Red Sox

Pedroia ready to hit leadoff if called upon

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Pedroia ready to hit leadoff if called upon

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- So far, Bobby Valentine is keeping an open mind on the composition of his lineup for the regular season.

So, too, is Dustin Pedroia.

Valentine had Pedroia hitting leadoff in a game over the weekend and expressed his preference, all things being equal, for a righty hitter in the top spot, followed by a lefty.

Under that scenario, Valentine explained, a lefty-hitter could more easily move a baserunner over and would be given an open right side of the infield with a runner on base.

If Pedroia ends up being Valentine's choice for the top spot, the second baseman said that would be fine.

"Whatever they tell us to do,'' said Pedroia Monday before the Red Sox played the Minnesota Twins, "we'll figure it out.''

It would seem that Valentine is trying to figure out how best to utilize Carl Crawford -- when he's healthy -- in the batting order. Crawford's speed is more valuable in the top third of the order and the outfielder has said more than once that he felt out of sorts hitting in the lower third of the order last season.

"We want Carl to be comfortable as possible,'' said Pedroia. "When Carl is good, our team will be unbelievable.''

Then again, as Pedroia noted, the Sox led the major leagues in runs scored last season with 875, so several combinations could work.

"I don't think it matters which batting order we throw out there,'' Pedroia said. "We have good offensive players. Whatever they come up with, I think we'll be alright.''

While former manager Terry Francona often said that Pedroia would prefer not to hit leadoff, Pedroia himself pointed out that he hit first in both high school and college, and then again in 2009.

"I'll hit leadoff if they ask me to hit leadoff,'' he said. "Whatever they ask me to do.''

Pedroia said he would have the same approach at the plate regardless of where he hits.

"If they throw me back at leadoff,'' he said, "I'll still do the same things.''

In 2009, when Pedroia last hit first with any regularity, he was too passive at the plate, wanting to see as many pitches as possible to benefit those hitting behind him in the order. As such, his career OBP in the leadoff hole is just .318 in 79 games, compared to .381 while hitting second.

Since then, however, he's learned to not change things.

"I think I led Major League Baseball in pitches seen (3,077) last year,'' said Pedroia. "If they tell me to hit leadoff now, I'm going to go up there and try to do the same thing. (On Sunday), I think in my first at-bat, I saw seven or eight pitches and my last at-bat, I saw seven or eight pitches and the one before I saw two and got a hit. So, I'm still aggressive to my pitch and if they don't throw it in the zone, I'm not going to swing at it.

"So I just have to stay with what I've done.''

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.

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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. 

Patriots missing Brady, Gronkowski from start of Wednesday's practice

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Patriots missing Brady, Gronkowski from start of Wednesday's practice

FOXBORO -- Tough day in terms attendance at Patriots practice. 

Several starters were missing from the start of the session, including two of the team's most important players, that took place in the rain on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. 

Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, Marcus Cannon, David Andrews and Patrick Chung were all absent from the start of the practice. 

Hogan (shoulder), Cannon (ankle) and Andrews (illness) were all unable to play against the Raiders last weekend. Chung left the Raiders game briefly with an undiclosed injury but returned later in the game and met with media afterward. The reasons for Brady and Gronkowski's absences are unknown. 

Matthew Slater (hamstring) did not play last weekend in Mexico City, but he was back on the practice field. Newly-acquired defensive lineman Eric Lee -- who took Cassius Marsh's spot on the 53-man roster -- was also present. 

It appeared as though new practice squad return man Bernard Reedy was on the field as well. P-squad defensive lineman Mike Purcell was missing from the session so it looks like he was released in order to make room. 

Finally, Malcolm Mitchell was not on the field for Wednesday's workout. He's eligible to come off of injured reserve and begin practicing, as is defensive lineman Vincent Valentine, but both remain out. 

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