Holt and JBJ Are All-Stars, Listening Tours Begin

by Josh Maurer

With less than one week remaining until the Triple-A All-Star break, the PawSox certainly have the look of a team that could use the three days off.  Perhaps they’ll be able to gain some momentum before the mid-summer stoppage as they play the final six games against Lehigh Valley, starting with a three-game series at Coca-Cola Park on Tuesday night.

The last (and only) time these teams have met this season was the very first series of the year in which Pawtucket took three of four from the Iron Pigs.  The final two of those games went a combined 29 innings and included an epic 16-inning affair on April 12 in which three position players pitched.

Deven Marrero w. face mask

Deven Marrero and the PawSox last played Lehigh Valley on a frigid opening weekend series in early April

Has it really been nearly three months since these divisional rivals met?  Well, the squads will certainly get well reacquainted over the next six nights.  Entering the home-and-home series the PawSox hold a slim two-game lead over Lehigh Valley in the North Division for fourth place.

Speaking of the All-Star break, the Major League All-Star teams were announced Monday and the Red Sox will be represented in Cincinnati by a popular former PawSox infielder, Brock Holt.  Brock spent most of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 playing in Pawtucket and has since turned himself into one of the premier utilitymen in baseball.

Brock_Holt_L_Mardo-Zayat

Holt is one of the great success stories to come up from the PawSox in recent years.  He first proved his big-league value by learning to play all over the diamond (almost literally, everywhere but pitcher and catcher), then became an everyday player because of his consistency and productivity at the plate.

Holt hit .281 for Boston in 2014, and this season is batting .295 in 66 games played.  The “Brock Star” made national headlines last month when he hit for the cycle in a game at Fenway against Atlanta, becoming the first BoSox player to do so in 19 years.

Brock is a relentless worker and a great clubhouse guy.  A huge congrats to him on his well-deserved All-Star selection.

Also, you can now vote for Xander Bogaerts for the AL’s “Final Vote” selection to the mid-summer classic.  The young shortstop and former PawSox has had a breakout season for Boston, currently hitting .302 in 80 games in 2015.  Many feel he should have already been included on the American League roster without needing a fan vote.

Back in the International League, it was announced Monday that Jackie Bradley, Jr., who was recently optioned back to the PawSox from Boston, has been named to the IL All-Star team to replace Brian Johnson on the roster.

Jackie Bradley dives for ball

I’ve written extensively about the fantastic season JBJ has had for Pawtucket, and I am happy he’ll get an opportunity to be recognized for all of his accomplishments.  Granted, I’m sure Jackie would rather be playing in Boston right now, but while he awaits his inevitable return to the Major Leagues this is certainly a nice honor to receive.

Starting this Tuesday, representatives from the new PawSox ownership group are beginning what they are calling “Listening Tours” throughout the state of Rhode Island to help facilitate dialogue about their proposal for a new downtown ballpark in Providence.  Here is the information on those tour stops:

Representatives of the PawSox ownership group will embark on a 39-city and town tour of the State of Rhode Island this summer to engage in community conversations about the vision of the proposed Providence multi-purpose ballpark.

The “Listening Tours” will be a facilitated discussion between PawSox representatives andmembers of the community.  Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions about the design, function and any other aspects of the proposed ballpark.

The first of the community meetings begins next Tuesday, July 7th at 5 pm at the Smithfield Senior Center on William J. Hawkins, Jr. Trail in Greenville.  That kick-off meeting is followed by two on Thursday, July 9th on Aquidneck Island, specifically at the Portsmouth Senior Center, 110 Bristol Ferry Road at 5 pm and the Middletown VFW Hall at 52 Underwood Lane at 7 pm. Dr. Charles Steinberg, Senior Advisor to Boston Red Sox President and CEO, Larry Lucchino, will facilitate all three.

Tuesday, July 7th at 5pm – Smithfield Senior Center, William J. Hawkins, Jr. Trail, Greenville

Thursday, July 9th at 5 pm – Portsmouth Senior Center, 110 Bristol Ferry Road, Portsmouth

Thursday, July 9th at 7pm – Gilbert-Burton VFW Post, 52 Underwood Lane, Middletown

Finally, below is the audio of an interview I did with PawSox infielder Travis Shaw for this past week’s Insider show.  Travis has had quite the past month, having had his first extended time in the big leagues following a red-hot stretch in Pawtucket.  He is very candid about all of his recent experiences in the conversation:

Shaw congrats at plate

Will and I look forward to speaking with you on the radio this week from Allentown.  Lets hope the PawSox get a few back in the win column before the break.  Thanks for reading!

Josh M

Rags and The Bird, 33 Years Ago Today; Brian Johnson an All Star

by Will Flemming

It seems rain follows the PawSox to - and from - Frontier Field

It seems rain follows the PawSox to – and from – Frontier Field

Rain falls on the PawSox caravan home from Rochester after a four-game sweep at Frontier Field.  After dropping four games in which the offense could not get kicked into gear and was outscored 18-4, it’s back to McCoy for a pair of fun nights.  With Daniel Nava joining the club Thursday to begin a rehab assignment, the PawSox – who are in a stretch of 44 games in 45 days – will lean on the energy of the home fans to get back on track.

Speaking of an energized McCoy, today offers a chance to look back at one of the most electrified nights in the history of the venerable ballpark.  July 1, 1982 is a night that will forever be rememebered in the McCoy annals.  The scene: “The Bird” Mark Fidrych, one of the quirkiest characters in the history of the sport, was in the middle of one final comeback attempt.  By that 1982 evening, Fidrych had long established himself as a cult figure.  The Bird broke into the big leagues with Detroit in 1976; after making the club as a non-roster invitee, he won 19 games, was the Rookie of the Year and finished behind only Jim Palmer in the Cy Young voting.  Fidrych earned attention with far more than his win total – he would talk to the baseball, pat down the mound and, in the words of Rico Carty, “tried to hypnotize the hitters.”

Mark Fidrych would groom the mound and speak to the baseball before every start

Mark Fidrych would groom the mound and speak to the baseball before every start

During Spring Training in 1977, The Bird was fooling around in the outfield and crashed into the outfield wall, tearing cartilage in his knee.  As he came back from that malady, he tore his rotator cuff – and that injury would essentially end his career as a viable starting pitcher.  He won six games in 1977 and was named an All Star, but was never the same.  He was released by the Tigers after 1981 and signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox.  Which brought him to McCoy Stadium on the first day of July in 1982.

On the other side stood Dave Righetti, who had just been sent down to Columbus by the New York Yankees.  “Rags”, who had won eight games and pitched to a 2.04 ERA in his rookie year, was mired in a rough patch.  On June 26th, he’d allowed three runs over only three and a third innings.  Two starts prior, he’d walked 8 Red Sox over six innings.

Dave RIghetti saved 252 games and won 82 over a 16-year career

Dave Righetti saved 252 games and won 82 over a 16-year career

Righetti’s role that day heightened the intrigue that swirled around each of The Bird’s starts – and Rags delivered.  But The Bird stole the show.  This excerpt from the New York Times’ coverage of the game wonderfully captures the mood of the day:

In a duel between two pitchers on the comeback trail, Dave Righetti struck out 12 batters in six innings tonight in his first game since the Yankees demoted him to the minor leagues.

But the evening’s honors went to Mark Fidrych, once acclaimed as The Bird of the Detroit Tigers, who pitched nine innings as the Pawtucket Red Sox rallied to defeat the Columbus Clippers, 7-5.

The matchup drew a standing-room crowd of 9,389 into McCoy Stadium, which has 5,830 seats, to watch two former rookies of the year in the American League: Fidrych in 1976 and Righetti in 1981.

Righetti, who was sent to Columbus last Sunday, struck out the first four batters and seven of the first nine. He stayed six innings and left in a 3-3 tie with these statistics: two earned runs, four hits, 12 strikeouts and three walks. ”I felt fine.” the 23-year-old left-hander said. ”I don’t have anything to prove. But I’m not bitter. I was ticked off at first, but after the initial shock, it all wore off.”

After Righetti left, the Red Sox rallied twice and won the game while Fidrych kept pitching out of trouble. After nine innings his first complete game in a year, the 28-year-old right-hander had allowed five runs, 10 hits and five walks and had struck out five.

”I tell you, it feels great to go nine again,” Fidrych said.

Glen Laxton of ABC News was on the scene that night:

By the close of the 1982 season, Fidrych had made 19 starts for the PawSox; he went 6-8 with a 4.98 ERA.  His final comeback attempt would come to a close not long after.  That one final shining moment at McCoy stands as an everlasting memory in the history of our storied ballpark.

As for Righetti, he would make one more start for the Yankees in ’82 before he was moved into the bullpen. He made four relief appearances before he was placed back into the Yanks’ rotation.   He started 31 games in 1983 and pitched to a 3.44 ERA with 14 wins, but would become the Yankees’ full-time closer in 1984.

