Westmoreland working out, making miraculous progress

191542.jpg

Westmoreland working out, making miraculous progress

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It is a warm but breezy morning at the Red Sox player development complex at the end of Edison Avenue.

On two fields, the organization's youngest minor-leaguers are gathered at the team's Instructional League program, a sort of after-season tutorial with an emphasis on fundamentals. Sprinkled in between are a handful of more advanced prospects such as Casey Kelly and Jose Iglesias, who aren't here for the remedial lessons, but rather, a baseball environment to continue seasons cut short by injuries.

But this morning, it's a third field that is drawing the most attention. There, Ryan Westmoreland swings at ''flips'' -- soft underhand lobs from coach Victor Rodriguez -- and serves them into the outfield.

It's an unremarkable display until one considers where Westmoreland was only months ago.

Westmoreland is no stranger to Instruct, as it's called by its attendees. He's been here before to work back into shape after two baseball injuries, so he knows the training and therapy staffs well.

On this morning, he's under the watchful eye of Chip Simpson, the organization's rehab coordinator and physical therapist. He also works closely with strength and conditioning coach Pat Sandora and head trainer Brad Pearson.

Speaking of Simpson, Westmoreland says: ''He's rehabbed my labrum and my collarbone. But I'm pretty sure he's never rehabbed a brain before.''

Westmoreland's brain is, actually, already ''rehabbed,'' having recovered from a procedure last March when the 19-year-old was found to have a cavernous malformation in his brain stem, requiring immediate and incredibly risky surgery.

Westmoreland, who was confined to bed and wheelchair before graduating to walker, then cane, now lives a normal life. He spends time with his girlfriend and friends in his hometown of Portsmouth, R.I. He can drive a car again and lead a relatively normal life.

That is not satisfying enough, as amazing as his progress has been. Without taking his recovery to date for granted, Ryan Westmoreland wants to continue, to resume the promising baseball career that was cruelly, unexpectedly cut short last March.

He states this without any false bravado, without any trace of self-delusion. Westmoreland almost oozes determination, reflected in the ferocity of his workouts, both on and off the field.

In addition to his gradual ramp up of baseball activities, Westmoreland frequently works on motor skills, balance and hand-eye coordination for three or fours, six days per week.

"He's working like he wants to play a game tomorrow,'' says Mike Hazen, the Red Sox' director of player development. "And there are no ifs about it.''

In truth, of course, no one knows whether Westmoreland's goal is physiologically realistic. As Hazen points out, there is very little data on people recovering from brain injuries and playing professsional sports.

But throughout the Red Sox organization, there exist many who now give Westmoreland the benefit of the doubt. He may have a long way to go -- Westmoreland himself says when it comes to recovering his baseball ability, he's currently at about 50 percent -- but he's already made incredible, some would say miraculous, progress.

''To be doing activity, baseball-related, at all is special,'' acknowledges Westmoreland. ''There are definitely some days when I look over nodding toward a nearby field where baserunning drills are ongoing and say, 'Man, I was wish playing in the game today, hitting second and playing center field.' But then I take a deep breath and think about where I was seven months ago. When I think about it like that, it really puts it into perspective about where I was and how far I've come in a relatively short period of time given the circumstances of what happened.''

On Opening Night of the baseball season, Westmoreland watched the Red Sox and New York Yankees play at Fenway from general manager Theo Epstein's box. He was shown seated on the telecast, with sunglasses on. At the time, he couldn't walk at all and could barely see. His speech was slurred and the right side of his face drooped.

That Westmoreland can now take live batting practice, sprint in the outfield, and uncork strong throws again is enough to think that his recovery, miraculous as it seems, is not finished.

"I'm probably surprising a lot of people that I'm doing this much, this early,'' says Westmoreland. "But I'm just trying to take an aggressive path and keep working.''

Even with advanced science and understanding of the brain, there is no definitive window for how long a patient's rehab can continue to progress. On the low end, the best estimate is 18 months; some believe it can last as long as two years, and for someone as young and athletic as Westmoreland, the period might last nearly 36 months.

But Westmoreland doesn't seem to be taking any chances. Unsure of how much time he has to restore himself, he seems intent on maximizing the time to its fullest. Told that yoga could improve his balance and flexibility, he began practicing immediately.

"Some of the stuff he's doing to get back is mindblowing,'' states Hazen.

He will not be cheated.

He was recently cleared to drive by himself again, a task which he undertook with the same dedicated approach undertaken by 16-year-old would-be drivers everywhere, eager for their freedom. Even small victories can be uplifting.

