Red Sox

For Red Sox playoff rotation, who'll be the odd man out?

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For Red Sox playoff rotation, who'll be the odd man out?

BOSTON -- Drew Pomeranz is the Red Sox Game 2 starter in the American League Division Series, as expected, opposite the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel. Beyond that, there’s a bit of mystery.

A lot seems to hinge on a question of whether or not to start Doug Fister, who doesn’t appear to be a candidate to be on the roster as a reliever, while Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello are.

Starts in Games 3 and 4 are expected to be made by at least one, and maybe two, of those three.

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“Fister would probably be the one that would not be [considered for both the ‘pen and rotation],” manager John Farrell said Tuesday. “The other two, potentially.”

Considering stature alone, it’d be hard to imagine Porcello moving to the bullpen, leaving Rodriguez as perhaps the best candidate for a relief job in the Sox’ eyes.

"You do like the fact of a veteran presence," Farrell said. "Guys that have been in a postseason, guys who seemingly will pitch with more emotional control, or control the running game, or executing a pitch in a key moment, that has maybe a tendency to shine through a little more.”

But maybe the Sox will ignore stature entirely with Porcello because of his propensity for home runs.

Farrell’s dropping hints that Fister will wind up with a start. Using Rodriguez in Game 3 would mean left-handers in three consecutive games. Would that be an issue?

“No, it wouldn't give pause, it wouldn't prevent us from doing anything,” Farrell said. “But again, I think what I tried to explain earlier is [it’s a matter of], what is the best combination of our pitching staff? And how does that play out, and putting certain guys in certain roles? It wouldn't be a shock to see a guy that's been in our rotation finding his way into our bullpen.”

Well, if a starter’s in the bullpen, that would seem to guarantee Fister is in the rotation, based on what Farrell explained Tuesday.

The hesitation to use Fister in relief is understandable. Fister’s a ground-ball pitcher who has had trouble in his first innings of work in his time with the Sox. The first batter he faces carrying a .500 on-base percentage against him this year. In his first inning of work overall, it’s .375.

But the Sox definitely want length in the bullpen, and Fister has relief experience not only this year, but in the past. Fister’s 33 innings in the ‘pen between the postseason and regular season outdo Rick Porcello’s 10 and Eduardo Rodriguez’s one. The matter of adjustment shouldn’t be overlooked.

Rodriguez has high upside with strikeouts. But he also has reverse splits, doing worse against lefties (.808 OPS) than righties (.718 OPS). The Astros are a righty heavy lineup. But, Rodriguez shouldn’t be looked at as a force to dominate lefties.

Rodriguez is also relatively inexperienced, and has been through a lot with his knees, affecting both his mechanics and his confidence in the past. How well would he handle a change?

The Astros are particularly familiar with Fister because he threw 180 1/3 innings for them last year. Granted, he’s changed significantly since then -- but the Astros have access to plenty of video, and also faced him Friday at Fenway Park in a 3-2 Sox loss.

“I think it’s definitely a difference,” Fister said Tuesday of his pitching now vs. 2016. “Whether it’s the movement on the ball, the deception getting back across the body, throwing it from the first-base side of the rubber. There’s a lot of different things. They just saw us last week, they saw me last week, so they have seen me.

“Now it just comes down to execution. I know what they do, I know what they do. It’s like facing [Alex] Bregman. I know he hits the ball inside, and that’s what I gave him for a home run [Friday]. But if I execute my pitch [further inside], I got better luck there.”

Fister said he's fine in whatever role he's asked to do.

With Porcello, the biggest scare is the home run. His rate of 1.68 long balls allowed per nine innings was the fifth-highest in the major. The Astros mash. That would be the greatest reason to get Porcello out of the rotation.

Fister and Porcello both struck out about eight batters per nine this season. Fister walked more (3.79 per nine vs. 2.12) and allowed considerably fewer homers, .90 per nine.

