Boston Red Sox

Lavarnway 'focused' in his big league debut

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Lavarnway 'focused' in his big league debut

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs

KANSAS CITY Ryan Lavarnway knew this day was coming, given his strong minor-league season, but in words that Sox GM Theo Epstein must have loved to hear he also likes to keep his head out of the roster at the Major League level.

The 24-year-old catcherdesignated hitter was too busy putting up eye-popping power numbers at Triple-A to worry about the ifs, buts and when surrounding his big league debut, but he also admitted that the whirlwind day trip to Kansas City was a little nerve-wracking.

It was pretty bad on the plane . . . I had some knots in my stomach, said Lavarnway. Now that Im here its kinda back to business. Cage-work, batting practice and the routine is going to kind of help me get back into it.

It also sounds like the Yale-educated ballplayer is going to keep it simple, and thats likely what catcher Jason Varitek expressed to him in a lengthy meeting between all three catchers and Gary Tuck prior to the Thursdays series opener at Kauffman Stadium.

Lavarnway, serving as the designated hitter in David Ortiz' absence, batted seventh in his big-league debut and went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. But his first game was a success anyway, as the Sox beat the Royals, 4-3.

Im trying to get focused and helping us to win the game tonight, Lavarnway said before the game. Trying to do what I do best. I have a middle-of-the-field approach and Im trying to drive the ball gap-to-gap.

Lavarnway was called up to Boston on Thursday morning when the Sox placed Kevin Youkilis on the 15-day disabled list with a strained or sprained lower back according to Sox manager Terry Francona. Randy Williams was designated for assignment to make room for Lavarnway on the 40-man roster. So the right-handed slugger, who swatted 30 home runs in 110 minor-league games this season and put up a .991 OPS in Pawtucket, is going to give a shot at injecting some punch into a Sox attack weakened without the dangerous bats of Ortiz and Youkilis.

Did the Sox skipper know Lavarnway would be knocking on the door after only a handful of at bats in spring training?

He went to Double-A and just mashed, and then did the same thing at Triple-A. Lavarnway just knocked the door down, said Francona.

It would be a welcomed sight if Lavarnway shows off some of the prodigious pop hes flashed all season in both Portland and Pawtucket. The scouting reports from the minor leagues have been off the charts this season for the rookie right-handed slugger, and its a big reason the Sox shut down all trade requests for Lavarnway prior to July 31.

Hes a tremendous hitter . . . especially for power. He started off in Double-A and continued up to Triple-A. Hes worked so hard on his catching, and I think at this point youd say he was an average catcher, said Francona. Thats where he has some work to do. He may not catch while hes here with us, but hopefully he hits a few home runs.

Sox officials expect Youkilis will be ready to rejoin the Sox once his 15 days on the disabled list are over, and perhaps the two weeks off will be beneficial for a player annoyed by nagging physical issues pretty much all season.

Structurally I think he came out of the testing pretty sound, and he had an injection, said Francona. Hell take some time to let that recover, and I think his body was so beat up anyway that the back was the last straw really put him over the edge. Were hoping this can allow him to be Kevin Youkilis again because I think after the game it was getting pretty obvious he needed to get it checked out.

So the Sox will be without both Youkilis and Ortiz heel for at least a week and perhaps longer Francona didnt rule out the DL for Ortiz if his heel doesnt improve and said that its up to the collective team to not let the injuries affect them.

Certainly players like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez will need to continue their MVP-level play, and a season underachiever like Carl Crawford would probably need to finally start carrying the team this season.

You lose one and its kind of a big deal, and you lose two and it doesnt help, said Francona. Our challenge is not let it affect us winning games. Thats what well do. Whether its having Pedroia batting cleanup or move Jed up to secondwhoever plays we need to win. Thats the idea.

The team effort to battle through some August adversity begins in Kansas City, and could be the difference between the A.L. East crown and the wild card.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs.

How Drew Pomeranz, 2nd best lefty in the American League, can be even better

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How Drew Pomeranz, 2nd best lefty in the American League, can be even better

BOSTON — Drew Pomeranz may not technically be the No. 2 for the Red Sox in this year’s presumed American League Division Series. Maybe the Red Sox will mix in a right-hander between Pomeranz and Chris Sale.

Either way, everyone knows which pitcher, in spirit, has been the second-most reliable for the Red Sox. A day after Chris Sale notched his 300th strikeout and on the final off-day of the regular season, it’s worth considering the importance of the other excellent lefty on the Sox, and how much he’s meant to a team that’s needed surprise performances because of the lineup’s drop-off.

Per FanGraphs’ wins above replacement, Pomeranz is the second-most valuable lefthanded starter among those qualified in the American League (you know who's No. 1). He's one of the 10 best starters in the AL overall.

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The 28-year-old Pomeranz was a first-round pick seven years ago. But he didn’t exactly blossom until the last two years. He has a 3.15 ERA in 165 2/3 innings. His next start, if decent, should give him a career-high in innings after he threw 170 2/3 last year.

Pomeranz is a 16-game winner, just one win behind Sale. The value of wins and losses is known to be nil, but there’s still a picture of reliability that can be gleaned.

