Juan Nieves Fired, Edward Mujica DFA’d

Juan Nieves

The Boston Red Sox looked a little bit different Friday night against the Toronto Blue Jays after a 3-6 homestand thanks to two moves the Red Sox announced Thursday.

The first move came of a little bit of a surprise as the team designated right-handed reliever Edward Mujica for assignment. The veteran had struggled with a blown save to go along with a 1-1 record and a 4.61 ERA so far this season. In 75 games with the Red Sox, Mujica owns a 4.06 ERA and just eight saves (all in the 2014 season.Juan Nieves

The 30-year-old was signed prior to the 2014 season for two years and $9.5 million, but he never lived up to his numbers with the St. Louis Cardinals the year before. He never really flourished in Boston and always seemed to give up those inopportune runs which made winnings games almost unattainable.

The team planned to make the move while in Toronto on Friday and Matt Barnes is likely going to be the bullpen arm the Red Sox need going forward. Barnes has appeared in 11 games for the Red Sox over the last two seasons and has allowed a total of four runs while striking out nine and walking two. This season he has struck out one and allowed two hits in two innings of work back on April 25.

In another pitching-related move, the team elected to let go of pitching coach Juan Nieves. The Red Sox rank second-to-last in the entire majors with a 4.86 ERA and are dead last in team ERA in the AL. The only team worse is the Colorado Rockies at 5.38.

With already 28 games in the books and a 13-15 record after a 9-5 start, Nieves showed that he did not have a handle on the pitching staff like he did when he was hired in 2013. The passive approach to pitching away to nearly every hitter was not the right approach as at least every pitcher in the starting staff has allowed four or more runs in a start at least once.

The list for pitching coach replacements is short, according to media reports after a John Farrell conference call on Thursday. The team is in the process of sorting everything out so, expect a new pitching coach sometime on the current 10-game road trip.

Jeff Bianchi Hopes to Help Red Sox

Jeff Bianchi

Defensively speaking, the Boston Red Sox might just have one of the best MLB infielders stashed away in the upper Minors.
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Lifetime, 28-year-old PawSox utility man Jeff Bianchi might be a .216 hitter in 162 big league games, but it is his defense that gives him pride.

Defense and versatility landed jeff bianchiBianchi a job with the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers, only spending time in the Minor Leagues to rehab an injury.

In the field, he plays second base, third base, shortstop and left field and plays them well. Playing in just 100 games in 2013, he posted the ninth highest defensive WAR in the National League (2.0). While he was not creating many runs, he prevented them which was good enough for the Brewers.
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“I think defense is very important,” he said. “I take pride in going out every day and getting my work in. I’m just trying to get better every day. I’ve been bouncing around from short, to second, to third and in the outfield. I got a start at first recently.”

“Yeah, guys who can do it nowadays, it’s a very valuable tool on a ballclub,” Bianchi said of versatility. “Take being in Milwaukee for example, if you can play a couple of different positions and play them well, you have a chance to stick around for a while. I’m trying to get reps at different positions and do what I can to help this team.”

Even with a strong performance this spring, Bianchi did not have much of a chance to make the Red Sox team this year because there was not a utility job up for grabs. For now, he is working a number of different positions, but is usually in the PawSox lineup—somewhere.
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“I just need to take it a day at a time.” Bianchi said. “If you start looking too far ahead, you start playing some mind games. Right now, there’s a reason why I’m here and it’s for me to get better. Everyone wants to get to the big leagues, but the fact of the matter is I’m here so I have to make the best of my opportunity.”

While Bianchi did not get much of a shot to make the team out of the gate, he is confident that he could contribute to the Red Sox at one point this season. He picked Boston as a place to contribute for one simple reason.
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“It feels great to come over to an organization like this,” he said. “It’s been a good transition so far. I mean, here we want to win and so far we’re doing it. It’s just a great organization, I’m happy to be here.”

Should the Red Sox Move on from Allen Craig?

