Command struggles doom Morales vs. Yanks

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Command struggles doom Morales vs. Yanks

For three starts, Franklin Morales looked like a world-beater.

That came to an abrupt stop at Fenway Park Saturday afternoon, when Morales ran smack into the New York Yankees.

The Yankee clubbed four homers and reached him for six runs in just 3 13 innings. The lefty, who entered the game with a 2.51 ERA, saw his ERA jump almost exactly a full run in the disappointing start to 3.50.

"His fastball just kept coming back over the middle of the plate, obviously,'' said Bobby Valentine. "Instead of running away from the righthanders, it was cutting in. He couldn't control it on the outside part (of the plate) and he got hit, throwing fastballs in fastball counts.

"I tried to throw my pitches and I missed,'' confessed Morales. "I didn't have the command of my two-seamer and when I tried to throw strikes (behind in the count), they hit it. That's going to happen. That's the game.''

And the game effectively over in the first inning. With Derek Jeter (single) and Robinson Cano (hit by pitch) on base, Nick Swisher homered into the Monster Seats, giving the Yankees a quick 3-0 lead. Andruw Jones then followed with a solo homer.

Looking back, the key at-bat may have been hitting Cano when Morales was just an out away from getting out of the first without being scored on.

"I tried to go in with my two-seamer,'' recalled Morales. "That's my best pitch against a lefty and I missed.''

Things seemed to stabilize for the next two innings, but then Morales got hit by the long ball again, with Jones -- again -- and infielder Jayson Nix hitting back-to-back solo shots.

Two batters later, Morales, who had pitched five, six and seven innings in his first three starts, was done after just 3 13 innings.

Morales said pitching out of the bullpen in Oakland -- his previous start had come on June 28 and he had extra rest -- wasn't a factor.

"That (relief outing) was good for me,'' maintained Morales. "Everything's fine.''

Pitching coach Bob McClure said all four of the homers hit off Morales were "behind-the-count fastball. He was having a little trouble with his grip. The ball kept cutting on him, which is unusual for him -- it usually tails. I think that had something to do with some of it.

"Against a team like this, he's a fastball guy, he's going to throw a lot of fastballs and they know it. And if you don't locate, they don't miss them. But he'll turn it around the next time.''

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

BOSTON — Tyler Thornburg’s gone for the season and there’s really no telling when the other set-up man the Sox expected to help in 2017, Carson Smith, will be back.

The Sox have already made inroads, if minor ones, in bolstering their third-base situation and rotation. Smith’s situation leaves a question of whether the Sox will need to pursue help in the bullpen as well.

There's not an easy answer to settle on at this point.

For one, the timetable with the right-hander Smith — whose shoulder has bothered him on the way back from Tommy John surgery — isn’t clear.

“He's in a no-throw [time] through the weekend,” Sox manager John Farrell said Friday afternoon at Fenway Park. “He'll be reevaluated on Monday to hopefully initiate a throwing program. He's responding favorably to the treatment. He continues to rehab as he's been. We have not closed the book in a sense on anything Carson can contribute this year.”

What does this year mean, though? Will they be able to know by July, by the trade deadline?

“Still too early to tell,” Farrell said. “We thought he was days from starting his rehab assignment after his last live BP session in New York [on June 6]. Unfortunately, that was put on hold for the time being. To get into any kind of timeframes, timetables, I don't know that any of us can predict that right now.”

The Sox relievers have done extraordinarily well without either Thornburg or Smith. Can that continue without reinforcements? The bullpen’s ERA entering Friday was 2.94, the second best mark in the majors. Its innings total, 217, was the second. lowest in the majors. 

So it’s not like the entire group is about to collapse from fatigue. But a guy like Joe Kelly, for example, isn’t someone the Sox want to use back to back.

It’s a young group and ultimately an inexperienced group. But Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already fallen into the trap of trading for premium set-up men twice, and that’s a dangerous road to pursue again. Perhaps a smaller trade makes more sense.

“Well, at this point, we’re open minded to help,” Dombrowski said when asked if he was targeting either third-base or relief help. “I’m not going to get into specifics at this time on what else we’re looking for. Keep an open mind on a lot of ways on which we can improve. We have guys coming back and both the spots, I think Carson Smith is very important to us and our bullpen has pitched great. The other day, we struggled but that was one of the few times we really struggled all year. 

“I think Carson still has a chance to come back and help us this year.”

Red Sox claim right-hander Doug Fister off waivers

Red Sox claim right-hander Doug Fister off waivers

Right-handed starter Doug Fister, who opted out of his contract with the Angels, has been claimed off waivers by the Red Sox, CSN Red Sox Insider Evan Drellich has confirmed.

The news was first reported by Chris Cotillo of SB Nation, who writes that Fister, 33, will join the Red Sox immediately.

Fister opted out of with the Angels after three Triple-A starts in Salt Lake City, where he allowed seven runs on 16 hits with five walks and 10 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings. 

With Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson on the DL, the Red Sox need immediate starting pitching help. Triple-A Pawtucket call-up Hector Velazquez made a spot start earlier this week in the fifth spot behind Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, David Price and Drew Pomeranz. 

Fister will receive $1.75 million in the majors from the Red Sox, with $1.2 million available in additional incentives, according to Cotillo. 

Fister has pitched eight seasons in the majors, including 2016 with the Astros, going 12-13 with 4.64 ERA in 180 1/3 innings. His best season was 2014 with the Nationals (16-6, 2.41 ERA).