Red Sox

Rodriguez and Nunez star as red-hot Sox roll over Orioles, 7-3

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AP Photo

Rodriguez and Nunez star as red-hot Sox roll over Orioles, 7-3

BOSTON -- Eduardo Rodriguez's second start of the season went considerably better than his first, and the Boston Red Sox kept rolling to their best start in 100 years.

The left-hander struck out eight over six stingy innings, Eduardo Nunez hit a three-run homer and the Red Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles 7-3 on Friday night, improving to 11-2 for only the second time in team history.

Rodriguez lasted just 3 2/3 innings Sunday in his season debut against Tampa Bay, allowing three earned runs and five hits. Five days later he got himself out of an early jam in the first, holding the Orioles to one run on five hits and two walks with a mix of pitches he didn't show in his initial outing.

"That's what we want. I want him to attack," Boston manager Alex Cora said. "He keeps learning, but you can see it - his stuff is there. He's electric."

Rafael Devers went 3 for 5 and scored twice for the Red Sox. J.D. Martinez had a pair of hits and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly during a four-run first inning, which put Boston in command on the way to its 11th victory in 12 games.

Mookie Betts added an RBI double in the second.

The Red Sox had already matched their best 12-game start with a 6-3 win over the Yankees on Thursday night. With this victory, Boston reached 11-2 to equal the 1918 club that went on to win the World Series.

Adam Jones hit a sacrifice fly in the first and Manny Machado had a two-run double in the seventh. Chris Tillman (0-3) struggled through the first two-plus innings for Baltimore, which lost for the third time in four games.

Tillman "came out a little crisper in the second inning, but just couldn't get the ball where he needed to get it," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. "Never really had a lot of things working in his favor. It was a struggle from the start."

Trey Mancini scored the only run Rodriguez yielded after leading off the game with a single and scoring on Jones' sacrifice fly. Rodriguez settled down from there, striking out the side in the second and shutting out the Orioles for five straight innings.

Baltimore's only lead didn't last long. Betts reached on a leadoff walk, advanced to third on Mitch Moreland's one-out single and scored on a sacrifice fly by Martinez. Devers followed with a double, putting two on for Nunez, who drove a 1-1 pitch from Tillman into the seats atop the Green Monster.

Tillman faced three batters in the third before getting pulled with the bases loaded and nobody out. He was charged with six runs, seven hits and two walks. He did not have a strikeout for the second time in three starts.

Tillman was removed after hitting Jackie Bradley Jr. with a pitch. Pedro Araujo's first pitch got past catcher Caleb Joseph, and Devers raced in for another run to make it 6-0.

BALL OF CONFUSION

Jones led off the fourth with a hit down the right-field line, but ended up getting thrown out at second on an alert play by Betts. The ball bounced onto the rolled up tarp and stayed there for Betts to grab and throw to second in time to get Jones, who thought the ball was out of play and slowed up after rounding first.

The Orioles challenged and lost when the replay was reviewed.

"I pretty much just finished the play," Betts said. "My instinct was just to grab it and make a play and ask questions later."

STILL STRONG

The Red Sox held a pregame ceremony featuring survivors of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013. The ceremony also included families of some of the victims and was the first of three days of events marking the five-year anniversary of the day two homemade bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three and wounding 260.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Orioles: Recalled LHP Donnie Hart from Triple-A Norfolk. ... DH Mark Trumbo (right quad strain) will resume a rehab assignment next week after a setback in one game with Double-A Bowie on Tuesday night. ... RHP Gabriel Ynoa was getting an MRI on his pitching shoulder.

Red Sox: 1B-DH Hanley Ramirez, who left Thursday's game with a bruised left wrist after getting hit by a pitch in the first inning against New York, was not in the lineup. ... Cora said LHP David Price, who left in the first inning Wednesday with tingling in his pitching hand, will start Tuesday night when the Red Sox open a three-game series at the Los Angeles Angels.

UP NEXT

Orioles: RHP Alex Cobb, who signed as a free agent in March, makes his Orioles debut. Cobb went 10-12 last year with a 3.66 ERA for Tampa Bay in his first full year back after missing nearly two seasons because of Tommy John surgery.

Red Sox: RHP Hector Velazquez (1-0, 3.12) gets his second start after holding Tampa Bay to one run over 5 2/3 innings on April 1.

Drellich: What makes a playoff bullpen, in personnel and in usage?

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Drellich: What makes a playoff bullpen, in personnel and in usage?

The greatest impact Alex Cora and Dave Dombrowski can have from here on out lies in the same area: the bullpen.

“I think that’s the toughest part of the game,” Cora said. “The matchups and where to go. One thing for sure that we feel very strong about it, the whole platoon thing doesn’t matter, if you get people out, you get people out.”

Unless, perhaps, it’s October.

As successful as the Sox pen has been in a league of great disparity, Dombrowski and Cora have to consider how their relievers will look against their likely playoff opponents. No element of a baseball team's roster — the rotation, lineup, bullpen and bench — takes on a more disparate look in October than the relievers. A starter or two inevitably contribute in relief, and usage increases, and a regular-season reliever or two becomes a spectator.

“Somebody that was in the mix the whole time, he’s out of the roster,” Cora said. “And it’s very different in a sense. But you still need your guys, like here, little by little, we do feel very comfortable with the [progression in the] seventh, eighth, ninth.”

