Boston Red Sox

Davis anxious to start as Pawtucket hitting coach

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Davis anxious to start as Pawtucket hitting coach

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com

BOSTON A little more than 24 hours into his new job as hitting coach for Triple-A Pawtucket, Chili Davis was given his first challenge by manager Arnie Beyeler.

I called him and told him I used to have a Chili Dog t-shirt and asked him if he could remember why, Beyeler said. He goes, Oh, we must have crossed paths somewhere but I cant remember where.'

I told him, I was your hitting coach once upon a time.

It was in 1998, while both were in the Yankees organization. Davis was on a rehab assignment with Double-A Norwich, where Beyeler was the hitting coach.

I reminded him of his great quote, Beyeler said. He goes, I hate this league. I dont have any hits here.

While Davis hit just .243 in 11 games for Norwich that season, there were plenty of hits in the American and National Leagues over 19 seasons and 2,435 games. The outfielderdesignated hitter played for the Giants, Angels, Twins, Royals and Yankees and hit .274 with 350 home runs and 1,372 RBI. Among switch-hitters, Davis trails only Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, and Chipper Jones two Hall of Famers and a likely future Hall of Famer in career home runs.

Davis knows the challenge issued by Beyeler will be just the first of many he will face as he makes his full-time coaching debut this season. Hes up for it, he said, joining first-year manager Beyeler and pitching coach Rich Sauveur in Pawtucket.

The most important challenge will be getting to know the players and gaining their trust.

I dont know if I know any players in the organization, Davis said by phone from his home in Arizona. On the big-league team, yes, I do. But Im not going to be with them. But getting to know the players . . . is probably the first step, because to gain the trust of the players youre going to be working with, youre going to have to get to know them and theyre going to have to get to know you. So, thats going to be the biggest challenge. And just keeping them working day in and day out during the course of the year.

"I talked to Arnie. My job there is to help him do his job, and to help him develop these players for their major-league careers.

Davis, who moved to the United States from Jamaica as a 10-year-old in 1970, was drafted by the Giants in 1977 out of Los Angeles Dorsey High School. He made his big-league debut in 1981 (the first Jamaican-born player to do so) and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting the next season.

A three-time All-Star, Davis won World Series championships with the Twins in 1991, and the Yankees in 98 and 99, his last season.

While playing baseball was never his boyhood dream, hes most proud of the length of his career.

Not only proud of that, but surprised, he said. I saw baseball played for the first time in L.A. when I came to the States and just fell in love with the game. Decided a couple of years later that I was going to try to play on a team. Five years later Im drafted, and three years after that Im in the big leagues. It wasnt like I woke up at age 4 and said I want to be a professional player and my dad or my uncle took me to ballgames all the time. It didnt happen that way.

"I was very blessed, being able to do something for a living that I loved, and not only that but playing that long and winning the three world championships.

When I really look back at my career, I think one of the lessons that I would like to bring to young players is that it wasnt like a career where everything went smoothly, every year was a good year. I had some down years. And as I got older in my late 20s, early 30s, I was written off a lot by people wondering if my career was coming to an end. In 1990 I left the Angels and went to Minnesota. I heard rumors: Maybe his careers over. Maybe hes done. And I went to Minnesota and won a championship. And after 92 I heard rumors again: Maybe the guy's done. Hes 33 years old, 91 was his best year. He made a comeback. He tried. And I stuck around till 99.

"So one of the things that Im proud of in my career is just my perseverance as a player and as a person. I persevered. Theres some regrets. Theres some things I wish I would have done differently. But the biggest thing Im proud of is the perseverance as a player.

He remembers what it was like playing against the Red Sox, coming into Fenway Park for the first time, (he hit .313 with six home runs and 34 RBI in his career at Fenway), the rivalry with the Yankees. His second-inning solo homer on Sept. 10, 1999, was the only hit Pedro Martinez gave up in the Sox 3-1 win in Yankee Stadium, which was one of the best pitching performances of Martinez' career: A complete-game with 17 strikeouts and no walks, facing one batter over the minimum -- Davis.

Facing guys like Bruce Hurst, Roger Clemens, Bret Saberhagen, Tim Wakefield. It was great for me being with the Yankees, he said. Playing in those meaningful games was a great way for me to end my career.

When his playing days ended, Davis, who turns 51 on Monday, decided to stay home to spend time with his three sons. He began working for the Australian baseball academy in 2003, spending eight weeks for the next three years working with both hitters and coaches. It allowed him to stay in the game without having to be away from home as much as the grind of a regular season schedule would require. This fall he worked for the Dodgers in their instructional league, an experience that let him know it was something that I felt that I was designed to do. And his boys are older now, 14, 16, and 25, busy with their own activities. It was time for Davis.

