Saltalamacchia breaks through in the clutch

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Saltalamacchia breaks through in the clutch

By MaureenMullen
CSNNE.com

BOSTON The cold, rainy, windy, foggy and overall miserable conditions at Fenway Park Wednesday night were suited to just about anything other than offensive success.

When Jarrod Saltalamacchia stepped to the plate with two outs and Carl Crawford on first in the eighth inning Wednesday night against Tigers lefty Daniel Schlereth, he had gone hitless and his team had just three hits, all singles.

But on the fourth pitch of this at-bat -- a 2-and-1, 90-mph sinker -- he lashed a double off the Wall in left-center, scoring Crawford for the games only run.

"It felt good to come out with a win obviously, Saltalamacchia. This weather has been crazy. So for us it seemed like the first team to score was going to win the game. Both pitchers pitched great. They had a lot of situations to score and we had Clay Buchholz to hold them down.

I've been hitting the ball hard, but haven't always got the results. Felt good that it turned my way for once.

Saltalamacchia entered the game hitting just .217 (18-for-83) overall and just .150 (3-for-20) against lefties. He had a slow start to the season. His average
poked above .200 just once in April and in May, he has struggled to keep it above that dubious line of demarcation.

But with Wednesdays go-ahead double, he has hit safely in 12 of his last 16 starts, going 15-for-56 (.268). Six of his last 12 hits have gone for extra bases, with five doubles and a home run.

When you start out as slow as he did, its not always going to come back in one chunk, said manager Terry Francona. But I think hes making progress and he'll be fine as long as he lets the ball travel and doesnt get overanxious like he did early. Hes a big, strong kid. That ball was about as well-struck as youre going to see. And hes plenty quick, just needs to swing at pitches he can handle. That at-bat early in the game he offered at two of their off-speed pitches, kind of check-swing and then took the fastball. So sometimes hes in between.

Saltalamacchia has noticed a difference in his swings over the last couple of weeks.

Just feeling more comfortable the last two weeks, Saltalamacchia said. The more ABs, you get the better you feel. Always felt like second half of the season I'm better. I don't know what to credit that to. But like I said, me and hitting coach Dave Magadan sat down and started talking and slowed everything down. Just slow it down and put good wood on it.

And if the ball didnt hit the Wall?

"If it didn't, I would have walked off right there, Saltalamacchia joked. I hit that ball well. That's the way it's been going. I've hit the ball good and it just hasn't fallen in.

Although Buchholz didn't earn the win, having pitched seven scoreless innings before giving way to Daniel Bard, he could appreciate Saltalamacchia's effort.

That was awesome, Buchholz said. He squared that ball up. Might have been a home run in a lot of parks. Good to see everybody was part of a team effort to win a game like this considering everything that went on.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen

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.