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John Farrell explains thinking behind not using Craig Kimbrel for 4 outs 08.31.16 at 6:37 pm ET
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Junichi Tazawa ran into trouble in the eighth inning Wednesday. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Junichi Tazawa ran into trouble in the eighth inning Wednesday. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Red Sox boarded the bus for their West Coast road trip the owners of an 8-6 win over the Rays Wednesday afternoon.

But it was an eighth-inning decision by John Farrell, to bring in Junichi Tazawa with the bases loaded, two outs and the Sox leading by a pair in the eighth inning, that was a major topic of conversation following the victory.

With Brad Ziegler not with the team due to Type A influenza, and Clay Buchholz having pitched in three of the last four days, Farrell was presented with the choice of either bringing in the struggling Tazawa, or use closer Craig Kimbrel for a four-out save.

The manager turned to Tazawa, who had allowed two hits in the seven previous at-bats against Rays’ righty hitter Logan Forsythe. It was far from the ideal situation considering the struggles of the reliever, who had allowed at least one baserunner in each of his last five outings, and owned a 10.00 ERA, and .341 batting average against, for August.

The move backfired with Tazawa jumping out to an 0-2 count, just missing on his third pitch, and then allowing a two-run, game-tying single to Forsythe.

“I was aiming to the outside, a little bit high,” Tazawa said through a translator. “But the pitch before was called a ball so I was thinking a little bit inside. I caught too much of the plate.”

So, why not Kimbrel for four outs?

The problem was that the closer had thrown 22 pitches in the Red Sox’ 4-3 loss to the Rays Tuesday night. Prior to that he hadn’t pitched since Aug. 24.

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Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech highlight Red Sox to slated play in Arizona Fall League 08.31.16 at 4:15 pm ET
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Michael Kopech

Michael Kopech

If you’re a baseball fan who wants a diversion from the Major League Baseball postseason, or the early stages of the Hot Stove season, it might be worth a trip to Arizona at some point in October or November this year.

The preliminary rosters for the Arizona Fall League have been released, with seven Red Sox minor leaguers slated to play for the Surprise Saguaros, including top prospect Yoan Moncada, and top pitching prospect Michael Kopech.

Scheduled to join Moncada and Kopech with Surprise will be pitchers Trey Ball, Jalen Beeks, and Jamie Callahan, along with infielder Mauricio Dubon and infielder Danny Mars.

Portland Sea Dogs manager Carlos Febles will serve as the skipper for the Saguaros.

Moncada, who is likely to get a promotion to the Red Sox in Sept., will continue his work at third base during the stint in the AFL, which plays it’s championship game on Nov. 19.

According to MLB.com, Moncada is the top-ranked prospect among those playing in the AFL, with Kopech coming in at No. 74.

Source: Jonathan Papelbon won’t sign by midnight, eliminating postseason eligibility with Red Sox 08.31.16 at 12:39 pm ET
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Jonathan Papelbon

Jonathan Papelbon

The likelihood of Jonathan Papelbon joining the Red Sox, or really any other team, now seems nonexistent.

According to a major league source, Papelbon won’t be signing with anybody prior to midnight, meaning the reliever wouldn’t be eligible for postseason eligibility if he were to pitch again in 2016.

A player has to be within the organization prior to Sept. 1 in order to be an option for the playoffs.

The 35-year-old reliever had drawn heavy interest from the Red Sox, with manager John Farrell and some players reaching out to Papelbon. But with the combination of not being an option for the postseason, and having not thrown since Aug. 6, he doesn’t figure to be a solution for the club’s eighth-inning relief issues.

When appearing on the Ordway, Merloni and Fauria Show Monday, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski elaborated on the Papelbon situation.
“We had interest in him, and we expressed that to him,” Dombrowski said. “John Farrell spoke with Jonathan Papelbon, and I think a couple of our players spoke to him, too. For his own personal reasons, he’s just decided so far not to sign. I’m not sure if he’s going to sign or not. I know he has a lot of strong feelings about Boston if he decides to sign. It’s just more of a situation where his agent says he’s not ready to make a decision.