Over the next 13 seasons with New York, the Giants, A’s, Blue Jays and White Sox, Rags saved 252 games.

Fidrych’s life came to an unexpected end on April 13, 2009 while working on his dump truck at home in Worcester.  But his memory will forever burn bright in the minds of fans in Detroit, Pawtucket and many towns in between.

If there is one man on the current PawSox roster that is the diametric opposite of The Bird, it’s Brian Johnson – who was named an International League All Star today.  Brian is all business on the mound; the instant he receives the ball from the catcher, he wants to fire home.  Johnson doesn’t talk to the baseball – he pounds the strike zone with it.  Brian does not hypnotize hitters with hystrionics – be carves them up with command of four above average offerings.

Johnson was an easy All Star choice: he’s 8-5 with a 2.68 ERA, has struck out 76 and walked only 24 over 80 innings. BJ was lifted after throwing only five pitches in his last start in Rochester; just before the first game of a doubleheader, Brian’s stomach began to act up.  The PawSox considered scratching Johnson – who spent the opening game of the twinbill on his back in the clubhouse – but the lefthander wanted to give it a go.  Afer the third pitch in the first inning, Johnson started to wobble and had to step off the mound.  He walked Argenis Diaz on four pitches.  After ball one to James Beresford, Johnson knew he was done.  Food poisoning had taken over, and Brian had difficulty even seeing straight.  Bob Kipper and Miguel Gonzalez raced out of the dugout and took the baseball; the PawSox had Dalier Hinojosa – who normally stays in the dugout until at least the third inning – out in the ‘pen from the outset, knowing they might need him.

Johnson has thrown on the side and remains on schedule to make his next start on Saturday in Syracuse.

Some other news before the PawSox welcome Scranton to McCoy for a brief two-game set:

The Sox spent Canada Day in Toronto.  Rick Porcello did not have much fun.

Gordon Edes thinks the Sox should sit Porcello down until after the All Star break. 

Jen McCaffrey chronicles Carl Willis’ return to Toronto, the city where he first joined the Sox.

Dustin Pedroia is slated to take BP today in Toronto.

Sox’ owner John Henry indicated the club may be willing to take on more payroll, and asserted that Boston “responds to reason rather than pressure.

Today is the first day of the International Signing period, and the Sox have already signed two.  Here’s a profile on the pair from Sox Prospects. 

We’ve got fireworks tonight and tomorrow – come out and celebrate Independence Day with the PawSox.

Josh and I will talk to you on the pregame show at 6:00,

Will

With Kelly and Wright Added, PawSox Rotation Looking Robust

by Josh Maurer

At the beginning of this season, the PawSox starting rotation was being touted as one of the best in Minor League Baseball.  Guys like Matt Barnes and Eduardo Rodriguez were headlining a five-man group that fans felt could compete with some of the lower-end major league units.

But soon Barnes, Rodriguez and Steven Wright went to Boston.  And the names in the Pawtucket rotation were not turning as many heads every time the team rolled into a new city.

Now, after recent changes at made at the top by Boston, the PawSox starting pitching group seems as robust as it has all year.  How about this for a group of five: Brian Johnson, Joe Kelly, Steven Wright, Henry Owens and Keith Couch.  Zeke Spruill, a 40-man roster member and a reliever all season until last homestand, has also stayed in the rotation because of this week’s doubleheader in Rochester.

Pawtucket’s terrific starting pitching was on full display during last week’s seven-game homestand.  Today we’ll take a closer look at how well each starter pitched, starting with a man who many Red Sox fans are calling for to get a big-league opportunity.

Brian Johnson:

Johnson had one of, if not his best, start of the season last Wednesday against Rochester.  He allowed only one hit and one unearned run in 6.2 innings of work.  The lefty was in complete command of all his pitches, throwing 71 of his 93 pitches for strikes.  The only runner who scored reached base on Johnson’s own throwing error.

Brian currently ranks 1st in the IL in wins (8) and WHIP (1.07), 4th in ERA (2.57), T-2 in strikeouts (76) and 4th in opponent batting average (.207).  He has followed up his breakout season in Double-A last season with another gem of a first half in 2015.  A call up to the next level may not be too far away.

Joe Kelly:

Kelly made his PawSox debut on Sunday after being optioned from Boston a few days earlier (Justin Masterson took the right-hander’s spot in the big-league rotation).  The Red Sox were hoping for a quick turnaround from a man who was expected to be a huge part of their rotation this season but had struggled, especially of late (final three starts with Boston: 0-1, 6.75 ERA, 14.2 IP, 20 H, 11 R).

Kelly was sharp against Gwinnett on Sunday, tossing seven strong innings and allowing just five hits and two runs (one earned).  He struck out four of the first nine batters he faced, but then did not record a punch out after the third inning.  Still, pitching on a damp day at McCoy, the former Cardinals hurler made the Gwinnett batters look over-matched for much of the afternoon.

Steven Wright:

Wright’s first start after being optioned from Boston last week was perhaps his best ever in a Pawtucket uniform.  The knuckleballer was unbelievable on Friday night against Gwinnett, tossing a nine-inning complete-game and allowing just one run on four hits.  Wright took a two-hit shutout into the ninth, then allowed a single and an unlucky bloop double to plate the game’s lone run.

The amazing thing about Wright’s outing was his command of the knuckleball and ability to throw it for strikes.  Steven needed only 87 pitches to get through NINE innings, and 70 of those were strikes.  It was a brilliant performance, and one that could get him recalled to Boston in the very near future.

Henry Owens:

Owens could not hold an early 3-0 lead against Rochester on Thursday night, giving up two runs in the fourth and then a game-tying home run in the fifth inning to the Red Wings.  He lasted a season-high 6.2 innings and threw a season-high 103 pitches in the outing, giving up three runs and five hits while walking only one and punching out six. And check out the great camo-colored uniform he wore on Armed Services Night.

Owens’ command has improved greatly of late.  While he still leads the IL with 46 walks issued, the lefty has only issued four bases on balls in 19 innings over his last four outings (Last 3 starts (6/14-pres): 0-0, 2.84 ERA (19.0 IP, 13 H, 6 R/6 ER, 4 BB, 14 K).  Owens has been ridiculously hard to get hits against all season, and he still leads all IL hurlers in opponent batting average (.195).

Keith Couch:

Couch, maybe the forgotten man in the PawSox rotation, had arguably his best outing of the season last homestand when he no-hit Rochester for the first six innings of the contesst on Tuesday night.  Couch, who would end up allowing two runs in the seventh to tie the contest, pitched 6.2 innings on June 23rd and allowed just two earned runs and three hits.

While his season win/loss record stands at 3-7, Couch has generally pitched well enough to keep his team in the game when he has taken the ball.  He has pitched at least five innings and allowed three runs or fewer in seven of last nine starts (beginning May 12).  He should remain in the Pawtucket rotation moving forward regardless of changes made to the rest of the group.

Pretty impressive starting rotation, huh?  The PawSox will look for continued success from their hurlers in a difficult week in which they will play nine games in the next eight days (four at Rochester Monday through Wednesday, two vs. Scranton on Thursday and Friday, three at Syracuse Saturday through Monday).

Hope to talk to you on the radio from Rochester for Monday’s doubleheader.  Pregame coverage for game one (a continuation of a rain-suspended game from June 5th with the Red Wings leading 1-0 after two innings) begins at 4:50pm.

Have a great start to the week!

Josh M

Three Men Up: Bradley, Marrero and Aro Get The Call

by Josh Maurer

On Thursday morning the Red Sox promoted three Pawtucket players – Jackie Bradley, Jr., Deven Marrero and Jonathan Aro – to replace Dustin Pedroia (disabled list), Joe Kelly (optioned) and Erik Kratz (designated for assignment).  So today I thought I’d take a close look at the season all three of those players have put together for PawSox.

Jackie Bradley, Jr.:

Jackie Bradley dives for ball

Simply put, Jackie has been an MVP candidate in the International League (and perhaps the favorite for the award).  He is the overall IL leading vote getter (among position players) for the Triple-A All-Star Game.  Bradley is currently second in the league in batting average (.322), second in on-base percentage (.398) and fourth in slugging percentage (.468).

Mix all of that in with his usual gold glove-type defense and you can make an easy argument that Jackie has been the best player in the IL this season.  Check out the catch Bradley made at McCoy Stadium on Tuesday night:

UPDATE: Here is a great column from terrific baseball writer Richard Justice speaking about Bradley’s promotion.  I agree with just about all of his points.

