Lester struggles early, Sox fall 4-2

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Lester struggles early, Sox fall 4-2

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
BOSTON -- Jon Lester matched his season and career high allowing three home runs to the Brewers, including back-to-back homers on back-to-back pitches to start the game, as the Red Sox lost to the Brewers, 4-2, at Fenway Park Saturday night.

On the third pitch of the game, Rickie Weeks hit his 25th career lead-off home run, into the first row of Monster seats in left. On the next pitch, Corey Hart homered into the bleachers behind the Sox bullpen in center.

The Sox evened the game in the second when Kevin Youkilis lead off with a double and David Ortiz walked. After getting Darnell McDonald to line out to third baseman Casey McGehee and Marco Scutaro looking at strike three, Brewers left-hander Randy Wolf gave up consecutive singles to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, scoring Youkilis, and Mike Cameron, scoring Ortiz.

But Lester could not hold the lead, giving up another lead-off homer, to former Sox George Kottaras, in the third. With two outs in the inning, Lester allowed back-to-back walks to Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, before McGehees single to left, scoring Braun.

Entering the game, the Sox appeared poised for success. In their last 11 games facing left-handed starting pitchers, they were 11-0. But, they could do little with Brewers lefty Randy Wolf, who went seven innings, giving up two runs on nine hits and one walk, with three strikeouts. Wolf improved to 5-4, with a 3.15 ERA.

Lester took the loss, falling to 9-3 (3.70 ERA). He went eight innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on seven hits and three walks, with eight strike outs and three home runs. On the first four pitches of the game he matched his home run total (two) over his previous five starts combined.

The only other time Lester had given up back-to-back home runs was May 4, 2009, at Yankee Stadium, when Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira went deep in the fifth inning. Saturday was the first time he has given up two home runs in the first inning.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http: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.