“And now it becomes complicated because he hasn’t thrown in a game since Aug. 6. So you’re in a position where you just can’t thrust him out there. I don’t know what he’s been doing as far as throwing is concerned. I would doubt that he’s been throwing a lot. So you would have to go back out there and build up his arm strength and be in a position to face some hitters. It’s not just inserting him like it would be if you signed him right off the bat.”

John Farrell insinuates Yoan Moncada will be playing 3B for Red Sox soon 08.31.16 at 11:47 am ET
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Yoan Moncada

Yoan Moncada

The Yoan Moncada Era seems to be on the immediate horizon.

During his pregame media briefing, John Farrell insinuated the Red Sox are strongly considering calling up the organization’s top prospect when the major league rosters expand.

“We’ve talked about Yoan, and not just as a pinch-runner,” Farrell said. “It’s an exciting young player. Extremely talented guy. There’s all positive reviews and evaluations of him. When that major league experience is going to initiate, time with tell that. But in terms of playing the position of third base, yes, that conversation has been had.”

The plan would be to play Moncada at third base, where he has been manning for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs since earlier this month. The amount of playing time the 21-year-old would get might initially be determined on matchups, with the switch-hitter having significant more success from the left side of the plate (.314 batting average) than the right (.171).

“This is a different scenario if it was July or the first of August, where you’ve got an alternate location to play,” Farrell said. “Minor league season ends, so is there a benefit for him just being here? Yes. Do you weight playing ‘x’ number of games a week vs. what he could be doing in Pawtucket? Well, that goes away. By all accounts there is nothing but positive by the experience here if that was to happen.”

Moncada entered Wednesday hitting .295 with a .935 OPS in 44 games with Portland.

The call-up might be a similar situation to when Xander Bogaerts was recalled in 2013 after playing just two weeks of third base in the minor leagues.

“The one thing for those who have been around this team for a number of years, teams that have had success have always had an injection of young players late in the season that have helped carry the team to the postseason,” Farrell said. “I think Yoan would be in a similar category for when Pedey [Dustin Pedroia] and Jake [Jacoby Ellsbury] came to the big leagues. When Bogey came to the big leagues. And [Andrew] Benintendi is obviously already here. I wouldn’t separate him out from that comparison at all. In fact, he’s a direct comparison.”

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David Ortiz choosing Mookie Betts for American League MVP: ‘I’ll take a Silver Slugger’ 08.30.16 at 10:44 am ET
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David Ortiz

David Ortiz

David Ortiz has as good a case as anybody for American League MVP this season. Yet when asked after the Red Sox’ 9-4 win over the Rays Monday night who would be his pick right now for the award, he identify the other candidate in the clubhouse.

“Mookie.”

When asked why, Ortiz was also decisive in his explanation of taking Betts. “He’s having a great season.”

Reminded that the designated hitter’s candidacy is right up there with the Sox’ outfielder, Ortiz said, “I’ll take it, too, but I don’t play defense. If you don’t play defense, it doesn’t help you unless you double everybody’s numbers and hit like 60 homers and have 200 RBIs. I’ll take a Silver Slugger.”

Ortiz has never won the American League MVP, finishing second in 2005, third a season later and fourth two other years. This year, however, he is leading in doubles (42), slugging percentage (.632) and OPS (1.038), while totaling the third-most RBI (101) and fifth-best batting average (.318).

To read more about how Betts’ MVP candidacy is being viewed — including Xander Bogaerts’ spring training prediction that the right fielder would win the award — click here.

Who should win the American League MVP?

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Closing Time: Rick Porcello continues Fenway Park dominance with win over Rays 08.29.16 at 10:22 pm ET
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Rick Porcello became the majors first 18-game winner, Monday night. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Rick Porcello became the majors first 18-game winner Monday night. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Rick Porcello was coming off an outing in which he threw more pitches than in any game of his career. Would he be worn down coming into his start Monday night? It didn’t look like it.

Porcello appeared to be the pitcher Fenway Park fans have been accustomed to witnessing this season, allowing three runs on six hits over seven innings in the Red Sox’ 9-4 win over the Rays. He struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter, while throwing 102 pitches.

The Sox starter is now 13-0 at Fenway this season, with the Red Sox having won all of Porcello’s 14 home starts. The righty is just the fifth major league pitcher since 1913 to begin a season 13-0 at home, joining Dallas Keuchel, Dave Ferriss, Tex Hughson, and Larry Benton. He also becomes the major leagues first 18-game winner.

“I think you deal with ups and downs in baseball, and here in Boston, the downs can seem to be a little bit deeper than most places and all the ups are obviously really high, too,” Porcello said. “You learn to ride that wave and keep an even-keel and continue to work hard and keep your head down until you accomplish the goals you want to accomplish.”

With the win, the Red Sox remain two games in back of first-place Toronto, who claimed a 5-1 win over Baltimore at Camden Yards. The Orioles drop to four games back in the American League East.

For a complete box score, click here.

Closing Time note

With his two RBIs, Mookie Betts is now just four shy of 100. Once at the milestone, the outfielder and David Oritz are trending toward becoming just the second set of Red Sox teammates with at least 30 homers, 40 doubles and 100 RBI. Ortiz and Manny Ramirez accomplished the feat in 2004.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Betts launched his 30th homer of the season over the left field wall to kick off the scoring. The solo shot was his seventh since being moved to the cleanup spot on Aug. 10, the second-most of any No. 4 hitter during that span (only behind Chris Davis’ eight homers). Betts added to his RBI total in the fifth inning, driving home Ortiz with a double.

– Despite coming into the night with the second-worst batting average with the bases loaded in the American League (.211), Brock Holt managed to reverse the trend. The second baseman, who was filling in for Dustin Pedroia for a second straight game, rifled a single into left field, scoring Chris Young. The two-out hit couldn’t plate a pair, however, with Sandy Leon getting thrown out at the plate on a throw from left fielder Corey Dickerson to end the inning. (To watch Holt’s single, click here.)

– Young gave the Sox a two-run lead in the fourth inning, lining a two-run double into the left field corner with nobody out. The hit, which scored Hanley Ramirez and Travis Shaw, was the outfielder’s first RBI against a righty pitcher since June 11. Holt followed in the fourth with his second RBI of game, doubling in Young.

“Each day gets better,” Young said. “When I first came back, it was a process of getting your timing back and things like that. No matter if I’ve felt great, I feel like I’ve been able to go out and battle. And when you first come back, that’s ultimately the goal, to go out there and be competitive and find yourself as fast as possible. And until you find yourself, just try and grind out at-bats and get as good a feel as possible. That’s pretty much where I’m at right now. But I’m feeling more and more comfortable each game.”

– Xander Bogaerts made the defensive play of the game with one out in the fifth inning, ranging into the hole behind second base on Logan Forsythe’s grounder, scooping it up, twisting his body around and finally firing a one-hopper to Ramirez at first. While the play was initially called an infield single, a replay revealed Forsythe was out. Dickerson did score from third on the play for the Rays’ third run.

– Shaw managed just his second multi-hit game for the month, and first since Aug. 4, coming away with three hits.

“It’s nice to go home at night and feel like you’ve contributed to something,” Shaw said. “It’s been a while since that’s happened. It just feels good to actually do something positive for the first time in a while.”

The third baseman also admitted he had been putting too much pressure on himself of late. “I’ve got to try to stop pressing,” he said. “It felt like I was trying to do too much there. You get in a little slump and feel like you’ve got to get a hit every single time you come up to the plate. The last couple days, I’ve felt pretty relaxed and not trying to do too much. I’m just trying to stay there as much as I can.”

