Sox pleased with battles vs. Strasburg

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Sox pleased with battles vs. Strasburg

BOSTON -- Stephen Strasburg was the story coming in, and he was the story coming out of Friday night's game at Fenway Park, in which the Red Sox lost 7-4 to the Washington Nationals.

The 23-year-old righty stuck out 13 batters in six innings, while allowing two runs in six innings, picking up his seventh win in the process.

"Seeing him for the first time, our hitters battled him," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine after the loss. "He threw a lot of pitches in six innings, for sure. But, like they were saying, he's not just a thrower, he's a pitcher. He had pitches he could throw behind in the count. His split-changeup was a really devastating pitch. We haven't seen that before. His fastball was alive all night long. He's special. He's a very good pitcher, obviously."

As special as Strasburg is, and was on Friday night, Valentine could do nothing but praise his offense afterwards.

"This was a good offensive performance by our team. I know we came up short, but this was a battling performance for us. We're in the ninth inning, we had a couple runs taken away from us. We were still battling at the end there.

"There was no letdown, and the guys didn't get discouraged. I thought there was one good at-bat after another."

The Red Sox fell behind 7-2 after originally taking a 2-0 lead in the second inning on a two-run double by Mike Aviles. And after putting up two more runs against Washington's bullpen in the eighth and ninth innings to cut it down to a three-run game, Valentine would have liked to have one specific pitch back -- a called strike on Kevin Youkilis that ended the sixth inning with the bases loaded.

A worn down Strasburg had thrown 113 pitches and loaded the bases with one out on a Dustin Pedroia single, an Adrian Gonzalez double, and a David Ortiz walk. Strasburg then struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and ended the inning -- and his night -- by punching out Youkilis with a 3-2 fastball that appeared low, forcing Youkilis to lose his cool and get ejected.

"I think that inning should have continued," said Valentine after the loss. "Who knows, we could have tacked on three more, four more runs on this thing.

"That pitch was not a strike."

The other run that was taken away from the Red Sox came earlier, in the third inning, when Nationals right fielder Xavier Nady leaned over into Washington's bullpen and robbed Adrian Gonzalez of a solo home run.

The out was in the midst of a stretch in which Strasburg retired 11 consecutive batters after allowing the two-run double to Aviles in the second inning.

"He's got good stuff," said Gonzalez afterwards. "We knew what we were expecting. We've seen enough of it on TV and on video, so we know what we were going up against. I thought we did a good job. But he was the better man out there."

Still, the Red Sox seemed pleased with the way they battled him.

"He's good, he's got good stuff," said Saltalamacchia. "His fastball, throwing it as hard as he does on both sides of the plate. He's got a good, sharp curve ball. He throws his changeup at any time. It's definitely not a comfortable at-bat. We definitely made him throw some pitches though. We just couldn't come back from that many runs."

And perhaps Gonzalez said it best, when wondering -- out loud -- what could have been, had Youkilis not been called out on strikes with bases loaded in the sixth.

"We were one pitch away from making that game interesting."

On Friday night, that one pitch went to Strasburg.

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.