Red Sox

Doolittle, Smith among closers Red Sox could pursue as MLB trade season begins

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Doolittle, Smith among closers Red Sox could pursue as MLB trade season begins

We know this much about Dave Dombrowski -- when he diagnoses a problem, he acts.

He made one of the most consequential moves of last season in late June, acquiring right-handed slugger Steve Pearce from the Blue Jays to address a deficiency against left-handed pitching. The acquisition barely merited mention outside of the transactions agate, but all Pearce went on to do was win World Series MVP.

June doesn't arrive until next week, but Dombrowski is already in fix-it mode. He typically gives his teams 40 games to sort out what's working and what isn't, and we passed that mark two weeks ago. With the Red Sox still trying to extricate themselves from a poor start — they're 5.5 games out of first place and a game and a half up on the Indians for the second wild card spot — a clear need has emerged in their bullpen.

The stats show the Red Sox with the most wins (15) and the sixth-lowest bullpen ERA in baseball (3.76), but don't let the numbers fool you. They are an arm short.

Matt Barnes could be an All-Star, Brandon Workman has been borderline unhittable, and veteran rookie Marcus Walden qualifies as a revelation, but they need help.

Ryan Brasier has not maintained last year's success, particularly against left-handed hitters. Heath Hembree has a propensity to allow home runs. Tyler Thornburg and Colten Brewer have been varying degrees of disastrous.

We've already argued that the next target should be a pitcher with closing experience, which would make the ninth inning less fraught after Barnes takes on the heart of the order in the seventh or eighth. But who will be out there? Here are three names.

Start with Sean Doolittle. The Nationals left-hander is a two-time All-Star, including last year, and has closed for parts of four seasons. He was having a tremendous season until imploding in his last outing and allowing four runs while doubling his ERA in a loss to the Mets. He's still 3-1 with a 3.43 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 21 innings.

The Nationals are once again grossly underachieving — only a game and a half ahead of the Marlins, who aren't even trying — and it's a foregone conclusion that they will be sellers come July. The 32-year-old Doolittle represents a prime trade asset. He's making $6 million this year and has a $6.5 million team option for 2020.

He'd solve two problems for the Red Sox, being able to close and also providing a left-handed power arm. He lives almost exclusively on a 93-95 mph four-seam fastball, and he's experienced. Add a quirky personality — he has made it his mission to patronize an independent bookstore in every road city, and he hosted Syrian refugees for Thanksgiving — and he'd liven up the Red Sox clubhouse.

Another left-hander to consider is Giants closer Will Smith. The 6-foot-5, 248-pounder is 1-0 with a 2.75 ERA and 12 saves, with 27 strikeouts in 19.2 innings. The impending free agent has limited opponents to a .164 batting average with his fastball/slider mix, and he's particularly tough on left-handers, who own just three singles against him.

The 21-28 Giants have a zero percent chance of reaching the postseason, per baseball-reference, and GM Farhan Zaidi is expected to make virtually everyone available, including ace Madison Bumgarner. Smith will certainly be on that list.

Shifting to the American League, Tigers closer Shane Greene, a former swingman with the Yankees, owns a league-leading 15 saves and a miniscule 1.29 ERA, though his peripherals (3.80 FIP) aren't as strong. The 30-year-old right-hander has struck out 24 in 21 innings. He's limiting opponents to a .156 average, including .083 on his sinker, which is his bread and butter.

The Tigers just went 0-9 on a homestand, including a sweep by the Marlins that concluded with Greene blowing his first save of the season after a pair of errors, including on what should've been a game-ending double play, produced five unearned runs.

With the Tigers in free fall, Greene figures to be a hot commodity. Whether Dombrowski would deal with his former team is another story. The Red Sox haven't made a trade with Detroit since acquiring Rick Porcello in 2014, before Dombrowski took the reins, and there were some hard feelings in 2016 when the Tigers declined to change a 1 p.m. start time in Detroit after the Red Sox had played the previous night in Baltimore.

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Darwinzon Hernandez: 'I’m ready' to be a starter

Darwinzon Hernandez: 'I’m ready' to be a starter

The Boston Red Sox have serious concerns with their pitching staff. With Chris Sale out for the long haul after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox are down to just a few known commodities among their starting rotation.

