Matsuzaka has second straight rough outing

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Matsuzaka has second straight rough outing

By MaureenMullen
CSNNE.com

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - After his last outing, Daisuke Matsuzaka said he wasn't concerned about the results. He was working on a few things. Good thing, because the performance was far from his best.

He also said he would treat his next start as a regular-season start. And that's not so good.

Matsuzaka gave up five runs on five hits in 3 23 innings, with two walks and two strikeouts, in the Red Sox' 8-6 loss to the Rays. According to manager Terry Francona, the problems were familiar -- very familiar -- to any veteran Dice-K watcher.

"He started off, right off the bat, pitching behind in the count," said Francona. "Got himself in trouble, had to throwstrikes, and kind of paid the price for it. It was one of those outingswhere he made it harder than it's supposed to be."

For his part, Matsuzaka backed off his I'll-treat-this-game-as-a-regular-season-start talk and said that he once again was working on things.

"It's difficult to say in words how I performed today," he said through a team translator. "During practice I throw very good pitch in my delivery. However, the result is not following through during the game. At this point, the game is very important and the result is very important. . . . And I'm working on things during practice and didn't really follow through during the game. So, that's something I need to work on for the next time."

Matsuzaka started his outing by walking the first two Rays batters, including No. 2 hitter Johnny Damon on four pitches. After two more batters -- an Evan Longoria single and Matt Joyce sacrifice fly -- the Rays had a 2-0 lead.

But then he settled down a bit.

"The last couple hitters in the first inning and thentimes in the second inning, he threw the ball just like he's supposedto," said Francona. "And because of that, he gets outs."

With two outs in the second, however, he gave up a home run to John Jaso on a 1-and-2 pitch. And he opened the third by giving up consecutive doubles to Zobrist and Damon and a single to Joyce, putting the Sox in a 5-0 hole.

Of the 16 batters he faced, Matsuzaka induced just three groundball outs.

"He gave up some loud contact," said one scout in attendance. "He couldn't get anything down and he was pitching behind too much."

"He struggled with his command for most of his outing," said another scout. "He got behind the hitters too much and left too many pitches up in the zone that were flat."

In his last two outings, Matsuzaka has pitched a combined 6 23 innings, giving up 12 runs (10 earned) on 11 hits and four walks with three strikeouts and two home runs, facing 33 batters. Granted, it's a small sample size but that translates to a very unwelcome 13.49 ERA and 2.25 WHIP.

There were points in the game, though, when Francona was able to see improvements from Matsuzaka's last outing.

"At times today, when he threw the ball like he can, he was fine," Francona said. "But there were also times when he made it difficult to pitch successfully. He looks healthy. The ball's coming out of his hands good. But at times he didn't command very well."

Asked if he is concerned about his last two outings, Matsuzaka replied:

"At this point, I'm not too worried about it, but I feel it's not great."

Despite the results, he was able to find some positives in his outing.

"The catchers and pitching coach said there's a few good pitches and they pointed out about the few good pitches, such as slider and changeup getting better. But at this point, I'm not really satisfied with these pitches. I need to narrow the gap between how I pitch and what others expect.

"Now I see the clear difference between what is a good pitch and what is a bad pitch and more specifically the changeup is working very well. However, the cutter, that's something I need to work on more."

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.