Red Sox pitching is starting to come together

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Red Sox pitching is starting to come together

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Depth could still be an issue, but with just 10 days to go before the start of the regular season, the Red Sox' starting rotation -- with one notable exception -- seems to be jelling.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, having changed his between-start routine at the behest of the team, has turned in two straight strong performances against qualitylineups. John Lackey, some 15 pounds lighter, seems to be pitching with more purpose and getting the desired results with a 1.72 ERA.

Clay Buchholz, off his breakout season, sports the best ERA of any Boston starter (0.69) while Jon Lester, who matched Roy Halladay pitch-for-pitch for five innings before giving up three runs in the sixth in a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies Monday, has done nothing to suggest that his appointment as staff ace is misplaced.

Only Josh Beckett, who has endured big innings in each of his last starts, has looked less than sharp.

Monday's matchup with Halladay served as Lester's final extended outing of the spring. He got stretched out to 98 pitches before faltering some in the sixth. His next start, Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles, will see him scale back his work in anticipation of pitching the team's regular season opener at Texas on April 1.

"For the most part, he was really good," said Terry Francona evaluating Lester's outing. "He had a couple (at-bats) where he had four-pitch walks and just lost the zone for a minute. But his stuff was real good, he threw all of his pitches and got real deep into the game. So that's good."

Lester, of course, has little to prove after a career-best 19 wins last season. After a typically sub-par April, he was as good as any starter in the American League after his first three starts, going 19-7 with a 2.81 ERA after his first three starts.

There was little margin for error dueling with Halladay Monday, so until the sixth, he hardly made any. Not until Halladay himself singled sharply with two down in the fifth did Lester allow so much as a base hit.

Of the six hits he allowed, only one was hard hit -- a single by Ryan Howard in the Phils' three-run sixth.

"I had a pretty good five innings in terms of efficiency," said Lester. "I don't know if I just wanted that sixth inning to be over with in my mind, but the last inning obviously wasn't what I wanted."

At 27, with three full seasons in the rotation to his credit and 50 wins in that span, Lester would seem to be just now coming into his prime.

He can he his own worst critic -- of his six walks in his last two starts, Lester said: "Just sometimes being stupid, trying to do too much." - but he is also a relentless perfectionist. This spring, he's been determined to improve his pickoff move to first to slow down the opponent's running game.

Of course, a general sense of optimism reigned last March, too, after the Sox had added Lackey to an already solid rotation. But then Lackey struggled to adapt to life in the American League East, Matsuzaka was injured and inconsistent and Beckett weathered the worst season of his career, finishing with just a half-dozen wins.

Despite standout seasons from Lester and Buchholz, who were mentioned in the Cy Young conversation, the rotation underperformed as a whole. Their collective 4.17 ERA put them in the middle of the A.L. pack.

If Beckett can approximate the pitcher he was in 2007 and for a large chunk of 2009, the Sox could boast the league's deepest and best rotation.

And should one of the five become injured, the team's lack of depth could quickly become an issue. Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves are capable options when healthy, but Wakefield is the game's oldest player and has visited the DL in each of the last three seasons while Aceves didn't pitch after May last season and was deemed too much of a physical risk by the pitching-starved Yankees.

(Felix Doubront, another potential replacement starter, has had a lost spring after experiencing elbow tightness in February and has yet to pitch in a game here).

With only marginal improvement from Lackey, the Sox could well have three starters (Lester, Buchholz and Lackey) capable of winning 15 or more games. And even the enigmatic Matsuzaka is better than the vast majority of No. 5 starters on other staffs.

That leaves Beckett as the key -- and perhaps the different between a good rotation and a great one.

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

Former Red Sox prospect Andy Marte killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

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Former Red Sox prospect Andy Marte killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

Former major leaguer Andy Marte, a one-time top prospect in the Red Sox organization, was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic on Sunday. He was 33.

Marte was killed the same day that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura died in a separate car crash in the Dominican. Ventura was 25. Coincidentally, Ventura was the Royals starting pitcher in Marte's final major league game, for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 6, 2014.

Marte, drafted by the Braves in 2000, was ranked the No. 9 prospect in baseball in 2005 when the third baseman was traded to the Red Sox as part of the deal that sent shortstop Edgar Renteria to Atlanta and Marte became the top-ranked prospect in the Red Sox organization.  

Marte was traded by the Red Sox to the Indians in 2006 in the deal that sent Coco Crisp to Boston and spent five seasons with Cleveland. His best season was 2009 (.232, six home runs, 25 RBI in 47 games). After a six-game stint with Arizona in 2014, he played in South Korea the past two years.  

Metropolitan traffic authorities in the Dominican told the Associated Press that Marte died when a car he was driving his a house along the highway between San Francisco de Macoris and Pimentel, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the capital.
 

Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

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Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car crash in in the Dominican Republic on Sunday morning, according to multiple reports. Ventura was 25 years old.

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo told the Associated Press that Ventura died on a highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) northwest of Santo Domingo. He says it's not clear if Ventura was driving.

Ventura was killed the same day former major leaguer Andy Marte died in a separate car crash in the Dominican. Coincidentally, Ventura was the starting pitcher in Marte's final MLB game, for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 6, 2014. 

Ventura was 13-8 with a 4.08 ERA for the Royals' 2015 World Series champions and 11-12 with a 4.45 ERA in 32 starts in 2016. The right-hander made his major league debut in 2013 and in 2014 went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA for Kansas City's A.L. pennant winners. 

Ironically, Ventura paid tribute to his good friend and fellow Dominican, Oscar Tavares, who was also killed in a car crash in the D.R. in October 2014, by wearing Tavares' initials and R.I.P. on his cap before Ventura's start in Game 6 of the World Series in 2014. 

Ventura is the second current major league player to die in the past five months. Former Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident in Miami on Sept. 25.