Albers' struggles may open door for Wheeler

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Albers' struggles may open door for Wheeler

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
KANSAS CITY Matt Albers assured an assembled group of media on four different occasions that he hadnt lost any confidence after summoning his blowtorch and destroying a one-run Sox lead in the sixth inning of Saturday nights loss.

Thou dost protest just a little too much, Mr. Albers.

The right-handed reliever has been a revelation for the Sox this season as the third arm behind Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon in Bostons bullpen, but he was strictly batting practice on Saturday night.

I feel good and the confidence is there. I feel good physically, assured Albers after dropping to 4-4 with a 3.71 ERA on the season. It comes down to execution and Im not quite where I need to be. Ive pitched when Ive been hurt before and thats definitely worse. Or Ive lost confidence before, and thats not the case this time.

I think I was just working behind guys. Physically and mentally I feel good. It really just comes down to execution. You want to improve, but you dont want to make complete changes either. For me working ahead in the count and refining my slider are the big things.

Albers allowed four runs and three hits in a 13 of an inning during Bostons 9-4 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, and coughed up any chance for Tim Wakefields 200th career victory. Wakefield had tired in the sixth inning, armed with a 4-1 lead, and Albers finally ambled out to the mound in a one-run ballgame that already had trouble written all over it.

Then Albers walked rookie catcher Salvador Perez to bestow the undisciplined 21-year-old backstop with his first career walk in 33 at bats, and it was apparent that one of Bostons bullpen success stories didnt have it on this night.

Hes a pretty free-swinging guy, said Albers. I need to get him out there.

In fact Albers really hasnt had it during the entire month of August, and has an 11.25 ERA in seven games this month coming off a month of July when he went completely unscored upon.

There could be several things at play.

Albers could be feeling the pressure of important games down the stretch in August for the first time in his career after toiling in relative obscurity for the Orioles and Astros over the past five seasons. It could be that Albers is hitting a wall like so many other baseball players do during the so-called dog days of the season when fatigue creeps into the arms and legs of even the most determined ballplayers.

Or it could be that Albers is simply regressing back to the pitcher that hes been throughout his career while posting a 4.79 career ERA in Baltimore and Houston, and never really coming close to the high leverage innings and responsibility hes earned in Boston. Albers is in Terry Franconas trusted bullpen plan after performing well all season with a pretty good array of hard stuff out of the bullpen, but perhaps that needs to change.

A lot of balls caught the middle of the plate and there were a ton of two-out runs. That killed us, said Francona. Walking the first guy is not good, and there were a lot of balls that caught too much of the plate.

He had a little stretch like the rough August earlier in the year. Hes done some really good things for us. Were certainly not going to run away from him.

Terry Francona wasnt having any of it publicly, but it was pretty difficult to ignore Dan Wheelers perfect inning of work to close out of the game was essentially wasted after the game had already been decided. While Albers ERA is blowing up like an Underdog balloon in the Macys Thanksgiving parade, Wheeler has put together 10 straight scoreless games and dropped his ERA to 3.95 while featuring some of the gutsiest efforts of the season.

Its true that Wheeler stumbled badly to start the season and has been playing catch up ever since then, but it could be high time that the big righty starts getting some of the high leverage appearances with the game on the line. Perhaps slipping Wheeler into the game in the sixth inning wouldnt have changed a thing, but its hard to imagine the righty walking Perez with the way hes turned into a strike-throwing bullpen demon over the last month.

Ive been able to locate better. Ive worked every day to really turn things around, said Wheeler. I really look at percent of strikes and making guys put the ball in play rather than putting guys on base. Thats one of the things I really take pride in: throwing strikes and not walking guys.

It looks like pitchers stock is falling while the other one is rising, and perhaps now is the time for a little role reversal while theres still plenty of time left for things to be sorted out in the AL East.

Stay tuned to the seventh inning of the next ballgame with the Sox holding a tight lead to get your answer.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

After ‘tough month,’ Farrell understands speculation on his job status

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After ‘tough month,’ Farrell understands speculation on his job status

BOSTON - With the Red Sox reeling coming off a month in which they went 10-16 and dropped a handful of games in the standings, speculation has recently focused on John Farrell's job security.

Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox' president of baseball operations, told reporters Thursday that Farrell's job status was not a focus and that the entire organization had to perform better. Dombrowski added that it's seldom that one person is responsible for a downturn in play.

"We've come off a tough month and finished a disappointing trip through Texas and Tampa,'' acknowledged Farrell when asked about the chatter regarding his job status. "I can understand the question and the potential speculation that's out there. But our expectation is to win and that doesn't change. The focus daily is that, is to go out and put together an effort to win.      

