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And so it begins: Bobby Valentine on the state of the Red Sox as spring training opens 02.19.12 at 2:58 pm ET
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FORT MYERS — It is an unusual spring for the Red Sox. As they return from a 2011 season that witnessed immense promise before ending in a startling collapse that yielded tremendous on- and off-field questions as well as turnover in both the front office and manager’s office, the Red Sox are a team that starts spring training with greater-than-usual uncertainty. The shape of the roster is less settled than is typically the case, and the mindset and dynamic of the organization will also be a work in progress over the coming six weeks in Fort Myers.

New Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, the successor to Terry Francona‘s eight-year run at the helm of the Boston dugout, did not hide from that fact. He embraced the questions surrounding his club.

“At the start of season, you have all questions,” said Valentine. “You have questions about how the team will come together. How the pitching staff will work with the catchers. How the lineup will look and work together. I’d say we have all questions and questions of good health, too.

“As far as positions, we have a vacancy at shortstop, we have a vacancy in right field. Right now, [Carl Crawford]’s health is of question for maybe Opening Day anyway – for opening day of Spring Training. We’ll deal with left field. You know a couple of spots in our starting rotation and our bullpen has open spots also. If you mean just the personnel, those are the questions that need answers. The general idea of all the things coming together need to be answered.”

Here are some of the questions that Valentine addressed on Sunday morning:

On what he think the team needs to do in the wake of its historic collapse in 2011: Read the rest of this entry »

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Depth charge: How Red Sox starting depth is shaping up 12.22.11 at 2:04 pm ET
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Felix Doubront

Most of the curiosity surrounding the Red Sox rotation this offseason has focused on which high-end pitchers the team might pursue (whether trading for someone like Gio Gonzalez, Matt Garza or Gavin Floyd or a free-agent such as Hiroki Kuroda or Roy Oswalt) or the two pitchers (Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves) who were key bullpen contributors for the Sox last year but who will be stretched out as starters in spring training.

However, the Sox’ efforts this offseason stretch well beyond just the top five starters whom they will feature, at least on paper, at the start of the season. Teams typically need at least seven or eight quality starters to make it through the shifting fortunes of the season and to withstand injuries and performances that fall short of expectations.

Last year, the Sox used 10 starters. They’re not alone. In the last 10 seasons, the Sox have averaged 10.2 starters per year. Since 2005, about 61 percent of teams in baseball have required 10 or more starters to make it through a year (led by a 2006 Royals team that used a shocking 17 starters in their season).

That being the case, the Sox are looking not just at high-end options (such as the free agent and trade candidates listed above), but also depth options that will give the team some stability when injuries inevitably enter the picture.

As the team continues that undertaking, here is a look at pitchers who are currently viewed as depth options in the organization:

GIVENS — the three starters who are certain (barring injury) to enter the year in the rotation, and require little explanation:

Josh Beckett (13-7, 2.89 ERA, 193 IP)
Jon Lester (15-9, 3.47, 191 2/3 IP)
Clay Buchholz (6-3, 3.48, 82 2/3 IP)

BUBBLE — entering spring training, the pitchers who are currently slated to compete for starting jobs:

Alfredo Aceves (10-2, 2.61, 114 IP in the majors): Aceves made four big league starts and two more in the minors. He has a four-pitch mix that suggests the stuff to be a starter, although he was also a remarkably impactful reliever given his unique ability to work several innings at a time.

Daniel Bard (2-9, 3.33, 73 IP): Bard hasn’t started a game since 2007, but his three-pitch fastball/slider/changeup mix makes him the highest-ceiling Sox pitcher in just about any role in which he pitches. That said, there is a great unknown about managing the sort of innings bump that he’d face. Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox notes: Terry Francona says he ‘could do anything’ to win 09.19.11 at 1:13 pm ET
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Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon (with bow and arrow) hope aim is true in next week.

When the Red Sox had their game on May 17 with the Orioles rained out at Fenway, little did Terry Francona know what kind of impact it would have in September.

But on Monday, the Red Sox prepared to play a day-night doubleheader on the heels of dropping three-of-four to the Rays and watching their American League wild card lead dip to two games.

Not only that, they are piecing their rotation – and pitching staff for that matter – together to try and hold on for dear life.

“If you’re winning the first game, you go for it, obviously,” Francona said of using his bullpen in Game 1. “Winning Game 1 is so important. The hard one is maybe when you’re down a couple runs, maybe in the sixth. That’s the hardest one for me on a day like today because if you use somebody in the first game, you probably lose them for the second game. So, that’s the toughest one of all.”

Would Francona consider using Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon in both games if the situation became urgent enough?

“Not Bard,” he said. “He had pitched in three-of-four going into [Sunday] and didn’t pitch him. I’d be surprised if we felt that way about Bard. I think we could probably do it with Pap, depending on how many pitches or the level of intensity.”

Bard pitched 74 2/3 innings in 2010 with a career-best 1.93 ERA and 1.004 WHIP in 73 games. This year, Bard is 2-8 with a 3.01 ERA in 66 games and a career-best 0.903 WHIP.

“Bard’s workload is about identical to what it was last year. We could do anything. When you start getting down toward the end, as a manager I don’t think you want to do anything drastically different because we try to be consistent but at the same time, you realize where you are and what can help you win.”

Junichi Tazawa saw his first and only game action last Tuesday, allowing two hits and a run in Boston’s 18-6 rout of the Blue Jays. It was his first MLB action since “Tommy John” surgery that forced him to miss all of 2010.

“We need to recognize he’s not going to be out there for eight. We’re going to try and win and we have enough pitching where we’ll be OK.” Read the rest of this entry »

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After two years, Junichi Tazawa completes the long road back to the majors 09.13.11 at 1:00 am ET
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Red Sox pitcher Junichi Tazawa will be called back up to the majors on Tuesday. (AP)

It has been a long road back for Junichi Tazawa.

The 25-year-old will be called back up to the major leagues on Tuesday, putting him in position to throw a pitch in the major leagues for the first time since Sept. 4, 2009, a span of more than two years. Tommy John surgery ended his 2010 season before it even started, and marked the beginning of a process that pitchers dread.

Tazawa, whom the Sox signed as an amateur out of Japan to a three-year, $3.3 million deal in December 2008, said that entering the surgery, he was worried about how much time he would have to spend away from the game.

“I was able to overcome those fear and worries, and I learned patience,” he said through a translator last month.

The trait would be necessary, not just during a 2010 season in which Tazawa was limited to rehabbing, but also this year, as he slowly moved to regain his form in games. Some pitchers return from Tommy John with improved velocity out of the chute, a byproduct of the comprehensive rehab process that can lead to comprehensive strength gains.

But Tazawa followed a different – albeit similarly common – pattern. When he started pitching in games this year, first in extended spring training in Florida, and then on his first rehab assignment in High-A Salem in May, his fastball velocity was regularly in the mid-80s, well short of the low-90s velocity (topping out at 94 mph) that he showed before surgery.

That diminished velocity, in turn, led Tazawa to struggle. He allowed 12 runs in his first two rehab outings with Salem. However, after those initially poor outings, he turned the corner. He allowed one run in his next 11 2/3 innings, and his velocity started to creep back into the 90s.

“I just couldn’t swing my arm like before.” Tazawa said. “As long as I resolved that problem, I felt pretty good.”

From there, his performance also rounded back into the form that established him as one of the top pitching prospects in the Red Sox organization in 2009. After he was promoted from Salem to Double-A Portland in June, he allowed six runs and retired just two batters in his first outing, but then had a 2.42 ERA in his next seven appearances for the Sea Dogs. Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox minor league notes: Ryan Kalish continues path back 08.12.11 at 11:51 am ET
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Ryan Kalish

After missing nearly four months of the Pawtucket season due to a partial labrum tear and then neck issues that ultimately required him to see a specialist in Pittsburgh, who in turn prescribed pain-killing injections to treat the condition. He also underwent acupuncture and saw a chiropractor to treat a condition that ended up delaying his return to the field by more than a month.

After such a deliberate process to return, Kalish will not be rushing through his time back in Pawtucket. He will slowly build back to playing everyday over roughly the next week to week and a half, according to Red Sox Vice President of Player Development and Amateur Scouting Mike Hazen. Kalish will have off days as well as days as the PawSox DH built into his schedule, with the goal of having him return to everyday duty as an outfielder.

“It’s great to see him out there,” said Hazen. “It’s like spring training for him in a lot of ways, just getting his timing down, but he’s going to play the outfield, DH and slowly but surely we’ll get him playing the outfield everyday.”

A September call-up remains a possibility for Kalish, though in all likelihood, because the Sox want him to get as many at-bats as possible to make up for the time he missed, and because the three starting outfield jobs in the majors are presently accounted for by Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Josh Reddick, Kalish will complete the PawSox season before a promotion would take place.

