Nation STATion: Nine innings, nine pitchers

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Nation STATion: Nine innings, nine pitchers

By Bill Chuck
CSNNE.com

Nine innings, nine pitchers. Who are your picks?

There is a unique rhythm to every baseball game. On paper, heres what a pitching win should look like:

We watch a pitcher in the 1st inning to see what kind of stuff he has. Then over the next couple of innings, we look for consistency.

By the 4th inning we are amidst in the second time around the batting order and we can watch the adjustments made by hitter and pitcher.

By the 6th inning, we are now on an inning-by-inning watch as to how long the starter will remain in the game.

The 7th inning we are down to batter-by-batter and almost pitch-by-pitch. Can the starter make it through the inning? Does he have anything left in the tank? Is he now using everything he has left? Is he no longer pitching, but simply throwing? Should the manager start the 7th by going to the pen or wait until trouble arises?

By the 8th inning, we are thinking that this is the ultimate bridge to the closer. You can hear the save man warming up and singing Sam and Daves Hold on, Im Coming.

The 9th inning saves the game and the team savors the win.

Here is how the American League has actually played out inning-by-inning. Here are the league ERAs with the best, worst, and Bostons run totals:

1. 4.11 Toronto has allowed 48 runs, Baltimore 94, Boston 73
2. 3.67 Chicago has allowed 38 runs, Baltimore 86, Boston 64
3. 4.13 Oakland has allowed 40 runs, Toronto 104, Boston 46
4. 4.31 Oakland has allowed 48 runs, Minnesota 84, Boston 64
5. 4.43 Texas has allowed 51 runs, Minnesota 87, Boston 63
6. 4.27 New York has allowed 45 runs, Baltimore 84, Boston 67
7. 3.63 Toronto has allowed 32 runs, Detroit 74, Boston 45
8. 3.73 Chicago has allowed 39 runs, Minnesota 85, Boston 63
9. 3.34 Seattle has allowed 29 runs, Toronto 56, Boston 35

Ive created a game called 9-for-9 Nine pitchers for nine innings. Heres how the game works: you get to choose one Red Sox pitcher for each inning of the game. Like in a regular game, you can use the pitcher only once. You base your nine decisions on how well the pitcher has pitched in that inning throughout the season.

Here we go:

1st inning team ERA 4.86
There are pitchers we know we dont want to use in the 1st: John Lackey has a .347 batting average against (BAA) in the opening inning and allowed 18 runs in 21 innings, so hes out. Surprisingly, Jon Lester hasnt been great in the opening frame with batters hitting .269 against him, plus hes given up three homers and 13 runs in 24 innings. Josh Beckett has a .233 BAA but has given up four homers and 11 runs in 24 innings. So, as much as I hate to burn him early, I go with Alfredo Aceves who in four starts has held opponents to a .154 BAA without giving up a run in the 1st.

2nd inning team ERA 3.93
Tim Wakefield is the pitcher to avoid in the 2nd. He has a .306 BAA and has allowed 11 runs in 18 innings. Beckett has a .198 BAA and given up just five runs, but my choice is Jon Lester with his .165 BAA and since hes only given up six runs in 24 innings.

3rd inning team ERA 3.21
This has been a strong inning for Sox pitchers, one in each they have given up only five homers all season long (Lester has given up two). Josh Beckett has been great in the 3rd holding batters to a .160 average and having allowed just two runs, but Im not quite ready to burn him, so Im going with Tim Wakefield who has a .209 BAA and has allowed six runs in 19 innings.

4th inning team ERA 4.36
Here we are in the midst of the second time around the batting order and not surprisingly, John Lackey has had troubles with a .366 BAA and has given up an astounding 24 runs over the course of 20 innings. Andrew Miller has been hit hard this inning as well with batters hitting .357. Wake has held batters to a .225 average and Lester a .215, while Beckett has held batters to a .181 average, he has allowed 10 runs in 24 innings, so Im going with the small sample of Erik Bedard. Batters are 2-for-9 against him (.222) and he hasnt given up a run.

5th inning team ERA 3.93
This is another really bad inning for Tim Wakefield. The knuckleball doesnt flutter in the 5th as batters have hit .345 and hes given up 19 runs in 20 appearances. Josh Beckett again pitches well here with a .262 BAA and hes allowed eight runs in 24 innings, but Im greedy and I want to hold him one more inning. Im throwing John Lackey in here, as despite a .282 BAA, hes allowed just seven runs in 18 innings.

