Red Sox Spring Training Brings Uncertainty for Team

In the glory days of Theo Epstein, when the lineup was dominated by Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, you knew what the Red Sox were, and their goal was always familiar. During that time, Boston was one of the few teams in professional sports that existed within a window of perennial contention. Red Sox Nation expected success, to a point where the regular season was almost an afterthought.

However, since 2010, the Red Sox have slowly lost that distinctive identity as their gripred sox spring training on constant postseason involvement has unraveled. This is the seventh consecutive season where uncertainty has clouded our judgment, the seventh straight spring where question marks reign. We simply don’t know what to expect from this franchise anymore.

That trend is prevalent throughout baseball in general. The increase in revenue sharing, coupled with more efficient defense and steroid testing, has flattened the field and created a vacuum of expectation. No team is guaranteed to qualify for the postseason, as the Washington Nationals and Seattle Mariners showed last year, while unheralded teams can triumph against all odds, as the Red Sox discovered in 2013. The additional wildcard in each league has led to teams aiming for 85 wins, rather than 90, as the quality of play has generally been diluted.

Moreover, baseball’s waning popularity when compared to the NFL has created a different atmosphere around the Red Sox. This team continues to inspire passion around the world, but the excitement has cooled somewhat from the manic 2000s, when the players could barely cough or sigh without opening the floodgates to reams of analysis. A gradual loss of intensity is definitely tangible, as the Red Sox attempt to rediscover their soul.

This year, they certainly have the ammunition to go far. David Price is the elite ace many people have yearned for, while Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts represent the next generation of Boston superstars. Yet, the uncertainty surrounding players like Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, coupled with performance concerns over established veterans such as Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz, makes this a difficult team to read. Right now, we would all be forgiven for not totally being on board.

However, such pessimism should be reserved for another day. Pitchers and catchers reporting for Red Sox spring training is a joyous occasion, evoking connotations of eternal hope and optimism. So, let’s try to move on and enjoy the moment. For one day, let’s forget statistics and logistics, and just focus on the return of baseball, and the warm glow it provides.

Go Red Sox!

Justin Masterson Progressing Well as Opening Day Nears

Justin Masterson

Justin Masterson is hoping for a bounce back season with the Red Sox, after going 7-9 with a 5.88 ERA for the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals in 2014.

Although he has been shaky at times, Masterson has looked good overall this spring, going 2-1 with a 3.50 ERA and .250 opponent batting average in 18 innings over five games.

The 30-year old Kingston, Jamaica native delivered what was arguably his best outing of the spring so far on Monday, pitching 5 2/3 innings while allowing just one Justin Mastersonunearned run.

According to Masterson, part of his effectiveness is due to having a clean bill of health.

“It was a combination of feeling good and feeling strong and, for the most part, hitting my spots,” Masterson told MLB.com. “It is definitely moving in the right direction. I was able to make a few adjustments.”

“I feel great. At this time last year, if we were going into the fourth or fifth inning, I’d be giving up at least a couple of homers out there,” Masterson continued. “The first couple would be good, and after that, not so much.”

Boston’s newly stacked offense has also seemed to have an effect on Masterson’s level of comfort while on the mound.

“What I’m really excited about is, you’re going to have a different guy who I feel is just going to go on hot streaks for a while. You’ll have a week of this guy, a week of that guy and when they all come together, I’m going to sit there and just watch. Put my feet back and say, ‘This is awesome’,” shared Masterson in the same  interview.

The Red Sox signed Masterson in December to a one-year, $9.5 million contract, returning him to the team that originally drafted him in 2006. With many questions surrounding Boston’s rotation, the Red Sox should have a lot of reasons to feel optimistic about the return of his health.

Mookie Betts Taking More Aggressive Approach at the Plate

Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts has easily been the biggest story of Spring Training for the Boston Red Sox, in large part due to his more aggressive approach at the plate as of late.

