Boston Red Sox

Drellich: Sandoval, Sox figured out support system too late

Drellich: Sandoval, Sox figured out support system too late

BOSTON — Pablo Sandoval’s Red Sox career seems a case of too little too late.

Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski on Friday said there were “other issues” at play for Sandoval. He did not call them off-the-field issues, but that seems a matter of semantics — something was, or some things were, going on in his life that contributed to his downfall with the Sox.

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“I could say in 2017, and really into 2016 in the winter time, he worked hard,” Dombrowski said. “We had people that worked for him. He had some issues that he was dealing with that really probably didn't get him into shape, that didn't get him into the shape we would have liked. But there was more to it that I can't really get into, private type of issues for him. But I will say that since I've been here — I can't speak for before I was here — his effort level has been good. But I think we have had, going into 2016, going into his surgery, once he had that surgery we had a more comprehensive program ourselves to address a lot of different things that needed to be addressed.”

Sandoval may well have a career revival with another organization. He has a good track record against right-handed pitching. The Red Sox, don’t forget, said they would have preferred Sandoval stay in the minors with them and get every day at-bats.

But now that Sandoval’s Sox career is over, you have to wonder if there were red flags that were missed, or misjudged. 

Could those “other issues” that cropped up with Sandoval been discovered by the Red Sox previously, if they previously existed? Were they known, but ignored, or underestimated?

That “more comprehensive program” Dombrowski referred to sounds like something that could have been in place sooner. Particularly when it comes to the oversight of Sandoval’s eating habits — the one area that was publicly known to be a problem for Sandoval well before he joined the Red Sox.

Here’s how the Red Sox look at it: for one, it takes two to tango. Any player has to want to help himself. There were mechanisms in place to help Sandoval and his nutrition from the day he got to Boston. Clearly, those mechanisms evolved, as Dombrowski spoke about. 

Here’s the other, perhaps most important point: with any player, it’s hard to know exactly what their needs are until they’re in house. 

Once you’re living with someone, you learn a lot more about them. The best scouting in the world doesn’t compare to having a player in your organization, and the Red Sox have great scouting. 

Still, that reality doesn’t eliminate a question of whether the Sox-Sandoval acquaintance process was too slow.

Sandoval did tell ESPN over the winter that he had become complacent, but work ethic never seemed to be the primary issue. Consider what Giants manager Bruce Bochy said on MLB Network Radio in 2013 about Sandoval, whose best years were with the Giants.

“He knows long term he’s got to get some [weight] off,” Bochy said four years ago of Sandoval. “Because it’s going to help him, it’s going to help his career. He’s so good he gets away with it right now. Another two three years from now, it’s going to catch up with him.

“He’s done all he can do as far as the conditioning part. We work him as hard as any player I’ve ever had. … He’s doing cardio two or three times a day.”

Eating was the problem. (Or at least, one of them.)

“Unfortunately, he’s not shown the discipline we would like at the table, and that’s what’s getting him right now,” Bochy said. “It’s hard to play third base if you’re overweight. You got to come in on a slow roller and it cuts down your range.”

It’s almost like Bochy predicted the future. 

“He just got to be able to control himself a little bit,” Bochy continued. “Some of us don’t have the best genes. … It’s a tough thing to beat. Pablo, he’s got to do it, for his future.”

Were the Red Sox listening loudly enough? Was Sandoval?

A former private trainer of Sandoval’s from his time with the Giants, Ethan Banning, said last year the Sox never reached out to him as they pursued Sandoval. Banning detailed how he helped control both what Sandoval ate and drank — minimal booze — and how rapidly Sandoval could gain weight.

“I care about him greatly,” said Banning, who lost touch with Sandoval after the 2011-12 offseason. “But it’s a tough love. He needs to be smart enough to say there’s a problem. It’s like the alcoholic that won’t admit he’s an alcoholic: well, you can’t address that you’re an alcoholic if you don’t ever admit there’s a problem.

“He’s proven to me and shown consistently that he’s got to have somebody like me holding his hand doing that. And it’s not an exercise thing, it’s an eating thing. Obviously exercise is an important factor in it, a very important factor, but eating is going to be the component that needs to be managed and monitored. We had a chef on staff that cooked all his meals.”

The Red Sox, over this past offseason, seemed to figure out the level of support Sandoval needed. Sandoval also might have figured out what he needed in the last year.

It’s too bad it didn’t happen sooner.

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.