Red Sox

Drellich: Pedroia, Thornburg uncertainties should impact Red Sox trade mindset

Drellich: Pedroia, Thornburg uncertainties should impact Red Sox trade mindset

BOSTON — As a trade deadline approaches where the Red Sox cannot afford to spend much in dollars or prospects, a handful of tricky health situations loom over the team. The safest approach the Sox can take is one where they assume Dustin Pedroia and Tyler Thornburg are bonus additions, not essentials for the 2018 team’s division run. Where Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski operates as though that duo, both coming back from surgery, will be limited the rest of the season.

In actuality, both may contribute near daily at a high level after both underwent surgeries with particularly complex rehab processes. But it’s a matter of caution and contingency planning, a choice in perspective and evaluation, as the non-waiver deadline approaches.

Thornburg is closer to returning than Pedroia. The former is set for two innings on Wednesday with Double-A Portland and then another appearance on Saturday at Triple-A Pawtucket. But even if Thornburg has turned a corner physically, the Sox shouldn’t assume trouble is only in the rearview.

The Sox already have their eye on bullpen help and a right-handed hitting infielder. The question seems to be whether that right-handed bat can handle second base, or fits as more of a corner infield type. Brock Holt has been very good for the Sox, but is a lefthanded hitter who has barely played vs. southpaw pitching. 

Dombrowski on Tuesday gave his outlook on the deadline in regards to Pedroia in an interview with NESN.

“Well, it’ll factor into it, but I can’t say that it’ll factor largely into it,” Dombrowski said. “Because I think when you look at our club, one thing we’re looking for is some improved production vs. left-hand pitching. So of course Dustin can help that, he’s a righthand hitter, he’s a good hitter. Some of our left-handed hitters can be better in that regard too and some of our righthand hitters can be better in that regard. We have been a little bit here recently in a couple of games. So that could influence it, but I can’t say that it would influence it in a major proportion.

“Because at second base, I’d feel comfortable if you said Holt and Nunez are playing there for us the rest of the year. Maybe they’re not Dustin, but they can still do a solid job. Holt has really played well I think in this year, and Nunez has never played second base this much. He continues to get better from I think an offensive perspective. He will [continue to.] He has not been the offensive performer he was last year. But I think between the two of them they can handle it very well.”

MORE FROM EVAN DRELLICH

Pedroia’s still in a waiting game, for consecutive days without knee soreness. A baseball source said Tuesday “it’s simply a matter of time” and that they fully expect Pedroia back this season.

“He’s had good days, he comes in and feels great,” Sox manager Alex Cora said Tuesday of Pedroia. “But then the next day is not a great day, so we’re looking for him to have three or four days in a row where he feels good. It’s frustrating for everybody, especially for him, but at the same time we’ll take our time. … Hopefully when he comes back, it’s for the rest of the season. And also I think we have to make sure he’s OK the rest of his career.

“He’ll probably, when we go to New York [at the end of the week], he’ll stop by and go see him [his knee surgeon] again and go from there. As of now, everything that he’s doing, everything that we’re doing in the training room, in the weight room, is according to the doctors the things that we have to do."

Starting pitcher Steven Wright went to the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday. Wright’s left knee, which was operated on in similar fashion to Pedroia’s left knee, was still in a rehab process. Just because he was pitching at a high level did not mean that the surgery he underwent in May 2017 and its recovery were entirely behind him.

Wright and Pedroia are in similarly unpredictable situations. But the Sox’ rotation depth is stronger than their depth on the infield or in the bullpen. The priorities the Sox have at the trade deadline probably should not shift to a starting pitcher because of the Wright news alone. There’s a front four of Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez, with a reasonable hope that one or both of Drew Pomeranz or Wright will be able to help down the stretch from the back-end.

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Most under-appreciated Red Sox of 2018? Rick Porcello

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Most under-appreciated Red Sox of 2018? Rick Porcello

PHILADELPHIA — Red Sox manager Alex Cora threw Brian Johnson’s name into the Red Sox MVP conversation before Tuesday’s game. From the sound of it, Cora was speaking more to the condition of being under-appreciated by the masses, of being a subtly important contributor.

Such discussion is a rabbit hole that leads to Average Al Horford hand-wringing and circular arguments about the need for the little things, as they say.

Here's fuel for the fire. On a night when Rick Porcello said that Sandy Leon is “the best catcher I’ve ever thrown to” — Leon not only homered, but ended the game with a fantastic play to finish a strikeout on a ball that got away — and on a night when Brock Holt also hit the Red Sox’ first pinch-hit home run of the season, here's another nominee for most under-appreciated member of the 2018 Red Sox. Porcello himself, the former Cy Young winner.

The most news Porcello has made in 2018 is for his double off Max Scherzer. Right?

He was at it again Tuesday night in a 2-1 Sox win over the Phillies. Hitting. He doubled again, finishing with a flop of a dive into second base in the third inning off starter Nick Pivetta. Everyone had a hoot.

“It was bad," Cora said. "It was really bad."

But Porcello is not making news outside of his slugging because he just doesn’t stand out like his rotation peers. 

Chris Sale is a monster. David Price is pitching well and never far from the spotlight. Nathan Eovaldi is the new guy with a perky cutter. Porcello’s just getting the job done, against every team that’s not the Blue Jays.

Except that description doesn’t aptly serve the strength of his season. With 10 strikeouts on Tuesday in seven innings, Porcello recorded his fifth career double-digit strikeout performance and his first since 2015. (Not 2016, his Cy Young season, but 2015.)

“Just pitched a lot better,” Porcello said, referring to his seven runs in four innings against the Jays in his previous outing. “You saw both games. I was throwing pitches right down the middle and walking guys in Toronto. Today for the most part I was able to stay out of the middle of the plate, not give up any free passes.”

He’s doing more than that, though. More than ever has in his career, Porcello is striking batters out — the currency for pitchers — now at a rate of 8.9 per nine innings. That’s better than the Phillies’ Aaron Nola (8.71), than Corey Kluber (8.57) and Jon Lester (7.03). It’s very close to David Price (8.98), Cole Hamels (9.11) and Zack Greinke (9.12).

Among 43 pitchers with 130 innings on the season as a starter, Porcello’s strikeout rate ranks 19th. His rebound from last year was expected, but not a given. 

This is the second straight season Porcello has improved his K rate, jumping from 7.6 per nine just two years ago. His walk rate is where it was last year, but he’s allowing fewer hits all-around, home runs included.

At 151 2/3 innings and a 4.04 ERA, Porcello has been a picture of middle-of-the-rotation steadiness. Even when he's not doubling.

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Holt's pinch-hit homer lifts Red Sox over Phillies, 2-1

Holt's pinch-hit homer lifts Red Sox over Phillies, 2-1

PHILADELPHIA -- Brock Holt took advantage of a rare opportunity.

Holt belted a pinch-hit tiebreaking homer, Rick Porcello threw seven impressive innings and the major league-leading Boston Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 Tuesday night.

Sandy Leon also went deep for Boston, which improved to 86-35. The Red Sox increased their total to 168 homers, matching their number from last year when they hit an AL-low 168.

Porcello (15-5) gave up one run and two hits, striking out 10. He tied Max Scherzer and Luis Severino for most wins in the majors.

Rhys Hoskins homered, but the Phillies wasted a solid outing from Nick Pivetta. He allowed one run and three hits in six innings.

Holt hit the first pitch he saw from Tommy Hunter (3-2) in the eighth off the video screen on the facing of the second deck in right field.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Holt wouldn't have been used in that spot in an American League ballpark because he wouldn't have removed Porcello after only 90 pitches.

"We don't have a lot of opportunities to pinch-hit in the AL so I was in the cage, taking flips, staying loose, trying to stay more ready than normal," Holt said. "Just wanted to be ready for a good pitch to hit. Pinch-hitting is a tough job."

Heath Hembree tossed a perfect eighth, striking out Odubel Herrera swinging at a pitch that hit his left foot. Craig Kimbrel finished the two-hitter for his 36th save in 40 chances. He's 41 for 41 in interleague games in his career.

Leon gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead in the third. The least dangerous hitter in Boston's lineup sent a 95 mph fastball into the seats in right-center for his fifth homer.

Porcello followed with a liner over right fielder Nick Williams' head and slid headfirst into second base for his second career extra-base hit.

"I got lucky," Porcello said.

Cora was afraid Porcello might get hurt when he saw him start to dive.

"That slide was horrible," Cora said. "He was ready to hit. He's a good athlete, he competes."

Porcello retired his first 12 batters before Hoskins drove his 23rd homer out to left in the fifth.

The Phillies have lost five of seven to fall into second place in the NL East behind Atlanta.

"I don't see us pressing," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I see us competing and staying in the game to the end. We lost to one of the best teams in baseball."

CATCHER APPRECIATION

Porcello on Leon: "No disrespect to any catcher I've ever thrown to, but he's the best. He's the heartbeat of the pitching staff. He always knows what to throw. We rely on him. He's as good a game-caller as there is."

NL DOMINANCE

The Red Sox have won 20 of their last 23 interleague games.

ROSTER MOVES

The Phillies traded righty Jake Thompson to the Milwaukee Brewers for cash. Thompson was acquired in the trade that sent former ace Cole Hamels to Texas in 2015. He was 7-8 with a 4.87 ERA in 30 appearances, including 18 starts, in three seasons in Philadelphia. ... Former Phillies closer Hector Neris was recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley and infielder J.P. Crawford was sent down.

LINEUP SHUFFLE

Kapler moved Williams up to No. 2 and Asdrubal Cabrera to No. 3. Hoskins went from second to cleanup and Carlos Santana dropped from No. 4 to fifth in the order.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox:Blake Swihart was activated from the disabled list and C Dan Butler was designated for assignment. ... 2B Ian Kinsler could return Wednesday from a strained left hamstring.

Phillies: C Wilson Ramos was 4 for 9 with three doubles in three rehab games for Single-A Clearwater and could join the lineup Wednesday. The two-time All-Star catcher hasn't played since being acquired from Tampa Bay on July 31 because of a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

RHP Nathan Eovaldi (5-4, 3.74 ERA) makes his fourth start for the Red Sox since arriving in a trade from Tampa Bay while RHP Vince Velasquez (8-9, 3.98 ERA) goes for the Phillies on Wednesday night.

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