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Through 17 years, two names and three teams, A.J. Pierzynski has seen this before from David Ortiz 04.09.14 at 8:52 pm ET
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Perhaps it’s overstating it to say A.J. Pierzynski expected David Ortiz to drive a rocket about 100 feet beyond the fence in right field in the eighth inning Wednesday for the game-winning three-run homer in a 4-2 win over the Rangers. But certainly it’s safe to say he wasn’t surprised. After all, Pierzynski has seen this sort of thing for the better part of two decades, dating to when Ortiz — then known as David Arias — was an up-and-coming slugger for the Mariners‘ affiliate in the Single-A Midwest League and Pierzynski opposed him with the Twins’ Midwest League team in Fort Wayne in 1996.

After that season, the M’s traded “Arias” to the Twins as a player to be named for Dave Hollins. After he moved between organizations, Ortiz revealed two things to the Twins — first, that his listed date of birth (February 18, 1975) was inaccurate, and that he had been born on Nov. 18, 1975, and secondly, that despite the fact that his full given name is David Americo Ortiz Arias (with Arias being his mother’s maiden name), he went by the name of David Ortiz.

Pierzynski was unfamiliar with those details. But he knew what he saw immediately in early 1997, when he and Ortiz were teammates with the High-A Fort Myers Miracle.

“My first game I ever played with David, or one of my first, in ’97, when he first came over, we were playing maybe Port Charlotte, the Rangers,” Pierzynski related Wednesday after the fourth win of the season. “Ninth inning, they brought in a lefty, and he hit a walkoff homer to left field. And I had known, playing against him the year before, I was in Fort Wayne and he was in Appleton, and I said, ‘Man, this guy can hit a little bit.’ Then we traded got him and I was like, ‘Man, we got this Arias guy.’ And then we he came over, he was Ortiz, and I said, ‘Man, I think we traded for the wrong guy!’ It was the same guy.”

Indeed it was. And in many ways, Ortiz remains the same guy even now, 17 years later, with Pierzynski reunited in Boston with his former Twins teammate. Not much has changed in the interim.

Wednesday was just another in seemingly countless big moments where the game turned on one of his at-bats late. His three-run homer traveled some 100 feet beyond the Pesky Pole in right and was the 24th career go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later, his last also coming against the Rangers on June 6 last year.

“David’s special,” Pierzynski said. “He loves the big moment. He lives for the big moment. We saw it again today. Through his ups and downs, whatever it is, David wants to be up there and he’s always wanted that. I’ve known him for 20 years and he’s always wanted to be the guy at bat in those situations.”

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Buster Olney on M&M: Red Sox believe Jackie Bradley Jr. could be ‘best defensive center fielder in the American League’ at 1:54 pm ET
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Buster Olney

Buster Olney

ESPN MLB insider Buster Olney joined Mut & Merloni on Wednesday to talk about the Red Sox outfield, Jackie Bradley Jr. and how the Red Sox view him, if Stephen Drew could still return and if A.J. Pierzynski is at risk of losing his job. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

With so many moving parts in the outfield, following Jacoby Ellsbury‘€™s departure to the Yankees, the Red Sox already have seen a variety of lineups there. For Olney, he could see the Red Sox going with Bradley Jr., Shane Victorino (once healthy) and Grady Sizemore.

“They definitely wanted to develop Jackie Bradley Jr. and they believe he is, if not the best defensive center fielder in the American League, they think he could be,”€ Olney said. “They want to get him established. Shane Victorino, has probably played right field better than any Red Sox player since Dwight Evans. Then you put Grady in left and you potentially have a shutdown outfield. I think the biggest question at that time was of course whether Grady was going to hold up, and I think that’€™s going to be a question all season.”

Bradley had a rough spring training, batting .158 and striking out 17 times, losing the starting job to Sizemore. However, because of injuries to Victorino, Bradley quickly got an opportunity again, batting .400 in 20 at-bats. Olney knows that the Red Sox were always confident in Bradley.

“A lot of the doubts that were reflected were in the media based on his performance,”€ Olney said. “€œI know that when you talked to the Red Sox during the winter time about what their plans were, and this is before Grady came into the equation in any serious way, their feeling was like, ‘Look, Jackie Bradley Jr.’€™s got a ton of talent and he’€™s going to do what we like and that’€™s get on base and play great defense at that position.’ I talked to evaluators with other teams during spring training leading up to those two broadcasts we did and they talked about how they thought that Jackie’€™s confidence was down.”

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What the Rangers saw in A.J. Pierzynski 04.08.14 at 5:33 pm ET
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A.J. Pierzynski signed with the Red Sox for 2014 after playing with the Rangers in 2013. (AP)

A.J. Pierzynski signed with the Red Sox for 2014 after playing with the Rangers in 2013. (AP)

It’s been a less-than-seamless start to catcher A.J. Pierzynski‘s Red Sox career. Late on Monday night, after a three-hit game that played a critical role in the Sox’ 5-1 win over the Rangers, Pierzynski acknowledged that the start to his Red Sox tenure had been a frustrating one, after he’d opened with a .125 average (2-for-16) with the team going 1-4 in his games played (including 1-3 in his starts), and said that it was a relief to contribute — finally — to a win.

That slow start, along with the slight lifting of the curtain to suggest that he’s hardly the prototypically even-keeled catcher who never admits to frustrations, have made Pierzynski an easy target in the early stages of the 2014 season, with questions emerging, at least in public dialogue surrounding the club, about whether the 37-year-old profiles as the right option behind the plate for the Sox.

Yet for a sense of Pierzynski’s fit with the Sox, the Red Sox need look no further than to their visiting counterparts in Fenway Park. After Pierzynski had one of the best years of his career in 2012 with the White Sox (.278/.326/.501 with a career-high 27 homers), he signed a one-year deal with the Rangers for the 2013 campaign.

The Rangers viewed him as a sound bet for a one-year deal in 2013, just as the Red Sox felt that he was a solid choice to be their primary backstop in 2014. In both instances, the limited commitment of a year reduced any risk that might exist with either regression given his age or if he proved (or proves) an imperfect fit for the clubhouse. Read the rest of this entry »

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After ‘rough, long week,’ A.J. Pierzynski relieved to contribute to victory at 1:09 am ET
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A.J. Pierzynski had more hits on Monday (3) than he had in the season entering the contest. (AP)

A.J. Pierzynski had more hits on Monday (3) than he had in the season entering the contest. (AP)

If you’€™ve been discouraged watching A.J. Pierzynski over the first week of regular season games, you’€™re not alone. He’€™s been just as frustrated at the plate as fans may have been watching him.

But Monday night was a turnaround of sorts for Pierzynski, who went 3-for-4 and was pivotal in the production of the team’€™s first three runs of the evening.

“€œIt was nice to contribute something,” Pierzynski said. “It’€™s been a rough, long week, a frustrating week.”

Pierzynski’€™s approach certainly differs from the philosophy of recent Red Sox teams. The club led the majors in pitches seen in 2013, averaging four pitches per plate appearance. Pierzynski is more of an aggressive hitter who doesn’€™t wait around to swing. Of the 62 pitches he’€™s seen over his 24 at-bats, Pierzynski has swung the bat at all but 10 of them. He’€™s currently averaging about 2.6 pitches per plate appearance after sitting around 3.3 last season.

So the club’€™s new starting backstop doesn’€™t quite share the same offensive philosophy as the majority of the members of the lineup. Pierzynski has been playing in the major leagues for 17 years, shis approach is unlikely to change now.

But that doesn’€™t mean he can’€™t contribute. Read the rest of this entry »

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A.J. Pierzynski: Jackie Bradley Jr. has ‘the ability to be a great player’ 04.07.14 at 11:52 pm ET
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Jackie Bradley Jr. (AP)

Jackie Bradley Jr., pictured here with then-Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski, matched his career high with three hits Monday. (AP)

Off the bat, Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski knew that teammate Jackie Bradley Jr. had a chance. Yes, the ball hit by Rangers catcher J.P. Arencibia had no business being playable, but Pierzynski saw his right fielder taking flight towards the corner and recognized a player with uncommon defensive skill who had a chance to make the play. And so, Pierzynski was thoroughly impressed but not shocked when Bradley made a running catch in the far reaches of right field, just as he’d appreciated yet hadn’t been baffled by Bradley’s ability to make a sliding catch on a Donnie Murphy liner to right-center.

‘€œI tell you what, he gets some amazing jumps in the outfield,” said Pierzynski. “I just see the jumps he gets. For me, one good thing about being catcher is you get to see jumps on balls hit, and see how quickly they react, I saw him react not only that one but one [Donnie] Murphy hit too, got him coming in. just gets incredible jumps on balls. I don’€™t know if he’€™s fastest guy in world but jumps he gets on balls , gets to top speed right away is impressive.”