In 14 Spring Training games thus far, Betts is hitting .452/.477/.857, good for an astounding 1.334 OPS. The 22-year old infielder-turned-outfielder has collected seven doubles, two triples, two home runs and five runs batted in.Mookie Betts

What number stands out the most, however, is only two base on balls.

“[Major league] pitchers are just around the zone more. I feel like you have to swing a little more. You can’t go up there taking,” Betts shared with Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. “I kind of learned last year that you can’t go up there taking. You’ve got to be ready to swing it. That’s how [Derek] Jeter got 3,000 hits. He wasn’t up there taking.”

“That’s kind of why my approach is a little more aggressive than it used to be, which is all right. I feel like it works both ways — it cuts down on strikeouts and it may cut down on walks, but that’s OK. I’ll take [walks] when they come, like today.”

The new offensive approach seems to be working brilliantly for Betts, who at one point this spring had more extra base hits than any player in the Grapefruit League.

“I think [the more aggressive approach] just kind of just developed over last year, especially against [major league] pitchers,” Betts said. “They’re kind of in the zone with everything. I feel like if you go up there taking, you’ll be 0-2 in the blink of an eye.”

“It’s not something that I think about. It’s just something that’s naturally been an adjustment, the same way I always say – I feel like I just make natural adjustments.”

The ability to make those adjustments on the fly should pay huge dividends for Betts, as he prepares for his first full season in the majors. In 52 games in 2014, Betts hit .291/.368/.444 with five home runs, 18 runs batted in, seven stolen bases and 21 walks.

Rusney Castillo Is Making His Case for Outfield Spot Heard

RUSNEY CASTILLO

Rusney Castillo, an international free-agent the Red Sox inked to a 7-year, $72.5 million contract last August, is making Boston’s decision on which outfielders will start the season in the majors very difficult.

Castillo launched a 10th inning pitch from Minnesota’s Jake Reed over the left-field wall on Thursday at JetBlue Park, giving the Red Sox a 5-4 lead and the victory. In six Spring Rusney CastilloTraining starts thus far, the 27-year old Cuba native is hitting .235/.235/.706 with two home-runs, a triple and four runs batted in.

Despite missing two weeks of Spring Training with a left oblique injury, Castillo has wasted very little time showing that he is in-game condition.

“It’s definitely gratifying, especially given I came up a little short in the previous at-bat with the bases loaded,” Castillo shared with MLB.com’s Ian Browne, using his interpreter Adrian Lorenzo. “It was nice to kind of pick up my team and be able to have that at-bat be a home run, especially to decide the game.”

“I’ve always enjoyed those moments because it’s a time when the fans are expecting you to decide the game,” Castillo said in Spanish in an interview with USA TODAY. “I like being in those situations and I try to focus in those at-bats.”

Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts seem like locks to start the season in the outfield, which leaves Castillo, Allen Craig, and Shane Victorino vying for the starting right fielder position. Castillo has the most minor league options out of those three candidates, so it seems as though the easiest move would be to start him in AAA to begin the season.

“I don’t worry too much about it. I just look ahead and train to get ready,” Castillo told USA TODAY. “When you’re at [AAA], the next step is the big leagues, and the season is very similar to the majors. I try to focus on doing my job wherever I am.”

However, Craig and Victorino have both shown an inability to stay healthy the last couple of seasons, playing in only 156 games combined in 2014.

Castillo, on the other hand, has performed well at every level since signing with the Red Sox, and seemingly has a much higher offensive and defensive ceiling than either Craig or Victorino.

In 11 minor league games between A and AAA in 2014, Castillo hit .293 with five extra-base hits, five runs batted in, seven runs scored, five walks and two stolen bases. He followed that up with an impressive major league debut, hitting .333/.400/.528 with two home runs, six RBI and three steals in 10 games with the big league club.

Although it seems like the easiest choice would be to let Castillo begin the season in AAA, he has made a strong case as to why he should start the 2015 season in Fenway Park as the starting right fielder. With Boston facing many questions regarding their pitching rotation and bullpen, the Red Sox should look to the slugging Castillo if they want to put their best possible lineup on the field.

Matt Barnes Fighting for Opening Day Roster Spot

matt barnes

With Boston’s bullpen still a very big question mark less than two weeks from Opening Day, Matt Barnes is doing everything he can to prove his worth as a big league pitcher.

Barnes entered Saturday’s contest against the Tampa Bay Rays at Charolette Sports Park with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, replacing knuckle baller Steven Wright. He promptly got Asdrubal Cabrera to roll a ground ball to shortstop Xander Matt Barnes Bogaerts, who forced out Steven Souza Jr. at second base to retire the side.

The 24-year old Danbury, CT native returned to the mound for the bottom of the fifth, and promptly retired Evan Longoria, James Loney and Desmond Jennings in order.

After Brandon Guyer started the bottom of the sixth frame with a double to left field, Barnes was able to retire Logan Forsythe, Curt Casali and John Jaso on three consecutive strikes outs.

Barnes finished the day with 2 2/3 innings pitched, allowing a single hit and striking out four. In seven Spring Training games, he owns a 0-1 record to go with a 5.25 ERA, but has held opponents to just a .227 batting average, and has posted an impressive 1.08 WHIP.

Although there is a very real possibility Barnes ends up on the Opening Day roster, he is trying only to focus on the things he can control personally.

“I’m not trying to think about that at all,” stated Barnes in an interview with MLB.com’s Ian Browne. “If you start thinking about that, I’m getting ahead of myself.

“The only thing I can control is going out there and pitching. I’m focusing on that, getting my work in between outings, and letting the rest take care of itself. I feel happy with how I’ve thrown the ball. We’ll just let the management make the decision on that.”

Red Sox manager John Farrell was impressed with Barnes’ outing, especially coming in a true relief scenario.

“I thought he was very good. He gives up the 1-2 double and then records the three strikeouts following that [in the sixth inning],” Farrell told Browne. “Went to his curveball a little bit more to get some swing and miss against some quality major league hitters. He looks poised coming in for the middle of an inning. That’s the first time he’s come in with men on base. It’s a quick out to end the threat. He looked fine.”

With the clock ticking towards the start of the season, and the Red Sox still facing several questions regarding their bullpen, there is a good chance we will see Matt Barnes in the big leagues at some point this season, if not on Opening Day.

Rusney Castillo Contributes Big in Sox 3-2 Extra Innings Victory

rusney castillo

After replacing Shane Victorino in right field to start the seventh inning in Sunday’s contest against the Tampa Bay Rays at JetBlue Park, Rusney Castillo furthered his argument as to why he should be a starting outfielder come Opening Day.

With one out in the top of the 10th inning, he made a brilliant diving catch in foul territory, then came up firing to catch the runner trying to score and end the frame.Rusney Castillo

“It turned out to be a good play,” Castillo stated in an interview with Ian Browne of MLB.com. “I’m always kind of anticipating that kind of thing to happen. When you have a man on third in a big situation, you hope you can make a play like that and execute it. Fortunately it went our way.”

Red Sox manager John Farrell seemed equally impressed by Castillo’s skill in right field.

“I don’t know that you can make a play better than the one he made — diving play in foul territory, he gets up, sets his feet, and then he throws a 150-foot strike,” Farrell told Browne. “A dynamic player, when you consider the skill set that he has. If there was any question on whether he could play right field, he’s certainly answering those for us in camp here.”

With JetBlue Park sharing the same right-field dimensions as Fenway, the 27-year old Cuba defector is showing he is having no problem transitioning from center field, where he has spent most of his playing time since coming to America, to a right field known for being difficult to defend.

Castillo then lead off the bottom of the 10th inning with a single, advanced to second on a passed ball, then tagged up and went to third on a fly ball from Allen Craig. Shortstop Deven Marrero drilled a two-out walk-off single off the Green Monster, driving in Castillo for the winning run.