counts the most. And the guess here is that the Red Sox have swerved off onto that road when dealing with this injury.
It was time to think differently about Price. And that’s why we’re still sitting here waiting.
“He has kept his arm moving,” Farrell said. “He’s incorporated some throwing, he’s incorporated some plyometrics with the arm and movement as you would throwing a baseball. He’s not static or stagnant in terms of the full range of motion used to throw a baseball.”
|Chris Sale gives Yankees another dose of Chris Sale||03.21.17 at 9:51 pm ET|
In games that actually count, no pitcher since ERA has been an actual stat has had more success against the Yankees than Sale, totaling a 1.17 ERA in 10 career games (7 starts) vs. New York.
This one didn’t count, but offered the same kind of result.
Sale absolutely dominated the Yankees in making his fourth Grapefruit League start, striking out 10 in six innings. He did surrender a two-run homer in his final frame to Matt Holliday, but that hardly diminished the dominance the lefty showed in leading the Red Sox to 4-2 win at Steinbrenner Field.
“It felt good,” Sale said. “I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes. You guys saw, just felt good, got a good rhythm going, just kind of following Sandy’s lead. He knows these guys on the other end of the line extremely well, so just follow his game plan and see where it takes us.”
Not hurting matters was the opportunity for Sale to get a bit closer to pitching in a regular season environment, performing in front of biggest crowd of spring training, against a Yankees lineup that wasn’t far off from what he might be seeing in the regular season.
“Obviously anybody who knows anything about sports knows about Boston and New York,” Sale said. “Even from the outside looking in, you can see it, you can sense the competitive drive on these teams and in this series. Coming in here, playing against the Yankees, playing at their park, a night game, gives it more of a regular season feel. It’s nice, it’s what we’re here for, we’re here to get ready for the regular season. Anytime you can get that much closer to a regular season game, the better off we’re going to be.”
Sale, who struck out multiple batters in each of his first four innings, figures to get two more spring training starts before being slotted in to the Red Sox’ April 5 tilt against Pittsburgh at Fenway Park.
“He was very good, he added his third pitch more this evening than five days ago when it was more fastball changeup,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “His breaking ball to both sides of the plate, down underneath to some right-handed swings. And anytime he needed to, he’s got such good feel for the change-up to get him back in counts to give him a different look. He was impressive.”
|Surpise, surprise: Red Sox might be breaking camp with just four starters||03.20.17 at 2:48 pm ET|
Prior to the Red Sox’ game against the Orioles Monday at JetBlue Park, John Farrell insinuated there could be a scenario where the team breaks camp with eight relief pitchers and just four starters.
It makes some sense.
With the off day after the opener, the Red Sox wouldn’t need a fifth starter until April 8.
Who that starter might be is dependent on Drew Pomeranz, whose status for the beginning of the schedule is in doubt due to his latest setback, triceps soreness. Pomeranz said Monday he is planning to not only make his next scheduled Grapefruit League start, Saturday, but would target throwing four innings.
There is a chance Kyle Kendrick (who pitched well again Monday) could replace Pomeranz that first time through. Still, come Opening Day, the roster will see some combination of Fernando Abad, Robby Scott, or Noe Ramirez.
Abad would seem to have the upper hand in making the team right now because, unlike the others, he is out of options.
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