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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NLCS: Dodgers win first pennant since 1988 with 11-1 Game 5 rout of Cubs

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NLCS: Dodgers win first pennant since 1988 with 11-1 Game 5 rout of Cubs

CHICAGO -- Enrique Hernandez put a Hollywood ending on an LA story three decades in the making.

Fueled by a home run trilogy from their emotional utilityman, Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally going to the World Series.

Hernandez homered three times and drove in a record seven runs, Kershaw breezed through six crisp innings and Los Angeles ended the Chicago Cubs' title defense with an 11-1 rout in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday night.

"It feels good to hear World Series," Kershaw said. "It's been a long time coming for this team."

After years of playoff heartache, there was just no stopping these Dodgers after they led the majors with 104 wins during the regular season. With Kershaw firing away at the top of a deep pitching staff and co-NLCS MVPs Justin Turner and Chris Taylor leading a tough lineup, one of baseball's most storied franchises captured its first pennant since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Co. to Los Angeles' last championship in 1988.

"Every night it is a different guy," Turner said, "and this is one of the most unbelievable teams I've ever been a part of."

Kershaw will be on the mound again when the Dodgers host the New York Yankees or Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. The Yankees have a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 of the ALCS at Houston on Friday night, so one more New York win would set up another chapter in an old October rivalry between the Yankees and Dodgers.

Los Angeles made the playoffs eight times in the previous 13 seasons and came up short of its 22nd pennant each time, often with Kershaw shouldering much of the blame. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner took the loss when his team was eliminated by the Cubs in Game 6 of last year's NLCS at Wrigley Field.

The ace left-hander was just OK during his first two starts in this year's postseason, but Los Angeles' offense picked him up each time. Backed by Hernandez's powerful show in Chicago, Kershaw turned in an efficient three-hit performance with five strikeouts and improved to 6-7 in the playoffs - matching Burt Hooton's club record for postseason wins.

"To get to be on the mound tonight and get to be going to the World Series on the same night, it's a special thing," Kershaw said. "Who knows how many times I'm going to get to go to the World Series? I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. So, I'm definitely not taking this one for granted."

When Kenley Jansen retired Willson Contreras on a liner to shortstop for the final out, the party was on . The Dodgers poured out of the dugout and mobbed their dominant closer near the mound, and a small but vocal group of Los Angeles fans gathered behind the visitors' dugout and chanted "Let's go Dodgers! Let's go Dodgers!"

On the field, manager Dave Roberts hugged Lasorda and told the iconic skipper the win was for him.

"I bleed Dodger blue just like you," Roberts said. "Thank you, Tommy."

Hernandez connected on the first two pitches he saw, belting a solo drive in the second for his first career playoff homer and then a grand slam in the third against Hector Rondon. Hernandez added a two-run shot in the ninth against Mike Montgomery.

The 26-year-old Hernandez became the fourth player with a three-homer game in a league championship series, joining Bob Robertson (1971 NLCS), George Brett (1978 ALCS) and Adam Kennedy (2002 ALCS). Hernandez's seven RBIs tied a postseason record shared by four other players who all did it in a Division Series.

Troy O'Leary was the previous player to have seven RBIs in a playoff game, for Boston at Cleveland in the 1999 ALDS.

It was a stunning display for a player with 28 career homers who remains concerned about his native Puerto Rico, which is recovering from a devastating hurricane. He delivered a historic performance in front of his father, Enrique Hernandez Sr., who was diagnosed with a blood cancer related to leukemia in December 2015, but got word last November that he was in remission.

"For me to be able to come here and do something like this is pretty special," said Hernandez, who also goes by Kik�. "My body's here, but my mind's kind of back home. It's hard being away from home with what's going on.

"All I want to do right now is go to my dad and give him a big hug."

Kris Bryant homered for Chicago, but the NL Central champions finished with just four hits in another tough night at the plate. Each of their eight runs in the NLCS came via the long ball, and they batted just .156 for the series with 53 strikeouts.

Long playoff runs in each of the last two years and a grueling five-game Division Series against Washington seemed to sap Chicago of some energy, and its pitching faltered against sweet-swinging Los Angeles. Jose Quintana was pulled in the third inning of the final game, and the Cubs never recovered.

"They executed their plan," Bryant said. "They pitched great and the bullpen was lights out. That makes for a tough time scoring runs."

Turner and Taylor helped put it away for Los Angeles, contributing to a 16-hit outburst while closing out a pair of impressive performances.

Turner singled home Taylor in the Dodgers' five-run third, giving him seven RBIs in the series and 24 throughout his postseason career. Taylor finished with two hits and scored two runs as the Dodgers, who have won five straight NL West titles, improved to 7-1 in this postseason.

Taylor's versatility helped Los Angeles cover for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, who missed the series with a back injury, but is expected to return in the next round. Coming off a breakout season, the 27-year-old Taylor hit .316 with two homers and scored five times against the Cubs.

"I couldn't be happier to be a part of this and be with these guys," Taylor said. "It's been an unbelievable year, and I'm just super excited."

OUT WITH A BANG

Hernandez joined Kennedy (2002), Adrian Beltre (2011), Reggie Jackson (1977 vs. the Dodgers) and Babe Ruth (1928) as players to hit three home runs in a postseason series clincher.

LIGHTS OUT

Dodgers relievers have thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings, a postseason record.

Are Red Sox playing a waiting game before naming their new manager?

Are Red Sox playing a waiting game before naming their new manager?

BOSTON — As soon as the American League Championship Series ends, the Red Sox could make a move for their manager.

Industry sources continue to expect Astros bench coach Alex Cora will be the Sox’ pick. No offer had been officially made as of midday Wednesday, one source close to the situation said. But the belief is such an offer waits out of respect to the Astros-Yankees ALCS that can end no later than Saturday if the series goes a full seven games. 

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“Not a doubt it is him,” the source said.

Sunday and Monday would both be off days ahead of the Tuesday night start of the World Series. That leads to the potential for at least a Red Sox announcement of Cora, if not a press conference, before the Fall Classic begins. (If the Astros advance to the World Series, it may be harder to have Cora in Boston for any length of time.)

All those who know Cora praise his ability to connect with players. The former Red Sox infielder is good friends with Dustin Pedroia. Cora’s previous knowledge of the Boston market works in his favor, as well, as does his mettle handling the media. Some question his readiness as a first-time manager, considering he would be taking over a team with great win-now expectations and complicated clubhouse dynamics.

Nothing takes the place of experience and there is such a thing as being too close to players. Ultimately, if the Sox do land Cora, 41, they would be adding the hottest up-and-coming managerial prospect who’s available on the market. The everybody-wants-him reputation could give Cora added cachet with players and certainly becomes a public-relations win for those fans following the search.

The Sox interviewed Ron Gardenhire on Wednesday. Gardenhire was the third candidate the Sox talked to and could well be the last. Cora met with the Sox on Sunday, followed by Brad Ausmus on Monday.