Sox' bats still slumping, but pitching in fine form

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Sox' bats still slumping, but pitching in fine form

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

ANAHEIM, Calif -- They're still not hitting, as evidenced by the fact that four players in the starting lineup Friday came into the game hitting below .200.

As a team, they continue to falter with runners in scoring position, going just 5-for-38 in such situations in the four games to date on the road trip.

Behind the plate, they must choose between a catcher who is 1-for-23 at the plate or his anointed replacement, who is having great difficulty throwing, and, Friday night at least, simply catching the ball.

But say this for the resurgent Red Sox: their starting pitching is in order. Finally. And that, as much as anything, is the reason they have gone 6-1 since last Saturday, saving themselves from the yawning hole they dug in the first two weeks.

Jon Lester tossed six shutout innings Friday before the Angels begin chipping away at the Boston bullpen with a run in the seventh and two more in the eighth for a 4-3 Red Sox win.

In the last seven games, Red Sox starters have a collective 1.17 ERA, good enough to overcome all the other issues that continue to plague the team.

"Remember back on the homestand,'' said Terry Francona, "somebody asked me what's the best way to get it going and I said, 'A time or two through the rotation, where they give us a chance every night.' And that's exactly what's happened.''

Lester had difficulty putting Angels hitters away at times, resulting in a lot of deep counts, a lot of foul balls, and, as a result, a high pitch count.

"I just didn't get that early contact that we needed,'' lamented Lester, 2-1. "But it was good that we went back and forth and didn't allow them to sit one side when they were swinging like they were.''

On a night when the Red Sox would have liked him to go deeper -- he was done after 111 pitches in just six innings -- thanks to a depleted bullpen, Lester was still good enough.

He fanned eight and walked just two and allowed only four hits.

Lester senses the rotation building momentum and feeding off one another, one quality start follwing another.

"The first two weeks of the season,'' he said, "it's kind of uncommon for everybody to come out (and click), throwing the lights out of the ball. It took us two turns, three turns to get where we're feeling comfortable.

"You can prepare all off-season, all spring training for the regular season but when those lights go on and it's for real, it's different. We're still in the building phase of the season. We're still in uncharted territory, where guys are throwing 110, 120 pitches. There's still some things to go on to body-wise to build up, but, yeah, I think the rotation has gotten until a little bit of a rhythm and we can build off each other's starts.

Gone are the days early in the season when the Sox would fall behind early, putting pressure on hitters to make up the deficits in a hurry and the relievers, who had to come into games far earlier than they would like.

But starting with Josh Beckett's effort against Toronto last Saturday, the pitching has covered up the multitude of sins. Correspondingly, the hitters don't have to overcome early leads and the bullpen isn't being taxed in the early and middle innings.

"Guys just build off each other,'' said Lester. "Just like hitters build off an inning. A guy gets a hit and you build off that; (it's the same with pitchers).''

With the hitters not hitting and the catcher having difficulty catching the burden has fallen on the pitchers. For the last week, they've shouldered it just fine.

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

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.