Farrell’s trying to take a holistic approach to his pitching staff. The Sox met Tuesday morning to work through more of the roster, and they need to also deliver the news to individual players.

“The way guys have pitched recently,” the manager said. “The composition of our bullpen, how it supports the entire pitching staff, not just looking at it in two separate segments: rotation and bullpen. I think there’s got to be some complement there. The four games that we talked about during the series [to end the regular season], that gives a little bit of first-hand knowledge and recent knowledge and how we might use guys to the best of our abilities or their abilities to take advantage of that.”

What about ordering, or bringing back Chris Sale on short rest?

Sale could go on three days rest if needed in Game 4 at Fenway Park, but that choice would be “solely dependent” on what happens in Game 1, Farrell said.

As for Game 3?

“There are two scenarios in place that will be revealed at the appropriate time and that means probably more internal discussion is needed here,” Farrell said. “I don't think Game 3 starter is going to hinge upon winning or losing Games 1 or 2.”

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Pedroia, healing well, says he could have handled 2017 differently

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Pedroia, healing well, says he could have handled 2017 differently

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Often, Dustin Pedroia is not one to expound on his feelings publicly. His interviews with media can be amusing and witty, but they also can be terse. In 2017, they tended toward the latter. 

A welcome-to-spring session with reporters on Saturday brought out 20 minutes of another side of Pedroia, one that seemed almost eager to expound. He was cast in a poor light last season, the year's troubles started to compound early.

Pedroia said Saturday the knee he had repaired in the offseason had been bothering him since April. He called the surgery “the best decision I could have made.” 

“My knee doesn’t hurt,” Pedroia said. “Last year, waking up and walking around was painful. It’s not fun to live your life like that. Having the surgery, I could tell immediately that I was feeling better. Not one time did I have any pain in the entire process. Now, it’s just building strength and getting back to being athletic and things like that and your body picks that up quick.”

Pedroia, 34, didn’t share a timetable. The initial expectation, at the point Pedroia went for the surgery, was that he would be out until at least May.

He shared how he thinks the Red Sox need greater leadership as a group, not just from one individual.

"I’ve thought a lot about this, you know and I’m thinking, man, you know, you guys write all these stories about how we don’t have enough leadership and all this stuff,” Pedroia said. “I’m like, thinking about it, I’m like, when did the Red Sox start getting successful? From 2002 or whatever on. You know, they had Tek [Jason Varitek]. But not only did they have Tek, but they had David [Ortiz], they had Trot Nixon, they had Johnny Damon. There was a ton of core players that were leaders. 

“And then you look at the next championship they won, they had David, Tek, Mike Lowell, Alex [Cora]. There’s multiple leaders. And then ’13, there’s multiple leaders. So I think our core group, our guys that [are young], it’s my responsibility, I need them and they need me and we all have to work together. Because it’s not one leader. And everybody always says that, it’s not one guy in baseball. 

“We have to go be together and know that. I know David’s gone, but you know when Tek was done, we were okay. Because he built that into David, and David’s built that into me to where I got to do a better job of finding a way to get everybody to realize that it’s not one guy, it’s everybody. And that’s — after thinking about it — that’s what it is."

There was more. A lot more. The team, Pedroia said, became too results-oriented in the short term last year.

“It was more ‘Hey, what are our results today? We’ve got to do good today,’” Pedroia said. “‘Bogey’s got to get four hits today. Mookie’s got to live up to huge expectations,’ instead of being who you are, and that’s especially in this environment that’s how you have to be. You have to understand you’re going to be bad and you’re going to be great.”

Twenty minutes in, the second-to-last question was a brief return to last year’s form. Terse.

Pedroia was asked whether there was a team discussion about the handling of the Manny Machado and Dennis Eckersley incidents.

"Yeah, we talked about those things,” Pedroia said, matter of factly. 

It was by far the shortest answer he gave Saturday and stood out for that reason.

Pedroia and everyone else listening knew well that the question, which he did technically answer, was meant to provide some level of insight into those discussions. 

The conclusion: last year still isn’t easy to talk about. Which may be a positive sign. Consider: Pedroia’s reputation as a team leader was questioned. A prideful person who believes in his work, who cares about his standing and his reputation, would be made uncomfortable by last year’s proceedings.

A follow-up question came, and it was something of a breakpoint. Did those discussions resolve the issues quickly, was anything lingering?

He could have given a similar yes-no answer again. 

He didn’t.

“Yeah, no, I mean, I think as a team, no, we were together all the time. You know, those things happen,” Pedroia said. “I mean it’s baseball. I think when you sit back and look at it. Could it have been handled differently? Without question. I mean, 100 percent. It’s like everything in life. You make mistakes and then you don’t make mistakes. So, you know you learn from it, you move forward, you understand if you’re in another situation like that, if you want to do something different, do something different. And that’s what we all took out of it.”

On Saturday, he did something different.

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Hanley Ramirez follows Tom Brady's plan, looks less like Ray Lewis

Hanley Ramirez follows Tom Brady's plan, looks less like Ray Lewis

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The 2018 Red Sox could be an episode of Hanley vs. Time.

Hanley Ramirez , the presumed Red Sox designated hitter — and perhaps more often this year, first baseman — said Friday at JetBlue Park he’s lost 15 pounds thanks to The TB12 Method. Ramirez was listed in the 2017 media guide at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds.

“More [TB12] bands,” Ramirez said. “I went on the Tom Brady’s diet. I think it’s 100 percent, everything he says in the book and the work he does, it makes a lot of sense.

“The good thing about Tom Brady is winning. He’s about winning and making his team better. When you’ve got a guy like that, who inspires people to get better and to show to others that age is just a number when you do the little things right, that’s what he does.”

Ramirez is still a big man, but now he's thinking more about little muscles. 

"When you’re young, you need the big muscles to get stronger,” Ramirez said. “When you get in that age past 30, you’ve got to concentrate on the little muscles. You get that power from the big muscles. When you get hurt, most of the time those little muscles stop working. So you’ve got to keep working on those little muscles, which is what those [exercise] bands do.”

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Not a bad entrance for Ramirez, invoking the GOAT publicly. But Ramirez is loud normally. Friday was his first day at Sox camp.

“He made sure we knew he was here. He was loud in that clubhouse,” manager Alex Cora said. “That’s always good. I visited with him in December and he talked to me about his workout program, his offseason program, his new one. I saw him today and he looks a lot different than what I saw the last two years. The last two years he reminded me a lot of Ray Lewis, as far as how big he was. Now he’s going to be more mobile, flexible and he’s upbeat.”

Ramirez is 34 and in what could be the final year of his Red Sox contract. He needs 497 plate appearances to trigger a $22 million contract option for 2018, an option the Red Sox like don’t want to kick in — particularly given the current state of the free-agent market. Of course, if Ramirez is absolutely mashing, they might feel differently.

He wasn’t mashing a year ago.

The drop in offense from the 2016 Red Sox to 2017 was remarkable, considering how many players’ numbers fell in concert. Ramirez was in that group. He hit seven fewer home runs (23) in 2017 while playing 14 fewer games than he had the year before, and saw 44 points fall off his batting average, from .286 to .242. 

Ramirez was bothered by his shoulders all of last year, both of them, and had the left one surgically repaired. How bad was it?

“Literally, I was hitting with one arm last year and I hit 23 [homers],” Ramirez said Friday. “Now that I feel good, there are not going to be excuses. Better go out there and hit 30."

His throwing shoulder, his right, was not repaired. But that shoulder is said to be better as well. He said he’s been throwing for three weeks, and that includes some long toss. If his shoulders stay strong he should be more readily available at first base. He played 133 games there in 2016, but just 18 games in 2017.

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