ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester is well aware of the significance of July 31, the trade deadline that looms over his team and could spell the end of his tenure in Boston.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester is well aware of the significance of July 31, the trade deadline that looms over his team and could spell the end of his tenure in Boston. Yet the left-hander, after an impressive six-inning, two-run effort against the Rays that resulted in a no-decision in an eventual 6-4 loss to Tampa Bay, said he would harbor no ill-will towards the Sox if he was traded, and added that he’d be open to talking with the Red Sox about a possible return to Boston in the offseason.

“We all know what’s coming next week. We can only do one thing, that’s take one game at a time, show up tomorrow and try to win tomorrow,” said Lester.

As for the possibility that he might be traded, Lester seemed unfazed.

“Been there. I’ve been traded, been given back. I don’t think anything, especially in Boston, can surprise you,” Lester said, alluding to the deal that would have sent him to the Rangers (along with Manny Ramirez) in exchange for Alex Rodriguez — a swap that was nixed by the Players’ Association. “We all understand where we’re at. We understand it’s a business. And [GM Ben Cherington] and ownership have to do what’s right for this organization and if that means, whoever it may be, is traded for prospects or other guys or whatever, that’s just part of the business. We all understand it. I’ve been through it a couple times at a younger age. If that’s where they want to go with it, that’s fine. No hard feelings. Hopefully come November I’ll be right here and won’t have to worry about it.”

Asked whether that meant he was open to re-signing with the Sox even if traded, Lester didn’t hesitate.

“Yeah, why not? I mean, this is what I know. This is what I love,” said Lester. “Like I’ve said plenty of times, this is where I want to be. And if they trade me I completely understand. No hard feelings. I know what they have to do for their organization and if that involves me, so be it. If it doesn’t I’ll keep running out there every five days and pitching. And hopefully in November we get something done. Or October, whenever it is.”

Regardless of whether he is traded, Lester said that his approach to his profession will remain unchanged.

“I can’t worry about trade deadline or contracts or anything like that,” said Lester. “Prepare for that the best I can and if I’m pitching in this uniform, great, I’ll go out there and compete and do the best I can.”

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Was this the end for Jon Lester?

Jon Lester took a no-decision in his pitching matchup with David Price. (AP)

Jon Lester took a no-decision in his pitching matchup with David Price. (AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Was this the end for Jon Lester?

The longtime ace of the Red Sox held his own in a toe-to-toe of the two most intriguing candidates to be dealt this month, but while Lester left the game with a 3-2 lead in the hands of his teams, it did not last. The Rays erupted for four runs in the seventh against the Red Sox bullpen, claiming a 6-4 victory that left the Sox nine games below .500 and amidst a four-game losing streak.

The siren of “sell, sell, sell” is blaring ever louder for the Sox, and it becomes ever more intriguing to wonder whether a team that appears to have virtually no shot at contention might move numerous assets at the trade deadline — including Lester.


Junichi Tazawa had the worst outing of his relief career. The right-hander, entrusted with a 3-2 lead with a runner on first base and one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, endured the following four-batter sequence: walk, RBI single, walk, three-run double. He did recover to retire the final two batters of the seventh, which qualified as an “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…” sort of postscript. The outing represented the first time that Tazawa had walked multiple batters in a relief outing, and the first time since September 2009 that Tazawa had been charged with as many as three runs in a game (and the first time he’d given up such a total in fewer than three innings of work).

– The Red Sox endured costly sloppiness afield. There were three misplays.

The first two were not costly. Jonny Gomes botched a catchable ball and turned it into a double. Xander Bogaerts, meanwhile, ranged to his left to attempt a bare-handed play of a ball hit right at Brock Holt. Bogaerts couldn’t get the handle on it, thus permitting Ben Zobrist to get an infield single on a routine grounder — a play that suggested that Bogaerts is still trying to figure out his clock at third base.

But in the bottom of the seventh, Jonny Gomes botched a single in shallow center, permitting Cole Figueroa to score from second without a throw. Had Gomes fielded the ball cleanrly, there’s a good chance Figueroa would have either encountered a close play at the plate or been held.

Mike Napoli was 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts against Price.


– Lester was nearly flawless in his six innings of work, making just one terrible mistake — a 2-0 fastball over the plate that Desmond Jennings deposited into the seats in left-center — but otherwise featuring a dominant fastball-cutter-changeup mix. In a heavily scouted affair, Lester did little to dissuade the view that he could be a difference-maker to teams looking to separate themselves from the contending pack.

Lester permitted six hits (four singles, a “double” that clanged off the glove of a sliding Jonny Gomes and the Jennings homer), walked one and punched out seven while showing mastery of both sides of the plate with his full mix for most of the night. The left-hander now owns a 2.52 ERA with 9.4 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine.

David Ortiz exacted a measure of revenge from recent nemesis David Price, lining an RBI single to center against the Rays ace to tie the game, 2-2, in the top of the sixth. Ortiz now has 12 hits (tied for fourth most by any left-handed hitter against Price) and 8 RBIs (tied for second most) against the lefty, with a career line of .255/.340/.447 against him.

Shane Victorino underscored how significant his loss for much of the season has been to the Sox by delivering a game-changing offensive performance. He gave the Red Sox an early 1-0 lead by going deep against Rays starter Price, his first homer since May 21. He followed that up with a go-ahead, two-out RBI single to center. Victorino is now hitting .351/.359/.459 against lefties this year.

Dustin Pedroia sparked what was, at the time, a go-ahead two-run rally in the sixth inning by crushing a leadoff double to left-center. It was his first extra-base hit since July 11. To that point, he’d been just 2-for-26 (.077) in the second half with two singles. Pedroia would later single against Price, giving him his first multi-hit game of the second half.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Miss a rematch with David Price? David Ortiz, standing in the walkway between the Red Sox clubhouse and the dugout, simply shook his head slowly. Wasn’t going to happen.

David Ortiz did not want to miss a chance to face Rays lefty David Price. (AP)

David Ortiz did not want to miss a chance to face Rays lefty David Price. (AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Miss a rematch with David Price? David Ortiz, standing in the walkway between the Red Sox clubhouse and the dugout, simply shook his head slowly. Wasn’t going to happen.

Though the Red Sox designated hitter had to leave Thursday’s game in the middle of his at-bat due to a spasm roughly in the middle of his back, Ortiz — after seeking pregame treatment and doing some early swinging in the cage — declared himself, in the words of manager John Farrell, “fit and ready to go tonight. … He called me once we got to the hotel [on Thursday night] and said make sure you don’€™t count me out for tomorrow quite yet, knowing he’€™d come here tomorrow and get some work done. And here we are.”

With Ortiz ready to occupy his customary third spot in the lineup, that meant he would again be poised to face off with Rays starter David Price, the left-hander who had taken offense to Ortiz’s deliberate tour of the bases following an ALDS homer and who responded in kind by drumming Ortiz when the two teams faced off at Fenway Park on May 30. Despite that history, however, as of two hours before first pitch, the Red Sox hadn’t heard from Major League Baseball regarding any high alert status (or warnings) for the contest.

“We haven’€™t heard anything and I don’€™t anticipate anything,” Farrell said.


Stephen Drew got what has been a standard night off against a left-handed starter (Price) on Friday, with Brock Holt getting the starting nod. At the time that they signed Drew in May, the Red Sox established that this year, they planned to sit him against most left-handed starters, something the team was less inclined to do last year.

“Last year was a full year of experience with Stephen and we know of him better, he knows of us. So we were able to communicate some of the potential scenarios prior to him coming back here,” said Farrell. “That was all fine and accepted.”

Though the Sox don’t have a traditional right-handed platoon partner (at a time when they’re keeping Xander Bogaerts at third base), the emergence of Brock Holt as someone who hits pitchers of both handedness and who can hold his own defensively at any position has allowed the team the luxury of employing Drew selectively.

At the end of spring training, Holt lost the utility job to Jonathan Herrera in no small part because Herrera was viewed as the superior defensive shortstop. But Holt’s defensive work at short during the regular season has been more impressive than it was in the spring.

“I think he’€™s been better defensively [than we thought] at every position, the seven he’€™s started at,” Farrell said, only half-kidding. “I think the comparison at shortstop to spring training is going to be that there are more games played, even while he was at Pawtucket. Through repetition he’€™s gaining comfort at the position as well.”

David Ross returned to the Sox lineup after being hobbled by plantar fasciitis on Tuesday.

– Farrell said with the trade deadline six days away, no one on the roster has been put on high alert about a potential trade.

“We all recognize names are going to be offered up and situations bantered about. You do the best you can with the information you do have, but that isn’€™t all the information, just to put guys thoughts at ease. We’€™re focusing on what we can control and that’€™s in between the lines today,” said Farrell. “There may be some different content into the conversations [between Farrell and GM Ben Cherington] if it has anything that’€™s included to be imminent or changes to the roster. Again there’€™s no contingency of any kind. We’€™re going about our business as usual.”

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

David Ortiz is back in the Red Sox‘ lineup, allowing he and David Price to renew their rocky relationship Friday night in the first game of a three-game set against the Rays in St. Petersburg.

Ortiz had tweaked his back on a checked swing Thursday in an 8-0 loss to the Blue Jays and left the game mid-at-bat.

David Ortiz is back in the Red Sox‘ lineup, allowing he and David Price to renew their rocky relationship Friday night in the first game of a three-game set against the Rays in St. Petersburg.

Ortiz had tweaked his back on a checked swing Thursday in an 8-0 loss to the Blue Jays and left the game mid-at-bat.

Price and Ortiz have made headlines for their on-field and off-field feuds this season, with Price hitting Ortiz back in May and the two exchanging words about one another through the media since.

Boston’€™s lineup is as follows:

1. Brock Holt, SS
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. David Ortiz, DH
4. Mike Napoli, 1B
5. Johnny Gomes, LF
6. Shane Victorino, RF
7. Xander Bogaerts, 3B
8. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
9. David Ross, C
SP ‘€” Lester

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Jon Lester could suddenly be viewed by teams as the ultimate prize of this year's trade deadline. (AP)

Jon Lester could suddenly be viewed by teams as the ultimate prize of this year’s trade deadline. (AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Red Sox and Rays may both assume residence at the bottom of the American League East, but the contrast in the dwellings of the team teams is currently stark.

With three straight losses on their way out of Toronto, the Red Sox‘ last-place standing in the division is becoming more and more rigidly defined by the day. The flicker of optimism about potential contention inspired by the team’s eight wins in nine games has yielded to the reality that it’s so very difficult for a team that has shown only rare bursts of strong play to reassert itself in the playoff hunt. The Sox are 9 1/2 games back in the division, and it feels like they’re 95 games back, as ever winning two out of every three remaining games would net the team just 87 wins — a longshot for the second wild card, let alone the division.

The Rays, meanwhile, are surging. They are 25-11, and so even though they are just 2 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox, they are hitting their stride in a fashion that validates the widespread view of Tampa Bay as the class of the division. Their seven-game deficit in the division somehow seems like a small fraction of what the Red Sox face.

And so it is that the Friday night pitching matchup of ace left-handers David Price and Jon Lester may represent a pendulum swing with repercussions to be realized throughout baseball. As the Rays surge, they seem increasingly inclined to hold onto Price unless they can command a ransom for an elite pitcher who is under team control for the duration of this season and then all of 2015.

Meanwhile, the Sox are sinking at a time when no ground has been gained in extension talks between Lester and his team. And so, it seems increasingly necessary to ask: Could the prize of the trade market shift from Price to Lester? This is a subject of considerable curiosity to talent evaluators as the July 31 market of tradeable assets gains definition.

Price is 10-7 with a 3.06 ERA, 10.0 strikeouts and just 1.2 walks per nine. He represents a formidable addition for any potential contender for both this year and next, and if an acquiring team wasn’t able to re-sign him, it would still receive a compensatory draft pick for his departure. That’s an enormously valuable asset.

Lester, by contrast, is under contract for just the remainder of this year — with a bit more than $4 million remaining in terms of salary obligations to him, hardly a deal-breaker for any team. As a player who would be dealt mid-year in the season prior to reaching free agency, a team could not make him a qualifying offer for the sake of capturing a draft pick should he depart.

But Lester would offer a dominant presence for the duration of 2014, a 30-year-old who has never pitched better. He doesn’t have a Cy on his shelf, but he’s thrusting himself into the mix quickly for the possibility of one this year. He’s 10-7 with a 2.50 ERA, 9.3 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine. He’s been masterful, and he has a track record as one of the top October pitchers not just of this generation but of all time, his 1.97 ERA as an October starter ranking among the top handful ever.

If Price doesn’t move, teams that viewed him as the key to a potential championship run could easily set their sites on Lester and give up a significant haul.

A year ago, after all, the Rangers parted with a major league-ready starter (Justin Grimm), a High-A pitcher with top-of-the-rotation upside (C.J. Edwards), a close-to-the-big-leagues corner bat with huge power potential even if some significant questions about his ability to make contact (Mike Olt) and a reliever (Neal Ramirez) to the Cubs for two-plus months of Matt Garza. Teams will pay for rentals.

“The way we looked at it at the time was, a few things: First of all, we thought the American League was up for grabs. I thought there were a number of good teams. We didn’t think, at that time in July, that there was anyone elite and truly separating from the pack. There was Oakland, Detroit, Tampa, obviously Boston went on to win the whole thing,” Rangers GM Jon Daniels explained on WEEI’s Trade Deadline Show on Thursday night. “We felt we could truly contend with those clubs. We wanted to take a shot. We’d been to the playoffs the previous three years. Wanted to continue that. We also knew the dynamic with the club, we had some free-agent decisions coming up, and we wanted to kind of give it a real shot.

“There’s kind of a taboo on trading for rental players. Obviously, you give up a lot of years of control on the back end. I’m a little bit of the mindset that when you have a chance to win it in front of you, you’d just tasted it and come as close as we did, and knowing how special it is, how unique it is to win and have a chance, of course you’d like longer term control of a player, of course that would be preferable, but you have to take a little bit of a chance. If you’re not completely risk averse, take a little bit of a chance and give yourself a chance to win.”

The Rangers took that shot years ago. Other teams might be open to doing so this year. One evaluator suggested potential return for Lester — given how dominant he’s been this year — could be something along the lines of two top prospects and a mid-level type, with a power bat and outfielder (such as Dodgers prospect Joc Pederson) representing potentially fair return. (The Dodgers, it’s worth noting, have been widely connected as a potential trade destination for Price.) Another evaluator said that the Sox could potentially fetch a top prospect, perhaps a corner power bat or a starter, as the centerpiece of a Lester deal.

Ironically, if Lester loses to Price on Friday, it could increase the likelihood that the Rays will be in the thick of the race and thus further strengthen the possibility that Lester becomes the ultimate prize between now and July 31.

There are no guarantees, of course, that the Sox would want to deal him. The team may believe that its best chance to retain his services — and to have an ace who would otherwise be very, very difficult to replace — for the long haul would be by keeping him for the rest of the year.

But suffice it to say that an elite pitching matchup with a fellow top-tier left-hander is not the only intrigue that will surround Lester for the next six days.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

A National League scout discussing the Red Sox system last week paused to contemplate the status of Will Middlebrooks‘ rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket.

“I’d love to get him,” the scout said flatly.

At a time when the scarcity of power in the game is a widely examined phenomenon, Middlebrooks continues to show tantalizing glimpses of that increasingly rare trait. The third baseman followed a home run for Pawtucket — where he remains amidst a Triple-A rehab assignment, more than two months after he suffered a fractured finger — on Wednesday (in a game suspended by rain) by going deep again on Thursday. In 15 games in July, he’s now gone deep four times for the PawSox, hitting .291 with a .333 OBP and .564 slugging mark.

The average and slugging mark suggest a player who can impact the ball with rare authority. The on-base percentage (a product of three walks and 15 strikeouts in 60 plate appearances this month) does little to dispel valid questions about how often his offensive approach will permit him to apply that skill.

But even with those questions, there is unquestionably talent — and value — with a fascinating question looming about whether a Red Sox organization that was burned this year by getting too young, too quickly can be the one to give Middlebrooks the opportunity to try to realize his talents at the big league level.

The 25-year-old likely needs to be in the big leagues soon, whether for the Red Sox to see if he can emerge as a more reliable power threat that they’ve been lacking or for another team that wants to afford the still young third baseman that opportunity, at a time when he still retains value and intrigue.

“He’s well aware of the need to get regular at-bats. We’ve got to do some things to maybe adjust the roster to accommodate that,” manager John Farrell told reporters in Toronto on Thursday. “Whether that happens naturally through this upcoming week, that remains to be seen, with the roster adjustments and any potential trades. Before even saying anything about that, I’d be gettingtoo far ahead of myself. Most important, Will is healthy, swinging the bat well and playing daily.”



– Feats of Mookie: Renewing a familiar pattern. Mookie Betts collected hits in both contests, following a 1-for-5 contest with a 1-for-3 effort that also included a walk in the second game. That’s hits in four straight games, during which the 21-year-old is 6-for-18 with a triple and a walk. Interestingly, however, Betts is striking out more than usual, having fanned five times in those four contests — atypical for a player who has 52 walks and 39 strikeouts in 82 minor league games this year. (Betts walked once and struck out five times in his 10 big league contests.)

Travis Shaw maintained his outrageous July run, going 5-for-7 with a double and a walk in the two contests. His 20-game July on-base streak now features a .342 average, .437 OBP and .562 slugging mark with more walks (13) than strikeouts (12). Overall, the 24-year-old is hitting .289/.347/.473 in Triple-A, including .322/.379/.545 against righties. At a time when some teams are examining Mike Carp as a potential complementary piece who might be able to round out a roster if acquired in a trade, Shaw now gives the Sox prospect depth — left-handed at that — to be able to contemplate such a possibility.

– In what could be the prelude to a return to the big leagues (if the Red Sox find a buyer for Jake Peavy in the coming days), right-hander Brandon Workman tossed six innings and allowed one run on five hits while walking one and punching out six. In his last two starts, the 25-year-old has allowed one run in 11 innings while punching out 12 and walking three.

– Outfielder Alex Hassan walked in all four plate appearances in the first contest, with the four free passes representing a career high for a player whose plate discipline has long been a hallmark. Hassan is hitting .277/.375/.439.



– It’s a matter of if, not when, Henry Owens is promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. At this point, it would be a surprise if the left-hander doesn’t move up by next week — almost exactly a year after he moved to Double-A Portland.

That being the case, there is a chance that Owens just experienced an anticlimactic end to what has been a spectacular run in Portland. In his first start since turning 22, Owens allowed five runs on five hits (including a homer and double, both by Kennys Vargas, whom Owens struck out in the All-Star Futures Game) and four walks while punching out six. The outing interrupted a string of nine straight starts in which Owens had logged at least 5 2/3 innings while permitting two or fewer walks. It was also just the second game in his last 14 starts in which the left-hander was taken deep.

Still, if that was Owens’ final start in Portland, his overall results attest to dominance over an extended stretch. In 25 combined starts in Double-A between 2013 and 2014, the 2011 supplemental first-rounder is 16-5 with a 2.40 ERA, 10.4 strikeouts per nine and 3.7 walks per nine with opponents hitting just .191 against him. That broader track record suggests that it’s a more than appropriate time for him to be challenged by a higher level of competition — assuming that he doesn’t end up being the centerpiece of a blockbuster.

– Catcher Blake Swihart continued his climb towards .300, going 2-for-4 with a double. A five-game hitting streak that has featured three multi-hit games and during which the 22-year-old is 8-for-21 with two walks, a homer and two doubles (.381/.435/.619) has elevated his season line to .298/.353/.489. Given the pairing of Swihart and Owens on Thursday, it’s not difficult to figure out why (according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark) the Phillies sent scouts swooping in to New Britain to watch the Sea Dogs play on Thursday.



