Juan Nieves

Juan Nieves

It’s been a healthy debate throughout the offseason regarding if the Red Sox truly need a defined ace heading into 2015.

But shouldn’t the most important voice on the matter come from the man who will be charged with guiding the starting staff through the season, with or without that No. 1 guy?

Talking on the phone from his home in North Carolina, Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves weighed in on what has become one of this winter’s weightiest matters.

“Other than that first turn through the rotation, whomever goes out there every fifth day, I’m a firm believer, that’s my ace,” Nieves said. “I also think team generally win without having five aces, but if you have three or four pitchers pitch like a one or a two for two or three months and pitch like a three for the rest of the year, that pitcher is going to win a lot of games. And when that five pitches like a three and gives you some deep innings and some eight-inning outings, and even pitches like a strong No. 2 for a few months, that’s when you see teams winning and never go in slumps. I think overall I’m a firm believer that my five guys in the rotation are my five aces. Whomever is out there for me is my ace.”

Nieves’ philosophy has merit, especially considering it was born from what the Red Sox starters accomplished during their World Series run of 2013.

While Jon Lester was ultimately identified as the team’s no-hold’s-barred ace, it would have been difficult to designate him such on Day 1. He was coming off a 2012 season which encompassed a 4.82 ERA. The guy who ended up as the staff’s No. 2, John Lackey, hadn’t even pitched the year before. Clay Buchholz, who pitched in the No. 2 spot to being the season, had totaled a 4.56 ERA in ’12. And, when it all said and done, the inconsistencies of Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront ultimately forced the Sox go out and get Jake Peavy at the non-waiver trade deadline.

But, to Nieves’ point, what worked for that group in ’13 was that each pitcher went on at least one top-of-the-rotation-type run during that season.

Before his injury, Buchholz began the season with a 9-0 mark and 1.71 ERA over 12 starts (in which the Red Sox went 11-1). Doubront rattled off 15 starts in the heart of the season in which he accumulated a 2.55 ERA, while averaging 6 1/3 innings per outing.

Dempster managed a pair of runs, one coming to start the ’13 season in which he carried a 2.93 ERA over his first seven starts. The other stretching in June and July when he managed a 3.86 ERA over 11 outings, during which the Red Sox went 7-4.

Of course, while it is important to find such stretches from those considered in the middle of on the back end of one’s rotation, it is equally urgent to get a couple of pitchers who can sustain such excellence for even longer period of time. In that case, that’s where Lester and Lackey came in.

So, does this group have what it takes to make Nieves’ way of thinking hold up?

As previously mentioned, Buchholz has gone down this path before. It is also easy to find a similar stretch of dominance from Justin Masterson (although he only went more than two starts in between allowing five or more runs once in ’14, and that was a three-start period).

Joe Kelly experienced success similar to Buchholz in ’13, totaling a 9-3 mark with a 2.28 ERA as a starter in 15 outings. And last season, Rick Porcello’s first three months included an 11-4 record and 3.12 ERA in 16 starts.

There is also obvious hope when it comes to Wade Miley, as well, with the lefty finishing off a subpar ’14 with a 3.43 ERA in his last nine starts. His best stretch? Probably a two-month period in which he managed a 1.96 ERA over 10 starts in the middle of ’13.

So, if Nieves’ theory holds up, there is hope for this current group of Red Sox starters. Now it’s just the question of if they can find enough stretches of ace-level pitching from this bunch.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Don “Bear” Bryant, who was a bullpen coach for the 1975 Red Sox team that won the American League pennant, passed away last Thursday in Gainesville, Florida, the team announced Wednesday. He was 73.

Bryant, a former major league catcher best known for catching Don Wilson’s no-hitter for the Astros against the Reds in 1969, spent his final three seasons in the Sox’ minor league system. He was a player/coach for Triple-A Pawtucket under manager Darrell Johnson in 1973, and when Johnson was promoted to manager in Boston in 1974, Bryant followed him.

Bryant also followed Johnson when he was hired to be manager of the Mariners in 1977, serving there until 1980.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

The Red Sox announced Tuesday night that they have traded Anthony Ranaudo for lefty reliever Robbie Ross.

Why Ross?

Anthony Ranaudo

Anthony Ranaudo

The Red Sox announced Tuesday night that they have traded Anthony Ranaudo for lefty reliever Robbie Ross.

Why Ross?

While the 25-year-old is a lefty, his strength may be getting right-handed hitters out, a quality the Red Sox have been looking to add to their bullpen. Ross doesn’t possess a traditional lefty-on-lefty breaking ball, but does get righties out thanks to what can be an above-average cut fastball.

