Notes: Sox bullpen decision not getting any easier

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Notes: Sox bullpen decision not getting any easier

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

LAKELAND, Fla. Terry Francona has his bullpen foundation set in stone, what with Jonathan Papelbon, Bobby Jenks and Daniel Bard forming a power-armed trio around which everything else will be built.

But the Sox have other pieces within that relief corps, and the decision as to which ones to keep is being made more difficult by the way each of those candidates is performing this spring.

Milton native and former Cubs starter Rich Hill has performed well as a potential situational left-hander. Andrew Miller has impressed manager Terry Francona with his mature approach and lively arm. Scott Atchison, of course, earned the trust and respect of the coaching staff last year during the regular season. Matt Albers, with four strikeouts in 4 13 innings, is another player whos forced his way into consideration.

Well have an interesting last week, said Francona when asked about the bullpen. Thats for sure. Weve had some really interesting things happen. Well try to make good decisions not only for Opening Day, but also for our whole organization.

Hill hasnt been scored upon in four innings of work this spring. Atchison has allowed a pair of runs in five innings, which included a rough outing after Josh Beckett was knocked out against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday. Miller has four strikeouts in four innings despite giving up five hits.

By the sheer numbers it would appear Hill has the inside edge but Miller is intriguing as a 6-foot-7 left-hander with a first-round pedigree and, at 25 years old, plenty of time to find his niche. His 5.84 career ERA as a starter in stints with the Detroit Tigers and Florida Marlins isnt much to write home about, but, in this case, past may not be prologue.

I cant sit here and say theres a guy that doesnt deserve to be on the ballclub. Theyve all done pretty well. Rich Hill threw his best innings of the spring against the Yankees Monday night. Albers has been tremendous all spring, said Francona. Atchison just goes and gets em out. Miller is really exciting to us. No matter our decision is at the end, its still going to be good news.

Were probably going to have to tell a couple of guys things they dont want to hear, but I think it bodes well for the organization.

Jacoby Ellsbury continued his torrid spring with another home run, this one smacked off Tigers ace Justin Verlander, as he and Darnell McDonald (solo homer in the 10th inning) provided the offense for the Sox in a 2-1 win at Joker Marchant Stadium.

The only other hit for the Sox =- despite the presence of a handful of regulars who traveled 2 12 hours to Lakeland to take on the Tigers -- was a J.D. Drew single.

Francona was still raving Tuesday about the combined efforts of Bobby Jenks and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to nail Curtis Granderson in a stolen-base attempt Monday night against the Yankees.

Jenks employed a slide step with the runner on base at the behest of the Boston coaching staff. The thinking is that Jenks will be in plenty of tight situations in the late innings with the Sox, and the ability to control the running game something Jenks was never able to do against the White Sox, when he was concentrating on simply closing down ballgames will be paramount to Bostons success.

Last night was probably the most excited Ive been all spring, said Francona. Bobby being the closer with the White Sox, they sometimes fall into that thing where you forget about base runners a little bit. Jonathan Papelbon is the same thing. When youre in for the seventh and eighth inning as Jenks is expected to be this year, those are situations where a team might be a little more apt to steal and Granderson was on first obviously wanting to run.

Jenks threw his pitches, he executed the slide step, he throw over to first and he gave Salty a chance to throw him out. He came off and I grilled him a little bit. He said Im fine. You guys do whatever you want. It was really encouraging because he handled everything. Threw every pitch out of the slide step and felt comfortable. That was good.

Jason Varitek was genuinely touched when apprised the complimentary things that Victor Martinez said about the Sox captain prior to Tuesdays game. Martinez said Varitek was a key figure in the younger backstop transitioning to Boston so quickly, and V-Mart said that Variteks help made him a better baseball player in the long run.

Varitek admitted the two chirped back and forth with each other when Martinez stepped to the plate in the second inning to face Daisuke Matsuzaka, but got serious when talking about Martinezs kind words.

That really does mean a lot to me, said Varitek. Those are the kinds of things that stay with you long after youre done playing.

