First Pitch: Tuesday, September 6

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First Pitch: Tuesday, September 6

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 Monday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's AndThatHappened(hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).

AND THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMING: The day started with the news that Erik Bedard's knee is still bothering him and he'll miss his next start and that Bobby Jenks is done for the season.

Then Josh Beckett sprained his ankle.

So by the time the Red Sox completed their 1-0, 11-inning defeat in Toronto -- a game in which Dan Wheeler, whom many have been clamoring to be given a more important bullpen role, surrendered the game-winning home run -- it was already a lost afternoon, made worse by the Yankees' victory over the Orioles (more on that in a moment). Boston now trails by 2 12 in the A.L. East and, oh, that's five losses in the last seven games for those keeping score at home.

(All stories csnne.com.)

But the big news, obviously, is Beckett, because the Sox are going nowhere -- and I mean nowhere -- in October without the two-headed monster of Beckett and Jon Lester at the top of the rotation (especially considering how wobbly the rest of the starting staff looks these days). Beckett didn't sound especially encouraging afterwards, talking about he's "never had such an injury . . . before" and the ankle is "definitely stiff" and having something happen to his power leg is "always concerning". ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes raised the disconcerting notion of possible ligament tears, which would be consistent with "the popping sound Beckett heard Monday" when he got hurt.

Beckett returned to Boston to be examined today, and we should get word at some point. Until then, nothing to do but wait.

And, as Sean McAdam has, contemplate the state of the Red Sox starting rotation sans Beckett.

Not pretty, is it?

YOU DON'T HAVE TO PAINT ME A PICTURE:Hideki Okajima's not getting a September call to Boston and no otherteam seems interested, so the veteran left-hander -- who actually did pretty well this year in Pawtucket (pawsox.com) -- is thinking about retirement. (Providence Journal)

TIME FOR A CHANGE: Joining their voices to speed-things-up-for-the-love-of-Mike chorus: The New York Daily News' Mike Lupica and our old pal The Tao of Stieb. Tao, however, is mostly focused on the Red Sox, thanks to Jonathan Papelbon's agonizing, 27-pitches-in-24-minutes, water-dripping-on-the-forehead outing yesterday. (According to an Edes Tweet, Dennis Eckersley called Pap's display "sickening to watch". Really, how great is Eck?)

OH, GOD: Almost from the day Jesus Montero signed with the Yankees, we've been anticipatingdreading John Sterling's call of his first home run. It finally arrived yesterday -- twice, as Montero hit two in the Yanks' 11-10 win over the Orioles (New York Daily News) -- and Sterling came out with . . .

"Jesus is loose!" (New York Times)

(He used the Hispanic pronunciation, so it came out as the rhyming "Hay-seuss is loose!")

Phew.

That left it to the New York Post ("Praise Jesus!") to pick up the Gauntlet of Tastelessness, and the headlinestype in both the Post and Daily News ("Jesus Saves", "What will Jesus do?") were about what you'd expect. But, hey, the kid hit two home runs. Can you really be surprised?

It all made for a fun day in the Bronx, and enabled the Yanks to overlook a less-than-stellar performance from Mariano Rivera. (New York Post) Also not joining in the party, presumably, is Jorge Posada -- whose already-paltry playing time figures to disappear with Montero's emergence -- but he's keeping a stiff upper lip about the whole thing. (New York Post)

SIX INTO FIVE: Joe Girardi says he's sticking with a six-man rotation for now. (New York Daily News)

AROUND THE A.L. EAST: Mark Reynolds isn't making anyone forget Brooks Robinson, at least defensively, in Baltimore (Baltimore Sun) . . . The St. Petersburg's Times' Marc Topkin tells us what the Rays have to play for the rest of the way.

NOTHING TO SEE HERE (OR IS THERE?): Foxsports.com's Tracy Ringolsby points out that the division races are all but settled, and the wild-card races aren't much closer, as baseball comes down the home stretch. But SI.com's Cliff Corcoran says "baseball history is littered with late-season collapses and comebacks."

THEY'RE WORTH SOMETHING . . . I GUESS: Joe Posnanski says he comes to praise pitchers' wins as a meaningful statistic, but then does nothing of the sort. (joeposnanski.si.com)

WOULD YOU BELIEVE . . . Adrian Beltre in the Hall of Fame? Rob Neyer really doesn't seem to think so, either, but he points out that you can make a case, and a pretty good one, for him. (sbnation.com)

OLD FRIENDS: J.C. Romero is back in the big leagues, this time with the Rockies (AP) . . . To no one's surprise, Hanley Ramirez' season is over (Miami Herald) . . . So is the Mets', but at least Jason Bay is finishing strong (AP) . . . Derek Lowe had a rough night against the Phillies, and Cliff Lee's masterpiece made it look even worse (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) . . . Victor Martinez can't catch these days, but he sure can hit (Rotoworld).

AND FINALLY . . . Who knew Bill Buckner could act? (tvfanatic.com) Personally, I think he was better than either Mark Teixeira or Alex Rodriguez, and especially Rodriguez. (AP) "We're trying to win a ring here"? Even on TV, even when scriptwriters put words in his mouth, A-Rod comes off as a phony.

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.