– Right-hander Simon Mercedes, in his second start back in Salem after spending time on the sidelines to work on strengthening and condition before a rehab assignment with Lowell, allowed five runs on seven hits (including a homer) while walking one and striking out six in five innings. Mercedes has now given up a homer in each of his last four starts in Salem (four in 19 2/3 innings) after permitting just two in his first 34 2/3 innings at the level. Still, he’s typically featured high groundball rates and swing-and-miss stuff (he’s punched out 55 in 54 1/3 innings in Salem this year), suggesting that he’s shown an arsenal that has been more impressive than his 2-7 record or 4.64 ERA in Salem might suggest.

– Right-hander William Cuevas had a dominant outing in a three-inning piggyback outing, giving up no hits, walking one and punching out seven. The 23-year-old is averaging 7.7 strikeouts and 2.8 walks per nine innings while forging a 4.68 ERA.



– Right-hander Myles Smith, a 2013 fourth-rounder, had one of his best outings of the year. Through five innings, he’d given up just two runs on four hits and a walk before he was touched for three singles and a walk while recording one out in the sixth. Given that it was just the second time this year that Smith had worked into a sixth inning, the more useful relative measure of his performance (in comparison to the rest of his challenging first pro season) was likely to be found in those first five frames. Still, with the three runs that ended up being charged to him for the sixth, Smith is now 3-7 with a 6.46 ERA and more walks (51) than strikeouts (47) in 76 2/3 innings.



– First baseman Sam Travis went 3-for-4 with a double, extending his hitting streak to 10 games during which he has a .370/.370/.500 line. In his pro debut, the 20-year-old second-rounder is now hitting .299/.329/.394 in 33 games, and while his OBP is modest, he hasn’t been getting beaten by the pitching he’s facing, as evidenced by a relatively low strikeout rate of 10.5 percent.

– Right-hander Ty Buttrey allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits in five innings of work, walking three and striking out five. In three rehab outings with Lowell, the 21-year-old now has a 3.09 ERA with 12 strikeouts and seven walks in 11 2/3 innings.



Bryce Brentz, in his second GCL rehab game, went 0-for-2 and played left field for four innings. He’s 1-for-4 with a double in his two rehab games.

– Outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe, in his second game following a promotion from the DSL, went 3-for-4 with a double. The 17-year-old now has 19 extra-base hits in 42 combined games between the GCL and DSL this year — an uncommon number for a player that young. Indeed, teammate Rafael Devers has 19 extra-base hits in his 43 games between the two levels (though whereas Basabe has yet to go deep, Devers has cleared the fences five times).

– Right-hander Brayan Villarreal, on the shelf since mid-April for Pawtucket, made his first appearance since April 13, working around three hits allowed to toss a scoreless inning.



– Right-hander Gerson Bautista continued his impressive year, tossing six shutout innings in which he allowed four hits, punched out one and didn’t issue a walk. The 19-year-old has a microscopic 0.43 ERA with 23 strikeouts and 17 walks; opponents are hitting .133 against him. Somehow, despite the fact that he’s given up two earned runs in 42 innings, Thursday was his first win.

Roldani Baldwin, an 18-year-old who plays third and catches, added to a scorching July that has demonstrated uncommon power for the DSL. He went 2-for-4 with a homer — his fourth of the year and third of the month — and is now hitting .325/.404/.519 in 20 games in July. Though a bit old for the level at 18, he’s impressed evaluators with his swing and strength.

– Another intriguing 18-year-old, Jesus Perez, a raw, athletic player who is making his pro debut this year, hit his first career homer, going 1-for-3 and getting hit by a pitch. Given his inexperience in game settings (most of Perez’s baseball experience was spent preparing for the showcase circuit), the 6-foot-3 outfielder has made some positive impressions in hitting .250/.360/.405 in 24 games.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier