Homestand Recap (May 13-18): Strikeouts, Wind and Yaz

by Ryan Young

Hello PawSox fans and loyal readers. I’m the Broadcasting/Media Assistant this season and I look forward to contributing to the blog along with Josh and Will. My plan is to update you after every homestand at McCoy with interesting notes, sound bites and more from the week.

This week, the PawSox earned their first winning homestand of the season with series victories over the Gwinnett Braves and Norfolk Tides. Even though we suffered our fourth rainout already this season on Friday, a very eventful five days ensued. Let’s start by looking at some notable player performances.

Top Player Performances

Josh already touched on the monster performances over the weekend from Sam Travis and Bryce Brentz. Travis hit three home runs in two games. He can battle Chris Marrero for who has been more locked in for a series this year.

Bryce Brentz swings

Brentz, meanwhile, has had a long road back since fracturing his thumb last June. Following his big doubleheader on Saturday (he went 4-for-6), I spoke with him about his successful return.

Possibly of more interest, following his recovery, Brentz also had quite the offseason. I spoke with him about his wedding (which featured familiar names as groomsmen) and one of the biggest days in his alma mater’s history this March.

In case you were living under a rock two months ago (or don’t follow March Madness), this is what we were referring to:

Also this March, a guy with a pretty familiar last name received a standing ovation in a game at the Red Sox’ spring training home, JetBlue Park. He just happened to make his Triple-A debut at McCoy this week. He goes by Mike Yastrzemski. Carl’s grandson made his debut for the Tides on Monday and he showed why he was a top prospect in the Orioles organization.

MikeYaz

He hit a game-tying triple in his debut and a game-tying home run the next day, recording four hits in his first two games. Yaz, a New England-native, had plenty of family and friends in attendance at McCoy.

Following his Triple-A debut, I spoke with Yastrzemski about his Triple-A debut, his grandfather’s advice and growing up a Red Sox fan.

Fortunately for the PawSox, they were able to find an answer for Yaz in the final game of the homestand. His name was Roenis Elias and he made history on Wednesday morning/afternoon at McCoy.

Elias_PawSoxTides5182016JillianSouza_0102

Elias fanned 13 Norfolk batters, the most by a Pawtucket pitcher in the 21st century! It was last done in 1999 when Jim Ho Cho struck out 15 in 1999. Elias became only the seventh pitcher in PawSox history to record at least 13 strikeouts in a game.

After Pawtucket’s 3-2 win in the series finale, Elias said (through his teammate William Cuevas) that he had been working with pitching coach Bob Kipper on throwing more strikes and it showed in Wednesday’s results. Manager Kevin Boles was especially impressed with his fastball command and efficiency on the mound.

Not to be out done, the rehabbing Joe Kelly fanned 10 Tides in the series opener on Monday. In fact, PawSox pitchers struck out an astounding 41 batters in the three-game series (12 on Monday, 13 in Tuesday’s 14-inning game and 16 on Wednesday)! At least 40 strikeouts in a three-game stretch (with at least 12 strikeouts in each game) hasn’t even been done by a major league team this season.

New Face

While there has been a handful of players this season called up for various periods of time from Portland, having right-handed pitcher Mike McCarthy at McCoy this week was a special treat. McCarthy had a couple of quick stints in Pawtucket in 2014 and 2015 before he was transferred to the PawSox again on May 9.

He certainly keeps himself busy off the field, making the most of each minor league location:

He was working on his MBA while with the Sea Dogs. And during Pawtucket’s homestand, he spent his free time studying for a final.

However, the time McCarthy spends making a difference in the community is most impressive of all. Most notably, he is a large part of an organization called Baseball Miracles. Its mission is to help reach children with economic and environmental disadvantages throughout the world and teach them baseball and softball through instruction and donating supplies. McCarthy has already made stops around the globe, including Honduras this past offseason.

Here is a portion of my interview with McCarthy from this week, where we discussed spending time in the PawSox bullpen, his favorite destinations and Baseball Miracles:

Be sure to visit the Baseball Miracles website for more information.

Other Notes and Thoughts

This is the fun part. Here are some of my random takeaways from the last week.

The Weather🌧🌬

Fortunately, I don’t have any hot takes on the unseasonably cool weather in the first third of the season. 😞

But there’s no doubt it has played a factor. We’ve already had three Saturday doubleheaders this season with another twin-bill on the way in June. Playing three games in 24 hours is already challenging, but it’s even more difficult when strong winds decide to show up, as has been the case for the majority of games at McCoy this month.

