Nieves ready to lead Red Sox staff in fresh start

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Nieves ready to lead Red Sox staff in fresh start

FORT MYERS, Fla. When Juan Nieves joined the Red Sox this offseason he became their fifth pitching coach in the last four seasons. Going back to 2010, the last year of John Farrells four-year stint before he left to manage the Blue Jays for two seasons, the Sox have had Curt Young, Bob McClure and Randy Niemann. Now Nieves in the job.

Weve had almost a revolving door there. Its been tough at times. But I think Juans going to be a good fit for us, Jon Lester said. Hes hands-on. He wants to get involved.

For Nieves, 48, this is his first stint as a big league pitching coach. He spent the past five seasons as a bullpen coach for the White Sox, with whom he was more of an assistant pitching coach to the highly-regarded Don Cooper.

Nieves knows his new job has its challenges, but hes excited for those challenges. One of the top priorities is getting to a know a new coaching staff as well as all his pitchers.

I know a lot of the guys from before, Nieves said. Third base coach Brian Butterfield. Of course, I knew assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez. We actually coached against bench coach Torey Lovullo when he was a manager in the minor leagues. And I heard about hitting coach Greg Colbrunn. I met bullpen coach Dana Levangie. So its almost like a continuation.

And Ive known Farrell, of course, for years. But its been very interesting. The welcoming has been great. It helps that theres a rapport from John, a connection with this team. I think thats one of the biggest reasons why, you think about coming to Boston with a person that already has a base with them, a history, and great history. It actually makes things a little easier transition-wise for them to welcome you, to embrace you in the culture. And its been so far a very comfortable ride, and hopefully it stays that way and continues growing.

Nieves has been driving his philosophy of first-pitch strikes since he got the job. To emphasize that, and to get his point across in a fun way, he has devised a spring training competition for his pitchers. Whoever throws the most cumulative strikes in the workouts will win a gift certificate, but perhaps more importantly, bragging rights.

Were focusing on strike one, he said. Whatever the sign is, its strike one. From the wind up, from the stretch whatever it is, if its a changeup, breaking ball, fastball, wherever its at, its strike one the whole time.

Youre hitting the strike zone and youre pounding the strike zone from day one. And were practicing sides. if youre going to miss, miss glove or lower. We can find a vendor in the stands to throw balls up high. But the glove better move down. Batting practice will be strictly strike one. So itll be fun but at the same time Im challenging them. What we expect, and if you want to impress us, thats the way to impress us.

Nieves knows his staff, especially the starters, has its work cut out for them. Starting pitchers combined ERA of 5.19 was better than all but three teams in the majors last season. It surpassed the previous team-record high of 5.16, set in 1932.

I know theyve gone through some tough times but we dont talk about that, Nieves said. We just talk about the task at hand. Its coming together.

Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

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Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

SAN FRANCISCO  — As an irate Bryce Harper charged toward the mound, Buster Posey just stood and watched from behind home plate.

And when the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants cleared their benches Monday and punches flew both ways, the All-Star catcher did his best to remain just outside the fray.

Not where some expected to find the Giants team leader with his pitcher, Hunter Strickland, exchanging head shots with Harper.

“Posey did NOTHING to stop Harper from getting to his pitcher,” former major league pitcher Dontrelle Willis wrote on Twitter. “I’ve never seen that before in my life.”

Posey declined to enter the fracas, instead remaining around its edges and watching as the players scuffled in “a pretty good pile,” as Giants manager Bruce Bochy called it.

Posey dealt with a concussion in April after being struck in the head by a pitch, but did not say he held back because of concerns related to that. He did say he was wary about the risk of injury.

“There were some big guys tumbling around out there,” Posey said. “You see Mike Morse and Jeff Samardzija are about as big as they come and he was getting knocked around like a pinball. So it was a little dangerous to get in there.”

Still, social media was abuzz at the sight of Posey not sticking up for his teammate.

“Strickland must have told @BusterPosey he was hitting him and let him come cause he didn’t even give a soft jog,” Willis wrote.

“Says all you need to know that Buster Posey didn’t bother to hold back Harper,” tweeted Fox broadcaster Kevin Burkhardt . “Let him go get his pitcher.”

Also absent from the fight: hard-nosed Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. As his teammates flew over the dugout railing, Bumgarner stayed put, perhaps because the left-hander is still recovering after injuring his pitching shoulder and ribs in a dirt biking accident in April.

 

Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

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Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

CHICAGO — More than anything else, Monday’s 5-4 Red Sox loss was a reminder of how much the Red Sox had go right for them a year ago, and just how unrealistic it was to expect so much of it to carry over into 2017.

The Red Sox remain a very good team. But the success of last year’s 93-win team, of any 93-win team is, truly, difficult to replicate. Unlikely, even.

Baseball’s age of parity, the randomness of freak injuries, good old regression — the Sox were due for some elements to catch up to them after a season that was more or less golden in 2016.

Dustin Pedroia, who headed back to Boston on Monday for an MRI on his left wrist, was healthy enough to hit 15 home runs a year ago, his highest total since 2012. The way this year is going for him health-wise, just having him on the field and hitting close to .300 sounds like a worthwhile goal the rest of the way.

(Slides are Pedroia’s enemy, be it from an oncoming base runner, like Manny Machado, or an oncoming first baseman, like Jose Abreu.)

David Price wasn’t living David Price’s best baseball life a year ago. But you know what you can, and probably do, take for granted? He was healthy and devouring innings. He cleared more frames than anyone else in the regular season. Even when he wasn’t pitching well, he could pitch and pitch and pitch. 

Jackie Bradley Jr. had a 1.001 OPS at the end of play on May 29, 2016. His OPS after play May 29, 2017, was .670.

We know how special David Ortiz was. Let’s not go there, because it seems like no one can talk about Ortiz’s absence rationally. His exit did not suck every home run out of the Sox lineup, as many like to say is the case, but he is — of course — a big missing piece.

Not everything was perfect in 2016, lest we remember our ex-girlfriends too fondly. Carson Smith went for Tommy John surgery, for example. 

But look now: Smith still isn’t back, Tyler Thornburg is a mystery if not quiet yet an afterthought and Robbie Ross Jr. not only struggled to the point he was demoted, he’s going through elbow trouble.

Rick Porcello won the American League Cy Young, much to Kate Upton’s chagrin. Porcello will not win the Cy Young this year, if you hadn’t been paying attention, although Chris Sale might.

There’s something going well for the Sox right now: that Sale guy. The bullpen coughed up the game Monday, Matt Barnes in particular. Yet Sox relievers had the fifth best ERA of any team to start the day. 

Hey, Eduardo Rodriguez looks pretty good, doesn't he?

With some downward trends have come some positives. Craig Kimbrel's on another planet.

The Sox may still be a 90-win team. Again, they remain a very good club.

But the wins, the breaks aren’t coming as easily as they did a year ago. You should never have expected they would.