Red Sox

Drellich: Sale's a success, no matter what happens Thursday

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Drellich: Sale's a success, no matter what happens Thursday

HOUSTON -- The weight on Chris Sale, the pressure on a bubble of insulation he maintains better than most, is immense.
 
There is the most basic element entering Thursday’s Division Series at Minute Maid Park, that he is pitching Game 1, on the road, opposite Astros ace Justin Verlander. A win feels close to a must.
 
“It's going to be a grind. It's kind of like the first person to blink,” Verlander said Wednesday. “As a starting pitcher, you love those battles.”
 
But Verlander has an otherworldly offense behind him. Sale does not. Sale is the closest thing to certainty the Red Sox have
 
A year ago, the Sox offense was baseball’s best, and was immediately silenced come the postseason. The starting pitching didn’t exactly help matters, but the bats were what carried the Sox in 2016, and they disappeared until it was too late. 
 
This year’s Sox team is about pitching. It’s about Sale more than any other individual.
 
Less than 12 months into his time in Boston, the lefty’s success in his first career playoff outing -- or lack thereof -- could have a disproportionate effect on his public standing. It should not, because he accomplished so much already. But it probably will.
 
"It's exciting. A lot of hard work goes into this," Sale said. "Ups and downs of the season, battling the travel and all this other stuff. So to be sitting here right now is pretty fulfilling."
 
Sale already quieted talks of the first-year jinx with the Sox. He had no trouble adjusting to the market that loves to consider itself the market. That’s a prime reason John Farrell believes Sale won’t look different in his first postseason outing.
 
“I think this somewhat compares to the way he came into Boston following the trade,” said the Sox manager. “He has handled it without distraction. He’s handled it with I think a consistency to his routine and being true to himself, who he is as a performer, as a pitcher. I would venture to say, knowing Chris the person, that the same approach will be applied tomorrow. 
 
“And I think the beauty inside of Chris Sale is that he focuses solely on the things that he can control, something as simple as command in the count. Strike one. Keeping it pretty much to the basics. He's done such an excellent job of that coming in with all the expectations and the highlight from the trade. He's handled it beautifully and I would suspect at this stage, this next set of games in which he's going to experience for the first time will be handled the same way.”
 
It’s easy to imagine the adulation for a win. It’s easy to hear the scorn that would follow a loss -- particularly if the Sox then dropped the Division Series . . . or, worse, were swept. 
 
Sale has said the right things since being traded from the White Sox. He’s performed as well as anyone, better than anyone, could hope. He wants the ball on short rest in Game 4, if need be.
 
“Three days' rest, I'm in,” Sale said. “This is what I live for. I'm throwing until my arm falls off.”
 
In Sale, the Sox have arguably the best pitcher in the majors, the reincarnation of Randy Johnson. He may win the American League Cy Young. 
 
But his 300 strikeouts will be so quickly forgotten if he doesn’t do well. It’s a battle David Price faced to an extent last year and into this year, albeit in a different scenario. 
 
Price’s overall effectiveness in 2016 was not fully recognized because of his poor postseason start and a higher-than-expected ERA in the regular season. Sale was a much better pitcher in 2017 than Price was in 2016, and Price was no slouch.
 
It’s almost sad, if you think about the potential for perception to be skewed based on one game. Sale should be regarded as excellent no matter what. His ability to pitch under pressure should not be judged on one outing. 
 
Yet, that does seem to be the nature of the beast when one is an ace for the Red Sox. You can start go through an offseason, make 35 starts, be king of the world as expected -- and then no one cares. Or too few care.

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Red Sox score three in ninth inning to top Rays, 4-1

Red Sox score three in ninth inning to top Rays, 4-1

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox didn't need much offense to win their fourth straight game Wednesday night.

The 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays was accomplished with six strong innings from David Price and a three-run ninth sparked by an RBI double by Xander Bogaerts. The Rays, who have lost 9 of 12 to the Red Sox this season, contributed an error, a wild pitch and a passed ball to the big inning.

"That's us coming together as a team," said Mookie Betts, whose three-run homer won Tuesday night's game. "Today we had great pitching. I don't think there were many good swings on [Price's] pitches. He did everything today."

Price pitched three-hit ball, allowing a run while striking out nine. Joe Kelly (3-0) got the win and Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his 15th save.

It was 1-1 when Bogaerts got up to bat in the ninth after a throwing error by shortstop Willy Adames. Bogaerts doubled into the left field corner off Alex Colome (2-5) to drive in J.D. Martinez. After a wild pitch, Eduardo Nunez drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, and Boston tacked on another on a passed ball.

"You know it's my fault in the ninth making that error," said Adames, who was playing only his second major-league game. "It's a tough for me with that error and getting the L for the team."

Adames had thrown out Nunez at the plate after a two-out double by Jackie Bradley Jr. in the fifth, preserving a scoreless tie.

The Rays did not get a runner into scoring position until the sixth, when C.J. Cron doubled off the center field wall, their third and final hit. That hit drove in Denard Span, who had led off the inning with a walk.

Price, who had won his two preceding starts, left after throwing 90 pitches in six innings.

