After rocky start, Sox rebound in first half

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After rocky start, Sox rebound in first half

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
It was not the way the season was supposed to start.

After an offseason that was heralded unlike any in recent years, with the acquisitions of high-profile players includingfirst basemanAdrian Gonzalez in a trade with the Padres and left fielder Carl Crawford as a free agent, along with relievers Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, many preseason prognosticators were fitting the Red Sox for World Series rings.

They were not supposed to go a shocking 0-fer in their first six games.

But thats exactly what happened when they opened the season in Texas and then went on to Cleveland. It was their worst open to a season since the 1945 team went 0-8. The Sox returned to Fenway Park to face the Yankees for the home opener with a zero in the win column. Manager Terry Francona later joked that he wasnt sure what to expect when the team was introduced to the home crowd. Applause or boos for the manager. It could have gone either way.

The Sox won that game, but later fell to 2-10.

The palpable angst among Red Sox fans elicited an appeasement from Chili Davis, the first-year hitting coach for Triple-A Pawtucket.

Tell Red Sox Nation in 1991 the Twins started off 2-9, Davis said back in April. We did all right that year.''

The Twins did more than all right that year. They won the World Series, beating the Braves in seven games.

Just how prophetic Davis words may be remains to be seen. But, at least for the first half of this season, the Sox have done all right.

They entered the All-Star break in first place in the American League East, a game in front of the Yankees, with the best record in the A.L. at 55-35. Their .611 winning percentage is behind only Philadelphias .626 (57-34) in the majors.

When they took over sole possession of first place on May 27, the Sox became only the fifth team in history to do so after losing 10 of their first 12 games, and the first since the 1982 Orioles. None of the other four teams turned things around as quickly by games or days as the Sox did.

For the Sox, though, it was a matter of when, not if. Even if there was no specific date in sight.

It seemed a long way off, Francona said. I think I believed it. It was a very difficult start. Theres no getting around that. I think we needed to regroup, and pay attention to detail, be patient to believe in ourselves because its not easy.

We were taking some pretty good shots. We probably deserved them, but there were some things being written or said that I dont think I believed. And I think we went out and proved that we can be a good team. Were not done yet, not even close, but were playing better baseball.

If the teams turnaround was a surprise, it wasnt to anyone in the clubhouse.

Im not surprised, said David Ortiz. I knew we had a good ballclub. What surprised me was how people were panicking and going crazy when we only had played a small amount of games. Like I always say, its not how you start but how you finish.

Guys in the clubhouse and players in the clubhouse speak for themselves the way they go out and grind out at-bats and grind out innings, Jonathan Papelbon said. Its the way it is. Its the way our ballclub is put together.

I like that we grind. You grind, you shine.

The Sox, shining, head into the second half -- starting Friday with a three-game series against the Rays in Tampa Bay -- in an enviable position. They are a major-league best 55-29 (.655) since getting their first win on April 8. They have won six games in a row, including a four-game sweep of the Orioles just before the break, and 10 of 11, heading into the break.

Nice to be where we are given where we started, said general manager Theo Epstein. A testament to all the hard work of the players and coaching staff. So, were definitely happy with where we are considering where we started. But it doesnt mean anything. Weve got to come back and play good baseball. Were in a competitive division and we havent really proven anything yet, although, hopefully, weve answered some questions about how weve bounced back from adversity.

You never answer all the questions that need to be answered in the first half. Proud of the guys, but it wont mean anything if we dont come out in the second half and play good baseball.

I think we are where we deserve to be, Francona said. Whatever our record is. Weve been a little bit up and down-ish, more down than wed like. But the ups have been better than the downs. Wed like to keep the losing streaks a little more to a minimum but weve done a good job rallying and keeping some of these streaks together. I think we have room for improvement, which I think is good. I think we lead baseball in runs they do, with 482 which is something were thrilled about.

"Wed like to get our bullpen a little bit more in order so we dont have to rely on Daniel Bard and things like that, with Alfredo Aceves and Matt Albers. We need to get Bobby Jenks going, try to get Franklin Morales on a roll here. Theres things we need to take care of,but theres room for optimism.

There is room for optimism, but there are some concerns, too.

The rotation has been hit hard by injuries. Francona has used nine starting pitchers this season, while four-fifths of the planned rotation has been shelved by injuries. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz begin the second half on the disabled list. Daisuke Matsuzaka is done for the season after Tommy John surgery. John Lackey missed 21 games earlier this season on the DL and has been inconsistent at best when available. Josh Beckett has looked like his former self but left his last start, on Friday, after the fifth inning with a mildly hyperextended left knee and opted to not pitch in the All-Star Game Tuesday night because of that.

Were a long way from 2-10, but we got to shore up, said Jason Varitek. We got to get our pitching staff healthy. Its another huge key. Same as when we pitch well consistently we have a chance to win.

Production from right field has been lacking in the first half. J.D. Drew, in the final year of a five-year, 70 million contract, is hitting just .229, with 4 home runs and 21 RBI in 72 games. Altogether, Red Sox right fielders Drew, Mike Cameron (24 games), Darnell McDonald (nine), Josh Reddick (three), and Adrian Gonzalez (two) hit just .220 with 9 home runs and 39 RBI in the first half.

The Sox, who are always active at the trading deadline, could be in the market for a right-handed bat or possibly a pitcher. But, with several high-profile trades in the last few years, including the one for Gonzalez in December and another for Victor Martinez at the 2009 trading deadline, the Sox have depleted the number of prospects available to trade.

The Sox have still not seen what Crawford can do for them. He has been out since June 18 because of a left hamstring strain and offered limited production before that --- batting .243 with 6 home runs, 31 RBI, 8 stolen bases in 12 attempts (a 67 percent success rate, below the accepted 75 percent), a .275 on-base percentage and .384 slugging percentage.

No question, health in general, Papelbon said. Get the guys back that have had the ailments that have been bugging them. Hopefully, come back with a full squad.

It was an incredible first half, Ortiz said. But the most important part is the second half. Thats the one that determines if were going to the playoffs or not. Hopefully, we come back on the same page and hopefully the guys on the DL will come back healthy.

Yes, the Sox are a long way from 2-10. But, they know October is still a long way away.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen

Farrell: Betts ‘day to day’ with sore knee

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Farrell: Betts ‘day to day’ with sore knee

BOSTON — Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts left the game against the Minnesota Twins in the fifth inning on Friday night with soreness in his right knee.

Manager John Farrell said after game that Betts' had recently had "some treatment" for the knee and it has been something the team has monitored since the All-Star break. The Red Sox announced after Betts left the game that he was considered day-to-day. 

Betts, who led off the game with a home run for the second consecutive night, was replaced in right field by Michael Martinez in the top of the fifth. 

Betts, an All-Star Game starter, leads the Red Sox with 127 hits and is second on the team with 20 home runs and 63 RBI.

Associated Press material included in this story.

Three things we learned from the Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Twins

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Three things we learned from the Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Twins

Three Things we learned from the Boston Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins:

1) It only seems like David Ortiz can come through every time.

When Ortiz comes to the plate as he did Friday night -- bases loaded, no out, bottom of the ninth, Red Sox trailing by a run -- it seems like a win is a fait accompli.

"I think everybody in the ballpark just assumed this one might have a chance to be ended right there,'' said John Farrell. "He's been so big for us that everybody in the dugout felt the same way -- confident that the stage was set for him to come through with another dramatic moment.''

Instead, Ortiz rolled over a ground ball to second, and with the Twins infield drawn in, it was enough to turn a 4-2-3 double play that took the starch out of the inning for the Sox.

If anything, though, the inning revealed how remarkable Ortiz has been so often. It's not easy to come through even most times, and it's certainly far from automatic.

"The pitcher (closer Brandon Kintzler) made good pitches,'' said Ortiz. "That's the name of the game. I'm always looking forward to something happening. It just doesn't work out all the time.''

2) Eduardo Rodriguez has his slider back.