Last month, as he began plotting for a baseball future, Westmoreland revisited his recent past. He went to visit with the Lowell Spinners and began the most basic of baseball workouts. The Spinners were Westmoreland's first pro team after being drafted in the sixth round in 2008, and though most of the players -- most, recent draft picks -- were unfamiliar to him, he felt at home.

Next was a trip to Greenville, S.C., the Red Sox' low Single A affiliate where, in all likelihood, he would have begun this past April before the detection of the malformation.

The Greenville team was full of Westmoreland's teammates at Lowell, who had graduated one step up the minor-league ladder while Westmoreland was re-learning how to open his eyes, speak and walk.

''You get the text messages and the e-mails,'' he says, ''but to go there and see their concern for how you're doing. They're only 20, 21 years old, but they understand what I went through.''

One of the players at Greenville, Jeremy Hazelbaker, was amazed at the progress Westmoreland had made from early September.

"The stuff he's doing now?'' asks Hazen. "Eighty percent of it he couldn't do when he visited Lowell. The progress he's made in the last month has been remarkable. Remarkable.''

Such leaps are often chronicled by the Red Sox with a video camera, if for no other reason than to remind Westmoreland how far he's already come.

And yet, to watch Westmoreland on the field is to see how far there is still to go. There are contradictions everywhere. While he can run at a good speed with only a little laboring in his form, the after-effects of the surgery are more noticeable when he walks; his right leg is sometimes stiff.

Westmoreland can, paradoxically, swing at pitches and line them all over a practice field, but can have difficulty merely picking up an errant baseball with his right hand.

In the outfield, his longtosses out of a crow hop - as if he had come up with a one-hop single in right with the intent of cutting down a runner at third -- are powerful and mostly accurate. But standing still, his throws at 60 feet or so can be awkward and off-target. Some motor skills were impacted and others weren't.

"I'm doing every activity; I'm not doing every activity well,'' is how Westmoreland categorizes his re-learned baseball aptitude. But as if to stress the progress made, he adds: "But I am doing it all. The bigger steps came earlier. Now, it's about fine-tuning and getting back into total baseball shape.''

He will spend most of the offseason here in Fort Myers, mostly isolated, with family and friends back in Rhode Island. Recalling a two-month hospital and rehab facility stay, Westmoreland will not complain. The work is liberating.

''I'm not upset to be here at all,'' he says. "I've come so far in seven months and
I don't plan on stopping. I'm doing a lot better than I was and I've come to terms with what's happened. When I do fail at something initially, I understand it's just a little setback.''

Having achieved a normal quality of life again, Westmoreland is grateful. But he catches himself settling for just that and directs his objectives to the field.

"I don't want it to be, 'Oh, well,' '' says Westmoreland of the notion of casually dismissing baseball and settling.

A ''broad goal.'' would have him fully taking part in just about all activities next spring training.

Hazen, understandably, does not want to get into projecting how much more Westmoreland can do and how soon.

"We have absolutely no timetable,'' he says. "We're not evaluating the on-field baseball stuff right now. We're just kind of building an athletic foundation. But I will say this: I don't think anyone's counting out what this kid of capable of.''

But Ryan Westmoreland has bigger, more specific plans. He planned to make it to the big leagues when he was drafted and to his way of thinking, that dream has only been interrupted, not ended, by brain surgery.

''I'm a very driven guy and I'm very motivated,'' says Westmoreland, a statement so obvious that it's almost laughable. ''and I want to get to my ultimate goal, playing at Fenway. However long that takes, that will still be my goal.''

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

Improved Matt Barnes dealing with much more than mechanics

red-sox-matt-barnes.jpg

Improved Matt Barnes dealing with much more than mechanics

BOSTON — Matt Barnes has been coping with more than just a few bad outings on the mound, and he’s asking for help.

The Red Sox set-up man made some mechanical corrections that paid off in the eighth inning Monday night, when he struck out all three Twins he faced in a 4-1 Red Sox win at Fenway Park.

“I just simplified the mechanics,” Barnes said afterward. “Two days ago, I was trying to get with more of an up, down, and out approach. I felt better in that outing. I know I gave up a run and walked the one guy, but I felt better around the zone. And then just kind of went into a slide step, doing what Andrew Miller was doing.”

Barnes allowed four runs spanning his previous three outings, retiring just four batters while walking five. But Barnes has had a lot more to worry about than just a brief professional rut. 

He’s been devoted to helping his girlfriend, Chelsea, through the unexpected loss of her father, who was diagnosed with cancer and suffered a stroke

"Her father passed away [May 27]. That’s why I wasn’t in Baltimore for the two days [in early June], I was at his funeral,” Barnes said. "It’s tough, dealing with that, and she’s obviously having a hard time with it. She’s got her good days and her bad days. But it’s not easy. He was sick for a little while, and unexpectedly passed a lot faster than anybody ever expected him to. So, it’s been tough. She’s been alright, considering.”

