Marrero Making His Mark In The Top Spot

by Josh Maurer

Since being optioned back from his second Major League stint earlier this month, PawSox shortstop Deven Marrero has been filling a role he had never before been asked to fill as a professional.  Now every night for two straight weeks, Deven has served as the team’s leadoff batter.

Hitting in the top spot seems to have ignited Marrero’s offensive game.  In the first 15 games with the shortstop batting first, Deven is 20-for-64 (.313) with six walks, one home run, 11 runs scored and five RBI.  In his final six games for the PawSox before moving to the leadoff spot, the former Arizona State Sun Devil was just 2-for-23 at the plate.

Marrero flipping ball playing DMarrero celebrated his 25th birthday on Tuesday night. While he went hitless in two at-bats and recorded a walk, he did make a nice leaping catch to finish a 2-0 shutout victory over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  In Monday’s victory against the RailRiders, Marrero capped a two-run sixth inning with this base hit.

On Sunday against Lehigh Valley, Marrero put his power on display in the third inning against tough right-hander Severino Gonzalez by connecting on his sixth home run of the season.

Largely because of the hamstring injury to Dustin Pedroia, the former Red Sox first round pick in 2012 has recorded his first big-league time in Boston earlier this season.  While with the club for the better part of a full month, Marrero only entered into six games (only making one start) and batted 1-for-7.

When asked why he moved Deven into the leadoff spot after being optioned back on August 11th, Pawtucket Manager Kevin Boles said on Sunday that the Red Sox really wanted to help Marrero make some some at-bats he missed earlier in the season while sitting on the bench in Boston.

Marrero swingingAnother factor that may be adding to Marrero’s recent hot stretch has been the addition of his first cousin and great friend, Chris Marrero, to the PawSox roster.  Chris was signed by the Red Sox after being released by the Chicago White Sox earlier in the month and has become an everyday outfielder for Boles since his August 15th arrival.

Chris Marrero, a former first round pick of the Nationals, grew up right near Deven in the Miami area and as children the two spent lots of time together.  It must be quite the treat for the two Marreros to play together in the pros for the final month of the International League season.

One down side for Deven Marrero all season, but especially of late, has been throwing the baseball from shortstop.  He has been charged with two throwing errors this week, including one in the tenth inning on Sunday against Lehigh Valley that brought home the game winning runs.

Marrero has been charged with 18 errors with the PawSox this season, with a good many of those occurring on throws.  For a man who made his name as a top prospect with his defense, the high error total is a bit surprising.

The good news is that the majority of those miscues seem to be made due to a lack of concentration – a problem that would be seemingly very correctable.  As the calendar turns to September next week, one would imagine that Deven would be a very likely MLB call up with the rosters expanding.

Marrero, like the rest of the youngsters already playing nightly in Boston, should be able to impress Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox front office team if he continues his strong play into the season’s final month.

-I had a very thoughtful chat with Pawtucket reliever Pat Light for last week’s PawSox Insider show.  Pat talked about his splitter, his mental work with Bob Tewksbury and his love for his home state of New Jersey.  Check out the conversation below:

Pat Light pitching

After a winning homestand (5-4) that included a series sweep against Scranton from Monday through Wednesday, the PawSox next head to Buffalo and Rochester for their final road trip of the season.  It will be a five-game stretch that begins on Thursday night at 7:05 from Coca-Cola Field.

Thursday’s game can be seen throughout New England on NESN.  As always, you can also listen on the radio to Will and me on the PawSox Radio Network.  Talk to you then!

Josh M

Porcello Comes To McCoy

by Josh Maurer

Friday night Rick Porcello will make what the Red Sox hope will be his final rehab start before being able to rejoin the big league rotation, as he faces Lehigh Valley at McCoy Stadium.  According to Torey Luvullo, the Sox are hoping to get six innings from the right-hander.

Porcello Boston

Rick Porcello

In 20 Major League starts this season, Porcello is 5-11 with a 5.81 ERA – which would be the highest earned run average among all American League starting pitchers if he had enough innings to qualify.  He has been on Boston’s 15-day disabled list with a right triceps strain since August 2nd.

Getting Porcello back to his previous form when with the Tigers will be one of the keys to turning around the Red Sox starting rotation next season.  After signing a four-year, $82.5 million extension (through 2019) this April, it would seem very likely that the New Jersey native will be back in Boston for the foreseeable future.

Interestingly enough, it was new Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski who originally drafted Porcello in the first round in 2007 and watched him develop into a reliable young starter for the Tigers for his first six years in the big leagues.

Porcello Detroit

Porcello won 15 games for the Tigers in 2014.

It was then Dombrowski who traded Porcello to Boston last December when it became apparent that Detroit would not be willing to give the young hurler the kind of money that the Red Sox would eventually spend on him.  The new Sox boss will almost certainly be watching Porcello’s efforts closely not just tonight, but throughout the remainder of his season to figure out the best way to proceed with the 26-year-old.

Here are some other quick notes to get you ready for a three-game weekend series against Lehigh Valley:

Carlos Rivero has been a big boost to the PawSox lineup since being reacquired in a trade from Seattle earlier this month.  Rivero, who on Friday will start/bat 3rd for an 11th-consecutive game, is currently on an 8-game hitting streak during which he is batting .333 (12-for-36) with eight runs scored and six RBI.

rivero

Carlos Rivero

-Even with back-to-back losses to Syracuse on Tuesday and Wednesday, the PawSox have still gone 4-3 over their last seven games (including victories in 3 of 4 against the IronPigs in Allentown last weekend).

The biggest reason for the winning week was improved offense; Pawtucket has batted .262 (66-for-252) in the past seven games and averaged 4.7 runs/game.  The previous 25 games (a stretch during which the team went just 3-22), the PawSox batted just .207 as a team and scored just 2.4 runs per contest.

-With Steven Wright still struggling with concussion-like symptoms, it seems like RHP Matt Barnes will remain in the Boston starting rotation for at least one more turn this weekend.  When Wright returns to the active roster, it would seem likely that Barnes would return to the PawSox rotation for the remainder of the IL season.

Matt Barnes

Matt Barnes

-Best of luck to former Pawtucket OF Quintin Berry, who on Thursday elected to opt out of his contract with the Red Sox.  Berry, who leads the IL with 35 stolen bases, will certainly try and latch on with a Major League team in need of speed once the rosters expand on September 1st.

Berry gives high fives

-After spending two months struggling in the bullpen, LHP Edwin Escobar has rejoined the Pawtucket starting rotation and has pitched his best baseball of 2015 in that role.  Here are some notes from the PawSox game notes about Escobar’s recent work:

Last 3 appearances 8/7-pres (2 starts): 1-0, 0.69 ERA (13.0 IP, 9 H, 1 R/1ER, 7 BB, 9 K)…Last 2 app, and 3 of last 4, have been starts after first 12 PAW app came in relief (6/12-7/30)…Tossed 5 shutout IP and earned 1st PAW victory on 8/17 vs. SYR (4 H, 2 BB).

Edwin Escobar pitching

Edwin Escobar is looking more like his old self since moving back into the PawSox starting rotation

It’s a big weekend at McCoy.  Saturday night the PawSox will host some special championship trophies – and our friend “Rollin’ With Rick” has all the details on that.  We look forward to seeing you at the ballpark as the season begins to wind down.  If not, as always, Will and I will talk to you on the radio!

Josh M

Win Some for the Kipper

by Will Flemming

What a weekend for the PawSox in Allentown.   The fact that the ballclub snapped an 11-game losing streak and took three of four from the Lehigh Valley in the span of 40 hours took a back seat to all of the news off the field.

Just before batting practice on Friday, the news that rocked Red Sox Nation began to trickle in from Boston:  John Farrell had been diagnosed with Stage 1 Lymphoma.  The immediate reaction within the PawSox clubhouse was a mirror-image of the scene at Fenway: first shock, then confusion, and lastly a whole lot of questions.  I was standing by Kevin Boles on the field as he prepared to hit ground-ball fungoes when the players trickling out of the visitors’ clubhouse shared the news with the Pawtucket skipper.

You have to understand this about John Farrell: he has always been a great partner to Kevin and his entire staff.  Throughout much of spring training, Boles and his coaches (Bob Kipper and Rich Gedman) are with the Major-League club.  Farrell treats them with respect and accords them real responsibilities; he essentially acts as the patriarch of a big baseball family.  Bolesy was a floored as anyone by the news, but as usual, he had the perfect way of articulating his feelings on the matter. Listen to what he shared with Josh before Saturday’s game:

Everyone in the PawSox family is thinking of John and encouraged that the early detection seems to offer a bright prognosis.

