Notes: Varitek does it all to beat Tribe

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Notes: Varitek does it all to beat Tribe

By MaureenMullen
CSNNE.com

CLEVELAND -- When Jason Varitek was asked to discuss his best game of the season, like any good catcher, he preferred to talk about his pitchers.

But reporters pushed. Varitek had just hit his first home run of the year, and he threw out two would-be base stealers in a 4-2 win over the Indians. The media wasn't going to let him get away that easily.

He relented.

"I dont know how long its been since last hitting a home run, Varitek said. It was nice . . . the timing of it. I've had good quality at-bats; whether I hit a home run or not, I don't know. I've been having some good at-bats. I couldn't have started any worse. I was 1-for-40 and after that I started having competitive at-bats and not necessarily the results.

The timing of his two-run home run his first in 117 at-bats since May 30, 2010 could not have been better, providing the difference in the Red Sox 4-2 win over the Indians.

Throwing out two attempted base stealers for the first time since catching Seattles Chone Figgins twice on Sept. 14, 2010 proved valuable, too. In the third inning he cut down Shin-Soo Choo trying to steal second, to end the inning. In the fourth inning, Varitek caught Travis Buck attempting to steal second.

Huge, said Josh Beckett, the beneficiary of Variteks performance. Its my pitch count. I put myself in some bad situations, and I think I had three 1-2-3 innings, and two of them were because of him. Saves me pitches.

Varitek and Beckett have been paired since Becketts second start of the season. Since then, Beckett has not lost. Its satisfying for him to see Varitek succeed.

Its great, he said. Hes always helping me, but whenever you're able to throw somebody out and help me on a night where my breaking stuffs not the best, it just keeps me from throwing more pitches because Im a little stubborn sometimes and I continue to work on things.

I think hes been putting together some pretty good at-bats. I think hes been hitting some balls hard. I know he lined out in his last start catching me, sometimes the balls just dont fall. But I really feel hes seeing the ball a lot better.

Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is growing more comfortable in his role as the Sox primary catcher, have solidified the Sox catching.

Well, both guys have complemented each other I think really well, said manager Terry Francona. Weve been talking about it the last week or so but, 'Tek made some good throws tonight. Bangs the ball out of the ballpark. We were talking about it before the game. They do that every once in a while, just sitting down there in the nine hole, or tonight in the seven. But its come together a lot better.

The catching had been a concern for Francona.

I think when were 2-10, that were probably worried about everything, he said. I think we have confidence in guys and certainly need to be patient and I think thats paying off. But we werent playing very well. But because its our job, I think we do worry about things like that.

Varitek is happy with the way he and Saltalamacchia have complemented each other.

"I think we're the same that we were, he said. I think with our entire team -- you
cant judge our entire team in one week for an entire season. Once things
settled down we won some games. Everybody contributes."

The Sox are an American League-best 15-7 in May.

The win snaps the Sox five-game losing streak at Progressive Field, going back to last season.

David Ortiz went 2-for-4, extending his hit streak to six games. He is batting .370 (10-for-27) in that stretch. Since May 2 he has 10 multihit games in his last 20, batting .341 (28-for-82) with 7 home runs and 9 RBI.

Adrian Gonzalez went 1-for-4, with a five-game hit streak, batting .521 (12-for-23). He extended his league lead in RBI to 42.

Rich Hill has not allowed a run in his seven appearances, spanning seven innings, with 10 strikeouts.

Dustin Pedroia was not in the lineup Tuesday, with Drew Sutton taking his place. Pedroia stumbled rounding second base in the eighth inning Monday night, tweaking his surgically repaired left foot. Francona said he talked with Pedroia Tuesday morning and the second baseman reported that he was fine. But Francona thought it would be a good chance to give him a day off.

Francona is pleased with the way Pedroia and his foot, with a screw embedded in it, have been holding up.

Like a champ, Francona said. Thats what he does. Hes in the training room every day and hes not a training-room guy. Hes in there doing his stuff with the trainers, and keeping himself where hes able to be out on the field every day.

With Pedroia out, Jed Lowrie moved into the second spot in the lineup, rather than Carl Crawford, who has spent most of his career batting second.

We did consider that, but I dont want to be bouncing Crawford around, because Pedey will be back in there tomorrow, Francona said. And we would have had lefties Jacoby Ellsbury, Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. hitting 1-2-3. Cleveland lefty reliever Tony Sipps been getting every lefty out in the world. So just dont want to invite that.

Sipp held lefties to a .040 average (1-for-25) this season, with eight strikeouts and no extra base hits before Tuesday night's game.

Daniel Bard was not available Tuesday. He threw 11 pitches Monday, being charged with a blown save and the loss. He also threw 22 on Sunday.