I think Im ready for this situation now," he said. Last year I decided that it was time for me to try to get back into the game.

He interviewed for a major league job with the Dodgers. When he didnt get that, he thought he might take a minor league job with the organization. He figured hed have to start in the low minors if was going to get back into coaching.

But, some news caught him off guard.

Actually, the Red Sox was a total surprise to me and it was a good surprise, Davis said. I got a call from the Dodgers' minor-league director and he asked me if I was interested in working on the East Coast. He told me who it was and I thought, Wow, thats great. If this pans out, the Dodgers are a class organization and so are the Red Sox.' "

When Red Sox minor-league director Mike Hazen called to tell him hed gotten the Pawtucket job, Davis emotions ranged from super excited to anxious to cautious. But, it gave him a sense of purpose, he said.

I think the gratitude Im going to get out of this and thats what I got out of instructional ball with the Dodgers is to feel like I was helping young hitters understand themselves, understand the game, understand what they need to do to be successful at hitting, he said. And in a way my selfishness comes from the gratification that Ill get from watching these guys become better players.

Its an organization thats built to win. The team is built to win. Theyve always been a strong organization, and their minor league system has always been great with some really good players. For me, its just such an unbelievable opportunity. I dont know if I can describe it. Just ready to get going.

Davis likely wont get to Pawtucket until Opening Day, April 7. It will be his first appearance in the Ocean State.

Ive never been to Rhode Island, he said with a laugh. Im going to see some states that Ive never been to in all my travels, North Carolina, Rhode Island. I do have family in Buffalo, New York . . . I dont know where all the teams are. Im sure Im going to see some cities that Ive never been to before and thats exciting, also.

After being away from the day-to-day workings of baseball for more than a decade, some of the things hes most looking forward to are baseball basics.

Theres a lot of things that Im looking forward to, he said. But the spring, the season, getting back out there. Hearing the balls go crack. Listening to guys talk about whatever they talk about out there.

"Basically, I think for the first couple of weeks, or week, I think its just observing and trying to find where I need to fit in in this program. This is a program thats been going on for a long time without me involved. Im new to it. Im going to have to learn it. But also being able to inject the things that I know into this program. So, Im looking forward to the whole thing. Im feeling anxiety.

"Im so anxious now. Its like when I first found out that I was going to major league camp as a player and I couldnt wait for spring training to start. Im going to major league camp, and this is that feeling all over again. Im ready to go.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen

Red Sox rally for 5-4 win over Reds, extend AL East lead

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Red Sox rally for 5-4 win over Reds, extend AL East lead

CINCINNATI - Rafael Devers hit a three-run homer Friday night, and the Boston Red Sox extended their AL East lead to four games by overcoming Scooter Gennett's fourth grand slam of the season for a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Boston added to its lead with the help of the Yankees' 8-1 loss at Toronto. The Red Sox have won 12 of 15, keeping the Yankees at bay while moving a season-high 25 games over .500 (89-64).

Their AL Cy Young Award winner is still struggling heading into playoff time.

Rick Porcello gave up Gennett's fourth grand slam - a Reds' season record - in the first inning. He lasted a season-low four innings, turning a 5-4 lead over to the bullpen. Porcello has lost 17 games - most in the majors - after winning 22 last year along with the Cy Young.

Part of Porcello's problem has been a lack of run support. Boston has been blanked while he's on the mound in 10 of his losses. This time, the Red Sox got him off the hook, overcoming Gennett's career-high 27th homer with the help of Devers' three-run shot off Sal Romano (5-7).

The Red Sox are last in the AL with 159 homers.

Left-hander David Price (6-3) pitched 2 2/3 innings and contributed a single, bringing the Red Sox to the front of the dugout for a celebration. Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his 34th save in 38 chances. He hasn't allowed a run in his last 10 appearances.

Gennett was claimed off waivers from Milwaukee late in spring training. He has provided some of the Reds' best moments in an 88-loss season, including a four-homer game on June 6. His homer off Porcello ended the Red Sox' streak of 26 straight scoreless innings.

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Drellich: Pomeranz, league's second-best lefty, knows how to be even better

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Drellich: Pomeranz, league's second-best lefty, knows how to be even better

BOSTON — Drew Pomeranz may not actually be the No. 2 starter for the Red Sox in this year’s presumed American League Division Series. Maybe the Sox will mix in a right-hander between Pomeranz and Chris Sale.

Still, everyone knows which pitcher, in spirit, has been the second-most reliable for the Red Sox. A day after Chris Sale notched his 300th strikeout and on the final off-day of the regular season, it’s worth considering the importance of the other excellent lefty on the Sox, and how much he’s meant to a team that’s needed surprise performances because of the lineup’s drop-off.

Per FanGraphs’ wins above replacement, Pomeranz is the second-most valuable lefthanded starter among those qualified in the American League (you know who's No. 1). He's one of the 10 best starters in the AL overall.

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Pomeranz, 28, was a first-round pick seven years ago. But he didn’t exactly blossom until the last two years. He has a 3.15 ERA in 165 2/3 innings. His next start, if decent, should give him a career-high in innings after he threw 170 2/3 last year.

Pomeranz is a 16-game winner, just one win behind Sale. The value of wins and losses is known to be nil, but there’s still a picture of reliability that can be gleaned.

Is this the year Pomeranz became the pitcher he always envisioned he would be?

“I don’t know, I mean, I had a pretty dang good year last year,” Pomeranz said, referring to a 3.32 ERA between the Padres and Sox, and an All-Star selection. “I think these last two years have been kind of you know, more what I wanted to be like. But I still, I don’t think I’m done yet, you know what I mean?”

Most pro athletes say there’s always room to improve. Pomeranz, however, was able to specify what he wants. The focus is on his third and fourth pitches: his cutter and his change-up. 

“My changeup’s been really good this year,” Pomeranz said. “That’s something that still can go a lot further. And same with my cutter too. I still use it sparingly. I don’t think me just being a six-inning guy is the end of it for me either.

“You set personal goals. You want to throw more innings, cover more innings so the bullpen doesn’t have to cover those. Helps save them for right now during the year.”

Early in the year, Pomeranz wasn’t using his cutter much. He threw just nine in April, per BrooksBaseball.net. That led to talk that he wasn’t throwing the pitch to take it easy on his arm. He did start the year on the disabled list, after all, and cutters and sliders can be more stressful on the elbow and forearm.

That wasn’t the case.

“The reason I didn’t throw it in the beginning of the year was because half the times I threw it went the other way,” Pomeranz said. “It backed up. Instead of cutting, it was like sinking or running back. I mean, I pitched [in Baltimore] and gave up a home run to [Manny] Machado, we were trying to throw one in and it went back. So I didn’t trust it.

“Mechanical thing. I was still trying to clean my mechanics up, and once I cleaned ‘em up and got my arm slot right, then everything started moving the way it was supposed to and then I started throwing it more.”

Pomeranz’s cutter usage, and how he developed the pitch heading into 2016, has been well documented.

The change-up is more of an X-factor. He threw five in each of his last two starts, per Brooks, and it’s a pitch he wants to use more.

“It’s been good,” Pomeranz said. “I think I could throw it a lot more and a lot more effectively, and ... tweaking of pitch selection probably could help me get into some of those later innings too.”

Well, then why not just throw the change more often? Easier said than done when you’re talking about your fourth pitch in a key moment.

“I throw a few a game,” Pomeranz said. “Sometimes you feel like you don’t want too throw it in situations where you get beat with your third or fourth best pitch. I mean it’s felt — every time I’ve thrown it it’s been consistent. It’s just a matter of, it’s something me and Vazqy [Christian Vazquez] talk about, too." 

(When you hear these kind of issues, which most pitchers deal with, it makes you appreciate Sale’s ability to throw any pitch at any time even more.)

Speaking on Wednesday, the day after Pomeranz’s most recent outing, Sox pitching coach Carl Willis said he thinks the change-up’s already starting to have a greater presence.

“He’s kind of always had a changeup, and he hadn’t had any trust or conviction in that pitch,” Willis said. “I was really excited last night that he used the changeup more. He threw it. He doubled up with it on occasion. Something that’s not in the scouting report.

"It’s his fourth pitch and he seldom threw it in a game and he’s in a situation where, OK, the change-up’s the right pitch, but location of whatever I throw is going to outweigh [selection]. Now he’s starting to gain that confidence [that he can locate it]. 

“I think that’s going to make him an extremely better pitcher. I thought it was a huge factor in his outing last night. Because he didn’t have his best velocity. He really did a good job of changing speeds with the changeup, and obviously with the curveball and being able to give different shapes of the pitches.”

The Sox already have the best left-hander in the AL, if not anywhere. The AL's second-best southpaw happens to pitch on the same team, and has tangible plans to be even better.

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