Sunday morning, the PawSox had every reason to be dragging.  On top of the lingering emotions over the big-league skipper, the Sox had played two nine-inning games on Saturday.  Pawtucket took Game One 5-2 thanks to Quintin Berry’s third home run of the roadtrip and a big two-run single from Allen Craig (more on those two later).  In the nightcap, Berry scored again in the first inning Pawtucket fell behind 5-1 after three ininings as the IronPigs got to spot starter Mike McCarthy.  But the Sox summoned an inspired rally in their seventeenth inning of a marathon day; they sent nine men to the plate, scored four times and had the bases loaded before striking out for the game’s final out.

When the next morning dawned, the Sox girded themselves for the series finale – and sought a series win.  But before David Buchanan and Wiliam Cuevas took the mound, the final domino fell from Boston: Bob Kipper would be joining the Red Sox as their bullpen coach after Dana LeVangie was named the interim bench coach for interim skipper Torey Lovullo.  Kip’s phone was ringing off the hook with congratulatory calls and he scrambled to iron out logistics.  By the time the game began, the PawSox dugout essentially became a receiving line for Kip.  Bob could be seen grinning ear to ear, shaking hands and hugging one Pawtucket player after another.   Here’s a view inside the dugout before the game (with Matt Spring and Noe Ramirez congratulating Bob):

Matt Spring and Noe Ramirez were two of the first PawSox to chat with Bob Kipper after his news broke

Matt Spring and Noe Ramirez were two of the first PawSox to chat with Bob Kipper after his news broke

As we have said many times in this space and over our airwaves, it is almost impossible to overstate how respected Bob is by his players, by his collegues and by yours truly.  Bob’s stint comes at a great time for the pitching staff in Boston; you can be certain that Eddie Rodriguez, Henry Owens and the many other pitchers with whom he worked in Pawtucket will benefit from time with Kip in the ‘pen.  Josh and I are indebted to Bob for his generosity, the information and time he shared with us and, more broadly speaking, for just being as great to be around as he was all season.

William Cuevas – one of Kip’s newest pupils – gave Bob one last outing to savor on Sunday in Allentown.  For the third time since joining the club, Cuevas went at least five innings and allowed two or fewer runs. We’ve quickly learned that Cuevas is a great kid to have around; his journey from Venezuela is a fascinating one and he brings a joie de vivre to the ballpark each day.   Here is the conversation I had with Cuevas on Wednesday in Scranton:

Cuevas’s start was just one element of an uplifting weekend in Pennsylvania; the PawSox offense really came to life, too.  In four games, the Sox ripped 41 hits and plated 24 runs (in fact, in a span of the last five games, the PawSox have ten or more hits three times – that after they did not post double-digit hits from July 26 until Friday night, the 14th of August).   Three names warrant extra mention: Allen Craig, Quintin Berry and Sandy Leon.  Berry blasted his third home run in a six-day span, has gotten on base in 15 of his last 37 plate appearances and scored seven runs.  Leon is 7-for-his-last-20 and belted a three-run, ninth-inning homer on Friday night.  And then there’s Craig, who looks more and more like the man who was a National League All Star in 2013.  He is 7 for his last 11 with RBIs in four straight; over his last five games, Allen is 9-for-19 with one line drive after another; he has ripped three doubles, driven in five runs and scored three times.  In his last eight games, Craig has raised his on-base percentage 22 points.

Allen Craig has had a lot to smile about lately

Allen Craig has had a lot to smile about lately

The Sox also played fabulous defense, highlighted by this incredible Berry grab:

A few other notes and links before the PawSox look for the second straight series win (which, remarkably, would be the first time they’ve won back-to-back sets all year):

John Tomase wrote this fascinating examination of the Indians’ long road developing pitchers and explored how it may offer the Sox a guide in the year to come.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has made some spectacular plays in the last week, and yet none may have been more athletically jaw-dropping than the one he couldn’t quite make last night:


Travis Shaw is certainly making the most of his opportunity in Boston; he blasted his fifth homer last night at Fenway:

Consider this: Shaw hit five homers in 77 Pawtucket games and posted a .249/.318/.356 slash line.  He’s matched the homer total in 21 Boston games and has slashed to the tune of .328/.365/.621.

Is there a scenario that sees the Red Sox break Spring Training in 2016 with Shaw the everyday first baseman and Bradley an everyday outfielder?  That seemed virtually impossible a month ago; it is at least more plausible today, and that is a true credit to the work both have done.

Amazingly, the PawSox have twenty games remaining including tonight’s.  Josh and I will talk to you on the PawSox Radio Network at 6:50.

Wednesday Notes: PawSox Looking Back To Some Familiar Faces

 by Josh Maurer

As the season winds down and the PawSox hope to change their recent string of misfortune, the minor league brass for the Red Sox have gone back to the well so to speak.  Two players who were big parts of last season’s Governors Cup championship squad have been brought back to Pawtucket this week – INF Carlos Rivero and LHP Rich Hill (reportedly).

Rivero rejoined the team in Scranton and made his 2015 debut on Tuesday night, going 1-for-4 with a walk.  Hill has not been added to the roster but has reportedly signed a minor league deal with Boston.  The team could certainly use pitching help with a day-night doubleheader scheduled for this Saturday at Lehigh Valley.

In case you need a refresher, here are some notes on each player and the contributions he made to the club in 2014:

Carlos Rivero

rivero

2015: Made ’15 PAW debut on 8/11 at SWB and went 1-for-4, BB, R…Acquired in trade by BOS from Seattle on 8/9, joined PAW on 8/10…Played in 96 games for Triple-A Tacoma, batting .256 with 8 HR, 40 RBI and 13 doubles….Signed a minor league deal with SEA in 12/14.

2014: Combined between Pawtucket and Double-A Portland to hit .264 with 7 HR and 53 RBI in MiLB 105 games played…With the PawSox, played in 74 games and hit .286 with 5 HR, 14 doubles and 36 RBIs…Had contract selected by Boston on 8/25/14 and played in 4 MLB games, going 4-for-7 (.571) with 1 HR, 2 doubles and 3 RBI…Was claimed off waivers by Seattle on 11/3/14, then was waived again in December.

Personal: Originally signed by Cleveland as a free agent in March 2005…Was claimed off waivers by Philadelphia in November 2010, then claimed off waivers by Washington in November 2011….Signed as a free agent by Boston in December 2013, then claimed off waivers by Seattle in November 2014.

Rich Hill

Rich Hill

2015: Signed with Long Island of the independent Atlantic League on 7/29, made 2 starts for the Ducks, going 1-0 and did not allow a run in 11 IP (2 H, 3 BB, 21 K)…Was released by WAS on 6/24…Began the season with Triple-A Syracuse in the Nationals organization…Compiled a 2-2 record with a 2.91 ERA in 25 appearances with SYR (21.2 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 21 K).

2014: Split time in the majors with the Angels and Yankees, combining to post a 3.38 ERA in 16 games out of the bullpen…Signed with BOS in Jan. and spent three months with PAW (Apr-Jun)…With the PawSox, made 25 relief appearances and went 3-3 with two saves and a 3.23 ERA (39.0 IP, 29 H, 15 R, 17 BB, 45 K)…Was acquired by LAA on 7/1, then pitched in 2 games and was DFA’d on 7/5…Signed with NYY on 7/17 and pitched in 4 games with Scranton/WB (4 IP, 0 R)…Was promoted to NYY on 8/5 and made 14 app, going 0-0 with a 1.69 ERA (5.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R).

PERSONAL: Holds 10 years of MLB experience, including four with the Chicago Cubs (2005-08) and three with the Boston Red Sox (2010-12)…Has a career big league record of 24-22 with a 4.72 ERA and 451 strikeouts in 197 games (70 starts)…Was originally drafted by the Cubs in the fourth round of the 2002 amateur draft out of the University of Michigan.

Another recent addition to the PawSox had never before been a part of the Boston organization, but instead had been living in the area nearly his entire life.  New starting pitcher Shawn Haviland is a Harvard graduate who makes his home in Beantown.

Haviland, acquired in a trade last week, made his Pawtucket debut against Syracuse last Saturday.  Here is more about the right-handed starter:

Shawn Haviland

Haviland-for-8-8

2015: Made PAW debut and took L on 8/8 vs. SYR (5.0 IP, 8 H, 4 R)…Was acquired by BOS in a trade from Colorado on 8/8…Was traded by CWS to Colorado in exchange for cash considerations on 7/22 but did not appear in a game with Rockies organization…Made 19 appearances (13 starts) for Triple-A Charlotte;, going 4-5 with a 4.19 ERA…Over 77.1 IP, allowed 83 hits (10 HR) w 59 K and 19 BB…Won consecutive starts against PawSox June 9 and 18…6/9 at PAW pitched 6 shutout innings with season-high 8 Ks…Over 11.0 IP v PAW allowed 2 ER on 8 hits w 11 K and 5 BB…Signed with Chicago White Sox as a free agent in January.