On Monday, those plays were pivotal. The Murphy hit would have scored a run with two outs; Arencibia’s ball would have been at least a double had it landed. And so, Bradley played a key role in the dominant line posted by John Lackey, while his offense — three hits, including a pair of RBI singles and a bunt single — contributed directly to four runs.

It was the sort of performance that Bradley has rarely delivered in the big leagues, but one that teammates like Pierzynski believe are within reach of the 23-year-old. While Bradley’s performance hasn’t always aligned with his prospect hype, Pierzynski suggested that his talent remains significant.

“He’€™s a great player — he’€™s got the ability to be a great player,” said Pierzynski. “You don’€™t understand how hard this game is until you actually do it every day and play and get out there and try to understand what it’€™s like to compete against the other guys because the other guys are really good too. Sometimes we try to put people in places ahead of when they’€™re ready to be where they’€™re supposed to be at and Jackie tonight had a great game, had three huge hits for us. It’€™s good for him to get those hits and get confidence and make plays in the outfield like he made, and do some things. It’€™s fun to watch because he has all the ability in the world to be a special player and hopefully this is the start to something special all year.’€

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Jon Lester continues his dominant spring, A.J. Pierzynksi knocks in two as Red Sox tie Phils 03.21.14 at 4:21 pm ET
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Red Sox opening day starter Jon Lester has been nearly picture perfect  this spring. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Red Sox opening day starter Jon Lester has been nearly picture perfect this spring. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — In many ways, it was the perfect outing for Jon Lester in what has been a nearly perfect spring training.

He retired the side in order in the first, worked out of jams in the third and fourth innings. And he batted twice without getting injured.

All in all, the lefty starter in line for the opening day nod in Baltimore accomplished what he wanted to in the next-to-last start before his March 31 assignment at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

Lester threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings, scattering four hits, allowing one walk while striking out five as the Red Sox tied the Phillies, 2-2, in a game called after 10 innings at Bright House Field. Lester lowered his spring ERA to 0.71 in five spring starts. Lester threw 81 pitches, 55 for strikes, right on pace with what manager John Farrell had hoped for entering Lester’s third start of the spring.

“I felt good,” Lester said. “I felt like I got into a rhythm a little bit earlier than I did last time. Still didn’t have too good of a feel for my breaking ball and my changeup but that’ll come. I was overthrowing a little bit on those pitches but all in all, I was happy with fastball command and threw some cutters to both sides so it was good.

“I don’t know what it says as far as velocity but I feel like it’s coming out pretty well right now, just continue to build the pitches up.”

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Red Sox notes: Shane Victorino considering an end to switch-hitting? 03.08.14 at 3:14 pm ET
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Shane Victorino may be abandoing hitting from the left side of the plate. (AP)

Shane Victorino may abandon hitting from the left side of the plate. (AP)

The final three months of 2013 represented something of a revelation in the performance of Shane Victorino. A switch-hitter throughout his big league career, Victorino was forced to bat exclusively right-handed (with a couple of brief exceptions) starting in early August, and he excelled while doing so.

From Aug. 9 through the end of the year, he hit left-handed in just six of his 170 plate appearances. He proved one of the Sox’ most productive hitters during that span, hitting .301 with a .378 OBP, .516 slugging mark and eight homers. (He was 0-for-5 with a walk during that time while batting left-handed.) While his OBP reflected a proclivity to get drilled (13 hit by pitches) as opposed to a discerning approach (he walked just two times in 106 plate appearances as a right-handed hitter against right-handed pitchers), his contributions were undeniable — continuing into a postseason in which he had the game-winning RBI in all three Red Sox clinchers, each while batting right-handed against right-handed pitching.

Last year, Victorino insisted that the abandonment of switch-hitting was purely circumstantial, and that when healthy, he’d return to a practice that he’d picked up in the Dodgers minor league system. But on Saturday, manager John Farrell told reporters that the 33-year-old — while not making a conclusive decision — appears to be considering full-time life as a right-handed hitter.

“It’s almost going to be a game-time decision. I think he has his viewpoints on it, where his confidence is. But he hasn’€™t told me that he’s eliminating switch-hitting,” Farrell told reporters. “This is someone who learned how to switch-hit in pro ball. The right side has always been his strong side. I think last year his production against right-handed pitching probably has enabled him to be a little bit more open-minded to get the majority of the at-bats from that side of the plate. Read the rest of this entry »

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