Cook does his part, lets fielders do rest

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Cook does his part, lets fielders do rest

BOSTON When things are going well for Aaron Cook he knows just about all he has to do is throw his sinker, induce groundballs, and let his defense do its job.

That was the game plan he employed Monday against the Rangers to earn the win, as the Red Sox beat Texas, 9-2.

Cook went seven innings, giving up one run on six hits and three walks with two strikeouts, improving to 3-5 with a 4.70 ERA.

Fifteen of Cooks 21 outs came on groundballs.

He gave us seven innings, and less hits than innings pitched, said manager Bobby Valentine. Got a couple of strikeouts. Had those balls directed properly and the defense played great behind him. He also executed a perfect pick-off play which I thought was big in the game.

His outing was much different than his last three, when he gave up a total of six home runs in 15 innings, taking the loss in all. Prior to that, he had given up just two home runs in his previous five starts.

I thought he and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia actually mixed up some of the pitches well and he had really good command of the outside corner tonight, Valentine said. Established some inside where he got them quick. It looked like he had really good command of the outside with a little cutter and his sinker.

Texas had runners on base in each of Cooks seven innings except the sixth. In almost every instance he used his sinker to get out of the jams, inducing a ground ball to end the inning.

Well, I think any time I have my sinker working and guys are playing great defense behind me, thats a recipe for success, Cook said. I was just really focused on staying at the bottom of the zone as much as possible tonight, even when getting guys on. Pound the ball in the zone and let the guys play defense behind me. That's pretty much my approach every time I take the mound.

The only exceptions: He picked Nelson Cruz off second base with a slick move in the fourth inning, and got Mitch Moreland to line out to Dustin Pedroia to end the seventh.

The potent Rangers seemed to hit Cook harder earlier in the game before he settled in. He faced six batters in the second, holding the Rangers to just one run on three hits and a walk.

I think the first couple innings I was a little flat, he said. I was throwing the ball probably a little bit harder than I needed to. I really just got with Salty and was like lets just pound the bottom of the zone and not worry about anything else. And thats really when my ball started moving more and you could tell that I was getting that movement that I need to be successful.

It may have been one of the six outs he got that wasnt on a grounder that helped.

With the Sox holding a slim one-run lead going into the fourth inning, Cook gave up a lead-off, ground-rule double to Nelson Cruz. After one pitch to the next batter, David Murphy, Cook picked Cruz off second base. The move seemed to give the Sox a jolt of energy while deflating the Rangers. Cook got out of the inning without giving up a run. The Sox added three runs in the bottom of the inning.

Something I take a lot of pride in is controlling the running game and me and shortstop Mikey Aviles have talked about it all year, Cook said. We worked on it in spring training. Any time somebody gets on we dont have a sign. Its kind of one of those things, we both feel it.

And I told him if he goes, he better keep going because Im going to turn around and throw it and if hes not there, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is going to be chasing it. But we were both on the same page. And after that double right there, being able to pick the guy off, it just kind of calms the inning down, lets me take a deep breath, and I think guys just really had a lot of energy after 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.