Notes: McDonald hopes homer gets him going

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Notes: McDonald hopes homer gets him going

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
HOUSTON -- Last year was magical for Darnell McDonald.

This year has been more like a nightmare.

McDonald hasn't gotten a lot of playing opportunities, and when he has, he hasn't done much with them. Coming into Saturday's game, he was hitting a paltry .115 with an equally low slugging percentage of .192.

One swing isn't going to turn his season around, but the three-run homer McDonald cranked in the Red Sox' four-run seventh may at least be a start.

"It felt real good,'' said McDonald after the Red Sox bashed Houston 10-4. "I know things are going to turn around for me. I've been working hard and I've been feeling good at the plate. I just haven't been getting results. It feels good to get rewarded with the home run.

"But the main thing is getting something positive going and keeping the same approach -- trying to go up there and give my team a quality at-bat. It's a long season and it's a humbling game. Hopefully, this will get me going.''

Before the game, Terry Francona said he thought about going with the much hotter Josh Reddick, but ultimately decided on McDonald because he hits righthanded -- the Astros started lefty J.A. Happ -- and because "I want to get Darnell hot. He spent all that time behind (Mike Cameron) and didn't get at-bats. Then he goes and gets his rehab at Triple A and swung the bat great. Then he came back here and looked like he was going to swing the bat great and kind of went the other way. I want to get him going a little bit... I really do want Mac to face some of these lefties because of what he can do and it gives us some balance on our bench."

Now that Mike Cameron has been designated for assignment, McDonald is currently the only righthanded-hitting outfielder the Sox have. Now would be a good time to make his claim for more playing time.

"That's the same swing Darnell had last year,'' said Francona.

McDonald has been taking extra hitting with hitting coach Dave Magadan and trying to improve his timing, especially on fastballs.

"I want to use today as something to build on,' said McDonald.

Andrew Miller's third start since being promoted was another good one: six innings, seven hits allowed, two runs against.

Miller had something of a rocky first inning with the Astros bashing out three hits right off the top, but he limited the damage to a single run and made adjustments.

"It was a tough first inning,'' said Francona. "It looked like he didn't have a ton of velocity and they hit some balls hard. But we got out of it with one and pitched.''

"The way things started,'' said Miller, "it was certainly nice to escape with limited damage and be able to get on a roll after that.''

In six innings, Miller got three double-play balls, including two to end innings.

"I kept the ball down and mixed it up,'' said Miller. "I think we got one on a changeup, some on the fastball. I think keeping the hitters off-balance is important and were were able to do that today.''

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

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.