by Will Flemming (@WillFlemming)
In 1880, the Dickson Locomotive Corporation in Scranton, PA illuminated its facility with electric lights. Six years later, the coal-mining hub built the first network of electric streetcars anywhere in the country, leading the Baptist minister David Spencer to dub Scranton “the Electric City.”
In the years since, Scranton has watched the coal industry ebb and flow, and the eastern Pennsylvania town has gained notoriety as the fictional home of “The Office.” Over the last four days, the Pawtucket Red Sox did not go on any paper sales calls with Michael Scott – but they did spend their share of time at the sparkling PNC Field, the renovated home of the Scranton RailRiders.
The PawSox split four games over the last three days after the opener was snowed out. The series saw another dominant start from Eddie Rodriguez, a three-hit game from Blake Swihart and more impressive contributions from Humberto Quintero. Garin Cecchini returned off the Disabled List and hit the ball extremely hard three times on Sunday. You can listen to Humberto’s third big-fly this week below:
Sox manager John Farrell told reporters that Rusney Castillo may DH for Pawtucket as early as Wednesday, according to the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham:
Rusney Castillo (on minor league DL) could DH for Pawtucket on Wednesday.
— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) April 24, 2015
Given that the PawSox saw the promotion of both Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree to Boston throughout the weekend and that they played their third doubleheader in less than two weeks, the club has to feel fine about splitting the four-game set.
Throughout this 2015 season, we are going to take you on virtual tours of many of the new ballparks in the International League. With a new yard on the horizon for the PawSox, we’ll highlight some of the wonderful features in parks around the circuit. From dugout suites to party decks to polished club seating, the International League has vaulted the fan experience into the 21st century.
PNC Field was renovated throughout the 2013 season; the seating capacity was reduced to 10,000 fans. The revamped seating bowl offers fans a far more intimate setting, improved sightlines and better access to the game.
The RailRiders built bars in both outfield corners. As you’ll see in later posts from places like Durham and Indianapolis, these terraced bars are a fantastic option for fans: full service bars and restaurants just atop the outfield wall offer a unique and entertaining perspective.
Throughout the concourse, PNC Field offers fans a wide range of concessions options; they’ve got all the basics from hot dogs to hamburgers, but adventurous patrons can indulge in gyros, steak-covered fries (a Josh Maurer favorite as you can see below) and local barbeque.
After a chocolate milkshake from a local creamery, I was able to roll myself up to the Mohegan Sun Club level. Fans find a dedicated entryway:
But it’s only once the elevator doors open upstairs that they see the real prize:
On Saturday night, fans took in the ‘Riders game, NBA and NHL playoffs and the Yankees/Mets game with a cold drink in hand at this spectacular bar. Behind the bar, an expansive restaurant beckons:
The corridors of the entire ballpark are decorated with wonderful Yankees’ memorabilia. These high-end finishes give PNC Field a truly big-league feel:
The suites themselves are polished and sparkle. Indoor/Outdoor seating options, customizable menus and waitress service accompany these luxurious boxes:
And when in the suites, the ‘fridge is never far away:
Ten steps away from a personal bar, you can find yourself in some of the best seats in the house:
In case it’s cold, the ‘Riders have you covered with heaters built into the deck’s roof:
On my walk back down to the clubhouse, Joe D offered one last smile:
Even the Yankee Clipper would like the clubhouses in Scranton; big-league stall lockers for every player, with the batting cages immediately adjacent:
All in all, PNC is a great place for fans to watch a ballgame – and for ballplayers to compete in one.
Josh and I look forward to talking to you from McCoy tomorrow night at 6:00 P.M. First pitch slated for 6:15, and we’ve got a fabulous pitching matchup between Brian Johnson and Syracuse’s A.J. Cole.
Until the pregame show on WHJJ and the PawSox Radio Network, I wish you a goodnight from somewhere on Highway 84.
by Josh Maurer
As the PawSox get ready to begin their four-game series at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre one day later than expected because of a “snow out” on Thursday night, I thought we would take a look at where some of the members of the 2014 Governors Cup championship team have moved to since the title was clinched last September.
There was a large amount of turnover at the upper levels of the Red Sox minor league system last off-season. Some of that can be attributed to the normal course of veteran Triple-A players looking for better opportunities with different organizations, but a lot of the turnover came in the form of trades made to provide immediate help to the big league club.
So without further ado – here’s a glimpse at the new surroundings for a good number of 2014 PawSox players. Let’s start with those who were either traded or claimed off of waivers by a different organization. These are listed in no particular order.
