Red Sox

Red Sox notebook: Velazquez, Elias getting shots at fifth spot

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Red Sox notebook: Velazquez, Elias getting shots at fifth spot

FORT MYERS, Fla. - The starting pitchers for the Red Sox in the first two games of the Grapefruit League season, Hector Velazquez and Roenis Elias, are likely going to get major league opportunities in 2018 — and one of them very well might get a look in the first week of the season.

The first four starters the Red Sox will carry are obvious, assuming health: Chris Sale, David Price, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello. Alex Cora on Saturday declined to name an Opening Day starter, but Sale is the obvious choice after finishing second in American League Cy Young voting to Corey Kluber. Cora said too that he likely would insert Porcello somewhere in the middle of the rotation, considering the other three aforementioned starters are lefties.

Where the Sox go beyond those four, though, could be to some relatively unknown quantities. 

Steven Wright is rehabbing from knee surgery and awaiting potential discipline from the league office following an offseason arrest on a domestic assault charge. Wright could well be suspended to begin the season, and may not be physically ready to start on the active roster anyway. Eduardo Rodriguez’s own knee surgery has him slated to come back perhaps in late April. 

That puts righty Velazquez and lefty Elias in prime position for at least temporary contributions. Both are on the 40-man roster and have big league time. In a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Ray on Saturday, Elias pitched two scoreless innings on Saturday, just as Velazquez did Friday against the Minnesota Twins.

In past seasons, the Red Sox would often have an off-day after their very first game of the regular season, thereby allowing for a fifth starter to be skipped if desired. That’s not the case for this year, with six straight games for the Sox — three vs. the Rays, three vs. the Marlins — before an off-day. Come April 2, then, the Sox will need a fifth starter. 

(Whether the Sox even use off-days this year to skip pitchers or just to rest their guys is to be seen. Sale, for example, historically has pitched often on extra rest, and the Sox want to keep him fresh.)

Lefty Brian Johnson could wind up a reliever, but he’s certainly capable of starting. Lefty Jalen Beeks, who is not on the 40-man roster but likely will be at some point this year, is depth as well, just like righty Chandler Shepherd.

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• The Sox did say long ago they wanted to add lefty reliever this winter. Now they’ve done it. As depth, anyway. Tommy Layne, last with the Sox in 2016, is back — in minor league camp without an invite to major league spring training. He was a free agent who participated in the camp the Players Association set up for unsigned players in Florida. Don't be surprised if Layne sees some time in big league games anyway.

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One area of the Red Sox spring complex has four practice fields aligned, with each field’s home plate positioned at nearly the same point, angled 90 degrees differently. In the past, the Sox more frequently used all four fields at once for the same set of drills. Now, they’ve cut back. The reason is so that coaches can see players better. This way, a coach could catch 50 percent of one pitcher’s live batting-practice and 50 percent of another. Attention is spread too thin if three or four fields are going simultaneously. That was Tony La Russa’s suggestion.

• Rafael Devers has shown some very quick feet in the early going, making a great diving stop to his right on Thursday. On Saturday, he made another smooth play but then threw away a throw to second base.

“Just get one out,” Cora said. “He was trying to get two which is great. This level you’ve got to turn double plays but there there’s certain plays you cant force.”

• Players union head Tony Clark visited camp on Saturday, part of his annual tour to meet different teams. Clark defended the collective bargaining agreement, which has been criticized because it helped create the environment that led to many unsigned free agents.

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Red Sox offense quiet again in 4-1 loss to Twins

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Red Sox offense quiet again in 4-1 loss to Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- Facing a run of starting pitching that included two-time Cy Young winner Corey KluberCarlos CarrascoChris Sale and David Price, the Minnesota Twins could have seen their fledgling playoff hopes fade toward another long summer.

Instead, Minnesota's been rejuvenated by beating some of the best pitching in the American League.

Robbie Grossman and Max Kepler homered to back an effective start by Lance Lynn as the Twins beat the Boston Red Sox 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Grossman led off the bottom of the first with a solo home run and Kepler added a two-run shot off Boston starter David Price (8-5). Brian Dozier added a pair of doubles to help Minnesota win for the fourth time in five games.

The Twins beat Kluber and Carrasco in taking two of three games at Cleveland before returning home and winning the first two games against the Red Sox with Sale and Price starting.

"Yeah, after the game when you acknowledge who's on the mound," Kepler said when asked if Minnesota can take something away from beating the recent competition. "I feel like we go into games and we're kind of blind to who's on the mound and we grind together, which is awesome about this team."

Lynn (5-5) again struggled with command, issuing five walks, but he surrendered just one unearned run and three hits in five innings.

Four relievers combined for four scoreless innings, retiring 12 of the final 13 batters, with Fernando Rodney securing his 16th save in 19 chances.

"If you can find a way to battle every at-bat, wait for something to break, try to build pitch-count when you can, and if you're holding them down as our starting pitching has been doing, you know you've got a chance late," Twins manager Paul Molitor said.

