Morales exceeding expectations

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Morales exceeding expectations

BOSTON Watching Franklin Morales walk the second batter of the game, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine thought there might be something wrong. Entering the game, Morales had given up just eight walks, two intentional, in 28 23 innings this season, compared to 29 strikeouts. In his five-inning start on June 17 his first start since April 8, 2009 Morales didnt allow a walk while striking out a career-high nine.

On Saturday night, Morales allowed a single to Michael Bourn to open the game, walked Martin Prado, and, after a double steal, gave up an RBI single to Brian McCann.

But the left-hander quickly adjusted. He struck out Dan Uggla, looking at an 82-mph changeup, and Freddie Freeman, swinging at an 84-mph changeup, before getting Chipper Jones to line out to Mike Aviles at shortstop to end the inning.

After that Morales faced the minimum number of batters over the next three innings. He gave up a single to Bourn in the third, but the Braves lead-off hitter was erased when Prado grounded into a double play.

Morales went six innings, allowing three runs, two earned, on seven hits and a walk, with eight strikeouts. He threw 86 pitches, 62 strikes, for an impressive 72 percent strike rate. He earned the win, improving to 1-1 with a 3.12 ERA, as the Sox beat the Braves 8-4.

Morales comes out throwing strikes, Valentine said. The first inning when he walked Prado, I thought there was something drastically wrong when you see him walk a batter. Holy cow, is he alright? But actually he turned out to be fine in the first inning. Got us six innings this time instead of five. Throwing strikes aggressively and not afraid to use that changeup now. He mixed that in a lot more tonight. Changed the speed on his breaking ball a little. Hes making good adjustments.

Asked if Morales has given more than what might have been expected, Valentine replied:

Its hard to make expectations. But for him to maintain the velocity now, twice. Into the 80 pitches last time, 86 this time is very impressive and thats more than I expected.

In his two starts combined, Morales has gone 11 innings, giving up four runs (3.27 ERA) with 17 strikeouts and one walk. His eight- and nine-strikeout performances in the two starts are the highest strikeout totals of his career. Since 1985, the only other Red Sox pitchers to strikeout out at least eight batters in their first two starts of a season were Roger Clemens in 1988, and Pedro Martinez (1998 2000).

"I feel real confident in myself and I think it's good for me to be starting, Morales said.

"I feel very good.

Morales last two outings, his first starts in more than three years, were out of necessity. With Josh Beckett on the disabled list, Morales was pressed into service. Although Beckett is eligible to be activated on June 27, Valentine left little doubt to his thoughts on Morales getting another start.

Yes, most assuredly, Valentine said.

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

When it comes to Pablo Sandoval and his weight, a picture is worth a thousand words.

During spring training it wasn’t a good thing. Sandoval made headlines when a number of photos revealed significant weight gain for the Red Sox third baseman.

But the last two images have been more positive for Sandoval.

In October, a noticeably thinner Sandoval was photographed at an FC Barcelona game.

On Monday, Dan Roche of WBZ tweeted a more recent picture of the new-look Sandoval.

Sandoval, 30, is entering the third season of a five-year, $95 million contract. In his lone full season in Boston, 2015, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 with 10 homers and 47 RBI.

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The newly agreed upon Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement features higher taxes and additional penalties for exceeding the competitive balance threshold -- and don't think the Red Sox haven't noticed.

The Red Sox went over the threshold in both 2015 and 2016, and should they do so again in 2017, they would face their highest tax rate yet at 50 percent. Additionally, there are provisions that could cost a team in such a situation to forfeit draft picks as well as a reduced pool of money to sign its picks.

None of which means that the Red Sox won't definitively stay under the $195 million threshold for the upcoming season. At the same time, however, it remains a consideration, acknowledged Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"You would always like to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax) if you could,'' offered Dombrowski. "And the reason why is that are penalties attached for going over, so nobody likes to (pay) penalties.

"However, the Red Sox, if you follow history, have been up-and-down, right around that number. We were over it last year and the year before that. So I would prefer (to be under in 2017). However, a little bit more driving force in that regard is that there are stricter penalties now attached to going over. And some of them involve, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrificing money to sign players and that type of thing. So there's a little bit more drive (to stay under).

"But I can't tell you where we're going to end up. Eventually, does it factor (in)? Yeah. But until we really get into the winter time and see where we are, will I make an unequivocal (statement about staying under the CBT)? Maybe we won't. But there are penalties that I would rather not be in position to incur.''

Dombrowski stressed that he's not under a "mandate'' from ownership to stay under the CBT.

"But I am under an awareness of the penalties,'' he said. "Last year, I would have preferred to be under, too, but it just worked for us to be above it, because we thought that would be the best way to win a championship at the time.''

He added: "I think we're going to have a good club either way.''

But it's clear that the CBT is part of the reason the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive toward some premium free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who is said to be looking for at least a four-year deal at an annual average value of more than $20 million.

Currently, the Red Sox have nearly $150 million in guaranteed contracts for 2017, plus a handful of arbitration-eligible players, some of whom (Drew Pomeranz, Jackie Bradley Jr.) will see significant raises.

Together, with insurance premiums and others costs tallied, the Sox stand at nearly $180 million, just $15 million under the 2017 tax.

"I've said all along I've wanted to stay away from long-term contracts for hitters at this point,'' Dombrowski said of the current free agent class, "(especially) with some of the guys we have in our organization coming. I just haven't felt that that's a wise thing to do.''

The Sox saw two potential DHs come off the board over the weekend, with Carlos Beltran signing a one-year $16 million deal with Houston and Matt Holliday getting $13 million from the Yankees. Either could have filled the vacancy left by David Ortiz's retirement, but Dombrowski would also be taking on another another eight-figure salary, pushing the Sox well past the CBT.

"I figured we would wait to see what ends up taking place later on,'' said Dombrowski, "and see who's out there.''