by Josh Maurer
When the 2015 season opened the PawSox starting rotation was thought of as one of the tops in Minor League Baseball. When the campaign began in early April, Brian Johnson, Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Matt Barnes and Steven Wright joined Keith Couch to form a dominant starting rotation that was the envy of the International League.
Four months later, only Couch and Barnes remain in Pawtucket (with Barnes having only just moved back into a starting capacity this week). Owens, Rodriguez and Wright currently form three-fifths of the Major League rotation in Boston. Johnson, who himself might be with the big-league Sox had he not injured his elbow last week, is currently on the Pawtucket DL.
Barnes spent the majority of the season in the bullpen for John Farrell, then after falling upon some hard times was optioned back to the PawSox during the All-Star break. He allowed four runs in 3.1 innings in his return to a starting role this past Wednesday in Syracuse.
The rest of the PawSox rotation currently consists of Couch, Jess Todd, Zeke Spruill and newcomer William Cuevas. Cuevas made his Triple-A debut on Thursday night against Syracuse and looked very sharp, allowing a pair of solo home runs but only two other hits in seven strong innings pitched.
Spruill has been a pleasant surprise for the past month. Since being designated for assignment on July 3rd, the right-hander has made five appearances (four starts) and gone 0-4 with a 2.63 ERA (24.0 IP, 23 H, 10 R, 7 ER). Most recently, Spruill has recorded three consecutive quality starts for the PawSox.
Certainly the Pawtucket rotation has undergone a massive overhaul from the beginning of the season until now. For the remaining month of the campaign it will be interesting to see which hurlers stand out and make a case to be back with the PawSox (or perhaps compete for a spot with Boston) in 2016.
The team is home at McCoy for the upcoming weekend with three more games coming against Syracuse. On Friday night Couch will take the ball as the PawSox try to snap a seven-game skid against the Chiefs and climb back within one game of fifth place in the IL North Division standings.
Hope to see you at the ballpark this weekend. Don’t forget that Saturday night is Super Hero Night with a big fireworks show to follow the 6:05pm game. As always, for those not at the game, Will and I look forward to talking to you on the radio. Happy August!
by Will Flemming (@WillFlemming)
Rain is a good thing. At least that’s what Luke Bryan tells us. But this won’t be a blog about corn, whiskey or getting frisky. For a baseball club with a short bullpen, rainouts are a blessing. So, too, for a broadcaster eager to watch the Major League debut of a young man at Yankee Stadium. A young man we’ve watched develop and progress throughout the summer, a wide-eyed man whose hand I shook on Monday afternoon in Syracuse as he left for a flight to a place that made his lifelong dream come true.
So when the Syracuse Chiefs announced on Tuesday night that our ballgame would begin at 7:45 because of the threat of rain, it was easy to see the silver lining in the clouds that hung above NBT Bank Stadium. Thanks to the MLB At-Bat App, I loaded the NESN feed of the Sox’ opener in The Bronx and hoped Henry would carry the momentum he built over his last nine Pawtucket starts onto the mound at Yankee Stadium. And, for the most part, he did that. You can read in-depth reviews of his outing in the Boston Globe here, so I won’t belabor the sentiment that he settled in after a stressful first and displayed an impressive calm.
But I am interested to share an in-depth look at the start – courtesy of the PITCHf/x tool available on the FanGraphs website – because I think it offers some interesting insight into Henry’s start. You can get the full breakdown here, but some specific takeaways:
I found it fascinating that Blake Swihart was behind the plate. The Red Sox clearly chose comfort over experience for Owens, and I think that proved a wise choice. As the table below demonstrates, Swihart mixed all of Henry’s offerings effectively:
A couple interesting points: Henry threw more curveballs than sliders last night. A year ago, that would not be news at all. But after a recent run in which Owens has leaned more heavily on the slider (particularly to left-handed hitters), it’s worth noticing that he leaned on more curveballs (13 to 10) last night (and he threw eight of the curveballs for strikes). A couple points here: one of the things I appreciate about Owens is the way he analyzes a lineup and prepares for a start. A month ago in a start against Lehigh Valley, he threw 18 sliders and 7 curveballs. The next time out – against a Norfolk lineup he had seen taking better swings on the slider – those numbers essentially flipped. The point is that for Henry, there is never a fixed script. He and Swihart may have figured the curveball would be more effective to the Yankees, or that Owens had a good hook working. The slider that struck out Jacoby Ellsbury in the first is a perfect example of why the slider is such a weapon. Kevin Boles and I were talking about Henry – and specifically about the slider – yesterday afternoon, and Kevin told me the thing that impressed him most when watching video of his recent starts was the consistency of the release point. The fastball, slider and changeup all come from the exact same spot and do wildly different things. To help illustrate Boles’ point, here’s a great graphic representation of Henry’s release point last night at Yankee Stadium:
Courtesy of Brooks Baseball
The consistency of that release is remarkable for a 23-year-old on a big-league mound for the first time. I also find it interesting that the pitch Henry threw from the highest release point was the pitch Teixeira grounded up the middle for a run-scoring single.
