Boston Red Sox

McAdam: Future for Francona may be up in air

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McAdam: Future for Francona may be up in air

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam

At the post-mortem press conference held Thursday at Fenway Park, it didn't take long for the topic of Terry Francona's job security to be broached.

"Obviously, it's a question you have to ask," acknowledged general manager Theo Epstein. "Tito and I spent some time talking today, just kind of catching up about the season and talking about what the next few days will look like. We're going to get together -- ownership, Larry (Lucchino CEO), I and Tito -- over the next few days and talk about the season and talk about the future.

"We're less than 24 hours removed from the end of the season, so we need some time to calm down, get objective and look at ourselves, look at 2011 and look ahead and make best decisions for everybody."

That wasn't exactly the most strongly worded backing for a manager believed to be on the hot seat. There was no declaration that Francona will indeed return for 2012, for which the Red Sox hold a 4.25 million option.

Instead, there was this:

"I can't answer that question without saying that we've already talked about it -- John (Henry), Tom (Werner), Larry and I -- and nobody blames what happened in September on Tito. That would be totally irresponsible, totally shortsighted and wouldn't recognize everything that he means to the organization and to all our successes, including, at times, during 2011."

More than once Epstein reiterated a similar show of support for Francona, but each time, parsed his words carefully. Each time, the point was made that Francona wouldn't be blamed for the spectacular face-plant the Sox performed in September.

"No one blames Tito for what happened in September," said Epstein.

Again, the qualifier: "In September."

But missing the playoffs for the second straight year? There was no absolution coming for that, as if that matter was still open for debate.

And perhaps it is, among Red Sox management and ownership. Perhaps the disastrous 7-20 mark in September that sent the Red Sox home for the offseason following a cruel 4-3 loss Wednesday at Camden Yards is being removed from the debate.

There were more tea leaves to read, too. There was Francona's body language, which was more than a little off-putting -- arms folded, brow furrowed, eyes frequently downcast.

If there was a place Francona would less like to be, it's hard to imagine one.

Answering questions about a failed playoff race and a premature start on winter can't be fun. But Francona looked like a man awaiting a double root canal.

Speculation about Francona's future with the organization actually began two weeks ago when Peter Gammons went on The Dan Patrick Show and talked about a growing "disconnect" between Epstein and Francona.

Epstein did his best to dismiss the rift when he spoke with reporters at Yankee Stadium last Friday. He insisted that the Red Sox were not dysfunctional and added that he and Francona had a good laugh over all the attention given to Gammons' comments.

There were no smiles Thursday, however, as Epstein and Francona performed the public autopsy of the late, not-so-great 2011 Red Sox season.

Meanwhile, the silence from ownership has been defeaning. More than once in the last three weeks, as the Red Sox' wild card lead seemed to shrivel almost daily, Francona was asked by beat writers if he had heard anything from ownership -- a text message, perhaps, offering support, or a phone call for morale-buidling.

Each time, Francona had the same simple answer: No.

Perhaps Francona himself had read the tea leaves. How else to explain his unwillingness to answer in the affirmative when asked if he wants to return for a ninth season in the Red Sox dugout?

"Theo and I talked today and will continue to talk tomorrow," said Francona. "Maybe it's best, today, to stay with where we're at . . . Fair question. I would rather focus on the other stuff today, if that's OK. It's a fair question."

More than fair, it may be the most relevant question as the offseason gets underway much sooner than expected.

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

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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