First Pitch: Magadan says Red Sox hitters need better approach

834323.jpg

First Pitch: Magadan says Red Sox hitters need better approach

BOSTON -- No, it's not just your imagination -- the Red Sox have been wildly inconsistent, scoring runs in bunches and, then, not at all.

Case in point: Thursday at Fenway, where the Sox were shut out for the fifth time this season, this time by a 29-year journeyman who was making just the fifth major-league start of his career.

It's been like that a lot of late. In the last month, the Red Sox have scored seven or more runs eight times. Unfortunately for them, there have also been 10 games in which they've scored two or fewer.

That's too much of a fluctuation to suit Dave Magadan, the team's hitting coach, and he's tired of it.

"There's no argument there,'' said Magadan after the 5-0 loss to Minnesota Thursday. "There's a lot of inconsistency. A lot of it -- and I know I've harped on this a lot this year -- is the approach at the plate. You're not going to bang out 15 hits every night. You've got to find ways to get on base, work a count, get a guy's pitch count up. Two-and-half months ago, we were fourth in the league in bases on balls; we're at the bottom now.

"And it has nothing to do with going up there looking for a walk. It has to do with having an approach, having an idea of what you want to do at the plate and if the pitcher doesn't give you the pitch you're looking for, you take the walk. When you don't do that, you have what we have: we score 10, we score 7, we score 1, we score 0, we score 10. It's back and forth and it puts a lot of pressure on the pitching staff. And it's been worse on the road.''

Magadan's remarks echoed that of Dustin Pedroia, who fumed that the team had wasted a good outing from Jon Lester (three runs allowed over eight innings).

"Jon pitched great,'' said Pedroia. "We didn't swing the bats at all. That's basically it. We'll come out and play tomorrow, but today we weren't very good. That's basically it - Jon pitched great and the offense stunk. That's it. There's no more expletive questions or anything like that. You don't have to ask anybody else. Jon pitched great; we stunk.''

That was the second time in the last week that Pedroia felt the need to take the offense to task. Last Friday, he charged that the lineup had "given away at-bats'' in the late innings of 10-3 loss to the Yankees.

Magadan didn't see the same deficiencies Thursday night. The Sox did, after all, make rookie Sam Deduno throw 101 pitches in six innings and worked him for four walks.

But it was the Sox did -- or more specifically didn't do -- with Deduno that made Magadan angry.

"I think we got ourselves in good counts,'' he said, "and didn't do much with the pitches we had. We got into plus counts and either fouled pitches off or were late or didn't take good swings. It's the same old story.''

The dropoff in walks for the Sox has been precipitous. Having David Ortiz out of the lineup for the last two weeks hasn't helped and the decline in run scoring reflects that.

But the problems run deeper than missing Ortiz, since they were evident even when Ortiz was the lineup's biggest producer. Adrian Gonzalez, though he's come around over the last month, has become a far less selective hitter this season. After leading all of major-league baseball in walks as recently as 2009, he's twice had stretches this season in which he went weeks between walks -- from May 16 to June 10, and again, from June 25 to July 31.

Once known for grinding out at-bats and driving up pitch counts, this Red Sox lineup has been almost impatient at times.

But as Magadan emphasized, it isn't just the walk totals that are off; it's the team's approach.

"Sometimes it can be as easy as taking a 1-and-0 pitch when you see the guy struggling to throw the ball over the plate,'' he said. "I think Deduno went 2-and-0 to the first four or five hitters of the game. Sometimes it can be as simple as that -- taking a 1-and-0 pitch to build to 2-and-0, instead of swinging at a 1-and-0 pitch out the zone and making an out. You never force him to continue making pitches.''

Magadan's data suggests that the Sox are seeing a lot of pitches, but in a different way.

"We foul pitches off,'' he said. "We chase pitches out of the strike zone to foul pitches off. It's one thing when you're seeing a lot of pitches and you're getting yourself in hitter's counts; but we're 0-and-1, fouling off a ball, then taking a strike, and foul off another ball. You're not really forcing pitchers to make quality pitches. You're chasing balls out of the zone and it makes his job a lot easier. Instead of having to make three quality pitches to get you out, he's only got to make one.''

The season is at the two-thirds marker and Magadan's frustration level is well past that.

"It's not for lack of work or lackof preaching it or talking about it,'' said Magadan. "Thursday night was pretty frustrating. You've got Jon Lester throwing against a rookie. We felt like we should have put up a better fight. We were facing a guy we've never faced before and we're hacking at balls out of the zone.

"It's frustrating because I know we're better than this. We're going to have to get better. We're down to 56 games left and we've got a lot of teams we have to jump over. Getting shut out isn't going to get us to where we want to be.''

Red Sox understand first-inning woes are putting pressure on offense

Red Sox understand first-inning woes are putting pressure on offense

ST. PETERSBURG, FLa. -- Not long ago, the Red Sox were repeatedly taking first-inning leads, often with multi-run innings.

These days, of course, it's the other way round. The Red Sox haven't scored a first-inning run since June 11, while the opposition is piling up the runs, with 22 scored in the last 15 games prior to Tuesday.

"Two weeks ago,'' said John Farrell, "we were talking about how much pressure it takes off (our) pitcher when you go out and score (in the first). We're living the other side of both of those right now.''

The Red Sox recognize the problem, but fixing isn't easy, namely because the issue is not the same for every starter.

The Sox are satisfied with their approach. What they have to change are the results.

"To go out and command the baseball from the start,'' said Farrell, "that's what we're all working toward getting better at. It's pretty clear where we need to improve.''

"Obviously, it makes it difficult for the offense,'' said pitching coach Carl Willis of the recent habit of falling behind. "to start off in a hole. It kind of sucks some energy out of the dugout when you're playing catch-up right away. (The pitchers) are aware of it. We're looking at everyone's routine. A couple of guys have really good, consistent routines.''

Willis said the Red Sox have examined everything, from pre-game routines and timing for warm-ups. So far, they haven't been able to discover any common factors.

"We've got to come out and throw better in that first inning,'' said David Price, who will start the series finale against his former team Wednesday afternoon. "It's setting the tone early. It's going out there and putting up a quick zero and giving all your defenders and your offense (the message), 'Alright, we've got it today. We don't have to go out and put up a 10-spot.'

"If we can go out there and put up early zeros, it takes a lot of the pressure off that offense.''

For now, it's something the Sox are focused on repairing.

"Baseball's a crazy game,'' said Willis. "Sometimes you go through periods and it just happens. That's not a good answer and that's not an excuse. We have to be better and they know that.''

 

Trip to minors gives E-Rod opportunity to work on delivery consistency

ap_16157675271845.jpg

Trip to minors gives E-Rod opportunity to work on delivery consistency

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis didn't say that Eduardo Rodriguez was tipping his pitches again Monday.

Then again, he didn't have to.

The results -- nine runs on 11 hits in 2 1/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays -- offered a hint. And, just for good measure, Willis all but said so Tuesday afternoon.

"It really goes back to consistency in (his) delivery,'' said Willis, "because with the inconsistencies -- I know it's no secret -- hitters know what's coming. He's worked on it extensively in bullpen sessions, dry work periods. He makes progress, shows the abilities to make those adjustments. However, when the game begins and his focus gears more toward attacking the hitter, the old habits resurface.

"It's not from lack of effort on his part. It's just a bit much to accomplish at the major league level, where hitters can look for inconsistencies and make adjustments more so that in the minors.''

Rodriguez knows what has to be done. But as recent history suggests, it's not an easy fix.

"It takes a lot of work. It does,'' said Willis. "Obviously, he's gone back to his old delivery that he's more accustomed to and comfortable with. I think there's a possibility that we're going to have to make an adjustment with his hands -- where he sets them and keeps them throughout his delivery, maybe eliminate some movement. And that's going to be something that would definitely be difficult to take place here.

"It's not easy, but certainly not impossible. He's a good athlete. He's an intelligent kid. He's aware. But it's the ability to maintain to make it a new habit so he doesn't have to think about it.''

How long Rodriguez takes to correct the flaws is unknown, making it difficult to estimate when he might return to the Red Sox rotation.

"I don't have an exact answer for that,'' said John Farrell. "That's going to be a start-by-start situation and (depends on) how he solidifies the adjustments that are requires. I don't have a timetable for how long it's going to be. . . But to suggest that this is going to be a one-start situation (at Pawtucket) would be a little aggressive.''

 

Did John Farrell mismanage Xander Bogaerts' playing time?

Did John Farrell mismanage Xander Bogaerts' playing time?

Michael Felger, Tony Massarotti, and Jim Murray discuss Xander Bogaerts, who admitted he's tired and is receiving the night off for the Boston Red Sox.