Relievers are already on the move, with Kelvin Herrera heading from the Royals to the Nats on Monday. But what should be sought in a quote-unquote playoff bullpen? What makes a good one, in both a GM's construction and a manager's usage?

“Players that have the heartbeat to handle the emotion of the game is one criteria that you look for,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Obviously, elite stuff is always important. Execution when the game is on the line is key. But I think the slower heartbeats, in addition to the talent, is something that I noticed last season that we excelled at, and that other teams that have good bullpens [did as well].

“You look at what the Dodgers bullpen did leading into the World Series. You look at what the really good teams in the past [were able to do], the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants: being able to handle the critical moments and apply your elite stuff at that time is really good."

There seems to be no limit to the number of power arms a team can, or perhaps must, amass. One established, elite reliever, i.e. Craig Kimbrel or Kenley Jansen, doesn’t seem to be fearsome anymore without serious backup. 

In the era of swing-and-miss, the Yankees standalone with a pen averaging 12.02 strikeouts per nine innings. The Astros are second at 10.75 per nine, and the Sox fifth at 9.73. But, those figures include people who won’t be major postseason contributors and include competition that is not postseason caliber.

Power alone, though, is not enough. 

“You need kind of an answer to everything,” Hinch said. “You need someone that can match up with lefties, someone that can match up with righties. That doesn’t always mean handedness has to equal that.

“In a perfect world, there’s going to be swings that don’t handle depth breaking balls. There’s going to be swings that don’t handle hard, lateral breaking balls, whether it’s a guy with a changeup — if you have a diverse set of relievers that can be matched up appropriately, it can be a great advantage in the bullpen.”

Matchups matter, but not in the conventional way, and that's true in the regular season as well.

"The days of 4-for-10 against this guy, they’re gone," Cora said. "It’s too small.”

The Red Sox entered the day off Monday with the sixth-best bullpen ERA in the majors. They’ve been successful preventing runners they’re handed by others from scoring as well, with the 11th lowest percentage of inherited runners scored. 

Dombrowski had a difficult time building bullpens in his years in Detroit. But the Sox had the second-best bullpen ERA in the majors in 2017. Now, despite Carson Smith’s season-ending shoulder injury and the delay in Tyler Thornburg’s return, the team is thriving again in late innings. 

But Hinch’s general point about style is one to consider with the Sox. Over the winter, Dombrowski noted the difference in looks that Smith provided in contrast to his other right-handers. Kimbrel, Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly and Heath Hembree are all high-velocity pitchers with strong breaking balls. Smith relied on a sinker as well as a slider.

This group might be able to carry the Sox to a third consecutive division title without any help. Still, variety may be lacking.

Fortunately, the postseason process naturally provides some help. When Hinch was asked what makes a good playoff bullpen, he cracked a joke.

“Starters,” he said.

The strength of the Sox starters could be a boost to the Sox pen in a layered way. Eduardo Rodriguez’s changeup or Steven Wright’s knuckler can create a change of pace.

But the starter craze can also go too far. Cora thought it did last October.

Had the Sox come back to win the Division Series against the Astros, the turning point would have been remembered as the third inning of Game 4.

Houston starter Brad Peacock struck out the first two he faced in the frame at Fenway Park. Consecutive hits cut the Astros’ lead to 3-1. Hinch, with Cora as bench coach, played the traditional matchup with Rafael Devers. Peacock was out, southpaw Francisco Liriano was in, and he was immediately greeted by a go-ahead home run.

“We got caught up last year in certain games that probably...we talked about it, we pulled the trigger too quick on Brad in Game 3,” Cora said. “Because it was the playoffs and we went with Liriano, who was throwing the ball well, and he gives up the home run.”

It was pointed out to Cora that most of the time, Liriano probably gets the job done, that the move wasn't so bad. (Although Devers fared extraordinarily well against southpaw pitching in 2017.)

“But you know what I mean? Like, we felt that way,” Cora said. "Kind of like, we trust these guys throughout the season [to get out of a jam as starters]...We talk about it. But maybe we talk about it because he gave it up."

It's only June, but the time for the Sox to consider October pen plans is now, at least in terms of ideal personnel and a variety of looks.

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Rosenthal: Red Sox and Orioles 'do not match up' on Machado trade

Rosenthal: Red Sox and Orioles 'do not match up' on Machado trade

As quickly as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic and FOX Sports' MLB telecasts heated up the Manny Machado-to-the Red Sox rumors last week, his latest reporting does a lot to dispel them.

In a notes column published Monday (subscription required), Rosenthal reports that the Red Sox have contacted the Orioles about the would-be-free-agent infielder, who is thought to be the prize of the July 31 trade deadline, but Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski thinks the teams "likely do not match up on a trade at this time," according to a source.

In other words, the Red Sox really don't have the top minor league prospects the O's would be looking for in a Machado deal. The Sox farm system is ranked 24th in MLB by Baseball America and top hitter Michael Chavis was just suspended for 80-games for PED usage and top pitcher Jay Groome just had Tommy John surgery.

As for including 21-year-old Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers in a Machado deal, as NBC Sports Boston Red Sox Insider Evan Drellich wrote last week, "sources with knowledge of the Red Sox thinking were dismissive of the idea the Sox would move Devers."


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