Former ESPN anchor and MSNBC news host Keith Olbermann is a longtime friend of Francona, and was milling around the Joker Marchant Stadium area prior to the game. He walked over by the Sox dugout during the Sox skippers pregame media availability, and Francona perked up with: Theres my bench coach!

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Napoli: Red Sox and his agent only had 'small talk' about reunion

Napoli: Red Sox and his agent only had 'small talk' about reunion

BOSTON -- Of course, the Rangers' Mike Napoli didn't mind the idea of replacing David Ortiz. He loved playing in Boston.

There just was never much chatter that way last offseason, when Napoli was a free agent after his Indians took the Cubs to seven games in the World Series.

"I think my agent had maybe a small talk or something [with the Red Sox], but I don't think it ever would have happened," Napoli said Tuesday afternoon as he returned to Fenway Park with Texas. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I would have loved to come back. But, I mean, it all worked out. I'm glad to be where I'm at now. Because I knew everybody here [with the Rangers]. I didn't have to start over again."

Napoli played with the Rangers in 2011 and '12, and was traded by the Sox to Texas for the last few months of the 2015 season.

He was hopeful the Sox -- his team from 2013 to midseason 2015 -- would be among the clubs to come calling last winter.

"Oh, yeah," he said.

But he wasn't optimistic it was going to happen. And it didn't.

"To be honest with you . . . Cleveland was my first priority," he said. "I just had a World Series run [with the Indians] and we didn't win it. And then Texas was there [in the bidding, along with] Minnesota."

The Rangers wound up giving Napoli, 35, a one-year deal for 8.5 million with an $11 million club option for next season or a $2.5 million buyout. He's hitting just .188 entering Tuesday, a subpar figure, but has 10 home runs.

"We started off pretty slow, but winning 10 straight will help," Napoli said of the Rangers' recent tear. "[Winning] 11 of 12, we've been playing better. I think we kind of lost track of who we are. We got some guys struggling, still trying to find themselves and kind of got away from doing it together as a team, but we got back to doing that. It's been going pretty well."

Part of the World Series championship team of four years ago, Napoli loved being in Boston in 2013, and he enjoys being back now.

"What we were able to do in 2013, obviously, it's something I'l never forget and something I cherish," Napoli said. "I love coming back here to play."

When it was noted there's been so much turmoil since Napoli left -- the talk of Tuesday was manager John Farrell's job security -- he was unsurprised.

"You got to have thick skin to play here," Napoli said. "You're expected to win a championship every single year. But that's what I loved about playing here, is that people were on you. For me, I loved it. A lot of people probably couldn't do it.

"I knew it in my heart that I went out there and I played as hard as I possibly could every single time . . . I know you're not going to be perfect and live up to everyone."

Red Sox recall Sam Travis, send Velázquez back to Pawtucket

Red Sox recall Sam Travis, send Velázquez back to Pawtucket

BOSTON -- On the list of Red Sox problems, finding a platoon partner for Mitch Moreland at first base isn't high on the list. But the others -- third base, fifth starter -- aren't solvable at the moment, so the Sox turned to one they think they can solve.

Today they recalled Sam Travis from Pawtucket, most likely to provide relief for Moreland against left-handed pitching. Travis' path to the majors was delayed by a knee injury that cost him a good chunk of the 2016 season -- otherwise, odds are good he'd have been here by now -- but he signaled his readiness by recovering from a 5-for-36 start with a sizzling .344 average in 90 at-bats since April 22 that includes six doubles and three home runs. His OPS in that span is .909.

Most importantly, Travis crushes left-handed pitching. He's hit .358 (93-for-260) against them in his professional career, and is .414 (12-for-29) against them this year. 

Hector Velázquez was sent back to the PawSox to make room for Travis, ensuring another roster move later this week. After Kyle Kendrick's failed attempt to take control of the fifth spot in the starting rotation, Velázquez was called up and given a shot in Oakland last Thursday night. He allowed six earned runs over five innings, failing the test. And thus the search for a fifth starter -- at least until David Price returns -- continues.

Price will make a rehab start in Pawtucket tomorrow and could return to Boston after that, but the Sox will need a pitcher for Saturday's game against Seattle. Even if Price is cleared to return to Boston, he won't be able to pitch Saturday on two days' rest.