First pitch: Valentine proven to be expert evaluator


First pitch: Valentine proven to be expert evaluator

Less than three months into his first season as manager of the Red Sox, Bobby Valentine has hardly been what many expected.

Known as something of a baseball provocateur, with a penchant for engaging in public -- and not always complimentary -- comments about his players, Valentine has been strangely muted. It's the opinion of many that when Valentine saw the harsh reaction to his tweak of Kevin Youkilis just 10 days into the season, he retreated from his habit of sending messages through the media.

Thought to be a superb in-game manager, Valentine has instead made some strategic moves that have had both players and club officials scratching their heads. Two weeks ago, to cite on curious decision, he sent Clay Buchholz back out for the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles with the game well in hand -- the Sox led 7-0 -- and his starter's pitch count already over 100 pitches.

(It was not lost on those around the club that Buchholz recently passed on a request to pitch Sunday night in place of Josh Beckett on what would have been Buchholz's regular day to throw, citing a need for additional between-start rest. Valentine discussed Buchholz' decision on Saturday.)

But if Valentine has been something less than advertised when it comes to pushing the buttons of players or outwitting the opposition from the dugout, he's proved to still be a top-notch talent evaluator.

In spring training, Valentine argued that reliever-turned-starter Daniel Bard was better suited to pitch out of the bullpen. Bard's massive struggles in adapting to the demands of the rotation proved Valentine's instincts correct.

More recently, Valentine campaigned for reliever Franklin Morales to get some work as a starter. Working toward that goal, he had stretched out the lefty's innings load in two recent relief appearances, prepping
him for a spot start.

When the opportunity came Sunday night in the road trip finale, Morales flourished, reflecting well on the manager's faith in him and validating his judgement.

Morales hadn't started in the big leagues over the last three years, but Valentine saw something that would translate. And indeed, Morales was brilliant, striking out nine while walking none over five innings, during which he allowed just two runs on four hits.

Clearly, a five-inning outing against the worst team in baseball guarantees little for Morales, beyond a second start when Beckett's turn comes around again Saturday.

What's more, Valentine seemed unable -- or at least unwilling -- to articulate exactly what he saw in Morales that made the manager believe he'd be a worthy starter.

Right, however, is right.

That's not to suggest that Valentine has been infallible when it comes to evaluating. Mike Aviles, whom Valentine judged to be a less-than-appealing option at short during spring training, has played far better than the manager expected.

But even the best talent evaluators stumble at times and when players exceed expectations, there's little damage done.

Valentine's on-target assessment of how to best utilize his roster -- exemplified not only by his evaluation of Bard and Morales, but his ability to fashion a working bullpen alignment after closer Andrew Bailey went down late in spring training -- is telling and suggests that he deserves a bigger role in such future decisions.

Bradley, Betts, Pedroia are A.L. Gold Glove finalists


Bradley, Betts, Pedroia are A.L. Gold Glove finalists

Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field, Mookie Betts in right and Dustin Pedroia at second base are the Red Sox' finalists for the American League Gold Glove awards.

The Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar and the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier are the other A.L. center field finalists. The White Sox’ Adam Eaton and Astros’ George Springer are A.L. right field finalists. Joining Pedroia as second base finalists are the Mariners’ Robinson Cano and Tigers’ Ian Kinsler.

Peoria has won four Gold Gloves. Bradley and Betts have yet to win one.

The full list of finalists is here.  The awards will be presented on Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. on ESPN

The Red Sox sent out a series of tweets backing each player’s candidacy.

Betts is also a front-runner for the American League Most Valuable Player.


Ortiz wins Hank Aaron Award as top hitter in American League


Ortiz wins Hank Aaron Award as top hitter in American League

CLEVELAND -- David Ortiz is heading into retirement with some more hardware.

The Boston Red Sox slugger captured the Hank Aaron Award on Wednesday as the top hitter in the American League this season. Budding Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant was honored as the top hitter in the National League.

The award was presented before Game 2 of the World Series between the Cubs and Cleveland. It was determined through a combination of fan voting and a panel that includes Aaron and other Hall of Fame players.

The 40-year-old Ortiz hit .315 with 38 home runs, 127 RBIs and 48 doubles in the 20th and final season of his major league career. His 541 career home runs rank 17th all-time.

The 24-year-old Bryant hit .292 with 39 home runs and 102 RBIs while helping the Cubs cruise to the NL Central title and eventually a spot in the World Series. Shortly after being honored, Bryant singled in the first inning for his first Series hit.