Red Sox

Sabathia calls Red Sox 'weak' for bunting on him; Yanks win, 6-2

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Sabathia calls Red Sox 'weak' for bunting on him; Yanks win, 6-2

NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia has dominated the Red Sox all season. Now, he's calling them "weak" for bunting against him.

Sabathia shut down Boston for the fourth time this year and the New York Yankees got homers from Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird on the way to a 6-2 victory Thursday night in the opener of a pivotal four-game series.

In the first inning, speedy Eduardo Nunez tried to bunt for a hit. He reached safely on a throwing error by Sabathia, who has been pitching with a balky knee the past few years.

"Just kind of weak to me. It is what it is. It shows what they got over there," Sabathia said. "It just gets you fired up. It makes you want to beat them. Obviously, I want to win every time I go out there, but even more so after that."

Sabathia walked his next two batters. After getting consecutive strikeouts to escape a bases-loaded jam , he shouted in the direction of Boston's dugout.

He said the Red Sox show him "too much respect."

"Swing the bat," the veteran pitcher said.

Nunez said he apologized to Sabathia during the game -- but made no apologies afterward for bunting.

"It's my game. I cannot change my game," Nunez said. "We know he has a bad knee. That's not my problem.

"If I have to bunt four times in a row, I'll do it. I don't care if he's mad or not," he added. "Play in, or field the bunt. I don't care."

Bird drove in three runs and Sanchez had two RBI as the second-place Yankees shaved Boston's lead in the AL East to 4 1/2 games. This weekend set in the Bronx marks the final meeting of the season between the longtime rivals -- and perhaps New York's last chance to make a serious run at its first division title in five years.

New York maintained a tenuous hold on the league's top wild card.

Sabathia (11-5) has won all four outings against the Red Sox this season while compiling a 1.04 ERA in 26 innings. The 37-year-old lefty, making his 250th start for the Yankees, permitted one run and four hits in six innings despite walking five Boston batters for the second time this year - equaling a season high.

Using a sharp slider, Sabathia struck out six. With timely help from his defense , he improved to 8-0 in 10 starts this year following a Yankees loss.

"I don't think it's a coincidence. I think it's who he is. It's what's made him so great for so long," New York manager Joe Girardi said.

David Robertson worked two hitless innings and Dellin Betances walked home a run in the ninth before retiring Mookie Betts and pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland with the bases loaded to end a game that lasted 3 hours, 44 minutes.

Sabathia has won five straight starts against Boston dating to last September.

"Guys that have notoriously been good against left-hand pitching have been in a dry run," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Whether it's CC or other left-handers, we're still searching."

At the plate, the Yankees finally solved lefty Eduardo Rodriguez (4-5). They tied it 1-all on Sanchez's 28th homer in the third and went ahead when Nunez, the second baseman, misplayed Sanchez's popup into an RBI single in the fifth.

"Just happens sometimes," Nunez said. "I should have caught the ball."

Chase Headley doubled to start the sixth and Bird hit his second homer in two days . Didi Gregorius added an RBI single, and Bird had a run-scoring single in the seventh.

Rodriguez was charged with five runs and 10 hits in five-plus innings.

RIGHT AT HOME

United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, born in the Bronx, was among the crowd of 43,309. Of course, she sat in The Judge's Chambers , the rooting section out in right field for slumping Yankees rookie Aaron Judge, dropped to sixth in the lineup. Justice Sotomayor high-fived fans on both sides of her when Sanchez homered.

LOW-COST INSURANCE

With suspensions looming for Sanchez and fellow catcher Austin Romine, the Yankees acquired minor league backstop Erik Kratz from the Cleveland Indians for $1. The 37-year-old Kratz is a .200 career hitter with 24 homers in 225 major league games over seven seasons with five teams. Sanchez was suspended four games and Romine two for their actions in a fight-filled game Aug. 24 at Detroit. Both appealed, keeping them eligible to play until the process is completed. ... New York recalled RHP Giovanny Gallegos from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: 2B Dustin Pedroia (left knee inflammation) is expected to come off the disabled list when rosters expand Friday. He will be monitored as he progresses to playing nine innings on consecutive days, Farrell said. ... RHP Matt Barnes (lower back strain) also is on target to be reinstated from the DL on Friday. ... CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (sprained left thumb) is likely to return from the DL when eligible on Saturday, Farrell said. ... LHP David Price (left elbow inflammation) felt good following a 20-pitch bullpen session Wednesday and threw again from a shorter distance. He is scheduled to get back on the mound Friday, increase his number of pitches and hopefully mix in some changeups. "An encouraging day today," Farrell said. ... Brock Holt was getting X-rays on his left foot after he was hit by a pitch in the ninth. ... LHP Robbie Ross Jr. had back surgery Wednesday and is expected to be ready for next season.

