It can be easy for pitching prospects to be forgotten in the lower levels of the Red Sox minor league system. After all, with a high-ceiling inventory of arms in Double-A and Triple-A, the line that has formed in front of those who remain in A-ball is long, creating the likelihood of a deliberate progression through the minors.

Garin Cecchini hit his first homer since last July on Friday. (Salem Red Sox)

Garin Cecchini hit his first homer since last July on Friday. (Salem Red Sox)

It can be easy for pitching prospects to be forgotten in the lower levels of the Red Sox minor league system. After all, with a high-ceiling inventory of arms in Double-A and Triple-A, the line that has formed in front of those who remain in A-ball is long, creating the likelihood of a deliberate progression through the minors.

Yet just because they are at a greater remove from the big leagues does not mean that such pitchers aren’t an important part of the Red Sox future. And perhaps no Red Sox pitcher in A-ball is more likely to embody that notion than left-hander Brian Johnson.

The 2012 first-round selection out of the University of Florida — where he was the best two-way player in the country (a power-hitting first baseman to accompany his mound work) — Johnson was often forgotten in his first full pro season of 2013, in no small part because he struggled out of the gate after his first professional offseason was spent recovering from a line drive to the face. He couldn’t follow a normal strength program, and so he struggled with stuff and results early in the year in Single-A Greenville before landing on the DL with shoulder tendinitis.

But when he came back, Johnson showed some of the more interesting raw materials in the Sox system. The left-hander saw his velocity bump up, topping out towards the end of the year at 94 and 95 mph, while mixing in a diverse array of secondary offerings — curve, slider, changeup. None of the pitches graded as better than average last year, but the Sox believe the curveball could play up, and his feel for pitching suggests the future possibility of adding more weapons, such as a cutter.

The 23-year-old was one of the more impressive performers in spring training games, and given that he came from an elite college program and demonstrated feel for pitching, there were those in the Sox system who believed that, despite the slow progression in his first full pro season (when he spent almost all of 2013 in Greenville, moving up to Salem only at the very end of the year for two starts), he had a chance to accelerate his development pace going forward, much as Brandon Workman did after spending all of his first full pro season of 2011 in Greenville.

Johnson started slowly this year, getting tons of swings and misses (20 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings) in his first three starts — with his changeup having emerged as an intriguing weapon at times — but permitting 11 runs (7.24 ERA). But on Friday, he was nothing short of brilliant, firing six perfect innings with five strikeouts and seven groundouts while showing the ability to throw off-speed and breaking stuff in any count for strikes and working efficiently.

He recorded seven swings and misses with his curveball, but more significant than the quality of any single pitch was the way that he executed with his arsenal. He threw strikes with all four pitches, and did an impressive job of attacking inside to open up the outer half of the plate for breaking stuff. And he pounded strike after strike, in a way that caught the attention of Winston-Salem.

“At one point, we had thrown 120 pitches, and their guy had thrown 45,” Winston-Salem manager Tommy Thompson noted to the Winston-Salem Journal.

There are a lot of believers in Johnson in the Red Sox organization. While evaluators from other organizations last year came away underwhelmed — mostly on the basis of starts early in the year, before his velocity crept up — and saw a potential back-of-the-rotation starter, he’s shown enough in terms of his raw materials — the possibility of working comfortably with 91-93 or even 94 mph velocity, with a curve or change that can get swings and misses, to suggest the possibility of a durable mid-rotation presence who has a chance to become a very important part of the Red Sox’ future.

Certainly, he’s further from the big leagues than pitchers like Workman and Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster and Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo, but there are times when it’s possible to imagine a future in which he *could* be more important than any of those pitchers. Friday’s 18-up, 18-down effort was one such moment.

A snapshot of the rest of the action in the Red Sox farm system on Friday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 7-3 LOSS VS. BUFFALO (BLUE JAYS)

(BOX)

– Third baseman Garin Cecchini hit his first homer of the season and indeed his first homer since last July 16, ending a homerless drought of 58 games without going deep. Cecchini is comfortable with the idea of being a line drive hitter rather than a power hitter. The 22-year-old (who turns 23 on Sunday) has the size (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and strength to hit for power, and when the Red Sox drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft (and gave him a first-round bonus), he was viewed as a potential middle-of-the-order power hitter coming out of high school. But Cecchini embraced the idea that going deep was not a primary goal.

“I remember people writing scouting reports saying I had so much power. I tell my teammates this all the time: In high school, that’s all I was trying to do was hit home runs,” said Cecchini. “I hit a home run in [a high school showcase in] the Metrodome, in the upper deck, and I’m just doing this: I’m trying to get linear movement and I’m trying to hit the ball 450 feet. And I did it. That’s the reason why people said I had some power coming out of high school, because in my BP’s, that’s all I tried to do was hit home runs.

“But you start facing 90 mph every single time’€¦ I can’t sleep at night striking out two times a day and hitting a rod off of Fenway Park‘s Green Monster,” he added. “I can sleep at night going 1-for-3 with two walks, two hard-hit balls right up the middle and no strikeouts. I can sleep like that. That’s just me. I can’t go to bed every night going all out, trying to hit home runs and hit 20 home runs but hit .160. That’s just me. I don’t think I help the team that way. That’s just me.”

There remains a chance that, like a Kevin Youkilis, Cecchini will eventually translate his advanced pitch recognition into the selective ability to drive the ball. But whereas a hitter with power but without the ability to hit for average or get on base has limited value, Cecchini’s offensive approach — which should yield high averages and OBPs — suggests that he’ll have considerable value as an everyday member of the lineup regardless of the development of his power.

Allen Webster continued to pitch with stuff that can’t be hit hard, but also continued his ongoing battle with the strike zone. The right-hander allowed four hits — all singles — in 5 1/3 innings, and he recorded seven outs via groundball (inspiring a pair of double plays), but he also walked four and hit a batter while striking out three. He has issued 12 walks (second most in the International League) in 20 innings of work, a rate of 5.4 per nine innings, and in contrast to a year ago, when he punched out more than a batter an inning, Webster has just 5.0 strikeouts per nine innings and a 3.60 ERA. The difference between Webster working ahead or behind in the count is extreme — opponents are hitting .261/.292/.304 against him when behind in the count, and .316/.581/.737 when ahead in the count.

– With Cecchini playing third base every day and Ryan Lavarnway getting most of the starts at first base, versatile corner Brandon Snyder has been branching out and spending some time in left field. He made his fifth start in left on Friday, going 1-for-4 with a double. However, he also struck out three times, adding to an April where he’s punched out frequently. In 49 plate appearances, he has a .167/.265/.381 line with 15 punchouts. Five of his seven hits, however, have been for extra bases (three doubles, two homers).

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 6-4 WIN, 6-0 WIN AT NEW BRITAIN (TWINS)

(BOX GAME 1, BOX GAME 2)

– Left-hander Miguel Pena logged 4 2/3 innings, recording a mind-boggling 11 of his 14 outs via punchout over the course of 4 2/3 shutout innings in the second game of the double header. The 11 punchouts represented a career high; he had games of nine and eight punchouts in Single-A Greenville in 2012. Pena allowed two hits (a single and double) and walked one.

He’s not a power pitcher in the conventional sense, as he typically operates in the 90-92 mph range. However, the 23-year-old shows the ability to throw strikes with a four-pitch mix, and his ability to mix and locate can result in occasional surprises along the lines of his performance on Friday, when he exhibited the ability to dominate while working primarily with a well-spotted fastball that resulted in a whopping 20 swings and misses.

He’s not often discussed among Red Sox pitching prospects because he lacks the ceiling of other members of the organization, but Pena nonetheless possesses the on-the-mound fearlessness, strike-throwing ability and left-handedness that suggests a high likelihood of a future at some point in the big leagues. In three starts this year, he’s 1-0 with a 2.13 ERA, 16 strikeouts and five walks in 12 2/3 innings.

– First baseman Travis Shaw, who entered Friday in a season-long slump (4-for-35 with no extra-base hits in 10 games), broke out of the funk with a 4-for-4 game that included a homer. The 24-year-old doubled his hits total in the one contest.

– Catcher Blake Swihart followed a 1-for-4 first game of the double header (in which he caught) with a 2-for-4 performance that included his first homer of the year in the nightcap. The homer came against a left-handed pitcher, continuing a season in which the switch-hitting Swihart has — somewhat true to career form — done more damage batting right-handed. So far, he’s 9-for-17 with a double, triple and homer and seven runs batted in against lefties (.529/.529/.882), and just 4-for-22 with a double and one RBI against righties (.182/.217/.227). Still, even though he’s a natural right-handed hitter and despite those career splits, evaluators suggest that Swihart shows the approach, fluidity and bat control from both sides of the plate to be able to handle pitchers of both handedness.

