McAdam: Off-day thoughts on the Red Sox

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McAdam: Off-day thoughts on the Red Sox

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

BALTIMORE -- Three off-day thoughts as the Red Sox take a break, two-thirds of the way through their three city, nine-game road trip:

1) Months from now, the Red Sox could have Mother Nature to thank for turning their season around.

An otherwise innocuous early-season rainout on April 13 allowed the Sox to do two things: Step back from their hideous 2-9 start, and reconfigure their starting rotation, which was, to put it charitably, underperforming.

The rainout gave the Sox two days off, since a built-in off-day in the schedule followed. For 48 hours, the Sox didn't have to answer questions about the stumbling way they had begun the season or confront arcane statistical forecasts of doom. ("No team which started its season 2-9 has ever . . . ")

More tangibly, the team reshuffled its pitching rotation. After a mediocre start by Clay Buchholz when the schedule resumed - on a bitterly cold night not suitable for anyone - the rotation magically clicked.

Since Buchholz's start, Red Sox starters are 7-1 with an astounding 0.88 ERA, enabling the Sox to go from eight games under .500 to a game below.

Moreover, the reshuffling seemed to prompt radical turnarounds from Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey.

Matsuzaka has followed what may have been a career low-point in which he was bashed for seven runs in two-plus innings against Tampa on April 11 to, arguably, his best two starts since joining the Red Sox.

Lackey, who had been scored upon in eight of his first nine innings across his first two outings, has since allowed one run over 14 innings.

Curiously, Lackey seems unwilling to let go of the perceived slight over having his turn skipped. Rather than dissipating over time, his annoyance seems to be intensifying.

Putting aside the wisdom of that sentiment - should a nine-year veteran making 17 million annually really have to be embarrassed into pitching better? -- there's no arguing with the results. If Lackey has to pitch angry for the rest of the season to be effective, so be it.

2) The team's turnaround has bought the Sox some time with their catching situation.

On the last homestand, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was described by a person in the organization as being "scared to death."

The team's poor start, coupled with being entrusted with the No. 1 catcher's job, seemed to overwhelm Saltalamacchia.

He discarded his usual patient approach at the plate and, desperate to make an offensive contribution, was overly aggressive, resulting in quick, unproductive at-bats.

Behind the plate, it was worse. The poor work by the started relected - unfairly - on Saltalamacchia, who must have heard suggestions from fans and some in the media that he was the cause of the staff-wide meltdown.

It didn't help that many of the early quality starts turned in by Boston pitchers came with the more seasoned Jason Varitek behind the plate.

Saltalamacchia's slow start forced the Red Sox to make some preliminary calls to inquire about other catching options. The Sox were hopeful he would settle down in time, but in the event that he didn't, the Sox insisted on doing their due diligence.

There remain holes in Saltalamacchia's game. He was charged with a passed ball Friday in Anaheim in which a baserunner scored all the way from second, and two wild pitches in the same game might otherwise have been ruled passed balls.

His throwing, meanwhile, remains spotty as opponents continue to run on the Sox nearly at will.

But having won eight of the last nine games, the Red Sox have, if nothing else, achieved a kind of stability, allowing Saltalamacchia some time to grow into his role without the kind of pressure and scrutiny that can be suffocating for a player not yet established.

3) Now that the pitching has righted itself, there are signs that the offense is starting to come around, too.

Though four regulars - Saltalamacchia, Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis - are hitting .222 or lower, each is on the upswing.

Crawford has at least one hit in five of his last six games and had two multi-hit games in the last six (including his first homer) and no longer seems lost at the plate.

Ellsbury, returned to the leadoff spot, consistently got on base during the Angels series.

It may well be that the hitters felt the need to carry the load while the starters found themselves, resulting in a deviation from their usual approaches.

Now that the rotation has realized an equilibrium, the lineup could soon follow suit. Gone is the need to dig out from early-inning holes created by poor starting pitching. The Sox scored 20 runs in their sweep of the Angels, but thanks to the dominance of their starters, could have won all four with just eight.

Relieved of the need to make up for their own pitchers' mistakes, the lineup just might be ready to enjoy a streak similar to one currently being enjoyed by their starters.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Quotes, notes and stars: Ortiz the oldest to hit 30 home runs in a season

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Quotes, notes and stars: Ortiz the oldest to hit 30 home runs in a season

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays:

QUOTES:

"It's one of those freak things. You don't plan on it happening, but it's one of those things. So we'll just see what the results say and move on from there.'' - Andrew Benintendi on his knee injury.