Yankees: DH Matt Holliday (back) could come off the DL this weekend. ... OF Clint Frazier (strained left oblique) is "definitely getting closer" to a return from the disabled list, Girardi said. New York anticipates him trying to begin a minor league rehab assignment next week.

UP NEXT

Boston RHP Doug Fister (3-7, 4.53 ERA) starts Friday night against RHP Sonny Gray (8-8, 3.26), who has permitted two earned runs or fewer in 11 straight starts - the longest such streak in the majors.

Dana LeVangie's Red Sox pitchers dominating with individualized approach

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AP Photo

Dana LeVangie's Red Sox pitchers dominating with individualized approach

As Red Sox hitters swing earlier in counts, there doesn’t appear to be a comparable, broad change in philosophy on the pitching side. Their arms are doing just fine with personalized alterations (which, to be fair, have always been in place for hitters too). 

In his first year as pitching coach, Dana LeVangie presides over a staff that carried the third-best ERA in the majors entering Tuesday, 2.75.

DRELLICH: Still a lot we don't know about Cora

Rick Porcello’s throwing his changeup from a lowered arm slot while commanding both his sinker and his four-seam fastball better than last year, to great effect. 

Heath Hembree is throwing his slider lower than he has before, per BrooksBaseball.net's figures, and he’s getting more whiffs per swing on it than he has before, 43.75 percent. LeVangie noted that sliders with depth may be more effective than those with stronger lateral movement. 

Eduardo Rodriguez is healthy and he gained a much better feel for his changeup ahead of his most recent start. The list goes on.

“We just hammer in on guys attacking to their strengths and dominating to their strengths and dominating each pitch they throw,” said LeVangie, who was born in Brockton and has spent all 28 years of his pro baseball career with the Red Sox. “Everyone’s going to have failure at times, and we’re not going to panic because a guy doesn’t have success one day. We feel like every guy out in that bullpen has the ability to get outs, even later in the game. We trust. We trust guys. And that’s what it’s all about.”

Some Sox velocities have been down to begin the year, but LeVangie indicated no alarm. Chris Sale is sitting at 93 mph this season, although that includes one start in weather Sale said was the worst he had pitched in. He averaged 95 mph in April 2017, and he sat at 95 in his most recent start.

“I think he sees the big picture,” LeVangie said of Sale. “That he can still compete in April, not showing 97 consistently, and maybe that lasts to the end of the season.

“He controls his throwing program really well. He’s not a big thrower in bullpens. … Doesn’t overthrow. Takes days off, days after he pitches. Goes about it the right way.”

Craig Kimbrel, who missed most of spring training, never had a month averaging below 98 mph in 2017 and sits at 96 mph now. Not that it’s hurt his effectiveness: he hasn’t allowed an earned run and has 10 strikeouts in eight innings.

"Yeah I mean, I think you can look at a lot of our guys, you know velocities might be down a little bit,” LeVangie said when asked about David Price, who’s sitting at 93 mph, down a full tick. “But you know, maybe a month or two from now, when they start getting into [summer], things will increase. Craig’s velocity is down. I mean, in a matter of month or so it’s going to be back where it needs to be. David’s just in a really good spot right now.”

Elevated from bullpen coach to pitching coach as the Sox transitioned from John Farrell to Alex Cora, LeVangie said he does all the same things that he used to. The 48-year-old’s placement during the game is naturally different, and he’s generally communicating a little more with the starters than he had before — more often in group settings rather than one on one.

Both he and Cora are filling their respective roles for the first time in the majors. Their frequency of communication in-game, a matter of preference where there’s no right or wrong choice, is better described as intermittent than nonstop.

“It’s leading up to a guy’s pitch count,” LeVangie said, “the match-ups that we feel are best. And we sort of go over it beforehand so we’re not caught off guard heading into it.”

As a staff holdover, LeVangie is better positioned than most to explain the difference for the 17-4 Sox compared to a year ago. As a group, the 2018 Sox have at times looked unstoppable. A focus on the players not as a unit, but as individuals — from everything from mechanics to long-term goals — seems a driving force behind what amounts to a group effort.

“Most everyone pulling in the same direction. Most everybody’s rooting for one another to have success,” LeVangie said. “There’s a lot of talk in the dugout during the game. There’s a lot of communication during, before, about individuals, and not just team. And there’s just a lot of guys buying in and we got a really good team.”

It’s unrealistic for everything to always be about the team and not the individual. Take Drew Pomeranz, for example. Cora and LeVangie both noted the importance of Pomeranz being extra careful returning from injury as an impending free agent. As important as Pomeranz is to the 2018 Sox, this season will have a ripple effect on the rest of his career earnings.

“It comes with patience,” LeVangie said of Pomeranz’s continued ability to return from forearm injuries. “Because Drew likes to compete and it was really important that, as a group, we talked about the patience that he needs to make sure that he’s going about this the right way. I mean, it’s his career. 

“Yeah, his success for us is really important. But also going into free agency, he’s got to go about this the right way. Him going about having patience and making sure he goes through the whole process was the right approach.”

It was the staff’s choice to be cautious and pull another lefty, Price, who had a circulation issue on a cold night against the Yankees. He couldn’t grip the ball. Theoretically, they could have forced Price to stay out there and eat innings, but that wouldn’t have been smart for anyone. 

The numbness Price felt is not something the Sox can definitively prevent in the future.

“That’s a hit or miss, because it doesn’t happen all the time. And it’s happened only twice,” LeVangie said. “Once in Detroit, once here. So it’s something that doesn’t come all the time, but you just never know. Our training staff does a tremendous job with every one of those guys. But they’re constantly communicating with those guys during the game, keeping ‘em hot, as hot as possible. Heat packs, rub downs during the game. Constant.”

One other example of the individual’s needs showing up? Kimbrel’s usage. Not using him in the eighth inning (and just the eighth inning) is in part an appeal to the importance of other relievers.

“Me personally, getting four outs, yeah,” LeVangie said when asked if Kimbrel could come in for the eighth. “To lead off the eighth? I want to believe and trust that our eighth-inning guys, our seventh-inning guys, can get those guys out. Because the longer we can trust those guys, it pays off big time down the stretch. Because we can’t win this thing by one guy. And I’m not sure how many relievers pitched in the eighth inning last year with Craig’s [stuff], who he is. Not too many. And it usually only happens maybe September or October when it does happen."

The eighth inning does present a different challenge than the ninth, LeVangie said.

“What’s the panic of the hitter in the eighth inning to the ninth inning? The eighth inning could be tougher," LeVangie said. "Those last three outs, guys have the willingness to expand the strike zone a little bit more because it’s on the line. The game’s not on the line at times in the eighth inning. The zone’s become a little bit more [tight] because they know they have a chance in the ninth. Koji [Uehara outside the ninth] had a tough time. Guys who live outside the strike zone, it’s a little bit tougher because they have three more outs to get.”

Kimbrel is so dominant, though, it’s hard to imagine him struggling because of an inning. Consider one other point, though: he’s on track to be one of the greatest of all-time. 

The righty is four saves shy of 300 for his career, with a 91.1 percent success rate (296 of 325 opportunities). Amongst pitchers with at least 300-plus saves, that mark would be tops. Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan own the highest save percentage at the moment, at 89.1.

BASEBALL SHOW PODCAST: How should Red Sox be using Craig Kimbrel?

The Red Sox are paying attention to what matters to the individual. Like Pomeranz, Kimbrel is a free agent after the season. And saves matter to him.

"Oh yeah, no question, no question,” LeVangie said. “Craig wants to win a World Series, but he also wants to get in the Hall of Fame. And he’s going to get in the Hall of Fame. We just need to win a World Series for him."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Red Sox watch Bruins battle Leafs in Game Six

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Red Sox watch Bruins battle Leafs in Game Six

The Red Sox had a rare day off after a long road trip.

They decided to support the Bruins during their huge matchup with the Maple Leafs.

The next Sox game is tomorrow at 7 p,m. in Toronto against the Blue Jays.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE