Boston Red Sox

Red Sox notebook: first base options

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Red Sox notebook: first base options

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There's not much competition for roster spots here in Red Sox camp, but one job battle that bears watching is the one for the backup first baseman.

That could be an important spot, since starting first baseman Mike Napoli is not a great defender and the Sox would like someone who could serve as a late-inning defensive replacement. Also, Napoli's well-documented hip issues mean he may not always be available.

In a perfect world, the Sox would like that candidate to hit lefthanded, to complement Napoli, who is righthanded. And, they'd prefer that the player be able to contribute in the outfield.

Involved in the mix are Lyle Overbay, Mitch Maier, Daniel Nava and Mark Hamilton. The Sox also had some discussions with outfielder Ryan Sweeney, for now, there are no plans to have Sweeney try the position and he remains exclusively an outfielder.

"It's important that we have another first baseman on the roster,'' said GM Ben Cherington. "We think we have a good chance to find the solution with the guys that are in here. It would be ideal (to have a person who could play both first and the outfield). It needs to be someone who can handle the position defensively and can hopefully produce against a righty (pitcher)."

Manager John Farrell said Nava "has shown decent actions around the bag and with each passing day and added reps, he's getting a little bit more comfortable, a little bit more fluid there.''

According to Farrell, Nava played about 20 games at first while in junior college.

Cherington said the Sox will most likely begin the year with 12 pitchers with 13 position players, leaving them four bench players -- a catcher, an infielder, and outfielder and another outfielder who could handle first.

"There have been times when we've carried 13 pitchers and it never feels optimal when you're doing it,'' said Cherington. "I think what we'd like to do is set up a team with 12 pitchers and make it work that way. But we'll see where we are at the end of the spring.

"Our team really works better with 12 pitchers. We've carried 13 before due to extenuating circumstances, so we'll see. We can't rule it out. But our preference would be to have another position player.''

The Sox plan to bring in Tim Wakefield later this week to work with fellow knuckleballer Steven Wright.

Wright was obtained last July from Cleveland in exchange for first baseman Lars Anderson.

"Understanding what worked well for Wake,'' said Farrell, "is not to say that it's going the same exact checkpoints for Steven. But that's such a tight-knit fraternity (pitchers who throw the knuckleball), to have Wake as a resource and have him in here...He's more than willing to share some of his thoughts and talk about it.''

David Ortiz likely will be held out of the first few exhibition games, which begin Thursday, but shouldn't be sidelined long.

He took live batting practice, but the Sox are carefully monitoring his right Achilles heel which kept him out of the final two months.

"He looks great,'' said Cherington. "He's in great shape. It doesn't seem like he'll be that long, but we're probably going to be cautious with him. We've got a fair amount of time in camp and we're much more concerned about the 162-game schedule than we are the spring training schedule.''

Rangers' Darvish has Red Sox on no-trade list

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Rangers' Darvish has Red Sox on no-trade list

Not that they need him -- they have other, far more pressing needs than starting pitching -- but the Red Sox couldn't get Yu Darvish, the subject of trade rumors with the deadline approaching, even if they wanted to.

Per Ken Rosenthal:

Interesting that last year's two World Series participants, the Cubs and Indians, are with the Red Sox on Darvish's no-trade list, which indicates he made these decisions based on factors other than chasing a ring.

The Sox' biggest worry, of course, is that the Rangers will trade Darvish to the Yankees, who are short of starting pitching. But the talk more and more is that Texas -- light years behind Houston in the A.L. West race but only 4 1/2 games back of Kansas City for the second wild-card spot -- will hold onto its ace right-hander at least until the end of the season.

Drellich: Strikeout records or rest for Chris Sale?

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Drellich: Strikeout records or rest for Chris Sale?

BOSTON -- Savor Sale. And maybe save him, too.

Down the stretch, the Red Sox could have some tough choices to make with Chris Sale, who’s on his way to having a great all-time season, particularly for a starting pitcher this century. 

Should the Red Sox let the lefty loose on Pedro Martinez’s club record of 313 strikeouts and 13.20 Ks per nine innings, both set in 1999? Or, if at all possible, should the Sox hold Sale back some nights, with an eye on preservation and the postseason?

If Sale keeps up his present pace, he’s taking down Pedro in total Ks.

After Tuesday’s 4-0 win over the Mariners, Sale is 21 starts into the year and has 211 strikeouts. He leads the majors in strikeouts per nine innings, at 12.80, and is averaging seven innings per start. A projected schedule for the rest of his season, one that’s just a guess and works in several turns on five days rest, has a dozen starts remaining for Sale. That would give him 33 on the season. 

If each one lasts seven innings, he’d finish with about 232 1/3 innings in the regular season and 330 strikeouts (based on his performance so far).

Those whiffs come at a cost, though. Sale is averaging a major league-high 110 pitches per game after 115 tosses Wednesday. Justin Verlander is the next closest, at 107 1/3 pitches per outing.

If the American League East stays tightly packed, there may be no way the Sox can reasonably afford Sale breaks. They’re already making an effort to get him five days rest rather than the normal four. 

But if there are nights when the Sox can comfortably keep Sale’s pitch count closer to 100, or pull him after six innings rather than seven, should they?

Most players and teams would say the postseason is what everyone plays for. Sale all year has avoided talking about the Ks.

“I have a job to do,” Sale told reporters in Seattle on Wednesday after fanning 11. “I’m not here for strikeouts. I’m here to get wins. That’s all that really matters at the end of the day, honestly.”

It’s not all that matters, though. People want to see history made. Red Sox fans might even tune in for it. (Secretly, Sale might even like the idea.)

Sale, the modern-day Randy Johnson, has not allowed a run in 20 2/3 scoreless innings since the All-Star Break, a span of three starts. He has a 1.04 ERA in July with 56 strikeouts. Every one of his road outings this year has included at least nine strikeouts, and 14 of his 21 starts overall have featured 10 or more.

Unsurprisingly, the only Sox pitcher with more double-digit strikeout games in a season is Martinez, who had 19 in 1999 and 15 the next year. The last time any pitcher had 14 double-digit K games was 2002, when Curt Schilling had 14 and the Big Unit had 15.

Records may fall, but there's a balancing act waiting to unfold.