There was a jet stream blowing out to right field this week thanks to high wind gusts. It burned the PawSox more than it helped, which included blowing out Norfolk’s game-winning home run on Monday. But thankfully, there is an example where Ryan LaMarre was able to take advantage of the jetstream:

The wind also made it difficult to catch fly balls. In game one of Saturday’s doubleheader, Blake Swihart had to reverse his track of running towards the left field line after the wind pushed a flyball back towards center field. Brentz took note of Swihart’s nice catch and on a flyball down the left field line in game two, he expected to make a sliding grab. But instead, the wind calmed and this happened:

Brentz GifFortunately Brentz said he emerged without any scrapes and bruises from the play…and a very fine catch that helped the PawSox pull out a victory.

Foul Ground at McCoy

It’s already difficult enough to go after foul balls at McCoy because there is so much foul territory. Jantzen Witte has learned this. He sprinted after a foul ball earlier this month, took a full-out dive and came away just short of the catch.

Witte_PawSoxRochester582016JillianSouza_7531 Witte_PawSoxRochester582016JillianSouza_7532

When I asked Witte about his great effort this week, he relayed an amusing anecdote:

Swihart’s Defense

Soon after Swihart was sent to Pawtucket, he began working on playing left field for the first time in his professional career. He did patrol the outfield in high school, but he said the most difficult part of readjusting to the outfield was reading fly balls. Here is more of what Swihart said a couple days before playing left field for the first time as a professional:

Since making his first appearance in left field on May 3, Swihart has made 11 starts in left field and eight starts at catcher for the PawSox. It has been difficult to tell that he had not played the outfield in six years. Swihart has been very smooth tracking down fly balls. He even had a game in Scranton when he recorded a pair of outfield assists.

Swihart also showed off his arm behind the plate on the last homestand, throwing out two base-stealers in one inning.

After gunning down Schoop, he also threw out Yastrzemski for the final out of the frame.

14 Innings

That game also happened to be the longest contest (by innings) that Pawtucket had played in the last calendar year. In a wild, back-and-forth affair, Kyle Martin escaped a ninth-inning, bases-loaded, nobody-out jam to keep the game tied. The teams traded runs in the 10th inning before Rusney Castillo finally won the game in the 14th.

Before the team took the field for an 11:00 a.m. start the next morning (of course the first morning game in McCoy history would have to follow a 14-inning contest the previous night), Martin, Justin Maxwell and Boles reacted to the win and quick turnaround:

Offensive Outburst

And now for the most important note of the week…

My first two innings of play-by-play on the PawSox Radio Network happened to coincide with eight Pawtucket runs. It was capped off by this swing of the bat:

Is the fact the PawSox average nearly three runs per inning with me doing the play-by-play this season a coincidence?

Fine, I’ll admit it is. And I’ll also admit that the 4-2 homestand along with everything else I’ve mentioned were much more important.

So thankfully, you can keep listening to Josh and Will. Make sure to tune in this weekend to see if the PawSox continue to play well in Buffalo. And then come out to McCoy next week. Maybe I’ll regret saying this, but it actually looks like the summer weather will roll in by Memorial Day Weekend!

 

Travis’ Powerful Weekend at McCoy

by Josh Maurer

What a 19-hour stretch for PawSox first-baseman Sam Travis, huh? Between 8pm on Saturday night and 3pm on Sunday afternoon, Travis ripped three home runs, all pulled out to left field against the Gwinnett Braves.

Sam Travis swing with tounge out

This after Travis had not homered since April 14th, and had done so only twice all season prior to the series against the G-Braves.  All three of the blasts went against a very stiff wind.  Here they all are in chronological order:


All those swings look pretty similar, wouldn’t you say?  It’s fun to watch when a player like Travis gets locked in at the plate.

It was also a terrific weekend for Bryce Brentz, who is starting to look back in regular form after missing nearly the first month of the season.

Bryce Brentz swings

Brentz started all three games and collected five hits in the Gwinnett series, including these three you can watch below:


Bryce also had the defensive gem of the weekend, a tumbling grab in left field foul territory on Saturday night in game two of the doubleheader.  Couple the with a diving catch in Scranton last week and Brentz has been laying his body all over the field recently:


I have always said that Bryce, who is known for being a power right-handed bat, is extremely underrated with his glove.  He helps you quite a bit defensively in either corner outfield position.

The PawSox won two of three from Gwinnett, using back-to-back offensive outbursts to collect the final two games of the series on Saturday and Sunday.  They will try to keep the bats rolling when Norfolk comes into town Monday night to begin a three-game series.

Joe Kelly continues his rehab assignment for Boston at McCoy on Monday night at 7:05pm.  He looked strong on Wednesday in Scranton, allowing just one run and hitting 98 miles-per-hour on the radar gun with his final pitch in Moosic.

Joe Kelly pitching better

Hope to see you at the park this week, thanks so much for reading!

Josh M

Talking Pitching With the PawSox Pitching Coach

by Josh Maurer

As the Triple-A pitching coach, Bob Kipper knows the work he puts in with his staff will often directly impact the fortunes of the big-league club. Having been a successful MLB picher and a Major League bullpen coach, “Kip” knows what it takes for his hurlers to make it, and more importantly excel at the next level.

Bob Kipper Portland

The PawSox have already had a whopping seven pitchers go up from Pawtucket to Boston this season. They have also received two important members of the Red Sox starting rotation for multiple-start injury rehab assignments.  So, it suffices to say that there are few men in the organization as important as Kipper when it comes to the success of the big-league pitching staff.

Bob Kipper meeting on mound

Recently I sat down with Kip for a lengthy chat about, among others, Eduardo Rodriguez, Joe Kelly, Henry Owens and Sean O’Sullivan.  You can listen to the conversation in its entirety below:

One of those pitchers who made his way up from the PawSox to the Red Sox this season was hard-throwing reliever Pat Light.  Light made his big-league debut two weeks ago, and had a whirlwind of an experience in doing so.

Pat Light pitching

Pat was very candid and affable in talking about his entire trip to the Majors – from the moment he received the word until the time he was optioned back to Pawtucket. The following interview provides a great glimpse at what it can be like for a young ballplayer to have his life-long dream come true.  It is worth a listen:

Joe Kelly resumes his MLB rehab assignment on Wednesday night in Scranton at 6:35pm.  He looked sharp in his three-inning outing last Friday at McCoy, and will look to build off of that this evening at PNC Field.

Joe Kelly pitching better

Meanwhile, John Farrell announced Monday that Eduardo Rodriguez will continue his rehab stint on Friday with the PawSox and make his fourth start for the club at McCoy against Gwinnett.  Eddie certainly looked his sharpest out of any of the three outings on Mother’s Day as he worked 5.2 innings against Rochester.

Eddie Rodriguez pitch side view

Will and I look forward to speaking with you tonight from Moosic, PA.  Happy Wednesday all!

Josh M

A Sit-Down with Mike Hazen; Babe Marrero

Marrero Allentown

Chris Marrero smiled plenty in Allentown – on the video board and at the plate 

The PawSox return home on the Cinco de Mayo for el primero de cuatro (the first of four) against the Rochester Red Wings at McCoy.  Home is a sight for sore eyes; the Sox come off a stretch in which they played 15 of 19 games away from their own yard.   Over the last week, Pawtucket completed a 2-5 road trip; they took the finale on Wednesday in Allentown thanks in large part to Chris Marrero (more on him in a moment).

The PawSox begin play today with a .500 record and a loaded roster.  In spite of numerous departures to the big leagues (Henry Owens, Heath Hembree, Josh Rutledge, Marco Hernandez, Noe Ramirez, Pat Light, Roenis Elias and William Cuevas have all spent time in MLB), the PawSox still take the field most days with a heart of the order that features Hernandez, Blake Swihart and Sam Travis.  The Marrero cousins have gotten big hits in bunches, Mike Miller and Jantzen Witte have given the club a lift since their promotions from Portland and Sean O’Sullivan has anchored the rotation.

The arrival of Swihart was the biggest headline of the 2016 season, and Blake has handled the transition with aplomb.  He continues to refine his defensive work behind the plate with Kevin Boles and his staff, and has taken beautifully to his new role in left field.  Swihart has now made four starts in left and made every play – including this great running catch yesterday in Allentown:

It was a treat to sit down with the Red Sox’ General Manager Mike Hazen on Tuesday evening; we discussed Swihart, Hernandez and the full range of issues facing the Sox.  You can catch that conversation here:

Meanwhile, as we honor Babe Ruth – and his tenure with the Providence Greys – tonight, the PawSox have a hitter who has morphed into the Babe every time the PawSox have played in Allentown.  Coca Cola Park may not be That House That Chris Built, but it has certainly become The House That Chris Dominates. In the four games he played in there, Marrero is 11-for-16 with four doubles, three homers (including yesterday’s grand slam) and eight RBIs Here is a look back at the damage he did in the Lehigh Valley:

A few more notes and news items before we open the series:

Josh and I are looking forward to catching you on the radio tonight – pregame show with Roenis Elias on the mound will start on WHJJ 920 AM and throughout the PawSox Radio Network at 6:35.

 

 

 

PawSox Loving The Lehigh Valley

by Josh Maurer

This season the Pawtucket Red Sox have suffered two four-game losing streaks. Each time following that fourth-consecutive loss, they boarded a bus and headed to Allentown, PA to begin a series against the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.

On April 14th, the PawSox had just been swept by Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at home and went to Lehigh Valley for the Pigs’ home opener.  That night the bats exploded for 13 runs and 19 hits en route to a 13-1 thumping of the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate.

On Monday night, Pawtucket had just been swept in a four-game series at Syracuse and held to just seven total runs in the four contests. But once again things turned around in a hurry at Coca-Cola Park, as the PawSox erupted again by scoring eight of the final nine runs in a game they would win 8-3.

Paced by four hits from Marco Hernandez and a massive two-run home run from Justin Maxwell, the club collected 15 total knocks on the night.

In three games at Lehigh Valley this season, the PawSox are batting .388 (45-for-116) with three home runs, 12 doubles and a .569 slugging percentage.  The offense is averaging nine runs per game at Coca-Cola Park.

Coca Cola Park

In the team’s other 21 games thus far, the offense is hitting at a .242 clip and scoring just three runs/game on average.  I suppose it suffices to say the PawSox enjoy playing within the confines of this nine-year old venue.  Guess its a good thing Pawtucket will play 10 total games in Allentown this season.

Here are a few other notes to get you ready for Tuesday night’s second game of the series against the Pigs:

Carson Smith has been activated from the disabled list by the Red Sox and will be available in the bullpen for John Farrell in game one of the series at the White Sox tonight.  Smith pitched twice during a rehab assignment for Double-A Portland, but never got into a game with the PawSox (he had a scheduled appearance cancelled by a rainout at McCoy last Tuesday.)

Ryan LaMarre is now on a 12-game hitting streak for the PawSox, during which he is batting .391 (18-for-46).  LaMarre’s bat has been so hot that manager Kevin Boles has moved him up in the batting order; hitting him second in Syracuse on Sunday before placing him in the leadoff spot for the first time all season on Monday night.

Pat Light made his big-league debut last week in Atlanta, and LOVED every minute of the experience.  Check out his recap of his time with Boston in this interview from Monday night:

Marco Hernandez is now 11-for-20 (.550) in his last five games played with Pawtucket (with a quick trip to Boston for two games Saturday and Sunday mixed in between.)  On Monday in Lehigh Valley, he picked up four hits with only one leaving the infield.

Marco Hernandez hitting ball

On Tuesday night in Allentown, LHP Eduardo Rodriguez continues his MLB rehab assignment for the Red Sox by making his second start for the PawSox on this road trip. Pregame coverage from Coca-Cola Park begins at 6:35pm on the PawSox Radio Network.

Hope to speak to you tonight.  Thanks as always for reading!

Josh M

ERod and Pedro in the ‘Cuse; Swihart Starts in Left

When the 2016 PawSox schedule came out, I doubt many had April 28th in Syracuse circled as an important date.  After all that transpired yesterday at NBT Bank Stadium, it’s safe to say that when the dust settles on another PawSox season, we will be hard pressed to find a day that has a greater impact on the big-league club than yesterday’s affair, which played out under grey skies in front of a couple thousand hearty fans.

I should have known yesterday would be a little different when I walked into the hotel lobby a little after 2 o’clock.  For there, sitting on the couch, alone with his thoughts, sat Pedro Martinez.  I am totally certain the hotel front-desk staff had no clue they were a stone’s throw away from one of the great pitchers in the history of baseball – from a man who is a national hero in the Dominican.  It also got me thinking: how strange (and strangely liberating) must it be for Pedro – who gets mobbed everywhere he goes in the DR, in Boston and in many American cities – to have a small dose of anonymity?

Pedro was here, of course, to watch Eduardo Rodriguez.  Eddie, who caught a spike in spring training and has worked his way back from a kneecap subluxation, came to the ‘Cuse to pitch for Pawtucket because of unpredictable weather on the East Coast.  As he strolled through the lobby, I had a brief word with Eddie.  He seems so much more confident and mature (and still as humble and kind as he always was); it is remarkable to watch what a dominant year in the Major Leagues can do for a guy’s body language and outlook.

The Red Sox  realize what a tremendous resource they have in Pedro, and have made sure that Eddie is never far from the latest Cooperstown inductee.  They have worked on mechanics, they’ve talked about reading swings and attacking hitters.  Through it all, they’ve developed a strong bond; I can hardly imagine a young pitcher anywhere in the game who has a better mentor.

Eddie Pedro

One Red Sox great is hoping to mold another 

When we arrived at the ballpark, one number stood out: 7.  In the third spot on Kevin Boles’ lineup card in the visitors’ clubhouse at NBT Bank Stadium, there it stood: Swihart, 7.  For the first time in his professional career, Swihart would play the outfield.

In the first few innings, the only action Swihart saw behind Rodriguez (who was a touch erratic and more than a touch unlucky) was a few ground balls that snuck through the infield.  But in the bottom of the fourth, his first real test arrived. Trea Turner hit a ball deep toward the wall in left; Swihart got a great first step, raced back and made the play.  First test passed.  In the bottom of the 6th, Swihart got an exam of a different kind when Caleb Ramsey hit a sinking liner to left.  Here’s what happened next:

Even the train conductor approved of that play.

Back to Eddie. In the bullpen and in the first two innings, it appeared that the left-hander was working with a simplified windup motion.  Rather than stand wide on the rubber and step straight back, he looked almost more like he was in a stretch position and began his delivery with a short step toward third base.  By the third inning, his move to the plate looked more like 2015.  Throughout the night, Eddie was snakebitten; soft ground balls found holes and bloopers landed on the outfield grass.  The delivery still looked smooth and effortless, and when he went to his secondary pitches they were effective.  I’m sure Eddie would have preferred a better bottom line, but the verdict on yesterday’s outing depends on one simple thing: if he is pain-free today, last night was a resounding success.

Before the homestead finale, I caught up with the skipper to look back on a nearly historic road trip and take stock of the season’s first couple weeks.  Here’s my conversation with Kevin Boles:

A few more good reads on a Friday morning:

 

Tonight in Syracuse, Brian Johnson takes the ball as the PawSox look to even the series.  Josh and I will talk to you on the radio; our pregame show begins on WHJJ 920 AM and throughout the PawSox Radio Network at 6:05 P.M.

 

Hembree A Huge Boost To Sox Pen

by Josh Maurer

When Heath Hembree once again began a season as the PawSox closer, it didn’t seem very feasible that he would be helping the big league club win games before the end of April.

But after earning the win with a three-inning appearance in Houston on Sunday night, Hembree seems to have made himself an indispensable part of the Boston bullpen.  Since being recalled one week ago, the right-hander has appeared in three games and tossed 7.2 scoreless innings, allowing just four hits while striking out 11 and walking just one.

Heath Hembree

Heath Hembree has been spectacular in the Red Sox bullpen since his recall last week

Hembree has featured a new curveball to go along with his mid-to-high 90s MPH fastball.  Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis says that along with his arsenal, his new hurler’s confidence is a big reason for his sudden dominance.

Already this season four pitchers who began the season with Pawtucket have gone to the bigs to try and help the Boston pitching staff – Hembree, William Cuevas, Roenis Elias, Henry Owens and Pat Light.

Cuevas and Elias each struggled in one appearance last week and were each optioned right back.  Owens and Light just joined the club Sunday in Houston, and Owens did not escape the fourth inning in his first start.

Henry Owens pitch follow through

The Red Sox bullpen should get a big lift soon as Carson Smith is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with the PawSox on Tuesday afternoon.  After being acquired along with Elias in the Wade Miley deal last December, Smith was expected to be a big part of the pen before a forearm injury late in spring training landed him on the DL.

Meanwhile, as the PawSox get ready for two more home games to start the week, here are some interviews for you to enjoy from last week:

I sat down with the President of Minor League Baseball, Pat O’Conner, recently to discuss a litany of topics:

Pat O'Conner

MiLB President Pat O’Conner

Alex Speier of the Boston Globe recently joined Will and I to talk about the Red Sox super-talented Salem High-A affiliate:

New PawSox third-baseman Jantzen Witte joined us on the pregame show last week before his Triple-A debut and talked about his long road to reach this level:

Finally, here’s a conversation with veteran outfielder Justin Maxwell, who has been an everyday player for the PawSox thus far in 2016:

Justin Maxwell gets congrats in dugout

The PawSox are home at McCoy on Monday night, beginning a scheduled six-game week against Syracuse (two at home, then after a day-off on Wednesday four at NBT Bank Stadium). Cuevas, fresh off of his MLB debut, is slated to make the start for Pawtucket.  First pitch is at 6:15pm.

William Cuevas throws pitch good

William Cuevas is on the mound Monday night for Pawtucket

Have a great start to the week!

Josh M

 

 

 

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