Questionable umpiring leaves Sox with bad taste

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Questionable umpiring leaves Sox with bad taste

BOSTON On the verge of falling to 1-5 on the six-game homestand, 1-6 in their last seven, 14-19, and two games under .500 for the first time since May 19, the frustration from the Red Sox dugout was evident in the home half of the ninth inning Sunday afternoon, after the Nationals took a 4-3 lead in the top of the inning.

In the top of the inning, Alfredo Aceves had walked pinch-hitter Bryce Harper with one out, then gave up a two-out double to Nats No. 9 hitter Roger Bernardina on a 2-2 fastball that scored Harper.

With one out in the bottom of the inning and Mike Aviles on first base representing the tying run, Scott Podsednik struck out, bringing Dustin Pedroia to the plate.

Entering the at-bat Pedroia was just 3 for his last 23 since returning to the lineup Tuesday after sitting out six games with a thumb injury.

With a count of 1-2, Pedroia fouled off a 94-mph fastball from Nationals closer Tyler Clippard. With that, manager Bobby Valentine emerged from the Sox dugout, jawing at home plate umpire Al Porter the whole way.

Arguing balls and strikes earned Valentine an immediate ejection, his second of the season.

But, it wasnt just that pitch and it wasnt just one pitch that had Valentine upset. It was the cumulative effect of the series.

"Alfredo struck the guy out on a pitch that the whole ball is on the plate and he calls it a ball, Valentine said. Then he hits an RBI (double).

Valentine was referring to the 1-2 pitch from Aceves to the left-handed hitting Bernardina. According to MLB.coms Gameday View graphics, Valentine is right. The fourth pitch to Bernardina was within the strike zone, making it the third strike of the at-bat, and ending the inning.

It was a fastball set up away and caught it on the inside corner, said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. From what I saw it was a pretty good pitch.

Im not going to complain, Aceves said. What do you think of the umpires? I cant complain. Its been like that for years.

But on the pitch that was called a ball for a 2-2 count?

He could have called it a strike, yeah, Aceves said. I missed the spot, but like Ive been saying, theyre tough hitters and we have to make our pitches. Unfortunately he didnt call it a strike, and like I said, its been that way for 10 years or more than that. Weve got to come back and play against the Marlins and win that series.

But, with calls like that, it can force a pitcher and catcher to re-examine their strike zone.

Its tough, Saltalamacchia said. I felt like early in the game we got some pitches that kind of went our way and then later on in the game, I think Ace made a great pitch, 2-2, that from what I understand, what I saw, was a strike. But nobodys perfect and we understand that. All we ask is just a better look at everything.

But, he knows as a catcher, complaining doesnt always do any good.

I dont think it does, he said. When I argue, its protecting the pitcher. I want him to get every pitch that he can. Ace is battling. He did a great job, made a great pitch 2-2 that I felt got us out of that inning, and had a chance to win the game. When it comes down to it, thats what we want to do, we want to win. Were not asking them to expand the strike zone. Were not asking them to completely tighten it up. We just want it to be equal on both sides and just kind of tighten up and get a better look at every pitch.

And when the hitters are uncertain, it can take away confidence. The third pitch to Pedroia, a called strike making the count 1-2 was out of the strike zone according to MLB.coms graphics.

You have to talk to the hitters, Valentine said. The game is simple: Throw it over the plate, call it a strike. Don't throw it over the plate, call it a ball. It's simple. That's all. That's all anybody asks. I know it's been going on for 100 years. I'm not the first one to say it. But this was a pretty lousy series.

Adrian Gonzalez went 2-for-13 in the series, with a home run and a double. Both hits came in Fridays game. On Sunday he went 0-for-4, ending three innings, leaving four runners on base.

Asked his thoughts on the umpiring, Gonzalez replied:

Theyve been great all year. Thats all Ive got to say. And he walked out of the clubhouse.

Pedroia, though, was not so reticent.

Yeah, its pretty disappointing, he said. Were trying to compete, everyone is, both teams, and you dont want the umpires to come into play and stuff like that. Its hard enough playing the game against good pitching and good players. So its pretty disappointing.

Saltalamacchia went 0-for-4 Sunday with four strikeouts.

From a hitters aspect of it, I dont know too much because I swung at pretty much everything he threw, Saltalamacchia said. But I felt there were some pitches they could definitely have went our way. But just the way game is, you know. You cant really rely on the umpires. We got to do it ourselves and thats what it boils down to.

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

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.