First Pitch: When losing is winning

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First Pitch: When losing is winning

ARLINGTON, Texas - It's a given that there's no such thing as a meaningless series between the Red Sox and Yankees, and the weekend set that begins Friday night at Yankee Stadium is further proof.

The Red Sox trail the Yankees by 10 12 games in the standings, so to suggest that the outcome of these three games will have some bearing on the divisional race is a stretch.

Even if the Yankees have been stung by a string of recent injuries, topped by Alez Rodriguez's broken hand in Seattle, it seems far more likely that a team other than the Red Sox will be the beneficiary of the Yanks' ill fortune.

The Sox, having lost six of their last seven, have other, more modest goals in their sights. The second wild card would seem to be their best path to the postseason, and for now even that seems unattainable.

But that doesn't render these games meaningless. For the Red Sox, they're indeed critical -- but for reasons that have little to do with their seemingly hopeless pursuit of their archrivals.

Instead, how the Red Sox fare this weekend will have a significant impact on the team's approach to the non-waiver trading deadline, which arrives soon after the Red Sox return to Boston early Monday morning.

Multiple baseball sources indicated Wednesday that general manager Ben Cherington was eyeing the team's play carefully as he decides how to handle the deadline.

Had the Sox won Wednesday's game -- rather than losing, 5-3, at they did to Texas -- and won the series from the first-place Rangers, and followed that with a series win in the Bronx, Cherington might have been motivated to more aggressively pursue help for the season's final two months.

If the Sox had hinted that they were worth investing in, then Cherington would have acted accordingly and gone about the business of looking for starting pitching reinforcements to augment the current rotation.

But dropping the series to the Rangers, followed with the prospect of a rough weekend against the Yankees, could push Cherington into full-on sell mode.

After all, what's the sense of packaging valauble prospects for pitching help to push the Red Sox across the playoff finish line when there's every chance that the team's stay in the postseason might not last more than a single game in the new winner-take-all, wild-card format?

As it is, a short-term rental such as Zack Greinke or Ryan Demptster is already virtually out of the question, especially considering the changes in the new collective bargaining agreement which make rentals more problematic than ever.

It's hard to justify shipping off two upper-tier prospects for the sake of a one-game playoff, especially given that teams can no longer recoup draft picks by offering newly-acquired free-agents-to-be arbitration.

Landing a player who isn't eligible for free agency until after 2013 -- such as Matt Garza -- might make somewhat more sense, since such a player would be under the team's control for all of next season, too. And unlike rentals, players with more than this year remaining can return draft picks if they sign elsewhere.

Left in limbo, at least until after this weekend at least, are such spare parts as Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Sweeney, both of whom have value and could be dealt for some return if the Sox determine by Tuesday that all hope is essentially lost.

In that sense, as counterintuitive as it may be, the Sox might be better off losing the series and cashing in on what has all the appearances of a lost season.

At nearly 100 games in, the Sox are below .500 and can't seem to gain any traction. They're like a overheated car in stop-and-go beach traffic, lurching forward for a short while, only to just as quickly stall and sputter.

Putting competitive pride aside, the Sox might benefit by some losses, since it will give them the go-ahead to pull the plug on 2012 and begin the process of getting ready for 2013 months ahead of schedule.

Shoppach, Sweeney and perhaps a bullpen arm can be auctioned to the highest bidders and prospects won't be needless sacrificed for the illusion of short-term gain.

For once, then, Red Sox and Yankee fans might agree on something, with both sets -- one silently and full of shame, of course -- rooting for the same team and the same result starting Friday night.

As expected, Red Sox send Swihart to Pawtucket

As expected, Red Sox send Swihart to Pawtucket

Blake Swihart wasn't going to win a job. Monday merely made that official.

Swihart was optioned out as the Red Sox made further cuts, sending a player who could still be the Red Sox catcher of the future -- well, one of them anyway -- to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he's expected to work on his receiving.

Swihart hit .325 in 40 Grapefruit League at-bats.

"Had a very strong camp and showed improvements defensively. Swung the bat very well," manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida.  "For the player that he is and the person that he is, you love him as a person. He's a hell of a talented player.

"He made some subtle adjustments with his setup [defensively]. That gave him a different look to pitchers on the mound. Pitchers talked positively about the look that they got from him behind the plate. I think it softened his hands somewhat to receive the ball better. And there were a number of occasions where he was able to get a pitchers' pitch called for a strike, so the presentation of the umpire was a little bit more subtle and consistent then maybe years' past."

Sandy Leon's hot hitting in 2016 earned him an automatic crack at the lead catching spot for this year. Combined with the fact that Christian Vazquez looks great defensively, went deep on Sunday and is out of options, Swihart was the obvious odd man out.

He had options, the others didn't.

Deven Marrero was also optioned to Pawtucket. Sam Travis -- who, like Swihart, could break camp with the 2018 team -- was reassigned to minor-league camp, as was catcher Dan Butler.

The Sox have 38 players left in camp, 32 from the 40-man roster.

Red Sox reliever Tyler Thornburg likely headed to disabled list

Red Sox reliever Tyler Thornburg likely headed to disabled list

Righty Tyler Thornburg seems a guarantee to join David Price on the disabled list to start the season.

Thornburg, the biggest acquisition Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made for the bullpen this winter, was scratched Monday because of a spasm in his upper right trapezius — not a great sign for a pitcher who already had throwing shoulder issues this spring.

Sox manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida the spasm was “not shoulder related.”  But the trap, a large muscle along the neck and back, does extend to the shoulder blade.

Dombrowski told reporters it is most likely that Thornburg starts the year on the disabled list. More is expected to be known Tuesday, possibly after an MRI.

Robby Scott could be a replacement for Thornburg. If so, the Sox would likely have three lefties in the bullpen, along with Fernando Abad and Robbie Ross Jr.

"Possibly. Possibly," Dombrowski said of Scott. “We still have to make those decisions. But possibly.”

Dombrowski didn’t indicate a desire to go outside the organization for now.

Thornburg had barely enough time to get ready for Opening Day prior to Monday’s setback. If he indeed starts the season on the DL, Joe Kelly would be the eighth-inning reliever for the Sox — a role Kelly was headed for anyway given Thornburg’s shaky spring.

Thornburg, 28, had a 2.15 ERA last season for the Brewers. The Sox picked him up at the winter meetings in a deal that sent Travis Shaw and prospects to the Milwaukee Brewers.