Left-hander Brian Johnson recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts on Friday. (Greenville Drive/Darrell Snow)

Left-hander Brian Johnson recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts on Friday. (Greenville Drive/Darrell Snow)

A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Friday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 10-2 WIN AT SCRANTON/WILKES-BARRE (YANKEES)

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– Feats of Mookie: Being Mookie. Mookie Betts went 4-for-5 with a double and walk. The four-hit game was his third of the year and his seventh of the last two years; the contest marked the fifth time that he’s reached base five times in a game. After going 0-for-4 in his first game back in Pawtucket, Betts has a five-game hitting streak in which he’s 10-for-23 with two doubles, a triple and two walks. In 83 minor league games this year, he’s hitting .347 with a .436 OBP and .520 slugging mark.

– Right-hander Anthony Ranaudo had yet another strong performance, tossing six shutout innings in which he allowed three hits (a double and two singles) while walking two and punching out four. In 13 starts since May 15, Ranaudo has been among the most effective starters in the minors, going 9-2 with a 1.58 ERA, 7.0 strikeouts per nine and 2.9 walks per nine while holding opponents to a .186 average and averaging just over six innings a start.

Ranaudo is now at 119 1/3 innings this year. Aside from having gotten hit by a pair of line drives this year, he’s looked the part of a durable rotation member. Though his 2012 season was derailed by groin and then shoulder injuries, that now appears to be something of an outlier in his pro career, which has seen Ranaudo deliver 127 innings in 2011, 140 innings in 2013 and now on a pace to assume perhaps 160 innings this year. Combine that with the fact that his execution and understanding of what he’s doing on the mound continue to take strides forward and you have a pitcher who, even without top-of-the-charts stuff, looks like he has at least a solid likelihood of being a valuable contributor to a team — at least an innings-eating back-end starter, with a possible mid-rotation ceiling — for some time to come.

Ryan Lavarnway continued his ascent through the minor league ranks during his rehab assignment. He rejoined Pawtucket and caught on Friday (he picked off a runner) while going 1-for-2 with a pair of walks and a pair of runs. He’s now 7-for-18 with a double, a homer and four walks in six games spanning three levels.

– First baseman Travis Shaw had his third straight multi-hit game, going 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles. The 24-year-old has reached base in all 21 games in July, hitting .346/.435/.577 with 10 extra-base hits.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 1-0 WIN AT NEW BRITAIN (TWINS)

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– Left-hander Brian Johnson announced himself as a prospect on Friday night, allowing one hit (an infield single) in seven innings while walking three and striking out a career-high 12. Though he threw strikes with just 59 of his 99 pitches (60 percent), Johnson elicited 18 swings and misses — six each on his fastball, curve and changeup, averaging 91 mph and topping out at 93. Of his 21 outs, 16 were via groundball or punchout.

In 15 starts since his promotion to Double-A Portland, Johnson is now 9-2 with an Eastern League-leading 2.13 ERA. The huge strikeout total represented something of an aberration, as Johnson’s previous career high was eight, and even with the effort, he’s at 7.9 punchouts per nine innings. Still, he shows the ability to carve the strike zone with four pitches, is comfortable in his own skin at 89-92 mph with his fastball thanks to his ability to locate and change speeds with his changeup, curve and slider and, in his second full pro season, the 23-year-old is demonstrating a frequent ability to deliver six or more innings.

His emergence, in turn, as a high probability starting pitching prospect with a mid-rotation ceiling and back-of-the-rotation floor could permit the Sox to deal from their wealth of starting pitching prospects in order to sweeten a package should they try to turn some of their rental players into young impact talent before the trade deadline.

– Catcher Blake Swihart went 3-for-4 to break through the .300 barrier. The switch-hitter is now hitting .304/.357/.492, including .395/.429/.658 in his last 10 games.

Sean Coyle went 1-for-2 with a double and walk. After having just three walks and 20 strikeouts in his first 16 games of July, Coyle seems to be re-establishing a more disciplined approach that has netted him walks in three of the last four games, a span in which he’s 3-for-11 with a double, a homer and just two strikeouts.

– Right-hander Noe Ramirez retired all six batters he faced for his 11th save in as many chances.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 6-0 WIN VS. MYRTLE BEACH (RANGERS)

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– Left-hander Cody Kukuk had a stunning outing, firing six shutout innings, allowing two hits (both singles), walking one and punching out a career-high 10. The 21-year-old sat at 93 mph and topped out at 97, with his 15 swings and misses spread evenly across his fastball, slider and changeup. He threw strikes with 57 of his 86 pitches, and showed once again his capacity to dominate if (big IF) throwing strikes, something that Kukuk has done with noticeably greater frequency this month. In five starts in July, Kukuk is 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA, 30 strikeouts and nine walks in 23 innings. He’s walked three or fewer batters in all five of those outings, and has issued just two free passes in his last 11 innings spanning two starts.

