Red Sox

McAdam: Ortiz blasting his way into Sox' future

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McAdam: Ortiz blasting his way into Sox' future

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

NEW YORK -- David Ortiz couldn't help but admire his handiwork in the fifth inning Tuesday night.

As soon as he connected for a majestic two-run homer, which landed in the right-field seats, Ortiz performed a little pirouette, then flipped his bat aside in celebration.

The homer gave the Red Sox a five-run lead over the New York Yankees, en route to their 6-4 victory. But Ortiz could have just as easily have been toasting his own return to form and what that means going forward.

Last fall, with more than a little trepidation, the Red Sox picked up Ortiz's one-year, 12.5 million option for this season.

At the time, they wondered whether Ortiz could match the sort of production he provided a year ago, when he hit 32 homers and knocked in 102 runs.

Their fears, it seems clear, were unfounded. Ortiz is not only performing better than he was last year, he's currently mashing the ball with the kind of power and consistency that he showed from 2004-06, when, with Manny Ramirez, he formed arguably the best middle-of-the-order combination in the game.

His .602 slugging percentage would be his highest since he slugged .621 in 2007.

His .324 batting average is his best since he batted .332, also in 2007.

His OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) of .992 is his best in the last three seasons and higher than his career OPS of .922.

In short, at the ripe old age of 35, Ortiz has managed to turn back the clock. Improbably, he's feasting on left-handed hitting a stunning .355, a remarkable improvement over the .220 he hit against lefties last year.

Suddenly, the notion that the Sox would have to find someone to platoon with Ortiz in the DH spot seems laughable.

Both hitting coach Dave Magadan and manager Terry Francona agree there are two reasons for Ortiz's late-in-career renaissance: the ability to, again, take the ball the other way to left; and his newfound plate discipline which has seen him refuse to offer at pitches out of the strike zone.

Ortiz is swinging solely at strikes these days. After fanning a career-worst 145 times last season, Ortiz is on pace to cut his strikeouts in half, an incredible feat for anyone -- never mind a slugger supposedly in his waning years.

Though he and new teammate Adrian Gonzalez don't hit back-to-back in the Boston batting order -- they're separated by Kevin Youkilis for the sake of left-right balance -- Ortiz has certainly benefited by Gonzalez's arrival. The two began talking hitting in spring training and Ortiz credits his new teammate with helping him in his approach to lefties.

For the moment, Ortiz's superb first 10 weeks has solidified the Red Sox' lineup and made their offense one of the most feared in the league.

For the long-term, however, Ortiz's season poses a number of issues for the team.

It's likely that when the season began, Red Sox management envisioned this as Ortiz's last in Boston. Throughout the American League, the trend has been to move away from high-priced, veteran sluggers as full-time designated hitters and toward a rotation in which position players are kept fresh by serving as the DH once or twice per week.

But as long as Ortiz continues to produce at his current clip, can the Red Sox afford to let him go when his deal expires?

Hardly.

For Ortiz is not some bit player in the lineup, protected and enhanced by the presence of Gonzalez, Youkilis and others. Instead, he's a mainstay, without whom the Sox wouldn't be nearly as fearsome.

And at a time when offensive numbers are down across the board, and pitchers are again dominating, can the Red Sox really afford to lose a hitter who's on pace to deliver 39 homers?

Had Ortiz merely matched what he did a year ago, the Red Sox might have offered him a one-year deal -- at a reduced price, that is. Ortiz's countryman, Vladimir Guerrero, found out the hard way last winter the going rate for a successful but aging DH: he took 8.5 million on a one-year deal from the Baltimore Orioles.

Now, such a proposal to Ortiz would be laughable. Power is in too short supply to risk pushing Ortiz out the door and it's likely that, at the very least, the Red Sox will have to A) come close to matching Ortiz's current salary and B) offer some sort of vesting option, if not a guaranteed two-year deal.

Ortiz had made no secret of his desire to finish his career in a Red Sox uniform. It's likely he'll get his wish now, but that finish may come later than most expected, and, at a higher cost.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Tyler Thornburg wants a normal spring, but don't be surprised if it's bumpy

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Tyler Thornburg wants a normal spring, but don't be surprised if it's bumpy

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Don’t confuse the goal of a normal spring training with the likelihood one will follow.

