|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.
|Xander Bogaerts intent on showing he belongs at top of Red Sox’ batting order||03.24.17 at 12:10 pm ET|
It’s clearly not where Xander Bogaerts wants to be, but is most likely going to end up.
“The only thing is that I’m used to hitting second or third in the past few years, in the first inning. Now, hitting sixth is something I have to adjust to,” Bogaerts said. “First and third, you’re hitting in the first, regardless. Sixth, you’re depending on getting guys getting on. It’s just an adjustment. You have to take your time and see how it all plays out. If you want to be at the top you have to go out and prove it.
“At the end of the season hopefully I’m back up there again. If not, as long as I’m in the lineup that’s what matters.”
Judging by Thursday’s batting order, which Red Sox manager John Farrell identified as possibly representative of what you’ll see Opening Day, Bogaerts will have to get his head wrapped around the unfamiliar spot in the lineup when going up against right-handed starters.
Dustin Pedroia. Andrew Benintendi. Mookie Betts. Hanley Ramirez. Mitch Moreland. And then Bogaerts.
While Bogaerts did end up in the sixth spot during the Red Sox’ three-game postseason run, the majority of his time over the past two seasons have been hitting second or third, where he manned in all but two of the regular season contests.
The company line for players being moved in the lineup always involves doing whatever is best for the team. And while Bogaerts takes that tact, he also is honest about his preferences when it comes to the batting order. It was a reality that was also brought to light when telling Farrell the cleanup spot wasn’t a preferred landing spot last season.
“I always view myself as a guy who is at the top of the lineup,” Bogaerts said. “It’s a little bit tough, but the manager makes out the lineup for what he thinks his best.
“The last two years have been crazy years for me. I think I’ve proven a lot. If it’s to happen, it’s to happen. I just have to go out and prove it, like I have the last few years. You want to hit. Sixth might be waiting for a little bit. That’s the only difference, that I have to sit in the second inning as opposed to the first.”
Bogaerts said while he hasn’t talked to Farrell about the move yet, he most likely will before camp is over. One of the things he might discover when discussing the dynamic with the manager is how much Farrell actually values the sixth spot.
This was Farrell in 2013 when talking about how he views a lineup: “Personally, I think one of the most important spots in the lineup is the six-hole. A higher average, more of a line-drive type, good consistent professional at-bats is one of the thing I look for because I think that spot comes up a lot with men on base. They might be pitching around that three-, four-, five-hole and you have that guy laying there looking to put up a quality at-bat and I think there are a lot of RBI situations to be had.”
So, what is Bogaerts’ preference at the end of the day?
“Second or third for me, was good. It’s what I was used to the past few years,” he said. “It’s an adjustment I’ll have to make. I could finish leadoff and I’ll have 10 stolen bases a month. Who knows?”
|Your Red Sox Opening Day catcher? Sandy Leon||03.23.17 at 10:26 am ET|
First, the fact that Rick Porcello was pitching to Sandy Leon in a minor-league game on the back field at JetBlue Park was no coincidence. For one, John Farrell didn’t want Porcello to be pitching against the team, the Pirates, he would be facing Opening Day.
Secondly, the presence of Leon as Porcello’s battery-mate all but sealed the deal when it came to identifying who will start at catcher on Opening Day.
“I think I’ve said many times over that if we’re opening tomorrow Sandy Leon is going to be the catcher, and that hasn’t changed,” said Farrell, adding, “The last time out [Blake] Swihart had Porcello and I don’t want to get that combination of Rick and Sandy too far removed.”
Leon and Christian Vazquez are both out of options and almost certainly will be the two catchers starting on the 25-man roster, with Swihart likely heading to Triple-A Pawtucket. Offensively, Swihart has out-shined the others, totaling a .357 Grapefruit League batting average, with an .848 OPS.
Last season, Porcello limited opponents to a .223 batting average and .558 OPS with Leon catching, compared to .242/.694 with Vazquez behind the plate.
The starting lineup Farrell rolled out in the game against the Pirates also might have some meaning. Here is the Red Sox’ batting order against right-handed pitcher Drew Hutchinson: 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, Blake Swihart C.
“Eight days until we break, or whereabouts, maybe a first look at our lineup,” Farrell said. “I’m not saying this is Opening Day, but this is potential for one on Opening Day. And just to get everybody back in the rhythm. We’ve kind of fragmented because of the WBC and because of travel and bouncing around the state. To get our camp finally together, I think we’re all looking forward to these last remaining game.”
While Farrell had been toying with the idea of moving Bogaerts up in the lineup, pushing Benintendi to No. 3 and Betts to cleanup, that would seem to be a potential option.
“It’s still a thought,” the manager noted. “This was the dilemma with David hitting three or four, a year ago or previous years. You’re looking for your most complete hitter, or your most productive hitter, to come up in that first inning. And that case right now, that would be Mookie. There’s some balance to all that. The fact is that this is a pretty good problem to have with the difference alignments and who might not come in the first, and worst-case scenario. More than anything, you’re looking at five or six guys capable of being in those top three slots.”
|Why playing third base in the World Baseball Classic might have made Xander Bogaerts a better shortstop||03.23.17 at 9:25 am ET|
Other than that, the Red Sox and Bogaerts’ relationship was limited to relying to the clubhouse televisions to watch the shortstop play third base halfway around the world for Netherlands during their impressive World Baseball Classic run.
“I think it was a little bit better, because the first time I was so nervous,” said Bogaerts, referencing his previous WBC experience, in 2013.
Now, after going 5-for-22 (.227), he’s back. And, according to Bogaerts, he has never been better prepared to start a season that is just 10 days away.
“I feel pretty good, to be honest,” he said. “I feel I’m a bit more ahead of where I normally am. Probably because those games, we had to go all out and be on point with them. I felt really good out there. Just going back to shortstop now is much better.”
Bogaerts did work at shortstop while with the Netherlands, taking grounders at the position before manning third for Hensley Meulens team.
Ironically, in those days he didn’t play his primary position, Bogaerts might have actually found a launching point to become a better shortstop. Lessons learned by being around the likes of Andrelton Simmons and Didi Gregorious, largely considered two of the best defensive shortstops in the game, evidently left quite an impression.
“I was practicing with Simmons and Didi. They are gifted guys and they can learn you a lot,” Bogaerts said. “For me, I didn’t play short, but in my mind I definitely did.”
Bogaerts is in the Red Sox’ lineup Thursday against the Pirates, hitting sixth.
|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.”
|Drew Pomeranz describes his bullpen session as ‘golden’||03.21.17 at 11:24 am ET|
Pomeranz has only pitched in two Grapefruit League games, having left his last one after two innings due to triceps soreness. But two days after the perceived setback, the lefty appears more optimistic than ever.
As he said he would Monday, Pomeranz executed his scheduled bullpen session Tuesday morning in preparation for his start against the Blue Jays Friday in Dunedin.
Appearing just before the clubhouse closed to the media, Pomeranz offered a thumbs-up when asked how the exercise went, followed by a succinct one-word analysis: “Golden,” he said.
Pomeranz has only pitched four total innings thus far in spring training, having been eased into action due to his elbow issue. But according to the starter, he is intending on ramping up to a four-inning outing Friday.
Even if Pomeranz is healthy, there is a strong chance he wouldn’t break camp with the team with John Farrell insinuating the club could go with eight relievers out of the gate, with the Red Sox not needing a starter until that Saturday game in Detroit.
If there are any more issues with Pomeranz’s health, the logical replacement for the start in the second game of the four-game set against the Tigers would be Kyle Kendrick.
|Drew Pomeranz says he’s not planning on missing any time||03.20.17 at 3:58 pm ET|
All the talk that surfaced after he exited Sunday’s game with triceps soreness — ranging from questions about his readiness for the regular season, to regrets regarding giving up Anderson Espinoza for the lefty last July — drifted off at least a bit after Pomeranz’s workout Monday.
Pomeranz said that he not only felt nothing in his triceps when throwing the day after his second Grapefruit League start, but was planning on pitching his regularly scheduled four innings Saturday without hesitation.
“I’m good,” he said. “Some mechanical thing yesterday. My arm was dragging behind me a little bit and putting pressure on a different part of my triceps more than normal. I don’t normally get there. But watching some video yesterday and this morning, I changed it and I feel fine.
“It was just mechanical. I had a feeling that’s what it was. But it was one of those thing that is hard to fix during a game. I watched a lot of video this morning, went out and played catch and was fine.”
If Pomeranz does remain on the schedule the Red Sox had planned for him (which was delayed due to the pitcher’s left elbow issues), that would necessitate him being ready for the Red Sox’ April 8 start in Detroit.
Following his adjustments Monday, he certainly feels that blueprint can still be a reality.
“I felt better today than I did yesterday pre-triceps thing. I felt fine. I feel nothing, or the same feeling from yesterday,” Pomeranz explained. “At this point I’m trying to get my mechanics down. I was trying to stay low with my arm. My arm was kind of dragging behind me a little bit. I just put a little more pressure on my triceps because my arm was behind me. It’s a bad position for your body to be in. I fixed it today and it felt great.”
|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.
|Fernando Abad has no regrets about playing in World Baseball Classic, but should he?||03.20.17 at 9:24 am ET|
Abad was fresh off his stint with Team Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, with his countrymen getting eliminated Saturday night.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I felt good to represent my country. I was happy to be part of it. [The Red Sox] know what I can do, so I wanted to go there and represent my country if I got the call.”
During WBC run, Abad pitched four times and didn’t give up a run, going 2 1/3 innings
So, what now?
Abad re-enters camp in a hot competition for the final spot in the Red Sox’ bullpen, competing against fellow lefty Robby Scott. Scott has pitched in seven Grapefruit League games, giving up no runs on six hits over six innings.
Abad still possesses the upper-hand, with Scott the only one of the two still with options.
It’s a decision that will figure to be made prior to 2 p.m. on March 29, which is the deadline for the Red Sox to cut ties with Abad and still have to pay him just 1/4 of his $2 million contract. Any commitments after that time and the team will be on the hook for the full salary.
“I do what I have to do when they give me the ball so I can be part of the team,” said Abad. “Like I felt with Minnesota last year, I feel like that now.”
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