Is this the year Pomeranz became the pitcher he always envisioned he would be?

“I don’t know, I mean, I had a pretty dang good year last year,” Pomeranz said, referring to a 3.32 ERA between the Padres and Sox, and an All-Star selection. “I think these last two years have been kind of you know, more what I wanted to be like. But I still, I don’t think I’m done yet, you know what I mean?”

Most pro athletes say there’s always room to improve. Pomeranz, however, was able to specify what he wants. The focus is on his third and fourth pitches: his cutter and his change-up. 

“My change-up’s been really good this year,” Pomeranz said. “That’s something that still can go a lot further. And same with my cutter too. I still use it sparingly. I don’t think me just being a six-inning guy is the end of it for me either.

“You set personal goals. You want to throw more innings, cover more innings so the bullpen doesn’t have to cover those. Helps save them for right now during the year.”

Early in the year, Pomeranz wasn’t using his cutter much. He threw just nine in April, per BrooksBaseball.net. That led to talk that he wasn’t throwing the pitch to take it easy on his arm. He did start the year on the disabled list, after all, and cutters and sliders can be more stressful on the elbow and forearm.

That wasn’t the case.

“The reason I didn’t throw it in the beginning of the year was because half the times I threw it went the other way,” Pomeranz said. “It backed up. Instead of cutting, it was like sinking or running back. I mean, I pitched [in Baltimore] and gave up a home run to [Manny] Machado, we were trying to throw one in and it went back. So I didn’t trust it.

“Mechanical thing. I was still trying to clean my mechanics up, and once I cleaned ‘em up and got my arm slot right, then everything started moving the way it was supposed to and then I started throwing it more.”

Pomeranz’s cutter usage, and how he developed the pitch heading into 2016, has been well documented.

The change-up is more of an X-factor. He threw five in each of his last two starts, per Brooks, and it’s a pitch he wants to use more.

“It’s been good,” Pomeranz said. “I think I could throw it a lot more and a lot more effectively, and ... tweaking of pitch selection probably could help me get into some of those later innings too.”

Well, then why not just throw the change more often? Easier said than done when you’re talking about your fourth pitch in a key moment.

“I throw a few a game,” Pomeranz said. “Sometimes you feel like you don’t want too throw it in situations where you get beat with your third or fourth best pitch. I mean it’s felt — every time I’ve thrown it it’s been consistent. It’s just a matter of, it’s something me and Vazqy [Christian Vazquez] talk about too." 

(When you hear these kind of issues, which most pitchers deal with, it makes you appreciate Sale’s ability to throw any pitch at any time even more.)

Speaking on Wednesday, the day after Pomeranz’s most recent outing, Sox pitching coach Willis said he thinks the change-up’s already starting to have a greater presence.

“He’s kind of always had a changeup, and he hadn’t had any trust or conviction in that pitch,” Willis said. “I was really excited last night that he used the changeup more. He threw it. He doubled up with it on occasion. Something that’s not in the scouting report.

"It’s his fourth pitch and he seldom threw it in a game and he’s in a situation where, OK, the change-up’s the right pitch, but location of whatever I throw is going to outweigh [selection]. Now he’s starting to gain that confidence [that he can locate it]. 

“I think that’s going to make him an extremely better pitcher. I thought it was a huge factor in his outing last night. Because he didn’t have his best velocity. He really did a good job of changing speeds with the changeup, and obviously with the curveball and being able to give different shapes of the pitches.”

The Sox already have the best left-hander in the AL, if not anywhere. The AL's second-best southpaw happens to pitch on the same team, and has tangible plans to be even better.

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Werner criticizes Price for Eck incident; says Sox' relationship with Yanks is 'frosty'

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Werner criticizes Price for Eck incident; says Sox' relationship with Yanks is 'frosty'

BOSTON — Red Sox chairman Tom Werner doesn’t seem to be the biggest fan of the the Yankees, MLB disciplinarian Joe Torre, and players who can’t take criticism from broadcasters.

In a spot Thursday with WEEI, Werner made clear David Price’s handling of Dennis Eckersley was unprofessional.

“Boston is a tough place to play,” Werner said on WEEI’s Ordway, Merlonia and Fauria. “Some players thrive here, and some players don’t. Get a thicker skin. My feeling is, let the broadcasts be honest, be personable, informative, and get over it if you think a certain announcer took a shot at you.”

“I thought there was a way of handling that. It wasn’t handled appropriately. If I’ve got a problem with Lou [Merloni], and I hear something he says on the radio, I’ll say to Lou, ‘That wasn’t fair.’ ”

Werner also called the team’s relationship with the Yankees “frosty” following the public sign-stealing saga that resulted in fines for both clubs.

“The fact is, I do think this was a minor technical violation,” Werner said. “I start with the fact that this was unfortunately raised to a level it never should have been raised to.”

Werner also insinuated he did not approve of how MLB and Torre handled the disciplining of Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, who receieved a four-game suspension for his part in a fight against the Tigers (reduced on appeal to three games).

“Do you think Gary Sanchez got an appropriate punishment?” Werner asked.