When Rodriguez endured a rough stretch in late May and June, he seemed to all but abandon his slider, relying almost exclusively on his two-seam fastball and changeup.

But since returning from a stint in Pawtucket, Rodriguez has flashed the slider that made him so effective as a rookie last season.

"Since he's come back,'' said Farrell, "he's added much more depth. He's able to get to the back foot of some righthanders for some swing-and-miss. He was on the plate with three quality pitches for strikes tonight.''

"I feel like I can locate it better, where I want it,'' confirmed Rodriguez. "Outside, inside corner...I'm getting more confident in it. I think I got out of my mind the tipping (pitches) stuff and all that stuff and I'm just working to throw the ball right where I want it.''

It's almost impossible for a starter in the big leagues to survive with just two pitches, as Rodriguez was attempting to do earlier this season. And it seems foolish to even try, given that Rodriguez's slider can be a plus-pitch for him at times.

3) If Mookie Betts has to miss some time, the Red Sox have options in right field.

Farrell said Betts has been dealing with soreness and stiffness in his right knee since after the All-Star break and has been undergoing treatment.

There's no evidence that this is serious, and he's considered day-to-day. But even if Betts needs some time off, or in a worse-case scenario, has to go on the DL, the Sox can do some things with their outfield.

Michael Martinez's best outfield position is right, as he demonstrated Friday night after taking over for Betts in the top of the fifth. Martinez ran a long way to grab a ball in foul territory for the final out in the sixth, then turned in a fine, tumbling catch in the eighth to take extra bases away from Adam Grossman.

Bryce Brentz, who's been in a platoon of sorts in left with Brock Holt, has played a lot of right field in the minors and has the arm strength to play there.

Finally, there's the matter of Andrew Benintendi. The Sox raised some eyebrows with the news that they were having Benintendi move over to left field at Double A Portland, perhaps in anticipation of playing the position for Boston at some point later this year.

Benintendi is a natural center fielder and even though he doesn't much experience in right, if you're athletic enough to play center, you can usually move to either corner spot.

Quotes, Notes and Stars from the Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Twins

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Quotes, Notes and Stars from the Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Twins

Quotes, Notes and Stars from the Boston Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins:

QUOTES:

"I think everybody in the ballpark just assumed this one had a chance to be ended right there.'' - John Farrell on David Ortiz's at-bat with no out and the bases loaded in the ninth inning.

"I feel like I can locate it better - outside, inside corner -- so it's given me more confidence.'' - Eduardo Rodriguez on the improvement with his slider.

"I always look forward to something (good) happening; it just doesn't work out all the time.'' - David Ortiz on his ninth-inning at-bat.

NOTES:

* The Red Sox saw a seven-game winning streak at Fenway -- their longest of the season -- snapped.

* Boston has homered in 13 consecutive games.

* The Red Sox bullpen has posted a 1.17 ERA since July 6.

* Mookie Betts became the first Red Sox hitter to hit 20 homers in a season before he turns 24 since Nomar Garciaparra.

* Dustin Pedroia has reached base in 30 straight games.

* The eight strikeouts posted by Eduardo Rodriguez were a season high and one shy of his career high.

* The loss was only the 15th this season in games in which the Red Sox score first.

* Rodriguez has not allowed an opposing baserunner to steal a base since July 5, 2015.

STARS:

1) Kyle Gibson

Don't let the 5.12 ERA he had coming in fool you. Gibson worked out a little jam in the first, then completely shut the Red Sox down the rest of the way, allowing just one hit and one walk after the first.

2) Brian Dozier

Dozier homered in the second to tie the game, singled in the fourth, walked in the sixth and singled again in the eighth -- reaching base in all four plate appearances.

3) Miguel Sano

Sano invited trouble when he dropped a routine pop-up to allow the Red Sox to put the potential tying run on base in the eighth. But he had three base hits on the night, including a run-scoring double that put the Twins ahead to stay in the sixth.

Sean McAdam can be followed on Twitter: @Sean_McAdam