For the year, Kukuk is averaging 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings, the best rate of any Red Sox starter, with the sort of electricity in his arm that is unmatched in the system, but with a walk rate (6.3 walks per nine) that suggests he still has a considerable amount of work to harness his talent.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 5-2 LOSS AT LAKEWOOD (PHILLIES)

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– Though left-hander Trey Ball absorbed the loss to drop to 1-8, the 20-year-old left-hander continued his run of strong performances. He permitted four runs (two earned) on six hits (four singles, a double and triple) in six innings, walking just one while punching out three. He recorded eight groundball outs while averaging 91 mph and topping out at 95 — a mark he hadn’t been hitting to this point in the year — and recorded five swings and misses with his fastball, a pitch that he threw for strikes at will (37 of 48 for strikes — 77 percent), on a night where he sailed through his six innings in just 71 pitches.

The month of July has thus represented a considerable step forward in the 2013 first-rounder’s performance. In 25 innings, he has a 3.24 ERA with 19 strikeouts and seven walks while holding opponents to a .196 average — a considerable improvement from the first three months, during which he had a 7.27 ERA.

– Second baseman Wendell Rijo added to the arguably the most impressive stretch of his career, going 1-for-2 with his third homer in five games along with two walks. The 18-year-old is hammering the ball at a .290/.366/.629 clip with 11 extra-base hits in 17 games this month, showing power beyond anything he’d previously demonstrated in his relatively brief pro career.

SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 7-4 WIN VS. HUDSON VALLEY (RAYS)

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– Recently signed former indy leaguer Aaron Wilkerson had a dominant performance, tossing seven innings in which he allowed a run on four hits while walking one and striking out six. In 13 innings, the possessor of the NAIA record for the longest winning streak and longest consecutive scoreless innings streak has a 1.38 ERA with 13 strikeouts and three walks.

– Third baseman Jordan Betts slammed his sixth homer of the season and drove in five runs. The 22-year-old is hitting .302/.341/.535.

ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 5-3 WIN AT GCL TWINS

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– Shortstop Michael Chavis, the team’s first-round pick this year, had his first multi-hit game as a pro, going 2-for-3 with a double.

– The irrepressible Rafael Devers went 2-for-4 and drove in a pair of runs. The 17-year-old is hitting .379/.431/.586 with seven extra-base hits and 14 RBIs in 16 games.

Bryce Brentz went 0-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts in the third game of his rehab assignment. He’s 1-for-8.

DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 5-2 WIN VS. DSL MARINERS

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Jhonathan Diaz, a 17-year-old left-hander from Venezuela, posted his third straight scoreless start, tossing five innings and allowing three hits and a walk while punching out four. In his last three starts Diaz has 15 scoreless innings; indeed, he’s thrown five or more scoreless innings in all but one of his last six starts. He’s 4-2 with a 1.55 ERA, 37 strikeouts and 11 walks in 46 1/3 innings.

Roldani Baldwin went 3-for-4, his third straight multi-hit game and fourth in five games. The 18-year-old is hitting .297/.361/.442, including .346/.419/.531 in July.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

The Red Sox landed more than just a pair of pitchers with alliterative monikers on Saturday.

According to an industry source, in exchange for right-hander Jake Peavy, the agreed to send a pair of pitchers who ranked among the Giants‘ top 10 prospects in Baseball America’s preseason rankings of the system, albeit both of whom are enduring less-than-spectacular campaigns.

The Sox added25-year-old right-hander Heath Hembree, who has a 3.89 ERA with 10.5 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings in 41 Triple-A relief appearances, and 22-year-old Edwin Escobar, who is 3-8 with a 5.11 ERA, 7.8 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings in 20 starts for Triple-A Fresno. Hembree was ranked the Giants’ seventh-best prospect entering the year, and described by Baseball America as a potential late-innings arm, while the left-handed Escobar entered the year ranked No. 2 in the Giants system and No. 56 in the game by Baseball America, before his struggles this year. Entering the year, Baseball America described Escobar thusly:

“Escobar always had size and strength, but he got himself in better condition and made an adjustment to raise his elbow in his delivery, allowing him to locate his 92-93 mph fastball, and for the first time, throw a dependable breaking ball. He gained confidence in his slider and it’s a plus offering at times that he can throw early in the count or as a put-away pitch. His changeup also ranges from average to plus, and he held righthanded hitters to a .222 average. Escobar has a durable arm and likes to throw a lot between starts, so a bullpen role isn’t out of the question. He was pitching in that role in the Venezuelan League, but his three-pitch mix offers too much potential as a starter. He figures to start 2014 at Triple-A Fresno.”

Both Hembree and Escobar are on the 40-man roster. However, the Sox had an open spot on their 40-man.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The first shoe drops.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The first shoe drops.

With the trading deadline five days away, the Red Sox made their first trade of a prospective free agent, sending right-hander Jake Peavy to the Giants. An industry source confirmed that there was an agreement to send Peavy to San Francisco pending approval from the Commissioner’s Office. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com first reported the completion of the deal; Jen Royle of the Boston Herald first reported on Saturday morning that Peavy was close to being dealt.

In 20 starts this year, Peavy is 1-9 with a 4.72 ERA while averaging roughly 6 1/3 innings per outing. He’s averaging 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings — a solid rate, but his lowest since 2003 — and 3.3 walks per nine (again, his worst rate since 2003). Yet both of those numbers, even as they reflect a declining arsenal, offer a viable baseline for a starter. But he was a frequent victim of the quick strike, as his 20 homers allowed were the most in the American League. A victim of poor run support, Peavy had made 15 straight starts (dating to May 1) without earning a win — the second-longest such streak in Red Sox team history, behind only a 16-game drought endured by Jim Lonborg in 1969.

Still, Peavy delivered six or more innings in 17 of his 20 starts, with 12 quality starts on the year. Particularly if given the opportunity to pitch in a ballpark (and division) that is more hostile to home runs, there’s a chance that he could represent a competent mid- to back-end starter who can help stabilize a rotation — something the Giants (who play in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors) have been seeking while Matt Cain has been dealing with injuries.

The Red Sox, according to multiple sources, are expected to get two minor league pitchers back from the Giants in return.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier
Phillies starter Cliff Lee represents an intriguing scenario for Jon Lester. (AP)

Phillies starter Cliff Lee represents an intriguing scenario for Jon Lester. (AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Jon Lester saw no reason to dismiss the idea. Get traded by the Red Sox in July, then re-sign with the club four months down the line?

“Why not?” he said in the Red Sox clubhouse after a 6-4 defeat to the Rays. “This is what I know. This is what I love.”

The idea of a player getting dealt only to turn around and re-sign as a free agent is unusual — but not unprecedented. In 1993, Rickey Henderson was sent by the A’s to the Blue Jays for Steve Karsay; Henderson helped the Jays to the second of back-to-back World Series wins, then turned around and re-signed with Oakland that offseason. In 1995, the Twins traded closer Rick Aguilera to the Red Sox for Frankie Rodriguez in July; that winter, Aguilera re-signed with Minnesota.

Yet another example of a more recent ilk may be more in line with a best-case scenario for the Red Sox and Lester. After the 2009 season, the Phillies sent left-hander Cliff Lee to the Mariners as part of a three-team deal that landed Roy Halladay in Philadelphia. One year later, teams were coming at Lee with six- and even seven-year offers. Yet even with the Yankees seemingly willing to open up the vault for Lee, the left-hander decided to return to the Phillies on a five-year, $120 million deal.

The $24 million average annual value of the deal may have been slightly north of the AAV offered elsewhere, but Lee left tens of millions of guaranteed dollars and at least one guaranteed year on the table in order to return to a place he’d enjoyed.

“I never wanted to leave this place in the first place,” Lee explained at the press conference heralding his arrival.

In many ways, that precedent might be the most intriguing one for the Sox and Lester. At a time when an elite prospect could be valued at tens of millions of dollars (consider that Jose Abreu — a player who at the time came with a relevant degree of risk — signed for six years and $68 million) given his potential performance relative and low salary, the idea of acquiring an elite young talent in exchange for the next two months of Lester’s services has to be a significant consideration for the Red Sox. But if the Sox could then convince Lester to return to a contract whose average annual value was in line with prevailing market values, while getting him to consider leaving a year on the table (as Lee did), then the Sox have a scenario in which they could have their proverbial cake and eat it, too.

Of course, given the Sox’ caution — backed by mountains of bad contracts as evidence — regarding the length of a deal, even a five-year commitment to Lester during his age 31-35 seasons might represent too long a commitment for the team’s comfort. (It is worth noting, after all, that Lee — whose deal spanned his age 32-36 seasons — just missed two months with an injured elbow.) Perhaps the trade/re-sign cake strategy represents little more than pie in the sky.

But, at the least, there is some precedent to contemplate it — a sort of window into a bakery of available trade deadline options.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

Dealing Jon Lester represents the most obvious path to an impact return for the Red Sox. (AP)ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Red Sox don't get -- and don't want -- too many chances at this. A team whose performance has raised a giant, neon SELL sign has a rare midyear opportunity to use the trade market to address needs for the future. 



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.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

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.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– 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