Red Sox

Drellich: Despite hot bat, Vazquez's playing time should be up to pitchers

red_sox_christian_vazquez_070917.jpg

Drellich: Despite hot bat, Vazquez's playing time should be up to pitchers

BOSTON — Christian Vazquez’s booming August, including a four-hit night Monday, makes more playing time almost a no-brainer. Almost.

The best managers do not typically let players dictate how they are used. But comfort, and specifically pitcher comfort, cannot be discounted, especially at a time of year where adapting to new norms is harder to stomach with little margin for error.

Sox manager John Farrell would probably love to keep Vazquez’s hot bat in the lineup. It’s worth discussing internally. But he can’t take the plunge without an honest approval from his pitchers: Chris Sale and Rick Porcello, who are both caught by Sandy Leon. Honest is the key word there.

“We’re confident in both guys equally,” Farrell said recently of his backstops. “The over-riding factor has been the rapport that they have created with the starters that they have already. With the exception of Sandy’s week missed because of the knee, they’ve been paired up with the same starters all year and I think it’s paid dividends.”

It’d be quite a move to veer off from that thinking now, with a month to go. But the temptation must exist. Vazquez is hitting .439 (25-for-57) dating to July 29. He's raking at a time offense has been scarce. It practically disappeared during a four-game losing streak that ended with Monday’s 6-5 win.

Craig Kimbrel’s apparent dislike for pitching in the eighth inning, rather than the ninth — and Farrell’s deferral to that apparent preference — is one matter for a manager. Potentially disrupting a well-established relationship between a starting pitcher and backstop is another, particularly at this time of year.

Sale and Porcello are both coming off wretched starts. Sale is going through a review to figure out what went so wrong last time out against the Indians. Porcello may be doing the same, but this is uncharted territory for Sale in his time with the Red Sox. 

Corey Kluber, who beat the Yankees on Monday night, is gaining ground on Sale in the American League Cy Young race. But forget about awards. Sale simply has work to do to return to form. He lets Leon call his pitches and never shakes. Sale's not alone in that approach — letting the catcher dictate the selection — but it's rare, and puts increased emphasis on the receiver.

If Sale truly feels equally capable with Vazquez behind the plate in the middle of a pennant race, and communicates that to Farrell in a believable way, then Farrell should keep the hot bat around.

But as September begins and a pennant race unfolds, starting pitchers and catchers and well-established relationships are not something to mess with — unless the pitchers truly believe they can be just as successful otherwise.

Pedroia cleared to start running, progressing well

red_sox_dustin_pedroia_070917.jpg

Pedroia cleared to start running, progressing well

Dustin Pedroia has been cleared to run following October surgery on his right knee.

“It’s been pretty much what they thought it would be,” Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Thursday. “This is always the time they had told me. So you start running at this point, but that’s just running. So you’re not cutting, you’re not doing all things. We still have two and a half months until opening day. 

“I cant say he would never be ready, but we’re not pushing him for that. I think it’s more important he follows step by step. So you run, then cut, then you pick up the pace. But he’s made very positive strides. But that’s why he’s not going to be there this weekend, with the big crowds and all the treatment he has it’s probably not good for him in case someone would run into him accidentally. But he’s making good strides.”

Pedroia told WEEI this month that he’s eyeing Opening Day. Dombrowski said at Alex Cora’s introductory press conference in November that the Red Sox were targeting May. 

“We think Pedey is going to be back in May at some point right now if you listen to what the doctor has to say," Dombrowski said.

  • Dombrowski expects Mookie Betts and the Sox will wind up at a hearing, as assistant general manager Brian O’Halloran also said. The team made clear that if filing numbers were exchanged, a hearing would follow. That’s called a “file and go” approach, or “file and trial” or “file to go.” The Sox don’t employ the approach universally — they exchanged numbers with Drew Pomeranz before settling last year — but it is the approach they’re taking with Betts. A panel of arbitrators will decide if he makes $10.5 million, as Betts filed for, or $7.5 million, as the Red Sox filed for (barring an unexpected settlement before then).

 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Return to health may mean a return to form for Bradley

red_sox_jackie_bradley_060917.jpg

Return to health may mean a return to form for Bradley

BOSTON -- It’s well known that Xander Bogaerts was playing hurt for much of 2017. All players in a 162-game season work through multiple injuries, nicks, strains and sometimes worse.

But it has probably gone too far under the radar that Jackie Bradley Jr. was not physically himself last season.

MORE - Sox aren't avoiding Martinez because Harper, Machado loom

One of the reasons to believe Bradley can rebound in 2017 — and a reason to advocate keeping a cost-controlled player who is both comfortable in Boston and immensely talented — is renewed health.

Bradley suffered a right knee sprain in April that put him in a brace through May. He sprained his left thumb in August. A baseball source with direct knowledge of Bradley’s situation emphasized his injuries did affect him.

Bradley, like many players, on Thursday did not want to discuss the extent of his health.

“Y’all know I’m never gonna say anything about that. It’s just not who I am,” Bradley told NBC Sports Boston before accepting the Defensive Player of the Year award at the 79th annual Boston baseball writers awards dinner. “But as a player, you just have to deal. You’re injured. But I felt at the time that I could still help the team out. So I was in a brace. I think once I got it off, it actually was feeling pretty good."

It didn’t linger all year, Bradley said.

“It felt pretty good until the thumb happened,” Bradley said. “But it’s one of those things where nobody’s ever really 100 percent. You grind, and you make the best with what’s due.”

Bradley slashed .245/.323/.402 in 2017 with 17 home runs. That's down from a .267/.349/.486 line with 26 home runs in 2016.

One of the things Bradley wants to do more of in 2018 is steal bases. He stole eight last season after a career-high nine the year before. In the minors, he stole 24 bases in one season (2012, between High-A and Double-A).

“I’ve always wanted to run more and I’m glad he’s going to give me the opportunity to be able to do that more often,” Bradley said of new manager Alex Cora. “I’ve always felt like I can run. I feel like I’ve gotten stronger every year. I’ve been pretty successful on the base paths but I guess certain times situations did not dictate it in the past. The red light was something more of a thing they wanted to do with certain people at bat instead of taking the next base.”

Asked if he considered how his health would play into stealing, Bradley noted the reward available.

“I’ve never gotten hurt stealing,” Bradley said. “I’m not saying there’s not a possibility, obviously there’s a possibility. Guys who steal a ton of bags can attest to that. Jacoby [Ellsbury], Billy [Hamilton], stuff like that. There is risk/reward. But, I feel like the reward outweighs the risk in most cases. I just want to be in scoring position. That’s what I want to be in. I want to help.” Bradley acknowledged that he heard about the trade rumors this offseason.

"Yeah that’s one of those things where you do see it,” Bradley said. “You definitely have family members who are constantly talking to you about it. You know, ‘Well, what if this, what if that?’ 

“Well, what if this what if that? What will be, will be. That has always been my mindset. It’s something that I can’t really control. You know, so, I’m just not going to worry about it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, I’m perfectly fine. I feel like I’m in a great situation. I feel like I have great teammates. I’m glad to be around them. And like I said, I understand if it did happen, then it’s something that I’ll have to live with.”

Bradley said he and his teammates have not discussed how long they will (or won’t) be together.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE