A.J. Hinch

Price says he'd play Fortnite to avoid All-Star appearance

Price says he'd play Fortnite to avoid All-Star appearance

David Price has laid off the Fortnite lately and his numbers (six wins, 2.64 ERA in his past seven starts) have picked up to All-Star caliber.

But he told the Boston Herald he'll wear out the video-game controller again in order to avoid an appearance in the Midsummer Classic next month in Washington.

Of a possible selection to the American League team by A.L. manager A.J. Hinch of the Houston Astros, Price said: “I feel like if he did, it would just be to get me to throw an extra inning,” Price told the Herald's Jason Mastrodonato. “And that would be a pretty pro move on his part. I’ll come up with something, if I am an All-Star, so I won’t have to pitch. I’ll play a lot of Fortnite the night before, so I’ll be down [unavailable].”

Price has been an All-Star five times, the last time coming in 2015 with the Detroit Tigers. 

Fans vote on the starters, but players vote for reserves and pitchers with some selections made by the All-Star managers.

The Red Sox left-hander, who missed a start earlier this season when he was bothered by carpal tunnel syndrome - perhaps brought on by too much Fortnite? - listed a few teammates more deserving this season. Price is 8-4 with a 3.76 ERA. 

“Chris Sale,” Price said. “I ain’t going. I’m not an All-Star. Craig Kimbrel is gonna get his, I didn’t vote for Craig because he’s Craig Kimbrel, he’s going to get his votes. I voted for Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes. Actually I did vote for Craig. Joe, Barnes and Craig. Craig doesn’t need votes. His name is going to get him in.”

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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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Alex Cora's outburst with broadcaster a footnote or an omen?

Alex Cora's outburst with broadcaster a footnote or an omen?

After a season of discord for the Red Sox, Alex Cora’s job is to create stability. To reduce moments like Dustin Pedroia telling Manny Machado, “It’s not me, it’s them," and prevent another David Price-Dennis Eckersley confrontation.

But a loud misstep in Cora's time as the Astros’ bench coach opens a question of how effectively the new manager will prevent a repeat of the past. Not only the Red Sox’ past, but his own. 

In his first year as a major league coach, Cora lived a night with echoes of Price-Eckersley.

On Aug. 31, less than two months before he was named Sox manager and at a time of peak anxiety off the field, Cora cursed out Astros broadcaster Geoff Blum on a team bus heading from the airport to the stadium in Houston. When the bus arrived at the Astros’ Minute Maid Park, Cora went off again, screaming at his boss, Astros manager A.J. Hinch. 

Both expletive-filled episodes were visible to a large number of the Astros’ traveling party. The confrontations were described to NBC Sports Boston by multiple people with direct knowledge of them, including witnesses. 

Whether the lack of self-control Cora displayed proves a footnote to Cora’s coaching career or an omen entering his first managerial gig is to be seen. 

Multiple sources said Cora had been drinking and that it contributed to his behavior. It is not uncommon for players or staff to drink on travel days. There is no indication Cora has a recurring issue controlling his alcohol intake. 

Cora declined comment on specifics of what transpired. Blum and Hinch declined any comment.

“You learn how to overcome. It happens on every team," Cora said. "People have disagreements. Sometimes it’s about life, sometimes it’s about the game. The good thing is that you work with people that you respect, and they respect you . . . You move on and you learn from it and you keep getting better.”

The situation did not become physical. A highly sought after manager, Cora felt embarrassed by his actions, and later apologized to both parties.

The circumstances the Astros found themselves in on Aug. 31 were complex and intense -- a statement true for every member of the organization. The Astros were returning to Houston and to their homes for the first time since Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25.

As Houston came into view on the plane back from Florida, where games were temporarily relocated, some Astros had trouble seeing land because there was so much water everywhere, an unsettling moment. Everyone was worried about their family, their friends, and their city, as they began to see the devastation firsthand. In addition, Cora was greatly concerned about potential damage to his native Puerto Rico from Hurricane Irma, which would hit the island within a week. (The more powerful and destructive Hurricane Maria, which would not reach Puerto Rico until Sept. 20, had yet to form.)

Against that backdrop, behind-the-scenes friction between Cora and Blum boiled over when Blum, who played 14 years in the majors like Cora, asked Cora to turn down music on the bus. Curse words came at Blum for about five minutes. (Unlike the Price-Eckersley drama, Cora’s argument with Blum did not stem from commentary on air.)

Once off the bus, Cora lashed out at Hinch as Hinch tried to defuse the situation. The incident with Hinch lasted roughly another 10 minutes near the stadium’s loading dock, as both team buses -- one for staff, which carried Cora and Blum, and one for players -- disembarked. Former Astros outfielder and Yankees managerial candidate Carlos Beltran tried to calm down Cora.

“Between Harvey and [Irma], it was a combination of a lot of emotions on a personal level,” Cora said. “We’re flying everywhere, man, and then the team, we weren’t playing good [with an 11-17 record in August]. I learned that we can be -- honestly, honestly, on a personal standpoint, I learned that boys are boys, and it’s a family and you’re going to have your good days and your bad days."

Cora did not point to the fact the Astros won the World Series to downplay the incident. 

“We were one game away from losing against the Yankees [in the ALCS],” Cora said. 

Rather, as Cora explained it, the incident mattered afterward only because the result was a tighter bond with Hinch.

“Our relationship grew up and it got better, and hey, man, my biggest supporter throughout the whole process, who was it? It was A.J. Hinch," Cora said. "Because we slipped at one point doesn’t mean it was over. I think families, and friends, they got moments. And it was a moment. And it wasn’t a great moment . . . If we lose to the Dodgers (in the World Series), it was going to be the same thing. That whole month of October, with him, he was not my mentor, but he was the guy that I was looking up to throughout the process.”

A manager can be emotional and successful, Cora believes. Yet, there’s the adage that the manager need be the steadiest guy in the room, the most even-keeled. 

Cora plans to encourage emotion in his players. When he played, he feels he was too buttoned up, despite a famous moment in his time at the University of Miami, when a walk-off home run ended the College World Series in a loss and Cora crumpled to the ground in disappointment.

"I encourage guys to be passionate about it and show emotion,” Cora said. “I was the other way around. And sometimes I regret that. I didn’t have as much as fun on the field . . . It goes with the era I grew up in the game. And it’s not just my playing years, but before that. Following [my brother] Joey and his career, winter ball and the way he was."

Alex’s m.o. in a non-playing leadership role is still taking shape. Cora said that during his time in winter ball in Puerto Rico last year, and then during the World Baseball Classic in the spring, he found himself more publicly reserved than he had been in the past.

"I think A.J. showed more emotion than I did, throughout the [Astros’] season,” Cora said. "I think the whole year was a learning process of trying to stay calm. At the same time, inside, I was enjoying the whole thing.”

Anger has a different time and place for expression compared to, say, joy or anxiety. Asked if it would be okay for a manager to react the way he did on Aug. 31, Cora reiterated he learned from the situation.

The Red Sox presumably would have liked to discuss the events of Aug. 31 with Cora during the interview process, but they didn't know the events happened until NBC Sports Boston reached out to the team, sources confirmed.

Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski declined to discuss his interview process.

“He’s our manager, we’re thrilled that’s he’s with us,” Dombrowski said. “I’ve had some tremendous managers around me that lost their cool at times. And I think every situation’s different. When I’m not there, it’s hard to evaluate different things.”

The Sox moved quickly to make a hire so they could land a top candidate, announcing Cora’s arrival 11 days after announcing John Farrell’s firing. It’s the Sox’ responsibility to know everything about their new manager, but, at the same time, it’s difficult to gather every detail in a short window.

A mistake like Aug. 31 in Cora's new role would be problematic, given that his job here is to defuse tension.

“I’m very comfortable with the way I do things,” Cora said generally. “We just got to wait and see, man. Right now we’re in a stage, that I know that the organization, everybody is connected and talking and looking forward for what’s going to happen.

“I’ve been able to learn about guys and talk about guys, and the most important thing [of late] is the coaching staff. Connecting with them and getting ideas from them.

“All that stuff is going on right now, so I have no idea how I’m going to be. I know what I want. I know what I want from this team. From the coaching staff. From the medical staff. Analytics staff, everybody. You name it, I know what I want from them. But until Feb. 14 starts, we have no idea.”

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