Gonzalez impresses in Red Sox debut

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Gonzalez impresses in Red Sox debut

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

FT MYERS, FL It wasnt very hard to envision after the first couple of innings.

The beautiful dream of Red Sox fans and the nightmare of AL East competitors: Adrian Gonzalez stepping up to the plate in the middle of crucial rallies with Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia wreaking havoc out of the first couple of spots in Bostons battling order.

Were deep, said John Lackey of watching the powerful lineup on paper jump onto the field at City of Palms. Its going to be a fun place to be this year. As starting pitchers weve been talking about outlasting the other guy and were going to run into several wins.

Thats exactly what happened for Gonzalez and the Sox right out of the bat on Saturday at City of Palms Park in Gonzalezs debut in a Red Sox uniform.

The Sox took down the Florida Marlins by a 9-2 score that nobody will remember even two weeks from now.

But all will recall those first beautiful strokes from the newest first base slugger in a few brief spring moments that portend quite a bit to come. Gonzalez finished 1-for-1 with an RBI in two innings of work while making a pair of putouts at first base, and said his first game action was another indicator his goal of starting on Opening Day was well within his considerable grasp.

It felt great, said Gonzalez. It was really good to be out there. I was gearing up for fastballs. Im on schedule. We never set a schedule to be ahead or behind. When youre ready then youre ready, and Ive said that all the time.

I dont like to get ahead of myself. One thing that Ive said all along is that Ill be ready on Opening Day. Its gone well. The shoulder is responding well. Everything is coming along. There are nicks and knacks like anything else which I would have had even if I was 100 percent.

With Pedroia on first and Ellsbury already across the plate in the first inning, Gonzalez ripped the first fastball Marlins ace Josh Johnson threw at him and spanked the ball out to left field for a crisp, clean single.

The hit gave opening evidence that the offseason shoulder surgery for a torn labrum wasnt about to slow Gonzalez down in his first tour with Boston, and it also demonstrated just how tough an out Bostons newest bopper is going to be when hes at his full power.

You would think coming off after that long wait of an injury that youd be a little jumpy, but he was anything but that, said Terry Francona. He had a nice liner to left and a good at bat with the sacrifice fly. So its a good start.

He wanted to stay in and thats also good. But we have some time to not rush things.

When Gonzalez strode to the plate again in the second inning with Ellsbury on third and Pedroia on first, he lifted a sacrifice fly to center in a clear attempt to get the run home in a meaningless spring training game. It wasnt all about yanking the ball down the right field line for a three-run homer in his first game in front of new fans, coaches and teammates -- and all of the glory that kind of auspicious start would entail.

Youre trying to hit a line drive right up the middle, said Gonzalez matter-of-factly.

It was instead about a player swinging the bat in a game for the first time last October, and putting a professional swing on in an RBI situation to get the run home.
The off-field approach and willingness to dip into situational hitting for runs are two things that virtually guarantee Gonzalez is going to be an offensive monster in the middle of Bostons lineup.

Hitting is contagious, said Gonzalez. Thats how its going to help. Scoring more runs is just going to help. Whether its me hitting or somebody else driving them in, you see guys getting hits and you want to go do it yourself.

Ellsbury and Pedroia set the tone. It was great. From an offensive point of view if youre getting hits then the pitcher is thinking about that. Then youre getting the mental advantage at that point.

There are still hurdles to be hopped, of course. Gonzalez will sit out on Sunday before playing against the Yankees Monday night at City of Palms Park, and hes ruled out diving for any balls in spring training to protect his healing shoulder.

The first baseman is still using a lighter brand of bat that he incorporated last season when he felt he couldnt keep up his bat speed with the bad wing, but he hopes to revert back to his heavier model this season.

Theres always the chance there could be setbacks or strength issues in the early going as he returns from major shoulder surgery with the expectations hell be a 40 home run guy for the Sox and their first real big bopper at first base since Mo Vaughn left town 10 years ago.

Averaging upwards of 34 home runs a year as the only dangerous bat in the pitchers haven known as Petco Park has everything thinking big when it comes to Gonzalez.
Saturday afternoon was the tantalizing first step.

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

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.