The Christian Vazquez Era: Sox hit 4-1

Christian Vazquez

Since A.J. Pierzynski was designated for assignment, the Red Sox  won four of their final five games before the break. While taking two apiece against the White Sox and Astros isn’t exactly all that hard, it is a step in the right direction for the Red Sox, who are still trying to make something out of the season.

The final game of the Pierzynski era seemed to be the final straw for many fans. I’ve had my doubts as well, but the AL East just isn’t that great. Even 85 wins or so might earn a playoff spot and the new look Sox could have a chance to make it there.

Pierzynski was once voted as the most hated player in the league by his peers, and apparently many of his Red Sox teammates, had similar feelings for the former catcher. After he was let go, reports started popping up about his negative presence in the clubhouse and the lack of cooperation with his pitchers. Maybe removing this “clubhouse cancer” will actually have a noticeable effect going forward.

His replacement, Christian Vazquez, has already made his mark. Vazquez is 5-11 at the plate so far with three doubles and five RBI’s, and hitting isn’t even his strong suit. The defensive specialist is well-noted for calling a solid game behind the plate and having the ability to change the opposing team’s approach on the base paths.

Fellow rookie call-up Mookie Betts is also improving, and played a big part of Wednesday’s comeback win. His speed has become quite apparent already and if he continues to get on base he can create runs.

Perhaps the one guy who needs the All-Star break more than anyone else is Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts’ average has dropped down to .235 and his OPS has dropped down to .658. Just over a month ago, those numbers were at .304 and .859. Talk about a slump! There’s no doubt the addition of Stephen Drew took a mental toll on Bogaerts, the same Stephen Drew who’s batting .151. At what point does the lack of hitting overcome strong defense?

Jake Peavy may have made his last start in Boston on Saturday. There are plenty of young arms looking to get starts and Peavy’s 4.59 ERA isn’t exactly allowing the Sox to win games. Considering the team rarely scores, it isn’t surprising that he only has one win to his name this year. The Cardinals and Braves have both been rumored to be interested in Peavy, who was of course more successful when he broke into the majors in the National League. Even though the Sox would be “selling” Peavy, it might actually help the team.

The Orioles have jumped to the top of the standings with strong play lately, but who knows if they can keep it up. Even though their 11-0 blowout on Sunday probably won’t mean much to the team when they return on Friday, it may be the boost Clay Buchholz needs to get on the right track. Despite it being against the Astros, Buchholz’s shutout looked very impressive. We shall see if he can have another quality start on the first game back from the break against the Royals.

Sly Goes One on One with Christian Vazquez

christian vazquez

Having been a Sox fan for a long time, and made a living one way or another through the Boston Red Sox, I’ve gotten to know a lot of players through the years. In order to succeed in the Boston market, you have to have grit, be hard-nosed, tough and have a great work ethic. Those who have succeeded in Boston had that make-up. Catchers, Boston’s had some great ones—Fisk and Varitek come to mind. There were other good backstops in the last 30 years—Rich Gedman, Tony Pena, even Mike MacFarlan for a couple seasons, but we haven’t seen a good home grown catcher in a while. Until now. The baseball God’s have given us Christian Vazquez.

I’ve watched Vazquez play in Pawtucket this season and caught up with him right before he was promoted to the big club. I spoke to him after Matt Barnes’ second strong outing, and while most reporters were talking about the pitching performance, I spoke to Christian about how he was calling the game and what he felt he was doing right and wrong.

Christian told me he spends a lot of time pouring over opposing hitters stats, and sometimes calling a pitch on his gut feeling or a hunch that this guy can’t hit it inside. Vazquez said he is given a lot of freedom in how to control the game and said, “I like to keep the ball down and get my guys off the mound as quick as possible, inning by inning.” During the June 7th game, he gunned a guy down at first and held the team to no stolen bases. I watched this kid, like a sniper with precision, always have one eye on the base runner and not afraid to throw down to first after any pitch. After the game, when I asked Vazquez if his actions were instinct or instructions from the dugout, he replied,”It’s all me. Skipper gives me the green light to throw down if I think it’s right.”