Allen Craig

As much as pitching is a concern for the Boston Red Sox right now, it is not the only issue for the team.
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Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli might be struggling a bit, but it is his backup that the team should be worried about. For some reason or another, they are using a spot on the bench for first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig although his numbers allen craigrank among the worst in MLB history.

Depth at first base is not a problem for Boston with seven guys on the active roster (Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava, Craig, Brock Holt, Pablo Sandoval, Sandy Leon, Ryan Hanigan) owning professional experience at the position. Not only is there is no shortage of first base depth for the Red Sox, but they also have one of the most crowded outfields in the game.
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While his numbers from the past speak for themselves, Craig might just be the worst hitter in Red Sox history. If he keeps up exactly what he has done in Boston, he would be in running for worst offensive performance in a season in league history (excluding pitchers).

In 111 at-bats for the Red Sox (from this year and last year), he is a .126 hitter and has struck out in 42 of those AB’s (37.83% whiff rate). To put it this way—if he had 600 at-bats (highly unlikely), he would set the record for most strikeouts in a season. Whiff rate is not even his biggest concern at this point, it is getting hits.
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Even if Craig managed to play well for the Red Sox, keeping both him and Daniel Nava is still overkill. At the best of their abilities, they are almost identical players—except Nava has tenure.

With the amount of pieces Boston has to play with perhaps getting some speed on their bench, or someone who hits left-handed pitching, would be a little bit more useful. They lack a true backup center fielder which would be more useful than having three left fielders.
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Keep in mind that not only does Boston have Rusney Castillo (Disabled List) and Jackie Bradley Jr. in the Minors, but Bryce Brentz and Quintin Berry as well. Perhaps one (all) of them could hit better than .126 in the big leagues.

Jantzen Witte Seperating Himself From the Rest

Jantzen Witte

Through his first eight games, Portland Sea Dogs first baseman Jantzen Witte has separated himself from the rest.

At 6-foot-2 195 pounds, he has the frame of a power hitter and it showed a little bit last year when he popped 12 homers in 130 games. His .312 batting average and .379 on-Jantzen Wittebase percentage were not enough to put him on the map among top prospects last year, but if he keeps it up then people will have to start taking notice.
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When the Red Sox drafted him in the 24th round of the 2013 MLB draft, they likely did not know what they were getting, but now they must be pleasantly surprised. To date this year, Witte is ten-for-28 at the plate (.357 average) in eight games for the Portland Sea Dogs. It is a small sample size, but a step in the right direction for the 25-year-old in one of the top farm systems in the game.

Interestingly enough, Witte clobbered left-handed pitching last year which could be his calling that separates him from the pack. In 129 at-bats last year against lefties, he hit .365 The Red Sox have plenty of bats hitting well in the Minors, but finding someone who mashes lefties is hard to come by. More often than not, the guys who hit righties moderately well fall off a cliff against southpaws.
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As a right-handed bat, Witte has the opportunity to go out there this year and prove his success was no fluke. He should have no problem getting enough reps as the Sea Dogs everyday first baseman. Not to mention he played a handful of games at third base last year.

On the other hand, PawSox first baseman Travis Shaw cannot hit lefties for his life being one himself.
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It may be a reach, but perhaps those two are a viable platoon option at some point down the road. Just thinking out loud here…

Jackie Bradley Jr. Hitting Well in Pawtucket

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Although it is only seven games into the season, something seems a little bit different about PawSox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. this season— he is hitting well.
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Starting off this season in the Minors for the first time since 2012, the outfielder is swinging a hot bat, regardless of the sample size. To date, he has 35 at-bats on the year and has collected 13 hits (.371 average) with four doubles and a jackie bradley jr.walk. He leads the team in total bases with 17.

