Notes: Sox bullpen decision not getting any easier

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Notes: Sox bullpen decision not getting any easier

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

LAKELAND, Fla. Terry Francona has his bullpen foundation set in stone, what with Jonathan Papelbon, Bobby Jenks and Daniel Bard forming a power-armed trio around which everything else will be built.

But the Sox have other pieces within that relief corps, and the decision as to which ones to keep is being made more difficult by the way each of those candidates is performing this spring.

Milton native and former Cubs starter Rich Hill has performed well as a potential situational left-hander. Andrew Miller has impressed manager Terry Francona with his mature approach and lively arm. Scott Atchison, of course, earned the trust and respect of the coaching staff last year during the regular season. Matt Albers, with four strikeouts in 4 13 innings, is another player whos forced his way into consideration.

Well have an interesting last week, said Francona when asked about the bullpen. Thats for sure. Weve had some really interesting things happen. Well try to make good decisions not only for Opening Day, but also for our whole organization.

Hill hasnt been scored upon in four innings of work this spring. Atchison has allowed a pair of runs in five innings, which included a rough outing after Josh Beckett was knocked out against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday. Miller has four strikeouts in four innings despite giving up five hits.

By the sheer numbers it would appear Hill has the inside edge but Miller is intriguing as a 6-foot-7 left-hander with a first-round pedigree and, at 25 years old, plenty of time to find his niche. His 5.84 career ERA as a starter in stints with the Detroit Tigers and Florida Marlins isnt much to write home about, but, in this case, past may not be prologue.

I cant sit here and say theres a guy that doesnt deserve to be on the ballclub. Theyve all done pretty well. Rich Hill threw his best innings of the spring against the Yankees Monday night. Albers has been tremendous all spring, said Francona. Atchison just goes and gets em out. Miller is really exciting to us. No matter our decision is at the end, its still going to be good news.

Were probably going to have to tell a couple of guys things they dont want to hear, but I think it bodes well for the organization.

Jacoby Ellsbury continued his torrid spring with another home run, this one smacked off Tigers ace Justin Verlander, as he and Darnell McDonald (solo homer in the 10th inning) provided the offense for the Sox in a 2-1 win at Joker Marchant Stadium.

The only other hit for the Sox =- despite the presence of a handful of regulars who traveled 2 12 hours to Lakeland to take on the Tigers -- was a J.D. Drew single.

Francona was still raving Tuesday about the combined efforts of Bobby Jenks and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to nail Curtis Granderson in a stolen-base attempt Monday night against the Yankees.

Jenks employed a slide step with the runner on base at the behest of the Boston coaching staff. The thinking is that Jenks will be in plenty of tight situations in the late innings with the Sox, and the ability to control the running game something Jenks was never able to do against the White Sox, when he was concentrating on simply closing down ballgames will be paramount to Bostons success.

Last night was probably the most excited Ive been all spring, said Francona. Bobby being the closer with the White Sox, they sometimes fall into that thing where you forget about base runners a little bit. Jonathan Papelbon is the same thing. When youre in for the seventh and eighth inning as Jenks is expected to be this year, those are situations where a team might be a little more apt to steal and Granderson was on first obviously wanting to run.

Jenks threw his pitches, he executed the slide step, he throw over to first and he gave Salty a chance to throw him out. He came off and I grilled him a little bit. He said Im fine. You guys do whatever you want. It was really encouraging because he handled everything. Threw every pitch out of the slide step and felt comfortable. That was good.

Jason Varitek was genuinely touched when apprised the complimentary things that Victor Martinez said about the Sox captain prior to Tuesdays game. Martinez said Varitek was a key figure in the younger backstop transitioning to Boston so quickly, and V-Mart said that Variteks help made him a better baseball player in the long run.

Varitek admitted the two chirped back and forth with each other when Martinez stepped to the plate in the second inning to face Daisuke Matsuzaka, but got serious when talking about Martinezs kind words.

That really does mean a lot to me, said Varitek. Those are the kinds of things that stay with you long after youre done playing.

Former ESPN anchor and MSNBC news host Keith Olbermann is a longtime friend of Francona, and was milling around the Joker Marchant Stadium area prior to the game. He walked over by the Sox dugout during the Sox skippers pregame media availability, and Francona perked up with: Theres my bench coach!

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

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.