"That's kind of a routine 3-1 play. Unfortunately, it comes at a time when you've got two outs and a guy on the move. But that's a routine play.'' - John Farrell on the deciding play in which Heath Hembree couldn't hold onto the ball at first.

"I felt good. I felt strong.I felt good out there the whole game.'' - Rick Porcello, asked how he felt going back out for the eighth inning.

"I think everybody in the ballpark knew that that ball was leaving.'' - Porcello, on the hanging curveball to Evan Longoria.

 

NOTES:

* The loss snapped a five-game winning streak against the Rays for the Red Sox.

* Three of the four Red Sox walk-off losses this season have occurred because of errors.

* The homer by Evan Longoria was his first off Rick Porcello in 40 career at-bats.

* Rick Porcello has now pitched seven innings or more in six straight starts, the longest run for a Red Sox starter since John Lackey did it in 2013.

* David Ortiz is now the oldest player to ever hit 30 homers in a season

* Ortiz has now reached the 30-homer, 100-RBI level 10 times with the Red Sox, including the last four years in a row.

* The loss was the first of Heath Hembree's career, in his 67th major league appearance.

* Dustin Pedroia tied a career high with two stolen bases, the 12th time he's swiped two bases in the same game.

 

STARS:

1) Evan Longoria

The Rays were down to their final five outs when Longoria struck, hitting a game-tying homer off Rick Porcello.

2) Brad Miller

Miller's two-run double in the third enabled the Rays to stay close until Longoria's homer tied things up five innings later.

3) Rick Porcello

Porcello gave the Sox length and was brilliant in getting out of some early jams before settling in through the middle innings.

 

Shaughnessy: Everything Farrell does blows up in his face, particularly in 8th inning

Shaughnessy: Everything Farrell does blows up in his face, particularly in 8th inning

Dan Shaughnessy joins Sports Tonight to discuss Rick Porcello giving up a game-tying homerun in the 8th, and explains why John Farrell has been very unlucky with any decision he makes.

First impressions: Benintendi injured in Red Sox' 4-3 loss to Rays

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First impressions: Benintendi injured in Red Sox' 4-3 loss to Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays:

 

The injury to Andrew Benintendi looked ominous.

Benintendi's left leg buckled as he tried to elude a tag on the bases in the seventh inning. He left the game with the help of two trainers, hobbling badly.

The Sox later announced that Benintendi suffered a left knee sprain, and will be further evaluated Thursday.

It's impossible to determine how serious the injury is. The prognosis could be anywhere from a few days, to, potentially, a season-ending issue.

Regardless, it's a blow to the Sox, who clearly have benefited from Benintendi's athleticism and energy in the three weeks since he's been promoted from Double A.

 

Rick Porcello is gobbling up innings in the second half.

Porcello gave the Sox 7 2/3 innings Wednesday night, allowing three runs. It marked the sixth straight start in which Porcello provided the Sox with a minimum of seven innings.

Through the end of June, Porcello had pitched seven or more innings just four times. Since the start of July, he's done it seven times -- and came within an out of doing it in another start.

Porcello also extended his streak of pitching at least five innings to 34 straight starts, dating back almost a calendar year to Aug. 26 of last year. Of those 34, he's pitched at least six in 31 of those.

In fact, Porcello leads the majors in innings pitched since that streak began.

 

David Ortiz continues to amaze

In the first inning, Ortiz walloped a pitch into the right field seats for his 30th homer, giving the Sox a 2-0 lead three batters into the game.

The homer was significant beyond that, too. With it, Ortiz reached two milestones -- 30 homers and 100 RBI for the season.

It marked the fourth straight season in which Ortiz has reached both, and it also marked the 10th time as a member of the Sox that he had hit both plateaus.

The homer also meant that Ortiz is now the oldest player - at 40 years, 280 days old -- to hit 30 homers in a season. And finally, it gave Ortiz 100 RBI seasons with the Sox, passing Ted Williams, with whom he had shared the record of nine.

And, remarkably, there's more than a month left in the season to add on to those achievements.