–Alex Hassan: Round Rock Express (Triple-A, Texas Rangers) (waviers)
Hassan had quite the eventful off-season. He was originally claimed off of waivers by Oakland on November 11, 2014. One month later the Orioles claimed him, but then the As claimed him back at the beginning of spring training. Finally it was the Rangers who claimed Hassan off of waivers at the end of March. He is still on their 40-man, but has played the season in Triple A (in 12 games Hassan is batting .233/0/7).
–Ryan Lavarnway: Baltimore Orioles (waviers)
Lavarnway had a similar off-season path to that of Hassan. He was claimed off waivers three times in December; first by the Dodgers, then by the Cubs and finally by the Orioles where he has found a home. He made the Baltimore opening-day roster as the back-up catcher and in four games played is 1-for-13.
–Carlos Rivero: Tacoma Rainiers (Triple-A, Seattle Mariners) (waviers)
Rivero was claimed by Seattle off waivers in November 2014. He was waived again a month later, cleared, and signed back with the Mariners on a minor league deal in December. In 14 games with Tacoma thus far he is is off to a hot start, batting .319/2/8.
–Dan Butler: Syracuse Chiefs (Washington Nationals) (trade)
Butler was traded to Washington in January for LHP Danny Rosenbaum (who is currently on the PawSox DL). He had been designated for assignment one week earlier, so the Red Sox worked out a deal to get something in return for the popular catcher. While still on the Nationals 40-man, Butler is back in the IL currently playing with Syracuse (8 games played, .214/0/5). We should see him in Pawtucket next week.
–Drake Britton: Iowa Cubs (Chicago Cubs) (waviers)
Britton was claimed off waivers by the Cubs in February, then outrighted to Triple-A Iowa at the end of spring training. The lefty has appeared in four MiLB games so far and gone 1-2 with a 4.26 ERA.
–Rubby De La Rosa: Arizona Diamondbacks (trade)
Rubby was traded (with Allen Webster) back in November in the deal that brought the Red Sox Wade Miley. De La Rosa made the starting rotation for Arizona to begin the season, and in three starts has gone 2-1 with a 6.00 ERA (18 IP, 23 H, 13 R).
–Allen Webster: Reno Aces (Arizona Diamondbacks) (trade)
Webster was also part of the November deal that brought the Red Sox Wade Miley (with De La Rosa). Unfortunately, Allen did not make the big league rotation coming out of spring training and then struggled through his first two starts at Triple-A (0-1, 7.0 IP, 17 H, 15 R). He was recently placed on the Reno disabled list.
–Anthony Ranaudo: Round Rock Express (Texas Rangers) (trade)
Ranaudo, the IL’s Pitcher of the Year last season, was traded to the Rangers in January for lefty reliever Robbie Ross. The big right-hander did not make the Texas season-opening starting rotation, but he has been called up to make one start for the big league team on April 14th against the Angels. Unfortunately he gave up six runs in 1.2 innings pitched and was optioned right back to Triple-A. With Round Rock he has only allowed one run in 10.0 innings over two starts.
–Alex Wilson: Detroit Tigers (trade)
Wilson was included in the Red Sox December deal with Detroit that netted Boston Rick Porcello. After starting the season in Triple-A Toledo, the righty has just been called up to Detroit. In four relief appearances with the Mud Hens, Wilson went 1-0 with three saves and did not allow a run in 5.1 innings pitched.
Now let’s look at some other key members of last season’s Governors Cup championship team who left the Red Sox organization as free agents. Again, no particular order here.
–Corey Brown: Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays)
Brown led the PawSox with 17 home runs last season. He signed as a free agent with the Rays this off-season and has been playing in the IL again with Durham. In eight games thus far Brown is 5-for-32 with one home run.
–Derrik Gibson: Bowie Baysox (Baltimore Orioles)
Gibson played the final two months of the season last year as a super utilityman for the PawSox. He signed with the Orioles in the off-season and is playing in Double-A Bowie. Thus far in 13 games played, Gibson is batting .250/0/5.
–Mike McCoy: El Paso Chihuahuas (San Diego Padres)
McCoy was the veritable “swiss army knife” player for the PawSox last season, playing all over the diamond defensively and providing leadership in the clubhouse. He signed with the Padres in the off-season and is hitting .171 thus far in 11 games with Triple-A El Paso.
–John Ely: Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Milwaukee Brewers)
Ely was a valuable member of the PawSox bullpen in 2014. He signed as a free agent with Milwaukee in the off-season and has been pitching in Triple-A Colorado Springs as a starting pitcher. After making two starts and allowing eight runs in 7.2 innings pitched, Ely went on the disabled list.
