PROVIDENCE Red Sox manager John Farrell will be hopscotching southern states this weekend, hoping to see a few of his players. On Friday, he will travel to Dallas to see John Lackey and Will Middlebrooks. On Saturday, he will go to the teams spring training complex in Fort Myers, where left-handers Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales are among the early arrivals.But it is perhaps his trip on Sunday to Mississippi, with new pitching coach Juan Nieves, that could answer many questions for the Sox.Farrell and Nieves will watch right-hander Daniel Bard throw. It will be the first time Bard will be throwing from a mound this offseason.Farrell saw from afar the effects of Bards disastrous foray into starting pitching last season. It was Bards meltdown in Toronto in June, with Farrell managing in the home teams dugout, that resulted in Bard being demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, lugging a record of 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA. Farrell has talked with Bard frequently this offseason and has watched video of the right-hander who had been one of baseballs top set-up men prior to 2012.Theres some changes you can identify there, Farrell said. And in talking with Daniel the most encouraging thing in a situation like this is that hes aware of the changes that have taken place. Now unwinding those changes and getting him back to the basics, and when I say basics of what hes demonstrated previously and the strengths that he has, I think most importantly hes got a clear view of where that needs to settle in from, not only from a delivery standpoint but from an aggressive simplified approach.And I think as a starter last year he tried to manipulate the ball a little bit too much, maybe be a little bit too fine in ways where he was trying to induce a ground ball a lot rather than staying with that aggressive approach that has made him successful in Boston.In their talks this offseason, Farrell has noticed a change.If I were to map it out, and actually tell him its gotten better the deeper weve gotten in the offseason, Farrell said. And I think as hes picked up a ball and gotten back into the throwing program hes felt somethings naturally come back to him, particularly his arm slot.Im not going to say time cures all. Thats not, were not just going to put his challenges aside and pretend that they didnt happen. But I think as hes gotten further away from it hes had a fresh outlook to this. The workouts hes gone through this offseason have been very consistent and strong and just the tone and confidence from which he speaks from is another step in the right direction. Thatll all be solidified as he commands a baseball in spring training and starts to get some tangible results once he steps on a mound.
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.”
Dustin Pedroia (ribcage) was out of the initial Red Sox lineup on Friday but was later added. Farrell said in the afternoon that Pedroia would be available by emergency Fridayand expected to be back in the lineup Saturday, but clearly, something changed.
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.
Doug Fister is headed to the Red Sox after opting out of his deal with the Angels: https://t.co/zCFOCAmoRy— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) June 23, 2017
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).