First Pitch: Thursday, September 1

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First Pitch: Thursday, September 1

By ArtMartone
CSNNE.com

Welcome to First Pitch, aquick spin around the world of Major League Baseball . . . or at leastthe corner of it that most concerns the Red Sox. For a complete wrapupof Wednesday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's AndThatHappened (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).

HAVING A BLAST: Tuesday night's fireworks were all well and good, but Wednesday night's were more to the Red Sox' taste.

The Sox got three two-run homers -- from David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and, of all people, Jason Varitek -- in pounding out a 9-5 win over the Yankees (csnne.com) that put their A.L. East lead back to 1 12 games and assured them that, no matter what, they'll still be in first place when New York leaves town tonight. More importantly, it was a night when all the wrongs from Tuesday were righted (csnne.com), not the least of which was a little calming of the roiled waters by David Ortiz. (cbssports.com) It also was a night that, once again, exposed the Yankees' rotation woes (New York Daily News) -- and if you think that was bad, just wait a few hours (New York Post) -- and showed off one of the Red Sox' anticipated October strengths. (Boston Herald)

And they even managed to play it in under four hours. No wonder we all feel like Charlie Sheen (youtube.com) this morning.

YEAH, RIGHT: John Lackey was adamant he didn't hit Francisco Cervelli on purpose Tuesday, but apparently the MLB powers-that-be didn't believe him. (weei.com) Really, who did?

FIXES NEEDED: Tony Massarotti points out the Red Sox still have some problems as September dawns. (boston.com)

FIXES ATTEMPTED: One of them is finding a right-handed-hitting outfielder who can, you know, actually hit. (Nothing personal, there, Darnell McDonald.) Toward that end, the Sox beat the midnight deadline to acquire players and have them eligible for the postseason by picking up Conor Jackson from the A's. (csnne.com)

THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: This came hours after Theo Epstein told reporters it was unlikely the Sox would do anything on the trade front. Epstein also discussed Ryan Kalish's season-ending neck surgery and the recent signings of Trever Miller and Joey Gathright, while tapdancing around the question of whether or not he'd be interested in becoming GM of the Cubs. (csnne.com)

CONSECUTIVE-GAME STREAK ENDS AT ONE: It looks like J.D. Drew's comeback is on hold. (csnne.com) Insert your own joke here.

LET ME TELL YOU HOW I DID IT: There was a rare Mo Vaughn sighting at Fenway on Wednesday (Providence Journal), and he came bearing advice on how to hit at home for David Ortiz . . . even though Ortiz has been with the Red Sox longer (1,261 games) than Vaughn (1,046).

ON THE MATT: The second of Jessica Camerato's 1-2-3 Inning features on Red Sox relievers focuses on Matt Albers. (csnne.com)

WINNING A LOSING GAME: FoxSports' JonPaul Morosi looks at five teams that improved themselves during the August waiver trading deadline period . . . and one of them was the Rangers, a potential Red Sox playoff opponent. But ESPN's David Schoenfield shows why the trade deadline "rarely is the cure for a team's ailments". (Or, to put it another way: Do the names Carlos Beltran and Ubaldo Jiminez ring a bell?)

OLD FRIENDS: Jason Bay celebrated the news that the Mets may shift him to center field next year (!) with a three-hit performance in New York's 3-2 win over the Marlins (New York Daily News) . . . Derek Lowe not only held the Nationals to one run on three hits over six innings, he also hit his first career home run on a night when he got the win and Craig Kimbrel broke the rookie saves record (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) . . . Victor Martinez hasn't caught since Aug. 4 because of a sprained left knee (rotoworld) . . . Jeremy Hermida's journey around the major leagues has a new destination: San Diego. He was claimed on waivers from the Reds by the Padres (signonsandiego.com) . . . It looks like shoulder surgery is in Hanley Ramirez' future (Palm Beach Post)

AND FINALLY . . . Did a moth change the course of the A.L. East race?? (AP via si.com)

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.