6th inning team ERA 4.64
Other than the 1st inning this is the worst inning for Sox pitchers and that makes sense. For most Boston starters, this is as far they go and the bullpen is not deep enough to have a great 6th inning pitcher. John Lackey has actually pitched well this inning holding batters to a .232 BAA. Jon Lester has a .250 BAA but has permitted 10 runs in 23 innings. We see the emergence of the bullpen in this inning. Matt Albers has allowed six runs in 14 innings and Dan Wheeler has held batters to a .190 BAA but allowed eight runs in just seven innings. Heres where the ace continues to shine, however. My guy in the 6th is Josh Beckett who has held the opposition to just a .190 batting average and a measly four runs in 20 innings.

7th inning team ERA 3.07
We have heard how good the Sox are offensively this inning, now you can see how effective they are on the mound as well. Beckett has pitched into the 7th 13 times and Lester 12 times. Check this out: Daniel Bard has faced 27 batters in the 7th inning; he has walked three and allowed one hit. Thats a .042 BAA and hes only allowed two runs. But Im saving Daniel. I could go with Matt Albers who has held the opposition to a .213 average, or Dan Wheeler, who has held batters to a .200 average and has allowed two runs in nine 7th inning appearances. But Im taking Franklin Morales, who has a .154 BAA and hasnt allowed a run in 11 7th inning appearances.

8th inning team ERA 4.18
You dont want to see Jonathan Papelbon in the 8th inning. Batters are 3-for-8 against him and hes allowed two runs in three appearances. You should know that in the five times that Josh Beckett has pitched in the 8th inning this season, batters are 2-for-15 and havent scored a run against him. Talk about leaving nothing in the tank! Daniel Bard is as good as there is in the 8th inning. Hes appeared in 45 of them this season and batters are hitting .199. Hes struck out 41 of the 166 batters hes faced and despite the five homers and 15 runs, you got to say numbers be damned, hes the man.

9th inning team ERA 3.06
For those of you who are ready to let Jonathan Papelbon go, heres a little fuel: In the 9th, Bard has faced 21 batters, allowed two hits, one walk, struck out seven and hasnt allowed a run. Those of you who want to retain Papelbon, heres your support: Batters are only hitting .206, hes struck out 58 of 185 batters and has allowed 17 runs over the course of 45 appearances. Hes the choice closer in this game.

So here are the 9-for-9 Red Sox pitchers:

1. Alfredo Aceves
2. Jon Lester
3. Tim Wakefield
4. Erik Bedard
5. John Lackey
6. Josh Beckett
7. Franklin Morales
8. Daniel Bard
9. Jonathan Papelbon

Does this mean much? Probably not a whole lot, but it does give you a good indication of the strengths and weaknesses of the staff. Try playing it yourself and let me know if you come up with a different combination.

Ramirez bothered by right shoulder more than last year

Ramirez bothered by right shoulder more than last year

BOSTON — Hanley Ramirez on Wednesday afternoon acknowledged his shoulders are bothering him more this year than last year.

In specific, it’s the right (throwing) shoulder that’s bothersome, he said to CSNNE, noting it just doesn’t move as he wants it to — rotating his arm as he spoke. Asked how that happened, how it worsened, he said it was in spring training that he thinks he pushed it too hard.

On the positive side, Ramirez said his shoulders are improving.

"Honestly, yeah, it's feeling better now," Ramirez told a group of reporters. "It's started feeling better now than early in the year. I can use the top hand and drop a little bit the head of the bat. I was losing that. I was talking to [hitting coaches Chili Davis and Victor Rodriguez] about that. I've got to be able to use that top hand. Like Jim Rice."

Ramirez, who seems to always want to be playful in his interactions with the media, appeared surprised to learn that he was not hitting lefties well so far this year. He’s 5-for-35 against them.

Ramirez was out the lineup for a third straight game Wednesday, but took batting practice on the field and also took grounders at first base. As batting practice ended, he spoke to a group of reporters coming off the field.

"What am I hitting against lefties right now?” Ramirez asked in a response to a question about how he was feeling vs. southpaws.

It was low, he was told. He waited while a reporter used his phone to look up the specifics for him.

“Is it really? So it’s not me. I've got to get going because I crush lefties. It can't happen,” Ramirez said in the group. "You're kidding me. It took you long enough to tell me that. I didn't know that for real. So OK, after this conversation, let's see what's going to happen now. I'll say it. Yeah. Bring it. OK? I didn't know, I swear. Interesting. Thank you.”

Red Sox manager John Farrell wasn’t sure if Ramirez’s struggles vs. lefties was related to his shoulders. 

“Because if there’s the need or the tendency for Hanley to start his swing early because he might not feel as loose or reactive, as he might otherwise, if a left-hander’s going to sink the ball away from him or keep the ball on the outside of the plate and that early commitment might cause you to pull off some pitches, that’s one possibility,” Farrell said. “But I can’t say that’s the absolute sole reason.”

The Sox still believe Ramirez is healthy enough to contribute well.

“Without being in his body, and knowing what he’s feeling, you know, if you watch the number of hours he puts in for the shoulder maintenance, that’s real,” Farrell said. “All we can evaluate is his feedback and how he swings the bat with either the plate coverage or the aggressiveness and the ability to impact the baseball. And there has been stretches of that. I think he would be the first to admit, would like for it to be more consistent.”

Farrell was asked a bunch of questions about Ramirez on Wednesday afternoon in the usual pre-game press conference, including whether he’s difficult to manage. If that’s the case — and it sure seems so —  Farrell did not let on.

"With individuals you take the added time needed to sit down and talk things through and get a sense of where each individual player is," Farrell said. "I wouldn’t say Hanley is different than other guys in that clubhouse."

Ramirez did very well in the second half last year and was optimistic.

“It's coming along,” he said. “I think second half's coming and I'm ready for that. ... Just one click and you go from there. Like I said, I'm not going to stop working. I'm going to get hot.”

Drellich: Pomeranz lessens heat on Dombrowski's trade history

Drellich: Pomeranz lessens heat on Dombrowski's trade history

BOSTON — Drew Pomeranz is helping out Dave Dombrowski’s balance sheet in Boston.

The Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel trades have been awesome — beyond awesome, even. The Tyler Thornburg deal looks like a disaster that, maybe someday, Dombrowski will acknowledge rather than sidestep. The Carson Smith deal has produced, if nothing else, no gain. The Fernando Abad deal has not hurt the Sox, and he’s had some decent moments.

But the Pomeranz trade with the Padres, for just top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza, stood as the most controversial of Dealer Dave’s moves until the past couple months. Now, the Cult of Travis Shaw has slowly made folks forget about Espinoza and the complicated set of circumstances that surrounded that trade.

“Rescind” is something you’re hearing less and less. 

It’s remarkable what a 2.70 ERA in a 40-inning, seven-start stretch can do. Pomeranz is looking like a lot shinier these days, particularly after Tuesday night, when he came back out despite a rain delay of more than an hour in a 9-2 win over the Twins.

From the day that 40-inning stretch began, May 25, through Tuesday, only four qualified starters posted a better ERA in the American League: Corey Kluber (1.29), Jason Vargas (2.27), Jordan Montgomery (2.52) and Mike Pelfrey (2.64).

For comparison: Chris Sale is 10th in that stretch, at 3.54. Rick Porcello has 6.08 ERA in the same time.

Realistically, where the Sox stood last season, they needed Pomeranz. He was healthy enough to throw. That’s the reality everyone who wanted the deal undone always undersold: the back of the rotation was crumbling. 

But that was just one layer of the deal.

The Padres did not provide as much medical information as they should have, and the Sox stuck with Pomeranz despite the opportunity to look elsewhere.

Espinoza hasn’t pitched for a Padres minor league affiliate yet this season. He’s playing catch from flat ground as he comes back from a forearm injury, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported recently. 

Trades, to this observer, are typically best evaluated by reviewing the process behind them — which is to say, by looking back at the information was available at the time the deal was made. And at the time, it was known that the Sox were paying for Pomeranz beyond just last season's second half. They were paying for a controllable arm who could help out the rotation this year too.

Dombrowski may well have acquired Pomeranz at his peak value, which is unsurprising. But what mattered most was whether the team believed Pomeranz could contribute effectively beyond 2016. That, once they had all the health information, whether they properly evaluated what it would mean for his future.

It looked bad when Pomeranz started the season on the disabled list. He had a stem-cell injection in his forearm in the winter, too. There wasn’t much to hang your hat on at the start of April. 

Realistically, Pomeranz probably isn’t 100 percent right now. Even within the relative world of pro baseball — where no one is ever 100 percent — Pomeranz is probably further from it than most. 

But he's powered through. Pomeranz’s attitude might actually fit Boston better than most realize. He also is, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, a pitcher with a high ceiling in terms of ability (if not innings).

He also is, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, a pitcher with a high ceiling in terms of ability (if not innings).

How Pomeranz holds up is to be seen. But the team’s judgment that he would have value beyond last season, a value worth surrendering Espinoza for, is looking better and better.