Francona still unsure of final bullpen spot

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Francona still unsure of final bullpen spot

By MaureenMullen
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. The Red Sox entered spring training with very few roster questions, an enviable position for any team. With just over a week remaining before 25-man rosters must be set for the regular season, one question still remains: Who will get the remaining bullpen spot?

Manager Terry Francona said Tuesday he's not sure which reliever will be the answer to that question.

Francona planned to meet with pitching coach Curt Young, general manager Theo Epstein, and other members of the front office after Tuesday nights game against the Rays to map out a plan to get innings for as many pitchers as possible, as the available innings begin to dwindle.

Were getting to a point where innings are going to be at a premium, Francona said. So certainly there are going to have to be some innings at the minor-league complex, innings in big-league games. So well sit and map that out.

Thursday Clay Buchholz is starting on the road in Jupiter against the Marlins. And if he does what we hope, hes going to get pretty deep into that game. Wed certainly like to see guys pitching in a major-league game, but we also dont want to just take them all the way to Jupiter so they can have a sandwich. That doesnt do anybody any good. So, were trying to map that out a little bit.

Still in the mix are left-handers Felix Doubront, Rich Hill, Andrew Miller, Dennys Reyes, and Randy Williams, and right-handers Alfredo Aceves, Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, Michael Bowden, and Brandon Duckworth. This group assumes Tim Wakefield and Hideki Okajima have bullpen spots.

Hill, Miller, Reyes, Williams and Duckworth are all non-roster invitees and would have to be added to the 40-man roster, which is currently full. So, if one of them gets the job, someone will have to come off the 40-man.

According to a source, the Red Sox released right-hander Albers Wednesday to allow him to play in Japan. The Sox, however, have denied the report. Albers is out of options and must clear waivers if the team attempts to send him to the minors. Earlier this week, Sean McAdam reported the Red Sox were shopping Albers to other major-league teams.

Albers, who signed as a free agent in December, has appeared in seven Grapefruit League games, compiling a 1.80 ERA with one save. He's given up two earned runs over 10 innings with eight hits, no walks, and 11 strikeouts. In five big league seasons, with the Astros and Orioles, he has combined record of 15-25, with a 5.11 ERA in 181 games (23 starts).

Aceves, Atchison, Bowden and Doubront have options and could be sent to Pawtucket to start the season. This would also allow the Sox to maintain pitching inventory within the organization in case of injury or ineffectiveness at the big league level.

Doubront, though, was set back by elbow tightness early this spring and has yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game. He pitched two innings of a simulated game on Monday.

Duckworth, Miller, Hill, Williams and Reyes are on minor-league contracts and could start the season in Pawtucket, though Reyes has an 'out' clause in his contract that would allow him to declare free agency if he's not placed on the major-league roster.

In five games, spanning eight innings, Duckworth has posted a record of 2-0, but with a 5.62 ERA, with five hits, six walks, and six strikeouts. He has allowed runs in three of his five outings. In eight seasons, with the Phillies, Astros, and Royals, he has a combined record of 23-34 (5.28) in 134 games (84 starts).

Miller had a difficult outing Sunday against the Cardinals, facing six batters and not recording an out. In seven games, spanning 7 23 innings, he has a 10.57 ERA. Miller has a clause guaranteeing his 3 million option for 2012 if the Sox designate him for assignment and another team claims him off waivers.

Hill has not allowed a run in seven appearances, spanning 8 23 innings, giving up five hits and three walks with six strikeouts. But he may be better served refining his new sidearm delivery in Pawtucket. He appeared in six games for the Sox last season.

In eight games this spring, spanning 9 23 innings, Williams has given up three earned runs for a 2.79 ERA, with six hits, four walks and 10 strikeouts. He appeared in 27 games for the White Sox last season, posting a record of 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA. At 35, he is the oldest of the lefties, but has just 1 year and 87 days of major league service.

Reyes may be the most intriguing of the group. He got to camp late, delayed by visa issues from his native Mexico. He will turn 34 in April and has pitched for 10 teams over 14 big-league seasons. He has appeared in eight games, spanning eight innings, giving up two runs, one earned, for a 1.12 ERA.

Reyes' 'out' clause kicks in Friday. As of Tuesday, he had not heard anything from the team, but feels hes had ample opportunity to show what he can do.

Pitching-wise, I think I cant do anything else, he said. I do my best. I show them everything I got, and its going to be their decision. Whether they like to keep me or keep somebody else, its their decision.

Late sink, good sink, and a little bit of a late-breaking breaking ball, Francona said of what he has seen from Reyes this spring. Those are the decisions that are hard to make. He does have a pretty good track record. But those are decisions that we have to make, and I think I feel better -- Im glad were going to meet as a group because it usually helps.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen

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.