–Ryan Verdugo: Nashville Sounds (Oakland As)
Verdugo helped the PawSox pitching staff as a long reliever and fill-in starter during the final two months of last season. He signed with Oakland in the off-season and has been pitching in a similar role with Triple-A Nashville thus far in 2015. In three outings (one start), Verdugo is 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA.
–Brandon Snyder: Southern Maryland Blue Crabs (Independent)
Snyder, a big power-hitting infielder, was injured and played only two months at the beginning of the 2014 season. He has caught on with Southern Maryland in the Atlantic League.
–Rich Hill: Syracuse Chiefs (Washington Nationals)
The Massachusetts native Hill pitched the first three months of last season in the bullpen for the PawSox, then opted out of his contract for a big league deal with the Angels in July. He has bounced around since, but has landed in the Nationals organization to begin 2015 and is back in the IL pitching for Syracuse. He has only allowed one earned run in six innings over his first five appearances this season.
Finally, here are some 2014 PawSox players who are no longer active in the game at the beginning of this season.
–Justin Henry, Coach (Greenville Drive, Red Sox Single-A)
Henry was a popular member of the PawSox for the past two seasons. He has retired from playing and is now a coach in the Red Sox organization at Low-A Greenville. I am confident he will move up the ladder in the coaching ranks quickly.
–Ryan Roberts: not playing
Roberts was the regular second-baseman for the PawSox for most of last season. The Tatman was in spring training with the Royals but was released in late March. He does not appear to have caught on with another organization as yet.
–Jose Valdez: not playing
The veteran Valdez was on the mound for many key outs during the Governors Cup playoffs last season, including the final out in the 13th inning of Game 4 in Durham. From what I can tell, Valdez is not playing in 2015.
–Chris Hernandez: not playing
The southpaw Hernandez pitched for the PawSox in various roles for most of the last three seasons. He was released by the Red Sox at the end of spring training and does not appear to have caught on with any other organization as yet.
So there you have it. Pretty interesting to see where these guys have landed, no?
Will Flemming and I will talk to you from PNC Field in Moosic, PA tonight at 6:50 for pregame coverage. Henry Owens is on the mound for the PawSox with first pitch scheduled for 7:05pm. Happy Friday!
by Josh Maurer
Happy Patriots Day everyone! The PawSox will have to wait another day to continue their seven-game opening homestand, as Monday’s scheduled opener of a three-game series against Buffalo has been postponed due to rain. There will now be a doubleheader on Tuesday at McCoy beginning at 5:05pm.
Each team is red-hot coming into the set, with the PawSox having just completed a four-game sweep of Rochester while Buffalo swept four from Lehigh Valley and has won six straight overall.
Pawtucket holds the best record in the IL at 8-3 through the first three series of the year (Buffalo and Charlotte are 0.5 games behind at 7-3). After dropping a doubleheader in Buffalo last Wednesday and not having scored in 19 consecutive innings to end that series, the PawSox came home last Thursday to face a Rochester squad that had opened the season 5-1.
Thursday’s home opener began with a championship ring presentation ceremony, as approximately 20 players, coaches and support staff members received some jewelry for winning a Governors Cup title last September. The ring has drawn rave reviews from everybody.
After falling behind by scores of 3-0 and then 7-3 on Thursday, Pawtucket’s offense roared to life and scored the final five runs of the contest. Deven Marrero and Sean Coyle hit back-to-back homers to begin the rally, while Blake Swihart’s two-out, two-run double in the seventh tied the score at 7.
Then in the ninth, Bryce Brentz stepped front and center with one out and the score still tied. Facing former Red Sox farmhand Ryan Pressly, Brentz fell behind in the count 1-2, but struck a no-doubt-about-it shot over the bullpen in left field to end a memorable opening night.
Friday’s game two saw more of the same, as again Pawtucket was forced to play from behind after Rochester’s Eddie Rosario drove a grand slam home run against Henry Owens in the fifth inning to put the Red Wings in front 4-2. But Quintin Berry’s RBI single scored Marrero on a beautiful slide in the sixth cut the deficit in half.
Then it was Brentz again striking with a longball to give the PawSox the lead, this time in the seventh against tough reliever A.J. Achter. It was his second game-winner in as many nights and third on the young season. It’s been fun to watch Bryce get off to such a hot start.
Coyle would homer again the eighth, his third of the season, and recently-optioned Tommy Layne tossed a scoreless ninth to earn a save in his season debut with the club. Pawtucket won the contest 6-4.
On Saturday afternoon Pawtucket scored early and often against a tiring Rochester pitching staff. Veteran catcher Humberto Quintero gave the Sox the lead for good with a two-run homer in the second against starter Mark Hamburger. Quintero later drilled his second of the day in the fifth against Stephen Pryor to make the score 6-2.
The PawSox were far from finished mashing home runs against Pryor. In the sixth Berry smacked his first of the season, a two-run shot to right. Four batters later Matt Spring, activated from the DL right before the game began, hit a moonshot inside the pole in left to make the score 11-2 and chase Pryor after he allowed three blasts.
Pawtucket would win the game 13-3 and collect a season-high 17 hits. Starter Eddie Rodriguez was strong in earning his first Triple-A victory, striking out five batters in six innings of work. Swihart led the charge with four hits including a pair of doubles.
The PawSox completed the four-game sweep on Sunday afternoon, plating a pair of of runs in the bottom of the eighth on a wild pitch and an error to earn a come-from-behind 4-3 victory. With two outs and the go-ahead run at third base, Quintero hit this ground ball to shortstop that former Red Sox farmhand Argenis Diaz booted to allow the winning run to score.
Pawtucket did not sweep a single series last season until after the All-Star break (July 17th-20th). The squad only swept two four-game series throughout the entire 2014 regular season. It didn’t take long to get one in 2015.
In the Rochester series the PawSox offense totaled 31 runs, 44 hits and nine home runs. The Red Wings bullpen, which had allowed only one run in 21 innings over the team’s six games before heading to McCoy, was tagged for 19 runs in 11.1 innings this series. Pressly took two losses and two blown saves in his two appearances.
Swihart, Brentz and Coyle led the way for Pawtucket in the four games against Rochester. Blake especially had an unbelievable series, playing all four contests (one as the DH) and hitting 10-for-17 with three doubles and seven RBI. Brentz went 6-for-12 with two walks, two game-winning homers, two doubles and four RBI in three games played. Coyle also homered twice and went 5-for-14 (.357) with three walks and six runs scored in four games.
Here are a few other notes for you to before the Buffalo series begins:
-There have already been three birthdays celebrated in the PawSox clubhouse during this homestand: Travis Shaw’s 25th on Thursday (4/16), Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s 25th on Sunday (4/19) and Garin Cecchini’s 24th on Monday (4/20). It looks as though the team has decided to do some princess-themed decorating in the clubhouse for the birthday boys this season.
— bryce brentz (@Bbrentz7) April 19, 2015
Pretty creative, huh?
-I loved this quote from an unnamed scout talking about Mookie Betts‘ unlimited potential from Michael Silverman’s article in Sunday’s Boston Herald. The scout was comparing Betts’ future to that of Xander Bogaerts:
“I’d bet on Betts without hesitation, for sure, to have the All-Star type of career you’re talking about over Bogaerts. And I’d still give Bogaerts a better than 50-50 chance of doing the same thing. I think Bogaerts has a good shot to be above the norm in his career, but Mookie — Mookie Betts makes quicker adjustments to his game than anybody I’ve seen in the last 20 years. I couldn’t sit here and tell you what he’s not capable of doing.”
-This is somewhat old now, but here is an interview with PawSox utilityman Jeff Bianchi from last week in which he describes the crazy circumstances surrounding his three-inning pitching outing at Lehigh Valley on April 12th. Noteworthy from the conversation: he really wanted to pitch and also seemed to love every minute of it!
-The PawSox roster has already lost two opening-night starters to the DL with shoulder injuries. Rusney Castillo has missed the last eight games with right shoulder inflammation, while Cecchini has been out since last Friday (4/17) with a left shoulder problem. Hopefully each will return shortly.
That’s all for now. Check back to “45 Miles” later this week for a “Where Are They Now” on several members of last season’s Governors’ Cup championship squad. Talk to you Tuesday late afternoon for some doubleheader baseball!
by Josh Maurer
The PawSox took three out of four from Lehigh Valley to begin the 2015 season this weekend. It was a good start for Kevin Boles’ prospect-laden team by getting a shutout on Thursday and then pounding out 16 hits on Friday night, but it was the final two contests against the IronPigs that made the opening series fairly epic.
Those games featured 29 innings of baseball, three position players pitching (two for the PawSox) and one win for each side. Saturday’s affair lasted 13 frames, and Blake Swihart’s single past a drawn-in infield provided the game-winning tally for Pawtucket.
On Sunday as they looked for a four-game sweep, the PawSox held a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the seventh thanks to a strong starting pitching effort from Eddie Rodriguez in his regular-season Triple-A debut (5.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4 K).
Lehigh Valley then rallied for three runs against reliever Dalier Hinojosa to take a 4-3 lead into the ninth. Down to their final two outs, the PawSox sent up newcomer Luke Montz, who had missed most of the 2013 and 2014 seasons due to shoulder injuries and has been working to regain his timing at the plate. Here is how he picked up his first hit in a Pawtucket uniform:
The game continued into extra innings for the second consecutive day, and as we pushed into the 13th once again Montz would draw a bases-loaded walk to score Jeff Bianchi and give the PawSox a 5-4 lead. But little did we know that Pawtucket pitching coach Bob Kipper was out of available options in the bullpen.
