Red Sox

Drellich: Fister on path to revival with Red Sox

Drellich: Fister on path to revival with Red Sox

BOSTON — When Rick Porcello was in Detroit, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander were not the pitchers he modeled himself after. They throw too hard to mimic.

Doug Fister, the veteran righty whose career is on a path to revival with the Red Sox, was easy to bounce ideas off.

“We’re both sinker ballers,” Porcello said. “I felt like at that time, I was kind of plateauing as far as what I was able to do on the mound. I could get a ground ball. There were other parts of my game that were missing. I was having a lot of trouble generating strikeouts. We all know how important that is, especially with runners on base. Just overall kind of identity on how I was going to form a game plan and attack hitters. 

“It wasn’t necessarily a lack of weapons, it was just, it wasn’t really setting things up properly, and all that sort of stuff. And he came over [to Detroit], and just watching him for the couple of years that he was there, and the amount of success that he had — not to mention that he’s a great dude and works hard and he’s an easy guy to like and admire in that regard. … He seemed to always have a good feel for pitching to contact at the right times, and then trying to generate the swing and miss at the right time.”

The pupil's grown up. Fister speaks fondly of what Porcello’s been able to accomplish since they were last teammates.

“He’s really come into himself, and obviously that showed last year,” Fister said. “I’m proud of him for doing what he did. He’s continually battling this year, and making the adjustments that need to be made. And he’s definitely progressed in knowing what he does, and doing it well.”

To begin this year, their positions in the game were almost reversed. Porcello had great success and was the reigning American League Cy Young winner. Fister, meanwhile, was trying to find his way. Porcello then struggled early on. But, up until his last start — which was so bad, he joked that Mitch Moreland should have been the starting pitcher — Porcello had a 3.47 ERA in a nine-start span dating to the start of July.

Porcello said when the Sox signed Fister, there was no doubt in his mind Fister still had the ability to throw a one-hitter, as he did in Cleveland last week.

But there was reason to be skeptical. Fister, now 34, had a 4.48 ERA from 2015-16. He had a 3.11 ERA from 2011-14, all but the last of those years in Detroit.

“Watching his bullpens and even the games that he’s pitched earlier this year, his stuff is there, everything’s there,” Porcello said.

Fister has been gaining strength as the year goes. He has a 3.41 ERA in his last five starts with 30 strikeouts and 10 walks in 34 1/3 innings. He’s been more reliable of late than Eduardo Rodriguez.

Even though Fister wasn’t good enough for the Angels earlier this year, he said he did not worry his career could be over.

“It’s not a worry,” Fister said in between his most recent starts. “I’m very — I don’t want to say content, but if my career stopped right now at this point, today, you know I can hang my hat on knowing I've done everything I could to have a successful career.

“Maybe there’s some people out there that wanted to, needed to see it or I needed to prove it to somebody. But, I have always felt that I still had what it takes to be a starter and I still feel that. You know, I’ll feel that ’til the day I hang up my cleats. Even if I’m in the bullpen. Either way, it’s fine. I’ve got have it in my heart that I know I can go out and get a big league hitter out at any point.”

He’s also got to have the ability on the mound, too. And to that end, Red Sox assistant pitching coach Brian Bannister has seen defined change.

“It’s been amazing how much he’s accomplished since he got here,” Bannister said. “He got off to a late start with the Angels, didn’t get a full spring training like everybody else. So he was already kind of behind the 8-ball, and then when we acquired him, his sinker wasn’t — the depth on it wasn’t at the point it was in years past. The curveball wasn’t up to par for him. And so, he was trying to pitch a little more straight on, a little less like a traditional sinker baller like a Mike Leake or a Trevor Cahill. 

“He likes to step across his body. He was always known for getting really big extension, but he’s also dealt with some physical issues in past years. So I think the strategy was to shift him over on the rubber. He’s now pitching from the first base side to alleviate some of that torque and angle [which] can affect him physically, but then, also get the sinker back.”

The idea to move on the rubber came from bullpen coach Dana LeVangie. As Bannister put it, sinker ballers can be “cross-striders.” And they risk lower back and hip problems because it’s not as natural to throw across one’s body.

LeVangie wasn’t focusing on health as much as he was thinking, from a catcher’s perspective, how Fister could regain movement. The benefits happened to go hand in hand. 

“He was having trouble trying to get the ball down,” LeVangie said. “So I said I thought about moving over, and guys typically who throw sinkers at some point make an adjustment to move over on the rubber. Making it easier to command the ball glove side of their body, and throw the ball down hill.”

The Red Sox were in Tampa Bay when LeVangie made the suggestion.

“I started thinking about Derek Lowe, adjustments he made, and I just felt like maybe the time was right,” LeVangie said. “He went out threw a bullpen that day. He was really happy.”

Bannister noted that the fielding independent pitching statistics show that Fister’s low ERA wasn’t a fluke. He also noted that he’s knocked two inches off the rise on his sinker — movement that looks like the 2011 version.

Whether it keeps up is to be seen, but there's reason to think Doug Fister could look a little more like the Doug Fister who taught Rick Porcello so much in Detroit.

“Working on the sinker depth, working on getting the curve ball spin right and then you know kind of just reacting to how the league is this year,” Bannister said. “It’s been harder on sinker ballers in general, just because guys are going all or nothing with their approach. So he has been working on different strategies to kind of evolve himself in how he mixes and how he attacks the zone, and now kind of the final thing is working on getting some depth on the changeup like he had in years past. 

“It’s been impressive to watch him work, to watch him try and pitch competitively while also making all these adjustments, because he went in a very different direction last year in Houston. And unwinding that, while also trying to get back to some of his strengths — while also trying to add something new — it’s been fun to watch him, and it’s really good to see him have success. Because he’s a pitcher who was extremely successful at one point, who is still very talented, has an athleticism and a range of motion you don’t usually see in a 6-foot-8 guy. And so there’s a lot of talent there, a lot of things to work with, and he’s put in the time.”

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Red Sox hire Alex Cora as their new manager

Red Sox hire Alex Cora as their new manager

BOSTON -- Alex Cora is the 47th manager in Red Sox history, charged with reinvigorating a young clubhouse and improving on consecutive 93-win seasons that fizzled in the first round of the playoffs.

The team made the hiring of the 42-year-old Astros bench coach official on Sunday, a day after Houston advanced to the World Series and two days before the start of the Fall Classic. Cora will remain with the Astros until the Series is finished and has a three-year deal, with a club option for 2021.

A 14-year big leaguer from Puerto Rico, Cora is the first Latin manager in club history. He hit .252 in 301 games for the Sox from 2005-08. He was the most sought-after managerial candidate this offseason and arrives with a great reputation based on his personality, his prior experience in Boston and his season with the Astros. 

ALEX CORA: NEW RED SOX MANAGER

He knows Sox second baseman and leader Dustin Pedroia well. The last time Cora was in the World Series prior to this year was 2007. On Saturday, exactly 10 years after the Red Sox came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Indians in the American League Championship Series, the Astros finished off a rally after falling behind 3-2 in the series.

"You know, we've never been through this," Dustin Pedroia said after the Sox won Game 7 in 2007. "This is on the biggest stage. Everyone is watching these games. I remember the Angels series, I was nervous. Alex Cora told me, 'Hey, settle down, be yourself, have fun. This game is meant to be played, have fun. Play as hard as you can and leave it out there on the field. If we lose, we lose. Don't have any regrets.'

"Ever since then I kind of went out there, and I don't worry about anything but playing hard. I think everybody is doing that. Nobody cares about anything, just picking each other up and playing the game to win."

Early on, Cora will have to prove that his inexperience is not a stumbling block for a club in a win-now mindset. This season was Cora's only as a major-league coach. He's the first Sox manager to take the big job without prior major-league managing experience since Grady Little in 2002. 

Cora's ability to bond with players is his hallmark.

"Alex brings a lot to the table," Astros outfielder Carlos Beltran said. "He's a guy that always is looking for information that he could use against the opposite team. And he's also, he provides that information to the player, which is great. He has good communication with the guys, respects the guys. He's always in the clubhouse getting to know the players, getting to know which buttons he could push on each player to make them go out there and play the game hard, which is great.

"I think I always feel that sometimes managers, they draw a very defined line between players and manager. And sometimes they get caught up not going to the clubhouse because they don't want to feel like they're invading their space. But as a player, I love when managers come to the clubhouse, sit down, talk to us, get to know us, ask about our family, about everything. And that really, for me, means a lot. So Alex does that real well."

Cora's hiring comes five years and a day after the Red Sox hired John Farrell. The choice could have been announced prior to Sunday, but the Red Sox were being respectful of the Astros' playoff run. 

In a statement released by the Red Sox, Cora said: “I am extremely honored and humbled to be named manager of the Boston Red Sox and I want to thank Dave, John Henry, Tom Werner, and Sam Kennedy for giving me such a tremendous opportunity. Returning to the Red Sox and the city of Boston is a dream come true for me and my family and I look forward to working towards the ultimate goal of winning another championship for this city and its great fans. At the same time, I want to express my appreciation for Jim Crane, Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Hinch, and the entire Houston Astros organization for giving me the chance to start my coaching career. It has been a very special season and an incredible organization to be a part of and I am looking forward to the World Series and winning with this group.”

“We were very impressed when we interviewed Alex,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said in the statement. “He came to us as a highly-regarded candidate, and from speaking with him throughout this process, we found him to be very knowledgeable, driven, and deserving of this opportunity. He is a highly respected and hardworking individual who has experience playing in Boston. Alex also has a full appreciation for the use of analytical information in today's game and his ability to communicate and relate to both young players and veterans is a plus. Finally, the fact that he is bilingual is very significant for our club.”

“As someone who has played in Boston and knows what it takes to win here, Alex is uniquely positioned to instill a championship culture,” team chairman Werner added in the statement. “Baseball is in his blood and we could not be more pleased to have found someone so accomplished to lead our team. Welcome home, Alex.” 

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Astros beat Yankees, 4-0, in Game 7 to advance to World Series

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Astros beat Yankees, 4-0, in Game 7 to advance to World Series

HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve embraced Justin Verlander as confetti rained down. An improbable thought just a few years ago, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series.

Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. combined on a three-hitter, Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Astros reached the World Series for only the second time by blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Verlander, the ALCS MVP , and fellow Houston ace Dallas Keuchel will have plenty of rest before the World Series begins at sweltering Dodger Stadium.

"I love our personality," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have the right amount of fun, the right amount of seriousness, the right amount of perspective when we need it. This is a very, very unique group. To win 100 games and still be hungry is pretty remarkable."

The Astros will try for their first World Series title, thanks in large part to Altuve , the diminutive second baseman who swings a potent bat, and Verlander, who switched teams for the first time in his career to chase a ring.

Four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees on consecutive nights after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first crown, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

"This city, they deserve this," McCullers said.

Clutch defensive plays by third baseman Alex Bregman and center fielder George Springer helped Houston improve to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and become the fifth team in major league history to capture a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four. A noted curveballer, McCullers finished up with 24 straight breaking pitches to earn his first major league save.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron JudgeGary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

"I know people are going to talk about how we didn't win many games on the road. There were some other teams that haven't won many games on the road, either. We just happened to run into a very good team that just beat us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros also eliminated New York in the 2015 postseason, with Keuchel winning the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia entered 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double. He snapped an 0-for-20 skid with an RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night in a 7-1 win.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York went 1-6 on the road this postseason.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS exactly 13 years earlier.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh.

With McCullers in charge, the Astros soon closed it out.

"It's not easy to get here. And I don't take any of this for granted. And this is what we play for," Verlander said. "These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back, winning these games, just playing the World Series. Hopefully winning the World Series."

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