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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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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 »

Read More: alex wilson, alfredo aceves, andrew miller, brandon duckworth
Red Sox notes: Terry Francona says he ‘could do anything’ to win 09.19.11 at 1:13 pm ET
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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 »

Read More: baseball, Boston Red Sox, Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon
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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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.

‘€œI 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.

‘€œI just couldn’€™t swing my arm like before.’€ Tazawa said. ‘€œAs 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 »

Read More: junichi tazawa, Pawtucket Red Sox, Portland Sea Dogs, salem red sox
Red Sox minor league notes: Ryan Kalish continues path back 08.12.11 at 11:51 am ET
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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.

‘€œIt’€™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.

‘€œIt’€™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 »

Read More: chris hernandez, henry owens, jackie bradley, junichi tazawa
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 »

Read More: junichi tazawa, ryan kalish, Will Middlebrooks, yamaico navarro
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.

Read More: junichi tazawa,
Why Michael Bowden is with the Red Sox and Felix Doubront is not 05.18.11 at 12:08 am ET
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When Daisuke Matsuzaka landed on the disabled list, it was a near-certainty that Michael Bowden would get the call from Pawtucket to join the Red Sox bullpen. Bowden, after all, is the only healthy, big league-ready pitcher on the 40-man roster who is not currently in the majors. Had the Sox summoned any other pitcher, they would have had to risk losing a player whom they removed from the 40-man.

But it was more than just numbers that played in Bowden’s favor. The pitcher has been outstanding thus far this year in Pawtucket.

Bowden, a sandwich-round selection by the Sox in the 2005 draft, had been developed a starter throughout his career. But after pitching in the bullpen in Venezuela over the winter, he reported to spring training and, for the first time, prepared for a full year of life as a reliever. Down the stretch last year, the Sox had Bowden work out of the bullpen, and they found it to be a hand-in-glove fit.

“I think he’€™s a lot more comfortable being a reliever,” Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur said in spring training. “All he wants to do is throw. Every frigging day as a starter, next day, he’€™s out throwing; third day, he’€™s out throwing; fourth day, he’€™s out throwing. He throws the ball everyday.

“[When he was first switched to relief], we had a set program for him, then after a week and a half, we told him, ‘€˜We’€™re not going to tell you when you’€™re going to pitch.’€™ He was coming to the ballpark thinking he was going to be in every game. He loved that.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: felix doubront, junichi tazawa, Michael Bowden, ryan kalish
Junichi Tazawa starts the road back 04.11.11 at 9:51 am ET
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Red Sox right-hander Junichi Tazawa, who missed all of 2010 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, pitched in a game setting for the first time since undergoing the procedure. In an intrasquad game in Fort Myers, the right-hander threw 27 pitches while facing eight batters, striking out three and not allowing a base runner. His fastball velocity registered as high as 89 mph — still below his low-90s velocity of 2009, but close to his pre-surgery form as he continues to build arm strength in his comeback.

The 24-year-old is currently on the 60-day disabled list. While he is likely to spend much of the year in the minors, he could end up providing the Sox with either bullpen or rotation depth later in the year. In his first (and only) professional season in 2009, he went 9-7 with a 2.55 ERA in 20 minor league starts at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, then went 2-3 with a 7.46 ERA in six big league appearances for the Sox.

Read More: junichi tazawa,
UPDATE: Red Sox purchase Reyes’ contract, but still deciding on Opening Day bullpen 03.26.11 at 3:24 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Hours before the deadline to make a decision about whether he would opt out of the minor league contract he signed in Jan., the Red Sox purchased the contract of left-hander Dennys Reyes, thus adding him to the 40-man roster. That said, manager Terry Francona also suggested that the move does not mean that Reyes necessarily has won a spot in the team’s Opening Day bullpen.

“The season hasn’€™t started yet. We still have some guys in camp and he’€™s one of them. We still have decisions to make,” said Francona. “Everybody likes the movement [of Reyes’ pitches], his track record, his ability to compete. That’€™s kind of what we told him.”

The move gives the Sox more time to decide which two of the four pitchers still in competition (Reyes, Matt Albers, Hideki Okajima and Alfredo Aceves) for a spot on the Opening Day roster will be with the club on April 1. The Sox, said Francona, will make their decision based on what is not just in the Opening Day interests of the Sox, but also the team’s depth for the long haul.

“I don’€™t think that it’€™s a pitchoff,” said Francona. “I think it’€™s maybe more of us trying to determine where we best set up, not only for now, but for down the road, and how to go about that.”

Of the four pitchers still competing, the Sox can option Okajima and Aceves to the minors while keeping them in the organization. Reyes and Albers both are out of options, meaning that other teams would have the opportunity to claim them on waivers if they are not on the Opening Day roster. In terms of long-term depth, then, the Sox would likely be in their best position if they were to retain those two while stashing Aceves and Okajima in the minors, though if the team determines its best bullpen featured either Aceves or Okajima, they would not necessarily let contract status constrain them at this point.

Francona suggested that his theoretical preference is always to have two relievers, but that given the ability of his late-innings setup men — Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks — to retire both lefties and righties, the need for a second lefty is somewhat diminished.

“I would say that it’€™s always nice to have two [lefties], just because it saves wear and tear on the one,” said Francona. “[But] we’€™re not taking Bard out when a lefty comes up. … And you can’€™t have a 14-man pitching staff. Sometimes you have to make those decisions.”

Reyes has allowed five runs (three earned) in nine innings for a 3.00 ERA while striking out eight and walking four this spring. Traditionally, he has been a matchup left-hander, though Francona said that he has also shown at times an ability to retire righties — as he did last year, when Reyes was uncharacteristically ineffective against lefties (.307 average, .862 OPS against) but tremendous against righties (.177, .481) — that could make him more than a “matchup guy.”

Before it was disclosed that Reyes’ contract had been purchased, the left-hander said that he is sympathetic to the Sox’ position in deciding the final composition of the roster.

“They have great pitchers, great pitchers competing. I think it’€™s a hard decision,” said Reyes. “It’€™s a hard thing for them to say. We’€™re going to have to wait.”

Okajima has allowed four runs in six innings (6.00 ERA), striking out six and walking one this spring. While the deception involved in his delivery has diminished as a result of the league’s familiarity with him, Francona suggested that the 35-year-old can still be valuable when he locates his pitches.

“When he pitches like he can, he’€™s terrific,” said Francona. “He doesn’€™t have a lot of margin for error because his velocity is what it is. When he’€™s hitting his spots and changing speeds, he’€™s actually terrific. If he hangs an offspeed pitch or he doesn’€™t locate his fastball, he gives up sometimes a long one. But he manages the running game. the game never speeds up on him. So there’€™s a lot of good things there.’€

Albers (3 runs in 11 1/3 innings, 2.38 ERA, 13 strikeouts, no walks) has been able to get swings and misses with increased frequency this spring owing to his increased comfort in using both his slider and curveball as complements to his two-seamer to both sides of the plate. Albers said that he dusted off the slider in 2010, and became more adept with the pitch as the year progressed.

Aceves (6 runs, 13 1/3 innings, 4.05 ERA, 4 strikeouts, 3 walks) has the potential to be a versatile multi-innings reliever.

Reyes, for his part, made clear that he would love to pitch for the Red Sox in the coming season.

“I signed over here because I wanted to play for a contending team and be in the playoffs,” he said. “I think this team is in a great position to do that.”

In order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Reyes, the team placed right-hander Junichi Tazawa — still recovering from Tommy John surgery — on the 60-day disabled list.

OTHER NOTES

–Francona said that Josh Reddick has been dealing with some soreness in his right side. The team would like to get him healthy and ready for game activity before sending him to the minors.

–Minor league pitchers Jason Rice and Blake Maxwell will join the Sox on their trip to Houston for an exhibition game on Wednesday.

