McAdam: Red Sox afforded some long-overdue rest

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McAdam: Red Sox afforded some long-overdue rest

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
For the past few days, the approaching off-day on the schedule was, predictably, a hot topic of conversation in the Red Sox clubhouse.

Some players planned golf outings, others visits with family in the area. But for manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Curt Young, what was so enticing about the off-day was the promise of rest for the club's pitching staff.

The break Thursday comes after a stretch of 20 straight game days, the maximum allowed by the collective bargaining agreement and, coupled with another off-day Monday, offers a chance to regroup.

Of late, the staff has been stretched at both ends. Andrew Miller, recently transferred to the bullpen, was unable to pitch past the sixth inning in any of his eight starts. Newcomer Erik Bedard, meanwhile, came to the Sox fresh off the disabled list, meaning he was on a pitch count in each of first two starts.

With 40 percent of the rotation either unable or not cleared to pitch deep into games, the burden has fallen on the bullpen.

Wednesday night, Francona did not have his two best relievers at his disposal. Closer Jonathan Papelbon had pitched in the three previous three games while set-up man Daniel Bard had worked three of the previous four.

Instead, Francona had Alfredo Aceves take over when Jon Lester tired in the eighth. Aceves faced five hitters and four of them reached.

For Aceves, it was his second straight rough outing; he failed to protect a one-run lead in the series opener Monday and though the Red Sox came back to win that night, Aceves cost Tim Wakefield the lead.

Another of the bullpen's pleasant surprises, Matt Albers, has endured another patch of rough appearances, suggesting fatigue. After going the entire month of July without allowing a run -- earned or otherwise -- Albers has been scored upon in three of his four outings in August.

Of late, Miller has given the team another stretched-out option in the bullpen, but his inability to consistently command the strike zone makes him a risky proposition with games on the line.

Things should soon improve. Two off-days in the span of five days will provide an extra day -- or two, in some cases -- of rest for starters just now hitting the late-summer wall, while providing down time for the team's beleaguered relievers.

By the time the Sox finish this current stretch of 14 road games in the span of 17 games, Sept. 1 will be near with the prospect of an expanded roster to help lighten the workload.

In the short-term, the prospect of two off-days is both overdue and welcome.

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

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.