Notes: Lester loses back-to-back games

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Notes: Lester loses back-to-back games

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jon Lester sports one of the best winning percentages of any active pitcher in the big leagues, so when he loses back-to-back starts, it's noteworthy.

Lester, who lost to the Yankees last Friday in the series opener with New York, suffered another defeat Wednesday, charged with four runs in 7 13 innings in the Sox' 5-2 setback to the Minnesota Twins.

A big issue for Lester was command -- or lack thereof. He issued five walks, tying a season high, and two of the five hitters he walked came around to score.

"I feel like I had pretty good stuff," said Lester, "but I wasn't able to locate. I gave them too many opportunities and when you do that, giving up runs is what happens."

Beyond the walks, Lester wasn't able to consistently locate his pitches within the strike zone where he wanted them. He left a pitch up to Jim Thome, his last batter of the night, and the lefty slugger drove it for a run-scoring double, giving the Twins a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

"At times, I didn't know where the pitch was going," said Lester. "It was one of those grinders tonight and we came out on the other end.

"Free passes, free runners and more opportunities. It doesn't matter what team it is in the big leagues, if you give them more opportunities, they're going to score runs."

Lester labored from the first inning, when he gave up three hits, a walk and a run. He was more efficient from the second through the fifth, facing the minimum number of hitters in each of those four frames before control issues surfaced against in the sixth, seventh and eighth.

"He really picked it up after the first," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "Just getting ahead of hitters was what we had trouble with. It's a feel thing. I think he did a great job fighting. On a positive note, he battled through it and still got us into the eighth inning."

When Terry Francona pinch-hit Dustin Pedroia for Josh Reddick in the top of the eighth inning, he decided to leave Pedroia in the game at second and shift Mike Aviles -- who had started at second in place of Pedroia, who had the night off -- to right field, rather that have Aviles remain at second with Darnell McDonald in right.

The move seemed to backfire in the bottom of the inning when Terry Plouffe lofted a fly ball to right with one out and two on.

Aviles, who hadn't played a game in the outfield as a pro until last Saturday, broke in for a second, then couldn't catch up as the ball landed behind him, on the warning track, for a run-scoring single.

As evidence of how catchable the ball appeared to be, both baserunners advanced only a base, believing that Aviles would make the play.

"It's a big outfield," said Francona. "That's part of the experience. I don't think it's so much the moving around as much as it is the depth position and things like that."

For the first time in more than two months, Pedroia was out of the starting lineup.

Having played every game since June 9, when he left a Red Sox-Yankees series in New York to have his ailing knee examined in Boston, he was given the night off . . . for a while, anyway. He did enter the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth, and stayed in at second base.

Pedroia's season has turned around since that day off June 9. In that two-month stretch, covering 53 games prior to Wednesday night -- or almost exactly, one-third of the season -- Pedroia had a line of .376.447.664 an OPS of 1.071. He had 11 homers and 38 RBI in that span.

From June 15 through Tuesday, Pedroia led the majors in hits, on-base percentage, OPS and total bases.

"He needed it, though," said Francona. "I kept telling him the last few days he was going to sit in the series finale and he was fighting me. Then last night, after the game, he was like, 'Yeah, I'm tired.'

"It will be good for him. It's just hard to go back, once you go too far with a tired player. This will be good for him.

"He needs a little blow. He won't have the game hanging over his head and he can relax a little bit."

Despite Wednesday's loss, the Red Sox' road record of 35-22 (.614) is best in the American League and second-best in the majors, behind the Phillies' 36-22.

Take away the team's 0-7 start away from Fenway, and the Sox are an incredible 35-15 (.700) on the road.

"I know in the past," said Francona, "there were places that were tough for us. We didn't have a lot of team speed and we'd go into the Metrodome, Toronto . . . places like Tampa, or big fields and we'd get exposed a little bit.

"I think our bullpen has helped. On the road, if you don't have a deep bullpen, you're going to lose some games. I think guys like Alfredo Aceves and Matt Albers have helped us a ton there. And we're more athletic and faster than we used to be."

Outfielder J.D. Drew took 35 swings in the cage and will take batting practice on the field both Friday and Saturday in Seattle.

He'll be re-evalauted when the Sox return for a brief three- game homestand. It's possible that when the Sox leave for Kansas City next week for an eight-game road swing, Drew could go to Pawtucket and begin a rehab assignment.

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

POLITICO sees Epstein as potential savior for Democrats

POLITICO sees Epstein as potential savior for Democrats

A piece that ran on POLITICO Wednesday morning explored an interesting possibility: A potential political career for longtime baseball executive Theo Epstein. 

The piece, titled “Could Theo Epstein Perform a Miracle for the Democrats?” comes a month after Fortune magazine ranked the Cubs president of baseball operations No. 1 on its annual ranking of the world’s greatest leaders. In the POLITICO article, Ben Strauss, in addition to noting the 43-year-old’s accomplishments with the Red Sox and Cubs, hits on several instances in which Epstein’s leadership has been mentioned in relation to politics. 

Strauss then goes on to interview CNN senior political commentator (and Cubs fan) David Axelrod about whether Epstein could be a saving grace with “Democrats on the lookout for a new generation of talent.”

The interview sees both POLITICO and Axelrod compare Epstein to Barack Obama. Says Axelrod: 

They both have two kinds of intelligence: emotional intelligence and a more linear intelligence. They both have the self-confidence to surround themselves with very smart people. Theo’s had a core group around him (general manager Jed Hoyer and head of amateur scouting Jason McLeod) since the beginning in Boston. It’s striking how much he relishes smart people around him and has the confidence to be challenged...Obama had it, too. I would add that Epstein has learned on the job. In Boston he was a pioneer [in using statistical analysis]...He’s told me that he used to be dismissive of the touchy-feely stuff [in evaluating baseball players], but now his scouts write five-page essays about the guys they’re going to draft. In the same way, Obama would tell you he was a better president at the end of eight years than at the beginning. He was smart enough to learn on the job, too.

Asked whether Epstein could win a statewide race for governor or Senate in Illinois, Axelrod replied, “Yeah, he could,” but questions whether Epstein has “the desire to hold public office.”

“I think Theo would be frustrated in public office because of the situation he’s in now,” Axelrod said. “He basically has free rein to do what he needs to do for the success of the organization. That is not the case in politics—you’re seeing that with the governor in Illinois (Bruce Rauner) right now. You have to deal with legislatures and all kinds of public stakeholders. And if you’re used to making things happen, I’m not sure the Senate would be a particularly satisfying job for you. When I talked to him on my podcast...about what he might want to do next...he allowed that he might want to own a team sometime and use that team or use that platform to try to impact on a community. He clearly cares about the larger world and wants to make an impact...But there are many, many reasons I think Cubs fans can relax and enjoy the benefits of his leadership for many years to come.”

Drellich: Sox circle wagon around Pedroia's words in weird fashion

Drellich: Sox circle wagon around Pedroia's words in weird fashion

A rained-out Tuesday was pretty action packed, and a little head-scratching.

The Red Sox circled the wagons well, arriving at a unified message about the Dustin Pedroia and Manny Machado situation: this is behind us, and we’re all good. But it was a weird string of events that brought the Sox to that bottom line.

Happy Hanley Ramirez decided he was going to be Matt Barnes’ public relations representative, running bubbly interference when reporters approached Barnes in the clubhouse.

Ramirez then said there was no team meeting to discuss the fallout from that pitch Barnes threw too close to Machado’s head.

Interesting.

At first, Sox manager John Farrell said nothing about the fallout. He then later referred to a hypothetical meeting that took place.

But it wasn't hypothetical. Diplomatic Dustin acknowledged the discussion that touched on his words to Machado: “It’s not me, it’s them.”

Defiant David Price, meanwhile, was off tweeting something passive aggressive about another matter entirely.

But whether or not you believe the Sox, Tuesday’s rain-out scene was simply weird. A strange mishmash of approaches and attitudes.

We’ll take it chronologically, and begin our day with a tweet from Price.

1. Perhaps someone’s story or commentary recently irked Price. Or maybe he was just in a bad mood. 

Why else would Price announce that he's holding his media session about Monday’s bullpen session on Twitter, and that he won't answer no questions?

