McAdam: Papelbon's a relief for Red Sox

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McAdam: Papelbon's a relief for Red Sox

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- The Red Sox had scored the only run of the game in the bottom of the eighth inning, but very quickly, that lead seemed in jeopardy Wednesday night.

Former Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez had begun the top of the night by lashing a double into the right-field corner, giving the Detroit Tigers the potential tying run in scoring position with no out.

Three batters later, the threat seemed insignifcant. Jonathan Papelbon retired Jhonny Peralta on a groundout to the right side of the infield, and then overpowered both Alex Avila and Ryan Raburn with high-octane fastballs up in the strike zone, daring them to make contact.

This was classic power pitching, with no margin for error and the the pitcher reveling in his ability to dominate.

"After giving up the double to Victor," recounted Papelbon, "I was able to switch gears and put a little more intensity behind my pitches and that's what I was able to do."

On the last swinging strike, Papelbon, with perhaps more exuberance than normal for a May game, pumped his first and twisted his face into a mixture of celebration and defiance.

This was Papelbon's eighth save in nine tries, one more bit of evidence that, despite the questions that hung over him at the end of last season and again this spring, he had returned to a level of dominance.

Consider:

Papelbon has a WHIP of 0.962.

Opposing hitters are batting just .230 against him. Of the 15 hits against him, just four are extra-base hits . . . with no homers.

He has struck out 23 hitters in 17 23 innings for a strikeout-per-nine-innings average of 11.7, the best for Papelbon since 2007 when he averaged 13 strikeouts per nine innings.

He has walked just two hitters all season for an astounding 11.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, the best of his career.

"He looks really focused," said Terry Francona of his closer, "and his stuff is really good. And what's nice is that it's been consistently good. I know Victor got the double, but other than that, he really executed pitches."

Among all the consternation surrounding the Red Sox' 2-10 start, the recent spate of injuries to the starting rotation and the ongoing struggles with situational hitting, it's easy to forgot that, in spring training, Papelbon was one of the team's biggest question marks.

Last year, he posted the highest ERA of his career (3.90) and set a career-high for blown saves, too. Worse, he appeared out of synch in spring training, fighting his delivery and yanking pitches every which way.

On some mornings, sent to get work at the team's Minor League Developement complex, Papelbon was alarmingly wild against minor-league hitters.

But Papelbon said Wednesday night that he suddenly found his mechanics in Houston, during the Red Sox' final exhibition game of the spring, and has been locked into his delivery ever since.

"He's been lights out," marveled catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "He worked a lot in spring training on his mechanics, staying behind the ball so the ball's just flying out his hand right now. He's controlling it where he wants to put it. He's fun to watch and definitely fun to catch."

Saltalamacchia said the quality of Papelbon's stuff "is definitely a lot different," compared to last year.

"He's getting great backspin," said the catcher. "He's not a movement guy. He's a four-seam guy with a split-finger fastball and a slider. But I think for him, when it comes out of his hand, it picks up that second gear.

"He's throwing 97 mph. It's hard enough to hit that as it is, but when it picks up that second gear, it's a pitch that looks so good at your waist. But then you swing and you miss. And he hides the ball."

At times a year ago, Papelbon had difficulty finishing hitters off. At-bats would become interminable, with foul ball following another. Papelbon's pitch count would rise, and as the batter extended the at-bat, so would Papelbon's frustration level.

Not this year.

"My fastball has life at the plate," said Papelbon.

And a position where the Red Sox harbored some quiet concern has once again become a source of strength.

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

Pedro Martinez to WEEI: Ortiz will make comeback this season

Pedro Martinez to WEEI: Ortiz will make comeback this season

Never say never?

While Red Sox officials said at the team's annual Winter Weekend at Foxwoods on Saturday that they'd be traveling to the Dominican Republic to talk to David Ortiz about a role with the team, Pedro Martinez told WEEI he sees Big Papi returning to his old role - designated hitter - this season.

CSN's Trenni Kusnierek and WEEI's John Tomase talked to Martinez on their show Saturday at Foxwoods and Martinez said his old teammate would be making a comeback despite the long, emotional farewell tour last season. 

For the full interview with Martinez, click here.

Red Sox executives Tom Werner, Sam Kennedy and Dave Dombrowski made no mention of Ortiz returning as a player when talking about their Dominican trip. Ortiz has repeatedly said he is going to stay retired. 

Chris Sale on leaving White Sox: 'Time for both sides to do something different, I guess'

Chris Sale on leaving White Sox: 'Time for both sides to do something different, I guess'

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- While there’s a deal of anticipation going into Spring training with the four Killer B’s, David Price and Pablo Sandoval’s shot at redemption and Rick Porcello looking to be something similar to his 2016 self, there’s one name that trumps them all.

Chris Sale.

The lankly lefty received an ovation from fans at the Friday night Town Hall, kicking off Red Sox Winter Weekend. With his consistent success, there’s reason to be excited.

But there’s also reason for apprehension given the way Sale’s departure from Chicago was depicted. But he’s made sure to clear the air.

“I wouldn’t say . . . ya know . . . I loved my time in Chicago,” Sale said when asked if it was time to leave the Windy City. “My best baseball memories are there [and] will be there forever. I love the city; I love the people in the organization.

“It was time for both sides to do something different, I guess. I talked to (White Sox Senior V.P.) Rick on the phone, I talked to (White Sox pitching coach Don) Coop (Cooper). We’re all cool, it’s fine. We understand where both of us are, it happens in baseball, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Chicago.”

He didn’t seem irritated discussing the issue, and certainly wasn’t timid -- we all know that’s not in his DNA.

He genuinely seems excited to deal with the large sum of Sox fans and to call a new place home -- in a city his wife’s fond of no less.

But ultimately, he’s focused on winning, nothing else.

“Every time I’m out there it’s gonna be all I got,” Sale said. "Every time, no matter what. Can promise you that.”