Ortiz's torrid start to the season continues vs. Twins

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Ortiz's torrid start to the season continues vs. Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- Slow starts are officially a thing of the past for David Ortiz.

Following two dreadful starts to the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Ortiz got off on the right foot last year, and this season, he's making that look like a mere warmup.

Ortiz had two more hits and three RBI in Tuesday's 11-2 laugher over the Minnesota Twins, and in the process, set a Red Sox record for the most number of hits (28) after the first 16 games in a season.

He's hitting a scorching .444 for the year and leads the Red Sox with 15 RBI, or nearly one per game.

The DH has reached base safely in 15 of the first 16 games and has multiple hits in seven of his last 10 games, during which time he's batting .525 (21-for-40) with six doubles, three homers and 13 RBI in those 10 games.

Asked if this was as locked-in as he's ever felt in the first month of the season, Ortiz quickly snapped: "No." Then, pausing for a moment and adding a sly smile, he amended his answer.

"Maybe," he said. "Early in the season, you just take what they give you and move on, man."

Indeed, Ortiz is using all parts of the field. In the first inning, with runners at the corners and the Twins shifted over, Ortiz simply slapped a single down the third base line, scoring Dustin Pedroia.

Then, in the third, he hammered a pitch from Minnesota starter Nick Blackburn over everything in right, a belt that was estimated at 429 feet.

"I didn't learn how to hit yesterday," he said. "I've been doing this for years. I'm just taking what they give you."

Ortiz has been so hot for the past week that teammates have been playfully ribbing him in the dugout.

"I keep telling him to keep his head up," joked Mike Aviles, "and that balls are going to start falling for him one of these days. In all honesty, it's impressive. They shift him, and he hits a ground ball to third. It doesn't matter where they're playing him these days. He's seeing the ball well and he's been a mainstay in this lineup for a long, long time.

"He's one of the rare game-changers in this game and he's off to a great start."

Red Sox starters handled 'the big inning' differently in Indians series

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Red Sox starters handled 'the big inning' differently in Indians series

BOSTON -- Avoiding the big inning isn’t just a major concern for Red Sox pitching, it is for all pitchers, at any level.

They can be used as benchmarks for a pitcher’s worth, given one’s ability to minimize the damage, and are in general big momentum shifters.

In each game of the Cleveland series Boston’s starting pitchers were presented with an inning that had potential on running awry.

And each handled it differently.

Joe Kelly took care of business. Rick Porcello minimized the damage and moved on. And, in typical fashion, Clay Buchholz didn’t do well -- even though he managed to log a quality start.

Kelly’s big inning came in his 30-pitch fifth inning, where he lost his perfect game bid -- and gave him no chance at completing the game -- with three walks.

But despite a lapse in control and pressure mounting with runners in scoring position, he held down the fort.

He was able to stay in them moment and work through his worst inning unscathed.

“[I] just got a little bit out of my mechanics and tempo from the stretch,” Kelly said on his fifth inning struggles following Saturday’s 9-1 win. “The pitches still felt good. The life on the fastball felt good [and] the breaking stuff felt sharp. It was just a matter not getting that timing down with my mechanics and just being a little bit to late on getting my arm extended.”

The following day Porcello took the mound and was off once again. John Farrell credited it to a lack of sink on Porcello’s go-to pitch, which is definitely a problem if that’s the case.

But there’s a lot to be said about a pitcher who doesn’t have his best pitch, yet still goes out and pitches a good game (even if it doesn’t get marked as a quality start).

And there’s even more value in the fact that on a bad day, Porcello can still get out of a jam.

“I was overthrowing and out of my game a little bit,” Porcello said on his rough second inning in Sunday’s 5-2 win. “In the third inning I just tried to get the ball down and get some quick outs.”

He also explained that he tries to simplify his approach in starts when he doesn’t have everything working.

“[You] just regroup mentally and battle through it,” Porcello said. “[I was] just trying to keep the balls in the ballpark and let the defense make the plays behind you like they did today.”

Kelly and Porcello set a positive tone to end the series with the Indians after Buchholz had proven that even the Quality Start statistic is misleading at times.

“The one pitch to [Jason] Kipnis is the difference in this one tonight,” John Farrell said following Buchholz’s start Friday. “What we’ve seen is when it’ been a home run, it’s probably been a walk that’s mixed in . . .The home runs are going to happen I think we all look at the base runners leading up to where he puts himself into a little bit of a corner where you don’t have much margin for error with men on base.

“And then there’s been a fastball that’s leaked back to the middle. And that was the case again tonight. He’s trying to crowd Kipnis and to keep the ball in on him and it ends up on the inner half. To me I don’t know if it’s focus, it’s a manner of falling behind in the count and the walks are factoring. We’re working to get him over that hump.”

The “one pitch” being the issue for Buchholz got him a pass for a few starts -- not to belittle the issue, it still is one -- but putting runners on in excess is the righty’s big problem.

He’s clearly still not comfortable throwing from the stretch (never mind bring the game to a screeching halt) and that needs to change. Fact is pitchers throw out of the stretch more often than not.

And going back to the “one pitch” being the problem. It seems more often than not that it’s Buchholz’s “front-door” two-seamer that is supposed to start at a lefty’s hip and scrape the inner edge of the plate.

But once again it wound up catching too much plate, even more barrel and parking itself in the outfield bleachers.

The question beckons, “When will he stop using that pitch so frequently?” It is absolutely a valuable weapon, but if Buchholz has to see that the risk-reward isn’t in his favor.

Regardless, Buchholz needs to take a page out of Kelly and Porcello’s book. Simplify to minimize the damage.

He might even get a standing ovation like Kelly and Porcello when they got pulled.

Report: Shane Victorino released by Cubs

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Report: Shane Victorino released by Cubs

Shane Victorino's career may be approaching the finish line.

The 35-year-old outfielder's attempt to catch on with the Cubs is over, as Carrie Muskat of cubs.com reports he's been released. He had suffered a calf injury in spring training and was sidelined for about a month-and-a-half, then hit .233/.324/.367 in Triple-A Iowa. 

Victorino's first year in Boston, 2013, was far and away his best, as he hit .294/.351/.451 with 15 homers and 61 RBI in helping the Red Sox win the World Series. His next two seasons were riddled with injuries, and the Sox traded him to the Angels last July at the deadline for infielder Josh Rutledge. He struggled in Anaheim (.214/.292/.286 in 98 at-bats) and was allowed to become a free agent at the end of the season.