Ross — a second-round pick in 2008 — struggled for the Rangers for much of 2014, finishing with 6.20 ERA in 27 appearances (12 of which were starts). The previous two seasons, however, he was one of Texas’ best relievers, totaling a 2.22 ERA in 58 games in ’12 and 3.03 over 65 relief outings.

In ’13, Ross held righties to a .211 batting average, with lefty hitters managing a .343 clip. Last year he wasn’t very good against either side, having more success against left-handed batters (.283) than righties (.336).

So, what happened last season?

Ross struggled mightily with his fastball command throughout ’14, and didn’t possess any sort of effective secondary pitch. He had nothing to use on the inside part of the plate against lefty hitters or on outside part of the plate versus righties.

In 78 1/3 innings in ’14, Ross struck out 51 but walked 30. He did, however, finish a streak in April of not walking a batter in 99 straight plate appearances. The lefty started the season as a starter, pitching well in his first five outings, managing a 2.45 ERA. As a reliever, Ross finished with a 7.85 ERA.

Giving up on Ranaudo wasn’t easy for the Red Sox, who drafted the starter 39th overall in the 2010 draft. After dealing with injuries for much of his first few pro seasons, the LSU product bounced back to make himself a viable big league starting candidates.

With Triple-A Pawtucket last season he went 14-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 24 starts. Ranaudo made seven starts with the Red Sox, going 4-3 with a 4.81 ERA. Not considered a candidate to fill one of the bullpen roles, the 25-year-old righty would seem to be blocked by such young arms as Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson and Matt Barnes.

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Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

LEDYARD, Conn. ‘€“ The Red Sox tried something new this offseason, and the Red Sox players didn’€™t seem to mind it at all.

Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly

LEDYARD, Conn. ‘€“ The Red Sox tried something new this offseason, and the Red Sox players didn’€™t seem to mind it at all.

Hundreds of fans poured into Foxwoods Resort and Casino for the Sox’€™ first-ever Winter Weekend to participate in a variety of activities and events. One of the byproducts of the festivities was the opportunity for the majority of the Red Sox roster to gather together prior to heading to Fort Myers for the first official reporting date, Feb. 20.

Here are some of the takeaways from the player availability:

Joe Kelly offered the most pointed comment Saturday, proclaiming on WEEI, ‘€œI want your listeners to know, I’€™m going to win the Cy Young this year. Just letting everyone know so when I win it you heard it here first.’€ (To listen to audio, click here.)

Kelly also offered some interesting insight when it came the topic of doctoring balls. Playing off the Patriots ‘€œDeflategate’€ controversy, the Red Sox pitcher surmised that 95 percent of baseball pitchers use some sort of non-sanctioned substance to get a better grip on the ball.

“The hitters would say please do it. They don’€™t want to get hit with 98 [mph],” he explained, adding, “If it’€™s Bull Frog (sunscreen) and it’€™s sunny out, I don’€™t’€™ want skin cancer. I’€™ll put on sunscreen, there’€™s a rosin bag and I’€™ll throw rosin on my arm.”

Dustin Pedroia proclaimed himself ready to go, suggesting he will be ready to play every game on the schedule.

“I plan on playing 162 [games},” he said. “I don’€™t look at it any different. I started 178 games [in 2013] with a torn thumb. Obviously I’€™m a human. The next year, you’€™re going to have a tough time. I’€™m back, like, my body’€™s back. I feel strong. I’€™m lifting everything. Right back to normal.”

Pedroia also touched on his disappointment when Jon Lester left via free agency.

“Yeah, it’€™s tough, it’€™s part of the business,” said the second baseman. ‘€œThat’€™s the part you really don’€™t understand. It’€™s not fun. But yeah, I was his host on his recruiting trip at Arizona State. I’€™ve known him forever so it’€™s definitely tough. It’€™s going to be weird showing up for spring training not seeing him there.

“I’€™m his friend. I’€™m pretty involved in a lot of things. I’€™m a lot smarter than him. Let’€™s be honest. Wouldn’€™t you talk to somebody starter than you?”

The other notable action item for Pedroia? Playing Red Sox chairman Tom Werner in ping-pong.

“I played with him for a little bit and got my timing down a little bit and started spanking balls,” the infielder said.

– Allen Craig was optimistic regarding his offseason, offering a reminder that this time around is a lot different than a year ago when his preparation was sidetracked by his recovery from a foot injury.

“You know, I don’t ever like to make excuses for anything, because obviously you’re responsible for everything. But there are factors,” said Craig. “I think my foot injury definitely impacted my preparation for last year. My foot felt good, obviously, for the majority of the season. I think it just impacted some leg strength and this and that. You can talk about it all day, but the bottom line is I had time this offseason to feel good and get stronger and actually build towards something for this season. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot. I had a good plan going into the offseason, and I feel like I’€™ve executed that pretty well. I feel like I’m in a good spot.”

Regarding his approach after what was a miserable 2014 season, Craig said, “Let’s see: I probably took three weeks to a month off from really thinking about baseball or anything, and then I kind of got back at it a little bit, just thinking about what I need to do to plan to get better. As far as last year goes, that’s in the past. Honestly, it is what it is. It was unfortunate, but you know, baseball’s a tough game and things happen and injuries happen and bad play happens. But I’m just looking forward to moving forward with my career and being the player that I am.”

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford
The Red Sox have taken over Foxwoods and Red Sox Manager John Farrell sat down with Mut and Bradford to talk about the roster and how the 2015 season is looking.

[0:07:37] ... to be. The leader we've had some guys are over the years Josh Beckett was the leader of a staff Jon Lester was a leader of a staff. Do you view Clay Buchholz is being that ...
[0:08:36] ... is a guy that. You know he might have looked up to Josh Beckett and when play was just breaking in. You look at our five starters they're all. You know fourth. To seventh you're in ...
[0:09:11] ... Schilling. Missing some others when I pitched yet when you pitch ya Bud Black was a guy that I would talked quite a bit about. You know just just as you pitching we're two different very ...
[0:14:30] ... or. If if some people have the ability to pick up the Japanese Baseball. Taken out of the wrapper it's got attacking this to have already we use mine to slick it up. That's a rough ...

Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly and 3B Pablo Sandoval sat down with Mut and Bradford. Joe Kelly had a few interesting proclamations. First he said that 95% of pitchers use some sort of grip enhancer, and then he said he was going to win the Cy Young. Pablo leaned over and promised 10 HR's, explaining to Joe that the trick is to set the bar low.

[0:00:43] ... I like you know it is in this in this week of Super Bowl predictions the Jody with the you know obviously you. He would ever see that no I like I feel like running out ...
[0:02:28] ... been no punishment okay. So so now we talked about that the Super Bowl so no punishment poverty Bill Belichick purple in this game where you pick. New Hampshire and beat Seattle yeah it's really artery doesn't. Just from. Numbers wise them ...
[0:04:19] ... a mean because you're thrown for is he's up there is the touchdown passes the drive right. It comfort. You think that you think the league I guess your league and football should be more. Be ...
[0:07:17] ... mean I didn't last figures that. I did game three of the World Series too but I did lose we might blow cutting hit three homers off Verlander sprayed his back if it. What would you ...

John Farrell might have been the best thing that happened to the 2013 Red Sox.

Allen Craig (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Allen Craig (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Like a few corners of the Red Sox roster, Allen Craig is living a somewhat uncertain existence heading into spring training. For the time being, that doesn’€™t figure to change.

Speaking at the media availability for the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner Thursday, both Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell said they are proceeding as if Craig will be just another versatile player on their roster.

“€œAllen can play first in addition to the two corner spots in the outfield. I think we’€™re focused short-term with Allen right now,”€ Cherington said. “€œBy that I mean let’€™s get him into spring training, give him every at-bat he needs and give him a chance to get back into an offensive routine and get back into doing the things he’€™s capable of doing. It’€™s one of the things we’€™ll be able to figure out as it gets closer to opening day. He can protect us at a bunch of spots and we know if he’€™s doing what he’€™s capable of doing he can play everyday somewhere to.”

“I wouldn’t say on the outside looking in,”€ Farrell noted. “He’s been an everyday player. In talking with Allen throughout the winter, he’s aware of the role coming in. We may take a look at some things positionally from a defensive standpoint that gives him a chance to get more regular at-bats. But much as we talk about with the depth of the outfield, this is another situation that spring training will allow itself to work out.”

As Cherington pointed out, Craig does have a history of playing multiple positions, including both corner outfield spots along with first base and even third (where he hasn’€™t manned since 2008).

“€œWe’ve had that conversation,” said the manager regarding playing all of the aforementioned spots. “€œHe’s open to it. The best thing about where Allen sits right now is he’s eager, he’s open to the work, or the thought of third base. We’ll see how that plays out, at least to answer the question in spring training. Where it goes from there remains to be seen. This is a very talented player who’s having a good offseason physically.”

Craig has spent the offseason working out in California, attempting to have an entirely healthy offseason after spending the year still recovering from a foot issue.

The 30-year-old struggled after coming over to the Red Sox from St. Louis at the non-waiver trade deadline, hitting .128 with a .425 OPS and one home run in 29 games.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford