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Minor league mentor: Veteran Matt Spring influences young pitchers, catchers with passion 08.13.14 at 5:20 pm ET
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PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Given the way Chad Epperson talks about one of the catchers he oversees in his duties as Red Sox catching coordinator, one would think that he is praising the work of a major league star or at least a veteran. Epperson’s passion for the backstop is evident in his voice as his eyes widen at the mere mention of the name.

“He’s one of my all-time favorites,” Epperson said with a big grin across his face. “He just makes my job easier.”

The remarks by Epperson, who has been a hitting coach, manager and now catching coordinator in the Red Sox system for parts of 13 seasons, aren’t directed at Jason Varitek or Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Christian Vazquez or Blake Swihart. Instead, his beams at the mention of 29-year-old minor league veteran Matt Spring.

Spring, whom the Red Sox signed prior to the 2011 season as a minor league free agent, is a 10-year veteran of the minors who has played at nearly every level of the Red Sox minor leagues, from Single-A Salem (Va.) in the Carolina League to Triple-A Pawtucket in the International League.

“[Spring] just gets it. He has a passion second to none,” Epperson said. “He understands the role that he is in. He loves coming to the field and putting on the uniform. You combine those things with the experience and watching his teammates, being able to watch the work ethic that he does, this guy is always working.”

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Catching on: Blake Swihart’s accelerating development behind the plate 08.05.14 at 9:47 am ET
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PAWTUCKET, R.I. — There were two outs in the fifth inning and Pawtucket Red Sox lefty Henry Owens had just walked his second batter of the game on a 3-2 count in the midst of a bid for a no-hitter. Owens seemed momentarily frustrated with himself and began to wander around the mound. Emerging from his crouch behind the plate, catcher Blake Swihart called time and began a slow jog to the mound where he was met by a look of relief from Owens.

As he stepped onto the mound, Swihart flipped down his catcher’s mask and put his arm around Owens, comforting the pitcher, as the pair began to plan their attack against Elliot Johnson of the Columbus Clippers. The look of comfort was evident in Owens’ eyes as Swihart jogged to set up behind the plate.

As Owens went into his windup, there was an extra oomph behind each of his pitches. Johnson was quickly set down on a fly ball to left fielder Bryce Brentz. Swihart, walking toward the dugout, gave a fist bump to Owens in celebration of the shared success.

Swihart’s ability to relate and talk to his pitching staff has become a huge area of growth in the last year. Catcher Matt Spring, who has been Swihart’s teammate for two years, said that Swihart’s ability to talk to and work with a pitching staff has become a huge factor in the catcher’s improvement on the defensive end.

“He gets on the same page as his pitchers and has a really good working relationship with them,” Spring said. “That was one thing where there is usually a longer process, especially with how young he is. He asks questions all the time and he is always listening and he’s just done an incredible job of being able to run a pitching staff on a day-in, day-out basis. Obviously, at the plate, he’s been fantastic.”

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No laughing matter: Henry Owens makes his mark in Triple-A debut 08.04.14 at 11:51 pm ET
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PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Henry Owens is a master of first impressions, and not just for what he does on the mound.

The first word that several teammates use in describing the Red Sox‘ top pitching prospect is goofy. The pitcher created an unshakable early memory for catcher Blake Swihart at the 2010 Aflac All-American Game, at which Swihart remembers seeing a lanky Owens run out to the mound, pick up the rosin bag and, instead of using it for its intended purpose, chuck it across home plate, rosin flying in the wind.

“That guy,” Swihart said pointing at Owens, “is an absolute goofball.”

On the mound, Owens does everything but goof around.

In his Triple-A debut Monday night for the Pawtucket Red Sox, Owens dominated the visiting Columbus Clippers. He carried a no-hitter through 5 1/3 innings before an infield single to Indians top prospect Francisco Lindor broke up the bid. He ended up delivering 6 2/3 innings, striking out nine (including the first four batters of the game), walking three, hitting one batter and allowing no runs.

Owens, who threw 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes, displayed a fastball that sat around 89 to 93 mph, a changeup that came in 77-79 mph and a curveball that was 69-72 mph. The 22-year-old displayed strong command of all three pitches and had the Clippers lineup guessing all night.

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Sources: Red Sox to promote Heath Hembree, Corey Brown 08.04.14 at 6:16 pm ET
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According to multiple sources, the Red Sox are planning to call up reliever Heath Hembree and outfielder Corey Brown for the upcoming road trip to St. Louis.

While the corresponding roster moves have yet to be announced, pitcher Steven Wright most likely will be sent down to Pawtucket in order to make room for Hembree.

The move to make room for Brown on the roster is a little more complicated. Logical solutions could be to place Allen Craig, who hurt his left ankle running in his Red Sox debut on Friday, on the disabled list, or to send Mookie Betts back to Pawtucket.

Hembree was acquired in the trade with the Giants for Jake Peavy. Hembree made his major league debut in 2013, pitching nine games, allowing no runs, walking two and striking out 12 in 7 2/3 innings pitched. Hembree appeared in two games for the PawSox, going 1 2/3 innings, allowing one hit, walking two and striking out four.

Brown has displayed the ability to hit for power for Triple-A Pawtucket, hitting 16 home runs and knocking in 39 runs while hitting .226/.294/.452 with 14 doubles. In his last 10 games, Brown is hitting .278/.333/.694 with three home runs, five RBIs, two doubles and two triples. The 25-year-old played in parts of three seasons in the majors with the Nationals, hitting .175/.250/.400 with two home runs, four RBIs and three doubles in 45 plate appearances in 36 games.

Brown is not on the 40-man roster,  but the team has one open spot after its non-waiver trade deadline deals.

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Kevin Boles on Heath Hembree as a closer: ‘He has the look … the mound presence’ 08.04.14 at 8:27 am ET
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PAWTUCKET, R.I. — When Heath Hembree strolled out of the Pawtucket Red Sox bullpen in left field at McCoy Stadium on Wednesday night, there was something different in the air. Hembree carried himself with a gravitas and a confidence not often seen in the minor leagues. By day, Hembree speaks with a soft voice with a slight southern twinge, an inviting, friendly tone. By night, Hembree is a different animal.

That mound presence was immediately evident in the righty’s PawSox debut in the ninth inning Wednesday. As soon as Hembree took the bump to finish off the Syracuse Chiefs in Pawtucket’s 3-2 victory, the 25-year-old made his presence known. The righty was confident and knew what his strengths were: his 95 mph fastball and his wipeout slider.

“There is no fear watching him attack those hitters,” said PawSox manager Kevin Boles. “It was pretty impressive.”

The confidence that Hembre exuded extended beyond pure mound presence; the reliever’s attack plan against the top of the Chiefs lineup displayed a sense of maturity. Hembree, who pitched one inning, striking out two, walking one and allowing one hit, mixed his fastball and slider early in counts. Hembree showed enough confidence in his slider to use it to start off the at-bat against Chiefs center fielder Eury Perez.

Hembree may get his chance to impact the late innings out of the Fenway Park bullpen sooner rather than later. Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Edward Mujica are the only pitchers in the current Red Sox relief corps signed for the 2015 season. From first impression, Hembree’s fastball-slider mix looks as if it could play up well in the late innings at the major league level.

“Looks like [the slider] has little bit of a different tilt to it,” Boles said. “Looks like he’s got some finish to it with two strikes. It’s an interesting mix. It’s one look, but very impressive.”

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How Xander Bogaerts can stay at shortstop 08.04.14 at 8:21 am ET
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Red Sox infield coach Brian Butterfield doesn’t know if the move to third base affected Xander Bogaerts‘ offensive production. Butterfield has no way to find out the answer to that question. That being said, Butterfield has noticed a difference in the 21-year-old in the days since the team decided to trade away Stephen Drewessentially committing to Bogaerts as shortstop for the rest of the season.

For Butterfield, the body language from Bogaerts has been the most obvious sign of the player’s happiness in moving back to his old position.

He’s always an energetic, smiling kid anyways, but he seems even more enthusiastic, and I’m sure that’s partly attributed to his move back to shortstop,” Butterfield said. “We have a chance to make some more leaps in his progression at shortstop because he does feel a lot more comfortable there.”

While the team appears committed to Bogaerts at shortstop for the remainder of 2014, there is no guarantee that he will stick at the position next year, let alone the rest of his career. Bogaerts struggled defensively to start the season, posting a -7.7 ultimate zone rating (a defensive metric used to quantify how many runs a player has saved or given up through their play on the field), placing him among the worst defensive shortstops in baseball.

Bogaerts’ early season struggles ultimately helped push the team to sign Drew to play shortstop. Before the decision to sign Drew was made, Butterfield said wholeheartedly that he believed that Bogaerts was trending in the right direction defensively and said that he could stick at the position moving forward. That position for Butterfield has not changed in the three days since Bogaerts’ move back to shortstop.

The biggest thing that we tried to accomplish before he made the move to third was just to get his feet right. Two days of early work or three days of early work, his feet have been right on cue. I’m very pleased with that,” Butterfield said. “During the preparation period, sometimes a guy doesn’t catch the ball the way he wanted to. The biggest thing that you’re trying to accomplish is something from the belt down, and it’s there right now. A good start coming back to his old position.”

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Clay Buchholz on struggles in 2014: ‘I don’t know how to explain it’ 08.04.14 at 7:16 am ET
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Clay Buchholz really does try not to look up at his numbers on the Fenway Park scoreboard. But when things are going as bad as they have been as of late for the righty, a glance is inevitable.

I know you’€™re not supposed to look up at the board and look at numbers, but everybody sees it, so it’€™s a constant battle when you’€™re trying to throw up zeroes,” Buchholz said. “When it doesn’t happen it’€™s more frustrating, and that’€™s part of the game. That’€™s why the game is hard. Got to find a way to get through it. “

Sunday’s five-inning, seven-run, eight-hit, five-walk, five-strikeout performance in an 8-7 loss to the Yankees represented the hurler’s fourth straight game in which he allowed more than four runs and his third straight start in which he walked more than four batters. Things have gotten to the point  for Buchholz where even the 29-year-old is short of answers on why he continues to struggle.

“I don’t know,” the Red Sox starter said. “I don’t know how to explain it.”

For a while, it appeared that Buchholz’s stint on the disabled list had done him well. After struggling with command prior to his stint on the DL, Buchholz seemed to regain his form, walking no batters in four of his five starts since returning on June 25.

Buchholz’s command has seemingly evaporated. At a time when Buchholz is now the senior member of the Red Sox pitching rotation, things are trending downward. Buchholz, the de facto leader of the Red Sox rotation, possesses the highest ERA among starting pitchers in the league with at least 100 innings pitched at 6.20.

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