Too Much Pressure for Benintendi?

Andrew Benintendi broke in with the Red Sox late last season and quickly proved his worth. It was inevitable that he’d make it to Boston, but no one thought it would be so quick. The swiftness with which he rose through the minors concerned some whoBenintendi thought it was too fast. Fortunately, Benintendi proved them wrong. In 34 games in 2016 he hit .295 with fourteen extra base hits. He even hit a home run in the ALDS against Cleveland. While he is off to a strong start this season, some are asking the question, “Is Benintendi under too much pressure?”

It’s a valid question. After all, Benintendi is only 22-years old. He couldn’t even legally drink when he started his professional career. Playing everyday is a lot of pressure for anyone, let alone a rookie. Just ask Fred Lynn.

A few weeks ago I sat down with former Red Sox centerfielder Fred Lynn. As many of you remember, Lynn won the 1975 AL Rookie of the Year AND MVP awards, the only player ever to do so in the same year. He also won a Gold Glove and made an All-Star appearance, the first of nine. But he told me that he expected to do even better the following year. While he went on to collect a batting title in 1979, Lynn recalled some challenges that came along. “I was not a big guy and I thought maybe if I put on some weight or get some more muscle…,” Lynn told me. “But…the variable for me always was if I could stay healthy enough to do what I could do…that bar was set pretty high, and I didn’t mind that because I set my own bar pretty high.”

Benintendi set his own bar high too. Otherwise he wouldn’t be where he is today. However, that doesn’t mean that fans and writers alike aren’t setting it even higher.

With Benintendi Under Pressure, How’s He Adjusting?

Benintendi played the first and third games against Baltimore last weekend, but sat out the second. There was a southpaw on the mound in the second game, which didn’t bode well for Benintendi. But I think the other reason why John Farrell benched Benintendi was because Baltimore’s pitchers had figured out how to get him out. Twice Benintendi hit into a double play. While it happens to everyone, if you look at footage of Benintendi’s swing, he has a ways to go towards adjusting his swing to counter the way pitchers are going to throw to him. Pitchers and hitters trying to get the upper hand over each other is a never-ending battle. It’s even harder this day in age with all the access to footage players can review and study.

Seeing Benintendi under pressure is tough, but that’s baseball. If he’s smart, and I’m sure he is, he’ll learn how to adjust. Meanwhile, Farrell is smart to bench him against southpaws and insert someone like Josh Rutledge, who has his own potential.

 

Rutledge Called Up To Replace Ailing Red Sox

The Red Sox can’t catch a break with the injuries. David Price hasn’t started a game yet. Brock Holt is on the DL due to vertigo. Dustin Pedrioa has missed the last few games due to a sore knee. Now Pablo Sandoval is on the 10-day DL with a right knee sprain. This comes after a season that saw Sandoval out for the entire season. Fortunately, the Red Sox AAA team in Pawtucket has a stock of players more than ready to plug the holes. Having players like Josh Rutledge called up to Boston will help stop some of the bleeding.

Seeing Josh Rutledge called up should make many fans happy. As an under-utilized playerRutledge called who does well when he’s in Boston, this is a chance for Rutledge to prove his real worth. Unfortunately, the only time he makes it to Boston is when there’s an injury. If he got more playing time, Rutledge could become a real asset to the Red Sox. He can play multiple positions in the infield as well as serve as a DH. Rutledge has experience playing in the National League too, which is always an asset.

Unfortunately, Rutledge, along with the rest of the team, is coming up short so far in the season. Yes, it’s important to remember that it’s still only April. But seeing the Red Sox struggle this much out of the gate is concerning.

Rutledge Called Up to Injury-Prone Team

Wednesday’s loss to the Yankees was disconcerting for Boston fans braving the rain at Fenway. Porcello now has a 1-3 record, a complete opposite of what we saw last year from him. It’s not that he pitched badly. He struck out nine batters, flashing some of the dominance that won him a Cy Young Award last season. But it wasn’t enough.

We might see more wins out of a healthier team, but right now the reality is that they’re hurt. Pedrioa, Sandoval, Price, and Holt are all down and out for now. That’s four key players that Farrell relies on. While the Red Sox are struggling, seeing Rutledge called up is positive, as he’ll be one more player who can gain enough experience to plug holes in the future when needed.

Red Sox Learning To Take The Lead In Late Innings

One of the things that frustrated Red Sox Nation last year was the team’s inability to come from behind. An opposing team would outscore them, and the Red Sox couldn’t catch up. They’d load the bases but their hitter would strike out. Or they’d leave runners in scoring position inning after inning. In fact, they led the American League last year in runners left on base. With the Red Sox learning how to take the offensive in later inningRed Sox learnings fans are finally seeing a different tone.

Four of their eight wins as of April 17th were come-from-behind victories. Red Sox found themselves behind the Pittsburg Pirates during their makeup game on the 13th. Down 3-1 going into the 8th, Hanley Ramirez’s doubled home the winning run. The Red Sox did it again on Easter Sunday three days later against Tampa Bay. Down 5-4 in the seventh, the Red Sox rallied to pull ahead 7-5 by the ninth inning.

Even in instances where they didn’t win, they still showed strong effort. In an April 12th game against the Orioles, the Red Sox were down 9-0 going into the third. Despite losing the game, they finished the game 12-5. Win or lose, this was an issue the Red Sox sorely needed to work on from last season.

“The one thing that’s starting to show is that we’ve come from behind a number of games already,” manager John Farrell said in an article posted to Full Count on Weei.com.

With The Red Sox Learning To Come From Behind, Pitching Remains a Problem

I don’t think anyone anticipated the problems that the Red Sox rotation would have going into the 2017 season. We expected to see David Price at this point but he’s still down and out. Rick Porcello and Steve Wrignt have already taken their fair share of devastating losses. The Matt Barnes fiasco with Manny Machado isn’t helping things either.

Last year’s pitching was strong. Price dominated with strikeouts and Porcello became a 20-game winner. It was the offense that struggled at times. Now that the offense is heating up. it’s the pitching that’s struggling. If Farrell can find that balance the team needs, the Red Sox will be able to capture and hold onto first place.

Red Sox Have To Adjust Their Home Run Swings

It’s hard to hit a home run in Fenway, especially if you’re a visiting player. The Green Monster has robbed hundreds, if not thousands of home runs, from hitters. Right field isn’t much better with its deep unique corners. Red Sox hitters learn how to adjust their home run swings for the contours of Fenway. But they find it difficult to adjust in other ballparks.

I noticed this when I was in Baltimore last weekend for their series against the Orioles.home run swings Pablo Sandoval hit a bomb to left field that would have cleared the Green Monster. But it’s between 333-364 feet to left/left center in Camden Yards. That’s another few dozen feet that a ball has to travel for a home run. Sandoval has already hit a few homers over the Green Monster this season. However, the can of corn he hit in Baltimore shows he needs to hit for a tad more power. If Sox players like Sandoval want to hit home runs, they have to remember that most outfields are deeper than Fenway’s.

Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a home run in the second series game that traveled over 450 feet. The ball itself almost hit the B&O Warehouse that overshadows Camden Yards. Ken Griffey Jr. is the only MLB player who has hit the warehouse in Camden Yards’ twenty-five year history. But Bradley Jr. is a lefty and it’s 380 to right center field in Fenway. Bradley hits for power, hence the distance on the home run.

The way the Red Sox hit during the Baltimore series clearly showed that they’re used to playing in Fenway.

Red Sox Have to Adjust Their Home Run Swings When They’re On the Road

The Red Sox can hit for power. Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are becoming home run hitters. Xander Bogaerts isn’t there yet but he will be. Andrew Benintendi still has a ways to go before he’s a power hitter. But players like Sandoval can’t hit to left thinking it’ll clear the wall when they’re in a different ballpark. The Wall, despite its height, its much closer to home than most left fields.

If these hitters want to add more runs to the board they need to look at each ballpark they play in and adjust their home run swings accordingly.

Spikes and Controversy Slide Into Pedrioa

Fans have seen little else beyond spikes and controversy slide into Red Sox news lately. It started Friday night in Baltimore. The O’s third baseman Manny Machado slid into second as Dustin Pedrioa attempted a double play. Machado slid and spiked Pedroia. It looked  unintentional. But Pedrioa’s teammates and fans alike believe that Machado did it on purpose.

Personally, I don’t agree.Controversy Slide

Pedrioa told the press after the game that he didn’t think Machado intentionally spiked him. Pedrioa is a tough player whose been around for years and knows the difference between an accident and a dirty play. In fact, from the stands it looked like an accident.

