Boston Red Sox

Matsuzaka has second straight rough outing

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Matsuzaka has second straight rough outing

By MaureenMullen
CSNNE.com

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - After his last outing, Daisuke Matsuzaka said he wasn't concerned about the results. He was working on a few things. Good thing, because the performance was far from his best.

He also said he would treat his next start as a regular-season start. And that's not so good.

Matsuzaka gave up five runs on five hits in 3 23 innings, with two walks and two strikeouts, in the Red Sox' 8-6 loss to the Rays. According to manager Terry Francona, the problems were familiar -- very familiar -- to any veteran Dice-K watcher.

"He started off, right off the bat, pitching behind in the count," said Francona. "Got himself in trouble, had to throwstrikes, and kind of paid the price for it. It was one of those outingswhere he made it harder than it's supposed to be."

For his part, Matsuzaka backed off his I'll-treat-this-game-as-a-regular-season-start talk and said that he once again was working on things.

"It's difficult to say in words how I performed today," he said through a team translator. "During practice I throw very good pitch in my delivery. However, the result is not following through during the game. At this point, the game is very important and the result is very important. . . . And I'm working on things during practice and didn't really follow through during the game. So, that's something I need to work on for the next time."

Matsuzaka started his outing by walking the first two Rays batters, including No. 2 hitter Johnny Damon on four pitches. After two more batters -- an Evan Longoria single and Matt Joyce sacrifice fly -- the Rays had a 2-0 lead.

But then he settled down a bit.

"The last couple hitters in the first inning and thentimes in the second inning, he threw the ball just like he's supposedto," said Francona. "And because of that, he gets outs."

With two outs in the second, however, he gave up a home run to John Jaso on a 1-and-2 pitch. And he opened the third by giving up consecutive doubles to Zobrist and Damon and a single to Joyce, putting the Sox in a 5-0 hole.

Of the 16 batters he faced, Matsuzaka induced just three groundball outs.

"He gave up some loud contact," said one scout in attendance. "He couldn't get anything down and he was pitching behind too much."

"He struggled with his command for most of his outing," said another scout. "He got behind the hitters too much and left too many pitches up in the zone that were flat."

In his last two outings, Matsuzaka has pitched a combined 6 23 innings, giving up 12 runs (10 earned) on 11 hits and four walks with three strikeouts and two home runs, facing 33 batters. Granted, it's a small sample size but that translates to a very unwelcome 13.49 ERA and 2.25 WHIP.

There were points in the game, though, when Francona was able to see improvements from Matsuzaka's last outing.

"At times today, when he threw the ball like he can, he was fine," Francona said. "But there were also times when he made it difficult to pitch successfully. He looks healthy. The ball's coming out of his hands good. But at times he didn't command very well."

Asked if he is concerned about his last two outings, Matsuzaka replied:

"At this point, I'm not too worried about it, but I feel it's not great."

Despite the results, he was able to find some positives in his outing.

"The catchers and pitching coach said there's a few good pitches and they pointed out about the few good pitches, such as slider and changeup getting better. But at this point, I'm not really satisfied with these pitches. I need to narrow the gap between how I pitch and what others expect.

"Now I see the clear difference between what is a good pitch and what is a bad pitch and more specifically the changeup is working very well. However, the cutter, that's something I need to work on more."

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen

Red Sox rally for 5-4 win over Reds, extend AL East lead

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Red Sox rally for 5-4 win over Reds, extend AL East lead

CINCINNATI - Rafael Devers hit a three-run homer Friday night, and the Boston Red Sox extended their AL East lead to four games by overcoming Scooter Gennett's fourth grand slam of the season for a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Boston added to its lead with the help of the Yankees' 8-1 loss at Toronto. The Red Sox have won 12 of 15, keeping the Yankees at bay while moving a season-high 25 games over .500 (89-64).

Their AL Cy Young Award winner is still struggling heading into playoff time.

Rick Porcello gave up Gennett's fourth grand slam - a Reds' season record - in the first inning. He lasted a season-low four innings, turning a 5-4 lead over to the bullpen. Porcello has lost 17 games - most in the majors - after winning 22 last year along with the Cy Young.

Part of Porcello's problem has been a lack of run support. Boston has been blanked while he's on the mound in 10 of his losses. This time, the Red Sox got him off the hook, overcoming Gennett's career-high 27th homer with the help of Devers' three-run shot off Sal Romano (5-7).

The Red Sox are last in the AL with 159 homers.

Left-hander David Price (6-3) pitched 2 2/3 innings and contributed a single, bringing the Red Sox to the front of the dugout for a celebration. Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his 34th save in 38 chances. He hasn't allowed a run in his last 10 appearances.

Gennett was claimed off waivers from Milwaukee late in spring training. He has provided some of the Reds' best moments in an 88-loss season, including a four-homer game on June 6. His homer off Porcello ended the Red Sox' streak of 26 straight scoreless innings.

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Drellich: Pomeranz, league's second-best lefty, knows how to be even better

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Drellich: Pomeranz, league's second-best lefty, knows how to be even better

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

Still, 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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Pomeranz, 28, 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 changeup’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 Carl 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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