There is so much more that intrigues me about the breakdown, but here’s one last graphic for now: a display of every pitch Owens threw, where it was in the zone, and when it came in the count. A couple things stand out to me: firstly, I don’t know that I would say Owens was effecitvely ‘wild,’ but you can certainly see that he doesn’t allow hitters to get too comfortable looking in one area, or allowing them to think everything will be right around the plate; secondly, so many of the “1s” are in the strike zone or right on its fringes. Henry did a nice job getting ahead in counts (particularly after the first inning):
Feel free to delve further into the full breakdown; I know I have. I have found Pitch f/x to be yet another tool that allows me to explore the wonderful intricacies of the game.
A few other notes on getaway day in Syracuse:
- Daniel Nava was claimed by the Rays. We wish Daniel – one of the real good guys – a bright future in Tampa.
- Matt Barnes returns to the rotation tonight. It’s been a seesaw year – from rotation to ‘pen and now back – for Barnes, who makes his first start since May 1st. As a starter, Barnes has a 4.50 ERA (6 runs in 12 innings with 13 Ks and 6 BBS), while he has posted a 3.24 ERA in relief (w 19 Ks and 10 BBs in 16.2 IP)
- Garin Cecchini posted a 3-hit night last night, his eighth multi-hit game since July 7th.
- Mike MIller got two hits and drove in a pair of runs against Stephen Strasburg on Monday. I sat down and chatted with him about the big night yesterday. You can listen to that conversation here:
The Sox look to salvage the finale tonight at 7:05. Josh and I will talk to you on WHJJ at 6:50.
Until then, thanks for reading,
by Will Flemming
There are so many reasons to love baseball: the never-ending chess match between the lines; the human drama on display within every pitch; the balletic beauty of a ballgame played out over a verdant green landcape; the fact that every single night, you truly have a chance to see something you have never witnessed before. Add the first two days of the Pawtucket Red Sox’ August to the list. On the heels of a 4-22 July, the PawSox had every reason to be flat, to go through the motions. Instead, the Sox notched a pair of stirring comeback wins in Buffalo – two wins that felt every bit as dramatic and important to this particular group of players in this particular season as any two in any year.
When the Sox recorded the final out on Sunday afternoon, they won their first series since late June. The Sox have now won both of their games in August, and you get the feeling that the dramatic effort on Saturday night might catapult them toward a nice roll over the final month of the season. Think about this: trailing by three, the PawSox scored FIVE runs with two outs in the top of the ninth inning on Saturday. They then withstood a furious Buffalo rally in the bottom half and held on for an 8-7 win. Some further insight on the anatomy of Saturday’s comeback:
– The kid Marco Hernandez has ice water in his veins. His three-run homer provided the dramatic blow for Pawtucket, but I was almost as impressed with the swing right before that. Behind in the cound 1-2, Chad Jenkins dotted a slider on the outside corner; Marco fought it off with a beautiful defensive swing. The fifth pitch was a fastball on the inner half, and Hernandez again put his lightning-quick hands on display. Marco has gotten bang for his home-run buck: two blasts, six RBIs. It’s almost impossible to sneak a fastball by him; here’s what one of the more dramatic swings of the year sounded like on the PawSox radio network:
– Hernandez’s heroics overshadowed the brilliance of another young infielder. Give me 9 Mike Millers every night, and I will gladly take that into battle. Miller capped the game with a spectacular, heads-up play to get Alex Hassan at second base. The night before, Miller had made four jaw-dropping plays in a tight game. As Gary Hughes, the longtime baseball executive who is now a scout for Boston, said to me Saturday morning, Miller morphed into Brooks Robinson with the game on the line. He kept it tied with a diving stop in the 7th, charged in on a soft chopper in the 8th, and made this play to keep it knotted in the 9th:
– You couldn’t shake the feeling that Deven Marrero’s solo homer that started the two-out eruption got the dugout believing. Sandy Leon – in his first game with the PawSox – singled, Allen Craig walked and Garin Cecchini singled Leon home to make it a one-run game. Every one of those grinding at-bats set the table for Hernandez.
