Buchholz takes big step forward

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Buchholz takes big step forward

BOSTON -- It wasn't Clay Buchholz' longest outing of the season, but it was his best.

The righty picked up his team-leading fourth win of the season while allowing four runs (three earned) on eight hits and three walks in 6.1 innings on Friday night to lead the Red Sox to a 7-5 win over the Cleveland Indians on Friday night at Fenway Park.

The win snapped a three-game losing skid for Boston, while Buchholz snapped a skid of six-consecutive starts in which he allowed five or more earned runs.

"In my humble opinion, he had better movement tonight, than I've seen him with," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine after the win.

After getting out of a first-inning jam, Buchholz cruised through to the seventh inning. Entering that seventh inning, Buchholz allowed just one run on six hits and a pair of walks.

That one run gave the Indians a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, and for a moment, it looked as if Buchholz was going to continue that streak of allowing at least five runs a game.

After recording the first two outs in the top of the first, Buchholz walked Asdrubal Cabrera and then let up a two-out single to Travis Hafner. Cabrera then scored on Carlos Santana's single down the right-field line.

Buchholz then hit Shin-Soo Choo with a pitch to load the bases. The sudden turn of events forced Valentine to make a mound visit of his own.

"I didn't want him to let that game get away from him because of anything other than him being as good as he can possibly be," said Valentine when asked what he said to Buchholz in that mound visit.

"I just wanted Clay to understand that I believed in him, and everybody behind him thought he was a good pitcher. Prove it to the guys in front of him."

"It was good," said Buchholz. "He basically just came out there and said, 'You know what, you need to get your stuff right and go after these guys and get these guys out so that we can get into the dugout and win a ballgame.'"

Buchholz got the next batter -- Michael Brantley -- to ground out to end the inning, and it was an out that he said gave him a big-time confidence booster, which led to only four Indians hits and no runs in the next five innings.

"He was breaking left-handers' bats. We haven't seen that," said Valentine. "They were hitting it off the end. He was getting in on them, snapping them in half. It indicates to me that his ball had that action that we needed to have for him to be successful."

Buchholz said that he had never pitched to a lineup that featured all lefties, and because of that, he called the experience "mentally draining," and the hard-hitting lineup forced him to have just his second-career game with no strikeouts.

But Buchholz was able to get through to the seventh inning, where he loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. Rich Hill came in to relieve Buchholz after throwing 111 pitches. He and Andrew Miller were on the mound to allow the next three runs that were all added to Buchholz' stat line.

"Now he can look at his record of four wins, and say that he's really building on something," said Valentine. "He's coming off a good outing, next time he walks out there."

Not just good, his best of 2012.

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.