There are a ton of medical bills still to be paid. A fundraising page has been set up to help the family with some large medical bills, and Barnes has asked on Twitter for people to spread the word if they’re able to.

“I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with her which is nice,” Barnes said of his girlfriend. “Everybody who’s helped out with donations and spreading the page, I couldn’t be more grateful, and she couldn’t be more grateful.”

Barnes is a big leaguer, but he’s still young and making the major league minimum. For every $1,000 total donated, Barnes plans to send a signed baseball to a random donor.

“I felt like it was a nice way, if they’re going to help me out, I can at least do that in return for them,” Barnes said.

Sale gets 9 Ks, Moreland hits home run as Red Sox beat Twins, 4-1

Sale gets 9 Ks, Moreland hits home run as Red Sox beat Twins, 4-1

BOSTON -- The way Chris Sale and the Boston relievers were pitching, the Red Sox didn't need to score a lot.

Sale went 6 1/3 overpowering innings with nine strikeouts, Mitch Moreland hit a solo homer for the third straight game and the Red Sox beat the Minnesota Twins 4-1 on Monday in a matchup of two of the AL's top teams.

"When you've got him on the mound, all you need is a couple and he's going to do the rest," Moreland said. "Obviously, tonight was another example of that."

Dustin Pedroia had two hits and drove in a run and Moreland added a sacrifice fly for Boston, which kept pace with the New York Yankees atop the East.

The Red Sox started fast, grabbing a 2-0 lead just four batters into the first.

"When the guys score early for you, it's nice," Sale said. "It settles you down a little bit and allows you to throw strikes."

Coming off a three-game sweep in Cleveland that had jumped them over the Indians into first in the Central, the Twins' offense was stymied by Sale and three relievers. The loss coupled with Cleveland's win over Texas moved the Indians back a half-game ahead.

Sale (10-3) gave up one run and four hits, increasing his major-league strikeout total to 155. Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his 21st save after Matt Barnes struck out three in the eighth. Heath Hembree faced one batter, getting a double play.

The 6-foot-6 Sale relied on his usual sharp-breaking slider and fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s to fan eight over the first six innings, getting the initial half dozen with his breaking pitch.

"It's what we've seen many times. He had a nice mix," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "I think the biggest trouble we had was with that slider, especially down and in to righties."

Jose Berrios (7-2) allowed four runs and eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. Chris Gimenez had a solo homer for Minnesota.

"When you go against a guy like Chris Sale, you try to give 110 percent," Berrios said through a translator.

Boston jumped ahead when Moreland homered into the first row of Green Monster seats after the first run scored on a double-play grounder.

Berrios had given up just two runs in each of his previous four starts, and six of eight since being promoted on May 7.

Gimenez's homer completely left Fenway Park over the Monster.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Twins: Molitor said RHP Phil Hughes, on the 10-day disabled list since late May with biceps tenderness, "felt good" but the pitcher had hoped his velocity would be a bit higher. ... LHP Glen Perkins, on the DL with a shoulder strain, is expected to resume throwing again Tuesday after a setback about a week ago.

Red Sox: DH Hanley Ramirez was out with a sore left knee after getting hit by a pitch Sunday. ... 3B Pablo Sandoval, on the 10-day DL since June 20 with a left inner-ear infection, is slated to start a rehab stint with Triple-A Pawtucket on Tuesday. Manager John Farrell said there's no planned date for his return. ... Moreland fouled a ball that bounced and hit near his right eye.

NICE START, KID

Red Sox 3B Tzu-Wei Lin singled to right in his first major-league at-bat and first career start.

The 23-year-old from Taiwan played third on his country's national teams in 2009 and 2010. He's the second Taiwanese-born player to make Boston's major-league roster. Outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin was the other, in 2012.

RUNNING AROUND

Twins LF Eddie Rosario made three nice running, over-the-shoulder catches.

WELCOME ABOARD

Infielder Jhonny Peralta reported to Triple-A Pawtucket on Monday. Boston signed him to a minor-league deal after he was released by St. Louis earlier this month.

The plan is to alternate him at third and DH with Sandoval.

ROSTER MOVE

The Twins sent RHP Dillon Gee back to Triple-A to make room for Tuesday's starter LHP Hector Santiago.

UP NEXT

Twins: Santiago (4-6, 5.26 ERA) will be activated off the DL Tuesday. He's been sidelined since June 7 with a strained left shoulder.

Red Sox: LHP Drew Pomeranz (6-4, 4.07) looks to snap a three-start winless stretch.