by Josh Maurer
For one week, I got to live out a dream. Thanks to the folks at NESN and the Red Sox, I was able to broadcast seven Major League Baseball games on real, live television. And they were seven unbelievable days I will remember the rest of my life.
For that road trip, I got to work with a wonderful crew and a legendary analyst. In traveling with the Red Sox to Anaheim and Houston, I was able to experience firsthand what it is like to live the MLB lifestyle (and it is everything one might imagine it is.)
While calling the action for the team’s worst road trip since 1951, I got to understand the unfortunate feeling of reality setting in for a season that began with great hopes fading into “what could have been” mode. I could feel the growing anguish of Red Sox nation as the team lost, in sometimes excruciating fashion, night after night out west.
I was able to broadcast the Major League debut of one of the PawSox’ best players this season, Brian Johnson. It was an honor to be the man on the microphone when Johnson first stepped onto a big league mound and to describe his first MLB strikeout.
I was also on the play-by-play for Deven Marrero’s first Major League base hit – a player I’ve been watching grow at the plate and with the glove for over a year now in Pawtucket.
I watched as two of the best players in the game today – Mike Trout and Jose Altuve – broke the Red Sox’ hearts with walk-off home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to bookend the team’s 0-7 trip. And I marveled as I was able to call long balls from three potential future Hall of Famers – Trout, Albert Pujols and David Ortiz – all in the same game last Monday night.
These were just a few highlights from my week “in the show.” There are so many more that will be etched in my memory that I wouldn’t have the time to recount in this space.
I have to give a big heartfelt thank you to Jerry Remy, who warmly welcomed me into his booth for a week and taught me so much about the game and how to broadcast it. It was a true pleasure to sit next to him for those seven days and see why he has been so successful in the business for nearly three decades.
Thank yous are also in order to everybody at NESN who put faith in me to guide the Red Sox broadcasts for a week, and to those who helped carry me through the experience. I especially want to name VP of Programming and Production/EP Joseph Maar, Director of Production/Senior Coordinating Producer Howard Zalkowitz, each of whom showed great trust in putting me on their airwaves.
Veteran Producer Jeff Mitchell was an absolute treat to work with on the trip, and he along with the rest of the traveling NESN crew made me feel so comfortable in an unnerving situation that I cannot thank them all enough.
Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal captured some more of my thoughts on the Red Sox broadcasting experience – check out the story here.
I want to thank everyone who has reached out with feedback – positive or negative – about my play-by-play work during the trip. I am so appreciative of all the Red Sox fans who watched the games despite the poor results on the field mounting.
I hope all those in “Red Sox Nation” will continue to follow the rest of the season with Don and Jerry. Even with the team likely out of contention, those two are so great together that I believe it is worth tuning in every night.
I had a chance to sit down with the Red Sox long-time radio voice Joe Castiglione while we were in Houston last week and chat with him for PawSox Insider. He is a wonderful broadcaster whom I have looked up to for several years. Below is a link to that interview:
Later this week I’ll bring “45 Miles From Fenway” back to the PawSox. But for today, I again want to express my gratitude for an unforgettable week in the big leagues. Thanks for reading, looking forward to speaking to you from McCoy on Tuesday night!
by Will Flemming (@WillFlemming)
The PawSox close down their eight-game roadtrip today with the finale in Norfolk at 12:05. In many ways, it’s fitting that Henry Owens will take the ball; other than the torrid hitting of Jackie Bradley, Jr. (who is 12-for-30 with four homers, ten RBIs and 5 runs on the trip), Owens has been the story of the Southern swing. In fact, you could argue that Henry’s development has been the most important development of the last two months for the PawSox. Consider these numbers: over his last seven starts, Henry has tossed 46 innings, allowed only 26 hits and 14 runs. He’s struck out 43 (including nine in consecutive starts) and, perhaps most importantly, has walked only 12 (five starts with two walks and a pair with just one). He continues to hold opponents to the lowest batting average against in the International League (.187) and has the third most strikeouts (94). Owens turned 23 on Tuesday, and we had a chance to sit down and chat with the lefthander. Here’s that conversation:
A couple other notes from Norfolk before the pregame show kicks off on WHJJ:
On Tuesday night, the sky above Harbor Park looked like an oil painting; a spectacular sunset danced through cotton clouds that hung above the Craford Bay in right field. I was lucky to snap this picture, which instantly became the favorite I’ve ever taken in a ballpark:
As Josh has made his big league dream come true this week (and done a fabulous job even as the Red Sox have struggled) it’s been a treat to work with Mike Antonellis. Mike, who is the voice of our AA affiliate in Portland, has displayed a great knowledge of the game, a sense of humor and a passion for broadcasting. When the Rangers or Padres call for Josh next, we will be on the horn to Mike.
– Ben Cherington met with the media yesterday in Houston. As Tim Britton chronicles, he admitted the Sox will be sellers without saying exactly as much.
– Speaking of Owens, John Farrell intimated that Henry is going to make his big league debut in 2015.
