Valentine: Lester had 'best stuff of the year'

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Valentine: Lester had 'best stuff of the year'

BOSTON It appeared Jon Lester would be in for a rough outing. He needed 27 pitches (17 strikes) facing six batters in the first inning.But, although the Tigers got three hits, they got just one run off the Red Sox left-hander in the inning, leaving two runners on base.Detroit added two more in the third when Quentin Berry led off with a triple and scored on Danny Worths sacrifice fly. Miguel Cabrera, the next batter, doubled and went to third on a wild pitch, scoring on Prince Fielders groundout to third when Will Middlebrooks failed to check him back to the base.After that, though, Lester settled down, retiring 10 of the next 12 batters he faced, allowing just a lead-off single to Brennan Boesch in the fourth and a two-out double to Cabrera (who is 8-for-14 in his career against Lester) in the fifth.Lester went 6 23 innings, giving up four runs on 10 hits with no walks, four strikeouts, and a wild pitch. He threw 120 pitches, 83 for strikes. His ERA went up a tick, from 4.72 to 4.79.The 10 hits were a season high, and the most hes given up since allowing 12 to the White Sox on May 20, 2011. The 120 pitches were his second highest total of the season, after 122 in seven innings to the White Sox in Chicago.Lester was not involved in the decision, and still has yet to beat the Tigers, the only American League club he has not beaten in his career.Still, manager Bobby Valentine thought it was some of Lesters best stuff this season.His curveball was darting. His cutter had the hitters jumping back. His two-seamer was electric. I thought, Valentine said. Its all from the side. But catcher Kelly Shoppach thought it was really good stuff, too. Things didnt go his way. Those three runs, Id say they were a little tainted. He did what he had to do to bow his neck, as they used to say, and put up the zeros. He did a great job.Lesters stuff was so good, it even fooled Valentine. Lester said he really didnt use his cutter that much in the game. Other than that, he agreed with his managers assessment.Lester did not allow a walk, the second time hes accomplished that this season, along with his complete-game win over the Mariners on May 14. Prior to that, he had gone 46 straight starts since the last time he did not issue a walk, on Aug. 14. 2010, at Texas.Felt like I did, Lester said of having his best stuff of the season. It was getting frustrating to have good stuff and get whacked around a little bit. But that being said, more importantly, try to go deep in the game. Guys gave me a chance to win, which is all you can ask for. Bullpen did a great job. Guys swung the bats great. We had some, had a hard time figuring them out early on but the second and third time through we put some good at-bats together and obviously scored some runs. It was big, big team win for us. Thats a big game for us right there.Lester gave up a run in the first and two more in the third, to spot the Tigers a 3-0 lead. After giving up a double to Miguel Cabrera (who is now 8-for-14 in his career against Lester) in the third, the lefty retired 11 of the next 13 batters he faced, except for a Brennan Boesch single leading off the fourth, and another Cabrera with two outs in the fifth.Lester said it had nothing to do with him making adjustments.They just werent hitting it, he said. I just, no adjustments, stuff didnt change, mix didnt change. I think early on they ambushed me a little bit. But, I dont know. Im at a loss for words for trying to figure it out. Like I said, its frustrating for me because when I have stuff like that, it should play a little bit different but theyre a good hitting team, too. So I got to keep making pitches and keep grinding it out, keep figuring it out every day, just keep throwing it.After Gerald Lairds double in the seventh with one out the second hard-hit ball of the inning, but Alex Avila was erased at second on a tremendous throw by left fielder Daniel Nava to second baseman Nick Punto Valentine visited the mound, but left Lester in.He was at his pitch limit, obviously, Valentine said. Two line drives off the center field wall and I just asked him to reach down and get one more out for us. And he said he could do it.Lester did as asked. He struck out Quentin Berry, looking at a 94-mph fastball, then gave way to Matt Albers, who gave up two consecutive singles, including an RBI single to right to Cabrera, tying the game, erasing Lesters win and quality start, and an intentional walk to Fielder before getting Delmon Young to ground out to end the inning.Although Lester was not involved in the decision, the Sox and Albers got the win.

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

NEW YORK - There won't be any wild pitches on intentional walks this season.

The players' association has agreed to Major League Baseball's proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.

"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I know they're trying to cut out some of the fat. I'm OK with that," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

While the union has resisted many of MLB's proposed innovations, such as raising the bottom of the strike zone, installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound, players are willing to accept the intentional walk change.

"As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes," union head Tony Clark wrote Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however."

The union's decision was first reported by ESPN .

"I'm OK with it. You signal. I don't think that's a big deal," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the most part, it's not changing the strategy, it's just kind of speeding things up. I'm good with it."

There were 932 intentional walks last year, including 600 in the National League, where batters are walked to bring the pitcher's slot to the plate.

"You don't want to get your pitcher out of a rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm," Girardi said. "I've often wondered why you don't bring in your shortstop and the pitcher stand at short. Let the shortstop walk him. They're used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is."

Agreement with the union is required for playing rules changes unless MLB gives one year advance notice, in which case it can unilaterally make alterations. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Tuesday that ongoing talks would lead to an agreement on other changes but also said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Some changes with video review can be made unilaterally, such as shortening the time to make a challenge.

"I know they were thinking about putting in a 30-second (limit) for managers to make a decision," Francona said. "I actually wish they would. I think it would hustle it up and if we can't tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn't be doing it anyway."

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.