Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, April 19, 2007

LESTER, HANSACK HEAT UP

Though Julian Tavarez did a respectable job against the Blue Jays today (three runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings), he's simply filling in as the Sox number five starter. You could say he's holding down the fort, so to speak. It's just a matter of time before Jon Lester makes a much ballyhooed return to the Sox rotation to reclaim the role he held, and the promise he displayed, last year.

Lester will pitch a side session in Boston on Sunday, and then meet with team executives to discuss the timeline for his return to the big league club. Between now and then, the lefty will make his fourth, and perhaps final, start in Single A for the Greenville Drive. Lester is expected to pitch five-innings on Friday in Savannah against the Sand Gnats, possibly throwing as many as 85 pitches.

After that, it appears the Sox intend to have the 23-year-old begin making starts for Triple A Pawtucket, the first tentatively scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Rochester against the Twins' Triple A affiliate, the Red Wings.

Since rehab assignments for pitchers can't last longer than 30 days, and Lester's DL stint is retroactive to March 28, the Sox will have to place Lester on a roster by the end of next week. That assignment will likely be with Pawtucket first, before resuming his spot with the Red Sox in May, or even June.

Lester's road back from lymphoma treatment has been steady and promising, but with little of the fanfare that accompanied his every start last season, when expectations were so incredibly high.

In Lester's first rehab start for Greenville, he went four innings against the Charleston RiverDogs, a Yankees affiliate. In that debut game, the young lefty allowed just two hits and one walk, striking out five. Throwing a total of 54 pitches, 37 for strikes, Lester went four innings and even hit 96 mph at one point. If you're doing the math, that's 69% of his pitches for strikes. All of it was very encouraging.

His second rehab start went about as well as his first. Again working on a strict pitch count (51 pitches), the Sox hurler allowed three hits and no runs over four innings, striking out five and walking one.

Perhaps Lester's most impressive stat after his two starts for the Drive; no runs in eight innings.

Lester’s third scheduled rehab appearance was limited to a 75-pitch bullpen session under simulated game conditions on Sunday. The lefty was supposed to pitch the final five innings in a replay of Saturday night’s rain shortened contest. However, after he began warming up, the umpires ruled that he was ineligible to pitch because his name wasn’t on the previous night’s lineup card. So he'll take his turn tomorrow in an extended outing in Savannah instead.

But, before Lester takes his turn in the Sox rotation again, the team may see yet another impressive young performer from last season first.

Devern Hansack has made two-consecutive sizzling starts for Pawtucket. In the latest, Hansack struck out 10 in five scoreless innings in a 5-3 win over Durham Wednesday. Hansack has now whiffed an International League-leading 20 batters in just 10 2/3 innings, while allowing just one earned run.

So ultimately, Julian Tavarez, despite his performance today, shouldn't get too comfortable in the fifth spot of the Sox rotation. He isn't long for the job because it wasn't really his in the first place. The Sox youth movement will continue, and Tavarez will have to make room for the kids.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

AQUISITION OF PROSPECT OVERLOOKED

In a move that was mostly overlooked, the Red Sox traded catcher Alberto Castillo to the Orioles for outfielder Cory Keylor at the end of spring training.

Castillo was a non-roster invitee in Sox camp, but at age 37 clearly wasn't the solution in the Sox quest to lower the burden on an aging Jason Varitek. So, the Sox had no reservations in parting ways with Castillo. But what they got in return was quite a surprise.

The 6-3, 216-pound Keylor was the Orioles' minor league player of the year last season after hitting .294 with 10 homers and 68 RBIs in 124 games in Double-A ball.

The 27-year-old Keylor, who bats left but throws right, was a non-roster invitee in the Orioles camp this spring. Apparently the Orioles have plenty of organizational depth in the outfield and didn't feel they had room for Keylor. But it begs the obvious question; why would Baltimore give up its minor league player of the year in return for a 37-year-old catcher?

Only the Orioles know for sure, but Keylor's fast track to the Majors was derailed on a couple of occasions over the last few years.

Selected by Baltimore in the 14th Round (413rd overall) of 2001 amateur entry draft, the Ohio native played at Ohio University where he became the Bobcats' all-time home run leader with 34 career blasts. Yet, despite his obvious talents, Keylor has never made it above AA ball. It's not due to a lack of talent, but rather the result of multiple injuries.

The outfielder broke his kneecap in 2003 and then broke the hamate bone in his hand in 2005. If that injury sounds familiar, it's the same one that hampered Wily Mo Pena last season. But Bowie Baysox (the Orioles AA team) manager Don Werner said the wrist injury didn't give Keylor any trouble last year. Werner also said that Keylor can hit the ball to all fields, making him a tough out.

Now with the Red Sox AA affiliate Portland Sea Dogs, Keylor has worked on increasing his speed, which makes him a base-stealing threat. And defensively, Keylor's strong arm can save runs from right field.

Batting third for the Sea Dogs, Keylor is hitting .250 in 12 at-bats over Portland's first three games this season.

Though the Red Sox have plenty of outfield depth in the minors with David Murphy, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brandon Moss, the name Cory Keylor could become more familiar to Sox fans in time.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Monday, April 09, 2007

PINIERO'S IMPLOSION CONTINUES

Brought In To Be The Sox Closer, Piniero Can't Get Outs In A Set-Up Role. In Fact, He Can't Even Find the Strike Zone.

Joel Piniero was brought to Boston during the offseason to become the Red Sox closer. It was his job to lose, and it didn't take long for that to happen. Piniero lost the job before Spring training had even ended. And last night, in Texas, he reminded everyone why.

