Red Sox

Gonzalez impresses in Red Sox debut

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Gonzalez impresses in Red Sox debut

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

FT MYERS, FL It wasnt very hard to envision after the first couple of innings.

The beautiful dream of Red Sox fans and the nightmare of AL East competitors: Adrian Gonzalez stepping up to the plate in the middle of crucial rallies with Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia wreaking havoc out of the first couple of spots in Bostons battling order.

Were deep, said John Lackey of watching the powerful lineup on paper jump onto the field at City of Palms. Its going to be a fun place to be this year. As starting pitchers weve been talking about outlasting the other guy and were going to run into several wins.

Thats exactly what happened for Gonzalez and the Sox right out of the bat on Saturday at City of Palms Park in Gonzalezs debut in a Red Sox uniform.

The Sox took down the Florida Marlins by a 9-2 score that nobody will remember even two weeks from now.

But all will recall those first beautiful strokes from the newest first base slugger in a few brief spring moments that portend quite a bit to come. Gonzalez finished 1-for-1 with an RBI in two innings of work while making a pair of putouts at first base, and said his first game action was another indicator his goal of starting on Opening Day was well within his considerable grasp.

It felt great, said Gonzalez. It was really good to be out there. I was gearing up for fastballs. Im on schedule. We never set a schedule to be ahead or behind. When youre ready then youre ready, and Ive said that all the time.

I dont like to get ahead of myself. One thing that Ive said all along is that Ill be ready on Opening Day. Its gone well. The shoulder is responding well. Everything is coming along. There are nicks and knacks like anything else which I would have had even if I was 100 percent.

With Pedroia on first and Ellsbury already across the plate in the first inning, Gonzalez ripped the first fastball Marlins ace Josh Johnson threw at him and spanked the ball out to left field for a crisp, clean single.

The hit gave opening evidence that the offseason shoulder surgery for a torn labrum wasnt about to slow Gonzalez down in his first tour with Boston, and it also demonstrated just how tough an out Bostons newest bopper is going to be when hes at his full power.

You would think coming off after that long wait of an injury that youd be a little jumpy, but he was anything but that, said Terry Francona. He had a nice liner to left and a good at bat with the sacrifice fly. So its a good start.

He wanted to stay in and thats also good. But we have some time to not rush things.

When Gonzalez strode to the plate again in the second inning with Ellsbury on third and Pedroia on first, he lifted a sacrifice fly to center in a clear attempt to get the run home in a meaningless spring training game. It wasnt all about yanking the ball down the right field line for a three-run homer in his first game in front of new fans, coaches and teammates -- and all of the glory that kind of auspicious start would entail.

Youre trying to hit a line drive right up the middle, said Gonzalez matter-of-factly.

It was instead about a player swinging the bat in a game for the first time last October, and putting a professional swing on in an RBI situation to get the run home.
The off-field approach and willingness to dip into situational hitting for runs are two things that virtually guarantee Gonzalez is going to be an offensive monster in the middle of Bostons lineup.

Hitting is contagious, said Gonzalez. Thats how its going to help. Scoring more runs is just going to help. Whether its me hitting or somebody else driving them in, you see guys getting hits and you want to go do it yourself.

Ellsbury and Pedroia set the tone. It was great. From an offensive point of view if youre getting hits then the pitcher is thinking about that. Then youre getting the mental advantage at that point.

There are still hurdles to be hopped, of course. Gonzalez will sit out on Sunday before playing against the Yankees Monday night at City of Palms Park, and hes ruled out diving for any balls in spring training to protect his healing shoulder.

The first baseman is still using a lighter brand of bat that he incorporated last season when he felt he couldnt keep up his bat speed with the bad wing, but he hopes to revert back to his heavier model this season.

Theres always the chance there could be setbacks or strength issues in the early going as he returns from major shoulder surgery with the expectations hell be a 40 home run guy for the Sox and their first real big bopper at first base since Mo Vaughn left town 10 years ago.

Averaging upwards of 34 home runs a year as the only dangerous bat in the pitchers haven known as Petco Park has everything thinking big when it comes to Gonzalez.
Saturday afternoon was the tantalizing first step.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

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.

MORE RED SOX:

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