Boston Red Sox

Drellich: Red Sox morph from disappointing favorites to scrappy underdogs

Drellich: Red Sox morph from disappointing favorites to scrappy underdogs

BOSTON -- The Red Sox are underdogs. They’re more lovable that way, if the fans notice what's happened to a team everyone thought would dominate. And the players might actually benefit from the realization that last year’s performance doesn’t matter four months into 2017. From the humility that can be found in their own shortcomings.

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Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel are typically dynamite, despite forgettable nights on Tuesday. But the supporting cast -- the Killer B’s, Hanley Ramirez, Rick Porcello -- has dropped off from a year ago.

Sure, Mookie Betts is excellent. But he's not all that and a bag of chips as he was last year.

Enter the role players, the run-of-the-mill names, now more central to success.

Christian Vazquez, the No. 9 hitter, went deep and was barely around third base when he flipped his helmet in the air Tuesday night, preparing for teammates to slap him as he reached home plate in the ninth inning of a 12-10 walk-off win.

When the helmet went airborne, Eduardo Nunez broke away from the pack to catch it.

Where the heck did this guy come from?

Nunez, billed as a utility player in the press release that announced his arrival from San Francisco Giants, is hitting like Nomar. His 4 RBIs on Tuesday matched a career-high. He’s done it three times in eight seasons and 636 games, and he’s just five games into his time in Boston.

Rafael Devers, who is not old enough to legally have a postgame beer, has a .500 on-base percentage through his first 32 career plate appearances. His single started the ninth-inning rally against closer Cody Allen on Tuesday.

There’s a new energy at play here, and it’s not about established star power.

“There’s certainly a newness that surrounds guys in your team, in your dugout, certainly your lineup, and the start that [Nunez and Devers] have gotten off to, there’s confidence each time they’ve stepped into the box,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “For a guy 20 years of age, there’s a lot of confidence that rings through everyone that’s watching him. Both of those guys, hard contact, a lot of it, and much needed, I will say that.”

Four months into the regular season, it’s clear who has fallen short of expectations, and what teams have caught up to or even leapfrogged the Sox.

The Yankees are division favorites now. The Dodgers are a super team. The Astros lineup overshadows anyone’s.

Enter Vazquez and Nunez. Enter Mitch Moreland, who’s re-emerging from a long slump caused by a fractured right toe that screwed up his lower-half mechanics. Tuesday’s home run was his first since June 26.

The 2017 Red Sox were simply anointed kings too quickly after they stormed to a division title last year. Now, in a year where identity has been a strange concept in the Red Sox clubhouse, being an underdog is one they should embrace -- mainly because it’s just reality.

Dustin Pedroia and David Price are both on the disabled list and are dealing with persistent injuries. The Yankees got a gaggle of strong players via trade, while the Sox landed righty Addison Reed in addition to Nunez at the deadline. (Reed’s eighth-inning debut wasn’t inspiring, with a home run allowed, but he has time to make other impressions.)

Yu Darvish didn't walk through any door on Yawkey Way yesterday.

The pendulum is swinging, and it's taken the sense of superiority away from the Red Sox. At least, it should have.

Andrew Benintendi is to return to the lineup Wednesday, said Farrell. The rookie is just one of many young players on the Red Sox who is managing expectations: if not necessarily the outside world’s, than his own. Most likely, both.

“The game is the greatest teacher we have,” Farrell said. “If you’re talking about Benny, who is in his first full season here, he’s gone through some periods where he’s come up dry. He’s been forced to make adjustments at the plate. He talked openly about it [Monday] when we had a little bit of a sitdown that game-plan, information travels quick.

“So as he’s adjusting to one, the opponent is at times one step ahead of him, but part of playing in a major market, part of playing here is going to be what goes on and what is said outside. The best that they can do and I think to a good extent, they’re keeping that in perspective and blocking it out as best as possible.”

The outside expectations are that the Red Sox aren't the best anymore.

They're talented, but hardly driving a runaway train.

It's OK to be an underdog, relatively speaking. It might even be a good thing. Embrace it.

How Drew Pomeranz, 2nd best lefty in the American League, can be even better

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How Drew Pomeranz, 2nd best lefty in the American League, can be even better

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

Either way, 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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The 28-year-old Pomeranz 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 change-up’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 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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Werner criticizes Price for Eck incident; says Sox' relationship with Yanks is 'frosty'

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Werner criticizes Price for Eck incident; says Sox' relationship with Yanks is 'frosty'

BOSTON — Red Sox chairman Tom Werner doesn’t seem to be the biggest fan of the the Yankees, MLB disciplinarian Joe Torre, and players who can’t take criticism from broadcasters.

In a spot Thursday with WEEI, Werner made clear David Price’s handling of Dennis Eckersley was unprofessional.

“Boston is a tough place to play,” Werner said on WEEI’s Ordway, Merlonia and Fauria. “Some players thrive here, and some players don’t. Get a thicker skin. My feeling is, let the broadcasts be honest, be personable, informative, and get over it if you think a certain announcer took a shot at you.”

“I thought there was a way of handling that. It wasn’t handled appropriately. If I’ve got a problem with Lou [Merloni], and I hear something he says on the radio, I’ll say to Lou, ‘That wasn’t fair.’ ”

Werner also called the team’s relationship with the Yankees “frosty” following the public sign-stealing saga that resulted in fines for both clubs.

“The fact is, I do think this was a minor technical violation,” Werner said. “I start with the fact that this was unfortunately raised to a level it never should have been raised to.”

Werner also insinuated he did not approve of how MLB and Torre handled the disciplining of Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, who receieved a four-game suspension for his part in a fight against the Tigers (reduced on appeal to three games).

“Do you think Gary Sanchez got an appropriate punishment?” Werner asked.