Here are the bullet points on Bradley from the PawSox game notes:

Had 6th 3-hit game of season on 6/23 vs. ROC…Has started 27 of team’s 28 games since return from MLB (5/25-pres, day off 6/14), those 27: 32-for-106 (.302), 14 BB, 3 HR, 9 2B…Hit walk-off RBI 2B in 12th in on 6/12 vs. TOL…Had 19-game on-base streak & 9-gm hitting streak snapped 6/6 in SYR…15-game stretch from 4/27-6/2: 9 multi-hit, 26-61 (.426), 3 HR, 5 2BHit HR and 2B on 5/27 vs. M. Tanaka (SWB) in 1st 2 inn of game…Promoted to BOS on 5/10, played in 6 games, went 0-for-11 w.2 K, optioned back 5/22 (R. Castillo recalled)…Promoted to BOS on 4/28, optioned back 4/29 (DNP)…Hit leadoff in 18 of first 19 games (4/9-4/27).

Deven Marrero:

Marrero flipping ball playing D

Marrero has had somewhat of an up-and-down campaign, both with his bat and his glove.  He has gone through some extreme hot and cold streaks offensively, and at the time of his first big-league promotion was just 4-for-23 (.174) with five strikeouts in his last six games played for Pawtucket.

Deven has also made a PawSox-leading 15 errors, most of which have come at shortstop.  It’s interesting – Marrero has the ability to make spectacular plays at short but this season has shown some very atypical lapses in being able to complete the routine ones.  I don’t think the error totals are anything to worry about long term; I assume his recent defensive issues will be temporary.

Here is Marrero’s in-season summary from the PawSox game notes:

Snapped a 0-for-8 with a 3-for-4 night on 6/23 vs. ROC; Has 5 multi-hit games over last 14 games played (only had 1 multi-H gm from 5/16-6/6)…Had 8 SBs on 5/16, only 1 since…6/7 at SYR: 3-for-4, BB, HR off D. Fister…9-game stretch from 5/29-6/6: 4-for-29, 2 BB, 4 K…Batted 2nd in 5 straight games from 6/1-6/6IND/LOU trip 5/18-5/24 (5 games): 3-for-22, BB, 8 K…7-game stretch from 5/9-5/15: 10-for-23 (.435), 4 BB, HR, 2B, 4 RBI…Started 19 str games before off day 5/18 in Indy (4/28-5/17)…9-game stretch from 4/29-5/8: 3-for-32, HR, 2 RBI, 11 KBatted above 6th in batting order for 1st 2 times in Triple-A career on 5/2 & 5/6 (2nd)…Played 3B for the first time in career 5/6 at TOL…Played first career game anywhere other than at SS when started at 2B on 4/25 at SWB…Reached base safely in 1st 9 games (4/9-4/19, .321 BA).

Jonathan Aro:

Aro is the most interesting promotion of the bunch.  At this time last season the right-hander was pitching for Low-A Greenville in the South Atlantic League.  After beginning this year with Double-A Portland, he earned a quick promotion to Pawtucket in May and after a couple of shaky early outings Aro has been unhittable.

Aro has not given up a run since May 18th, tossing eight straight scoreless appearances that spanned at total of 19 innings.  Most impressive has been his strikeout/walk ratio: which in 22.1 innings pitched has been 30 punch outs and just 3 bases on balls.

He has shown the ability to miss a lot of bats despite not generally throwing his fastball harder than 92-93 miles per hour.  Aro has advanced through the Boston system about as quickly as any player in recent memory.  It will be interesting to see how fast he adjusts to MLB hitters.

Here are the Aro vitals from the PawSox game notes:

Last 8 appearances (5/21-pres): 0-0, SV, 0.00 ERA (19.0 IP, 10 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 27 K)…Recorded first Triple-A save with 3.0 scoreless IP on 6/19 at GWN (2H, 1BB, 5K)…Pitched multiple innings in his first 9 appearances with PAW…Made Triple-A debut on 5/15 vs. COL and allowed 3R and 4H in 2IP (inherited 5-0 lead in 7th inn)…Promoted to PAW on 5/14…Appeared in 8 games with Portland (all in relief) and went 3-2 with a 2.82 ERA (22.1 IP, 15 H, 12 R, 7 ER, 8 BB, 19 K)…Held opponents to a .181 batting average.

So there you have the information on the three newest members of the Boston roster.  In other news, Pawtucket has announced that recently-optioned pitchers Steven Wright and Joe Kelly are going to join the PawSox rotation.

Steven Wright pitch2

Wright will start on Friday night at McCoy Stadium against Gwinnett, while Kelly will make his Pawtucket debut on Sunday afternoon at 1:05 versus the G-Braves.  They join Brian Johnson, Henry Owens and Zeke Spruill in the five-man rotation, with Jess Todd moving to the Pawtucket pen.

Thursday night is Armed Services Night at McCoy; one of the most moving and inspirational nights to be held at the ballpark annually.  Make sure to get your tickets at pawsox.com, or come in person to the box office prior to the contest – first pitch is slated for 7:05pm.

Hope to see you at McCoy this weekend.  If not, as always, Will and I will speak to you on the radio with all the broadcast coverage.  Thanks for reading!

Josh M

Matt Barnes Has A New Toy, Peguero Es El Bambino; Hanigan Rehabs and Craig Makes a Day

by Will Flemming (@WillFlemming)

The PawSox rolled into McCoy Stadium a little after 3 A.M. on Monday morning on the heels of a six-game road swing through Charlotte and Gwinnett.  So the offense deserves a pass after a 3-2 loss in the series opener to Tyler Duffey (who was impressive for the second straight start) and the Rochester Red Wings.  Zeke Spruill was solid in his first official start in 2015; he retired the first nine hitters Monday night, gave Pawtucket five innings and allowed only one run.  He wobbled a little the second time through the order but made big pitches to limit the Wings to the single run; as Spruill gets truly stretched out, his ability to work through a lineup two and three times will dictate his tenability as a starter.

Once Spruill was lifted, Edwin Escobar came in and had his second straight shaky outing.  If there is one key hurdle that stands out as Escobar works back to full health, it is the leadoff batter: in four consecutive innings, Escobar has allowed the leadoff man to reach base (three walks and a double).  All four of those runners have scored.  The good news from last night: Edwin can build off his strong seventh-inning finish.  After a pair of doubles had plated a run, Escobar buckled in and got a groundout before he struck out Eric Fryer to end the inning.

The next two men out of the bullpen were predictably dominant.  Jonathan Aro continued his incredible run and extended his scoreless innings streak to 19 (look for a more in-depth post on Jonathan later this week).  After a pair of strikeouts ended the 8th, Aro handed the baseball to Matt Barnes.  Barnes showed off a cutter, a brand-new weapon that has been deadly for him.  In his first appearance with Pawtucket after being optioned back, Barnes struck out all five Charlotte hitters he faced – and relied heavily on the cutter in so doing.  Last night in the ninth, he fanned a pair – the first on a cutter, the second on a wicked curveball.  You can check out the video of that appearance here:

The other revelation from the roadtrip was Carlos Peguero.  Peguero – whom the Red Sox acquired in a trade on May 27, designated for assignment on June 4 and signed to a minor-league deal on June 15 – had a series for the ages in Gwinnett.  In three games against the Braves’ AAA affiliate, Peguero blasted three home runs and drove in ten runs with seven hits in twelve at-bats.  Here is an audio montage of the wreckage bestowed by Peguero at CoolRay Field:

It’s no secret why Carlos found a new nickname for the plane ride home; The Babe had earned it.

Pat Light has emerged as a serious weapon in the Pawtucket bullpen.  Though Light allowed his first runs with Pawtucket on the roadtrip, some extenuating circumstances contributed to the righthander’s first hiccup. There are times when a schedule laid out by the parent club mandates an outing in a lower leverage situation.  Such was the case when Light was summoned to pitch in Charlotte, with the PawSox trailing 13-3.  After having grown accustomed to pitching late in tight games, Light surrendered his first two runs on three hits.  Pat and I had spoken before the game; that interview is below.

The Sox spent Fathers’ Day in Gwinnett.  Every one of us has a special story of the role our dad has played in our lives and how they’ve guided our baseball journey.  Perhaps none is more direct than the PawSox’ skipper Kevin Boles, whose father John is a lifelong baseball executive and managed the Marlins on two separate occasions.  We spoke with Kevin about that relationship before Sunday’s game:

Some other links before Game 2 of the series with the Wings tonight at 7:05:

Keith Law went to Greenville to scout Yoan Moncada, and came away in awe of Rafael Devers.

It’s amazing what one offensive eruption can do to the mood of a club (and to that of the horde that covers them).  After 8 doubles, 3 homers and a barrage from the top 3 hitters Sunday in KC, Jason Mastrodonato is one of many who suddenly sees signs of hope for the Sox.  

The Red Sox continue to wait for Joe Kelly to master his pitch mix, and Carl Willis thinks the proliferation of hard throwers in every bullpen has posed a challenge for Kelly, writes Tim Britton.  

Ryan Hanigan had three at-bats for the Sox last night as he works his way back from a broken knuckle.  Hanigan is progressing toward catching consecutive games, and won’t be eliegible to come off the 60-day DL until July 1.

Ryan Hanigan caught five innings and had 3 ABs Monday night (Jillian Souza)

Ryan Hanigan caught five innings and had 3 ABs Monday night (Jillian Souza)

One last thing: Allen Craig has been a class act from the moment he arrived in Pawtucket, and he was at his best again on Sunday.  I was lucky to have my Uncle Paul and my cousin Avery come join me in Gwinnett; Avery is a huge Cardinals fan and was eager to see Allen with the PawSox.  When we came back from a Fathers’ Day brunch on Sunday, Allen was in the hotel lobby waiting for the team bus.  I asked him if he could take a moment to meet Avery; not only did he oblige, but he engaged with Avery, asked him about being a Cardinals fan and took a picture with him.  Here’s that shot of Craig with my cousin, who was tongue tied and had the kind of boyhood memory he will cherish forever.  So thanks to Allen for making Avery’s day (and year):

Allen Craig makes a great memory for my cousin.

Allen Craig makes a great memory for my cousin.

Keith Couch takes the ball for the PawSox tonight at 7:05.  Josh and I will catch you on the pregame show at 6:50.

Halfway Point Approaches/Hear From the “Strawman” and the “Spaceman”

by Josh Maurer

The PawSox return to McCoy Stadium Monday night to open a big seven-game homestand that begins with four games against Rochester. Pawtucket (34-36) will become very familiar with the Red Wings (35-33) over the next week and a half, playing eight of their upcoming 11 games against the North Division rivals.

The two teams are currently fighting for second place in the division standings, as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (41-30) has taken command of first at the moment with a great run in June. Rochester was swept in a four-game series by the PawSox back on April 16-19, the first home series of the season.

On Tuesday, Pawtucket will reach the halfway mark of the season as it plays game #72. While the team is currently under .500 for the campaign at 34-36, recent history suggests the squad still has a good opportunity to make a run at the postseason.

In 2014, the PawSox stood at 35-37 through 72 games but then finished 44-27 in the second half of the season and went on to win the Governor’s Cup championship. In 2013 the squad finished 36-35 in the second half. It will be interesting to see how this year’s club performs over the next two months.

Kevin Boles’ team is currently in a stretch of playing 26 straight days leading into the All-Star Break next month. I think the way the team performs during the next three weeks, while battling mostly divisional opponents, will go a long way towards determining whether or not it will remain in the playoff hunt in 2015.

Speaking of Boles, congratulations go out to the PawSox skipper for being named a coach for the International League team in next month’s Triple-A All-Star Game. He will work with Syracuse Manager Billy Gardner, Jr. during the game that will be played in Omaha, Nebraska.

Boles bundled in dugout

Bolesy told me he is very excited for the opportunity to get out there and see all the great players involved with such a high-level All-Star contest. I think getting to interact with some of the best players and coaches that Minor League Baseball has to offer has to be one of the best parts of participating in a game like that.

Over the past two weeks I’ve gotten to interact with two prominent figures from baseball’s past; two men who were often controversial yet each a terrific player in his own right.

During the last homestand, four-time World Champion Darryl Strawberry was at McCoy Stadium as part of an appearance with his “Strawberry Ministries.” Darryl’s life has really taken on new meaning in recent years, as you’ll hear in the interview below, having become an ordained minister along with his wife Tracy.

strawberry

He doesn’t spend much time thinking about baseball these days. Check out the conversation from the PawSox Insider show:

When the PawSox were in Charlotte last week, the Knights had brought in former Red Sox Cy Young Award winner Bill Lee to sign autographs for fans and meet with players from each team. “The Spaceman” is still his old outlandish self; he is not afraid to say anything and everything that comes to his mind.

bill lee

We chatted before Tuesday’s game about everything from his current relationship with the Boston brass to his thoughts on Eduardo Rodriguez’s electric start to his MLB career and even how Bill would turn around the big-league Red Sox. Check out the interview below:

Reports say Boston catcher Ryan Hanigan may join the PawSox to begin an MLB rehab assignment this week at McCoy. Hanigan fractured his knuckle back on May 1st, prompting the Red Sox to call up Blake Swihart from Pawtucket.

