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Daniel Nava’s incredible story keeps on going, hits home runs in first two at-bats with Phillies 04.06.17 at 1:37 pm ET
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Daniel Nava (Butch Dill/USA Today Sports)

Daniel Nava (Butch Dill/USA Today Sports)

You remember the story.

Daniel Nava. The equipment manager for his collegiate baseball team, whose contract was purchased from an Independent League team from the Red Sox for one dollar. Then, in his very first major league at-bat, he hits a grand slam off Joe Blanton on the very first pitch he saw.

There was, of course, the key contributions from the outfielder during the Red Sox’ 2013 World Series run, playing in 131 games that season and finishing with an .831 OPS.

It’s been a while since Nava entered our consciousness. After leaving the Red Sox organization in 2015, he has bounced around from the Rays to the Angels to the Royals, before getting a chance with the Phillies this season.

But Thursday afternoon, Nava reappeared in a big way.

The 34-year-old switch-hitter, who made the Phillies after signing a minor-league deal with the team, hit home runs in his very first two at-bats of the 2017 season.

Both homers came against Cincinnati right-hander Rookie Davis, with Nava hitting out of the No. 2 spot in the Phillies’ lineup.

The success was a carry-over from an impressive spring training from the outfielder, who notched four hits — all hitting right-handed — against the Red Sox during a Grapefruit League game in Clearwater. For the exhibition season, Nava hit .347 with a .908 OPS.

Starting for the Phillies in Thursday’s game was former Red Sox Clay Buchholz.

There might not be a game Thursday, but Red Sox still had plenty of moves to make 04.06.17 at 11:54 am ET
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xanderbogaertsJust two games into the season, the Red Sox have already been forced to execute their best Anthony Gatto (voted the world’s best juggler) impersonation.

The first step in roster juggling came after the Sox’ 3-0 win over the Pirates Wednesday night, when travel arrangements were being made for Matt Barnes to attend his grandmother’s wake and funeral. Barnes was headed to the bereavement list, where he would be forced to miss a minimum of three games and a maximum of seven.

Thursday morning, just before the postponement of the series finale between the Red Sox and Pirates (with the make-up game slated for April 13), it was announced by the team that Noe Ramirez would be taking Barnes’ spot on the roster.

In an 11:20 a.m. conference call, John Farrell announced the roster tweaking wasn’t stopping there:

– Xander Bogaerts is joining Barnes on the bereavement list, with Marco Hernandez being called up to take the shortstop’s place. Brock Holt, who was unavailable Wednesday due to illness, is expected to be with the team as they head to Detroit for its four-game series. Bogaerts is slated to be available for Monday’s game against the Tigers.

– Drew Pomeranz, who was slotted in to make his first start of the season Sunday, will be pushed back to Tuesday, when he will face the Orioles at Fenway Park.

– The rotation for the Red Sox’ series at Comerica Park, starting Friday afternoon, will be: Steven Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez, Rick Porcello and Chris Sale.

– David Price repeated the same throwing routine that he executed Wednesday, which included work off a mound. The Thursday morning session did, however, incorporate further distance in his long-toss.

– Mookie Betts and Robbie Ross Jr., who were also both scratched from Wednesday night’s game because of sickness, are both expected to be ready to go for the series against the Tigers.

Matt Barnes slated to miss at least 3 games while on bereavement list 04.06.17 at 12:02 am ET
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Matt Barnes confirmed to WEEI.com after the Red Sox’ 12-inning, 3-0 win over the Pirates Wednesday night that he would be missing at least three of his team’s games while attending the wake and funeral of his grandmother.

Under Major League Baseball regulations, a player who is placed on the bereavement list is obligated to miss a minimum of three games, but no more than seven. It is put in place for players who must attend to a serious illness or death in his immediate family.

Through the Red Sox’ first two games, Barnes has been used as one of John Farrell’s most important relievers. After pitching in the seventh inning in the season-opener, the righty came on in the eighth to toss a scoreless frame in what was a 0-0 tie.

Candidates to replace Barnes on the Red Sox 25-man roster include Noe Ramirez, Kyle Martin, and Luis Ysla.

After years of dreaming about Chris Sale, Red Sox were presented with a pretty impressive wake-up call Wednesday night 04.05.17 at 10:03 pm ET
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Chris Sale (Bob DiChiara/USA Today Sports)

Chris Sale (Bob DiChiara/USA Today Sports)

Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada might be really, really good at some point in the next few years, but if you’re into instant gratification Chris Sale is your man.