Eduardo Rodriguez will be the team's ace. Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez will follow him in the rotation. But the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are a bit harder to predict.

Before Sale's surgery and before the MLB shut down operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like Ryan Weber was the leading candidate to earn a job on the back-end of the rotation. If he's the fourth starter, that will leave the Sox with just one hole to fill in the fifth starter slot.

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And one possibility for that role would be Darwinzon Hernandez. The lefthander pitched in 29 games for the Red Sox last season logging a 4.45 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings pitched. Hernandez only made one start for the Sox, but he considers himself to be a starter at the MLB level. 

"Everyone knows I’d love to start. Absolutely," Hernandez said, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. "That is what every pitcher wants and I still feel like I can do it. I enjoyed being a reliever and I’ll do whatever the team asks. The important thing is to be on the team. But, yes, I want to start."

Hernandez was a starter during his time in the minor leagues and has started at least 12 games per season since 2015. The 23-year-old still has a lot of upside and he believes that he's ready to take on a starting job.

"I’m ready. I’ve matured as [a] pitcher,” Hernandez said through a translator. "In the minors, I would just throw but when I got to the majors, they taught me how to pitch and the importance of working hard and locating your pitches, mixing your pitches. I learned how to pitch and not just throw."

Of course, the decision will ultimately come down to Ron Roenicke. And the Sox skipper at least seemed open to Hernandez battling for a starting job before spring training was shut down.

"You have to consider [starting Hernandez]," Roenicke said last month, per Abraham. "He’s still a young pitcher and there’s a lot to work with. I could see us looking at this again and giving him a chance to start."

Hernandez will have some competition for that final spot. The Red Sox did sign Collin McHugh after Sale's setback. The former Houston Astros pitcher could be a starter or bullpen arm, but he'll have to get healthy first. He was battling an elbow injury upon joining the team and it's unclear exactly when he'll return to action.

The team could also choose to use the opener strategy that the Tampa Bay Rays have popularized in recent seasons. Could that involve Hernandez playing that role? Or being the "bulk" guy to take on innings once the opener is done? It's surely possible.

It's tough to know what the Red Sox are going to do with their rotation. They'll likely have to mix and match things if and when the season does begin. But that could be a while away.

For the time being, Roenicke will have more time to think about just how he wants his pitching staff to shake out. And with rosters to be expanded in wake of the pandemic, per Joel Sherman of The New York Post, Roenicke may opt to try a few different solutions before settling on his preferred option.

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

The lawsuit against Major League Baseball filed by daily fantasy game players, who claimed to be defrauded by the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, has been dismissed, but not without harsh criticism of the teams by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in his ruling blasted the Red Sox and Astros for "shamelessly" breaking both baseball's rules and "the hearts of all true baseball fans."

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In throwing out the suit brought by five daily fantasy players, Rakoff invoked the New England Patriots "Spygate" scandal from 2007, agreeing with MLB lawyers' contention that rulings in similar suits brought by fans against the NFL after the Patriots were caught illegally taping opponents' defensive signals had set a legal precedent for this suit to be dismissed. 

While the suit charged that the Red Sox and Astros had engaged in consumer fraud that created "corrupt" and "dishonest" fantasy contest for companies such as Draft Kings, Rakoff agreed with previous decisions in the NFL cases that ruled fans should know teams will look for any advantage - even "foul deeds" - to try and win.

From Rakoff's ruling: 

[D]id the initial efforts of those teams, and supposedly of Major League Baseball itself, to conceal these foul deeds from the simple sports bettors who wagered on fantasy baseball create a cognizable legal claim? On the allegations here made, the answer is no.

The Astros' sign-stealing scheme led MLB to fine the team $5 million and the one-year suspensions and subsequent firings of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. The Red Sox then parted ways with manager Alex Cora, who, according to MLB's findings, was the mastermind of the scheme as Houston's bench coach in 2017. 

That team won the World Series, as did the 2018 Red Sox, who are accused of using a similar system to steal signs under Cora.

MLB has yet to release a report on the Red Sox allegations. Commissioner Rob Manfred said it has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic but will be released before MLB begins its 2020 season. In comments last month in court an MLB lawyer seem to imply the Red Sox are aware of Manfred's findings and that they disagree with them.