Steven Wright Is Here To Stay

Coming into the 2016 season, Steven Wright was still unknown to most fans. Following an impressive spring in which he had a 2.66 ERA, Wright won the final spot in the Boston Red Sox rotation. A guy who had posted average minor league numbers finally had his chance to cement himself in a major league rotation, no more bus rides.

Wright is primarily a knuckleball pitcher, throwing it 85.9 percent of the time. His secondary pitchesSteven Wright consist of a very hittable low to mid 80s fastball and a curveball that he rarely throws. Wright’s pitch arsenal is very comparable to former Sox fan favorite, Tim Wakefield. However, Wakefield threw his curveball a bit more than Wright. Strong secondary pitches are essential for starting pitchers to succeed at this level as they keep hitters thinking and off balance. However, the knuckleball has proven to be a pitch that one can make a career out of as a starter if they master it, easier said than done. So far, Wright looks to have mastered it and as a result he is pitching like the ace of the staff.

Last night was Wright’s fifth start of the 2016 season. He went six innings, allowing two runs and striking out six batters, including impressive hitting third baseman Todd Frazier twice. This was a strong start to May for Wright following an outstanding April, where he had a 1.37 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 26.1 innings. The numbers have been great for Wright but the most important feature he brings to the table is the ability to eat up innings.

Steven Wright: What Makes Knuckleball Pitchers So Valuable?

Throwing a knuckleball gives a starting pitcher a much better chance at being able to pitch longer in their career. This is because the knuckleball is less stressful on the arm of a pitcher than other off speed pitches such as a slider and curveball. Two examples of the longevity that a knuckleball pitcher can have are Wakefield and Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher, R.A Dickey. Wakefield retired at the age of 45 and Dickey is still pitching at age 41. While both of these guys have never been true aces, beside Dickey’s money making years in the big apple from 2010-2012 wearing a New York Mets uniform, their ability to eat innings and sustain a high pitch count is invaluable to a major league bullpen. Dickey has thrown 200 plus innings in the past five seasons and Wakefield did so five times in his career, while coming just short multiple times. Wright has yet to throw that many innings in  a season but has shown the potential to do so in the minor leagues, surpassing 100 innings a few times. Is 2016 the year he finally reaches the 200 inning plateau?

If Wright is healthy, that is a very likely scenario for him. While the sub 2.00 ERA may not uphold, he will continue eating innings, providing rest for the bullpen. Wright’s season has been very impressive thus far and he may very well be the next Wakefield in Sox Nation, possibly even better. Get to know who Wright is and embrace the knuckleball again as he is here to stay, pitching like a man on a mission to stay off those buses.

Red Sox Baseball is Exciting Again

The standings may not show it, but the Red Sox have been a pretty good baseball team in recent months. Boston is 35-33 since the All-Star break; 24-14 since Dave Dombrowski was hired; and 20-11 since Hanley Ramirez last played defensively. Once a basement-languishing mess, the Red Sox have risen accordingly to third place in the East and ninth overall in the American League, with tangible hope resurfacing that this team can finally be competitive again next year.

Red Sox

Perhaps more importantly, the Red Sox have just been fun to watch recently. After months and years of acrimony and borderline crisis, it’s great to be able to smile when watching games again, as the team looks more alive and enthusiastic. Maybe that’s a testament to interim manager Torey Lovullo, who seems more relaxed and well-liked than John Farrell, or perhaps it’s a reflection of homegrown talent replacing overpaid failures like Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. But whatever its genesis, the energy is back at Fenway Park, which was sold out 94.8% of the time this year despite obvious disappointments, a quite incredible statistic.

When Mookie Betts made his stupendous catch at the right field wall last week, taking a home run away from the Orioles’ Chris Davis, the old ballpark was rocking like times of yore. That ferocious buzz, that hearty Bostonian roar, was back at the corner of Yawkey Way and Van Ness Street. The fans were pumped up, no matter the record or the standings. Fenway Park was an exciting place again, which is not only good for Boston and the Red Sox, but also for Major League Baseball and sports in general. Everything is better when the marquee franchises are playing great at packed and passionate stadiums.

Such moments of drama have rekindled optimism around the Red Sox and thawed some of the skepticism that greeted Dombrowski’s hiring. Now, there is genuine excitement about his vision for the future; real belief that The Olde Towne Team is on the cusp of another great era. Everything Dombrowski has done so far has worked, from aligning the electric outfield of Bradley Jr., Betts and Castillo to giving extended playing time to farm graduates like Travis Shaw. His early moves have inspired Red Sox Nation, which is ready for the next phase of his plan to be enacted.

The next stage of that vision will be built by a newly aligned hierarchy that has been stitched together in recent weeks. Dombrowski will be the chief arbiter on all baseball matters, with Mike Hazen serving as General Manager and Frank Wren coming aboard as Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations. In layman’s terms, Hazen, a noted sabermetrician, and Wren, a renowned scout, will work as two halves of one organ, from which Dombrowski will seek detailed wisdom to moderate his views and validate his decisions. Elsewhere, Sam Kennedy will oversee the Red Sox’ business operation, while Larry Lucchino will slide into an emeritus role almost as an honorary advisor.

Freshly assembled front offices usually inherit a dire situation. After all, executives are typically fired for under-performance. However, while this is true of the Red Sox in that Boston has reached the postseason only once in the last six years, Dombrowski, Hazen and Wren could barely ask for a greater foundation from which to build. The Red Sox have an excellent farm system and an even better young core at the big league level. Accordingly, the team’s biggest objective this offseason will be supplementing that base with quality imports, rather than totally starting over.

Therefore, Red Sox fans have a lot to be happy about, at the end of another trying season. The sun is once again shining over Fenway Park, and the cheer has returned to Red Sox Nation. We’re experiencing the start of a bright new dawn. Hopefully twilight doesn’t arrive for another generation.

Are the Red Sox Better Now Than a Year Ago?

With 41 games played, we are just past the quarter pole of the Major League Baseball season, and what many had envisioned as a season of hope and change is proving to be any but that.

A year ago, after 41 games played, the Red Sox were 20-21, and 2.5 games out of first Hanley Ramirezplace.  This year, they are 19-22 at the 41 game mark, and 3.5 games out of first place. Not much of a difference really, right? WRONG.

Last year the Red Sox had two pitchers on the staff in late May that were capable of winning a game each time out. Jon Lester and John Lackey weren’t going to be confused with Cy Young last year, but they combined for 11 wins through April and May of last year. Lester was 5-5 and Lackey was 6-6.  So far this year, the ace of the staff is Rick Porcello, and right now his 4-2 record looks pretty good.

Many assumed Clay Buchholz would be the new ace, but at 2-5, he has similar numbers to a year ago, when he was 2-4. The one saving grace this year is that his ERA is only 4.58 right now, as opposed to the 7.03 a year ago. As an aside, Buchholz’ next win at Fenway will be his first this season.

The pitching can’t be all to blame, even though only two teams in all of MLB have given up more run than the 199 the Sox have allowed. The hitting is less than stellar, ranking 27th in batting average in the major leagues. Only three teams are hitting worse than the .233 average the Red Sox need to improve on. As hot as Hanley Ramirez was last month, (10 HR, 22 RBI, .293 average) his numbers have been anemic this month (0 HR, 0 RBI, .213.)  Brock Holt hit .358 in April, in May he’s batting .158.

If one looks hard enough, they can find fault and flaws with the performances of virtually all of the players on the roster.  At what point will the scrutiny fall upon the manager?  The team relieved pitching coach Juan Nieves of his duties earlier this month. Who will be next? With a payroll creeping near $200,000,000, that focus is on John Farrell.

Rusney Castillo Returns to PawSox from Disabled List

Rusney Castillo

Rusney Castillo returned to the Pawtucket Red Sox on Wednesday night after being activated from the disabled list, and went 0-4 with a strikeout as the designated hitter in their 5-1 loss against the Syracuse Chiefs. He was not in the lineup for Pawtucket’s 4-0 victory over the Chiefs on Thursday, which had an early start time of 12 PM.

Castillo had been sidelined since April 11 with a right shoulder injury,Rusney Castillo and John Farrell has expressed that he will need more playing time before having any chance of being called up to the majors.

“He’s missed significant time,” Farrell told Jimmy Toscano of CSNNE.com. “He’s going to need more than three to four at-bats tonight, or six to eight total. I think we need more than that.”

In four games for Pawtucket this season, Castillo is hitting .313/.353/.375 with a double and two runs batted in. He played in 10 major league games for the Red Sox last season, where he slashed a .333/.400/.528 line with two home runs, a double, three walks and six runs batted in.

With Shane Victorino on the disabled list, and Allen Craig struggling mightily at the plate, many are left to wonder how long it will be before Castillo gets the call.

Victorino was placed on the disabled list retroactive to April 25 because of nagging right hamstring injury, and has managed to do little offensively this season, hitting .143/.302/.171 with seven strikeouts in 12 games.

Craig has largely failed to live up the expectations the Red Sox had for him when they acquired him from the St. Louis Cardinals along with Joe Kelly in exchange for John Lackey at least season’s trade deadline. In 46 career games for the Red Sox, Craig has managed to hit only .125/.222/.172 with only four extra-base hits, including .118/.189/.118 with no extra-base hits in 17 games this season.

Although Boston’s offense has looked very good at times, they have still run into patches of inconsistency and at points been unable to take advantage of some good pitching performances, which have been hard to come by these days. After Castillo gets some more playing time in Pawtucket, it should only be a matter of time before you see him roaming the outfield at Fenway Park.

Mookie Betts Provides Walk-Off Heroics for Red Sox

Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts put together another impressive game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on Monday night, including the walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning to drive in Xander Bogaerts for the winning run.

Joe Kelly took the mound for the Red Sox and struggled out of the gate, allowing three runs to score in the bottom of the first inning. He allowed single runs to score in the third and fourth innings, and left the game after six complete allowing five earnedMookie Betts runs on five hits and three walks, while striking out a career-high 10 batters. Alexi Ogando and Koji Uehara provided three scoreless innings of relief in support of Kelly.

Betts led off the game for the Red Sox with a tough at-bat against Toronto’s starter, Aaron Sanchez, drawing a walk on seven pitches, before being caught trying to steal second by Blue Jays’ catcher Russell Martin. After David Ortiz doubled with one out in the inning to set up men on second and third, Pablo Sandoval drove them both in to bring Boston within one run. Sandoval added a solo home run, his second long-ball of the year, in the fourth.

With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Betts line a double to left field before scoring on a RBI single by Dustin Pedroia. The 22-year old center fielder again found himself on base after singling in the eighth, and after a passed ball allowed Betts and Pedroia to advance to second and third, Hanley Ramirez hit a line drive into left field and Betts scored on the sacrifice fly to tie the game at five runs a piece.

After Brock Holt struck out on five pitches to lead off the ninth inning, Xander Bogaerts and Ryan Hanigan were able to hit back-to-back singles to set the stage for Betts’ heroics. After taking a first pitch slider for a ball, Betts laced a 96-MPH fastball past the shortstop, who was playing near the infield grass, to drive in Bogaerts and complete the 6-5 victory for the Red Sox.

Matt Barnes Recalled, Makes First Appearance in ’15 for Sox

Matt Barnes

The Boston Red Sox placed Shane Victorino on the 15-day disabled list with a hamstring injury on Saturday, then recalled right-handed pitcher Matt Barnes from Triple-A Pawtucket to join the Major League club in Baltimore for their series against the Orioles at Camden Yards.

After being told on Saturday afternoon that he had been promoted, Barnes drove from Matt BarnesScranton, PA to Baltimore, MD and arrived approximately two hours before the start of the game.

He was called on to make his 2015 debut by replacing Justin Masterson in the bottom of the eighth, and responded by firing two scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and striking out one.

Barnes was actually in line for his first big league win after Xander Bogaerts hit the first pitch he saw from Brad Brach for the go-ahead home run in the top of the 10th inning, making the score 4-3, but had his hopes quickly dashed as Boston’s closer Koji Uehara blew the save opportunity by  giving up a two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the frame, his first blown save of the season.

“It was a crazy day,” Barnes told Ian Browne of MLB.com. “It’s not how I envisioned [the day] when I woke up this morning, but I’m happy to be here … trying to do what I can to help the ball club win.”

Many thought the 24-year old native New Englander would make the Opening Day roster as a reliever after throwing in the high-90s for most of Spring Training, but he was sent down to Triple-A during the last round of roster cuts and subsequently reverted back to a starting role.

Barnes made two starts for the PawSox before being recalled on Saturday, posting a 0-0 record with a 5.63 ERA. He made five appearances for the Major League ball club last season, allowing four runs on eleven hits, over nine complete innings.