Bullpen adds more successful innings to workload

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Bullpen adds more successful innings to workload

BOSTON Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine gave his starting pitchers a vote of confidence after Thursday night's 83 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park.

Perhaps that's all he can do, at this point. With Josh Beckett chased from the game in the third inning after allowing seven runs on seven hits and two walks, it made for another night of hefty relief work from the Red Sox bullpen.

Six-and-two-thirds innings, to be exact. Andrew Miller, Rich Hill, Scott Atchison, Franklin Morales and Alfredo Aceves combined to allow just one Indians run after relieving Beckett. It marks the fourth time in the last seven games that the Red Sox bullpen has pitched more than six innings.

Red Sox relievers have now pitched 48.2 innings with a 1.66 ERA in nine games since the start of May. Since May 1, Red Sox starters have pitched just 42.1 innings.

"It's challenging every night," said Valentine. "And the relievers are doing a great job. They're getting ready. They're coming in throwing strikes, quality pitches. I tip my hat to them.

"I think when we start getting some consistent innings early in the game from the starters, things will look a lot better."

So Valentine can either pray that the offense decides to bust out and win some of these marathon bullpen affairs. Or, he can hope for what this team truly needs to have happen: his starting pitchers showing up on a more consistent basis.

Because right now, even after seeing the bullpen throw 6.2 more innings of work, the Red Sox are saying that they're not yet concerned about the heavy workload this early in the year.

"You have spurts where you get a lot of innings, and then you'll have spurts where the starters are lights out, throwing seven and eight innings, every time, and you're not getting as many innings," said reliever Scott Atchison after Thursday night's loss. "So no concern, really, there. I think everybody's feeling good and feeling strong. And we kind of got through the Kansas City trip all right, and I think everybody's ready to go.

"The starters have proven it too many times before," added Atchison. "So, we know they're going to pick it up, and get to throwing the ball well. And when that happens, everything should start rolling."

Atchison's has thrown a Major League-leading 22 relief innings, and Thursday's appearance marked his Major League-high seventh outing of at least two innings this season.

He himself has held opponents scoreless in his last seven appearances.

"When you come into those games, I think everybody's just trying to put up zeros and give us a chance to get back into the game a little bit," said Atchison after Thursday's loss. "We were able to do that a little bit tonight. Everybody threw great. I think Andrew Miller kind of set the tone from the get-go, when he came in, and we all just kind of followed suit."

"The 'pen's been doing great," said Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach. "They've been throwing the ball well. We've been asking them to do a lot here the last few weeks, and they've done a great job for us. We're fortunate that they've been throwing the ball so well."

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, the relievers have been the only ones doing that.

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.