Boston Red Sox

Sox' bats still slumping, but pitching in fine form

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Sox' bats still slumping, but pitching in fine form

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

ANAHEIM, Calif -- They're still not hitting, as evidenced by the fact that four players in the starting lineup Friday came into the game hitting below .200.

As a team, they continue to falter with runners in scoring position, going just 5-for-38 in such situations in the four games to date on the road trip.

Behind the plate, they must choose between a catcher who is 1-for-23 at the plate or his anointed replacement, who is having great difficulty throwing, and, Friday night at least, simply catching the ball.

But say this for the resurgent Red Sox: their starting pitching is in order. Finally. And that, as much as anything, is the reason they have gone 6-1 since last Saturday, saving themselves from the yawning hole they dug in the first two weeks.

Jon Lester tossed six shutout innings Friday before the Angels begin chipping away at the Boston bullpen with a run in the seventh and two more in the eighth for a 4-3 Red Sox win.

In the last seven games, Red Sox starters have a collective 1.17 ERA, good enough to overcome all the other issues that continue to plague the team.

"Remember back on the homestand,'' said Terry Francona, "somebody asked me what's the best way to get it going and I said, 'A time or two through the rotation, where they give us a chance every night.' And that's exactly what's happened.''

Lester had difficulty putting Angels hitters away at times, resulting in a lot of deep counts, a lot of foul balls, and, as a result, a high pitch count.

"I just didn't get that early contact that we needed,'' lamented Lester, 2-1. "But it was good that we went back and forth and didn't allow them to sit one side when they were swinging like they were.''

On a night when the Red Sox would have liked him to go deeper -- he was done after 111 pitches in just six innings -- thanks to a depleted bullpen, Lester was still good enough.

He fanned eight and walked just two and allowed only four hits.

Lester senses the rotation building momentum and feeding off one another, one quality start follwing another.

"The first two weeks of the season,'' he said, "it's kind of uncommon for everybody to come out (and click), throwing the lights out of the ball. It took us two turns, three turns to get where we're feeling comfortable.

"You can prepare all off-season, all spring training for the regular season but when those lights go on and it's for real, it's different. We're still in the building phase of the season. We're still in uncharted territory, where guys are throwing 110, 120 pitches. There's still some things to go on to body-wise to build up, but, yeah, I think the rotation has gotten until a little bit of a rhythm and we can build off each other's starts.

Gone are the days early in the season when the Sox would fall behind early, putting pressure on hitters to make up the deficits in a hurry and the relievers, who had to come into games far earlier than they would like.

But starting with Josh Beckett's effort against Toronto last Saturday, the pitching has covered up the multitude of sins. Correspondingly, the hitters don't have to overcome early leads and the bullpen isn't being taxed in the early and middle innings.

"Guys just build off each other,'' said Lester. "Just like hitters build off an inning. A guy gets a hit and you build off that; (it's the same with pitchers).''

With the hitters not hitting and the catcher having difficulty catching the burden has fallen on the pitchers. For the last week, they've shouldered it just fine.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

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.