Valentine, Red Sox front office torn on Iglesias

709394.jpg

Valentine, Red Sox front office torn on Iglesias

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Just over two weeks before Opening Day, most of Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine's roster decisions revolve around the starting rotation and bullpen.

But one key position player battle remains at shortstop and it could prove interesting.

Mike Aviles entered camp as the presumptive favorite at the position, but Jose Iglesias has made that decision more complicated, not only with his defensive brilliance -- which was expected -- but also with significant improvement with the bat -- which wasn't.

Valentine has told a number of scouts from outside the organization that his clear preference is to have Iglesias open the season as his starting shortstop. Sources indicate, meanwhile, that the Red Sox front office is in favor of Iglesias getting additional experienced at Triple A Pawtucket to open the sesason, with Aviles opening the year at the major league starter.

Asked about the evaluation process before the Sox took on the Pittsburgh Pirates, Valentine was suitably cryptic

"I think we've seen a lot,'' said Valentine. "It will just be a determination on whether or not it's his time. He's played pretty well and showed really good progress. We've got to decide whether he has enough undergraduate credentials in order to take the next step forward.

"I think he can hit and field at the major league level. But I don't know that he can make the major league team and perform right now the way we need him to perform in this setting, in the group that we have.''

When Valentine was asked about a timetable for a decision on shortstop, he said he'd prefer to wait "as long as I can. I don't see any reason to it sooner rather than later because anything can happen.

"I think his ability is good enough. Whether it's his time is the question, with all the other contributing factors, including Mike Aviles, who's doing great.''

Weird umpire replay mistake helps Red Sox to record-tying 20 Ks

red_sox_craig_kimbrel_052517.jpg

Weird umpire replay mistake helps Red Sox to record-tying 20 Ks

New York’s mistake helped the Red Sox, and they weren’t playing the Yankees.

The Red Sox struck out 20 in a game for the third time in franchise history on Thursday night, and they were able to do so only after MLB’s replay team — based in Manhattan — gave Craig Kimbrel an extra batter to strike out in the ninth inning.

A 6-2 win over the Rangers featured 16 strikeouts for Red Sox pitching heading into the top of the ninth at Fenway Park. Kimbrel came on for a non-save situation because he had five days off previously.

There’s always that outside chance for a four-strikeout inning, and it happened. Even for a four-strikeout inning, however, this was bizarre.

The first batter, lefthanded hitting Nomar Mazara, swung and missed at a back-foot breaking ball for strike 3 — a literal back-foot breaking ball, because it hit him in that foot after he whiffed on the pitch.

On a swing and a miss with a pitch that hits the batter, the ball should be dead. He should not have been able to reach first base. But the umpires didn’t catch the ball hitting Mazara, and instead saw it as a wild pitch. 

Sox manager John Farrell asked for a review and the umpires went for one, but came back empty-handed. The crew was told, erroneously, that the play could not be looked at and the batter was awarded first base.

“It was just a swinging strike three, ball that go away and he obviously reached first base,” crew chief Alfonso Marquez told pool reporter Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. “The only thing that I can tell you, and the only thing I will say is, this was a replay issue. New York will come out with a statement.”

You could say it worked out just fine. Kimbrel went on to strike out the next three, and got the Sox to 20 Ks.

Kimbrel and Tim Wakefield are the only Red Sox pitchers to fan four batters in a single inning. Wakefield did it in the ninth inning on Aug. 10, 1999. 

Kimbrel did it once before as well, when he was with the Braves on Sept. 26, 2012.

No one has struck out five in a major league inning, although Kimbrel has as good a chance as anyone.

“The guy strikes out the world,” Matt Barnes said. “It’s ridiculous. … His fastball is seemingly unhittable. Complement that with the breaking ball he’s got, which comes right off that same plane, when he’s commanding it like he is, the numbers kind of speak for themselves. It’s kind of ridiculous. It’s fun to watch.”

The Sox have struck out 20 in a nine-inning game three times since 1913. Roger Clemens' two 20-strikeout games are the other two.