First Pitch: Magadan says Red Sox hitters need better approach

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First Pitch: Magadan says Red Sox hitters need better approach

BOSTON -- No, it's not just your imagination -- the Red Sox have been wildly inconsistent, scoring runs in bunches and, then, not at all.

Case in point: Thursday at Fenway, where the Sox were shut out for the fifth time this season, this time by a 29-year journeyman who was making just the fifth major-league start of his career.

It's been like that a lot of late. In the last month, the Red Sox have scored seven or more runs eight times. Unfortunately for them, there have also been 10 games in which they've scored two or fewer.

That's too much of a fluctuation to suit Dave Magadan, the team's hitting coach, and he's tired of it.

"There's no argument there,'' said Magadan after the 5-0 loss to Minnesota Thursday. "There's a lot of inconsistency. A lot of it -- and I know I've harped on this a lot this year -- is the approach at the plate. You're not going to bang out 15 hits every night. You've got to find ways to get on base, work a count, get a guy's pitch count up. Two-and-half months ago, we were fourth in the league in bases on balls; we're at the bottom now.

"And it has nothing to do with going up there looking for a walk. It has to do with having an approach, having an idea of what you want to do at the plate and if the pitcher doesn't give you the pitch you're looking for, you take the walk. When you don't do that, you have what we have: we score 10, we score 7, we score 1, we score 0, we score 10. It's back and forth and it puts a lot of pressure on the pitching staff. And it's been worse on the road.''

Magadan's remarks echoed that of Dustin Pedroia, who fumed that the team had wasted a good outing from Jon Lester (three runs allowed over eight innings).

"Jon pitched great,'' said Pedroia. "We didn't swing the bats at all. That's basically it. We'll come out and play tomorrow, but today we weren't very good. That's basically it - Jon pitched great and the offense stunk. That's it. There's no more expletive questions or anything like that. You don't have to ask anybody else. Jon pitched great; we stunk.''

That was the second time in the last week that Pedroia felt the need to take the offense to task. Last Friday, he charged that the lineup had "given away at-bats'' in the late innings of 10-3 loss to the Yankees.

Magadan didn't see the same deficiencies Thursday night. The Sox did, after all, make rookie Sam Deduno throw 101 pitches in six innings and worked him for four walks.

But it was the Sox did -- or more specifically didn't do -- with Deduno that made Magadan angry.

"I think we got ourselves in good counts,'' he said, "and didn't do much with the pitches we had. We got into plus counts and either fouled pitches off or were late or didn't take good swings. It's the same old story.''

The dropoff in walks for the Sox has been precipitous. Having David Ortiz out of the lineup for the last two weeks hasn't helped and the decline in run scoring reflects that.

But the problems run deeper than missing Ortiz, since they were evident even when Ortiz was the lineup's biggest producer. Adrian Gonzalez, though he's come around over the last month, has become a far less selective hitter this season. After leading all of major-league baseball in walks as recently as 2009, he's twice had stretches this season in which he went weeks between walks -- from May 16 to June 10, and again, from June 25 to July 31.

Once known for grinding out at-bats and driving up pitch counts, this Red Sox lineup has been almost impatient at times.

But as Magadan emphasized, it isn't just the walk totals that are off; it's the team's approach.

"Sometimes it can be as easy as taking a 1-and-0 pitch when you see the guy struggling to throw the ball over the plate,'' he said. "I think Deduno went 2-and-0 to the first four or five hitters of the game. Sometimes it can be as simple as that -- taking a 1-and-0 pitch to build to 2-and-0, instead of swinging at a 1-and-0 pitch out the zone and making an out. You never force him to continue making pitches.''

Magadan's data suggests that the Sox are seeing a lot of pitches, but in a different way.

"We foul pitches off,'' he said. "We chase pitches out of the strike zone to foul pitches off. It's one thing when you're seeing a lot of pitches and you're getting yourself in hitter's counts; but we're 0-and-1, fouling off a ball, then taking a strike, and foul off another ball. You're not really forcing pitchers to make quality pitches. You're chasing balls out of the zone and it makes his job a lot easier. Instead of having to make three quality pitches to get you out, he's only got to make one.''

The season is at the two-thirds marker and Magadan's frustration level is well past that.

"It's not for lack of work or lackof preaching it or talking about it,'' said Magadan. "Thursday night was pretty frustrating. You've got Jon Lester throwing against a rookie. We felt like we should have put up a better fight. We were facing a guy we've never faced before and we're hacking at balls out of the zone.

"It's frustrating because I know we're better than this. We're going to have to get better. We're down to 56 games left and we've got a lot of teams we have to jump over. Getting shut out isn't going to get us to where we want to be.''

Porcello 'feels as good as I've felt all spring' in Red Sox' 5-3 loss

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Porcello 'feels as good as I've felt all spring' in Red Sox' 5-3 loss

Rick Porcello and Drew Pomeranz combined to allow all five of the Red Sox' runs in Boston's 5-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins.

Porcello finished his start by fanning four, allowing four hits and earning two runs over four innings. Pomeranz followed in the next four innings with four strikeouts, five hits allowed and three earned runs. Pomeranz allowed ByungHo Park's eighth-inning, two-run homer, which ended up being the game-winner.

Porcello, however, was optimistic after the loss.

"The buildup was good," Porcello told reporters, via RedSox.com. "Today I felt as good as I've felt all spring. At this point, I'm ready to go. I'm looking forward to the start of the season."

While the Sox offense was able to get three runs off Ervin Santana in his 4 2/3 innings, they struggled against the Twins' next five pitchers. Xander Bogaerts (2 of 3) and Pablo Sandoval (1 of 3) managed homers. Hanley (3 of 3) Ramirez had a double, and Dustin Pedroia (2 of 3) had two singles.

Kyle Kendrick will start Thursday in the Sox' final Spring Training series against the Washington Nationals. First pitch is at 1:05 p.m. ET.

Who's on first for Red Sox? It may be not someone you'd expect

Who's on first for Red Sox? It may be not someone you'd expect

Who’s on first? A middle infielder, maybe.

Hanley Ramirez, Josh Rutledge and Mitch Moreland aren't fully healthy. So the 25th man on the Red Sox has become a matter of corner-infield triage.

Rutledge was gearing up to play some first base with Ramirez restricted to DH because of his throwing shoulder. But Rutledge is hurt now too, likely headed to the disabled list with a left hamstring strain, Sox manager John Farrell said Wednesday morning in Florida.

Here’s the easiest way to think about who takes Rutledge's place: Who would the Red Sox like to see less against left handed pitching, third baseman Pablo Sandoval or first baseman Mitch Moreland? 

If it’s Sandoval, then you carry Marco Hernandez, who can play third base.

“He’s a very strong candidate,” manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida on Wednesday. “He’s one of a few that are being considered strongly right now.” 

If it’s Moreland, than you carry Steve Selsky, who has a history playing first base.

“He’s a guy we’re having discussions on,” Farrell said. “Any guy in our camp that we feel is going to make us a more complete or balanced roster, Deven Marrero, they’re all in consideration.”

The additional wrench here is that Moreland has the flu. If he's not available at all for a few days to begin the season, then the Sox probably have to carry Hernandez.

Why? Because Brock Holt can play some first base if Moreland is out. But then, you’d need another back-up middle infielder, and Hernandez gives you that. 

Hernandez is also hitting .379 in 58 at-bats this spring entering Wednesday.

Moreland isn’t the only one who has the flu.

"It’s running through our clubhouse," Sox manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida on Wednesday, including the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton. "Probably be held out for three days for a quarantine.” (LINK:http://www.providencejournal.com/sports/20170329/with-josh-rutledge-and-mitch-moreland-ailing-first-base-depth-compromised-for-red-sox)

That means the Red Sox won't have Moreland for their exhibitions against the Nationals on Friday and Saturday in Washington D.C. and Annapolis, Md. Moreland could still be ready for the regular season, but would likely be at less than full strength.

Having Ramirez available would sure make things a lot simpler for the Sox.

Both Sandoval at third base and Moreland could use right-handed bats to complement them. Or more specifically, they could use people who can hit left-handed pitching to complement them.

Hernandez is a left-handed hitter who might actually be able to hit lefties. But the Sox haven't used him at first base, and there's no indication they will.

“As we look at the upcoming games, there is the potential for two left-handed starters in Detroit,” Farrell said. “So there’s a number of things being factored right now.”

Early in spring training, Farrell was asked what player had started to catch his eye.

The guy he mentioned was Selsky, an outfielder and first baseman the Red Sox feel fortunate to have picked up off waivers because he still has minor league options remaining.

Now Selsky, who has already technically been cut from major league spring training, has a chance at making the opening day roster. He's 27 and hit .356 in 45 Grapefruit League at-bats.

Chris Young isn't going to have an easy time finding at-bats as it stands now, but the Sox aren't considering moving him to first base.