– Feats of Mookie: Streaking, barely. Mookie Betts entered Friday having reached base multiple times in nine of his first 10 games of the year. But he reached just once in both ends of Friday’s doubleheader, going 1-for-4 with no walks in each contest. Still, dating to last season, he’s now reached base in 42 straight games.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 8-2 WIN AT WINSTON-SALEM (WHITE SOX)

(BOX)

– Second baseman Reed Gragnani, 23, remained a hits machine in the early stages of his season. Since returning from a six-day absence due to injury, he’s had two straight 2-for-5 games. He’s now hitting .414/.469/.483 in seven games this year. He’s an astonishing 9-for-16 with three walks and just one strikeout with runners in scoring position, resulting in nine runs driven in over the course of just 32 plate appearances.

– Outfielder Kevin Heller went 0-for-3 but walked twice. His OBP now sits at .489, second in the Carolina League.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: RAINED OUT AT SAVANNAH (METS)

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

The Red Sox will head into the second game of their four-game series with the Orioles on Saturday when they send Felix Doubront to the mound against Bud Norris.

Doubront enters Saturday’€™s game after picking up his second consecutive loss of the season during a game against the Yankees on Sunday. The 26-year-old southpaw gave up three earned runs on seven hits with three walks and two strikeouts during 6 2/3 innings on the mound. Two of those runs came on a two-run shot by Carlos Beltran during the third inning.

“He was good,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said of Doubront’€™s performance (via MLB.com). “When he throws the ball over the plate, he’€™s as good as anybody. I think, what, two of the walks scored. It just drives his pitch count up. It puts him in situations he shouldn’t be in. Other than that, he threw the ball well.”

Doubront’€™s lone win of the season came in his first start — a game against the Orioles on April 3. The lefty lasted 5 1/3 innings while giving up three earned runs on six hits with one walk and four strikeouts. Boston went on to win the game 4-3. In 10 career appearances against Baltimore, Doubront has gone 2-2 with a 4.61 ERA and a WHIP of 1.29.

Unlike Doubront, Norris comes into Saturday’€™s game after tossing a gem against the Blue Jays last Saturday. The 29-year-old scattered five hits with three walks and four strikeouts over seven scoreless innings in what ultimately was an extra-inning win for the Orioles.

Norris last faced off against the Red Sox on Aug. 28, 2013, in a game that featured a late-inning Boston comeback. Norris got a no-decision after he gave up one earned run on four hits and four walks over 5 1/3 innings. Norris also compiled seven strikeouts. Once Norris left the game, though, the Orioles bullpen gave up three runs in the seventh and eighth, leading to a 4-3 Red Sox win. Overall, Norris has made just three starts against Boston. During those outings, Norris has accumulated a 4.15 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP.

Orioles vs. Doubront (LHP)

Adam Jones (21 plate appearances): .106 AVG/.190 OBP/.105 SLG, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts

Chris Davis (20): .444/.500/.722, 2 doubles, 1 HR, 3 RBIs, 2 strikeouts

J.J. Hardy (20): .167/.250/.222, 1 double, 2 RBIs, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts

Matt Wieters (19): .111/.158/.167, 1 double, 2 RBIs, 1 walks, 10 strikeouts

Nick Markakis (14): .462/.500/.462, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts

Nelson Cruz (10): .375/.500/.500. 1 double, 1 RBI, 2 walks, 1 strikeout

Steve Pearce (7): .000/.571/.000, 3 walks

Ryan Flaherty (6): .333/.333/.500, 1 double, 1 RBI, 2 strikeouts

Delmon Young (4): .500/.500/1.250, 1 HR, 2 RBIs, 1 strikeout

Jonathan Schoop (3): .333/.333/.333, 1 strikeout

Steve Clevenger has one hit in one at-bat vs. Doubront.

