A near-perfect beginning for Mortensen

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A near-perfect beginning for Mortensen

BOSTON -- There was much more attention and hype surrounding the Red Sox debut of rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks Wednesday night, but as first games go, it's tough to beat the one enjoyed by pitcher Clayton Mortensen.

Called up from Pawtucket earlier in the day, Mortensen pitched three scoreless -- and nearly perfect innings -- in relief of starter Daniel Bard.

Mortensen allowed a leadoff single to the first Oakland A's hitter he faced, former teammate Cliff Pennington, then tossed a wild pitch that enabled Pennington to take second.

But after that Mortensen retired the next nine hitters, striking out six of them.

''He was fantastic,'' said Bobby Valentine. "We saw that his off-speed stuff in spring training in the bullpen looked terrific but in the games, he seemed to elevate a little. Often we said, 'If that stuff is down, he's going to be really tough.' Well, it was down tonight and he was really tough.''

"It definitely helps the confidence,'' said Mortensen. "You come in, put a stop to things and give us a chance to get back into the game. It was a nice outing.''

Mortensen pitched with Colorado last year. Though he was once a member of the A's -- having been dealt off to acquire Matt Holliday -- there's been such roster churn in Oakland that "I had the advantage that no one in the A's lineup except Pennington has ever seen me.''

Whatever Mortensen used as edge, it worked.

He got two strikeouts with Pennington in scoring position in the seventh, before retiring Seth Smith on a groundout to first.

In the eighth, he got another grounder to the right side and two more strikeouts. It was a pattern he repeated one more time in the ninth -- groundout to first, followed by two strikeouts.

"I think all my pitches were working pretty well today,'' he said. "I was able to locate them all. If you pound strikes and mix things up, you get some check-swings and swings-and-misses.''

While in Pawtucket, Mortensen had pitched in relief and hadn't pitched more than two innings in any one appearance. But going three innings Wednesday wasn't much of a stretch.

"Not at all,'' he said. "It had been four days since I'd thrown and felt pretty fresh. I just wanted to continue what I had been doing. I had felt pretty good in Pawtucket. I still felt like my delivery needed a little work and tonight it actually felt like it was clicking.

"The pitches were coming out good, the movement and action was good. It was nice to see. I just have to build off that."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.

Offseason just like any other for Bogaerts

Offseason just like any other for Bogaerts

BOSTON -- At first, 2016 seemed like the “Year of Xander.” It turned out to be the “Year of Mookie,” with Bogaerts dropping off a little as the season progressed.

The Red Sox shortstop saw his average peak at .359 on June 12. At that point he’d played in 61 games, hit eight home runs, 20 doubles and knocked in 44 runs. Although Mookie Betts had six more home runs and three more RBI in that same span, Bogaerts had six more doubles and was hitting 69 points higher.

The two were already locks for the All-Star Game and Bogaerts still had the edge in early MVP talk.

Then things took a turn after the very day Bogaerts saw his average peak.

Over the next 61 games, Bogaerts still managed seven homers, but only had six doubles and 27 RBI, watching his average drop to .307 by the end of that stretch. At first glance, .307 doesn’t seem like an issue, but he dropped 52 points after hitting .253 in that span.

And in his remaining 35 games, Bogaerts only hit .248 -- although he did have six homers.

But throughout it all, Bogaerts never seemed fazed by it. With pitchers and catchers reporting in less than a month, Bogaerts still isn’t worried about the peaks and valleys.

“You go through it as a player, the only one’s who don’t go through that are the ones not playing,” Bogaerts told CSNNE.com before the Boston baseball writers' dinner Thursday. “I just gotta know you’re going to be playing good for sometime, you’re going to be playing bad for sometime.

“Just try to a lot more better times than bad times. It’s just a matter of trusting yourself, trusting your abilities and never doubting yourself. Obviously, you get a lot of doubts when you’re playing bad, but you just be even keeled with whatever situation is presented.”

Bogaerts level head is something often noted by coaches and his teammates, carrying through the days he finds himself lunging left and right for pitches. That’s also carried him through the offseason while maintaining the same preparation from past seasons -- along with putting on some weight.

“I don’t know how much I put on, but I feel strong,” Bogaerts said to CSNNE.com “I mean, I look strong in the mirror.

“Hopefully, I’m in a good position when the season comes because I know I’ll lose [the weight].”