Read More: dennys reyes, junichi tazawa,
Red Sox GM Theo Epstein checks in 02.10.11 at 11:11 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — GM Theo Epstein is on hand at the Red Sox minor league training facility. He concluded a morning session with the media to discuss a number of topics. Among them:

The biggest question facing the team

Health has to be the biggest question. It usually is. But in our case, we have so many players coming off of surgery or coming off of injury that we’€™re going to keep a close eye on them and really look forward to having a full squad of healthy players playing out there together.

Medical updates

Epstein repeated that first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has been consistenly on or ahead of schedule while rehabbing from shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. ‘€œWe all feel like he’€™ll be ready for opening day,’€ said Epstein, who noted that it remained possible that Gonzalez could beat the projected milestones of swinging by March 1 and playing in games by the third week of March.

As for Dustin Pedroia, Epstein said that the team will ‘€œtake a conservative path’€ with the second baseman, noting that the priority is for him to be playing on Opening Day, rather than in a college exhibition game later this month.

Third baseman Kevin Youkilis is in good shape, since he was hitting without restriction by October, before shutting down and then following a normal offseason program. Epstein noted that because Youkilis was able to resume hitting by the end of last year,he has already ‘€œaddressed some of the mental aspects of returning.’€

Alfredo Aceves

Epstein said that Aceves threw a pair of bullpen sessions and passed a team physical before signing. He enthused about the right-hander’€™s versatility and the former Yankee’€™s proven ability to contribute as a starter in the AL East. Epstein noted that the team was

‘€œHe’€™s a versatile guy who can compete for a job in the bullpen but also provide starting depth for us,’€ said Epstein. ‘€œThat’€™s one area where we don’€™t have a lot of depth, with the composition of our roster and where we’€™re at in the upper levels of our farm system was starting pitching. We really needed to add someone, I think, who can start major league games and compete in the American League East. ‘€¦ His versatility, his strike throwing and the fact that he’€™s pitched well in this division stood out for us and made him a target.’€

On Junichi Tazawa

Epstein said that the right-hander, who underwent Tommy John surgery last April, won’€™t be unrestricted in big league camp. He will be able to throw off a mound, but Epstein noted that ‘€œthe last two to three months of Tommy John rehab are important, and we don’€™t want to rush it by getting him in competitive situations too quickly.’€

The GM said that it remained uncertain whether he might pitch in games this spring, and that the team would know more once it conducts its medical evaluations this weekend.

On the bullpen

‘€œIt’€™s no secret that our ‘€˜pen wasn’€™t very good last year. We kind of ran out of available options of ‘€¦ guys who could compete and throw legitimate bullpen innings for us. That’€™s not a situation you want to find yourself in,’€ said Epstein of the situation that prompted the team to sign Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, as well as Aceves and others.

‘€œWe should be stronger than we have been in a long time at the end of games, with Bard and Jenks setting up Pap. Wheeler, I think, is an important addition as well in the middle,’€ said Epstein. ‘€œWe have the potential to be a really good bullpen, but that doesn’€™t really mean anything. We’€™ve got to go out there and do it.’€

On the Sox’€™ signing of Te Wara ‘€œBeau’€ Bishop, the promising 17-year-old softball catcher from New Zealand:

Jon Deeble, our Pacific Rim coordinator, lives out in Australia. He sees New Zealand a lot, too. He’€™s kind of familiar with the softball community out there. There’€™s not a ton of baseball played in New Zealand, but there’€™s a lot of softball played by men of all ages. My understanding ‘€“ I’€™ve never seen him, just some video ‘€“ is that he’€™s one of the most exciting young softball prospects to come around in the last 20 years, out of New Zealand. He had a lot of people talking, and then Deeble saw him play ‘€“ the size, his athleticism, his swing and his arm strength ‘€“ and thought that he was a pretty interesting prospect. It’€™s a pretty interesting opportunity for us and for him to see what happens.

Read More: adrian gonzalez, alfredo aceves, beau bishop, bobby jenks
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