– Leon got going after hitting a bit of a dry spell of late, notching two hits, including a two-out, two-run single in the seventh inning. It was the catcher’s first multi-hit game since Aug. 21, having claimed seven games with two hits or more more in the first three weeks of Aug.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– The Red Sox had two runners thrown out at the plate in the second inning, with Hanley Ramirez going from third base on contact on Young’s one-out grounder to third base. Leon would end the inning with his failed attempt at reaching home.

– Porcello couldn’t keep the lead for long, with the Rays scoring a pair in the third inning.

– Clay Buchholz, who had limited hitters to just one hit in 22 at-bats while pitching in relief since July 27, gave up a run on two hits and a walk in a 29-pitch eighth inning.

Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t buying that move to No. 9 spot in Red Sox batting order turned things around 08.29.16 at 6:30 pm ET
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Jackie Bradley Jr. isn't crediting his recent move in the batting order to turning things around. (Winslow Townsend/USA Today Sports)

Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t crediting his recent move in the batting order to turning things around. (Winslow Townsend/USA Today Sports)

Jackie Bradley’s take on the matter wasn’t hard to decipher.

Would you say you don’t care where you hit in the lineup?

“Somewhat.”

Do you care?

“I don’t make the lineup. I just play. You obviously get more opportunities in the top and middle of the lineup.”

Does hitting ninth matter?

“I’ve never heard of a spot in the order that swings the bat. I’ve never heard a pitcher talk about certain sequences with a number in the order. They pitch to hitters no matter where they are in the order. For example, I had a 3-2 splitter in the game yesterday. If I’m the No. 9 guy why don’t you throw me a fastball? You don’t pitch to a number in the batting order. You pitch to tendencies. You pitch to each batter individually. If you hit David in the No. 9 spot he’s going to hit one [home run]?”

Judging by his comments before Monday night’s game, it’s pretty clear that Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t running into John Farrell’s asking to be kept in the lineup’s No. 9 spot. But, for the time being, that’s where the center fielder finds himself. Why? Because one he went back to the bottom of the order, Bradley Jr. started getting on base again.

“Seems to be,” said Farrell when asked if there was a correlation to Bradley Jr.’s recent comfort at the plate and the shift in the order. “His at-bats have been better. He walked a couple of times last night. It’s a really interesting conversation to see or suggest there’s a different mindset based on the number in the lineup in which you’re hitting at. But I think there’s something real to that for certain individual. But Jackie’s had good production in a lot of different places in the lineup this year. He’s going through a little bit of a spell where maybe he’s getting a little bit too pull oriented. I know the work continues to be concentrated to stay inside the ball, use the whole field. That’s there in BP. Does it allow him to see the ball deeper, track the ball better? That might be evident in the walks last night. All in all, multiple times on base the last couple of nights, and certainly that’s a positive.”

After going through 2-for-25 with 13 strikeouts, Bradley Jr. was moved to the No. 9 spot. Since the switch he has reached base five times in eight plate appearances.

For the season, Bradley Jr. came into Monday night hitting .371 with a 1.044 OPS in his 108 plate appearances hitting ninth this season. The production has helped the Red Sox carry far and away the best OPS of any team in the No. 9 slot (.793), 82 points higher than the second-best club, Kansas City. (They are vying to become just the seventh team in Major League Baseball history to have the ninth spot in its order to carry an OPS of .800 or better.)

But Bradley Jr. isn’t buying there is a tangible difference when it comes to either the pitchers’ approach, or how hitters have to look at things.

“Obviously they know certain times when you’re scuffling a little bit. They want to attack you more. But they’re still not wanting to miss their spots,” he said They’re not going to be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to throw this pitch down the middle.’ They’re still going to pitch to their scouting report. I’m just trying to hit, no matter where it is. Everybody tries to stereotype a certain number in the order. I think the main goal is to hit, produce. If you’re producing, it don’t matter.

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Dave Dombrowski offers insight to likelihood of Yoan Moncada, Christian Vazquez call-ups 08.29.16 at 12:10 pm ET
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Dave Dombrowski

Dave Dombrowski

Listening to Dave Dombrowski Monday morning, it sure sounds like Yoan Moncada might not be spending his September in the majors. Christian Vazquez? That’s another story.

