Boston Red Sox

McAdam: New beginning for Lackey

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McAdam: New beginning for Lackey

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- The pitching line -- 5 23 innings, three earned runs -- wasn't anything that would otherwise get noticed. It was an average start, no more, no less.

But for John Lackey, owner of the line in question, it represented much more. Fifty-nine games into the season, it's a fresh start, a new beginning.

Lackey 2.0, if you will.

Through his first seven starts, Lackey wasn't just bad. He was historically bad, with a 8.01 ERA and four games in which he allowed six or more runs.

The Red Sox placed him on the disabled list in mid-May, with the hope that his elbow would benefit from a cortisone shot and some rest.

Lackey's fastball was regularly 91-92 mph, a slight uptick from his outings in April and May when he often struggled to maintain 90.

"Especially early on,'' noted Terry Francona, "he got his fastball by people and got some swings and misses.''

The biggest improvement Sunday, however, came with his secondary pitches. His cut fastball had more bite and depth and he also spotted his changeup effectively.

"I think,'' concluded Francona, "it worked out pretty well . . . He knows how to pitch. It was what we hoped for.''

Not dominant, certainly, and the command -- two walks, three hit batsmen -- was off. But it was a marked improvement over some of his earlier starts when Lackey turned ballparks into shooting galleries.

"I thought he looked great,'' enthused catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "I think he had better velocity on his fastball. The ball was coming out better. For the most part, his cutter was back to where I remember it being.''

Lackey's last start before his trip to the DL, of course, looked to many to be a man in distress, complaining that "everything in my life sucks right now,'' a clear reference to some off-field issues and the health of a family member.

In that last game, Lackey was a bundle of emotions, gesturing in displeasure when plays weren't made behind him. Sunday, he seemed to be in better control of his emotions, even if his actual control was spotty.

"The elbow definitely felt better than it had been,'' said Lackey. "Physically, I'm going to feel something. It just is what it is in there. But I felt like I was ready to go, ready to compete.''

He also made a subtle reference to being naturally distracted to his personal issues.

"I've just got get back to performing the way I can perform,'' he said. "I can't let outside stuff affect me. I just have to handle my business.''

While Lackey was away, the Red Sox pulled themselves out of their early spinout, reaching .500 and then climbing over it. The lineup ignited. Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves generally filled in admirably. The panic atmosphere disappeared.

With three-and-a-half years remaining on his five-year deal, the Sox weren't about to cast Lackey aside. They could just hope that the downtime helped his elbow, and maybe, cleared his head some.

Off one outing, it seemed to have worked.

Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz constitute the rotation's Big Three. Salary aside, Lackey doesn't have to be a front-of-the-rotation ace. But he needs to give his team a chance to win, which he did Sunday.

"A good place to start, I guess,'' shrugged Lackey after it was over.

Or, more accurately, a good place to start again.

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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