First Pitch: Youngsters making the difference for Sox

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First Pitch: Youngsters making the difference for Sox

The disabled list, as it has been most of the year, is still chock-full of players, many of them outfielders. The lineup, out of necessity, seems to change every night.

But as the Red Sox continue with what is arguably their best stretch of baseball this season -- five wins in a row, seven in their last eight tries -- the team is being carried by younger players intent on making their presence felt.

Thursday night, when the Sox rallied from two runs down in the eighth inning to grab a 6-5 win over the Miami Marlins and a sweep of the teams' three-game series, that was never more evident.

Will Middlebrooks, who earlier had supplied two run-scoring singles, unloaded a two-run bomb to the center field bleachers for a game-tying homer.

Then, it was left to Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava to combine for the go-ahead run.

With no outs, Kalish reached on a single to right. Bobby Valentine put on a hit-and-run with Mike Aviles at the plate.

On a ground ball to the right side, Kalish reached second easily, but some aggressiveness led him to believe he could take third, too.

"I got a (good) break," Kalish recounted. "I got around second and a lot of it is instincts and I saw them that (reliever Edward Mujica who had fielded the ball) was still in his flip to the first baseman. He took his time with it, so I made a break on it and just tried make something happen."

Kalish needed to commit fully to reach third base. Anything less would have resulted in the potential winning run being cut down at third for the first out of the inning.

"If I had hesitated, I wouldn't have gone," said Kalish, who returned from two surgeries last fall and rejoined the roster Sunday in Chicago. "If I don't that true aggressive feeling of 'no regrets' than I'm not going to try it. But on that play, I felt really confident about this. When the play happens, it's all instincts. Everything else just kind of goes away."

That left it up to Nava. With Kalish representing the go-ahead run at third and no out, the Marlins were forced to bring the infield in, leaving Nava with more room with which to work.

"It changed the whole dynamic of that last at-bat," said Nava, who had four hits Wednesday night and a single in the fourth before coming to the plate in the eighth. "It makes it a lot easier because it makes the field a little bigger. And at the same time, a good hustle play like that gets the fans excited, the momentum going. It's a little thing, but in the scheme of what we were doing that inning, any momentum you get going in our direction was big."

That, in essence, is the charge for the young players on an injury-depleted roster: just to try to make something happen. And more and more, the younger players on the roster are having an impact.

The young guys are intent on contributing in way possible, even if it's just taking an extra base on a groundout, or forcing the action.

"I think it's unsaid," said Nava of the impact the young players are having. "Especially the guys who are part of doing that, like Kalish or myself, you know that's kind of what you have to do to help the team.
It's understood."

They're not watching and learning, as they might if the likes of Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury were healthy and part of the starting lineup, as had been expected.

They're playing and contributing, doing what they can to keep the Sox in contention until the regulars return.

And they're succeeding.

"It's awesome," said Kalish of the contributions. "As young guys, it's what you want to do: you want to bring fire, you want to spark people. I think so far, we're doing that."

They don't bring the experience, or, in the case of Kalish, a fully developed game. The outfielder lost almost a full year because of injuries and he was off the team's radar in the spring, not yet ready to begin baseball activities.

As for Nava, he wasn't invited to big league camp and in April, when the team was in need of a spot on the 40-man roster, saw himself designated for assignment, unclaimed.

Now, on a lot of nights, they comprise two-thirds of the Red Sox' starting outfield, intent on making a difference and not merely holding the places of bigger stars with bigger salaries.

"For me, I know every night I can bring my defense and my energy,'' said Kalish, "no matter what. At the plate, you grind it out and you give everything you can. Obviously we want to win. I think the energy can really help, all around."

Extended podcast with David Ortiz on his career, PED's, the Marathon bombing and more

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Extended podcast with David Ortiz on his career, PED's, the Marathon bombing and more

David Ortiz offers thoughtful answers and insight in this interview with Sean McAdam touching on his beginning with the Red Sox, the Boston Marathon bombings, showing up on a PED list, his impact in the dugout, and more.

You can also see pieces of the interview on CSN Friday at 6:30pm on a special Arbella Early Edition with Gary Tanguay and Lou Merloni.

RELATED Special Video Series - "Big Papi - An Oral History" from CSN

Bogaerts' "maturity is clearly taking hold"

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Bogaerts' "maturity is clearly taking hold"

NEW YORK -- Xander Bogaerts enjoyed a terrific 2015, his second full season in the big leagues.

He finished second in the American League batting race, established himself as a solid defender at short and generally showed immense promise.

The only thing he didn't do was show much home run power, limited to just seven homers.

This past spring, both manager John Farrell and Chili Davis expressed confidence that the home runs would come, and that they would come organically.

And so they have. In Thursday night's loss to the New York Yankees, a solo homer in the fifth by Bogaerts represented the only Red Sox run of the night in a 5-1 loss. It also gave Bogaerts 21 homers for the year, exactly triple his output from a year ago.

"The maturity is clearly taking hold," said John Farrell of Bogaerts' growth. "You start to get a couple thousand at-bats at the major league level, you're starting to understand your swing, you're picking out certain counts in which to leverage a little bit more. He's been able to do that.

"Home runs are up across the board. But with Xander in particular, he's physically maturing and he's maturing as a major league player as well."

Bogaerts took the advise of Davis and others and didn't set out to try to hit more homers this year. He knew they would come in time.

"Maybe not this quick," he said of the big increase, "but probably in the future, yeah. That's what I did in the minor leagues, so it's kind of something that I thought might translate to the big leagues, too."

Bogaerts is hard-pressed to put his finger on any on factor to explain the big uptick. After all, he didn't change his swing or his stance.

Rather, the homers came as a result of him understanding himself better as a hitter and consistently taking the right approach at the plate.

"It's just (a matter of) taking good swings in good counts," he offered. "Sometimes, you're looking for one. But overall, it's just being a more mature hitter and looking for the right spots to pick and choose."

It hasn't hurt that he's surrounded by quality hitters in the Red Sox lineup, with Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia ahead of him earlier in the year, and now Pedrioa ahead of him and David Ortiz behind him.

In addition to seeing better pitches because of who's surrounding him, Bogaerts has also benefitted from listening to Ortiz, who watches his at-bats and offers advice when called for.

Still, most of the credit belongs to Bogaerts himself, who has grown into his power naturally -- just as his manager and hitting coach forecast.