Speaking with the Ordway, Merloni and Fauria Show during the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon, Dombrowski explained that part of the decision regarding whether or not to promote Moncada when rosters expand on Sept. 1 will have to do the opportunity for playing time. And right now, that would seem to be hard to come by for the infielder.

“First of all, if you’re going to bring a guy like that up, you want to make sure he has a chance to play some,” said Dombrowski of Moncada, who has been primarily working out at third base, of late. “It doesn’t do you much good if you’re going to bring him up and he just sits and doesn’t play. That doesn’t do you much good. For example, when [Andrew] Benintendi came up he played. We put him right out there in left field. That’s one thing with Moncada. The second thing is that you do have some roster situations, how you work with that with the 40-man roster (which currently has 39 players on it). I wouldn’t let that stop him from being brought up if he was going to play. But those are the conversations that we still need to have over the next day. We’ve talked a lot of generalities.”

The one opening Moncada might fit on the big league roster would be as a pinch-runner. But Dombrowski warned of jumping to the conclusion that just because of the infielder’s minor-league success stealing bases (44-for-56 this season, but just 8-for-12 with Double-A Portland), that doesn’t mean he will become a viable base-stealing threat in the majors during the Red Sox’ pennant race.

And while Dombrowski is on the lookout for potential base-stealing options to add to the big league club, finding the right player, he explained, might not be an option.

“The unfortunate part is that clubs have gotten pretty smart on that so there’s not a lot of those guys available like they used to be at the end,” he said. “It’s a situation where it’s difficult to find those speed guys. For us, a lot of times too you want to get guy who can steal a base. If you can’t find that you want to have a guy who can score from first on a double. We have a lot of those type of guys, so we’re in pretty good shape in that regard.

“Even if you look at Moncada, who, in my estimation, is going to be a great player. He’s going to be an exciting player. He’s going to steal a lot of bases at the big league level. But he’s learning that art at the upper-levels. He hasn’t stole as many bases at Double-A as he did in A-ball. In A-ball his speed just took over. You’re working with him, but he hasn’t stolen quite as many bases yet at the Double-A level. And I do think he will do that at the big league level, eventually.”

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Dave Dombrowski doesn’t sound optimistic Jonathan Papelbon will be option for Red Sox 08.29.16 at 11:25 am ET
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Jonathan Papelbon

Jonathan Papelbon

The Jonathan Papelbon Watch has lingered for most of August, and figures to continue to do so until the end of the month.

But with Papelbon still not choosing to sign with a team since his release from the Nationals Aug. 13, time is becoming a major factor when it comes to the idea of the reliever joining the Red Sox. It’s a point Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski reiterated when appearing with the Ordway, Merloni and Fauria Show during the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon. (To donate, click here.)

“We had interest in him, and we expressed that to him,” Dombrowski said Monday morning. “John Farrell spoke with Jonathan Papelbon, and I think a couple of our players spoke to him, too. For his own personal reasons, he’s just decided so far not to sign. I’m not sure if he’s going to sign or not. I know he has a lot of strong feelings about Boston if he decides to sign. It’s just more of a situation where his agent says he’s not ready to make a decision.

“And now it becomes complicated because he hasn’t thrown in a game since Aug. 6. So you’re in a position where you just can’t thrust him out there. I don’t know what he’s been doing as far as throwing is concerned. I would doubt that he’s been throwing a lot. So you would have to go back out there and build up his arm strength and be in a position to face some hitters. It’s not just inserting him like it would be if you signed him right off the bat.”

Another fly in the ointment is the deadline for Papelbon to be added to an organization in time for postseason eligibility. The pitcher would have to be signed by the Red Sox before Sept. 1 for such a qualification.

“I’m sure he and his representatives know that. But I think it’s more of his own personal situation that he’s decided,” Dombrowski said. “It has nothing to do with a club interest. It’s just more, for whatever reason, his own decisions are like that.”

Why Red Sox are digging in with Clay Buchholz as a late-inning reliever 08.29.16 at 10:27 am ET
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Clay Buchholz has emerged as one of the Red Sox' most important pitchers. (Bob DiChiara/USA Today Sports)

Clay Buchholz has emerged as one of the Red Sox’ most important pitchers. (Bob DiChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Red Sox-centric social media world predictably started raising it’s collective heart rate as soon as the sixth inning started unraveling Sunday night.

Clay Buchholz HAD to go back to the starting rotation. This outing by Eduardo Rodriguez simply wasn’t going to do.

But what the loss to the Royals actually should have reminded was how important Buchholz has become as the next eighth inning option. Remember when Matt Barnes was considered that guy? Well, after giving up three runs on five hits without recording an out, he has now allowed 12 runs in 7 1/3 innings over his last eight outings.

As mediocre an outing as Rodriguez turned out in his return from a hamstring injury, he — and all of the starting rotation — remains less of a concern than the bridge to closer Craig Kimbrel.

That’s where Buchholz comes in.

“The fact that he’s on the mound in the eighth inning, he’s lived it with all of us what that eighth inning has been of late,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell regarding Buchholz. “I’m sure he looked upon that as, hey, this is an opportunity to fill that role.”

The previous two nights were the warm-ups. Buchholz didn’t even get in the game on Friday, simply getting ready just in case. And pitched a semi-meaningless eighth Saturday night. But both began to set the stage for commitment the Red Sox are about to extend.

“[Friday night] if tied the game I was going in, so that was a different role. Before if we tied a game late in the game it was going to be Barnes, Craig or Ziegler. The opposite of going in,” Buchholz said. Talking to John, this is going to a little bit more of a defined type of role.”

The Red Sox’ pitchers OPS-against in the eighth is the highest of any inning other than the first. Brad Ziegler is best when he can be matched up against righties, with left-handed hitters batting just about 50 points higher against the side-winder since he joined the Red Sox. And while Koji Uehara’s progress toward returning has been encouraging, there can’t be any assumptions regarding his effectiveness.

That leaves the Red Sox with Buchholz.

“It’s still the eighth inning. There’s one guy behind you. We haven’t pitched all that well out there,” said Red Sox bullpen coach Dana LeVangie. “They all want to protect each other. There’s responsibility out there, we just have figure it out and put everything in line. It got a little bit loose when Koji left and we had some moving parts.

“Those guys dictate when they pitch out there. When they pitch well with consistency, they get moved back to later innings. We’re going to get it. It’s just putting everybody in comfortable spots to pitch in. And when we get everything back everybody will exhale and say, ‘We’ve got what we want'”

But there is no time left for dancing around the need for the righty to fill this role, a notion Farrell cemented when talking with Buchholz prior to his return to the bullpen. And the manager’s actions in how he called down for Buchholz over the weekend only reinforced the mindset.

“Having a role, it’s a little bit easier to prepare for that rather than going out there and sitting for the first three innings and maybe one of our starters getting hit around a little bit and having to go in and mop up,” Buchholz said. “When the game is on the line you tend to think about what you’re doing. It allows you to prepare.

“I’m not anybody who is going to run around and stretch out. Phone rings, they call my name, I’ll get ready.”

It has taken a month or so, but Buchholz has figured out how to live the relieving life. LeVangie points out that the pitcher only needs about 15 tosses to get ready, and has shown the ability to figure out how to get ready for some of the games’ most important moments.

“He studies beforehand. He knows what he wants to do,” LeVangie said. “He asks questions. It’s more about the mental preparation than anything else.”

Now there’s no turning back. Unless an injury occurs to one of the starting pitchers, or one of them suffers a complete collapse, Buchholz has found his stretch-drive role. And it promises to be one of the most important roles in the season’s final 32 games.

“That feels better going into a game knowing I can watch the game unfold and I can sort of understand when I’m going to pitch rather than just flipping a coin,” he said. “In games that mean something, it feels better knowing that.”

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