Bud Norris

Bud Norris

Red Sox vs. Norris (RHP)

Jonathan Herrera (12): .111/.273/.111, 1 RBI, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts

Ryan Roberts (11): .364/.364/.909, 1 double, 1 triple, 1 HR, 4 RBIs, 4 strikeouts

Dustin Pedroia (9): .250/.667/.500, 1 double, 1 RBI, 5 walks

Jonny Gomes (6): .200/.333/.200, 1 RBI, 1 walk. 1 strikeout

Mike Napoli (6): .167/.167/.167, 4 strikeouts

Daniel Nava (6): .333/.333/.500, 1 double, 3 strikeouts

David Ortiz (6): .167/.167/.167, 1 RBI, 1 strikeout

Mike Carp (3): 1.000/1.000/1.500, 1 double, 1 RBI, 1 walk

David Ross (3): .667/.667/1.667, 1 HR, 1 RBI

A.J. Pierzynski (2): .500/.500/.500, 1 strikeout

Xander Bogaerts is hitless in two at-bats vs. Norris.

Blog Author: 
Meredith Perri

Daniel Nava's error at first base this week represented one of a host of recent misplays by the Red Sox. (AP)The Red Sox offense remains mired in a profound slump. Yet that doesn't mean the team shouldn't be able to win. 



The Red Sox continue to hardly resemble the world championship team of a year ago.

This time their 8-4 loss to the Orioles was a combination of poor starting pitching, uninspiring defense, and the continued inability to mount significant offensive rally.

Brock Holt and the Red Sox fell behind early and could never catch the Orioles, Friday night. (AP)

Brock Holt and the Red Sox fell behind early and could never catch the Orioles, Friday night. (AP)

The Red Sox continue to hardly resemble the world championship team of a year ago.

This time their 8-4 loss to the Orioles was a combination of poor starting pitching, uninspiring defense, and the continued inability to mount significant offensive rally.

Perhaps the biggest concern coming out of the loss for the Red Sox was the second straight subpar performance by starter John Lackey. This time Lackey allowed six runs on 10 hits over 5 1/3 innings. Perhaps most surprising were the four walks he issued, the most free passes by the righty since July 12, 3013 (the only time last season he walked as many as four).

The was almost identical to his previous outing, against the Yankees, in which Lackey gave up the same number of hits and runs, but while retiring one more batter.

Here is what went wrong (and right) for the Red Sox in their 10th loss of the season. (They didn’t manage their 10th defeat in ’13 until May 4):

WHAT WENT WRONG

- The Red Sox were faced with adversity right at the very first pitch, with Nick Markakis‘ looper down the left field line being ruled a fair ball for a leadoff double. Even though the replay appeared to show the ball landed just foul, the umpires told Red Sox manager John Farrell the view was inconclusive. Markakis would ultimately score on Adam Jones‘ two-out single.

- Lackey allowed the first runner to reach in five of his six innings.

- While no errors were charged to the Red Sox, their defense proved shoddy behind Lackey. The most egregious misplay came in the fifth inning when first baseman Mike Carp let Matt Wieters’ grounder go underneath him for an RBI single.

- While every member of the Red Sox starting lineup collected at least one hit, they also stranded 11 men. The Sox came into the game having stranded the third-most runners in the majors despite possessing just the 21st most total bases.

- Reliever Edward Mujica had his second straight tough outing, this time allowing the Orioles to tack on an eighth run thanks to Jonathan Schoop’s fourth hit of the night (an RBI double).

WHAT WENT RIGHT

- A.J. Pierzynski threw out his third basestealer of the season (in 11 attempts), gunning down Matt Wieters by a healthy margin to end the second inning. As a team, the Sox catchers have caught four of their opponents 16 attempted basestealers.

- Pierzynski, who came into the game just 1-for-15 with men in scoring position, helped the Red Sox add a third run by placing a single into center to score Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia kicked off the scoring in the inning with an RBI single of his own, scoring Daniel Nava.

- Xander Bogaerts continued to impress offensively, reaching base three times thanks to an RBI single and a pair of walks. He did, however, get thrown out trying to stretch his seventh-inning blast off the left field wall into a double, limiting the Sox’ rally.

- Brock Holt showed great hustle in busting it down the line to beat out a routine ground ball, leading off the eighth inning. Holt was initially called out, but after going to the replay the umpires ruled the third baseman safe.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

A Red Sox lineup in a constant state of flux features another new wrinkle on Friday, as Brock Holt — recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket — will start at third base and bat ninth against Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman.

Grady Sizemore will get his first career start in front of the Green Monster on Friday. (WEEI.com)

Grady Sizemore will get his first career start in front of the Green Monster on Friday. (WEEI.com)

A Red Sox lineup in a constant state of flux features another new wrinkle on Friday, as Brock Holt — recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket — will start at third base and bat ninth against Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman. Holt had been enjoying a tremendous start in Pawtucket, hitting .380/.446/.600 in 56 plate appearances.

The Sox lineup will also feature some additional wrinkles. David Ortiz has a scheduled day off, and so Mike Napoli will serve as designated hitter while Mike Carp plays first base. With Ortiz out, Dustin Pedroia is moving down to the third spot in the order, behind leadoff man Grady Sizemore (playing left) and Daniel Nava (playing right).

While Sizemore has seen time both in the leadoff spot and in left field this season, he has yet to play in his career in front of the fabled Green Monster. Sizemore received something of a crash course in playing the Wall from outfield and first base coach Arnie Beyeler on Friday afternoon, but Farrell didn’t attempt to pretend that there will be a degree of foreignness to Sizemore’s task.

“Grady has not played left field in this ballpark,” said Farrell. “We can’t go out and have so much repetition to get him comfortable with it this afternoon. He’s going to get some. But he’s in left field.”

RED SOX LINEUP

Grady Sizemore, LF

Daniel Nava, RF

Dustin Pedroia, 2B

Mike Napoli, DH

Mike Carp, 1B

Xander Bogaerts, SS

A.J. Pierzynski, C

Jackie Bradley Jr., CF

Brock Holt, 3B

Felix Doubront, SP

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

When the Red Sox signed Ryan Roberts to help man third base in the absence of Will Middlebrooks, they sat on the cusp of a stretch where they’d face five left-handed starters in a 10-day span. Though the Sox went 4-1 in those contests, that was hardly a reflection of Roberts’ performance.

The Red Sox designated Ryan Roberts for assignment on Friday. (AP)

The Red Sox designated Ryan Roberts for assignment on Friday. (AP)

When the Red Sox signed Ryan Roberts to help man third base in the absence of Will Middlebrooks, they sat on the cusp of a stretch where they’d face five left-handed starters in a 10-day span. Though the Sox went 4-1 in those contests, that was hardly a reflection of Roberts’ performance. The 33-year-old was just 2-for-19 with two singles and three walks, good for a .105/.227/.105 line, and with the Sox now arriving at a stage where they’ll face primarily right-handed starters, and with Middlebrooks moving closer to a return from the DL, the team elected to designate Roberts for assignment.

In his place, the team called up Brock Holt from Triple-A Pawtucket. Holt, who spent one day on the big league roster when Middlebrooks first landed on the DL, has been on a tear for the PawSox, hitting .380/.446/.600 with eight extra-base hits, five walks and three strikeouts in 56 plate appearances. The Sox immediately put Holt in Friday’s lineup.

“We felt like we needed to try to create a little bit of a jump-start to the offense. With the designation of Ryan, we got another lefthanded hitter here in Brock Holt,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “We’ve come through a stretch with seven lefthanded starters against us out of the past 10, and we’re kind of reversing that right now, going against primarily righthanders. We felt like we needed to try a different combination to attempt to spark that bottom third of the order.

“[Holt has] clearly earned the promotion here,” added Farrell. “When he was sent out, even after just one day of being here with the big-league club, he was initially disappointed, but he’s channeled that the right way and gone down and played very well on the left side of the infield.”

As for Roberts, Farrell suggested that he didn’t appear to be in sync after spending about 10 days at home following his release from the Cubs at the end of spring training. The Sox hope that the versatile Roberts will clear waivers and accept an assignment to Triple-A Pawtucket.

“We certainly want him to remain in the organization,” said Farrell. “We feel like he needs at-bats to get things going a little bit.”

As for Middlebrooks, he rejoined the Red Sox (he’d been sent home early from Chicago while struggling with the flu) and resumed baseball activities, including batting practice. Given the relatively limited time of his absence with the flu, the Sox are hopeful that Middlebrooks — who is eligible to come off the D.L. on Monday, but won’t be ready to do so at that point — will be ready to start a minor league rehab assignment in relatively short order.

“I don’t think [the flu] is going to delay Will in his eventual rehab assignment, which we’re still hopefully targeting sometime the middle of next week,” said Farrell.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier