Boston Red Sox

First Pitch: Sox find a winner in Morales

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First Pitch: Sox find a winner in Morales

SEATTLE - In defeat, sometimes there are discoveries.

Thursday night, while much of New England slept, the Red Sox found something, even as they were suffering a frustrating 1-0 setback to the Seattle Mariners.

When Franklin Morales limited the lowly Chicago Cubs to just two runs over five innings almost two weeks ago at Wrigley Field, the Red Sox were pleasantly surprised. Morales had, on short notice, been thrown into the rotation as a fill-in for Josh Beckett, and Morales had given them a quality start out of nowhere. He was, after all, making his first start in more than three years.

When Morales pitched well again in his next outing, the Sox took more notice, as he allowed two earned runs over six innings to a better offense, the Atanta Braves.

But when Morales went pitch for pitch, scoreless inning for scoreless inning, with Felix Hernandez Thursday night in the opener of the Sox' West Coast road swing, they became true believers.

Three starts or not, Morales is now officially beyond fluke status.

"He's done an incredible job,'' said Adrian Gonzalez. "We all knew he had that in him. He just feels the game really good. He understands how to pitch guys. It was King Franklin vs. King Felix today.''

Morales now made three starts for the Sox and has struck out 24 hitters over 18 innings while issuing just three walks, and became the first Red Sox starter since Curt Schilling to strike out at least seven in each of his first three starts in a season.

The same guy who was a decent middle reliever just over two weeks ago now is a dominating starter.

Bobby Valentine thought Morales would be well-suited to start, but surely even he could not have imagined that Morales would be this good.

"Well, I don't think anyone can pitch like this all season,'' cautioned Valentine. "But he's pitched extremely well. He's been aggressive in the strike zone. He's been consistent with all three pitches in the strike zone. He's thrown them anytime in the count. He's pitching in-and-out and up-and-down. That's what you teach.''

What's even more incredible is how quickly Morales has ramped up his arm strength. Until the Wrigley debut, he had only pitched more than two innings twice.

Now, three starts in, he was able to give the Sox 109 pitches, the second-highest total of his career.

"He's been outstanding,'' said outfielder Cody Ross. "He's got outstanding stuff. His curveball is really good. His split-change -- or whatever that thing is -- is filthy. He'll throw it in all counts. And he can throw 96, too. You get a combination like that, and he doesn't have that smooth delivery. It's kind of herky-jerky and it messes up guys' timing.''

"He controls his fastball at 96 mph and it's tough to do that,'' said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

But Saltalamacchia thinks it's determination as much as stuff that has made Morales so good.

"He wants to pitch, he wants to start,'' said Saltalamacchia. "He's making his case.''

Indeed he is. Beckett, whom Morales replaced, returns Saturday, but the Red Sox are going with a six-man rotation for the rest of the next week or so.

After that, there are no assurances, no guarantees that Morales will remain in the rotation.

But he sure looks like, somehow, he's here to stay. How can the Sox take him out of the rotation the way he's throwing?

"It's not on my calendar of things to do,'' said a smiling Valentine.

Drellich: Injuries for Betts, Pedroia, Nunez, unnerving in final week

Drellich: Injuries for Betts, Pedroia, Nunez, unnerving in final week

BOSTON — Even before Mookie Betts wrist flared up and Eduardo Nunez re-aggravated his knee Monday, the Red Sox’ health situation looked tenuous heading into the final week of the regular season. Particularly when it came to position players. Dustin Pedroia was out of the lineup Monday after a 1-for-26 road trip.

Now the scene turns scary. Consider that every other American League team that has clinched a postseason spot (or in the case of the Twins, is expected to) is one of the majors’ top five teams in runs scored per game: the Astros, Yankees, Indians and Twins. The Sox are 10th. 

The Sox lineup lacks firepower to begin with. Losing any more at this time of year is a recipe for a rough October.

"It sucks. It sucks," Nunez said. "Especially this time of year when it's close to the playoffs. It sucks."

The regular-season results show the Sox have adapted well overall when guys like Pedroia and Nunez have missed time. But that’s the regular season, and adding Betts to the mix is just disquieting.

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Nunez on Monday returned to the lineup for the first time in 16 days. Now he isn’t expected back until during the Astros series, his right knee injury re-aggravated

But there’s room for good news yet. Betts is to get his left wrist examined Tuesday. A positive prognosis there, and there should be a sense of a crisis averted. On Monday night, he expected to be fine, but he also didn't know what was going on. 

Farrell before the game made clear Nunez wasn’t exactly full go yet.

“[His return is] quicker than what it possibly could have been. You’re talking about a ligament damage to the PCL [posterior cruciate ligament] and I know it’s less severe than an ACL/MCL, but still it’s about pain tolerance,” Farrell said. “It’s about managing it. His body has to recondition to take care of that. His muscles have to respond in a different way. … If he feels a little bit of a zinger, that’s going to go away. He’s not putting himself at further risk.”

Farrell said after the game the feeling is Nunez didn’t do any new damage, but nonetheless, it’s easy to think now the Sox should have waited longer

Meanwhile, Pedroia’s been managing a left knee injury all season and didn’t play.

“When the knee starts to talk back to him a little bit, we’ve all got to listen to it and give him a down day,” Farrell said. “I would expect him to be back on the  field tomorrow.”

Farrell thought it reasonable to connect the knee to Pedroia’s recent poor performance hitting wise.

All year, resiliency has been a buzzword for Sox because of their propensity for late-inning comebacks. Sunday’s eighth-inning rally against the Reds was the latest example, leading to the Sox’ 42nd come-from-behind win. 

How they’ve dealt with a variety of health situations adds another layer to their reputation for handling adversity. Per spotrac.com, the Sox have had the fifth most disabled list days this season, 1,601. 

The Indians were doubted going into last year’s postseason because of health situations with their pitching. They did pretty well. But it’d also be foolish to minimize the importance of injuries to Pedroia, Nunez and Betts, and how they look heading into October.

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Mookie Betts to get left wrist examined Tuesday

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Mookie Betts to get left wrist examined Tuesday

BOSTON — First Mookie Betts right hand was bothering him. Now his left wrist is acting up to the point he was pulled from Monday's 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays in the eighth inning and is headed for an exam to find out what's going on Monday.

"I’m not really that concerned. I think I’m  going to be fine," Betts said. "Just a couple days ago. I just took a swing and felt it. It’s just been kind of painful for swings, but that’s just the part of the season."

Betts felt it again on a swing Monday.

Betts, who's always a calm guy, didn't seem to be particularly worried. But when he was asked to describe the sensation, it sounded far from pleasant.

"Just like a sharp pain," Betts said. "I can’t really move my hand for a little bit, but I think, again, I don’t really know what’s going on. We’ll find out tomorrow."

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