Aviles, Saltalamacchia stay hot in Philadelphia

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Aviles, Saltalamacchia stay hot in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA -- A week ago, both were slumping badly. Now, it seems, no one can get Mike Aviles or Jarrod Saltalamacchia out.

Aviles homered for the third straight game Sunday, and led off the game with a homer for the second day in a row, becoming the first Red Sox player in almost a century to accomplish that feat.

For the series, Aviles had five hits and four RBI.

Saltalamacchia, meanwhile, belted a three-run homer well over 400 feet to straightaway center, for his second homer in as many games. Over his last six games, he has three homers and nine RBI.

Together, they accounted for all five runs the Red Sox scored Sunday in a 5-1 win over the Philadlephia Phillies.

"It's the Mike and Salty show, back-to-back days," said Bobby Valentine. "Pretty good to see."

Not since Harry Hooper had anyone homered to lead of two straight Red Sox games, though Aviles said that was hardly his goal.

"It was definitely fun," he said. "I just went up there, trying to set the tone and get on base and fortunate to get a ball to run into the good part of the bat and get one up in the air."

"To do that two nights in a row," said Valentine, "relaxes the offense a little and lets the pitchers know at least (they) have one run when they go out there."

Aviles was struggling not long ago, and his on-base percentage had dipped well below .300, causing Valentine to take a look at Ryan Sweeney as possible options to lead off.

But Sunday, Valentine seemed to commit to Aviles as his permanent leadoff choice -- at least until either Carl Crawford or Jacoby Ellsbury return to good health.

"I see him as the guy, who, if we need a leadoff hitter, he's going to lead off and set a very aggressive pace for our team," said Valentine. "I think we need that."

"It's fine," shrugged Aviles of the assignment. "It's no different than hitting ninth, second, seventh...wherever it is, it's thew same thing. I try to take the same approach - try to get on base and let the guys behind me do the damage.

"If I get on base enough, we have enough guys on this team who can hit the ball in the gap and I know I can run a little bit. I just try to get on base and whatever happens from there, happens."

Meanwhile, Saltalamacchia has also rebounded from a recent slump. After going 0-for-5 against the Indians on May 11, Saltalamacchia had dipped to .221.

Since then, over his last six starts, he's hitting .480 (12-for-26) with three homers and nine RBI.

He also homered in each of the last two games here, a feat made all the more remarkable given that he went to the hospital Friday night after suffering a laceration of the left ear that required a dozen stitches.

The Sox already led 2-0 in the third when Saltalamacchia came up with runners on second and third and one out against Cliff Lee.

"I just made good contact on a 2-0 changeup," said Saltalamacchia, "and I was able to put good wood on it. My only thought was, man on third, I needed to get him in, any way I can and it just worked in my favor."

While emphasizing that he views his catching responsibilities as his top priority, Saltamacchia is enjoying his current hot streak at the plate.

"I feel good," he said. "I'm trying to have a good approach and put good plate appearances together."

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.