"The last inning was a high-leverage, stressful inning and we felt good with the six," explained manager Alex Cora.

Christian Vazquez got Boston on the board in the sixth, singling off starter Chris Archer and later scoring when Hanley Ramirez bounced into a bases-loaded double play.

Archer has won only one of his last 20 starts against Boston. He gave up one run, four hits and three walks in six innings, striking out six.

The game featured eight hits and 24 strikeouts, including four in a row by Rays reliever Jose Alvarado.

11-MAN BULLPEN DAYS

With the loss of RHP Jake Faria to an injury and Wednesday's call up of LHP Vidal Nuno, the Rays are down to two starting pitchers on a 13-man staff, setting up the possibility of "bullpen days" for all three of the upcoming weekend games against Baltimore.

"I imagine we'll be revisiting Sergio [Romo] starting again," manager Kevin Cash said. "Maybe he'll start all three games this time."

Last weekend, Romo became the first pitcher since 2012 to start on consecutive days.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: A decision will be made on the status of 2B Dustin Pedroia (recovering from left knee surgery) after Thursday's game at Triple-A Pawtucket. Pedroia could be activated for this weekend's series at Fenway Park.

Rays: Faria went on the 10-day disabled list after straining his left oblique Tuesday night, and the Rays expect him to miss at least two months. ... C Wilson Ramos, who left Tuesday's game early with a left hand contusion, was available but did not start. ... RHP Nathan Eovaldi (loose bodies in right elbow) gave up eight runs on 10 hits in four innings in his fourth rehab start for Triple-A Durham. Eovaldi is eligible to come off the disabled list Monday.

UP NEXT

RHP Rick Porcello (8-3, 2.43 in 13 careers starts at Tropicana Field) will pitch for Boston in Thursday night's series finale. Rays LHP Blake Snell (2-3, 4.13 in in six career starts against the Red Sox) has given up two runs or fewer in eight of his 10 starts this season.

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Can Red Sox replace Carson Smith's style internally?

Can Red Sox replace Carson Smith's style internally?

Entering Tuesday night, opposing hitters had swung and missed at Joe Kelly’s changeup 82 percent of the time.

Last season, he barely threw the pitch, at about 2 percent. Now, per BrooksBaseball.net, Kelly’s using the change more than 9 percent of the time.

Carson Smith’s shoulder injury creates obvious “next-man-up” scenario for the Red Sox bullpen, just as any injury to a significant player would. It's likely that no matter how excellent Kelly or Matt Barnes or Heath Hembree are going forward, the Sox will need to add a reliever midseason if they want to make a deep run into the postseason. 

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There's also the Red Sox debut of right-handed reliever Tyler Thornburg, who has been rehabbing at Pawtucket, on the horizon. 

Nonetheless, with Smith down, there are opportunities for Barnes, Kelly and Hembree to not only step up into bigger roles, but perhaps to evolve stylistically as well. Just a tad.

Smith was a sinker-slider pitcher. Kelly, Barnes and Hembree rely more on power fastballs. Outs are outs and remain the bottom line, but part of what made Smith appealing was that different look he offered.

“It’s awful what happened, really,” Barnes said recently. “We’re all praying for him and hoping that it’s not too bad that he can come back and do fine . . . It definitely hurts. He was throwing really well the last month. He was a guy who’s dominant against righties and adds a different feel than the other righties we have in the bullpen. We got a good group down there. We’re fortunate that we have some depth: guys that have pitched in a lot of different roles over the years and are really comfortable in any role.”

Indeed, over the winter, Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski pointed to Smith as something of a separator amongst his righty relievers. None of the Sox relievers should change just for the sake of it. Their effectiveness is what matters most.

Kelly, though, might be most effective if he transitions a little. His stuff might allow the most wiggle room and he's very willing to experiment, be it with timing mechanisms or otherwise. 

https://www.nbcsports.com/boston/boston-red-sox/podcast-how-make-people-miss-100-mph-interviews-joe-kelly-and-brian-bannister

One of the perplexing things about Kelly has been how hard he throws and how few swings and misses his high-90s (and sometimes triple-digit) fastballs garner. Enter the changeup, as well as his slider and curveball. Kelly’s not throwing his breaking balls more than he used to overall, but they’re both creating more swings and misses in 2018. 

There hasn’t been an uptick in ground balls, as one would expect with a sinkerballer such as Smith. Still, as Kelly’s secondary stuff seems to take on better life, his identity need not be wrapped up so much in that fastball and whether or not it gains swings and misses.

As they move on without Smith, Sox relievers are comfortable in varied roles.

"It’s based on the conversations we have with [pitching coach Dana Levangie]," Barnes said of usage. "If you look at kind of the way things have played out the last three weeks to a month, we have an idea when I'm going to pitch based on the lineup, innings, scores of games. So, in a sense, we might not be the typical, old-fashioned [build where] you have your set eighth inning, you have your set seventh inning, and that kind of role. But there is definitely a role that we kind of each understand."

From there, if one of them can distinguish themselves slightly in terms of approach — Kelly seems the best candidate — a little variation could go a long way.

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