So the Sox left Buffalo with a series win and some momentum. As Earl Weaver famously opined, momentum is only as good as your next starting pitcher. And the man scheduled to start for Pawtucket today in Syracuse will instead start Tuesday further east in the Empire State …. at Yankee Stadium. We’ve known the call would come soon for Henry Owens. I figured he might make one last start with Pawtucket and make his MLB debut against the Tigers over the weekend. But the way he has pitched of late – combined with the injury to Rick Porcello and the vacancy in the Boston rotation – you can clearly understand the Red Sox’ brass putting their faith in Henry tomorrow night at The House that Jeter Built. Consider these numbers over Owens’ last nine starts: 58 innings, 40 hits, 17 earned runs, 52 strikeouts and a remarkable 14 walks. In none of his last nine starts has Henry walked more than two hitters; opponents are hitting just .193 against him in 2015.
There are so many elements to Henry’s recent surge and continued development: increased confidence in the slider (a new weapon in ’15), better fastball command, and the return of Owens’ most devastating pitch, his changeup. I talked to Henry two weeks ago on his 23rd birthday about the slider, his improved command and how he prepared mentally for the news he finally received yesterday. Here’s that conversation:
We will be watching Henry’s start tomorrow from the booth in Syracuse. He will be thrown into the fire in a hostile environment against a lineup that scored 56 runs over its last six games. Henry Owens, welcome to Red Sox/Yankees.
When Henry takes the mound tomorrow night in the Bronx, as many as four position players who were everyday fixtures this summer in Pawtucket could be on the diamond behind him. Travis Shaw is six for his last eight (more on his near cycle a bit later) and will almost certainly get the start; Rusney Castillo has started seven straight since Shane Victorino was traded and had five hits in a three-game span over the weekend; Jackie Bradley, Jr. has gotten his opportunity with Mookie Betts on the concussion DL and has started five straight; and Blake Swihart is as comfortable catching Henry as anyone. We all remember the day in August last summer they both debuted at McCoy Stadium (a year ago tomorrow, Henry struck out nine and carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning). The bet here is that Ryan Hanigan will be behind the plate for Henry’s debut; Blake has made big defensive strides and could easily handle the challenge in New York, but just as the Sox had Ryan Hanigan behind the dish for Brian Johnson’s debut in Houston, he will likely bring his experience to bear upon Owens’ first MLB start.
Back to Shaw for a moment. When Travis came to the plate in the eighth inning on Saturday, he needed a triple for the cycle…. and he did one better. You can see the video of his second homer here:
That same afternoon, Rich Gedman shared a wonderful story about the day he hit for the cycle at Fenway Park. It was September 18, 1985, and the Toronto Blue Jays were in town. But to tell the full story of Gedman’s historic day, you have to look back almost three months to the 23rd of June at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. Bruce Kison, the Sox’ starter that day hit the outspoken George Bell with a pitch – and Bell did not take kindly to being plunked. He charged Kison and karate-kicked him (as you can see in the picture below). Gedman raced to the mound to help Kison, and the enraged Bell flailed and drilled Rich on the lip and forehead.
Fast-forward to the 18th of September at Fenway Park. Gedman says it took every ounce of his restraint to stay calm, to not seek revenge from Bell. He flew out in his first time to bat. In the bottom of the third, in his second at-bat against Jays’ starter Jim Clancy, Gedman homered over the Green Monster – a solo shot that put the Sox ahead 4-0. In the fourth, he tripled off of Dennis Lamp to score Boggs, Buckner and Rice. In the fifth, facing John Cerutti, Gedman chopped the ball off the plate for an infield single that scored Buckner. And then, in the bottom of the 7th, Gedman came to the plate needing a double for the cycle. Tom FIler, the man on the mound, had owned Rich over dozens of at-bats in the minor leagues. Gedman had a hard time with Filer’s slider, and figured he might get one to start the AB. Filer slung a first-pitch slider that Gedman pulled inside the first-base line. A fan reached over the wall at Fenway and grabbed the baseball; when first-base umpire Durwood Merrill signaled for fan interference, Geddy had a double, and the cycle was complete. Rich says that to this day, he still marvels at his ability to remain in the moment that day, to not seek retribution from Bell. Looking back, a cycle is a pretty nice way to answer the Karate Kid.
The PawSox will face a big name tonight at NBT Bank Stadium when Stephen Strasburg toes the rubber. Strasburg makes his second rehab start for the Chiefs; in his first, he gave up three runs over four innings. The PawSox had early success against Masahiro Tanaka and Charlie Morton the other times they faced big-ticket rehabbers; Strasburg’s full arsenal should be on display and will offer the Sox a fun challenge. And perhaps Pawtucket has a secret weapon in its clubhouse: Sandy Leon has caught Strasburg dozens of times and should have a good book on the righthander’s tendencies and vulnerabilities.