He could pitch, but we wont, Francona said before the game. He said he feels good but we wouldnt do that. Hes a tough one. Hes so good. Hes so durable. Hes also so young and hes got a terrific career ahead of him. We sat down with him yesterday just to talk to him about that. He gives you such good answers that its easy to talk to him.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen

Drellich: Pomeranz among reasons Red Sox pitching depth is so good

Drellich: Pomeranz among reasons Red Sox pitching depth is so good

BOSTON -- Drew Pomeranz’s first start in a Boston uniform of at least six innings and three hits or fewer came Wednesday night, 364 days after his first start with the Red Sox following a trade with the Padres last July.

The lefty’s consistency this season has been one of the most pleasant surprises, and ultimately a stabilizing force in the Boston rotation. The Red Sox are 9-2 in his last 11 starts and he’s gone at least six innings in six of his last seven now. His ERA in that span is 2.13.

"I had a good year last year, but I feel really good this year with all my pitches," Pomeranz said. "I feel really good with all my pitches on both sides of the plate, which is something I've never really had before. I've made some adjustments mechanically, where I am on the rubber and things. Just really tried to focus on pitching arm-side with everything, which I was always good on glove side. I think that has helped me put this string together."

The rotation is deep. Deep enough that the Sox are slotting in seven pitchers in a seven-game stretch. Somehow, there were eight starting pitchers on the Red Sox roster Tuesday. One of them, Brian Johnson, started in a 5-4 win over the Blue Jays that took 15 innings, and another, Hector Velazquez, finished it out in extras.

Both Johnson and Velazquez went to the minors on Wednesday when the Sox added Ben Taylor and Kyle Martin to the bullpen, the latter getting to the big leagues for the first time. 

But the contributions of Johnson and Velazquez on Tuesday, followed up by Pomeranz’s work on Wednesday, are indicative of an increasing strength for the 2017 Sox: not just the very top of the rotation, but its depth.

That depth, you’ll recall, was never assured. Far, far from it. 

David Price was injured at year’s start. Pomeranz’s health was in question to begin the year. 

Steven Wright was lost for the season. Velazquez’s first big league start looked bad. Kyle Kendrick’s time in the majors did not go well. Eduardo Rodriguez was lost for a month and a half because of a knee injury.

Yet the Red Sox entered Wednesday with the third-best rotation ERA in the American League, 4.09. Chris Sale and Price are as frightening a potential playoff one-two punch as you can find. 

There's a lot more going on.

“There’s always the adage you never have enough pitching and certainly when you start Brian Johnson, what’s he had, four major league starts in his career?” Pitching coach Carl Willis said before Johnson’s start Tuesday. “So, while there’s still a certain amount of inexperience there, we’ve seen the ability play out. We’ve seen him go out and throw a nine inning shutout here in Fenway Park. Hector Velazquez has stepped in a couple of situations and pitched very well his second time back with the club and Doug Fister is a guy who has had some very very good years. 

“And while he’s maybe not exactly the same guy he was six, seven years ago, he’s still a guy with four pitches and he understands how to pitch, how to change speeds. So you know, when you look at the front end with Sale, with Price throwing as he is, with Pomeranz throwing as he is now, getting Eddy back, it’s a very very talented group of guys that we feel very confident in.”

Price, somehow, is throwing harder this year than last.

“You know, I can’t tell you 100 percent the reason why,” Willis said. “I think some of it is his possibly attributed to when you have an injury, the rehab process and how the throwing is monitored and the strengthening factor of that rehab process is, I think, so much more intensified or detailed because you’re dealing with certain specific areas. 

“I really think, you know, it’s a byproduct of those things, and it’s been a pleasure to watch. Obviously, he was dominating on Sunday night in a game that we really needed a performance like that. It gives you. A lot of optimism going forward to see him throw the baseball like that.”

Porcello seems to have righted the ship, with a 3.31 ERA in his last five starts.

“I do [think he’s turned a corner],” Willis said. “I felt for a while that he was close, that he was making small steps getting there. We’re seeing much better command now at the bottom of the strike zone, and that allows him to at times then elevate. But it starts with the bottom of the zone, and I think he’s in a place right now, we’re starting to see that consistency of that.

"And when he does that, hey, he’s still a contact-oriented pitcher and there are going to be ground balls and there are going to be some hits. But that’s who he is, and he can be successful that way, as we’ve seen. And I think he’s at that point right now."

Throw in the healthy return of Rodriguez and the continued success of Pomeranz and extras like Fister, Johnson and Velazquez, the Red Sox have choices. Options.

Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski arguably took a risk when he dealt away, of all people, Clay Buchholz. Buchholz, of course, wound up needing surgery once he got to the Phillies.

But the Sox pitching situation felt far from comfortable to begin the year, for one reason or another. It's comfy now — about as comfy as can be, anyway. And Dombrowski and the Red Sox, from the medical staff to the coaching staff to the pitchers themselves, deserve credit for getting to this point.