After Curt Schilling had limited the Rangers to just one run on four hits, over seven superb innings, Piniero entered the game in the top of the eighth with the Sox holding a 3-1 lead. The result was a near disaster. Piniero immediately walked the eighth and ninth batters in the Rangers' lineup and proceeded to load the bases on a bunt single. Before he could record a single out, Pineiro was unceremoniously, and mercifully, yanked. The man simply couldn't do his job.

Exasperated Red Sox fans, and likely Curt Schilling as well, breathed a sigh of relief. Thankfully, Piniero was gone and couldn't do any more damage.

Through seven innings, Schilling had pitched a gem, striking out six and walking one. In fact, it looked as if the veteran righty was getting stronger as the game wore on, retiring the last 10 batters he faced, and 14 of the last 15.. But after 102 pitches, Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell decided that Schilling had done more than enough, and that it wouldn't be prudent to push a 40-year-old so early in the season with so many more innings, starts, and months to go.

Of course, Jonathan Papelbon soon saved the day, recording five outs and earning his second save of the young season. In the process, Papelbon reminded everyone of his tremendous value. No one was more impressed, or more pleased, than Schilling.

"You just can't understand how unbelievable that is," Schilling said. "You just can't. Until you're on the mound, you cannot understand that there aren't very many guys in the history of the game that can do that."

Of course, all's well that ends well. But Piniero's poor performance can't be dismissed and it couldn't have done anything good for his confidence, or the team's confidence in him. At just 28-years-old, Piniero should be in his prime. But instead, over the last few seasons, he seems to have regressed and that trend appears to be continuing unabated.

In 2001, Piniero went 6-2 for the Mariners with a 2.03 ERA, showing just how much potential he had. The next year, that potential was proven to be genuine talent when he improved to 14-7, with a 3.24 ERA. In 2003, his wins and losses both increased, as he ended the year at 16-11 and still managed an impressive 3.78 ERA. Seattle thought they had a star in the making, and then everything went wrong.

Over the next three seasons, Piniero went from darling to disaster, posting these disappointing numbers in succession: 6-11, 4.67; 7-11, 5.62; and 8-13, 6.36.

And because he finished a few games in relief for the Mariners last year, earning one save along the way, the Red Sox somehow thought that he could be their closer in 2007. Wrong.

This kid is going in the wrong direction, and has likely lost the confidence of the team and its brass already. There have been rumors that he could be on the trading block, and may be used as bait, now that Papelbon has re-emerged as the closer extraordinaire. But the question is, at $4 million this year, who could be interested?

So far this season, which is only a week old, Piniero has appeared in four games for a total of 2 1/3 innings. In that brief period he has allowed four hits, two walks, and has an ERA of 7.71. That's not the stuff of a highly prized pitcher. At this point, the Sox would be lucky to get another team to take him off their hands and pay half his salary.

Sure, it's still quite early and things could change. But what over the last three years, or so far in this one, would lead anyone to believe that things are about to turn around for Piniero? As far as I can tell, there's been nothing and I hope we've seen the last of him in any type of critical situation when a game is on the line. Mop-up duty, when a game is out of hand and clearly decided, would seem to suit him best at this point. At such times, there would be no pressure on him at all. Those would seem to be the ideal circumstances for Piniero to attempt to regain his confidence and get his once promising career back on track -- if he still can.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

MATSUZAKA LIVES UP TO HYPE

It's Only One Start, but the Japanese Rookie Looks Like an Ace

So far so good. In just his first -- and much anticipated -- Major League game, Daisuke Matsuzaka lived up to his advanced billing and all the hype. If he's anywhere near as good as he was today against the Royals, the Red Sox will get a nice return on their $103 million investment.

Matsuzaka struck out 10 in seven innings, leading the Red Sox to a 4-1 victory over the Kansas City. But it wasn't just the ten K's that were impressive; Dice-K allowed just six hits. Striking more than one batter per inning, and allowing less than one hit per inning, is one hell of an introduction to the Major Leagues.

Matsuzaka threw an array of pitches, including fastballs, changeups and breaking balls that frustrated Kansas City hitters. During one stretch, Matsuzaka retired 10 batters in a row, striking out the side on just 14 pitches in the fourth. And despite the cold, blustery weather, Dice-K consistently threw in the mid-90s, reaching 95 mph on the scoreboard radar gun.

The Japanese rookie seemed unfazed by the 36-degree game-time temperature, or the 200 members of the media watching his every move. He never caved to the weather or the pressure, throwing 74 of his 108 pitches for strikes. Sure this was just the lowly Royals, but how can you not be impressed?

Jonathan Papelbon picked up right where he left off last year, striking out two of the three batters he faced for his first save. That's all the more reason for confidence and optimism.

The Red Sox got their first win after an Opening Day loss, and the "sky is falling" segment of Red Sox Nation took a collective sigh of relief and can now relax -- at least a little. There are 160 games yet to go, and if the Sox win 60 percent of them, they'll wind up with 97 victories. That would be considered a very successful year, and almost assuredly qualify them for the playoffs in October.

At this point, with a #3 pitcher who looks like he's got the stuff of a #1, that possibility is more than remote; in fact, it's quite distinct. The key is keeping everyone, or mostly everyone, healthy. That may be a lot to ask, but there's always the prospect of Roger Clemens joining the staff in the not too distant future or, barring such a dream scenario, Jon Lester being ready and available should someone fail or falter.

Assuming that Curt Schilling's rough start was just an aberration, the Sox rotation could be nasty and among the best in baseball. With a guy like Matsuzaka in the third spot of the rotation, how couldn't it be?

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.