Notes: Dependable Lester dominant again

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Notes: Dependable Lester dominant again

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
TORONTO -- Jon Lester has now won his last four decisions, but that doesn't begin to illustrate how well he's pitching of late.

Lester, who tossed seven shutout innings in the Red Sox' 14-0 blanking of the Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday night, improved to 15-6 this season.

The lefty has allowed one or no runs over each of his last five outings, the longest such streak for a Red Sox lefty since Lefty Grove accomplished the feat in 1935.

"Every night, we're just going with what's (working) good," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "When you have four pitches you can use, it's nice to be able to mix it up and not stay with the same stuff every time."

Of course, it helps when your team scores four runs in the top of the first, before you even take the mound.

"It definitely helps," said Lester, who lowered his ERA to 2.93. "It calms your nerves and makes you feel more comfortable out there. It never hurts. The more runs we score, the pressure of having to make perfect pitches is off your shoulders. You just go out and just try to execute your game plan."

Lester has won at least 15 games in each of his last four seasons, an accomplishment in itself, but said the number he takes the most pride in is throwing 200 innings.

Thanks to a left lat strain which sidelined him for a stretch in July, it's unlikely that Lester will reach that milestone this season. He's at 172 innings with no more than four starts remaining.

"On a club like this, wins will take care of themselves," he said. "I've been fortunate to be on the good side a lot more than the bad side. But as far as numbers or goals, my only goal as a pitcher is to get to 200 innings."

With three weeks remaining in the season, Lester said he feels "fresher than most. Right now, I feel good. I'm trying to get on a roll and see where it takes us."

Marco Scutaro, who has hit ninth for much of the season, was a little surprised to see himself listed sixth on the Red Sox lineup card Tuesday.

Asked what he was thinking when he saw that, he joked: "Are we trying today?"

Scutaro couldn't remember hitting sixth before, but was told that it had happened twice before.

But Terry Francona must have known something. Scutaro had four hits (including three doubles) and four RBI, each tying career highs, as the Red Sox rolled to an easy victory.

"It's nice to have a day like this," said Scutaro.

Scutaro missed time earlier in the season with an oblique strain, and in the process, lost the starting shortstop job to Jed Lowrie.

But when Lowrie himself went down with a shoulder injury, Scutaro responded. He's now hitting .282 and has hit safely in 17 of his last 20 games.

He's hitting .337 (34-for-101) in his last 27 games with at least one plate appearance.

"I feel much better than in the beginning of the season," said Scutaro. "This game's timing and rhythm. When your timing's good, you see the ball better, you can wait for pitches and stay away from bad pitches, too. That's pretty much the difference, I think."

While the Red Sox await further word on the status of Josh Beckett (ankle) and skip a start with Erik Bedard (knee), Clay Buchholz continues to throw on the side with an eye toward contributing in the postseason.

Tuesday afternoon Buchholz threw from a distance of about 90 feet.

"I threw about 25 warmup pitches from 60-75 feet," said Buchholz, "then 25 more at 90 feet. No problem. The effort level was a little bit higher today, just to test it out. Everything was good."

In terms of intensity, he estimated that his effort Tuesday was at about "65-70 percent".

Buchholz will throw from a distance of 105 feet Wednesday, then take a day off before stretching out to 120 feet. After two days at 120 feet, he'll throw on flat ground using both a windup and stretch delivery, then be ready to get up on a mound.

"I haven't felt any pain throwing for a while now," said Buchholz optimistically. "It's definitely a good thing. We're still moving forward and there haven't been any setbacks."

The big test will be putting spikes on and throwing off a mound. In July, that's when Buchholz encountered roadblocks, feeling enough discomfort in his back that was ordered to shut down all throwing for about a month.

"I'm anxious to get to that point and see how everything goes," he said. "If everything goes right, while we're at home starting Monday, I'll be able to see how it feels off the mound."

The big question -- apart from how Buchholz feels physically -- is whether there's enough time for him to build up arm strength and be ready for the postseason. The end of the regular season is just over three weeks away.

"That's one thing the medical and training staff has never been able to tell me, is . . . a timetable,'' he said. "It's all on feel. If I was to go out and throw and it didn't feel right, we'd probably take a step back. There's definitely no timeline.

"But if everything goes right and I'm able to not have any setbacks and get off a mound and start working my way back up, I'm not sure the end of the season is going to be the right number. But if we do what we want to do -- get to the postseason and play well, that's what I'm really hoping for."

Buchholz wasn't ready to count himself out for the start of the Division Series, which is 3 12 weeks away.

"It just depends on how my body reacts," he said. "I feel strong. I've been running and doing my shoulder program. But being in shape and being in pitching shape are two different things. I've got to get back to the point and the only way I can get to that point is get off the mound and throw.

"It's going to take a little time to do that, but if that goes well, I think everything will be fine."

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

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.

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.