Even so, despite the lost time, the Sox continue to regard the 23-year-old highly, and believe that he can be a contributor both in 2011 and going forward.

“It’s great to have him in there,” said Hazen, “and everyone’s watching.”

–A pair of Sox college draftees, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (sandwich pick, No. 40 overall) and right-hander Noe Ramirez (4th round), have been in Boston for physicals in recent days. Negotiations with both players are likely to go down to near the Monday deadline.

It would be a surprise if either player — both of whom are advised by Scott Boras — didn’t sign. That said, Bradley (through his twitter account) has suggested that he expects to be returning to the University of South Carolina for his senior season.

“I feel like I’m coming back. #3peat,” he wrote, referring to the fact that USC has won the College World Series in back-to-back years. Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox prospect health updates: Kalish, Navarro, Middlebrooks, Tazawa 06.15.11 at 12:30 pm ET
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A few health-related notes about Red Sox prospects who are returning from injury:

–Had all gone according to plan, outfielder Ryan Kalish likely would have seen game action by this point. However, while the recovery of his left shoulder (in which he suffered a partial tear of the labrum while attempting a diving catch for Triple-A Pawtucket in April) is proceeding as the Sox had hoped, the 23-year-old is dealing with what Sox VP of Player Personnel Mike Hazen described as “a little bit of a stiff neck.”

That, in turn, forced Kalish to shut down his baseball activities for a bit, and forced him to renew his progression back to the field, starting with hitting off a tee. Hazen suggested that the outfielder is making improvement to the point where “it should not be long” before he is in a lineup. With the downtime, Kalish — barring a setback — should be fairly close to playing the outfield by the time he is ready to play in games. While he will split his time between DH and the outfield in deference to the fact that he is recovering from an injury, the Sox are optimistic that he will be able to play in the outfield by the end of the month.

–Right-hander Junichi Tazawa, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery, has made significant steps forward in his rehab assignment with the Hi-A Salem Red Sox in recent outings. It took him a while to recover his velocity, which was sitting in the mid-80s both while he rehabbed in Fort Myers and also in his initial outings for Salem. Tazawa was shelled for 12 runs in 7 1/3 innings over his first two rehab starts, walking five and striking out just three. However, in his most recent three starts, he’s tossed nine shutout innings, struck out eight and walked one, and perhaps more importantly, his velocity bumped back up to 91.

“He’s been slow getting back there, but he’s been solid,” Hazen said of the 25-year-old. “He’s getting more comfortable with the slider, the split, competing under the lights. He’s been good.”

Tazawa will make one more start with Salem before his 30-day rehab assignment expires; after that, the Sox will determine the pitcher’s next step. Since he will be reinstated from the 60-day disabled list, the Sox will need a 40-man roster spot for Tazawa. However, they currently have an opening on the 40-man thanks to the trade that sent Mike McKenry to the Pirates, and the Sox can also move Rich Hill to the 60-day disabled list to create a roster spot when needed.

It is noteworthy that the Sox have one current vacancy on the 40-man roster and one potential one, since that means that the team can both add Tazawa back from the 60-day DL and, conceivably, call up Andrew Miller from the minors without having to remove anyone from the 40-man roster. However, multiple team officials said that the McKenry trade had nothing to do with freeing a roster spot for either Tazawa or Miller, and that it was motivated by a desire instead to promote catcher Ryan Lavarnway — one of the most consistent hitters in the system — to Pawtucket. (For more on Lavarnway’s promotion, click here.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Tazawa’s first rehab outing in the books 05.20.11 at 9:27 pm ET
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Red Sox right-hander Junichi Tazawa appeared in a game for the first time since 2009, logging four innings and allowing four runs (all earned) on five hits and two walks while striking out two for Hi-A Salem against Winston-Salem. According to Salem Red Sox broadcaster Evan Lepler, Tazawa’s fastball sat mostly at 86 mph and topped out at 87 mph.

The 24-year-old is on the 60-day disabled list as he continues his rehab from Tommy John surgery after being diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in spring training in 2010. With his appearance, the 30-day rehab clock for his minor league assignment has commenced. Barring a setback, the Sox will have to activate him at the conclusion of that period. While the team is likely to option him to the minors at that time, it will nevertheless have to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for him in order to activate him.

Tazawa went 2-3 with a 7.46 ERA in six big league games for the Sox in 2009, his first year in the U.S. after signing out of the Japanese industrial league. He went 9-7 with a 2.55 ERA between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket that year.

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