If you wanted a blueprint for what any team would expect from the starting pitcher they acquired when giving up their top two prospects, Sale delivered it to you Wednesday night.

Zero runs over seven innings. He struck out seven, allowed just three hits, and didn’t walk a batter until the second-to-last Pirate the lefty faced. (For a complete recap of the game, click here.)

Sale did what he does. He worked quick. He dominated both sides of the plate. And he missed bats with fastballs, chanegups and sliders (14 swings and misses). The only negative for pitcher was that he didn’t get decision, having to leave in a midst of scoreless affair.

Ultimately Sandy Leon’s three-run, walk-off home run in the 12th inning allowed Sale’s performance to not go for naught. And the fact that relievers Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Robby Scott, Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly helped team to not allow a Pirates baserunner to pass first base all night was something.

“I felt good. I felt confident,” Sale said. “I felt like I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes. Not only that but ahead in the count, behind in the count, off-speed stuff. Credit goes to Sandy though. He was the one calling the pitches, I was just the one throwing them. When you can have confidence in the guy behind the plate like that, it’s huge. Just watching him hit that home run, that was fun.”

Still, this was Sale’s night.

“Walking out for Opening Day was awesome. That’s a feeling I’ll never forget. I’m very appreciative of that. I know that’s not easy to come by. Walking out to the bullpen today before I even threw my first warmup pitch, people were losing their minds,” he said. “Walking off in the seventh inning, that’s another feeling I’ll never forget. That’s special. That’s awesome. And I appreciate it.”

The Red Sox’ starter couldn’t help it if the Red Sox couldn’t do anything against another pitcher also born in Lakeland, Fla., Pittsburgh starter Jameson Taillon. The second overall pick in the 2010 draft, who was taken nine spots in front of Sale, was virtually just as good, also turning in seven innings of shutout ball.

But no matter the final outcome, with 160 games to go we were granted a reminder why Red Sox fans have been obsessed with Sale for the last three years.

This was the guy so many thought would be impossible to pry from the White Sox. Three years left on his team-friendly deal. Just 28 years old. It seemed like a pipe dream.

There have been others.

Remember how the fan base lusted after Hanley Ramirez while he was emerging into one of the best offensive players in baseball in the years after joining the Marlins?

How about those five-for-one packages proposed for Felix Hernandez?

(Courtesy BaseballSavant.com)

(Courtesy BaseballSavant.com)

Adrian Gonzalez became a reality, but only after a few years of unrealistic trade proposals.

The Giancarlo Stanton dream came to an end with his contract extension, but that only paved the way for Sale to enter the conversation.

Who knows where it’s going to go from here. It’s easy to suggest this is going to be the beginning of big things. But that’s what we insisted last season after David Price’s six-inning, two-run, 10-strikeout gem of a debut in Cleveland a year ago.

Before Price there were guys like Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who both allowed just a run over seven innings in their first games pitching for the Red Sox.

It is hard to imagine Sale falling of the same cliff those others did as their inaugural season with the Red Sox unfolded. This has been one of the best pitchers in the American League over the last five seasons, and strong starts aren’t anything new to the southpaw. Last season he didn’t allow more than three runs in any of his starts until his 10th appearance (coming on May 24).

But for this night, anyway, Red Sox fans got their wish.

“I get nervous before every game,” Sale said. “Tonight was a little bit different obviously. It was my first time pitching here in the home whites. Running out of the first base dugout is pretty awesome. It was special. I appreciated it, too. I tried to go through my routine and do everything I normally do but also soak it all in at the same time.”

Shattering Perceptions Game Note Image

The Red Sox have allowed runs in just one of their 21 frames this season.

After roller coaster spring training, Drew Pomeranz slated to make first start Sunday 04.05.17 at 5:04 pm ET
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Drew Pomeranz (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Photo)

Drew Pomeranz (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Photo)

There was the late season move to the bullpen. Then came the stem cell injection. That led to a delayed appearance in spring training, with a hiccup in the form of a sore triceps.

But after all of it, it sure looks like Pomeranz is ready to make his first scheduled start of the season, Sunday.

“I feel about normal for the beginning of the year,” Pomeranz said. “I feel great. I’ve got 90 pitches in, I feel that’s what most people did the last start anyway, so I feel I’m right where I need to be.”

Pomeranz came through his bullpen session at Fenway Park Wednesday in good shape, two days following a six-inning, 90-or-so pitch outing at JetBlue Park against minor leaguers.

“I felt a lot better,” he said. “I made some good strides the last couple weeks as far as building up arm strength. I feel like I’m in a good spot now.”

Because of the new 10-day disabled list rule, Sunday would be the first day Pomeranz would be eligible to be activated to the 25-man roster. If the Red Sox aren’t postponed Thursday, Eduardo Rodriguez is slated to start, with Steven Wright opening the series in Detroit Friday.

“My goal from the get-go was to be ready for Sunday or whatever,” Pomeranz said. “I’m just waiting to hear.”

Red Sox lineup: Mookie Betts latest victim of flu, Xander Bogaerts moves up 04.05.17 at 3:11 pm ET
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Mookie Betts (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Mookie Betts (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

The Red Sox were able to escape any repercussions Opening Day when it came to the flu that was sweeping through the clubhouse. But they had no such luck in Game 2.

As John Farrell first revealed on the Dale, Holley & Keefe Show, Mookie Betts is the latest victim of the sickness, forcing him out of the Red Sox’ lineup for Wednesday night’s game against the Pirates.

Without Betts, Chris Young will get the start in right field against Pittsburgh starter Jameson Taillon, a right-hander. Xander Bogaerts also moves up to the No. 3 spot in the batting order.

Here is the Red Sox’ lineup with Chris Sale on the mound for the hosts:

Dustin Pedroia 2B
Andrew Benintendi LF
Xander Bogaerts SS
Hanley Ramirez DH
Mitch Moreland 1B
Chris Young RF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Pablo Sandoval 3B
Sandy Leon C

For all the Red Sox news, go to the team page by click here.

John Farrell has got his work cut out for him figuring out this Red Sox bullpen 04.03.17 at 7:40 pm ET
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Craig Kimbrel (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Craig Kimbrel (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Red Sox have a good team. Their starting pitchers are certainly good enough, as is their lineup.

There is just that one element that offers an uneasy feeling heading into Opening Day, and hasn’t gone anywhere as Game 2 approaches. That would be the bullpen.

With the last two eighth-inning acquisitions, Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg, each starting the year on the disabled list, and last season’s answer, Koji Uehara, now pitching for the Cubs, the path to Craig Kimbrel has never been murkier. It was a reality that Red Sox manager John Farrell admitted before his team’s 5-3 win over the Pirates Monday, and remains the same.

“Without a returning lock-down eighth inning guy, we’re about settling into some roles as quick as possible,” Farrell said Monday morning. “There’s going to be a little bit more matching up right now before we bridge to Kimbrel in the ninth. You take some of the momentum that certain guys have coming out of spring training with how they are throwing the ball — [Heath] Hembree and [Matt] Barnes from the right-handed side have probably been the most consistent. Robby Scott and Fernando [Abad] from the left side have probably had more momentum coming out of spring training.

“We’ve got to settle into the roles as quick as possible, but that is what we’re looking at to bridge to Kimbrel right now in a lead situation.”

And that’s exactly what happened after Rick Porcello left with two runners on, one out, and the Red Sox holding a four-run lead in the seventh inning.

First came Barnes, who had been particularly effective when coming in with runners on last season. This time around he wasn’t sharp, ultimately getting out of the inning, but only after allowing two inherited runners to score.

“I felt good today. It’s funny, but you take the first outing or two, and it takes you the one, two, three outings to get reacclimated to everything,” Barnes said. “It’s a little different pitching up here in front of these fans in front of big-leaguers for an entire game in a game that matters to the standings as opposed to when you’re pitching down in spring training, it’s a completely different setting. A lot of times later in the games, you’re not facing big-league guys, so it takes, from what I’ve seen, an outing or two to get reacclimated to the setting, to the scene and to everything, and then we’ll be ready to roll.”

In the eighth, Scott was brought on to face lefty Gregory Polanco and needed just one pitch to induce a ground out.

“I got up the inning before and they told me Polanco would be the guy that I had,” the lefty explained. “Barnesy got out of it with Polanco on-deck and they called back and said I would be going back to begin the eighth.”

Hembree was called on to face righties David Freese and Francisco Cervelli, both of whom the right-hander retired to end the eighth. That paved the way for Kimbrel in the ninth. The Red Sox closer did nothing to soothe the nerves of those worrying about the relievers, putting two runners on before getting Starling Marte to pop up to first baseman Mitch Moreland to end the game.

They got through it, but it was a reminder that this, for the time being, is not going to be easy for Farrell.

Up until about a week ago, it appeared as though the manager was going to be able to rely on Joe Kelly to slide into Thornburg’s role. But the righty sputtered through the end of spring training, experiencing control issues, seemingly pushing him behind Barnes and Hembree for that last righty to pitch before Kimbrel.

“We have three lefties, which is huge for us. We have a bunch of righties with all similar stuff. You just have to be ready at any point,” Kelly said. “I feel good. I feel ready to go. It’s just depending on the game situation. It’s just one game.

“I was trying to get all my pitches ready [in spring training]. It wasn’t like I was working on one particular thing. I’m ready to go. I feel great.”

We still haven’t seen Ben Taylor, Robbie Ross Jr. (who also struggled in spring training), Abad or Kelly. So the tryouts for meaningful spots will continue throughout the week. And ultimately Thornburg and Smith will likely return, with Thornburg perhaps reappearing by May, with Smith slated for a month after that.

But until the whole gang gets together, this is going to be a challenge. Both for the seven or eight relievers, and their manager.

“Just trying to get outs,” Ross Jr. said. “We have to do whatever we have to do to get outs. The roles aren’t really determined. We just have to do what we need to do.”

“A lot of guys down there have done a bunch of different roles,” Barnes added. “While there’s not necessarily clarity on who’s got the seventh and who’s got the eighth, everybody is staying on their toes, staying ready, and we’re going from there.”

How are Red Sox going to win without David Ortiz? Their Opening Day win over Pirates offered a hint 04.03.17 at 5:10 pm ET
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Andrew Benintendi (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Andrew Benintendi (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

You want a blueprint of how the Red Sox plan on winning without David Ortiz? I will refer you to their 5-3 win over the Pirates Monday afternoon at Fenway Park. (For a complete recap of the game, click here.)

Better than average defense. Lock-down starting pitching. A balanced lineup. The utilization of small-ball. Some resurgence from Pablo Sandoval. And the emergence of their next big bat, Andrew Benintendi.

There you go.

We will start with Benintendi considering he owned the biggest hit of the entire Opening Day game. That came in the form of a three-run home run into the Pirates’ bullpen off a 98 mph fastball from Pittsburgh starter Gerrit Cole. (Click here to see a video of the home run.)

While there was some raised eyebrows directed at Red Sox manager John Farrell when he decided to bump Benintendi up to the No. 2 spot in the batting order despite having just 44 major league plate appearances coming into the season. While it did allow to break up the right-handed bats at the top of the order, and lefties in the bottom half, pushing Xander Bogaerts down to No. 6 was hardly a no-brainer.

But Benintendi’s ability to turn on the kind of pitch Cole delivered on a 2-2 count with two outs in the Red Sox’ five-run fifth inning only fed the optimism baseball’s top prospect continued to build throughout a Grapefruit League that saw him hit .344 with a 1.062 OPS.

How the Red Sox got that point, where Benintendi could go deep for the Red Sox’ first homer of 2017, was also a huge part of the story.

With Cole battling Red Sox starter Rick Porcello in a scoreless game with two outs in the fifth, Jackie Bradley Jr. finally got to the Pirates’ starter by narrowly hitting a home run over the right field wall on a 97 mph heater. The sight of Bradley’s triple was an important one, considering any early-season uncertainty over which streak the streaky center fielder would start out on.

Shattering Perceptions Game Note Image

 

Bradley’s triple was the hardest ball he’s ever hit, as he launched the line-drive at 110 mph according to StatCast.

The hit was the second piece of excellence coming from the outfielder, who made a spectacular play chasing down Francisco Cervelli’s fourth-inning blast into the center field triangle.

Then came Sandoval.

The slightly more streamlined third baseman picked up where he left off in spring training, beating out a slow grounder to Pittsburgh shortstop Jordy Nelson. It was a practice Sandoval had executed multiple times in Southwest Florida, but this time it just happened to score the Red Sox’ first run of the season. It was also a happening that probably wouldn’t have been possible with the frame he supported a year ago. (To see Sandoval beating out the grounder, click here.)

The momentum didn’t stop there, thanks to Sandy Leon’s willingness to take what the Pirates gave him when shifting on him. Farrell said his club would be taking advantage of shifts more via the bunt, and that’s exactly what the switch-hitting catcher did. The next thing you knew Dustin Pedroia was claiming an RBI single, paving the way Benintendi.

And, finally, I give you Porcello.

It might not have felt like the dominating performance you might get from a pitcher making his first start since winning the Cy Young, but it was want any team would have wanted from their Opening Day starter. Six and a third innings. Three runs. Six hits. Five strikeouts. One walk.

It wasn’t all perfect. Matt Barnes came on for Porcello and didn’t ease any previous concerns the Red Sox might have had coming into the day, allowing two inherited runs to score via walk, hit and sacrifice fly. But it was good enough. And considering the unknown that is life without Ortiz, that will have to do for now.

David Ortiz isn’t at Fenway Park for Opening Day, but is on Twitter 04.03.17 at 2:21 pm ET
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The Opening Day celebration at Fenway Park went on without the presence of David Ortiz.

Despite some surmising the former designated hitter might be part of the Game 1 festivities, the Red Sox instead rolled out a Patriots-themed pregame ceremony. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, James White, Dion Lewis and Robert Kraft walked in from the left field wall with their Lombardi Trophies, leading up to Brady throwing out the first pitch.

But Ortiz did make his presence felt in the moments leading up to Rick Porcello’s initial offering, taking to Twitter.

(To read/watch Ortiz’s tweet, click here.)

Do Red Sox know what they’re getting into without David Ortiz? 04.03.17 at 9:40 am ET
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David Ortiz (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

David Ortiz (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

What is it going to be like without David Ortiz?

Each and every time the question is posed to a member of the Red Sox organization, the answer is virtually the same. And Sunday was no different.

“You can’t replace David,” said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “That’s obvious. We saw what he did for his entire career here. It’s going to take everybody to kind of step up and different roles and overcome his absence and play together. We plan on doing that.”

“For the last decade he’s been a bedrock here,” added manager John Farrell. “He’s been a cornerstone player and his importance continues to grow. As players have moved on, Pedey is still the one guy who’s still in his prime and has had a fantastic spring training. Coming off the scope of the offseason, we had a very detailed plan for his progression. He’s responded very good to it. Even a guy in his stature here in Boston, the number of years he’s been here, he’s still growing daily as the leader of our team and is more and more comfortable in that role.”

Now, with the Opening Day lineup officially announced and Ortiz not in it, the Red Sox’ new lot in life has become a reality.

But Ortiz was Ortiz, and when you have a player of that importance replacing him with projections is a dangerous — albeit, unavoidable — thing.

This is a presence that led the entire major leagues in OPS last season, the only person to eclipse 1.000 (1.021). For context, this would be the equivalent of the Nationals playing without the 2015 leader in the stat, Bryce Harper, last season.

Those first three months of 2016, it was Ortiz who once again anchored this Red Sox lineup. Do we think that anybody is going to hit 19 home runs by July 1, or turn in 51 extra-base hits? Mookie Betts was in the midst of doing his thing on the way to just missing out on American League MVP, but during that span, when the Sox were officially entrenching themselves as a playoff contender, even he wasn’t close to the team’s designated hitter.

From the seventh inning on this is a guy who hit .331 with a 1.044. Only one Red Sox hitter managed a batting average of .284 or better in such situations. In short, when things were stuck in the mud when it came to offensive production, Ortiz was almost always the fail-safe.

None of this is a news flash.

Neither is the fact that when the rubber hit the road in the clubhouse, this was the biggest voice in there. As much as Pedroia, a veteran like Chris Young, or the maturing foundation made up of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, etc. might bring, that dynamic — for the time being — is gone.

Why would all of that matter? Because over the course of a Major League Baseball season, the ups and downs can push a team down the wrong road without the hard-stop that Ortiz offered both on, and off, the field. Heading into 2017, that should be recognized as an uncomfortable reality.

The Red Sox could very well be fired out of cannon this month, even without Ortiz. Mitch Moreland could turn a career corner in his new home park, and the option of using Chris Young against left-handers as a designated hitter might actually offer well above-average production.

Heck, the Tigers finished with baseball’s third-best team OPS in 2015 after the major league leader in the category, Victor Martinez, dropped to a sub.700 guy.

But after gliding through the semi-meaningless Grapefruit League days, when Ortiz usually exited with less than a handful of hits, it’s time to start taking stock of what life will look like without the DH. That starts Monday.

How much will the Red Sox miss David Ortiz?

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