Raul Martinez of NBC Boston said on Twitter: “Went to his ice cream (charity) event yesterday, said we're going to ask about health & got up & left.”

Maybe that’s it.

So you’ve got the rehabbing $30 million pitcher off in one corner doing his thing, still having trouble with the attention he's receiving.

2. Around lunchtime, Farrell made his first remarks of the day, in a weekly spot on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio. He was asked a couple questions about the Pedroia-Machado-Barnes brouhaha, and wanted nothing of it. 

Farrell told hosts Jim Duquette and Mike Ferrin that he did not mean to be short. Except he did. His answer may as well have been, “We’re on to Cincinnati.”

3. Move forward a couple hours. The Yankees-Sox game gets rained out and the Sox clubhouse opens for 30 minutes. Reporters approach Barnes, who’s appealing his four-game suspension for throwing at Machado.

But Barnes had to take care of something first before talking to reporters. Ramirez, who wasn't far from Barnes’ locker when reporters approached, tried to be some sort of shield. A goofy shield.

Remember that Ramirez has spiritually taken over for David Ortiz, or just really wants to. And Ramirez, clearly in a good mood, wanted the media to talk to him instead of Barnes.

(Ramirez, of course, doesn’t control who talks when. The media talked to both players.)

“No more talking about what happened in Baltimore,” Ramirez said at the end of his chat. “It’s over. … Let’s go Sox nation!”

Ramirez was being playful. But let’s go Sox nation? What? Who says that? 

4. Pedroia could have dodged the media for the 30 allotted minutes in the clubhouse, but he seemed to know there was an issue to quell.

“We all talked about that. We’re going to keep that in house,” Pedroia said, not nearly as jovial as Ramirez. “We feel good about each other. We all have each others’ backs. Everybody knows how everybody feels about each other. We’re pretty excited about the group we have."

Pedroia said he clarified what he meant by that “it’s not me, it’s them” comment — privately.

“I think guys that should know, know how we feel about each other and things like that,” Pedroia said. “It’s unfortunate that the outside has an opinion, but they’re going to have an opinion about everything. We all know how we feel. We’re moving on. We’re getting ready for this series, then the Cubs, then the Orioles. We’ve got a tough stretch. We’re focusing on baseball and turning the page.”

Pedroia was more testy when responding to a reporter’s question about his own words than he was a question about Orioles closer Zach Britton’s allegation that Pedroia can’t control his clubhouse.

Britton was way off-base when he suggested to BaltimoreBaseball.com that Pedroia didn’t have control of his group because Barnes threw at Machado. As though Pedroia was supposed to throw himself in front of the pitch.

But Pedroia, now 33, didn’t show off his fiery side.

He still can get riled up, but you have to wonder if his new position as the de facto team leader and his age have mellowed him. In the absence of Ortiz, is Pedroia now a diplomat?

“Everybody has their opinion. I don’t know Zach,” Pedroia said. “I haven’t played with him. I’m sure if I had played with him, his opinion of what he said would be different. I just know him as one of the best closers in the game. That’s it. His comments were said after an emotional game. Obviously he was upset at the situation. I don’t think negatively of him. I try to look at both sides before I jump to conclusions on anything.”

How pragmatic.

5. Then it was Barnes’ turn.

The Sox reliever who could have been offended by Pedroia said nothing at all, which was really his only choice. But Barnes wasn’t exactly loose, free and easy while giving non-answers. This was a tense situation, and Barnes didn’t disguise that. You can understand why.

6. Seemingly in a better mood a few hours after his satellite radio talk, Farrell had a little more to say about the the whole thing when he met with reporters at Fenway Park.

“I didn't feel any rift that was in the clubhouse because of what transpired,” Farrell said. “Any conversation that might have been needed was had and we're on to this series upcoming. What's done is done. 

“The one thing that I will say is, whether we are challenged by performance, injuries, things that take place between the lines, (I feel) very confident and strong that this is a team that's got one another's back and we handle it as a team.”

Maybe the Sox just need to work on their public relations a little bit, unify their approach. They all seem to know the bottom line.