Red Sox

First pitch: Red Sox bullpen overhauled ... again

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First pitch: Red Sox bullpen overhauled ... again

Overhauling bullpens from one season to the next is commonplace in baseball. By definition, relievers are effective one year and not so the next, creating an annual state of flux. The overachieving middle man one year turns back into a under-performing journeyman the following season.

But this year, the Red Sox are making their adjustments in-season, time and time again, and by the looks of things, are about to begin their third iteration of relievers.

It began in the final week of spring training when the team lost closer Andrew Bailey to a thumb injury, forcing a shuffle that saw Alfredo Aceves made into the team's ad-hoc closer.

And now, two-thirds of the way into the schedule, just as the playoff race is taking shape, the Sox are being forced into doing it again.

In the last few weeks alone, two relief mainstays have been taken out of the equation: Scott Atchison, sidelined last month with forearm soreness, now likely needs season-ending Tommy John surgery; and Matt Albers was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks Tuesday in
exchange for Craig Breslow.

That shuffle has the Red Sox adjusting a critical part of their team with slightly more than one third of the schedule remaining. But the team has options with which to make its adjustments.

Breslow gives the Sox, for the time being at least, a third lefty in the bullpen, joining Andrew Miller and Franklin Morales. As general manager Ben Chernigton noted Tuesday: "We felt like,
earlier in the year when we had three lefties (Morales, Miller and Rich Hill) was when our pen was really rolling the best and it will give Bobby a chance to match-up and use all three guys.
It certainly gives Bobby some flexibility for the rest of the year if he needs to use Morales as a starter. So hopefully, there are a couple of benefits.''

The Sox have three series and nine games remaining with the lefty-leaning New York Yankees and having Breslow to come into the game in the seventh or eighth inning to face Robinson Cano or Raul Ibanez, or to turn switch-hitters Mark Teixeira or Nick Swisher around to the
right side could prove valuable.

And with Breslow and Miller already in the pen, the Sox could spring Franklin Morales into a spot starter's role, giving them the potential to throw a lefty in all three games, joining Jon Lester and Felix Doubront, each of whom beat the Yankees last weekend.

The loss of Albers and Atchison can be covered soon enough. Bailey is another half-dozen rehab appearances from returning to the major league roster.

Assuming the Sox eventually have Bailey reclaim the closer's role, that frees Aceves to shift into the set-up spot, more than making up for the innings that will be lost because of the trade of Albers and the injury to Atchison.

Aceves, remember, thrived in such a role last season and his durability makes him an invaluable weapon. Because Aceves prefers as much work as possible -- Valentine has already used him to finish 19 non-save situations -- he can contribute multiple-inning stints.

Aceves can team with Vicente Padilla to form a formidable righthanded-duo for the seventh and eighth innings, while the three lefties -- a fourth could be on the way as Rich Hill rebounds from his own forearm issues -- give Valentine plenty of late-inning matchup possibilities.

Junichi Tazawa has emerged, too, as an effective middle weapon. Since rejoining the team July 15, Tazawa has allowed just two runs over his last nine innings of work, while averaging a strikeout per inning.

Finally, waiting in the wings is Daniel Bard, who could yet have an impact on the final two months if he can continue to harness his control. In Bard's last five outings, covering five innings, he's walked just two.

Following a rocky first three weeks of the season, the Red Sox bullpen has sported a 2.32 ERA, best in the major leagues.

This time around, Valentine won't have a three-week grace period as he evaluates and assigns roles. But he's much more familiar with his personnel by now, which should speed up the process.

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

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MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

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Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles - and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Kluber's win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled "yes!" when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding - also with expletives - that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call "Klubot." Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn't react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn't thrilled.

"Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one," Kluber said.

Scherzer's win moves him into rare company. He's the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren't in the Hall of Fame.

"That's why I'm drinking a lot of champagne tonight," Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

"This one is special," he said. "When you start talking about winning three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point."

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington's training staff was high on his thank-you list.

"Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field," he said. "I'm very thankful for all their hard work."

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota's Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games - nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn't even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

"That will eat at me this whole offseason," he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

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