Sure, this is based off of a small sampling, but any signs of life from Bradley at the plate could pay off in a huge manner for the Red Sox this season. Defensively, he probably should have won the Gold Glove last year, but at the plate he had quite the slump in the summer months.
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With Rusney Castillo day to day, the right-handed Bradley—who hits lefty—could find himself with a huge advantage granted that the only thing Castillo has yet to do is play on an every day basis. If Bradley is able to keep stringing hits together like his early scouting reports indicated, he could leave the Boston Red Sox with some tough decisions to make.

The Red Sox will need to see more than eight games from Bradley before they call him up given that he is a lifetime .196 hitter in 164 big league games. If he continues to do what he is doing, or close to it for a month or so, and Castillo cannot keep up, then Bradley might just force his way up to Boston.
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Of course injuries could help Bradley’s case as a call-up as well, but it seems unlikely that they will call him up to do anything less than play on an everyday basis. After all, he still has a few more days before he turns 25.

PawSox Closer Heath Hembree Seeks Opportunity

Heath Hembree

When the Boston Red Sox dealt Jake Peavy, the front office felt as though they made out like bandits scoring Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree. Since Peavy was not a fit for Boston, the San Francisco Giants coughed up a young starting pitching prospect in AAA and a reliever who scouts liken to a potential set up man— possibly even a closer.
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heath hembreeRelief prospects are always an interesting breed, especially when they have not started a game since sophomore year in college. That is what the Red Sox have in Heath Hembree, although stamina is not really an issue for him.

Headed into his fourth year in AAA, Hembree looks to take on the closers role for the PawSox after notching the save in their first game of the season.
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“For us in the bullpen, it’s about going out there to compete and getting our work in,” he told Yawkey Way Report.

For a lot of guys, the ninth inning poses a bit of a threat. Some guys just can’t handle the pressure and blow save after save even if they are lights out in other innings. It’s a different mentality and a delicate mindset. Hembree tries to keep a consistent approach.

“I take every inning with the same mentality,” he said. “I try to put the same amount of importance on it each time out and when it is a tight situation, it seems pretty normal—just like any other outing.”
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In 2012, the Red Sox found out the hard way that a team cannot simply take a pitcher and expect him to be a good closer. Last time they tried that, they destroyed Alfredo Aceves’ career. After going 24-3 in his first four big league seasons with a 2.93 ERA, he is 7-13 with an ERA well above 5.00 since the Red Sox tried him out in the ninth inning role.

At that same time, Hembree was in AAA looking for an opportunity. This year, he hopes to earn a spot in the Red Sox bullpen if anything happens to any of the regulars.

“Just to continue developing,” Hembree said when speaking of his goals. “I want to become the pitcher I want to be, just working on my stuff and hopefully I can get out of here.”

Even though closers tend to take things one inning at a time, Hembree made his Red Sox debut by stretching out his arm in a 19 inning thriller. Boston fell in the contest 5-4, but Hembree gave the Red Sox four scoreless frames.
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“That was the first time I had pitched more than two innings in my whole career and I guess in that situation, since it was my first time with Boston, it was about making a good impression on the big league club,” he said. “They just kept sending me back out there and I gave them whatever I had in me which turned out to be four innings. For that, I was just trying to help the team, but making a good first impression was important too.”

Hembree owns a 2.55 ERA in 15 career big league games and when the Red Sox need an extra arm in the bullpen, the righty is on the short list of guys who could possibly get the call. After all, his 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings in his Minor League career are convincing—not to mention much higher than Pedro Martinez’ career mark of 10 K’s per nine frames.
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Posting a 6.27 ERA his junior year at the College of Charleston, the Giants still took him in the fifth round in the 2010 MLB draft because of his raw talent. He stated his fastball flirted with 100 MPH back then, although he sits comfortably now at around 93-94 MPH, usually topping around at 95 MPH. The fastball is still an important part of his game, but he also utilizes his slider in what can be best described as a two-pitch mix.

“I’ve learned how to pitch these past few years so if the fastball is there that day that’s good, but I feel comfortable with the stuff I have,” he said.