Hanigan

Blake has been Boston’s number one catcher ever since, although his injured his foot on Saturday night in Kansas City. One wonders what the Red Sox will decide to do with the catching situation once Hanigan is fully healthy.

On Monday night, righty Zeke Spruill will try and make a strong first impression as he moves into the PawSox starting rotation and gets the ball for Kevin Boles.  Spruill has been a reliever all year (save for one start earlier this month that was suspended by rain), however previously in his career he had been mostly used in a starting role.

Zeke Spruill pitching

Hope to see you at the ballpark this week. If not, Will and I will look forward to talking with you on the radio. Happy homestand!

Josh M

Be The Ball: Masterson Looks Strong, Danny Noonan Comes to Charlotte

by Will Flemming

danny noonan

This isn’t Russia. Is this Russia? No, it’s Charlotte.

Caddyshack was the comedy soundtrack of my childhood.  I watched it more than any other film, memorized most of the script, and quoted it constantly to friends and family.  ‘Big hitter, the Lama… long.’ ‘A flute with no holes is not a flute; a donut with no hole is a danish.’ ‘Hey baby you must’ve been something before electricity.’

So when I learned that Wednesday was Caddyshack night at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, a lot of memories came back to me.  All the times I watched it on family vacations, the countless laughs I shared with my brother, my father and my uncles re-living the hilarity at Bushwood Country Club.

Michael O’Keefe, the actor who played Danny Noonan, would be at the ballpark.  I took a flier and reached out to Tommy Viola, the fabulous director of media relations with the Knights to see if I could have a few minutes with Noonan. Tommy almost immediately replied: “Not a problem at all. I’ll be happy to set you up with him.”

This was an interview for which I would not need much preparation.  Even though I had never met O’Keefe, it felt like I was going to sit down with an old friend.

Sure enough, around 3:30 on Wednesday, Michael walked into the press box at BB&T.  Tommy made an introduction, and we settled into the auxiliary broadcast booth.  I was tempted to open with “This isn’t Russia. Is this Russia?” We launched into an effortless, fascinating conversation.  We spoke for 15 minutes before recording the official interview.  Michael told me about his stint on Homeland, how he was in awe of the preparation and professionalism of Claire Danes from the moment he set foot on the set.  He spoke of his commitment to meditation, and the ways in which it has impacted his life and his perspective as a new father.  He even shared some great behind-the-scenes stories about Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray and Chevy Chase.

You can hear our full interview here; I am so grateful to Michael for being friendly, gracious and generous with his time.  Later in the evening, I introduced my uncle Luther – who lives in Charlotte and had initially introduced me to Caddyshack – to O’Keefe, which was a wonderful, full-circle moment.

On Tuesday, Justin Masterson – one of the few players currently with the PawSox old enough to remember Caddyshack as I do – put forth another strong outing.  He went six innings and allowed just two runs in the band-box that is BB&T Ballpark.  His second consecutive steady start begged an obvious question: what is next for Masterson?

NESN’s Zach Cox explored the decision facing the Red Sox as Masterson’s time on the DL draws to a close.

The Globe’s Pete Abraham indicated in his piece that the Sox are likely to make a decision soon, and that John Farrell thinks Masterson has done enough to warrant a spot on the Boston roster.

Tonight in Charlotte, the PawSox give the ball to Keith Couch and hope to salvage the finale of this three-game series.  The status of Bryce Brentz is unknown; he left the game with a left thumb injury last night after singling in the go-ahed run in the seventh.  You can watch the play here:

In the last three games (all losses after a four-game winning streak) the PawSox have left 31 runners on base.  The bright side, of course, is that the Sox are giving themselves myriad opportunities to score.

A few other notes from Charlotte: in the 106th home game at their new home, the Knights welcomed their millionth fan.  We will have an in-depth look at one of the IL’s crown jewels later in the week – and explore the many ways it offers a glimpse into what PawSox fans could have in downtown Providence.

It is easy to imagine a scene like this in Providence

It is easy to imagine a scene like this in Providence

A night after his older brother won the NBA championship with the Warriors, Trayce Thompson had a big night.  He’s now hit four of his nine homers against the PawSox.

And Kevin Boles has been named the manager for the International League in the All Star Game in Omaha.  A well deserved honor for the skipper.  We’ll get Bolesy’s thoughts on the honor and share them on the broadcast tonight.

Josh and I will talk to you at 6:50 tonight on WHJJ and throughout the PawSox radio network.

Until then, be the ball.

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