When I asked him about his aggressive approach he said he worked on it over the winter in Jupiter, FL with Yadier and Bengie Molina. The Molina’s also helped him with his much improved defense and ability to block pass balls. In that June 7th game, I watched closely as not a single ball made it by his glove. The Molina’s stressed to Vazquez that you don’t get to be an All-Star catcher by allowing pass balls. “They cost runs and they cost games,” said Vazquez, adding, “I’ll do anything to get my pitcher the W.”

Christian Vazquez is just one of the many exciting new players coming through this system. This guy is my type of ball player: hard, tough and confident. He appears to be a born leader as well.

I think the next Varitek just showed up in the Red Sox locker room.

Anthony Ranaudo Will Make An Impact This Year

anthony ranaudoSeen by scouts as arguably the best pitcher in his draft class, Boston Red Sox pitching prospect Anthony Ranaudo continues to prove scouts that they were right. A disappointing junior year marred by injuries caused him to fall to the supplemental first round. Ranaudo, who wanted to show the Red Sox the pitcher that he truly is, pitched for the Brewster Whitecaps in the Cape Cod League, pitching a total of 29 2/3 scoreless innings. Impressed with his numbers, Boston gave Ranaudo an almost unheard of $2.55 million signing bonus just before the signing deadline. After a few years of ups and downs in the Minor Leagues, Anthony Ranaudo is finally looking like a big league pitcher.
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Ranaudo, who is 24-years-old, picked up where he left off after an impressive 2013 campaign. So far this year the tall righty is impressing Red Sox Nation, especially in his last 10 starts. In those last 10 starts his ERA is a minute 1.74, he has set down 50 men by way of the K while walking only 20, hitters hit just .186 off the New Jersey native all while tossing 62 innings in total. Finally, Ranaudo looks like the pitcher everyone had high hopes for. This is mostly because he is now completely healthy and was not in years past.

On the mound, Ranaudo boasts a hard fastball which sits comfortably in the low-to-mid 90’s. He typically tops out at around 95mph while he has thrown up to 98mph before. His curveball is definitely a plus pitch and typically sits around 80mph give or take a couple. Although his changeup is his weakest pitch, Ranaudo is working hard at improving it.  The command is not all there on his change, but it is around 12mph slower than his fastball, making it somewhat effective. Granted with his massive frame at 6 ft 7, Ranaudo has no problem getting great downward leverage, making him even more dominant as a pitcher.
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The Major League club Boston Red Sox definitely are in the middle of a down year. With Jon Lester and Jake Peavy set to be free agents after this year and with John Lackey threatening retirement, any of those three men could be traded by the trade deadline at the end of the month. In order to fill the void the veterans leave in the rotation, Boston will look to fill them internally. The way Anthony Ranaudo is pitching as of late, expect him to get a shot in the big league rotation at some point this year. Despite other youngsters pitching well, there could be up to three spots in the rotation open and with this being said, the Red Sox would be crazy to not give one of those spots to Ranaudo.

Does Jackie Bradley Jr. Need More Time in the Minors?

Jackie Bradley JrAfter seeing Jackie Bradley Jr. for nearly half a season, the 24-year-old has failed to really hold on to the starting centerfielder role on the 2014 Boston Red Sox. Sure, he may be leading the team on average with runners in scoring position, but he has failed to do anything else at the plate on a consistent basis.

In 275 plate appearances with the big league club this season, Bradley has hit at a .208 clip which is just a smidge higher than his career. .203 mark. While he does have 24 walks on the season, he strikes out way too much with 79 in 77 games he has played in.

With the nine assists being third in MLB among outfielders, it may be tough for the Red Sox to sit the player who is making play after play on the defensive end, even with his offensive production being abysmal at best.

The Red Sox are currently eight games behind the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East. If the team hopes to turn anything around, then the offense is the first thing that needs to get going and Bradley is not even close to the answer.

What needs to happen is that the team should send him back to Triple-A Pawtucket until he tweaks his approach at the plate. Once he shows he can hit with at least a .270 average, then the team can decide whether or not he should be back up with the Red Sox. Plus, he needs to be willing to take more pitches outside of the zone rather than swing over breaking balls— which he is prone to do.

With Mookie Betts now up on the roster, he has already played a couple games in center while Bradley took a seat on the bench. With too many outfielders to play on a consistent basis, the Red Sox need to demote someone and the best option has to be Bradley.

