Red Sox

Cook does his part, lets fielders do rest

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Cook does his part, lets fielders do rest

BOSTON When things are going well for Aaron Cook he knows just about all he has to do is throw his sinker, induce groundballs, and let his defense do its job.

That was the game plan he employed Monday against the Rangers to earn the win, as the Red Sox beat Texas, 9-2.

Cook went seven innings, giving up one run on six hits and three walks with two strikeouts, improving to 3-5 with a 4.70 ERA.

Fifteen of Cooks 21 outs came on groundballs.

He gave us seven innings, and less hits than innings pitched, said manager Bobby Valentine. Got a couple of strikeouts. Had those balls directed properly and the defense played great behind him. He also executed a perfect pick-off play which I thought was big in the game.

His outing was much different than his last three, when he gave up a total of six home runs in 15 innings, taking the loss in all. Prior to that, he had given up just two home runs in his previous five starts.

I thought he and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia actually mixed up some of the pitches well and he had really good command of the outside corner tonight, Valentine said. Established some inside where he got them quick. It looked like he had really good command of the outside with a little cutter and his sinker.

Texas had runners on base in each of Cooks seven innings except the sixth. In almost every instance he used his sinker to get out of the jams, inducing a ground ball to end the inning.

Well, I think any time I have my sinker working and guys are playing great defense behind me, thats a recipe for success, Cook said. I was just really focused on staying at the bottom of the zone as much as possible tonight, even when getting guys on. Pound the ball in the zone and let the guys play defense behind me. That's pretty much my approach every time I take the mound.

The only exceptions: He picked Nelson Cruz off second base with a slick move in the fourth inning, and got Mitch Moreland to line out to Dustin Pedroia to end the seventh.

The potent Rangers seemed to hit Cook harder earlier in the game before he settled in. He faced six batters in the second, holding the Rangers to just one run on three hits and a walk.

I think the first couple innings I was a little flat, he said. I was throwing the ball probably a little bit harder than I needed to. I really just got with Salty and was like lets just pound the bottom of the zone and not worry about anything else. And thats really when my ball started moving more and you could tell that I was getting that movement that I need to be successful.

It may have been one of the six outs he got that wasnt on a grounder that helped.

With the Sox holding a slim one-run lead going into the fourth inning, Cook gave up a lead-off, ground-rule double to Nelson Cruz. After one pitch to the next batter, David Murphy, Cook picked Cruz off second base. The move seemed to give the Sox a jolt of energy while deflating the Rangers. Cook got out of the inning without giving up a run. The Sox added three runs in the bottom of the inning.

Something I take a lot of pride in is controlling the running game and me and shortstop Mikey Aviles have talked about it all year, Cook said. We worked on it in spring training. Any time somebody gets on we dont have a sign. Its kind of one of those things, we both feel it.

And I told him if he goes, he better keep going because Im going to turn around and throw it and if hes not there, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is going to be chasing it. But we were both on the same page. And after that double right there, being able to pick the guy off, it just kind of calms the inning down, lets me take a deep breath, and I think guys just really had a lot of energy after that.

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

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Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel. 

HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

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HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep “known steroid users” out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball’s steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall’s board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

Read the full text of Morgan's letter here. 

“Steroid users don’t belong here,” Morgan wrote. “What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse.”

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions.

About 430 ballots are being sent to voters, who must have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years, and a player needs at least 75 percent for election. Ballots are due by Dec. 31 and results will be announced Jan. 24.

Writers who had not been covering the game for more than a decade were eliminated from the rolls in 2015, creating a younger electorate that has shown more willingness to vote for players tainted by accusations of steroid use. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received a majority of votes for the first time in 2017 in their fifth year on the ballot.

Morgan said he isn’t speaking for every Hall of Famer, but many of them feel the same way that he does.

“Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in,” Morgan wrote. “Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.”

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were inducted into the Hall of Fame in July. They were joined by former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, who were voted in by a veterans committee.

Some baseball writers said the election of Selig, who presided over the steroids era, influenced their view of whether tainted stars should gain entry to the Hall.

Morgan praised BBWAA voters and acknowledged they are facing a “tricky issue,” but he also warned some Hall of Famers might not make the trip to Cooperstown if steroid users are elected.

“The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too,” he wrote. “The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.”

© 2017 by The Associated Press