– It’s been a deflating road trip to day the least; Gordon Edes chronicles the carnage.
– On the brighter side, first-round pick Andrew Benintendi has now hit 4 homers and walked 14 times. He’s been on a roll lately.
– Clay Buchholz will be out several weeks after receiving a platelet rich injection from Dr. James Andrews. How much the Sox will push him in what is an evaporating season remains a big question.
Mike and I will talk to you at 11:50 on WHJJ,
by Will Flemming (@WillFlemming)
Norfolk, Virginia is a town unlike any other in the International League. For one thing, it oozes history; founded in 1619 as one of the first “citties” in the Colony of Virginia, Norfolk whisks visitors back to the founding days of our nation. The territory around Norfolk was once expanded thanks to a trade with the Powhatan Confederacy – the Virginia Company of London traded 10,000 pounds of tobacco for a plot of land that increased the land holdings of Adam Thoroughgood, who was granted the original charter by King Charles I.
It’s unlikely that Ben Cherington will be discussing tobacco with general managers around Major League Baseball, but he may well do some trading over the next ten days. Ben was in Norfolk to check in with the PawSox on his way to meet the Red Sox in Houston, and it was a treat to sit down with him. We discussed the state of the Sox; Cherington’s general philosophy on trades; the development of Blake Swihart, Henry Owens and Jackie Bradley, Jr; and the Sox’ blossoming young core. I was struck by Ben’s candor and the passion he feels for the job – you can hear the entire interview here:
Cherington and the Sox have some tough decisions to make after last night; the Sox were swept in a doubleheader and lost all four games in Anaheim to fall nine games below .500 and nine behind the Yankess in the AL East. You get the feeling that they will need to make a stand in Houston over the next four days to tilt the club into buyer mode at the upcoming trade deadline.
One man who may have earned himself a plane ticket to the Lone Star State is Jackie Bradley, Jr. For the second time on the road trip, Jackie blasted two homers in a game. Mike Antonellis has been with me on the PawSox Radio Network for the last five games with Josh filling in for Don Orsillo on NESN; here is the audio of Jackie’s homers last night:
How’s this for a road trip: in five games, Bradley, Jr. is 9-for-23 with four home runs and ten RBIs, and he’s scored five runs. Perhaps most impressive for Jackie – he belted both his home runs on Monday off of left-handed starter Chris Jones. That comes on the heels of one of his best swings of the season, when JBJ launched a 99-mile-per-hour fastball from Enny Romero over the Blue Monster in Durham’s left field for a homer. Jackie now has a slash line of .283/.341/.452 against lefties; he’s tattooing righties even more (.329/.411/.509). Bradley, Jr. has an overall OPS of .879 with nine homers and 27 RBIs. Until July 7, Jackie batted exclusively out of the leadoff spot, where he posted a .398 on-base percentage. His two homers Monday came from the second spot on Kevin Boles’ lineup card; interestingly enough, in his five games batting second, JBJ has an OPS of 1.330.
I found it fascinating that Jackie had such a big night with Cherington on hand (and in front of a massive contingent of family and friends). Decisions on players like Bradley are what make the job of a general manager so intriguing (and so difficult). With the deadline ten days away, does Jackie’s resurgence (coupled with Hanley Ramirez’s continued struggles in left field) convince Cherington and Co. that JBJ is ready to assume a more regular role in Boston? Or will it entice another club to make a hard push for Jackie’s services? Alex Speier had a great quote from Bradley’s agent Scott Boras about what the future might hold for JBJ:
“Jackie’s tearing up Triple A. I’ve got a lot of scouts telling me this guy is a player that a lot of clubs don’t have,” Boras said last week. “He’s an extraordinary defender. Certainly the Red Sox know that if they don’t have that opening, you know that he’s going to be a commodity in demand. There really aren’t that many players, particularly with that one tool of defense. Jackie can lead off and really be a fine major leaguer for a long time.”
Here is a conversation I had with Jackie on Saturday in Durham:
Other than Jackie’s hot bat, I think the most important development of the road trip was Henry Owens’ start in Durham. The lefthander (who turns 23 today) continued his resurgence; he struck out nine over six innings in which he allowed just one run. The numbers tell part of the story: in his last seven starts, Owens has struck out 43 against only 12 walks (and has not walked more than two in any of them). He’s allowed just 14 runs over that span and has pounded the strike zone (of his last 191 pitches, 125 have been strikes).
But the numbers are not the most important part of this tale. You need only watch Owens – and the way that hitters react to him – to know that he is a different pitcher today than in the first two months of the season. The slider has developed dramatically since he introduced it in spring training and has become a major weapon. He’s rediscovered the feel for the changeup, which many scouts see as his most advanced pitch. Most importantly, Henry has shown a willingness to throw any pitch in any count – and has flummoxed hitters in the process. The video montage of Henry’s nine punchouts in Durham offers a glimpse into his wonderful sequencing and the fact that he finished out strikeouts with all of his offerings:
One last thing to say about Henry: the more I talk to him, the more I realize how cerebral a pitcher he is. We chatted the Friday before his start in Durham about the development of his slider and how effective it was against Lehigh Valley; I asked him if we could expect to see it again the next night. Owens told me he’d watched the swings Durham had in the game one of the series, and that they had been good against sliders. Sure enough, Henry mixed in more curveballs and changeups against the Bulls. That kind of awareness – combined with the ability to execute a well-crafted plan – indicates to me that big things are coming for Henry. To that end, it would not surprise me in the least to see Owens contributing in the Red Sox rotation before long.
Speaking of the Sox rotation, all eyes will be on Brian Johnson in Houston tonight. Brian has been the anchor of the PawSox’ rotation in 2015 and earned this day. One thing I will be looking for: first-inning velocity. There have been times when Johnson’s velo has been a little flat to begin games; one of the best lineups in the game could exploit that. Something tells me that the adrenaline of a Major-League debut will give BJ all the giddy-up he needs.
How’s this for a silver lining from Anaheim: Deven Marrero got his first big league hit last night. Here’s Josh’s great call of the play on NESN:
We will have game two of the series from Norfolk tonight at 7:05. Keith Couch takes the ball for the second time on the trip; the PawSox hitters will have another stiff test against Norfolk righthander Mike Right. Mike Antonellis and I will talk to you when the pregame show launches at 6:50.
Until then, I’m off to enjoy this in the Old Dominion:
Until 6:50 on WHJJ and pawsox.com,
by Will Flemming
The moment that any ballplayer gets his first call to the Major Leagues is a special one. For one PawSox prospect, that instant is perhaps the most amazing – and least likely – development in the 2015 season. Aro – who nearly had to quit the game because he contracted Dengue fever – signed with Boston when he was 20, four years after most international players. At the time he signed for $10,000, Aro was on no one’s radar; he didn’t have am overwhelming fastball or a wipeout breaking ball. And yet, almost four years to the day after that moment he signed – and a year and a half removed from beginning 2014 with the Greenville Drive – Jonathan found himself on the mound at Fenway Park, facing Manny Machado and the Baltimore Orioles.
After three outings with the Sox – in which Aro yielded six runs on 12 hits over 6.2 inningss – Jonathan was sent down to Pawtucket. I sat down with him to talk about his whirlwind month, what he learned, and the emotions of his Major League debut. You can listen to that bilingual interview right here:
Jonathan has been spectcular with the PawSox – with one big hiccup. On Wednesday in Allentown, Aro allowed 4 runs on 5 hits and only got four outs. It seems the current 12-game losing streak has been contagious – prior to that blowup, Aro had gone nine outings and 20.1 innings without allowing a run.
Pawtucket needs a win today or they will tie the all-time franchise record with a 13th straight loss. They snapped that skid on August 7, 1985. There are no online records of that box score, but I will do some digging into the PawSox archives and share some details from the game that ended the long slide. That edition of the PawSox finished 48-91, was managed by Rac Slider and featured a 21-year-old Mike Greenwell.
Henry Owens is just a year older than that for ten more days – and he is finishing his 23rd year on this planet with a surge. I thought we saw the best Owens of the season last night at McCoy; he flashed a fastball that touched 94, spun nasty sliders to left-handed hitters, and showed off his vintage changeup.
Henry is over the 100 innings plateau now (with 104.1 innings on the season in 18 starts). Over his last 8 starts, he’s struck out 42 and walked just 16 (and, just as impressively, has walked only 1 or 2 in his last six trips to the mound). It feels like Owens is ready for big things after the All Star break.
Some other notes a few hours ahead of today’s PawSox Insider Show (which you can catch on WHJJ, online at http://www.pawsox.com, or on your smartphone through the TuneIn or iHeartMedia apps):
Clay Buchholz left the game in the fourth inning last night, will have an MRI and the folks in Boston are holding their breath, writes Ryan Hannable.
Michael Pineda and Alex Rodriguez fueled a big win to open the series at Fenway, says the NY Post’s George King III (though I would probably search for an adjective other than filthy, given Pineda’s issues with pine tar in illegal places).
Mookie Betts made a spectacular diving catch last night and is in the midst of a breakout year. But Jason Mastrodonato says it’s still too soon for the comparisons to Jacoby Ellsbury.
Xander Bogaerts didn’t win the Final Vote to get into the All Star Game, but he appreciates the fan support he felt all week.
Rich Gedman is off to Cincinnatti today to coach for the American team in the Futures Game tomorrow night. Manuel Margot – who’s off to a great start at AA Portland – and Rafael Devers – one of the rising young stars in the minor leagues – will be in the other dugout with the World Team.
And my broadcast partner Josh Maurer will make a dream come true when he fills in for Don Orsillo on NESN for six games after the All Star break. It’s been a treat to work with Josh all season long; he’s been generous and easygoing, and I’m thrilled for him – and will be watching from Durham!
He and I will talk to you today at 5:05 on PawSox Insider.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
by Will Flemming
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.”
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!