Bianchi, a utility infielder signed this offseason from the Brewers organization with 162 MLB games on his resume, entered the game as an emergency pitcher in the bottom of the 13th to try and earn a save. He couldn’t hold the lead as Tommy Joseph’s RBI double tied the score, but Bianchi did strand a runner at third base to send the game to the 14th.
Bianchi, throwing tosses that registered around 60-65 MPH on the radar gun, somehow managed to pitch scoreless ball in the 14th and 15th innings to keep the game knotted at 5. Not a bad effort for a guy who had never pitched in a professional game before Sunday.
In the 16th, Lehigh Valley had also exhausted its pitching options and turned to DH Russ Canzler on the mound. Canzler had already had quite an opening week of the season, missing the opener because of the birth of his daughter and then celebrating his 29th birthday on Saturday.
Pawtucket scratched together a run against Canzler when Quintin Berry singled home Deven Marrero to put the visitors ahead 6-5. But in the bottom of the 16th, Bianchi was no longer allowed to pitch (why risk injury right?) and the centerfielder Berry was called upon to try and save the game.
Unfortunately for the PawSox, Berry’s foray into pitching did not go as well as Bianchi’s. After receving back-to-back walks from the lefty-throwing Berry, Lehigh Valley sacrificed runners to second and third base and then hit a sac fly to tie the score at 6. That left a runner at 2nd base with two outs.
Then the wheels fell off for Berry (could you blame him?) – he walked the next three batters on 12 total pitches, including a bases-loaded walkoff walk to (who else) Canzler, winning the game for the IronPigs 7-6.
So to recap Sunday’s craziness: Jeff Bianchi scores the go-ahead run, then blows a save but pitches three total innings. Quintin Berry collects a go-ahead RBI single but then blows a save in the bottom of the inning. Russ Canzler gives up a go-ahead run but then drives in the game-winner in the bottom of the frame to give himself the victory.
Said Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage: “I don’t believe I’ve ever been a part of a game like that. It’s tough to wrap your head around it.” Check out more quotes here in the recap from Lehigh Valley Live.
This tweet from the great baseball writer Jayson Stark I think sums up the absurdity of Sunday’s contest:
Craziest game of the day: Pawtucket-Lehigh Valley. WP Russ Canzler. LP Quintin Berry. In 16. Neither actually pitches for a living!
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) April 12, 2015
One more note to put the past two days in perspective. Pawtucket did not play a single game that lasted longer than 12 innings the entire regular season in 2014. So of course game three and game four in 2015 would each go into the 13th. How great is baseball?!?
Here’s a few links for your reading pleasure to get the work week started:
-Want to get to know my new broadcast partner Will Flemming? Read this, courtesy of Brendan McGair of the Pawtucket Times. If you’ve had an opportunity to tune in to any of the first four broadcasts, I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to us.
-Here is an interview from this past week’s PawSox Insider show with second-year manager Kevin Boles. He talks about the early-season plans for many of his high-prized talents:
In case you haven’t heard, the Insider shows this season air one hour prior to game time each Saturday. So make note of the time change from previous years to listen to our weekly magazine-style program.
-I love this quote from Garin Cecchini in this blog post from weei.com’s Ryan Hannable:
“I like to have fun,” Cecchini said. “There is a place and time to have fun, like right now you can have fun. After a loss you can’t have fun. I like to have fun because you’re going to die one day and what are you going to look back on? Are you going to have fun in your life or are you just going to sit back and mope around?”
Now if that doesn’t epitomize Cecchini in a nutshell, I don’t know what would. By the way, Garin played first base Sunday for the first time in his career in Allentown. I joked on the broadcast that he will enjoy that position because he’ll have more people to chat with!
-Alex Speier of the Boston Globe writes about potential breakout stars from the Red Sox farm system in 2015. He suggests a couple of current PawSox players. It’s a good look at the Sox minors leagues from top to bottom.
Monday night the PawSox seven-game trip continues in Buffalo with the opener of a three-game series against the Bisons. Matt Barnes makes his season debut on the mound for Pawtucket, with first pitch scheduled for 6:05pm. Let’s hope for no extra innings, otherwise who knows who might have to pitch!
Talk to you on the radio tonight. Thanks for reading!
by Will Flemming
Explosive offense. Dominant starting pitching. Air-tight defense.
If the first two days of the 2015 season are any indication, Pawtucket Red Sox fans are in for a treat – and for a lot of wins. On paper, this ballclub has always been tantalizing; over the course of two nights in early April, we’ve seen that potential translated onto the field. The roster is as deep, versatile and talented as any that has started the year in Pawtucket (or in any minor league town, for that matter). For PawSox fans – and broadcasters alike – this means that intriguing storylines will be limitless. We will have ample time to explore Rusney Castillo’s explosiveness, Sean Coyle’s continually-surprising power, Garin Cecchini’s growth as a third baseman, Bryce Brentz’s hot start at the plate, Brian Johnson’s competitve streak on the mound – and we promise we will take that time to dive deep into all of these compelling storylines and more.
Time is measured so differently in baseball. We mark its passage in series and roadtrips, bus rides and hotel check-outs. Today, on the 11th day of April, after only two games of a 144-game season, you might think I’d feel like a man at the base of Everest: only a few steps taken, a marathon climb ahead. The truth is I am already reminding myself to savor every minute of this ride. There is something different about this ballclub. Something different about this season.
Allow me to explain. For those of us who love this game, we wind our clocks to the rhythms and routines of every baseball day. For players and managers and broadcasters, there is peace found in the predictability of each new page on the calendar. Everyone has their own patterns. For me, every single element has its place in the day: a cup of coffee over last night’s box scores; as many newspapers as I can read; the ride to the ballpark; writing the lineups in my scorebook; conversations in the clubhouse; a pregame interview; laying out the broadcast with Josh (more on Mr. Maurer later); time around the cage during batting practice; and, at last, the moment the red light goes on and the broadcast begins. My routine is back. Baseball is back. And all is right in the world.
Throughout this season in this space, I want to examine as many on-field angles as I can possibly find. We will talk to players and coaches, rovers and coordinators, and we will bring you the inside story of the 2015 Pawtucket Red Sox. But I’d also like to bring you inside the clubhouse and the broadcast booth, into the hotel lobbies and onto the buses with us. That will begin in this first regular season installment of 45 Miles From Fenway.
Before I lift off, I wanted to say a few words about everyone involved with this ballclub. This past week – my first with the PawSox – has been a total joyride. Josh has made me feel so welcome on the broadcasts; it is so easy and fun to work together, and I hope that will come through your radios throughout the summer. The entire coaching staff has epitomized generosity, and that starts at the top. Kevin Boles is always available to talk and sets a welcoming tone in his clubhouse. Bob Kipper has been invaluable with scouting reports on pitchers and conversations on the mindset required to compete on the mound (I will share many of his insights in this blog and during our broadcasts). Rich Gedman exudes calm; you can clearly see he cares about each individual hitter on this ballclub, and I’ve loved our chats around the cage. Jon Jochim doesn’t mind that I double dip in the clubhouse coffee before games, and he even kept me and my lacerated finger off the broadcaster DL on Opening Night. Kevin Lynch has offered to kick me into gear in the gym (which may be a losing cause). Coming to the ballpark has been even more of a treat than normal… this a special clubhouse.
I was leaning on the railing above the first-base dugout around 5:15 on Thursday night when I heard it: WHACK! Those of us who’ve spent time around this wonderful game have learned that sometimes you don’t need to see a great hitter, you need only to hear them. When I spun around, I wasn’t exactly surprised by the man standing beneath the batting practice turtle.
Rusney Castillo was peppering balls around Coca Cola Park – and he has brought that swing into each of the first two ballgames.
Many hours earlier, my day had begun like so many before. There aren’t many days throughout the baseball season that will not begin with a cup of joe; fortunately, our Allentown home offers plenty of options:
The Morning Call in Allentown is one of the underrated newspapers in our league. Thursday Morning, the MC had a full section dedicated to a season preview; several feature stories, player bios and capsules, and some candid shots of the new IronPigs:
After six months away from the yard, I loved every second that built up to the opener. I walked around the entire ballpark, taking particular pause in the dugout suites behind home plate:
The Wild Boar Salloon sits right behind these field-level suites and is a popular destination for ‘Pigs fans – particularly on a night when the temperature at first pitch sat at 38 degrees.
It’s 6:45 P.M. and my juices are flowing. I’m about to make my on-air PawSox debut; this is a moment I’ve envisioned for a long time. The bunting is hung, and both teams are introduced and line the basepaths:
“It’s time for Pawtucket Red Sox Baseball. Here now, Josh Maurer and Will Flemming.” Gossebumps. But focused. Josh and I open the broadcast and set the scene: this team is loaded, it’s time to play the games that count, let’s get it on.
And right out of the gates, the PawSox deliver. Jackie Bradley, Jr. rips a double down the left field line. Castillo’s first at-bat of 2015 was productive; he advanced Bradley, Jr. to third base on the first pitch he saw. A nice inside-out swing that showcased a mature plan and the ability to execute it. Bradley would score the first run of the season when Travis Shaw smashed a liner to left.
The PawSox tack on three more runs. Brian Johnson gets into some trouble in his fifth and final inning. With the bases loaded, two out and Johnson sitting around 80 pitches, Bob Kipper makes a visit to the mound. “Kip” reminds Johnson that they’ve seen Edgar Duran before; he’s an aggressive, swing-first hitter. Johnson works ahead and into a two-strike count. He then unleashes his best changeup of the night to fan Duran and punctuate his night. Johnson competed once again, and earned his first AAA regular season win.
Noe Ramirez followed suit with 2.1 scoreless innings. The Cal State Fullerton product slung it from a three-quarter slot and punched out three of the 11 hitters he faced. Ramirez talked about his comfortable debut on Friday evening:
Heath Hembree tied a bow on the 4-0 win with a brilliant inning and two thirds; he induced a double play ball to end the eighth and struck out the side in the ninth.
When we arrived at the ballpark Friday, we were greeted by an unwelcome sight:
The rain moved out, and the PawSox offense moved in. In the second inning, Sean Coyle unleashed a massive home run to the power alley in left-center to put the PawSox ahead 2-0.
After a brief hiccup – in the form of a Cord Phelps homer that put the ‘Pigs ahead 3-2 – the PawSox answered back in a big way. Bryce Brentz tied the game at 3 with an opposite field home run to lead off the fourth. Pawtucked added three more in the fifth, puncuated by a Garin Cecchini double. Keith Couch settled into the game after the Phelps homer, and retired the last 11 hitters he faced.
An underrated element of the Pawsox’ first two games has been the strong defense they’ve played. The entire – from Cecchini to Marrero to Coyle to Shaw – has been flawless. Brentz, Bradley and Castillo have gotten to every ball that hasn’t sailed over the wall. And Blake Swihart showed tremendous athleticism in making two great plays in front of the plate on Thursday night.
Saturday offers a first look at Henry Owens, the next in the long line of left-handed prospect starters.
In other news:
Steven Wright will join the PawSox after he pitched the last five innings in the marathon in New York on Friday night, as Joe Kelly takes the mound for Boston.
Xander Bogaerts had a big night at the plate in the longest game in Yankees’ history – and it could be a sign of things to come.
The 19-inning affair in the Bronx had one wrinkle after another.
The Globe’s Bill Chuck wondered who belongs on the Sox’ Mount Rushmore.
In their season opener, the Salem Red Sox threw a no-hitter.
The PawSox will try and win their first series of the season Saturday night – we’ll have the broadcast following our first PawSox Insider show of the season, which airs on WHJJ and iHeartRadio at 5:50.
Check back here for more news from the road! I’m off to try a new flavor at the hotel coffee bar.
By Josh Maurer
We are four days away from opening night at Lehigh Valley and the PawSox players and coaches are making their way north from Florida. Before they left the JetBlue complex, Will Flemming and I caught up with several men who should play prominent roles with Pawtucket for the next few months.
Will sat down with two projected members of the team’s starting infield for this weekend’s PawSox Insider show – Garin Cecchini and Sean Coyle. In case you missed them, here are those interviews:
For the previous week’s edition of Insider I chatted with skipper Kevin Boles, who spent almost the entire spring assisting John Farrell and his staff in big league camp. I also interviewed Travis Shaw, who should open the season as the PawSox everyday first baseman. Those conversations are available below:
The big news on Friday was the Red Sox optioning both Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman to Pawtucket to begin the season, with Barnes expected to start and Workman anticipated to work out of the PawSox bullpen.
Moving forward it will be very interesting to see how long the big right-hander stays in a starting role. Considering the recent history of Red Sox pitchers hitting bumps in the road when being shifted back and forth from the rotation to the pen (Daniel Bard, Drake Britton and Workman come to mind), it could be somewhat perilous to leave Barnes’ future role undefined for an extended period of time.
That said, what a rotation we should have in Pawtucket to begin the season. One would suspect a five-man unit of Barnes, Brian Johnson, Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez and Edwin Escobar will open the year as starters, perhaps with Keith Couch as a sixth man. Yikes – IL lineups beware!
How does that compare to last year’s early season starting unit of Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Rubby De La Rosa, Barnes and Workman (with Steven Wright then coming mid-season)? What do you think?
Reports have the Red Sox releasing several players right before camp broke. One of those was lefty pitcher Chris Hernandez, who has served in a variety of important roles with the PawSox for the past three seasons.