"My communication with Dave is very consistent. I think he's confident in my focus  and that's to win each and every day. That's where we stand. We're looking forward to  the opportunity to start this final homestand before the [All Star] break, so that gets underway tonight.''

Farrell was also asked about the dichotmy that existed between his own evaluation of David Price's outing Wednesday and Price's own estimation. 

Farrell said post-game that he believed Price "probably had his best stuff of the season, in terms of velocity and in terms of the shape of his secondary pitches.''

Price, who was in full self-flagellation mode, offered a slightly contradictory assessment.

"Changeup, that's probably the worst changeup I've had in a month,'' he said. "Curveball was awful. Can't get my cutter or my slider where I want to. I'm just bad right now.''

Farrell was questioned Friday about the seemingly contradictory analysis.

"The commentary was, here was a guy coming off an outing where he had best velocity he's shown all year -- up to 97 mph,'' said Farrell, "strikes out 10 over six-plus innings. He made some mistakes in the middle of the middle of the plate. But in terms of just raw stuff, I thought he showed a curveball that had much more consistent depth to it than in more recent starts.

So in terms of raw stuff, I thought it was one of his better outings of the year. The execution?

No, that wasn't as good as the game against San Francisco or the game against Seattle.

"Whether that's a differing opinion from someone else? That was just my view of the raw stuff.''

Sean McAdam can be followed on Twitter: @Sean_McAdam

O’Sullivan will return to make start for Red Sox on Sunday

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O’Sullivan will return to make start for Red Sox on Sunday

BOSTON - Sean O'Sullivan -- and not Aaron Wilkerson -- is the Red Sox choice for Sunday's plug-in starter as the Sox search for a temporary replacement for Eduardo Rodriguez's spot in their starting rotation.
      
"That was the recommendation,'' said John Farrell of the choice to go with  O'Sullivan. "Granted, Wilkerson's been throwing the ball well there. But the recommendation was for Sean to come back here and pitch on Sunday.''
      
O'Sullivan made two starts earlier this season, allowing four runs in six innings to the New York Yankees on May 10 before being battered for six runs (five earned) in 4 1/3 innings against Houston five days later.
      
Overall, O'Sullivan is 6-2 with a 2.79 ERA in 11 starts for the Pawsox this season.
      
Wilkerson, who was pitching in independent ball just two years ago, is 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA in eight appearances -- seven starts -- at Pawtucket.
      
O'Sullivan's stay with the Red Sox is expcted to be brief, since the Red Sox can through next week and first 10 days of the second half without a fifth starter.
      
"It's likely that spot will come up just once,'' confirmed Farrell. "With next Thursday's off-day, we've got a chance to make sure that [Rick] Porcello and [David] Price get on the mound before the break and that's the direction we're leaining in right now.''

Holt 'definitely happy' to be back with Red Sox

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Holt 'definitely happy' to be back with Red Sox

BOSTON -- After an absence of more than a month, Brock Holt was back in the Red Sox lineup Friday night, playing left field and batting sixth. Holt had been sidelined with a concussion he suffered in early May in a game against Oakland.

"It's good to see Brock back in the lineup,'' said John Farrell. "It will certainly allow for not only a left-handed bat in left field but also the ability to somewhat deepen our bench.''

"I feel good,' said Holt. "I've been working to get back here. Obviously, it took a lot longer than I had hoped, but I'm definitely happy to be back.''

This was the second concussion suffered by Holt, who also incurred one in September 2014. Holt was originally placed on the seven-day concussion DL on May 20 before later being transferred to the 15-day DL.

While on a rehab assignment in Pawtucket, Holt was still experiencing some slight post-concussion symptoms, but he and the club believe he's ready to return.

"There's still a little bit more to improve on,'' said Holt. "But I'm definitely feeling a lot better. In my rehab games down there, I was able to put together good at-bats and hit some balls hard, so that definitely gave me some confidence to take the next step.''

Holt said he occasionally feels "a little light-headedness. Sometimes it comes and goes; sometimes I don't feel it all. It's definitely a lot better than where it was and I feel confident in taking the next step and to come up here and contribute.''

Holt has been told the remaining symptoms will eventually dissipate.

"Then I'll be normal,'' he said. "It's just part of the process. Getting into rehab games was a big step. Now, getting back here is the next step. As long as I just keep doing what I'm doing, it should be normal.''

It's uncertain how regularly Holt can play, but the Red Sox will ease him back into an everyday routine.

"He'll be checked on daily,'' said Farrell, "The progression that he's come through, we know there's going to be diminshing symptoms as we go along. The plan right now is for him to play tonight and Sunday against two right-handers. Beyond that, we'll continue to monitor his availability and check on him every day.''