First Pitch: Monday, September 12

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First Pitch: Monday, September 12

By ArtMartone
CSNNE.com

Welcome to First Pitch, aquick spin around the world of Major League Baseball . . . or at leastthe corner of it that most concerns the Red Sox. For a complete wrapupof Sunday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's AndThatHappened(hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).

MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE: If you live in central Florida, well, these are glorious times. (St. Petersburg Times)

Up here? Not so much. (boston.com)

The Red Sox' lead in the wild-card race -- once so substantial that barely anyone knew just how big it was, since nobody was looking at it -- is down to three in the loss column after Sunday's embarrassing 9-1 loss to the Rays (csnne.com), their third straight at The Trop and fifth in a row overall. The Yankees had been keeping the Sox in the division hunt with a slump of their own, but that may have ended yesterday. (New York Daily News) Now the focus is solely holding off Tampa Bay, and the Rays have made it clear they're in this for the duration. "I think we're a good enough team to beat those guys," said James Shields, who led Tampa Bay to victory yesterday. (Tampa Tribune)

For their part, the Sox are speaking bravely, too. "We've overcome a lot worse than this," said Jon Lester (csnne.com), though he didn't say when . . . and nothing really leaps to mind. "At the end of the day, we're going to win the wild card or the division," Adrian Gonzalez said flatly (Boston Herald).

Truth be told, Gonzalez is probably right. The Sox are heading home for a 10-game homestand, they don't figure to stumble around like this for 2 12 more weeks -- though it would help if Lester, their lone healthy (good) starter, doesn't continue to come up small when the situation screams for something big (csnne.com) -- and the Rays now head out for 11 straight on the road. But it's not a fait accompli; the Sox are going to have to start playing better. The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo thinks Terry Francona has to abandon his low-key approach and turn up the heat, which will certainly be the talk radio strategy of choice over the next few days.

Oh, and those of you bemoaning the lack of pennant races this September? Be careful what you wish for.
WHAT RACE? IT'S OVER! ESPN's David Schoenfield declares the Rays will win the wild card.

SOUND FAMILIAR? The Cardinals swept the Braves this weekend, cutting Atlanta's once-formidable N.L. wild-card lead to 4 12 games. But foxsports.com's Jon Paul Morosi thinks the Sox and Braves with both hold on . . . maybe.

SPEAKING OF TALK RADIO: This will certainly warm the hearts of the "He only won because he had Dan Duquette's players!He only wins because the Red Sox are rich!Renteria! Gagne! Lugo! Drew!" crowd. (Chicago Tribune)

On further reflection, maybe the "Fran-coma" people will be happy, too.

MORE BAD NEWS: An injury is going to force the Rays to take Kyle Farnsworth -- who had the potential to be an embedded weapon for the Sox -- out of the closer's role. (Tampa Tribune)

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT . . . The Pawtucket Red Sox' season is over. (Providence Journal)

OLD FRIENDS: Anthony Rizzo is in a 2-for-34 slump with the Padres (rotoworld.com) . . . Adrian Beltre, on the other hand, is on a tear (ESPN Dallas) . . . Coco Crisp is hurting. (oakland.athletics.mlb.com)

AND FINALLY . . . Can someone please explain this? At least in a way that doesn't make MLB look even worse than it looks right now? (New York Daily News)

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

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.”

Red Sox claim right-hander Doug Fister off waivers

Red Sox claim right-hander Doug Fister off waivers

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.

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).