A few other notes on a Monday afternoon from Syracuse:
The biggest headline to come out of Boston this weekend was the news that Larry Lucchino will step down as CEO of the Red Sox. Larry has had a Hall of Fame career, remains involved as Chairman of the PawSox and continues to lead the push for a new ballpark in Providence. Here’s his complete statement, and a look back at his legacy in Boston.
Alex Speier finds a sliver lining in the Sox’ current record and how it could impact them in August.
Rafael Devers continues to open eyes in Greenville; here is an in-depth look at his 2015.
The PawSox play the first of seven straight against Syracuse tonight at 7:05. Josh and I will catch you on the radio at 6:50.
by Josh Maurer
The PawSox have had a rough July, no question about it. Now as August approaches, the team has two long road trips on the horizon beginning with six games in Buffalo and Syracuse starting Friday night.
Over the next two and a half weeks Pawtucket will play 14 of its 18 games away from the friendly confines of McCoy Stadium. Those road contests will consist of three games at Buffalo, three at Syracuse, four at Scranton and four in Lehigh Valley (including a rescheduled day-night doubleheader on Saturday, August 15th.)
Notice one common theme of those series – they will all be played within the North Division. In fact, following the three-game series against Norfolk this week the PawSox are finished playing any games outside of the division. So it will be a lot of ‘Cuse, Scranton, Rochester, Buffalo and Allentown for the remaining six weeks of the season.
Here are a few notes to get you ready for the three-game set at Coca-Cola Field in Western New York:
-How about what Henry Owens has done for the past month and a half. The lefty, who got off to a relatively slow start to the season, has tossed eight quality starts in his last nine outings (since June 14th). During those nine starts Owens is 1-3 with a 2.64 ERA and has walked just 14 batters in 58 innings pitched while fanning 52.
Owens has been plagued by a serious lack of run support all season. Despite his strong work on the mound he has earned just one win over his last 16 starts and the team is only 3-13 in those 16 games. The southpaw has received just 3.0 runs of offense per start (64 runs in his 21 starts.)
-Speaking of pitching, right-hander Zeke Spruill seems to have found his groove since the Red Sox designated him for assignment earlier this month. Spruill allowed just one earned run over six innings on Thursday against a good Norfolk lineup. It was the second-consecutive start that he lasted six frames and permitted just one earned run.
Since being DFA’d on July 3rd, Spruill has made 4 appearances (3 starts) and compiled a 2.00 ERA (18.0 IP, 4 ER). He may have found a home in the PawSox starting rotation, and the team will need him to continue to pitch well in that role. John Farrell hinted on Wednesday that both Brian Johnson and Owens may soon be asked to join the big league staff.
-The top teams in the North Division have been impacted significantly by the MLB trade deadline. On Thursday the Blue Jays traded two of Buffalo’s starting pitchers, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, to Detroit as part of the David Price deal. That same afternoon, the Yankees included two of Scranton’s most important players, OF Ramon Flores and closer Jose Ramirez, in a trade that brought Dustin Ackley to New York.
-Just as he did in August and September last season, Garin Cecchini‘s bat has gotten hot as the end of the campaign approaches in 2015. Entering play on Thursday, Cecchini had seven multi-hit efforts in his last 16 games played and was batting .375 (21-for-56) with seven walks during those contests.
After struggling for the first three months of the season, Cecchini could make a push to earn some time with Boston following the minor league season if his offense continues along its current path for the next few weeks.
-Now that Jackie Bradley, Jr. is back in the Major Leagues, the man who has been most consistently on the field for Pawtucket of late has been Allen Craig. Craig, who started his 11th-consecutive contest on Thursday afternoon against Norfolk, has now been in the Kevin Boles’ lineup in 29 of the team’s last 31 games.
-On Tuesday night NESN analyst and former PawSox standout Steve “Psycho” Lyons was at McCoy Stadium for a special appearance. Lyons, who is never afraid to tell it as he sees it, sat down with me for a few minutes to talk about his memories at McCoy and the current state of affairs in Boston.
Here is the full conversation, which will also be available this Saturday on PawSox Insider:
Jess Todd will get the start on Friday night in Buffalo against the red-hot Bisons. The PawSox will be looking for some revenge after being swept in a three-game set at home by Gary Allenson’s team last weekend. Pregame radio coverage on Friday begins at 6:50pm.
Will and I look forward to talking to you on the radio this weekend!
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,