(For the final month of the regular season, ‘€˜€˜€˜€˜€˜Closing Time’€™€™€™€™€™ will now be called ‘€˜€˜€˜€˜€˜Why You Should Have Cared,’€™€™€™€™€™ looking beyond the final score ‘€˜€˜€˜€” at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) ‘€˜€˜€˜€” for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerations.)

Right-hander Matt Barnes made his major league debut with three shutout innings on Tuesday. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox.)

Right-hander Matt Barnes made his major league debut with three shutout innings on Tuesday. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox.)

By and large, the process of auditioning pitchers for spots in the 2015 Red Sox rotation has been something less than dazzling. Joe Kelly and Rubby De La Rosa have shown flashes of being effective, with De La Rosa offering glimpses (not yet sustained) of an ability to dominate. Brandon Workman has struggled. Anthony Ranaudo has shown little ability to elicit swings and misses, and on Tuesday, the Orioles smashed his fastballs up in the strike zone, launching three homers to hand the 25-year-old a loss (by an eventual 4-1 count) on his birthday.

Kelly profiles as a back-end starter. Workman and Ranaudo seem most likely to project either as No. 4 or 5 starters if they don’t end up in the bullpen.

But late in Tuesday’s outing, the Red Sox got a tantalizing first glimpse at a pitcher with considerable upside when Matt Barnes took the hill in his big league debut. Barnes has arguably the best fastball in the system, a pitch that can miss bats even when in the strike zone. He sits comfortably in the mid-90s, and on Tuesday, he worked primarily off of a 94-96 mph fastball that he complemented with both a changeup and a curveball (the latter of which, notably, got the first swing-and-miss of his career).

Pitchers like Ranaudo and Workman have considerable potential value to a rotation as pitchers who know how to compete and give their team a chance to win. But Barnes represents something different, his fastball giving him a chance to be either an impact starter or, in the eyes of some, a closer, with the view of his potential as a starter tied to a changeup that grades as solid average and a curveball that he’s used to increasing effect this year.

On Tuesday, he employed all three pitches in impressive fashion, throwing three shutout innings in which he permitted three hits, struck out two batters (Chris Davis on a fastball, Adam Jones on a changeup), worked out of a second-and-third, one-out jam by punching out Jones when needed and threw a whopping 30 of 38 pitches (79 percent) for strikes — the highest strike percentage of any major league rookie in his debut (min. 30 pitches) since Jamie Vermilyea threw 24 of 30 pitches for strikes in his Blue Jays debut on April 22, 2007.

In a run of relatively undistinguished performances by Red Sox call-ups, Barnes’ outing stood out, a first opportunity to stand out from the pack of Red Sox prospects making the transition to the big league level.

OTHER REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT TUESDAY’S GAME

Xander Bogaerts continues to show signs of wrapping up a challenging rookie year on a positive note. He crushed a Chris Tillman fastball for a long homer into the Monster Seats in left-center for his 10th homer of the year, becoming the first Red Sox 21-year-old to reach the double digit homer plateau since Dwight Evans in 1973. With his 2-for-3 day (which also included a walk), his OPS is up to .654 — its highest point since August 8. However, he did also offer an admission of his youth with a bad baserunning decision in the ninth, taking off for home after advancing from first to third on a double when a throw back to the infield from Nick Markakis dribbled away from the cutoff man. Bogaerts was cut down easily at the plate for the first out of the inning, and felt sufficiently dismayed by his mistake that he simply lay his head on the ground after getting thrown out.

Mookie Betts went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk. He’s reached base multiple times in all five games in which he’s led off for the Sox.

– Ranaudo’s vulnerability to big league lineups once again was on display. He pitched just 3 1/3 innings, with three of his six hits leaving the park en route to a four-run yield. While the three homers represented the most he’s permitted in his five big league outings, he has now been taken deep eight times in 26 2/3 big league innings, and the absence of a swing-and-miss offering has resulted in more walks (12) than strikeouts (10). It’s possible that Ranaudo is fatiguing in the face of a career-high workload of 164 2/3 innings, but he’ll need to show either a consistent ability to pound the bottom of the strike zone with his fastball or the ability to generate swings and misses with an offering in order to position himself to be a valuable big league starter.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks was removed from the Red Sox’ game against the Orioles after five innings. The reason was not immediately known.

Middlebrooks has been on the disabled list twice this year, first for a calf strain and then from late-May through the beginning of August for a broken right index finger. Last week, Middlebrooks — who turned 26 on Tuesday — said that this year has been a constant physical struggle, even as he is no longer dealing with any specific injury that might prevent him from playing.

“I just feel like it’s been an uphill battle this whole year. But it’s not like I’m out there playing through tremendous amounts of pain,” said Middlebrooks. “It’s just small nagging things that haven’t all the way gone away. I’m not hurt. It’s just things I did during the year that take a while to heal, and if you’re out there every day, you’re going to feel them. But I’m not the only guy doing that. A lot of guys are.”

Before his removal, Middlebrooks went 0-for-2 with a strikeout. He is hitting .182 with a .509 OPS this year while striking out in 31 percent of plate appearances.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

According to Red Sox manager John Farrell, Dustin Pedroia

According to Red Sox manager John Farrell, there is a possibility Dustin Pedroia will be shut down for the season after an MRI confirmed there is increased inflammation in the second baseman’s left hand/wrist.

Farrell didn’t know yet if surgery would be an option, saying that Pedroia has been dealing with the issue for a while.

“It’s had an impact,” Farrell said. “He’s dealt with this for some time.”

Pedroia is currently batting .278 with seven homers, scoring 72 runs , having played 134 games. He has also walked 51 times, while totaling 75 strikeouts.

Jemile Weeks is the Red Sox‘ starting lineup Tuesday, hitting eighth.

Check back for more information.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford and Alex Speier
Anthony Ranaudo

Anthony Ranaudo

The Red Sox will play their second game of a three-game series against the Orioles on Tuesday night. Rookie right-hander Anthony Ranaudo will oppose Chris Tillman.

On the road against the Yankees last Wednesday, Ranaudo (3-1, 4.63 ERA) lost his first major league start, which ended his three-game winning streak with the Red Sox. It still was a quality outing, as he allowed three runs over 5 1/3 innings. He also struck out one and walked just two batters.

Ranaudo did not win his fourth-ever big league start, but he said he felt confident in stuff at Yankee Stadium, despite pitching against the team he watched growing up as a kid.

“I felt really good, this is probably the most comfortable I’ve felt on the mound, the best I’ve felt about my stuff throughout the game and I felt probably it was the best I mixed my stuff,” Ranaudo said after the game

Tuesday’s start will be the fifth of Ranaudo’s career and fourth against an American League East opponent. He’s faced the Yankees twice, last time out and his first major league start — a win where he allowed two runs over six innings on Aug. 1. He also beat the Rays on Aug. 29 with six innings of three-run ball.

He has never faced the Orioles, and Tuesday’s outing will be just his second ever at Fenway Park.

Compared to his minor league season with Triple-A Pawtucket where he struck out 111 hitters in 138 innings, Ranaudo has only punched out a combined eight hitters through his first four starts with the Red Sox. Pitching to contact more at the big league level, Ranaudo has seen his batting average against jump from .223 to .264 from the PawSox to the Red Sox.

Tillman (11-5, 3.40 ERA) has become an anchor in Baltimore’s ever-improving rotation over the last three seasons. Through his first two years of his career, Tillman’s ERA never fell below 5.52. Over the last three seasons, though, his high mark is 3.71. His strikeouts per nine innings is down from 7.81 a season ago to 6.31 this year, but his 1.22 WHIP is unchanged and his home run to fly ball ratio has dropped six percent.

The right-hander allowed three runs and struck out six during a no-decision against the Reds last Thursday in Baltimore. The start was Tillman’s 17th consecutive outing in which he pitched at least five innings. It was also the 15th time in a row that he recorded at least one strikeout.

Tillman has faced the Red Sox three times this season, posting a 1-1 record and a 3.38 ERA. He last faced the Red Sox in early June, allowing one run over six innings. He took the loss in that matchup, as Brandon Workman threw 6 2/3 shutout innings and outdueled him in a delay-filled game at Camden Yards. His one victory against the Red Sox came at Fenway Park all the way back on April 18. He gave up seven hits and three runs in five innings, but the Baltimore offense gave him enough support for the win.

Many of the current Red Sox have not had much success against Tillman, but Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli have the best numbers over the most plate appearances against him. Pedroia has a .286 average with 5 RBIs against him, while Napoli has an even .300 average in 20 at-bats. Will Middlebrooks has not recorded a hit against Tillman in 16 plate appearances.

Orioles vs. Ranaudo (RHP)

No Orioles have faced Ranaudo.

Red Sox vs. Tillman (RHP)

Dustin Pedroia (39 career plate appearances): .286 average/.333 OBP/.343 SLG, 5 RBIs, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts, 2 doubles

Daniel Nava (30): .192/.300/.308, 3 doubles, 9 strikeouts, 4 walks

David Ortiz (26): .095/.269/.095, 5 walks, 5 strikeouts

Mike Napoli (24): .300/.417/.400, 2 doubles, 2 RBIs, 4 walks, 8 strikeouts

Will Middlebrooks (16): .000/.000/.000, 3 strikeouts

Xander Bogaerts (11): .000/.182/.000, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts

Jackie Bradley (8): .429/.500/.571, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts, 1 double

Yoenis Cespedes (6): .167/.167/.167, 3 strikeouts

Brock Holt (5): .600/.600/.600

David Ross is 0-for-2 with one strikeout in two plate appearances against Tillman.

Blog Author: 
Andrew Battifarano

ESPN has announced that former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling will be returning to his role as baseball analyst on ESPN.

ESPN has announced that former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling will be returning to his role as baseball analyst on ESPN. Schilling, who has been in an eight-month battle with mouth cancer, will be on “Baseball Tonight” on ESPN2 Thursday night at 10.

Schilling — who first publicly explained his battle with cancer when appearing on the Dennis & Callahan Show during the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Telethon (click here for audio/text of the interview) – has been in remission since June.

The 47-year-old Schilling (who has lost nearly 60 pounds due to the battle with the disease) is slated to be a regular contributor on the Thursday night show, according the network.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Mookie Betts' stint as his high school football team's water boy for four years helped introduce him to the world of weightlifting. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)As usual, Mother knew best.



ROB BRADFORD

BIO | ARCHIVE | FULL COUNT BLOG


(For the final month of the regular season, ‘€˜€˜€˜€˜Closing Time’€™€™€™€™ will now be called ‘€˜€˜€˜€˜Why You Should Have Cared,’€™€™€™€™ looking beyond the final score ‘€˜€˜€” at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) ‘€˜€˜€” for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerati

(For the final month of the regular season, ‘€˜€˜€˜€˜Closing Time’€™€™€™€™ will now be called ‘€˜€˜€˜€˜Why You Should Have Cared,’€™€™€™€™ looking beyond the final score ‘€˜€˜€” at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) ‘€˜€˜€” for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerations.)

Right-hander Joe Kelly submitted his third straight quality start against an AL East opponent on Monday. (Getty Images)

Right-hander Joe Kelly submitted his third straight quality start against an AL East opponent on Monday. (Getty Images)

A National League scout recently was taking stock of the Red Sox‘ inventory of young arms and their potential to round out the team’s 2015 rotation. He paused when he got to right-hander Joe Kelly. He raved about the movement of Kelly’s high-velocity two-seamer, about his ability to keep the ball off the barrel of hitter’s bats, noted the quality of the secondary stuff. The idea of having Kelly under team control for four prime years, even at the cost of John Lackey?

“I’d do it every time,” the scout said, noting that Allen Craig represented, to his mind, no more than a secondary piece.

Of course, the Sox right now are not likely seeing the best of Kelly. The pitcher has talked about how he is been playing catch-up all year, ever since landing on the disabled list due to a hamstring tear (incurred while bunting for a base hit) in the first month of the year, after getting off to a tremendous start for the Cardinals.

Nonetheless, he is getting his legs with his new team. On Monday, Kelly delivered his third straight quality start against an American League East foe, going 6 1/3 innings while allowing four runs (but just three earned) on six hits (all singles) and three walks while matching his career-high (for the second straight outing) with six strikeouts. He elicited 11 groundball outs. In his three outings against division opponents, he has a 3.79 ERA while gaining familiarity with the Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles lineups.

On Monday, his outing wasn’t enough for a victory on a night when the Red Sox were shut out for the 14th time this year, losing to the Orioles by a 4-0 count. But Kelly continues to solidify his standing in the rotation for next year, looking like a pitcher with the stuff and experience to compete reliably, to be part of a winning team.

The loss was the 81st of the season for the Red Sox, leaving them a staggering 21 1/2 games behind the first-place Orioles.

OTHER REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT THE RED SOX GAME

– For meaningful stretches of this year, the Red Sox looked like a team without a single viable top-of-the-order hitter. Increasingly, it appears the team may have two or even three going forward. Brock Holt gave the Red Sox production atop the order once he rose to that position in the lineup in mid-May. Even as his production has waned, the team has added an apparent long-term solution to that responsibility with the signing of Rusney Castillo. Meanwhile, Mookie Betts continues to do nothing to dispel the idea that he’s close to ready for big league leadoff duties.

At a time when Holt is sidelined by the flu and when Castillo is working his way up through the system, Betts just keeps hitting and getting on base. Batting leadoff for the third straight game and fourth time in eight contests this month, Betts went 1-for-3 with a walk. In the games where he has hit leadoff, he’s now 6-for-16 with two doubles, a triple and two walks, good for a .375/.444/.625 line. He’s reached base multiple times in all four of his games as the leadoff hitter.

– Though Will Middlebrooks showed some positive signs with a two-strike single against right-hander Miguel Gonzalez in his first trip to the plate, he struck out in his next three plate appearances, including a punchout with the bases loaded and one out against Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter in the bottom of the seventh inning. Middlebrooks has now struck out in 30 percent of his plate appearances this year, an obvious red flag regarding his ability to scrape his considerable ceiling.

– The Red Sox face a difficult offseason decision with David Ross, particularly if they commit to Christian Vazquez as their everyday catcher for 2015. While Ross represents a perfect mentor for a young catcher, his lack of offensive production could leave the team exposed if Vazquez struggles to produce at the big league level. (While most are bullish on Vazquez’s longer-term offensive viability given his simple swing and the ability to swing at strikes, the near-term represents a question as he transitions to the big leagues.) Ross went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts and stranded four, with his average sinking to .181 with a .606 OPS. He’s struck out in 34.6 percent of plate appearances.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier