Friday, May 29, 2015

A Glimpse of the Future in Arlington Last Night

The Red Sox gave Eduardo Rodriguez his first start in Texas last night, and the much-hyped pitching prospect sure didn't disappoint.

The lefty went 7 2/3 innings, allowed just three hits and two walks, no runs to a hot Texas Rangers lineup. He struck out five, and was never really in any serious trouble throughout the game. He showed lots of poise, and never seemed overwhelmed or intimidated.

It was the best MLB debut by a Red Sox starter since Billy Rohr's legendary near-no-hitter against the Yankees in 1967, when he pitched a shutout.

Even before Rodriguez' start last night, manager John Farrell said that no matter how it went that he would be returning to Pawtucket after it was over. But really, how do you send him back now?

Granted this is just one start, and he hasn't won any Cy Young Awards yet. But for a much-maligned starting rotation that has been much better of late, I don't see how you send back just yet. Rodriguez has earned a second look at the MLB level. He will probably be sent back at some point. But give him that first start at Fenway next week.

The moribund offense also came alive last night, especially Hanley Ramirez, who hit a bomb of a home run off Nick Martinez last night for the second Sox run. It was also nice to see the struggling Blake Swihart get two hits and drive in two runs that put the game on ice in the 8th inning.

It's been a slog of a season so far, but Eduardo Rodriguez sure gave Red Sox fans something to hope for last night. There's a long way to go, but the future may have been on display in Arlington, Texas last night.

And I hope NO ONE calls him "E-Rod."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Squandering Good Pitching Again and Again

This is getting monotonous, don't you think?

Another night of the Red Sox pitchers throwing well, and the hitters not showing up.

They dropped the series to the lowly Texas Rangers, who were struggling coming into the series. They were befuddled by two Texas lefties who aren't exactly household names.

The Red Sox offensive numbers over the last eight games are simply butt ugly. They are averaging less than 2 runs a game over the course of those games, while they have gotten a quality start from their starters in every game. They are 4-4 in those games, and with some decent support, could be 8-0.

The Sox fell behind 2-0 in the first inning last night with Clay Buchholz on the mound, and it was 3-1 by the fourth. Didn't it feel like they were 10-1 instead? That's what the pitiful lack of production has made it feel like, even when the opposition lead isn't insurmountable.

They left 12 men on base on Wednesday night, and could manage just one run. They are a staggering 0-for-12 with the bases loaded for the month of May.

OK, I'll stop there, as I could roll out many more depressingly pitiful offensive numbers, from a team that was suppose to be one of the dominant offensive forces in baseball.

Some good news: they are only three back in the rather weak AL East at 19-22. And rumors are flying that Rusney Castillo is about to be called up. He won't be a "savior" for this offense, but he could provide a spark the team desperately needs.

And sure beats watching Daniel Nava and his .172 average in right field.

Monday, May 18, 2015

An Even Split On The Road

That was one bizarre road trip the Red Sox just came off of.

They lost the first two games in Toronto by wide margins, right after firing pitching coach Juan Nieves. I was hoping they could split the ten games and not fall into last place to stay in the AL East. I thought after the first resounding defeats we'd see a 2-8 or 1-9 road trip.

Carl Willis took over as pitching coach on the last game in Toronto, and all of a sudden the pitching turned around in a hurry. (Coincidence? Perhaps.)

They beat the Blue Jays that Sunday, then went to Oakland and won the series there, and split four games in Seattle this past weekend, including beating Felix Hernandez on Saturday. They came out of the ten-game road trip 5-5.

The Sox had only one badly pitched game out west, losing the second game in Oakland, 9-2. Rick Porcello pitched two very good games and beat Hernandez. Wade Miley pitched well in Oakland and got a win, pitching 6 2/3 shutout innings. Clay Buchholz was terrific last Friday night, allowing just a run in eight innings in Seattle while striking out 11. Rookie reliever Matt Barnes got two wins out of the pen this past week, and the bullpen overall was excellent.

But what also was on display out west was the Red Sox offense struggling mightily. They were shutout on Sunday, scored just one run on Friday in a loss, and two in wins on Wednesday and Thursday.

Now, you can thank goodness for the excellent pitching this past week, or this would really have been a disasterous trip out west.

The Sox are averaging 3.97 runs per game overall, which ranks them 12th overall in the AL, and have scored two or fewer runs 15 out of 38 games so far in 2015. Pretty feeble.

Once again, they are fortunate the AL East is not a strong division. They sit right now in third place, 3 1/2 games behind New York, at 18-20.

Time to get the bats heated up again. The Sox start a six-game homestand tomorrow with the Rangers and Angels.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Time To Go West

When I looked at the Red Sox schedule last Friday and saw a 10-game trip to Toronto, Oakland and Seattle, I figured they'd have to split the trip in order to get back on track.

It sure didn't start out encouraging.

Two lifeless defeats to the Blue Jays, 7-0, and 7-1. More games where the Sox didn't hit or pitch well at all. And changes began happening.

Pitching coach Juan Nieves was fired and replaced by former Indians and Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis. Edward Mujica was DFA'd and traded to the A's. Allen Craig and Robbie Ross were both sent down to Pawtucket, replaced by Jackie Bradley and Steven Wright.

David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia held a players-only meeting after Saturday's loss. In the short run, it seems to have helped.

Clay Buchholz went to the mound in yesterday's finale, and was given a 4-0 lead in the first, capped by a Mike Napoli three-run blast. Buchholz walked three in that inning, but a double play helped him out. It looked like another one of those games, but Clay settled down, allowing three runs in 6 1/3 innings. Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara slammed the down to the get the Sox a much needed win, 6-3.

At this point, the Red Sox can really only look internally for help. Any pitching quality that teams might want to trade will not go until the July 31st deadline. At this point, their appear to be no changes to the rotation, but that could change if the next seven games prove to be a continuing misery.

BTW, how bad was Craig? Alex Speier had this incredible tidbit.

Of the 591 non-pitchers who've made at least 100 plate appearances in a Sox uniform, he has the all-time lowest BA, at .130 in 53 games. Talk about historically awful. This was from the same guy who led MLB in batting average with runners in scoring position in 2013. With Joe Kelly's struggles, it is making the John Lackey trade of last July 31 look like the worst move Ben Cherington has yet done. The Sox are stuck with Craig for two more years at $25 million. Maybe the Cardinals knew something. Yikes.

So, can the Sox take 4 of 7 from the A's and Mariners? The west coast has always been hard historically for the Red Sox, but neither team is doing well right now. (Nobody but Houston is over .500 in their division.) Right now, the Sox sit at 14-17, 5 1/2 games back.

Granted, nobody wins a pennant in May. But you can fall hopelessly out in May. It's an important week for the boys, make no mistake about that. Rick Porcello, who has been good the last two times out, begins the series in Oakland tonight.

Friday, May 08, 2015

The First Heads Roll At Fenway

As the Red Sox pitching struggles continued through Wednesday night, they took action on their Thursday off day on two fronts.

They fired pitching coach Juan Nieves. The Sox are ranked dead last in ERA in the AL, and next-to-last in MLB. Somebody as to take the fall for this slow start, and as the old saying goes "you can't fire the players," so Nieves is out. He was the pitching coach since 2013, and the Sox won it all in his first season. So, I guess he's gone from genius to dummy.

Will this have any long term positive effect on the pitching staff? Hard to say, as they have not named a replacement for him. Many people in the media are painting Nieves as a scapegoat for the Red Sox pitching troubles, and they maybe right. He didn't put together this underwhelming starting staff. I believe that is Ben Cherington's call.

Cherington said this yesterday:
"John and I simply got to the point where we felt that, in order to continue to push forward and make improvements, we needed to make a change and have a different voice in that particular position."

Make of that what you will.

Actually, the Red Sox did "fire" a player on Thursday, as the long national Edward Mujica nightmare has come to an end, as he was designated for assignment. He was a disaster of a free agent signing before the 2014 season, and this season he got off to a lousy start, with a 4.61 ERA in 13 innings. He blew the save in Yankee Stadium in early April that led to the 19 inning marathon the Sox eventually won.

It may be time to flush out more dead wood like Mujica, and the Sox brought up young reliever Matt Barnes to take his place. More moves are sure to follow.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Hangin' With Pedro

I had the distinct of pleasure of going to the book signing in Manhattan yesterday that featured one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, Pedro Martinez, autographing his new biography, "Pedro."

It was at the Barnes & Noble store on East 54th Street and 3rd Avenue. I got there just before noon, and there was a long line snaking its way around the second floor. Pedro showed up at exactly 12:30, the scheduled time, to much fanfare. He was warmly applauded, and he waved to the crowd, and got going signing his book.

I figured it would take about one hour to reach him, and literally when the clock struck 1: 30, there I was. Pedro was chatting with the fans as he was autographing. Oddly, he wasn't personalizing any copies, but he was taking selfies with the fans.

When I reached him, there was just one thing I wanted to tell him.

"Thanks Pedro, for making my life in New York City so much more bearable."

He let out a big laugh as he handed me the book.

I said the same thing to John Henry and Tom Werner (when I met them in a bar in 2007), Johnny Damon (at the signing of his book in 2005), and Terry Francona (when signing his book in 2013). And I got the same response each time. Smiles and laughter.

I couldn't hang too long, as there was a huge turnout and the Barnes & Noble people wanted to keep the line moving. But I enjoyed my brief time with one of the Red Sox all-time greats on Tuesday.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Take The High Road, Willie

Apparently, somebody hit home run number 660 last night.

The device has yet to be invented that can measure my indifference to the previous sentence.

I'm mostly pissed because it was the difference in the Red Sox' 3-2 loss to New York. And at that dumbass fan who reached out and may have taken an RBI away from Ryan Hanigan last night.

My sympathies to Willie Mays. But I'm sure he'll take the high road in all this, just as Hank Aaron did eight years ago when confronted with a similar situation.

And that's all I'll say on that subject.