Boston Red Sox

Ortiz hits K.C. as the Red Sox' lone All-Star representative

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Ortiz hits K.C. as the Red Sox' lone All-Star representative

KANSAS CITY -- In the past, when David Ortiz made his annual pilgrimage to the All-Star Game, he came with plenty of company.

Jon Lester. Josh Beckett. Dustin Pedroia. Jonathan Papelbon. They -- and plenty of others (J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell, Tim Wakefield, et al) -- made sure the Red Sox were always well represented at baseball's midsummer classic.

Not this year.

As reflects a team that is at .500 at the break, Ortiz is the lone Red Sox representative at Tuesday's All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium. That marks the first time in more than a decade -- Manny Ramirez was the only member of the Sox at the 2001 game -- that the Sox have had just one representative.

"It's a little crazy,'' agreed Ortiz. "I've always been able to see some of my teammates. It's strange. But at the same time, we have a lot of guys on the DL. That's the major reason, I guess.''

It's those same injuries -- to Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Bailey and, more recently, Pedroia -- which have impacted the Sox so heavily.

There's no arguing with Ortiz's credentials. He's hitting .312 with 22 homers and 57 RBI, all tops on the team. His .607 slugging percentage and 1.013 OPS are each among the league leaders.

"I think it was good,'' said Ortiz assessing his own first half. "There's a lot of challenges in the American League. If you don't have someone hot hitting behind you, they don't mind pitching around you and taking care of the rest of the lineup. I think the first half was good. Like I always do, I tried my best. Hopefully, the rest of the guys on the DL are ready for the second half and we'll have a better chance.''

Playing without tablesetters such as Crawford and Ellsbury, and with Adrian Gonzalez not producing as many runs behind him, Ortiz has had to carry the team offensively.

"It puts a lot of pressure on me,'' said Ortiz. "You look at the games and see how they pitch to me. You just have to be patient. I have learned over the years how to be patient. When you're young, you have so much energy and you want to do things. Next thing you know, you're in trouble.

"I've been doing the opposite. It's hard, though. You have to work at it. But it is what it is.''

Ortiz can only hope that the players sidelined for much of the first half will provide a boost when the second half of the season gets underway Friday. Both Ellsbury and Crawford are expected back within a week or so.

"We're going to have a lot of guys coming back,'' he said. "A lot of the regular guys are coming back. We're going to be in better shape going into the second half. We have a lot of guys on the DL and it's hard to compete like that.

"We haven't been able to work as a group, there have been so many injuries. At one point, we had the whole regular outfield on the DL. Everybody's been on the DL. I've never seen anything like that before.''

With a 3-7 road trip in Seattle and Oakland followed by a 1-3 series against the Yankees, the Sox didn't exactly give themselves any momentum going into the break, losing 8 of their last 11.

That skid dropped them 9 12 games in back of New York, and 2 12 games out of the second wild-card spot.

But Ortiz believes the Sox can still come out ready to make their move Friday.

"The break,'' he said, "sometimes, it gives the players a chance to breathe, think a little bit about the second half and what they have to do better, what they need to improve on.

"Our team is really good at that. You saw last year how we bounced back after the slow start. After the break, a lot of players regroup. You know that's the last ride, the last part of the season. Hopefully, that's the case with us and we start playing better.''

It would help, too, if underperforming veterans such as Gonzalez, Lester and Beckett began to play to their usual level in the second half, something Ortiz believes is likely.

"The most important thing is that they know how to do it,'' he said. "Hopefully they come back strong."

How Drew Pomeranz, 2nd best lefty in the American League, can be even better

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How Drew Pomeranz, 2nd best lefty in the American League, can be even better

BOSTON — Drew Pomeranz may not technically be the No. 2 for the Red Sox in this year’s presumed American League Division Series. Maybe the Red Sox will mix in a right-hander between Pomeranz and Chris Sale.

Either way, everyone knows which pitcher, in spirit, has been the second-most reliable for the Red Sox. A day after Chris Sale notched his 300th strikeout and on the final off-day of the regular season, it’s worth considering the importance of the other excellent lefty on the Sox, and how much he’s meant to a team that’s needed surprise performances because of the lineup’s drop-off.

Per FanGraphs’ wins above replacement, Pomeranz is the second-most valuable lefthanded starter among those qualified in the American League (you know who's No. 1). He's one of the 10 best starters in the AL overall.

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The 28-year-old Pomeranz was a first-round pick seven years ago. But he didn’t exactly blossom until the last two years. He has a 3.15 ERA in 165 2/3 innings. His next start, if decent, should give him a career-high in innings after he threw 170 2/3 last year.

Pomeranz is a 16-game winner, just one win behind Sale. The value of wins and losses is known to be nil, but there’s still a picture of reliability that can be gleaned.

Is this the year Pomeranz became the pitcher he always envisioned he would be?

“I don’t know, I mean, I had a pretty dang good year last year,” Pomeranz said, referring to a 3.32 ERA between the Padres and Sox, and an All-Star selection. “I think these last two years have been kind of you know, more what I wanted to be like. But I still, I don’t think I’m done yet, you know what I mean?”

Most pro athletes say there’s always room to improve. Pomeranz, however, was able to specify what he wants. The focus is on his third and fourth pitches: his cutter and his change-up. 

“My change-up’s been really good this year,” Pomeranz said. “That’s something that still can go a lot further. And same with my cutter too. I still use it sparingly. I don’t think me just being a six-inning guy is the end of it for me either.

“You set personal goals. You want to throw more innings, cover more innings so the bullpen doesn’t have to cover those. Helps save them for right now during the year.”

Early in the year, Pomeranz wasn’t using his cutter much. He threw just nine in April, per BrooksBaseball.net. That led to talk that he wasn’t throwing the pitch to take it easy on his arm. He did start the year on the disabled list, after all, and cutters and sliders can be more stressful on the elbow and forearm.

That wasn’t the case.

“The reason I didn’t throw it in the beginning of the year was because half the times I threw it went the other way,” Pomeranz said. “It backed up. Instead of cutting, it was like sinking or running back. I mean, I pitched [in Baltimore] and gave up a home run to [Manny] Machado, we were trying to throw one in and it went back. So I didn’t trust it.

“Mechanical thing. I was still trying to clean my mechanics up, and once I cleaned ‘em up and got my arm slot right, then everything started moving the way it was supposed to and then I started throwing it more.”

Pomeranz’s cutter usage, and how he developed the pitch heading into 2016, has been well documented.

The change-up is more of an X-factor. He threw five in each of his last two starts, per Brooks, and it’s a pitch he wants to use more.

“It’s been good,” Pomeranz said. “I think I could throw it a lot more and a lot more effectively, and ... tweaking of pitch selection probably could help me get into some of those later innings too.”

Well, then why not just throw the change more often? Easier said than done when you’re talking about your fourth pitch in a key moment.

“I throw a few a game,” Pomeranz said. “Sometimes you feel like you don’t want too throw it in situations where you get beat with your third or fourth best pitch. I mean it’s felt — every time I’ve thrown it it’s been consistent. It’s just a matter of, it’s something me and Vazqy [Christian Vazquez] talk about too." 

(When you hear these kind of issues, which most pitchers deal with, it makes you appreciate Sale’s ability to throw any pitch at any time even more.)

Speaking on Wednesday, the day after Pomeranz’s most recent outing, Sox pitching coach Willis said he thinks the change-up’s already starting to have a greater presence.

“He’s kind of always had a changeup, and he hadn’t had any trust or conviction in that pitch,” Willis said. “I was really excited last night that he used the changeup more. He threw it. He doubled up with it on occasion. Something that’s not in the scouting report.

"It’s his fourth pitch and he seldom threw it in a game and he’s in a situation where, OK, the change-up’s the right pitch, but location of whatever I throw is going to outweigh [selection]. Now he’s starting to gain that confidence [that he can locate it]. 

“I think that’s going to make him an extremely better pitcher. I thought it was a huge factor in his outing last night. Because he didn’t have his best velocity. He really did a good job of changing speeds with the changeup, and obviously with the curveball and being able to give different shapes of the pitches.”

The Sox already have the best left-hander in the AL, if not anywhere. The AL's second-best southpaw happens to pitch on the same team, and has tangible plans to be even better.

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Werner criticizes Price for Eck incident; says Sox' relationship with Yanks is 'frosty'

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Werner criticizes Price for Eck incident; says Sox' relationship with Yanks is 'frosty'

BOSTON — Red Sox chairman Tom Werner doesn’t seem to be the biggest fan of the the Yankees, MLB disciplinarian Joe Torre, and players who can’t take criticism from broadcasters.

In a spot Thursday with WEEI, Werner made clear David Price’s handling of Dennis Eckersley was unprofessional.

“Boston is a tough place to play,” Werner said on WEEI’s Ordway, Merlonia and Fauria. “Some players thrive here, and some players don’t. Get a thicker skin. My feeling is, let the broadcasts be honest, be personable, informative, and get over it if you think a certain announcer took a shot at you.”

“I thought there was a way of handling that. It wasn’t handled appropriately. If I’ve got a problem with Lou [Merloni], and I hear something he says on the radio, I’ll say to Lou, ‘That wasn’t fair.’ ”

Werner also called the team’s relationship with the Yankees “frosty” following the public sign-stealing saga that resulted in fines for both clubs.

“The fact is, I do think this was a minor technical violation,” Werner said. “I start with the fact that this was unfortunately raised to a level it never should have been raised to.”

Werner also insinuated he did not approve of how MLB and Torre handled the disciplining of Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, who receieved a four-game suspension for his part in a fight against the Tigers (reduced on appeal to three games).

“Do you think Gary Sanchez got an appropriate punishment?” Werner asked.