I was attending the game in Baltimore with my friend Taylor that night. We were sitting behind the visiting dugout. At first, it didn’t look like Pedrioa was hurt that badly. I didn’t see any animosity between Machado and Pedrioa following the slide. In fact, as Machado slid into second he wrapped his arms around Pedrioa in an effort to cushion the impact. To see this kind of controversy slide into the game was unwarranted.

There were a lot of Red Sox fans at Camden Yards Friday night. I didn’t hear any of them suggest that Machado spiked him intentionally. O’s fans seemed to feel the same way. As I left the ballpark I didn’t hear anyone mention it. I didn’t hear anything about it in the bars I went into for an after-game drink. No one was talking about it. In other words, this is nothing more than an effort to make something out of nothing.

Anger and Controversy Slide Into The Red Sox Clubhouse

This incident was about to blow over until reliever Matt Barnes threw at Manny Machado on Sunday. Barnes was immediately ejected, making Friday’s incident a much bigger issue. Now some are saying Pedrioa is partly to blame. Following Sunday’s game, the O’s Zach Britton called Pedrioa’s leadership into question. Britton suggested that Pedrioa can’t control his teammates. It’s one thing to call this a “mishandled situation,” as Pedrioa put it, but it’s another thing to question Pedroia’s integrity. There’s no better ambassador for the Red Sox than Pedrioa. He’s one of those players whose love for the game equals his efforts.

This isn’t something the Red Sox need right now. Barnes should have known better than to throw at Machado over a nothing issue. Pedrioa likely didn’t tell him to do it; it’s not his style. It was an issue that was about to die down until  Barnes made it worse. It was something he decided to do on his own. But that’s between Barnes, his teammates, and John Farrell. Let the Red Sox deal with Barnes and focus on getting Pedrioa back into the lineup.

The best way to deal with this issue is to refocus on baseball. The AL East is unusually competitive this season and the Red Sox need to move on. Instead of dwelling on this insignificant issue, let the Red Sox focus on capturing first place.

Retired Red Sox Stars Find Ways To Give Back

I recently started work on an article about Carl Yastrzemski and his days with the Red Sox. As part of my research I’ve interviewed some of Yaz’s teammates including Bill Lee, Fred Lynn, and Jim Lonborg, among others. In exchange for their time, I offered to make a donation to a charity of their choice. While many asked for donations to The Jimmy Fund, I thought Lynn and Lonborg’s requests were unique. These charities have a personal meaning to these retired Red Sox players.

Last February 1967 Cy Young winner Jim Lonborg invited me to his home to talk about Yaz. Afterwards, heretired Red Sox told me about a charity his wife, Rosemary, co-founded and directs called Learn, Live, Love. This charity focuses on providing different kinds of assistance to female cancer patients and their families in Massachusetts. In addition to her efforts with the charity, she works at Fragile Footprints Pediatric Palliative Care, Plymouth, MA. Jim also works for the charity as the treasurer. You can learn more about Learn, Live, Love at learnlivelove.org.

Fred Lynn, the 1975 AL MVP, and I met at the Hotel Commonwealth on Good Friday and spent about an hour discussing Red Sox history. I asked Lynn about a week before our meeting which charity he’d like me to donate to. Lynn texted me the info for a charity called The Face Foundation in San Diego, CA. “We have saved over 1,600 animals in about 5 years,” Lynn added. The website states that “The FACE Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides financial assistance for San Diego animal owners who are unable to afford the cost of their pets’ emergency veterinary care.” If you’d like to learn more about The Face Foundation, check out their website at face4pets.org.

Retired Red Sox Players Aren’t The Only Ones Who Give Back

In addition to retired Red Sox players, I also spoke to former Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Denny McLain, the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season. He asked me to donate to the Michigan Parkinson Foundation for his wife, Sharon, who is fighting the disease. Former Red Sox players Jim Gosger and Ted Lepcio both asked me to donate to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Rico Petrocello and Bill Lee asked for donations to The Jimmy Fund while Galen Cisco asked for a donation to the St. Mary’s Foundation in Ohio.

These players were tremendously helpful to me as I did my research on Carl Yastrzemski. The very least that could be done in exchange for their time was to make a donation. While some of them told me it wasn’t necessary, they all expressed their sincere thanks. I’m the one, however, who owes them all the thanks.