PawSox notes: Atchison shines in emergency start

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PawSox notes: Atchison shines in emergency start

By MaureenMullen
CSNNE.com

PAWTUCKET, R.I. Right-hander Scott Atchison was a last-minute replacement for starter Alfredo Aceves in the Pawtucket Red Sox' season-opening game at McCoy Stadium Thursday night, and was more than up to the challenge.

Aceves was scratched moments before game time because he was being recalled to Boston as a replacement for the injured Matt Albers (strained lat muscle). In stepped Atchison, and the veteran reliever went 4 23 innings, allowing just three hits and one run with no walks and eight strikeouts. He left with the PawSox trailing, 1-0, and wasn't involved in the decision as Pawtucket rallied for a 2-1 victory over the Rochester Red Wings.

Outstanding job by Atchison . . . with the short notice and then giving us almost five innings like that, said first-year PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler. You just never know what youre going to get when a pitcher is pressed into service on short notice. But he did an outstanding job. He was very efficient, allowed us to extend him and win, lose, or draw in that game, we pitched very well.

Atchison threw 68 pitches, 49 for strikes.

We kind of had a pitch count in mind, Beyeler said. We were just going to kind of see what we could get. He was just being so efficient and getting some outs that we just kept going.

It was not an unfamiliar situation for Atchison. Last June 12 with the Red Sox he was called upon to replace Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was a game-time scratch. Atchison went three innings against the Phillies that day and the Red Sox went on to win the game. It was his only start of the season, in 54 combined appearances between Pawtucket and Boston.

Well, Ive been through it before, he said. To be honest, as a starter -- before, when I was doing it when I was younger -- I always thought about it all day long, and I probably drove myself crazy with that.

"Thursday there wasnt near as much time to think about it. Just go out and make your pitches. I tried to treat it as similar to a relief appearance as I can. Im not going to go throw 45 to 50 pitches in the pen, like some starters do before their start. I just kind of go with how I would warm up to come in in the middle of an inning and go with that from the first and give it everything I got till I run out of gas.

The PawSox went ahead in the sixth on Juan Carlos Linares double off the outfield wall, 400 feet away in straightaway center, scoring Lars Anderson and Drew Sutton.

Hes a dangerous hitter, said Beyeler, who also had Linares last season in Portland. Hes a guy thats going to swing the bat. Hes an aggressive hitter. He got into one there.

Rich Hill earned the win, going 2 13 scorelessinnings, giving up three hits with no walks and four strikeouts. HidekiOkajima followed Hill, going one scoreless inning with one strikeout.Michael Bowden earned the save with a perfect ninth inning.

Shortstop phenom Jose Iglesias had two of the PawSox' hits, both singles.

Iggy did a good job tonight jumping on some fastballs, getting some hits and getting on base, Beyeler said. Its always good for the young guys to get off and get some good hits to start with, put the ball in play and feel like they belong up here.

PawSox and Red Wings pitchers combined for 23 strikeouts, 13 and 10 respectively. It was the most strikeouts by Pawtucket pitching since recording the same number on May 5, 2009.

Reliever Jason Rice was one of the extra players who joined the Red Sox on their trip to Houston before the start of the season on Texas. It was a great experience to go out there, he said. I got to chat with Tim Wakefield near the bucket during BP. It was amazing. I never understood how it is to travel with the big-league club, but from the bus to the plane, to the snacks going up and down the aisle, it was awesome, it was a great experience. I hope there are many more to come."

Rice, who was acquired in the Triple-A phase of the 2008 Rule 5 draft from the White Sox, turns 25 next month. He has never pitched above the Double-A level. Making the trip was an honor, he said. He was a non-roster invitee to spring training, his first big-league camp. Being around the major-league players, he said, was helpful.

Oh, a tremendous amount, he said. Just being around those guys, Wakefield and Jon Lester and Josh Beckett and Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks and Jonathan Papelbon, he said. I got to chat with all of them at some point, and just to talk to them and ask them little things that might help me be successful. Im going to try to incorporate a little bit into my game this year and hopefully end up this year with them and win a championship with them.

With his build and delivery, Rice evokes memories of Tom Gordon. Mention this to Rice, and its sure to draw a smile. Gordon is his pitching idol.

I watched him a lot when he was with the Yankees and he set up for Mariano Rivera, and when he was with the Phillies, Rice said. He was hurt when he was Arizona a little bit. But I got to watch some film on him during spring training when he was with the White Sox, when he was a closer. I just wanted to see his curveball and his fastball and everything. I want to meet him one day if possible. But I do like to watch Flash Gordon throw the baseball.

Rice had 13 saves for Portland last season, finishing 44 games in his 48 appearances. He has not been told how hell be used this year, except out of the pen, and thats fine, he said.

Its not just the players who get pumped up for for Opening Day. Im really excited, said hitting coach Chili Davis before the game. Im as excited as these guys are. I went to bed last night thinking about it and I woke up this morning thinking about it.

This was Davis first season opener since 1999, when he was the Yankees designated hitter.

Davis had some words of optimism for those concerned about the Red Sox 0-6 start.

In 1991 the Twins started off 2-9, he said. We did all right that year.

Davis and the Twins won the World Series in 1991.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen

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.