Notes: Ellsbury, Ortiz back in lineup, Gonzalez to RF

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Notes: Ellsbury, Ortiz back in lineup, Gonzalez to RF

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
HOUSTON -- Jacoby Ellsbury returned to the lineup Saturday night, a night after missing a game because of illness.

"I don't think he feels great, but he's good enough to play," reported manager Terry Francona, "he's he's still kind of scuffling."

Francona also had Adrian Gonzalez back in right field for the second time in the last four games, with David Ortiz taking over at first base.

Ortiz had eight at-bats through the first seven game of the three-city road trip, enough so that he didn't get stale, though it's worth noting that Ortiz was hitless in those first eight at-bats and last got a hit on June 20.

"He's got his stroke," said Francona. "I'm thrilled about that."

Selections for the All-Star Game will be made Sunday and a number of Red Sox players seem positioned to make the American League squad.

It's a given that both Adrian Gonzalez (1B) and David Ortiz (DH) will be chosen for the game. Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and second baseman Dustin Pedroia are also strong possibilities.

On the pitching staff, it's expected that both Jon Lester and Josh Beckett will be given strong consideration, though Lester may be ineligible for the game since he's scheduled to start July 10, the final day of the first half.

Under rules introduced by MLB several years ago, starters who start games on the Sunday before the game can be chosen for the game, but aren't eligible to complete because of a lack of rest.

Reliever Daniel Bard, who had somewhat of a tough April, has been almost unhittable of late.

Bard went into Saturday night with a scoreless streak of 15 innings, covering 13 games. In that span, Bard has struck out 15 batters and allowed just four singles and three walks in that span.

At the same time, lefty Franklin Morales has been effective since coming off the DL following some elbow soreness.

He's made three appearances since being activated and has retired all five hitters he's faced. Francona is unafraid to use him in close-and-late situations and left him in the game Friday night when Houston manager Brad Mills went to a righthanded pinch-hitter.

Carl Crawford hit on the field for the first time since going on the DL and ran at about 70 percent effort. He's eligible to come off the DL Sunday, but probably won't be activated until the middle of next week.

Meanwhile, Francona acknowledged what's been obvious for a while: Clay Buchholz (back spasms) won't pitch again before the All-Star break.

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

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

When it comes to Pablo Sandoval and his weight, a picture is worth a thousand words.

During spring training it wasn’t a good thing. Sandoval made headlines when a number of photos revealed significant weight gain for the Red Sox third baseman.

But the last two images have been more positive for Sandoval.

In October, a noticeably thinner Sandoval was photographed at an FC Barcelona game.

On Monday, Dan Roche of WBZ tweeted a more recent picture of the new-look Sandoval.

Sandoval, 30, is entering the third season of a five-year, $95 million contract. In his lone full season in Boston, 2015, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 with 10 homers and 47 RBI.

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The newly agreed upon Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement features higher taxes and additional penalties for exceeding the competitive balance threshold -- and don't think the Red Sox haven't noticed.

The Red Sox went over the threshold in both 2015 and 2016, and should they do so again in 2017, they would face their highest tax rate yet at 50 percent. Additionally, there are provisions that could cost a team in such a situation to forfeit draft picks as well as a reduced pool of money to sign its picks.

None of which means that the Red Sox won't definitively stay under the $195 million threshold for the upcoming season. At the same time, however, it remains a consideration, acknowledged Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"You would always like to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax) if you could,'' offered Dombrowski. "And the reason why is that are penalties attached for going over, so nobody likes to (pay) penalties.

"However, the Red Sox, if you follow history, have been up-and-down, right around that number. We were over it last year and the year before that. So I would prefer (to be under in 2017). However, a little bit more driving force in that regard is that there are stricter penalties now attached to going over. And some of them involve, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrificing money to sign players and that type of thing. So there's a little bit more drive (to stay under).

"But I can't tell you where we're going to end up. Eventually, does it factor (in)? Yeah. But until we really get into the winter time and see where we are, will I make an unequivocal (statement about staying under the CBT)? Maybe we won't. But there are penalties that I would rather not be in position to incur.''

Dombrowski stressed that he's not under a "mandate'' from ownership to stay under the CBT.

"But I am under an awareness of the penalties,'' he said. "Last year, I would have preferred to be under, too, but it just worked for us to be above it, because we thought that would be the best way to win a championship at the time.''

He added: "I think we're going to have a good club either way.''

But it's clear that the CBT is part of the reason the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive toward some premium free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who is said to be looking for at least a four-year deal at an annual average value of more than $20 million.

Currently, the Red Sox have nearly $150 million in guaranteed contracts for 2017, plus a handful of arbitration-eligible players, some of whom (Drew Pomeranz, Jackie Bradley Jr.) will see significant raises.

Together, with insurance premiums and others costs tallied, the Sox stand at nearly $180 million, just $15 million under the 2017 tax.

"I've said all along I've wanted to stay away from long-term contracts for hitters at this point,'' Dombrowski said of the current free agent class, "(especially) with some of the guys we have in our organization coming. I just haven't felt that that's a wise thing to do.''

The Sox saw two potential DHs come off the board over the weekend, with Carlos Beltran signing a one-year $16 million deal with Houston and Matt Holliday getting $13 million from the Yankees. Either could have filled the vacancy left by David Ortiz's retirement, but Dombrowski would also be taking on another another eight-figure salary, pushing the Sox well past the CBT.

"I figured we would wait to see what ends up taking place later on,'' said Dombrowski, "and see who's out there.''