2014: Combined to go 8-9 with a 3.82 ERA (69 ER/162.2 IP) and 109 strikeouts in 28 starts between Class A Stockton and Class Double-A Midland in the Oakland organization…Spent majority of season in Midland, his third season there, and made 25 starts and went 7-7 with a 3.87 ERA (146.1 IP, 137 H, 70 R).

PERSONAL: Was selected by Oakland in the 33rd round of the First-Year Player Draft. Graduated from Harvard University…is a 2004 graduate of Farmington (Conn.) High School.

The PawSox eight-game road trip over seven days continues Wednesday night in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  LHP Edwin Escobar will make his second start of the season, taking the spot of the injured Keith Couch who was placed on the DL Tuesday with a right thumb contusion.  Here are a few more noteworthy items for your perusal:

-Reports say that the Red Sox have hired former Angels GM Jerry DiPoto as a front office consultant.  DiPoto abruptly left Anaheim last month after a reported dispute with Angels Manager Mike Scioscia.

Jerry DiPoto

Jerry DiPoto

-If you didn’t get a change to see it yet, here is the grand slam last week that made Mike Hessman the all-time minor league home run king.

Hessman, 37, drilled his record-breaking 433rd MiLB long ball against Lehigh Valley and set off a pretty wild celebration with his teammates.  A very cool moment for the International League as a whole.

-Last weekend on PawSox Insider I sat down for the lengthy chat with Pitching Coach Bob Kipper.  Ever the great teacher, Kip had some very interesting things to say about the progression made this season by Henry Owens, among other topics.  It’s a good listen if you have a few minutes:

Have a great rest of your Wednesday.  Will and I look forward to speaking to you tonight at 6:50pm from PNC Field.

Josh M

Evolution of the PawSox Rotation

by Josh Maurer

When the 2015 season opened the PawSox starting rotation was thought of as one of the tops in Minor League Baseball.  When the campaign began in early April, Brian Johnson, Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Matt Barnes and Steven Wright joined Keith Couch to form a dominant starting rotation that was the envy of the International League.

Eddie Rodriguez pitching

Eddie Rodriguez spent the first seven weeks of the season with the PawSox

Four months later, only Couch and Barnes remain in Pawtucket (with Barnes having only just moved back into a starting capacity this week).  Owens, Rodriguez and Wright currently form three-fifths of the Major League rotation in Boston.  Johnson, who himself might be with the big-league Sox had he not injured his elbow last week, is currently on the Pawtucket DL.

Owens throwing pitch

Henry Owens made an impressive MLB debut for Boston against the Yankees on Tuesday after spending the whole season in Pawtucket prior to that.

Barnes spent the majority of the season in the bullpen for John Farrell, then after falling upon some hard times was optioned back to the PawSox during the All-Star break.  He allowed four runs in 3.1 innings in his return to a starting role this past Wednesday in Syracuse.

mattbarnes2

Matt Barnes is back in the PawSox starting rotation

The rest of the PawSox rotation currently consists of Couch, Jess Todd, Zeke Spruill and newcomer William Cuevas.  Cuevas made his Triple-A debut on Thursday night against Syracuse and looked very sharp, allowing a pair of solo home runs but only two other hits in seven strong innings pitched.

William Cuevas pitches

William Cuevas allowed only two runs in seven innings in his PawSox debut on Thursday

Spruill has been a pleasant surprise for the past month.  Since being designated for assignment on July 3rd, the right-hander has made five appearances (four starts) and gone 0-4 with a 2.63 ERA (24.0 IP, 23 H, 10 R, 7 ER).  Most recently, Spruill has recorded three consecutive quality starts for the PawSox.

Spuill pitches

Zeke Spruill has pitched like a new man for the past month and has been one of the most consistent PawSox hurlers during that span

Certainly the Pawtucket rotation has undergone a massive overhaul from the beginning of the season until now.  For the remaining month of the campaign it will be interesting to see which hurlers stand out and make a case to be back with the PawSox (or perhaps compete for a spot with Boston) in 2016.

The team is home at McCoy for the upcoming weekend with three more games coming against Syracuse.  On Friday night Couch will take the ball as the PawSox try to snap a seven-game skid against the Chiefs and climb back within one game of fifth place in the IL North Division standings.

Couch pitching

Keith Couch looks to defeat Syracuse for the second time this season on Friday night

Hope to see you at the ballpark this weekend.  Don’t forget that Saturday night is Super Hero Night with a big fireworks show to follow the 6:05pm game.  As always, for those not at the game, Will and I look forward to talking to you on the radio.  Happy August!

Josh M

What PITCHf/x tells us about Henry Owens’ Strong Debut

by Will Flemming (@WillFlemming)

Henry Owens took the biggest stage of all on Tuesday night (Kathy Willens/AP)

Henry Owens took the biggest stage of all on Tuesday night (Kathy Willens/AP)

Rain is a good thing.  At least that’s what Luke Bryan tells us.  But this won’t be a blog about corn, whiskey or getting frisky.  For a baseball club with a short bullpen, rainouts are a blessing.  So, too, for a broadcaster eager to watch the Major League debut of a young man at Yankee Stadium.  A young man we’ve watched develop and progress throughout the summer, a wide-eyed man whose hand I shook on Monday afternoon in Syracuse as he left for a flight to a place that made his lifelong dream come true.
So when the Syracuse Chiefs announced on Tuesday night that our ballgame would begin at 7:45 because of the threat of rain, it was easy to see the silver lining in the clouds that hung above NBT Bank Stadium.  Thanks to the MLB At-Bat App, I loaded the NESN feed of the Sox’ opener in The Bronx and hoped Henry would carry the momentum he built over his last nine Pawtucket starts onto the mound at Yankee Stadium.  And, for the most part, he did that.  You can read in-depth reviews of his outing in the Boston Globe here, so I won’t belabor the sentiment that he settled in after a stressful first and displayed an impressive calm.

But I am interested to share an in-depth look at the start – courtesy of the PITCHf/x tool available on the FanGraphs website – because I think it offers some interesting insight into Henry’s start.  You can get the full breakdown here, but some specific takeaways:

I found it fascinating that Blake Swihart was behind the plate.  The Red Sox clearly chose comfort over experience for Owens, and I think that proved a wise choice.  As the table below demonstrates, Swihart mixed all of Henry’s offerings effectively:

Courtesy of BrooksBaseball

Courtesy of BrooksBaseball

A couple interesting points: Henry threw more curveballs than sliders last night.  A year ago, that would not be news at all.  But after a recent run in which Owens has leaned more heavily on the slider (particularly to left-handed hitters), it’s worth noticing that he leaned on more curveballs (13 to 10) last night (and he threw eight of the curveballs for strikes).  A couple points here: one of the things I appreciate about Owens is the way he analyzes a lineup and prepares for a start.  A month ago in a start against Lehigh Valley, he threw 18 sliders and 7 curveballs. The next time out – against a Norfolk lineup he had seen taking better swings on the slider – those numbers essentially flipped. The point is that for Henry, there is never a fixed script.   He and Swihart may have figured the curveball would be more effective to the Yankees, or that Owens had a good hook working.  The slider that struck out Jacoby Ellsbury in the first is a perfect example of why the slider is such a weapon.  Kevin Boles and I were talking about Henry – and specifically about the slider –  yesterday afternoon, and Kevin told me the thing that impressed him most when watching video of his recent starts was the consistency of the release point.  The fastball, slider and changeup all come from the exact same spot and do wildly different things.   To help illustrate Boles’ point, here’s a great graphic representation of Henry’s release point last night at Yankee Stadium:

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

The consistency of that release is remarkable for a 23-year-old on a big-league mound for the first time.  I also find it interesting that the pitch Henry threw from the highest release point was the pitch Teixeira grounded up the middle for a run-scoring single.

There is so much more that intrigues me about the breakdown, but here’s one last graphic for now: a display of every pitch Owens threw, where it was in the zone, and when it came in the count.  A couple things stand out to me: firstly, I don’t know that I would say Owens was effecitvely ‘wild,’ but you can certainly see that he doesn’t allow hitters to get too comfortable looking in one area, or allowing them to think everything will be right around the plate; secondly, so many of the “1s” are in the strike zone or right on its fringes.  Henry did a nice job getting ahead in counts (particularly after the first inning):

owens-strike

Feel free to delve further into the full breakdown; I know I have.  I have found Pitch f/x to be yet another tool that allows me to explore the wonderful intricacies of the game.

A few other notes on getaway day in Syracuse:

  • Daniel Nava was claimed by the Rays.  We wish Daniel – one of the real good guys – a bright future in Tampa.
  • Matt Barnes returns to the rotation tonight.  It’s been a seesaw year – from rotation to ‘pen and now back – for Barnes, who makes his first start since May 1st.  As a starter, Barnes has a 4.50 ERA (6 runs in 12 innings with 13 Ks and 6 BBS), while he has posted a 3.24 ERA in relief (w 19 Ks and 10 BBs in 16.2 IP)
  • Garin Cecchini posted a 3-hit night last night, his eighth multi-hit game since July 7th.
  • Mike MIller got two hits and drove in a pair of runs against Stephen Strasburg on Monday.  I sat down and chatted with him about the big night yesterday.  You can listen to that conversation here:

The Sox look to salvage the finale tonight at 7:05.  Josh and I will talk to you on WHJJ at 6:50.

Until then, thanks for reading,

Will

Sox Win a Series, Strasburg Next; Owens Gets the Call

by Will Flemming

There are so many reasons to love baseball: the never-ending chess match between the lines; the human drama on display within every pitch; the balletic beauty of a ballgame played out over a verdant green landcape; the fact that every single night, you truly have a chance to see something you have never witnessed before.  Add the first two days of the Pawtucket Red Sox’ August to the list.  On the heels of a 4-22 July, the PawSox had every reason to be flat, to go through the motions.  Instead, the Sox notched a pair of stirring comeback wins in Buffalo – two wins that felt every bit as dramatic and important to this particular group of players in this particular season as any two in any year.

When the Sox recorded the final out on Sunday afternoon, they won their first series since late June.  The Sox have now won both of their games in August, and you get the feeling that the dramatic effort on Saturday night might catapult them toward a nice roll over the final month of the season.  Think about this: trailing by three, the PawSox scored FIVE runs with two outs in the top of the ninth inning on Saturday.  They then withstood a furious Buffalo rally in the bottom half and held on for an 8-7 win.   Some further insight on the anatomy of Saturday’s comeback:

– The kid Marco Hernandez has ice water in his veins.  His three-run homer provided the dramatic blow for Pawtucket, but I was almost as impressed with the swing right before that.  Behind in the cound 1-2, Chad Jenkins dotted a slider on the outside corner; Marco fought it off with a beautiful defensive swing. The fifth pitch was a fastball on the inner half, and Hernandez again put his lightning-quick hands on display.  Marco has gotten bang for his home-run buck: two blasts, six RBIs.   It’s almost impossible to sneak a fastball by him; here’s what one of the more dramatic swings of the year sounded like on the PawSox radio network:

– Hernandez’s heroics overshadowed the brilliance of another young infielder.  Give me 9 Mike Millers every night, and I will gladly take that into battle.  Miller capped the game with a spectacular, heads-up play to get Alex Hassan at second base.  The night before, Miller had made four jaw-dropping plays in a tight game.  As Gary Hughes, the longtime baseball executive who is now a scout for Boston, said to me Saturday morning, Miller morphed into Brooks Robinson with the game on the line. He kept it tied with a diving stop in the 7th, charged in on a soft chopper in the 8th, and made this play to keep it knotted in the 9th:

– You couldn’t shake the feeling that Deven Marrero’s solo homer that started the two-out eruption got the dugout believing.  Sandy Leon – in his first game with the PawSox – singled, Allen Craig walked and Garin Cecchini singled Leon home to make it a one-run game.  Every one of those grinding at-bats set the table for Hernandez.

So the Sox left Buffalo with a series win and some momentum.  As Earl Weaver famously opined, momentum is only as good as your next starting pitcher.  And the man scheduled to start for Pawtucket today in Syracuse will instead start Tuesday further east in the Empire State …. at Yankee Stadium.   We’ve known the call would come soon for Henry Owens.  I figured he might make one last start with Pawtucket and make his MLB debut against the Tigers over the weekend.  But the way he has pitched of late – combined with the injury to Rick Porcello and the vacancy in the Boston rotation – you can clearly understand the Red Sox’ brass putting their faith in Henry tomorrow night at The House that Jeter Built.  Consider these numbers over Owens’ last nine starts: 58 innings, 40 hits, 17 earned runs, 52 strikeouts and a remarkable 14 walks.  In none of his last nine starts has Henry walked more than two hitters; opponents are hitting just .193 against him in 2015.

There are so many elements to Henry’s recent surge and continued development: increased confidence in the slider (a new weapon in ’15), better fastball command, and the return of Owens’ most devastating pitch, his changeup.  I talked to Henry two weeks ago on his 23rd birthday about the slider, his improved command and how he prepared mentally for the news he finally received yesterday.   Here’s that conversation:

We will be watching Henry’s start tomorrow from the booth in Syracuse.  He will be thrown into the fire in a hostile environment against a lineup that scored 56 runs over its last six games.  Henry Owens, welcome to Red Sox/Yankees.

When Henry takes the mound tomorrow night in the Bronx, as many as four position players who were everyday fixtures this summer in Pawtucket could be on the diamond behind him.  Travis Shaw is six for his last eight (more on his near cycle a bit later) and will almost certainly get the start; Rusney Castillo has started seven straight since Shane Victorino was traded and had five hits in a three-game span over the weekend; Jackie Bradley, Jr. has gotten his opportunity with Mookie Betts on the concussion DL and has started five straight; and Blake Swihart is as comfortable catching Henry as anyone.  We all remember the day in August last summer they both debuted at McCoy Stadium (a year ago tomorrow, Henry struck out nine and carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning).   The bet here is that Ryan Hanigan will be behind the plate for Henry’s debut; Blake has made big defensive strides and could easily handle the challenge in New York, but just as the Sox had Ryan Hanigan behind the dish for Brian Johnson’s debut in Houston, he will likely bring his experience to bear upon Owens’ first MLB start.

Back to Shaw for a moment.  When Travis came to the plate in the eighth inning on Saturday, he needed a triple for the cycle…. and he did one better.   You can see the video of his second homer here:

That same afternoon, Rich Gedman shared a wonderful story about the day he hit for the cycle at Fenway Park.  It was September 18, 1985, and the Toronto Blue Jays were in town.  But to tell the full story of Gedman’s historic day, you have to look back almost three months to the 23rd of June at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.  Bruce Kison, the Sox’ starter that day hit the outspoken George Bell with a pitch – and Bell did not take kindly to being plunked.  He charged Kison and karate-kicked him (as you can see in the picture below).  Gedman raced to the mound to help Kison, and the enraged Bell flailed and drilled Rich on the lip and forehead.

This moment is a part of the narrative in Rich Gedman's cycle.

This George Bell kick of Burce Kison is a part of the narrative in Rich Gedman’s cycle.

Fast-forward to the 18th of September at Fenway Park.  Gedman says it took every ounce of his restraint to stay calm, to not seek revenge from Bell. He flew out in his first time to bat.  In the bottom of the third, in his second at-bat against Jays’ starter Jim Clancy, Gedman homered over the Green Monster – a solo shot that put the Sox ahead 4-0.  In the fourth, he tripled off of Dennis Lamp to score Boggs, Buckner and Rice.  In the fifth, facing John Cerutti, Gedman chopped the ball off the plate for an infield single that scored Buckner.  And then, in the bottom of the 7th, Gedman came to the plate needing a double for the cycle.  Tom FIler, the man on the mound, had owned Rich over dozens of at-bats in the minor leagues.  Gedman had a hard time with Filer’s slider, and figured he might get one to start the AB.  Filer slung a first-pitch slider that Gedman pulled inside the first-base line. A fan reached over the wall at Fenway and grabbed the baseball; when first-base umpire Durwood Merrill signaled for fan interference, Geddy had a double, and the cycle was complete.  Rich says that to this day, he still marvels at his ability to remain in the moment that day, to not seek retribution from Bell.  Looking back, a cycle is a pretty nice way to answer the Karate Kid.

The PawSox will face a big name tonight at NBT Bank Stadium when Stephen Strasburg toes the rubber.  Strasburg makes his second rehab start for the Chiefs; in his first, he gave up three runs over four innings.  The PawSox had early success against Masahiro Tanaka and Charlie Morton the other times they faced big-ticket rehabbers; Strasburg’s full arsenal should be on display and will offer the Sox a fun challenge.   And perhaps Pawtucket has a secret weapon in its clubhouse: Sandy Leon has caught Strasburg dozens of times and should have a good book on the righthander’s tendencies and vulnerabilities.

A few other notes on a Monday afternoon from Syracuse:

The biggest headline to come out of Boston this weekend was the news that Larry Lucchino will step down as CEO of the Red Sox.  Larry has had a Hall of Fame career, remains involved as Chairman of the PawSox and continues to lead the push for a new ballpark in Providence.  Here’s his complete statement, and a look back at his legacy in Boston.

Dan Shaughnessy thinks Larry will be missed at Fenway.

Alex Speier finds a sliver lining in the Sox’ current record and how it could impact them in August.

Rafael Devers continues to open eyes in Greenville; here is an in-depth look at his 2015.

The PawSox play the first of seven straight against Syracuse tonight at 7:05.  Josh and I will catch you on the radio at 6:50.

Merry Strasmas,

Will

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