Red Sox

Red Sox came close to losing Andrew Benintendi to Astros in '15 Draft

Red Sox came close to losing Andrew Benintendi to Astros in '15 Draft

BOSTON — Andrew Benintendi calmly walked to the rocket that fell from the front row of the Green Monster. Alex Bregman was circling the bases after lining a two-run homer way over Benintendi's head in left field, a shot that proved the difference in Friday's 3-2 Astros win. 

Benintendi picked up the fallen souvenir before chucking it into the stands, creating a moment of draft-class symbolism: from Bregman to Benintendi, one top 2015 pick to another.

It’s easy to imagine a world where Benintendi, the No. 7 pick in '15, and Bregman, the No. 2 pick, are Astros teammates today. 

MORE: Drellich: Red Sox bullpen was good, then they changed for the better

“It was definitely an option for us, that we could have drafted both players,” said Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias, the head of the amateur draft process in Houston. “We liked both players quite a bit. We were in a unique situation that year because we had the two picks [second and fifth overall].

“I can say with all honesty that if [Kyle] Tucker had been gone, like say if the Rangers took him right before us, we take Benintendi.”

As the Astros rebuilt their farm system and created the monster the Sox now have to slay, the ‘Stros wound up two years ago with not one, but two high amateur draft choices: Nos. 2 and 5. 

How'd they land the pair? The Astros did not sign their first overall draft pick in 2014 in a medical saga, and received the second pick in '15 as compensation — in addition to their usual pick based on their prior season's performance.

At No. 2, the Astros selected Bregman, a shortstop out of LSU who has Dustin Pedroia-like gamer qualities and top-notch athleticism. He played 155 games this season, most of them at third base, slashing .284/.352/.475 with 19 home runs. (Bregman also happens to be Blake Swihart’s best friend.) 

At No. 5 is where history could have changed. The Astros considered Benintendi, and made a phone call to gauge interest on draft day. But the Astros picked a high school outfielder from Florida, Kyle Tucker, instead. Benintendi went to the Sox at No. 7.

“Benintendi was a unique situation because he had burst on to the scene very late for a high-profile college player,” Elias recalled. “You almost never see this, but he was a sophomore, he was draft eligible due to age. He did not play much his freshman year at Arkansas. And then he stayed on campus all summer and worked out. He didn’t play on the Cape, he didn’t play on Team USA. It really wasn’t until the spring got going and he started putting up these ridiculous numbers that he was even on our radar. 

“And credit to the Red Sox, I heard that their area scouts did a great job of identifying him as early as the previous fall, and they were able to focus on him early. But we liked him a lot. It was basically between him and Kyle Tucker, who’s doing well for us. We liked the idea of coming away with a polished college player like Bregman and then an upside high school player like Tucker.”

Tucker, 20, has indeed done well for the Astros. He reached Double-A in 2017, and slashed .274/.346/.528 between there and High-A ball. He hit 25 home runs.

“Worked out well for us and worked out well for the Red Sox,” Elias said. “They did a great job getting on him early and really cementing their knowledge about it, where they didn’t have to scout him in a rush at the end.”

The ’15 draft has proven huge for both teams. The extra bonus money the Astros had that year because of those two top-five picks helped them land another top talent who fell in the draft, Daz Cameron, with a later pick. Cameron was then part of the trade for Justin Verlander in August.

Benintendi, meanwhile, finished the year as the second most productive player the Sox had at the plate, trailing only Mookie Betts.

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Granderson's 10th-inning homer lifts Blue Jays over Red Sox, 4-3

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USA TODAY Sports Photo

Granderson's 10th-inning homer lifts Blue Jays over Red Sox, 4-3

TORONTO -- With one big throw, and an even bigger swing, Curtis Granderson gave a somber city reason to smile.

Granderson threw out the potential go-ahead run at the plate in the top of the ninth inning, then hit a walk-off homer in the 10th to give the Toronto Blue Jays a 4-3 win over Boston on Tuesday night and hand the Red Sox their season-worst third straight defeat.

It was the first game for the Blue Jays following Monday's deadly van attack in Toronto that killed 10 people and injured 14.

"The city's hurting," left-hander J.A. Happ said. "This was a meaningful win."

Boston (17-5) still owns the best record in the majors.

Granderon's his third home run of the season came on a 2-0 pitch from Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel (0-1), a towering solo blast off the facing of the third deck in right field. Granderson went 3 for 5 with three RBIs.

"Trying to just do anything I can to help the team win," said Granderson, who entered 0 for 5 with three strikeouts in his career against Kimbrel.

Kimbrel allowed his first earned run of the season and suffered his first blown save since Aug. 1, 2017, against Cleveland. The loss was Kimbrel's first since Oct. 1, 2016, against Toronto.

"You fall behind anybody, it's no good," Kimbrel said. "I threw a ball in there to get back in the count and it was game over."

Tyler Clippard (3-0) worked a scoreless 10th for the win as Toronto snapped a seven-game home losing streak against the Red Sox.

Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna was handed a 3-1 lead in the ninth but allowed the Red Sox to tie it, his first blown save in seven chances.

"It's a big game for us," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "If you don't win that one, that's a kick in the teeth."

Hanley Ramirez singled to begin the ninth, went to third on a one-out hit by Rafael Devers and scored on Eduardo Nunez's single to right. It was the first run off Osuna this season.

Jackie Bradley Jr. struck out and Nunez stole second before Christian Vazquez walked to load the bases for Brock Holt, who scored Devers with an RBI single to left. Left fielder Granderson threw out Nunez at the plate to prevent Boston from taking the lead.

"You have to challenge Granderson," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "You've been challenging Granderson for more than five years. He made a perfect throw and threw him out."

Happ struck out a season-high 10 over seven innings. He walked none and allowed four hits and one run in his longest outing of the season.

Boston's Rick Porcello allowed three runs and three hits in seven innings. Porcello walked three, two more than he'd walked in his previous four starts combined, and struck out a season-high nine, including five straight in the third and fourth.

"Those two guys, that was a pitching clinic," Cora said. "Happ was tremendous."

Porcello extended his scoreless innings streak to 14 by pitching around a one-out walk in the first but couldn't escape the second. One run scored on Kevin Pillar's fielder's choice, and Granderson added a two-run single that bounced off Devers' glove and rolled into shallow left field.

Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and is 0 for 11 with eight strikeouts over his past three games.

Boston finished with a season-worst 14 strikeouts. The Red Sox have fanned 10 or more times in three straight.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: SS Xander Bogaerts (left ankle) went 2 for 3 with an RBI in a six-inning stint with Triple-A Pawtucket, and remains on track to rejoin the Red Sox on Friday.

Blue Jays: 3B Josh Donaldson (right shoulder) could begin a minor league rehab assignment later this week, Gibbons said.

TORONTO STRONG

Before the game, the Blue Jays honored the victims of Monday's deadly attack and some of the first responders who rushed to the scene. Players from both teams stood in front of the dugouts as four Toronto police officers and two paramedics stood between second base and the pitcher's mound and were introduced to cheering fans. Following a video message and a moment of silence, a group of high school students sang the national anthems.

Blue Jays pitcher Marco Estrada greeted the first responders as they left the field

A blue banner reading "(hash)TORONTOSTRONG" was hung from the second deck in center field, and similar signs were hung on the wall behind home plate. The same message was also printed in white on the back of the mound.

CATCH OF THE DAY

Two-time Gold Glove winner Mookie Betts made a diving, backhanded catch to retire Teoscar Hernandez in the fifth.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (2-0, 3.45) is 1-3 with a 5.67 ERA in eight career games against Toronto.

Blue Jays: RHP Aaron Sanchez (1-2, 3.86) will face his fourth AL East opponent in five starts when he takes the mound Wednesday. Sanchez has faced New York twice and Baltimore once.

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Dana LeVangie's Red Sox pitchers dominating with individualized approach

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AP Photo

Dana LeVangie's Red Sox pitchers dominating with individualized approach

As Red Sox hitters swing earlier in counts, there doesn’t appear to be a comparable, broad change in philosophy on the pitching side. Their arms are doing just fine with personalized alterations (which, to be fair, have always been in place for hitters too). 

In his first year as pitching coach, Dana LeVangie presides over a staff that carried the third-best ERA in the majors entering Tuesday, 2.75.

DRELLICH: Still a lot we don't know about Cora

Rick Porcello’s throwing his changeup from a lowered arm slot while commanding both his sinker and his four-seam fastball better than last year, to great effect. 

Heath Hembree is throwing his slider lower than he has before, per BrooksBaseball.net's figures, and he’s getting more whiffs per swing on it than he has before, 43.75 percent. LeVangie noted that sliders with depth may be more effective than those with stronger lateral movement. 

Eduardo Rodriguez is healthy and he gained a much better feel for his changeup ahead of his most recent start. The list goes on.

“We just hammer in on guys attacking to their strengths and dominating to their strengths and dominating each pitch they throw,” said LeVangie, who was born in Brockton and has spent all 28 years of his pro baseball career with the Red Sox. “Everyone’s going to have failure at times, and we’re not going to panic because a guy doesn’t have success one day. We feel like every guy out in that bullpen has the ability to get outs, even later in the game. We trust. We trust guys. And that’s what it’s all about.”

Some Sox velocities have been down to begin the year, but LeVangie indicated no alarm. Chris Sale is sitting at 93 mph this season, although that includes one start in weather Sale said was the worst he had pitched in. He averaged 95 mph in April 2017, and he sat at 95 in his most recent start.

“I think he sees the big picture,” LeVangie said of Sale. “That he can still compete in April, not showing 97 consistently, and maybe that lasts to the end of the season.

“He controls his throwing program really well. He’s not a big thrower in bullpens. … Doesn’t overthrow. Takes days off, days after he pitches. Goes about it the right way.”

Craig Kimbrel, who missed most of spring training, never had a month averaging below 98 mph in 2017 and sits at 96 mph now. Not that it’s hurt his effectiveness: he hasn’t allowed an earned run and has 10 strikeouts in eight innings.

"Yeah I mean, I think you can look at a lot of our guys, you know velocities might be down a little bit,” LeVangie said when asked about David Price, who’s sitting at 93 mph, down a full tick. “But you know, maybe a month or two from now, when they start getting into [summer], things will increase. Craig’s velocity is down. I mean, in a matter of month or so it’s going to be back where it needs to be. David’s just in a really good spot right now.”

Elevated from bullpen coach to pitching coach as the Sox transitioned from John Farrell to Alex Cora, LeVangie said he does all the same things that he used to. The 48-year-old’s placement during the game is naturally different, and he’s generally communicating a little more with the starters than he had before — more often in group settings rather than one on one.

Both he and Cora are filling their respective roles for the first time in the majors. Their frequency of communication in-game, a matter of preference where there’s no right or wrong choice, is better described as intermittent than nonstop.

“It’s leading up to a guy’s pitch count,” LeVangie said, “the match-ups that we feel are best. And we sort of go over it beforehand so we’re not caught off guard heading into it.”

As a staff holdover, LeVangie is better positioned than most to explain the difference for the 17-4 Sox compared to a year ago. As a group, the 2018 Sox have at times looked unstoppable. A focus on the players not as a unit, but as individuals — from everything from mechanics to long-term goals — seems a driving force behind what amounts to a group effort.

“Most everyone pulling in the same direction. Most everybody’s rooting for one another to have success,” LeVangie said. “There’s a lot of talk in the dugout during the game. There’s a lot of communication during, before, about individuals, and not just team. And there’s just a lot of guys buying in and we got a really good team.”

It’s unrealistic for everything to always be about the team and not the individual. Take Drew Pomeranz, for example. Cora and LeVangie both noted the importance of Pomeranz being extra careful returning from injury as an impending free agent. As important as Pomeranz is to the 2018 Sox, this season will have a ripple effect on the rest of his career earnings.

“It comes with patience,” LeVangie said of Pomeranz’s continued ability to return from forearm injuries. “Because Drew likes to compete and it was really important that, as a group, we talked about the patience that he needs to make sure that he’s going about this the right way. I mean, it’s his career. 

“Yeah, his success for us is really important. But also going into free agency, he’s got to go about this the right way. Him going about having patience and making sure he goes through the whole process was the right approach.”

It was the staff’s choice to be cautious and pull another lefty, Price, who had a circulation issue on a cold night against the Yankees. He couldn’t grip the ball. Theoretically, they could have forced Price to stay out there and eat innings, but that wouldn’t have been smart for anyone. 

The numbness Price felt is not something the Sox can definitively prevent in the future.

“That’s a hit or miss, because it doesn’t happen all the time. And it’s happened only twice,” LeVangie said. “Once in Detroit, once here. So it’s something that doesn’t come all the time, but you just never know. Our training staff does a tremendous job with every one of those guys. But they’re constantly communicating with those guys during the game, keeping ‘em hot, as hot as possible. Heat packs, rub downs during the game. Constant.”

One other example of the individual’s needs showing up? Kimbrel’s usage. Not using him in the eighth inning (and just the eighth inning) is in part an appeal to the importance of other relievers.

“Me personally, getting four outs, yeah,” LeVangie said when asked if Kimbrel could come in for the eighth. “To lead off the eighth? I want to believe and trust that our eighth-inning guys, our seventh-inning guys, can get those guys out. Because the longer we can trust those guys, it pays off big time down the stretch. Because we can’t win this thing by one guy. And I’m not sure how many relievers pitched in the eighth inning last year with Craig’s [stuff], who he is. Not too many. And it usually only happens maybe September or October when it does happen."

The eighth inning does present a different challenge than the ninth, LeVangie said.

“What’s the panic of the hitter in the eighth inning to the ninth inning? The eighth inning could be tougher," LeVangie said. "Those last three outs, guys have the willingness to expand the strike zone a little bit more because it’s on the line. The game’s not on the line at times in the eighth inning. The zone’s become a little bit more [tight] because they know they have a chance in the ninth. Koji [Uehara outside the ninth] had a tough time. Guys who live outside the strike zone, it’s a little bit tougher because they have three more outs to get.”

Kimbrel is so dominant, though, it’s hard to imagine him struggling because of an inning. Consider one other point, though: he’s on track to be one of the greatest of all-time. 

The righty is four saves shy of 300 for his career, with a 91.1 percent success rate (296 of 325 opportunities). Amongst pitchers with at least 300-plus saves, that mark would be tops. Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan own the highest save percentage at the moment, at 89.1.

BASEBALL SHOW PODCAST: How should Red Sox be using Craig Kimbrel?

The Red Sox are paying attention to what matters to the individual. Like Pomeranz, Kimbrel is a free agent after the season. And saves matter to him.

"Oh yeah, no question, no question,” LeVangie said. “Craig wants to win a World Series, but he also wants to get in the Hall of Fame. And he’s going to get in the Hall of Fame. We just need to win a World Series for him."

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