Tyler Thornburg’s time with the Red Sox has been an ordeal. He’s optimistic he can have a regular spring training after undergoing surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome in June, a surgery that included the removal of a rib which is now on display at his parents’ house. 

He said Saturday, in fact, there’s a “very good chance” of a normal spring. But there’s also a chance his build up to regular-season form runs unevenly. And that would be OK.

“I started throwing Oct. 2, that’s when they kind of gave me the go-ahead to go tossing,” Thornburg said Saturday at Winter Weekend. “So I’ve been building up slowly since then, just trying to make sure we don’t have any setbacks or things like that, and ramp it up at a good pace. I’m throwing at 120-140 feet, so it’s about the pace I’d normally be on, granted I’d know 100 percent before where I was [under normal circumstances]. So things could be a little different."

Consider a few other things Thornburg said Saturday at Foxwoods.

“I don’t really think any of us really know how quick I’m going to bounce back necessarily as far as how quickly the recovery’s going to go in spring training after an outing,” Thornburg said. “But hopefully I mean it’s fantastic, and we can kind of just keep going.”

A bit of natural uncertainty. He missed an entire season, and the reason he missed an entire season is had a lot going on medically. 

What appeared to be a shoulder injury was far from your usual, say, rotator cuff matter. His was a nerve issue.

“Two of the neck muscles were incredibly hypertrophied, like overgrown, and they just started squeezing on the brachial plexus, where all the nerves run down,” Thornburg said. “I’d be sitting there watching a game and just a nerve thing would hit me and I’d almost get knocked over by it. As well as the first rib was getting pulled up and my hand would just turn red some days if I was just standing there, cutting off the blood circulation. Then all the scar tissue and buildup along the nerves they had to go and dissect all that off there.”

So the injury wasn’t simple, and now, the recovery process is really a whole body matter. 

"There’s a lot off things your arm has to get used to between using different muscles, as well as my arm was kind of working through a scenario where it was trying to overcompensate for this and [trying] to relieve that,” Thornburg said. “So just worked a different way. Now your body has to remember how to actually properly work again. It’s a lot of neuromuscular stuff.”

Thornburg noted the possibility too he could be ready to go to start the season but not really ready to go back to back yet. Would the Sox then carry him on the big league roster, or continue to build him up elsewhere? 

Velocity won’t be there right away for Thornburg, he said: “But I mean that’s what spring training is for for most guys anyway.”

There’s a lot of optimism, but naturally, there’s a lot to be seen. 

“The rehab process, it's been a massive rollercoaster,” Thornburg said. “It really has. But I mean, I've been trying to take it week to week which has been a lot easier. There's the good days and bad days, just different kinds.”

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Kimbrel's newborn daughter treated in Boston for heart condition

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Kimbrel's newborn daughter treated in Boston for heart condition

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Coming off a phenomenal season, Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel spent the offseason in Boston. Not to be closer to Fenway Park, but for proximity to something far more important: the city’s first-rate medical community.

Kimbrel’s daughter, Lydia Joy, was born in November with a heart issue.

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“It’s been a lot,” Kimbrel said Saturday at Red Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods. “My wife and I, we’ve kept it kind of private. But when she was born, she had some heart defects so we decided to stay in Boston and work with Children’s Hospital and just been going through that ordeal and it’s had its ups and downs but she’s doing great right now."

Focusing wasn't always easy in season, but Kimbrel said his daughter's condition has motivated him even more.

“They always say when you have a child, things change and they have," he said. "I’m definitely more focused towards her and her needs and our family needs. It’s just one day at a time and give everything I got. It’s real easy to look at her and understand everything I’m doing is for her and it makes it a lot easier.”

Kimbrel and his wife, Ashley, found out early in the 2017 season that they would be staying in Boston for the winter and were preparing.

“Everything has kind of gone as planned so far,” Kimbrel said. “She’ll have another surgery during spring training, so I’ll come back to Boston for a week and do that, but it’s been good. It’s definitely been tough, but one of the happiest, joyful times of our life.”

"Being in Boston, we feel blessed, because the doctors are the best in the world. Being able to work with them has been great.”

Kimbrel said his wife has stayed in touch with Travis Shaw’s wife. The Shaw family has had a similar experience, Kimbrel said.

“It seems like they’re doing pretty good,” Kimbrel said. “It’s been very encouraging to see.”

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