With the Red Sox nine games under .500, the team needs to at least take a chance to fix Bradley in order for him to make a difference with the ball club going forward. Bradley is the future for center field and the Red Sox need to do everything in their power to make sure he can handle the offensive side of the ball better than a .200 average each season.

The Red Sox gave him a chance to prove himself and he has failed so far, so time to give someone else a shot until he can right the ship.

Brock Holt an All-Star?

The Boston Red Sox are sitting at 34 wins and 40 losses for fourth place in the American League East. So far, there have been a number of disappointing performances: Clay Buchholz, Grady Sizemore, and Felix Doubront just to name a few. Not many players are exceeding expectations for Boston, but there definitely is one. That man is Brock Holt, a second baseman by trade who is proving to be a highly valuable player for the club.

Logging playing time everywhere except for at pitcher and catcher in his Major League career, the 26-year-old is having a monster year for Boston. On the year, Holt is hitting .329 in 39 games while boasting a .369 OBP with 15 extra base hits out of 51 hits.
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In the field, Holt has been thrown around into a number of positions, none of which come natural to Holt. Granted that he is a second baseman by trade with shortstop as his secondary position, it is amazing to see Holt doing what he has done since he has not logged a single appearance at either of those positions in the big leagues this year.

Since Holt started the year in AAA Pawtucket, he is not on the MLB All-Star game ballot. Holt definitely deserves to be an All-Star this year, but unfortunately for him it would be tough to win a spot on the team now as he would need much too many write-in votes.
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Luckily for Holt, there still is another possibility for him to get into the All-Star game: the final vote. There is a good chance that if Holt keeps up what he has been doing that he could get on the final vote ballot for the American League. Knowing how big of a fan base the Boston Red Sox have, Holt would have a great chance of winning the nod, earning a trip to Target Field to join manager John Farrell and crew.

Overall, Brock Holt is proving his worth this year for the Red Sox. He is knocking the cover off the ball and deserves all the credit in the world for helping out the defending World Champs. Making Brock Holt an All-Star is the least the league could do as a reward for his breakout season. Even if he is overlooked, he will continue to be a secret weapon for Boston.

Why Rubby De La Rosa Should Be Here To Stay

rubbyOn Monday, Boston Red Sox pitcher Rubby De La Rosa pitched a gem. Going seven strong innings allowing just one hit while walking three and fanning three hitters, De La Rosa got the win— improving his record to 2-2. There was a lack of offensive support despite the strong outing and Boston won the game just 1-0. Boston is the king of losing one run games this year, and would have lost this one if it were not for such a strong outing by the 25-year-old flamethrower. This is why it is clear, at least to this reporter, that Rubby De La Rosa is here to stay for the Boston Red Sox this year.
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On the year, De La Rosa is boasting a 2.84 ERA in four starts for the Boston Red Sox, totaling 25 1/3 innings. His strikeout totals are high at 23 and his walk total is low at just seven, showing signs that Rubby has regained command on all of his pitches. So far this year, De La Rosa has given Boston two spectacular outings and two not-so-good outings. In a pair of outings De La Rosa has thrown seven innings of shutout ball and in the other two, he let up four runs on 5 2/3 innings of work.

Obviously De La Rosa would be a better pitcher if he was more consistent, but those two great outings against Tampa Bay and Minnesota are a glimpse at what Rubby could one day be down the line. Those are weaker teams in contrast to the teams which he struggled against—Detroit and Baltimore, but other pitchers would not perform as well against those stronger clubs either.
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When Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront return from the Disabled List, Boston will need to make some decisions on what to do with the young fire-baller whose fastball regularly approaches 100 mph in games. The way Clay Buchholz pitched in his first rehab start will help the Red Sox buy some time, as he gave up a pair of home runs and three total earned runs on 4 2/3 innings of work for the Paw Sox. Also, keep in mind, De La Rosa is outperforming Workman in the rotation, as Workman has a 3.21 ERA in five starts totaling 28 inning in which he has walked 11 batters while fanning just 21. This may not seem like much of a difference, but the walk totals are high and Workman works better out of the bullpen anyways.

Overall, the Boston Red Sox are in a tough spot, but a great one at the same time. They have a plethora of pitching talent which is great since their only problem is to decide who to keep and who to give the boot. Hopefully Boston will find a way to make it all work so that Rubby and Workman both get to stay in the big leagues, but baseball is as much a game of number crunching as it is a game of anything else and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.