Boston Red Sox

Drellich: Dombrowski’s uncertainty at third base makes need for trade clear

Drellich: Dombrowski’s uncertainty at third base makes need for trade clear

BOSTON — Dave Dombrowski is uncertain now about Tzu-Wei Lin and Deven Marrero, about whether they’re different players than what they showed for years in the minor leagues: little offensive production. The Red Sox president of baseball operations is encouraged, but he’s unsure.

“I don’t know that answer,” Dombrowski said. “I mean it’s got a chance to be, from what I have seen. But you never know that.”

What’s difficult to believe is that two weeks of good play until the non-waiver trade deadline will leave him feeling more certain. 

So, maybe Dombrowski is playing it cool when he says he’s open to an upgrade at third base while not naming it as a clear need. Maybe he doesn’t want to overplay his hand to potential trade partners.

“I'd say it doesn't make it a point where you're so aggressively pursuing the position,” Dombrowski said of Lin and Marrero. “But I would also say, just like anything else, we're open-minded to getting better at any spot we can. So if somebody becomes available that makes sense for us with the acquisition price… there are not a lot of those positions on our team I don't think, but if that does happen, we're open-minded to it.”

Dombrowski has been around long enough to understand track records. If anything, this is an executive who values certainty and proven commodities. Veterans and stars.

That’s not what he has at third base in the wake of Pablo Sandoval’s departure, not even close. It's the clearest position of need on the team where Dombrowski already traded away a piece who is thriving, Travis Shaw.

Tzu-Wei Lin’s career average in the minors is .241. His OPS is .638. Deven Marrero’s a career .216 hitter in the minors with a .578 OPS.

What about the majors, you say?

Well, Lin has continued on the improvement he showed this year at Double-A and is hitting .333 with a .871 OPS. Not bad — but it’s just 15 games in the majors.

Marrero’s playing the heck out of third base, but he’s hitting .225 with a .615 OPS.

“Over a short time period — Lin, this year, took a tremendous leap forward, starting in spring training,” Dombrowski said. “I’m not really sure what he did, he’s stronger, there’s no question to that. He wasn’t even a big league invite, although he probably should have been.

“He always caught our eye. … He drove the ball, which really, we never saw him do before. He continued to do that at Portland for us. He’s continued to do it here. He looks like a very good player right here. He doesn’t seem intimidated whatsoever.”

“We’re encouraged by what we’ve seen this year. Could I be so, predict that will continue to happen? I don’t know, but he’s got a nice swing, he looks like he’s got a pulse.”

You think Dombrowski really wants to enter August saying to himself, “I don’t know” about third base? He needs to find a player where he can say the opposite — with as much confidence as anyone ever can in a game of uncertainty, anyway.

Marrero, for as great as he looks defensively, has not taken a significant leap forward offensively, and Dombrowski acknowledged that.

“Marrero’s case is a little bit different [than Lin’s],” Dombrowski said. “He’s worked very hard, he really was not having a good offensive year at Triple-A whatsoever, and he hasn’t had a good offensive year. He’s worked very hard with [hitting coach Chili Davis] on some things with his mechanics. He’s taken some additional breaking balls off the pitching machine, he hasn’t been chasing that quite as much. 

“Before I came down here, I was waiting in the coaches room … and was talking, Chili happened to walk in and we were just talking about the very fact, it’s like, well, we’ve been very encouraged by what we’ve seen. Hopefully, they keep it up. And we’ll see, you turn the page right away today. They’ve had four days off. A lot of times the second half of the season, hopefully, people continue to do things that they’ve done well. We’ve got big games right off the bat. And so, I think you have a chance to observe too while we’re here.”

He can observe all he wants. Two weeks won’t bring certainty. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll bring increased trade value for one or both players.

Drellich: How should Sox handle Sale's pursuit of Pedro's strikeout record?

Drellich: How should Sox handle Sale's pursuit of Pedro's strikeout record?

BALTIMORE — Baseball records are so precise. When to pursue them, when to value them even if minor risk is involved, is not nearly as clear cut.

The Red Sox, Chris Sale and John Farrell have stumbled upon that grey area, and it will continue to play out in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Sale reached a tremendous milestone on Wednesday night, becoming the 14th different pitcher in the live ball era to reach 300 strikeouts in a single season. No one else has done it in the American League this century. Clayton Kershaw was the last to get there in the National League two years ago.

“It was really fun,” Sale said of having his family on hand. “My wife, both my boys are here, my mother-in-law. Being able to run out and get a big hug from him and my wife and everybody — it was special having them here for something like this . . . I’ll spend a little time with them before we head to Cincinnati.”

Now, there’s another mark ahead of Sale: Pedro Martinez’s single-season club record of 313. And the pursuit of that record is going to highlight the discussion of what matters even more.

The tug-of-war between absolute pragmatism and personal achievement was on display Wednesday, when Farrell gave ground to the latter. 

The manager was prepared for the questions after a celebratory 9-0 win over the Orioles. His pitchers threw 26 straight scoreless innings to finish off a three-game sweep of the Orioles, and the Sox had the game well in hand the whole night.

With seven innings and 99 pitches thrown and 299 strikeouts in the books, Sale went back out for the eighth inning.

If you watched it, if you saw Sale drop a 2-2 front-door slider to a hapless Ryan Flaherty for the final strikeout Sale needed and his last pitch of the night, you surely enjoyed it. Records may not be championships, but they have their own appeal in sports that’s undeniable. 

But Sale could have recorded strikeout No. 300 next time out. Surely, he would have. He needed all 111 pitches to do so Wednesday. So the difference between 299 and 300 wound up being just 12 pitches. It’s doubtful those 12 pitches will ruin Sale’s postseason chances, particularly considering he was throwing hard all game, touching 99 mph. 

Nonetheless, the Sox hope to play for another month, and they've been working to get Sale extra rest. So, why risk fatigue, or worse, injury?

“The two overriding factors for me,” Farrell explained, “were the pitch counts and the innings in which he was in control of throughout. Gets an extra day [for five days of rest] this next time through the rotation. All those things were brought into play in the thinking of bringing him back out.

“We know what the final out of tonight represented, him getting the 300 strikeouts. Was aware of that, and you know what, felt like he was in complete command of this game and the ability to go out and give that opportunity, he recorded it.”

If Sale makes his final two starts of the year, he’ll break Martinez's record of 313. At least he should. But he might not make his projected final start, in Game No. 162, so that he’s set up for Game 1 in the Division Series.

(So, if he could reach 314 Ks in his next start, he’d make this discussion disappear — but 14 Ks in one outing is not easy.)

When should exceptions be made to let someone get to a record? Where do you draw the line? Would it be reasonable to get Sale an inning or two against the Astros in Game 162 if he was a few strikeouts away, even though he may face the Astros in the Division Series?

Letting the Astros get extra looks against Sale is a different matter than Sale throwing 12 extra pitches. But neither is really a guarantee of doom. They're small risks, of varying size.

Consider that if Sale is on, he should rough up the Astros no matter what.

What's 12 pitches Wednesday for a guy who leads the majors in average pitches thrown per game? Not enough to keep Farrell from letting Sale have a go at one milestone.

Will the Sox work to put Sale in position for the next?

Records don’t usually fall into such a grey area. Outside of the steroid era, anyway.

Red Sox rout Orioles, 9-0, and clinch playoff spot when Angels lose

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Red Sox rout Orioles, 9-0, and clinch playoff spot when Angels lose

BALTIMORE -- Chris Sale was at his very best - right down to his momentous last pitch - in another meaningful victory for the Boston Red Sox.

Sale struck out 13 to become the first AL pitcher in 18 years to reach the 300 mark, and the Red Sox clinched a playoff berth hours after beating the Baltimore Orioles 9-0 on Wednesday night.

Boston (88-64) was assured at least a wild card and its second consecutive trip to the postseason when the Los Angeles Angels lost 6-5 to the Cleveland Indians. Of course, the Red Sox are looking for much more than that. They lead the AL East by three games over the rival New York Yankees with 10 to play as Boston pursues its third division title in five years.

"Given where we are in the standings and what is at stake, every win is important," manager John Farrell said. "Just getting into the playoffs is not our goal."

Sale (17-7) reached the milestone on his 111th and final pitch, a called third strike against Ryan Flaherty to end the eighth inning. The last AL pitcher to fan 300 batters in a season was Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1999, when he set a club record with 313.

Farrell sent Sale back out for the eighth inning to give him a shot at getting No. 300.

Thing is, the left-hander had no idea he was at 299 when the inning started.

"No, I didn't," Sale said. "I went out there and struck out the last guy and everyone started losing it. I knew I was close, but I didn't know I needed just one more."

Mookie Betts and Deven Marrero homered for the Red Sox.

After winning two straight 11-inning games over the skidding Orioles, Boston jumped to a 6-0 lead in the fifth and coasted to its 11th win in 14 games.

Betts and Marrero hit two-run homers in the fourth against Wade Miley (8-14), and Hanley Ramirez added a two-run double in the fifth.

Sale allowed four hits and walked none in matching his career high for wins.

"A dominant performance after a year that has been a dominant one," Farrell said.

Sale reached double figures in strikeouts for the 18th time this season. He is the 14th pitcher in the so-called Live Ball Era (1920-present) to ring up 300 strikeouts in a season.

It was his 10th scoreless outing of the season, tying the team record held by Babe Ruth (1916) and Martinez (2000 and 2002).

"It was fun. I felt good tonight," he said.

Sale faced a Baltimore lineup that was lacking two of its better hitters. Manny Machado was held out with an illness that manager Buck Showalter said the third baseman had been dealing with for nearly two weeks, and shortstop Tim Beckham was unavailable after having a wisdom tooth removed.

Not that it would have made much of a difference against Sale.

"He's one of the best pitchers in the game and couple in the fact that we're not really operating on all cylinders offensively, you end up with a shutout," Showalter said.

In a streak that began in the sixth inning Monday night, Baltimore has gone 26 straight innings without scoring. The Orioles (73-80) were in the playoff hunt before losing 12 of their last 14 games.

SLUMP BUSTER

Boston's Dustin Pedroia doubled in two runs in the eighth inning to snap an 0-for-18 skid. He missed Tuesday night's game with a bruised nose.

PRICE CLOSING?

The Red Sox have plenty of pitchers in the bullpen, perhaps none more accomplished than former Cy Young Award winner David Price.

Price has been pitching in relief since returning from the DL on Sept. 14.

"He is available for multiple innings of relief tonight," Farrell said before the game. "I wouldn't be surprised if he were closing the game out."

FILLING OUT THE FIELD

Boston joins AL Central champion Cleveland and AL West champion Houston in the American League playoffs, which begin next month. Two spots are still up for grabs.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: INF Eduardo Nunez (knee sprain) fielded grounders and did some running but still has a way to go before returning to the lineup. "While the hitting and fielding portion has improved, we find that the running portion is going to take longer than we first anticipated," Farrell said.

Orioles: Closer Zach Britton will likely be shut down for the season. He's going to get a stem-cell injection in his left knee, and it would probably be foolish to test him again in a season that's gone south. "The most important thing for me is to be healthy going into next season," he said.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: After a day off Thursday, Boston sends 17-game loser Rick Porcello to the mound in the opener of a three-game interleague series at Cincinnati.

Orioles: Gabriel Ynoa (1-2, 4.18 ERA) helps Baltimore launch a four-game series Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Rays, who - like the Orioles - remain only mathematically alive in the playoff chase.