First Pitch: Red Sox start working toward their future

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First Pitch: Red Sox start working toward their future

SEATTLE -- After seven straight losses, the Red Sox would have taken any win Tuesday night -- blowout, nail-biter, anything in-between. When you haven't won since two time zones ago, any victory is a good one.

But there was something extra packed into the Red Sox' 4-3 decision over the Seattle Mariners, something that might be more significant than a September win over a losing team.

Ryan Lavarnway hit what proved to be the game-winning homer and Jose Iglesias collected his first hit after starting out 0-for-17 -- and it was a double, his extra-base hit of his major league career.

Whether the Red Sox win 78 or 79 games the season won't be important in 2013. This will go down as the most dispiriting season for the Sox since the inglorious 2001 campaign, and nothing that happens in the final four weeks will change that.

But if the Red Sox are going to be better in '13, if they're going to take more than baby steps back toward contention, then Iglesias and Lavarnway are likely going to be big parts of the reason.

And the truth of the matter is that, amid the losses and the subsequent Bobby Valentine Death Watch, Lavarnway and Iglesias haven't shown much. Couple that with the scant contributions they've received from Ryan Kalish in three separate stints with the major-league team, and there's real reason for concern about the future.

Here's why: If the Red Sox are going to be more "disciplined" in their free-agent spending and refocused on homegrown player development, they've got to have an influx of talented prospects ready to make contributions every year.

If you count the injured Will Middlebrooks as a projected 2013 starter, then Kalish, Igleisas and Lavarnway are the three position prospects closest to the big leagues. The other top hopefuls (Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr.) are all at least a year away.

And yet the trio has done nothing to signal a readiness to play in the big leagues.

Kalish has been bothered by recurring shoulder and neck issues, the same injuries that cost him most of 2011 before two surgical procedures were performed last winter.

It's clear he's far from 100 percent healthy. The Sox conceded as much as when they started infielder Pedro Ciriaco in left field for the first time ever Sunday, rather than Kalish.

Some close to Kalish have tried to remind him it often takes almost two years to completely recover from the shoulder surgery he had. That, as much as anything, explains his anemic numbers in Boston: .216 batting average, no homers , .505 OPS.

Until Kalish starts to play as the Sox hope, he'll be thought of -- fairly or unfairly -- as the outfielder the Sox chose to keep over Josh Reddick, who is nearing 30 homers for Oakland.

Lavarnway, perhaps intent on making another good impression after his promising late-season callup in 2011, appeared to be pressing at the plate until his sixth-inning homer. Despite some raw power, he was slugging just .217 and had knocked in only two runs in his first 22 games with Boston this year.

"For me, a lot of the time, it's about pitch selection,'' he said. "Laying off the bad pitches so they often end up having to come to me.''

Worse, his defense has been shaky. Lavarnway was voted the best defensive catcher in the International League by Baseball America, but that improvement hasn't been evident in the big leagues. His actions have been stiff, and his throws have been off.

Finally, there's Iglesias, who, nearly three full seasons into his professional career, still hasn't demonstrated he can hit well enough to play every day in the big leagues.

The Cuban infielder looks overmatched and, despite some streaks of offensive improvement at Pawtucket, still too prone to chase pitches out of the strike zone.

It may be too much to hope that Iglesias grow into a gap hitter who can occasionally drive the ball. But it isn't setting the bar too high to hope he can make regular enough contact to put the ball in play and hit .250.

With a better lineup surrounding him, the Sox would probably accept that, given Iglesias's defensive virtues. His did-that-just-happen? quick flip to Dustin Pedroia to start a double play Monday was jaw-dropping, a snapshot of what he's capable of at shortstop.

But he has to hit at least some to get on the field. He did Tuesday, chopping a ball over third base for a double.

That, combined with Lavarnway's homer, were the real takeaways from Tuesday's skid-snapping win. The real momementum won't come from September wins but, quite literally, player development.

Farrell: 'Strike-throwing is a priority' for Owens in Triple A

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Farrell: 'Strike-throwing is a priority' for Owens in Triple A

NEW YORK -- Following a six-walk effort Thursday in Chicago, Henry Owens found himself optioned back to Pawtucket Friday, removed from the Red Sox rotation after three sub-par starts.

Owens lasted just three-plus innings Thursday, and allowed two runs. In three starts since being promoted to replace Joe Kelly in the Red Sox rotation, Owens walked 13 in 12 1/3 innings while allowing 13 hits for a ghastly 2.108 WHIP and a 5.11 ERA.

"Henry needs to go back and learn to command his fastball with more consistency,'' said John Farrell. "He's got an outstanding changeup that can get him back in some counts and get him away from some damage. But the strike-throwing is a priority here.''

In addition to wildness, Owens saw his velocity dip, with his fastball topping out at 90 mph most times.

But Farrell insisted there isn't a physical issue with the lefty.

"One thing that we can for sure rule out is health,'' said Farrell. "There's no health issues at play here. I think when a pitcher's delivery is not in sync, he's not getting the most power out of it (in terms of velocity). And then, with the strike throwing, it becomes a confidence factor. I don't want to say he was tentative or it was a lack of aggressiveness, but I think when you're feeling for pitches to try to get them in the strike zone, there might be a tentativeness that takes over.''

Owens has a quality changeup that can throw off hitters' timing and get weak contact, as happened Thursday night. But that pitch is only effective when he can set it up more with his fastball.

"That creates a little more margin for error,'' said Farrell of the changeup as a weapon, "but you've got to be in the strike zone first.''

Owens seemed to regress some from last year, when he was 4-4 in 11 starts with a 4.57 ERA. He pitched into the eighth inning in three straight starts in September.

"It's the second time he's been in the big leagues with us,'' said Farrell. "When the opportunity presents, you take it and run with it. I felt last year, he pitched effectively. He pitched very good at times. There were a couple of starts where he didn't have his best stuff, but he found his way into the sixth or into the seventh inning. That was (what we were hoping for) last year. OK, he's battling but he's finding a way to get through it.

"As far as his opportunity, I'm sure he'll back to us at some point.''

Asked if the Red Sox had expected more from Owens, Farrell didn't mince words.

"Based on what he showed at this level last year, yes,'' said Farrell.

Owens was replaced on the roster by Sean O'Sullivan, who was with the club here Friday afternoon and in the bullpen, at least temporarily.

He could take Owens's spot in the rotation Tuesday.

"He's a candidates, yes,'' said Farrell.

O'Sullivan is with his fifth different organization, having pitched with the Angels, Royals, Padres and Phillies.

He signed with the Red Sox last winter as a free agent, in part attracted by the presence of pitching coordinator Brian Bannister, a one-time teammate of O'Sullivan with the Royals. Bannister has taken an innovative, analytical approach to pitching and has already helped O'Sullivan.

"When he was in (spring training) camp,'' said Farrell, "he showed more arm strength than anticipated. The strike-throwing has been above-average for him. A veteran guy who's pitched at this level for extended outings. We felt like that dependability and durability were also a factor in getting him here.''

Farrell credited an improved cutter and "more consistent location down in the strike one,'' accounting for O'Sullivan's improved results at Triple A.

O'Sullivan wasn't on the 40-man roster until Friday, when he was added. The Sox shifted third baseman Pablo Sandoval to the 60-day DL to make room.

 

Tonight's lineups: Red Sox vs. Yankees

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Tonight's lineups: Red Sox vs. Yankees

Rick Porcello attempts to increase his record to 6-0 as he starts tonight for the Red Sox against the Yankees in the opener of their three-game series in New York.

Tonight's lineups:

RED SOX
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DB
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Travis Shaw 3B
Brock Holt LF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Christian Vazquez C
---
Rick Porcello P

YANKEES
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Brett Gardner LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Brian McCann C
Carlos Beltran DH
Starlin Castro 2B
Aaron Hicks RF
Didi Gregorius SS
Ronnie Torreyes 3B
---
Michael Pineda P

 

McAdam: It's early, but there's good signs with the Red Sox

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McAdam: It's early, but there's good signs with the Red Sox

Sean McAdam talks with Toucher & Rich about the good start the Red Sox have gotten off to this season, playing well on the road and for the most part taking care of business.