The Red Sox were 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position and are 2 for 22 in the first two games of the series. They've stranded 18 baserunners in the two games and lost for the fourth time in five games.

"Pitching-wise, we've been great," Boston manager Alex Cora said. "I'll take that. If we keep throwing the ball the way we've been throwing we're going to win a lot of ballgames. We know the offense, you know how it is."

Lynn has had an uncharacteristic wild season in his first year with the Twins. He walked at least five batters for the fifth time in 14 starts. But the veteran right-hander has limited the damage and allowed less than three runs in five of his last six starts.

"Command was really not there," Lynn said. "But I was able to make pitches with runners in scoring position and not give up a bunch of runs. With this offense we have, you keep them to one run, we're going to win the games more times than not."

Boston's lone run scored in the second as Lynn couldn't catch first baseman Logan Morrison's high throw to first for the final out of the inning, allowing Mitch Moreland to score from second base on an error charged to Morrison.

"We've been through stuff like this in the past, even this year early on," Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts said of the offense. "The pitching has been doing great. It's up to us now to come through."

PAYING THE PRICE

Price was hurt by the home run but allowed three runs on seven hits and a walk. He had given up just one home run in his previous five starts and seven total in 14 starts this season coming into Wednesday.

"Not so much that he could hit it like he did, but to keep it fair, that's pretty impressive," Price said of Kepler's home run.

SHOWING SIGNS

Dozier had just one extra-base hit in his previous 13 games while hitting .068. His double off the left-field wall in the eighth plated Eddie Rosario.

Kepler hit his first home run in 22 games and the fifth of his eight this season against left-handed pitching. Kepler was hitting .158 over his previous 21 games with just four RBIs.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: LHP Drew Pomeranz is getting closer to having his first throwing session since he went on the 10-day disabled list on June 5 for left biceps tendonitis. Cora said Pomeranz was dealing with soreness in his neck but has recovered.

Twins: Molitor said OF Byron Buxton's first rehab game in Triple-A on Tuesday went well and that his left foot with the broken toe is "in a good place and we haven't said that for about seven weeks or so." There is no timetable for Buxton's return.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (8-3, 3.70 ERA) will start the series and road trip finale on Thursday afternoon. Porcello pitched six innings and gave up four runs in a no-decision at Seattle in his last start.

Twins: RHP Kyle Gibson (2-4, 3.27) counters for Minnesota. Gibson has allowed five total runs over his last four starts, spanning 26 2/3 innings.

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Drellich: Every move Red Sox, Yankees make has new meaning

Drellich: Every move Red Sox, Yankees make has new meaning

The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has a newfound sense of urgency. A feeling that every move counts and will count, be it at the trade deadline in a month and a half, or when Alex Cora determines his second baseman on a nightly basis.

It's not because these franchises hate each other, because of their steep history. It's because they actually have to best the other, or suffer an unwelcome consequence.

Unlike the early 2000s, both teams cannot enter the playoffs on equal footing. A second-place finish in the American League East will sting. Participating in the Wild Card game for the right to move on to the five-game Division Series will be a stomach-turning experience for one of these two teams.

The upshot presently: even as the Sox and Yanks play teams that are uninspiring, and there are plenty such clubs, there is reason for fans and players alike to stay intently focused. (In the midst of a 162-game season, there will be lapses for everyone.) There is reason to care, in fact, if the ideal lineup or pinch-hit decision is made by Alex Cora, at every juncture. There is reason to care about whether Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has sufficiently helped rebuild the farm system, because it’s a matter of depth options now and via trade.

The Sox can have the best record in the majors in June, or be one win off the pace-setters, and the smallest of details will still matter. “They’re great,” doesn’t cut it. “Is this move optimal to beat the Yankees, the team that can relegate the Sox to a one-game playoff scenario?” is the question to be answered

As trade season arrives, the concept of the marginal win is out the window for both clubs. Or it should be. In divisions where one team is clearly superior, the need to add by trade isn’t always so clear. What’s the difference between 93 wins and 95 wins if you’re heading to the Division Series either way? Is the slight upgrade worth whatever you’re giving up?

The playoffs are always a crapshoot. But the Sox and Yanks are playing to avoid the biggest crapshoot of all in the Wild Card.

Passion between fan bases in the regular season wasn’t lacking 15 years ago. It was greater, obviously. But for different reasons. Second place in the division was usually a matter of bragging rights, rather than actual reward or worthiness. 

We’ve returned to a world where the Sox and Yanks are clearly better than virtually everyone. Were the rest of the AL stronger this year, the Wild Card could be a blessing for the Sox or the Yanks — a chance to make a postseason run that did not previously exist when there were four playoff teams instead of five. 

But the present landscape shows three powerhouses, and two of them happen to be classic rivals in the East. What they do before October means more now than it used to.

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