McAdam: Off-day thoughts on the Red Sox

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McAdam: Off-day thoughts on the Red Sox

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

BALTIMORE -- Three off-day thoughts as the Red Sox take a break, two-thirds of the way through their three city, nine-game road trip:

1) Months from now, the Red Sox could have Mother Nature to thank for turning their season around.

An otherwise innocuous early-season rainout on April 13 allowed the Sox to do two things: Step back from their hideous 2-9 start, and reconfigure their starting rotation, which was, to put it charitably, underperforming.

The rainout gave the Sox two days off, since a built-in off-day in the schedule followed. For 48 hours, the Sox didn't have to answer questions about the stumbling way they had begun the season or confront arcane statistical forecasts of doom. ("No team which started its season 2-9 has ever . . . ")

More tangibly, the team reshuffled its pitching rotation. After a mediocre start by Clay Buchholz when the schedule resumed - on a bitterly cold night not suitable for anyone - the rotation magically clicked.

Since Buchholz's start, Red Sox starters are 7-1 with an astounding 0.88 ERA, enabling the Sox to go from eight games under .500 to a game below.

Moreover, the reshuffling seemed to prompt radical turnarounds from Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey.

Matsuzaka has followed what may have been a career low-point in which he was bashed for seven runs in two-plus innings against Tampa on April 11 to, arguably, his best two starts since joining the Red Sox.

Lackey, who had been scored upon in eight of his first nine innings across his first two outings, has since allowed one run over 14 innings.

Curiously, Lackey seems unwilling to let go of the perceived slight over having his turn skipped. Rather than dissipating over time, his annoyance seems to be intensifying.

Putting aside the wisdom of that sentiment - should a nine-year veteran making 17 million annually really have to be embarrassed into pitching better? -- there's no arguing with the results. If Lackey has to pitch angry for the rest of the season to be effective, so be it.

2) The team's turnaround has bought the Sox some time with their catching situation.

On the last homestand, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was described by a person in the organization as being "scared to death."

The team's poor start, coupled with being entrusted with the No. 1 catcher's job, seemed to overwhelm Saltalamacchia.

He discarded his usual patient approach at the plate and, desperate to make an offensive contribution, was overly aggressive, resulting in quick, unproductive at-bats.

Behind the plate, it was worse. The poor work by the started relected - unfairly - on Saltalamacchia, who must have heard suggestions from fans and some in the media that he was the cause of the staff-wide meltdown.

It didn't help that many of the early quality starts turned in by Boston pitchers came with the more seasoned Jason Varitek behind the plate.

Saltalamacchia's slow start forced the Red Sox to make some preliminary calls to inquire about other catching options. The Sox were hopeful he would settle down in time, but in the event that he didn't, the Sox insisted on doing their due diligence.

There remain holes in Saltalamacchia's game. He was charged with a passed ball Friday in Anaheim in which a baserunner scored all the way from second, and two wild pitches in the same game might otherwise have been ruled passed balls.

His throwing, meanwhile, remains spotty as opponents continue to run on the Sox nearly at will.

But having won eight of the last nine games, the Red Sox have, if nothing else, achieved a kind of stability, allowing Saltalamacchia some time to grow into his role without the kind of pressure and scrutiny that can be suffocating for a player not yet established.

3) Now that the pitching has righted itself, there are signs that the offense is starting to come around, too.

Though four regulars - Saltalamacchia, Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis - are hitting .222 or lower, each is on the upswing.

Crawford has at least one hit in five of his last six games and had two multi-hit games in the last six (including his first homer) and no longer seems lost at the plate.

Ellsbury, returned to the leadoff spot, consistently got on base during the Angels series.

It may well be that the hitters felt the need to carry the load while the starters found themselves, resulting in a deviation from their usual approaches.

Now that the rotation has realized an equilibrium, the lineup could soon follow suit. Gone is the need to dig out from early-inning holes created by poor starting pitching. The Sox scored 20 runs in their sweep of the Angels, but thanks to the dominance of their starters, could have won all four with just eight.

Relieved of the need to make up for their own pitchers' mistakes, the lineup just might be ready to enjoy a streak similar to one currently being enjoyed by their starters.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

David Ortiz has new interpretation of 'spring training'

David Ortiz has new interpretation of 'spring training'

Big Papi's "spring training" involves a beach chair -- not a baseball bat.

The former Boston Red Sox slugger made it clear on Instagram that he has no interest in returning to Jet Blue Park to begin training for the 2017 MLB season.

He announced in Nov. 2015 he would be retiring after the 2016 season, and he appears completely content with that decision despite speculation of his return to MLB. Ortiz posted a video on Sunday of himself in a beach chair reclined and relaxed.

"What's up [Instagram]. Oh, so good be retired. At the beach with the familia, the ladies. Big Papi in the bulding. This is my spring training. How 'bout dat? Enjoy. See you when I see you. Peace," he said, and then chuckled.

Ortiz's video came a few days after Hanley Ramirez said that if Ortiz made a return to baseball, he would be doing it, in part, for Ramirez, because they miss each other.

WBZ's Dan Roche then tweeted out Ramirez's comment on Thursday, and Big Papi waited no time to respond. Within 16 minutes, Ortiz had responded to reiterate he would not be returning to the Sox.

Jackie Bradley Jr. explains why he wouldn't skip White House visit

Jackie Bradley Jr. explains why he wouldn't skip White House visit

Jackie Bradley Jr. will likely have a spotless attendance record for White House trips.

The Boston Red Sox outfielder began discussing those championship trips to meet the president after Red Sox chairman Tom Werner referenced the New England Patriots' Super Bowl win at a team get-together on Friday morning.

“If my team is going, yes, I’m going,” Bradley Jr. told WEEI.com's Rob Bradford, adding later, “I don’t like politics, not even a little bit.”

The Patriots so far have six players who have openly stated they will not attend New England's White House trip to meet President Donald Trump. Team leaders like Dont'a Hightower and Devin McCourty are among those unwilling to attend.

For Bradley, the White House trip is not about making a political statement.

“The reason why we’re going there is because we did something together as a team. The White House is cool,” he said. “I’m with my team."

The 26-year-old outfielder has twice attended the championship trip to the nation's capital. In college, he went with the South Carolina Gamecocks after they won the College World Series. He later attended with the Red Sox in 2013. Bradley Jr. said he enjoyed attending the White House to meet Barack Obama, but added he wasn't concerned with which president was hosting the event.

He said: “How many people can say they’ve been to the White House? That alone. There is a lot history there, and I’m a big fan of architecture. I think the whole thing is unique.”