Red Sox pitchers get in work versus minor leaguers

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Red Sox pitchers get in work versus minor leaguers

By MaureenMullen
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. - As the available Grapefruit League innings dwindle down to a precious few, the Red Sox sent a passel of pitchers to the player development complex to throw in minor-league games against teams from the Twins organization.

While the big-league team was in Jupiter, losing 15-7 to the Marlins, Tim Wakefield, Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Hideki Okajima, Scott Atchison, Rich Hill and Felix Doubront traveled to the end of Edison Avenue to get in their innings. Wakefield and Hill appeared in the Triple-A game, with Wakefield starting. Papelbon started the Double-A game, followed by Okajima, Bard, Doubront, and Atchison.

Wakefield went five innings, giving up six runs (five earned) on seven hits, a walk, and a hit batter. He also gave up a home run, throwing 78 pitches, 52 strikes.

When a passerby asked him how his outing went, Wakefield replied, "Good enough."

For Wakefield, the most important part of his outing was to get his work in, keeping him stretched out.

"I got up and down five times. Got up to my pitch count," he said.

"It's a different atmosphere. I take it seriously but there's not a whole lot of adrenaline down here. But you got to get your work in somewhere."

Papelbon has not appeared in a spring-training game since March 17, when he went two-thirds of an inning against the Mets and gave up four runs on two hits and two walks. In six Grapefruit League games he has given up seven earned runs on three hits, five walks, and two hit batters with three strikeouts, for a 12.60 ERA.

He started the Double-A game, going one inning, giving up two runs on one hit, a home run, with one strikeout.

"I got in exactly what I wanted to do, which is touch up my delivery a little bit, simple and on-line mechanics," Papelbon said. "That was really all I really wanted to worry about today. So, I accomplished that."

Despite a couple of difficult outings this spring, Papelbon is happy with the way he came into spring training, with better mechanics.

"I'm pleased with the way that I came into spring and my mechanics were pretty good," he said. "A couple outings, I kind of got off track there. But I was able to kind of go back to simplifying it a little more. For me, I was able to take that out there today. The delivery that I had out there today, just try to keep perfecting it and take it into Arlington against the Rangers on Opening Day. That's the most thing I'm pleased about. I'm also pleased about the way I'm throwing my slider, because it's going to be a big pitch for me this year."

Papelbon said he is excited about the potential depth of the Sox' bullpen.

"I do feel excited this year, but I feel excited about every other year, too," he said. "We got to still go out there and find our identity as a bullpen, our roles, our swagger, everything. And all that will hopefully start in Houston a March 30 exhibition game against the Astros and as we get into the season. On paper it looks great. I'm sure you guys have heard that before."

Doubront, slowed by tightness in his left elbow, appeared in a game for the first time this spring. He threw one inning, giving up two runs on three hits with one strikeout. He threw 19 pitches, 13 for strikes.

"Elbow's fine. My body's fine. That's all that matters to me," he said.

Okajima went one scoreless inning, with two strikeouts. He needed just nine pitches, six strikes.

"I felt good today, my conditioning is good," he said. "My first game this spring, I got hit pretty hard, but it was actually good for me. It was good that I could learn from my mistakes.

"I'm ready for the games. My control was poor, but I've been working on that. I am also working on my offspeed pitches, I need to control them or they are pointless.''

Okajima, who has been working on adding a cutter this spring, said he doesn't think he's guaranteed a spot in the Sox bullpen, despite re-signing as a free agent in January on a one-year, 1.75 million contract. Last season right-handed batters hit .340 (34-for-100) and slugged .540 with 4 home runs and 10 walks against him. Lefties hit .284 (25-for-88) and slugged .375 with 2 home runs and 10 walks. Over his four-season career, righties have hit .257 with a .404 slugging percentage, while lefties have hit .214, slugging .320.

"I was good against righties because I threw tough pitches on the inside," he said. "I have to be able to do that or they can target my changeup. I am also using a cutter.''

Bard went one scoreless inning, giving up one hit on seven pitches, six strikes. Atchison went three innings, allowing one run on six hits and walk with three strikeouts. He threw 46 pitches, 31 strikes. Hill pitched one scoreless inning, with one walk and one strikeout. He threw 20 pitches, nine strikes.

The Red Sox got drubbed by the Marlins, 15-7. Clay Buchholz (0-2) took the loss, going four innings, giving up 11 runs, six earned, on 11 hits and one walk with five strikeouts. He allowed four home runs, including two three-run homers to Mike Stanton. Michael Bowden also had a tough outing, going two-thirds of an inning, allowing three runs on five hits. Jacoby Ellsbury went 2-for-3, with a two-run homer. He is hitting .383 this spring. Jarrod Saltalamacchia went 3-for-3 with a home run and four RBI.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen

McAdam: Sure, take Buchholz out of the rotation, then what?

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McAdam: Sure, take Buchholz out of the rotation, then what?

It's easy -- obvious, even -- that Clay Buchholz should be immediately replaced in the Red Sox rotation.
     
What's more, it's apparent who should replace him. Eduardo Rodriguez, though his velocity remains mysteriously subpar, is otherwise healthy and available.
     
Even with the acknowledgement that Rodriguez's fastball isn't as lively as the Red Sox would prefer it to be, he remains a logical option.
     
And there can be little debate over the move to extract Buchholz from the rotation. In 10 starts, he's compiled a 6.35 ERA, and while pitcher’s won-loss records are notoriously misleading, this stat isn't: the Red Sox are 3-7 with Buchholz starting and 26-11 with everyone else.
     
Buchholz's confidence is shattered. You can see it in his body language on the mound. You can sense it with the glacial-like pace in which he works
with runners on base. You can observe it in his postgame remarks, where he looks and sounds like someone with no idea how to reverse his slide.
     
Case closed.
     
But the next part of the equation is a little trickier: what do the Red Sox do with him now?
     
It's highly unlikely that the Sox will just release him. For one thing, there's more than $8 million coming to him for the remainder of the season and those decisions aren't made lightly.
     
For another, it's possible -- hard as it might be to imagine now -- that Buchholz could help the 2016 Red Sox before the season is through. And if you think that's a ridiculous notion, then you've forgotten other similar stretches in his career.
     
In 2014, when Buchholz had what was, until then, the worst season of his career, he still managed to put together a seven-start stretch at the end of the season that saw him go 4-3 with a 3.18 ERA.
     
Or the 13-game stretch inside the otherwise hideous 2012 (season ERA: 4.56) in which Buchholz was 6-2 with a 2.53 ERA.
     
Those two stretches are at the heart of the paradox that is Buchholz - even in the course of miserable seasons, he invariably finds a stretch where he figures some things out and pitches brilliantly for a time.
     
It's one reason the Red Sox have stuck with him for the first two months -- the knowledge that, at any time, something may click, sending Buchholz on one of his patented rolls.
     
After all, Buchholz is just 31, too young to be finished. And as both the pitcher himself and manager John Farrell said Thursday night, in the wake of another poor outing, health isn't an issue.
     
And that's the rub here.
     
If Buchholz hadn't been given a public clean bill of health, the Red Sox could have discovered a heretofore undetected "general soreness'' somewhere on Buchholz's body -- a balky shoulder here, or a tender elbow there.
     
That would have bought Buchholz and the Red Sox some time to place him on the DL, take a mental break from the mound and work on making some adjustment away from prying eyes.
     
Now, that would seem not to be an option -- unless Buchholz, ahem, stubbed a toe getting on or off the Red Sox charter flight to Toronto early Friday morning.
     
Finally, Buchholz is long out of options and has sufficient service time to refuse an assignment to the minor leagues.
     
So what's left? Not much, beyond a trip to the bullpen. And that's where things get complicated.
     
In a 10-year major league career, Buchholz has made exactly two (2) appearances in relief, the most recent of which took place in 2008.
Given that Buchholz has struggled mightily early in games -- until Thursday's start, when he completely flipped the script and retired the first nine hitters he faced, Buchholz had allowed a batting average of  .366 the first time through the order -- it's difficult to imagine him being successful in relief.
     
Sure, the Red Sox could designated him as their mop-up man in  relief, brought in when the team has fallen behind early or jumped out to a huge lead in the middle innings.
     
But such scenarios can't be counted upon to provide Buchholz with enough regular opportunities, and even  if they did present themselves, there's no guarantee that Buchholz would thrive under such circumstances.
     
So, the club appears at a dead end -- unwilling to release Buchholz because of meager starting depth options and the likelihood that he might be needed in a few weeks or months, and unable to find a spot for him to get straightened out.
     
It's the ultimate conundrum, which, when you think about it, is the perfect way to view Buchholz's career.
     

 

McAdam: Ridiculous to think Bradley's streak ended because he hit leadoff

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McAdam: Ridiculous to think Bradley's streak ended because he hit leadoff

BOSTON -- If you think John Farrell's decision to hit Jackie Bradley Jr. leadoff for one night is the reason Bradley's 29-game hit streak came to an end, I've got some swamp land you might be interested in buying.

Such silly talk first surfaced mid-afternoon when the lineup was announced. With Mookie Betts getting his first day off this season, somebody had to hit leadoff. Farrell went with the guy who was leading the league in hitting.

That sounds reasonable. But not to some, who cried that putting Bradley at the top was (take your pick) disrupting Bradley's routine, putting him in a place with which he wasn't familiar, or asking him to change his approach.

Of course, none of those made much sense.

First of all, Thursday night marked the sixth (SIXTH!) different spot that Bradley has hit during the hitting streak. He had hit second, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth. So the notion that any change was disruptive was absurd.

As for the notion that Bradley would treat his at-bats differently because he was leading off? Also wrong. Bradley's major adjustment since spring training has been being aggressive early in the count. So, do you know how many pitches Bradley saw in four at-bats as the leadoff hitter? Eight.

Does that sound like someone who was being forced to be more patient for the night, or someone changing their approach by working the count more?

Finally, Bradley hit two balls on the screws -- one to the warning track in right, just in front of the bullpen in his first at-bat and another in front of the center field door, some 400 or so feet away, in his third.

Streaks come to an end, even when hitters belt the ball hard. Twice.