Seems like he got caught up in a numbers game while trying to earn a spot on a Triple-A pitching staff that is loaded with high prospects. I wish all the best to Chris, who will certainly be a great addition to whatever organization he catches on with next.
Don’t forget the PawSox Welcome Home Luncheon is this Wednesday beginning at noon at Kirkbrae Country Club in Lincoln, RI. The entire team will be on hand before heading to Allentown to begin the season on Thursday night.
We’ll have more here at “45 Miles” once the roster is officially announced in the next few days. Happy holiday to all, can’t wait to get the season going this week!
by Will Flemming
Spring Training drew ever closer to its conclusion on Wednesday, and the Red Sox were spread all across Lee County. Boston played a pair of games and called upon a bevy of Pawtucket players to fill their rosters in a 9-7 loss to Toronto in Fort Myers and a 4-4 tie with the Twins at Hammond Stadium. Though Sean Coyle and Garin Cecchini did make the trip to Sarasota with the PawSox, a majority of their projected players either remained in big-league camp or were summoned to the Major League side.
As is so often the case during the spring, there was plenty to see and learn on the grounds at JetBlue Park – even before the Major League game got underway. As everyone waited for the official news on Christian Vasquez – who met with James Andrews Wednesday morning – all eyes were on Koji Uehara, who again threw on flat ground for ten minutes behind the Sox clubhouse.
As I walked away from Uehara, a distinctively loud noise could be heard coming from the batting cages. Anyone who’s been around the game long enough will tell you: some guys just SOUND different. Sure enough, I turned the corner and discovered the source of the cacophony:
I watched Ortiz spray balls over the cage; it was particularly fun to watch him cut loose on the last round, which were thrown at his direction “donde sea” (translation: wherever the pitcher wanted).
Ortiz would again act as the designated hitter in the home game against the Jays; he was 0-for-2 with a walk. When asked by The Globe’s Pete Abraham if he would play first base this Spring, Big Papi’s answer was simple: “I hope not.” He then added that he would be ready to play the position when the season begins.
Once Ortiz was done in the cage, I noticed the Blue Jays bus had arrived at JetBlue. My first stop was the Jays’ dugout, where John Gibbons was holding court. He was particularly effusive about the 20-year-old Miguel Castro – who has made the team after finishing the 2014 season in High-A Dunedin.
Castro – and every member of the Jays staff – should get a lift from one of Toronto’s big offseason acquisitions, Russell Martin. Whenever I was around the Pirates the past two seasons, I was always blown away by the impact Martin had on their clubhouse and pitching staff. Today was no different – the veteran backstop was already an obvious leader for the Jays, adding energy even during the team’s stretch and batting practice.
As big an impression as Martin has already made, you only have to spend a few minutes around this Jays team to uncover their unquestioned leader and star: Jose Bautista. From the moment Toronto arrived, Bautista was chatting with teammates, waving to fans and buzzing around the batting cage. When he stepped in, he put on a truly awesome display of power: eight of his last ten swings launched balls over the Green Monster.
Steven Wright – who will either begin the season in Pawtucket (perhaps even as the Opening Night starter) or break camp with Boston and make a start in Philadelphia – took the mound to start the game against the Jays. After striking out Jose Reyes, he gave up a single to Martin and walked Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion before Josh Donaldson belted a two-run, ground-rule double that got trapped underneath the wall in left. After the game, Wright said that not getting enough called strikes in the first allowed hitters to get out of “swing mode,” but that overall he felt like he was able to find all three varieties of his knuckleball.
As the Sox came to bat in the second I headed over to the outer fields, where Joe Kelly started and threw to Blake Swihart in the Salem game. Kelly went four innings and threw 65 pitches, while Swihart ripped a two-run double to left field in the fifth inning.
Adding to the intrigue of the Salem game, Yoan Moncada played second base behind Kelly. He is inredibly well built for a 19-year-old; he looked smooth in the field and displayed a gorgeous left-handed swing.
Back inside JetBlue, some PawSox got into the action for Boston. Luke Montz and Blake Tekotte replaced Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez, respectively. Tekotte’s ninth-inning single scored Quintin Berry for what would be the Sox’ last run of the afternoon.
Pawtucket will host the Durham Bulls in Fort Myers on Thursday with what figures to be a more complete roster; I will be at the facility in the early morning and will send one final report before I pack my personal Atlas Van and head back north.
One last note for today: I want to thank all the people who cover the Red Sox for being so welcoming to me. From the moment I arrived, the writers – who provide such fabulous coverage of the club – have been kind and generous. Pete Abraham, Ian Browne, Nick Cafardo, Gordon Edes, Brian MacPherson, Alex Speier: A sincere thanks to you all.