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Rusney Castillo learning from Dwight Evans

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – With the Boston Red Sox trading Shane Victorino and designating Daniel Nava for assignment, they have cleared room for OF Rusney Castillo to step up and show he belongs in the big leagues. In a short time since being promoted on July 27 he has played as well as he ever has at the MLB level, getting a hit in each of his games including a home run last night.

It hasn’t been an easy go of things in 2015 for Castillo. He’s battled injuries, a language barrier and an 18-month layoff while defecting from Cuba. His aggressive style of play has led to some self-induced slumps and he hasn’t always looked comfortable at the plate.

Enter Red Sox HOF Dwight Evans, a player development consultant for the organization for ten years who visits with players and gives them advice on how to have a successful career. Evans was recently at one of Castillo’s games in Pawtucket and during batting practice was talking to him with catcher Humberto Quintero acting as a translator. Though translation wasn’t always needed, Evans wanted to make sure Castillo was as comfortable with him as possible.

“I’ve been around guys who are still learning the language,” Evans explained. “The confidence in his English probably isn’t there but he understands what I’m saying to him.”

“He’s a calming presence,” PawSox manager Kevin Boles said of Evans’ work with Castillo. “He’s been there, has experience and keeps the game in perspective. He’s a tremendous resource.”

As Evans talks to Castillo, the conversation is not about mechanics or how to change his swing. Rather it is strictly on the mental side of the game, something a player with loads of talent like Castillo could have trouble with.

“He’s so strong and I don’t want to change him,” Evans said. “I just want him to relax and give him ways to do it. People used to tell me ‘Try and relax,’ but they never told me how to do it. It’s easy to say but it’s tough to do. I just want to give him some tools on how to not be so tight.”

Focusing on the mental approach to baseball is what Evans likes to do. It is why Boston typically sends him to their upper-level minor league facilities and let him talk to players during spring training.

“I like working with the older guys,” Evans said, “because it’s more about the mental part of the game. That for me is enjoyable.”

For example, Evans recalls talking a lot with Justin Masterson and other pitchers over the years about pitching despite being an outfielder.

“I don’t know anything about pitching,” he said, “but I know what hitters don’t like to see. Hitters really hate pitchers that pound the strike zone and get ahead. Then they can use their nasty pitches to get you out.”

Listening to Evans talk for even just a few minutes, it is clear the knowledge, experience and love he has for the game. His words of wisdom have helped other PawSox as they came up through the minors, and it looks as if “Dewey” could have done it again for Castillo.

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Break comes at good time for PawSox

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – The All-Star break couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Pawtucket Red Sox as the club has fallen on hard times the past month. Dating back to June, the PawSox are just 7-20 in their last 27 games including a 12-game losing streak from June 29-July 10. Offense has been the biggest problem all season long for the team, consistently struggling to score runs despite some highly regarded talent in the lineup. Pawtucket is in the basement for several offensive categories, including runs scored, batting average and hits.

Even with the team’s struggles, there hasn’t been a lack of excitement in terms of the roster the team has put together. Red Sox Nation was taken by storm when pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who started 2015 with the PawSox, came up and quickly showed he can be a future ace. He was able to develop his three pitch mix effectively in Pawtucket, dominating Triple-A hitters in his brief tenure with the club. Now he looks like a staple in the rotation for years to come. Other young prospects like Brian Johnson and Deven Marrero also got the call up to Boston for the first time after spending parts of the last two seasons with Pawtucket.

Plenty of Boston Red Sox have come down on rehab assignments including Shane Victorino, Ryan Hanigan, Justin Masterson, and currently Daniel Nava and Blake Swihart. Other struggling Red Sox have been sent to Pawtucket to regain their form like Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. Obviously, Pawtucket is not where these guys want to be, but manager Kevin Boles has seen progress from all three.

Much was expected from Castillo after signing a 7-year, $72.5 million contract last August, but it has been a rough go of things in 2015. Boles says some of his struggles are the result of taking 18 months off while defecting from Cuba. He also points to the aggressiveness Castillo plays with and how that may have hurt him at the MLB level.

“When he got his second look at the big leagues, they were able to exploit some weaknesses. Some of that was self-induced with expansion of the zone and I think he understands that. On the flip side with base running and outfield play it’s just focusing on the details. He’s the hardest worker we have and we look forward to getting him back on track.”

For Craig, the team is trying to get him back to his St. Louis Cardinals form, when he was a National League All-Star. Batting .275 with three home runs and 14 runs batted in, Boles has seen improvement stemming from strike zone management and his lower half.

“People know who he is when he’s in the lineup and they pitch him tough,” he said. “He’s looked back at film from a couple years ago as far as getting his lower half under control and getting his timing with the barrel of the bat before the pitch.”

Kelly has pitched exceptional in his brief time with the PawSox, posting an earned run average of 2.57 with good command of his pitches. Most importantly for him, he has been able to mix up his pitches effectively and work inside to hitters. Boles has been very impressed with the arsenal Kelly has and is impressed with what he’s done so far.

“He’s got weapons,” he said. “He has life to his fastball. Its explosive, it gets on hitters quick and the slider comes off the same plane as it. He’s able to give a lot of different looks.”

Most of the PawSox will now head home for the break, but the team will have two representatives at the Triple-A All-Star game in Omaha, Nebraska. Jackie Bradley, Jr. has been Pawtucket’s best hitter in 2015, hitting well above .300 all season long while playing his usual stellar defense. He has made the necessary adjustments to his swing and has shown that he can still be an everyday major leaguer if given the chance. Kevin Boles will also represent the PawSox as a coach on the team. Brian Johnson was named to the team but is currently in Boston.

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Bruins Add Irwin

By Tyler Hetu

General Manager Don Sweeney announced on Friday (July 10th) that the Boston Bruins have added defenseman Matt Irwin to a one year contract worth $800,000 through the 2015-16 season.

Irwin manned the blue-line for the San Jose Sharks last year, tallying eight goals and 19 points with a plus/minus of +3. Over his three seasons in San Jose, he played 13 postseason games posting two points in those games.

Irwin also played four seasons an hour away in Worcester for the Worcester Sharks, piling up 88 points since 2009. Before his professional career started, he played for the University of Massachusetts where he tallied 42 points in two seasons.

Irwin is the fourth free agent signed under Sweeney, and the first defenseman to be signed through free agency this year.

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PawSox not worried about Castillo’s struggles

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Red Sox fans have seen a lot of disappointing things so far in 2015, and near the top of that list has been the performance of Rusney Castillo. Signed to a 7-year, $72.5 million contract last August, much was expected from the soon to be 28-year old Cuban. Right from the start of 2015 the cards were stacked against him, getting hurt early and missing most of spring training.

That injury led the organization to start him with the Pawtucket Red Sox, where again he got hurt diving for a ball in the outfield. Eventually, he received his chance in Boston on May 22, but he struggled in his 26 games there, batting just .230 with little production. Now he is back in Pawtucket and is just one of several things to go wrong for Boston.

But don’t give up on him just yet.

Unlike other Cubans Jose Abreu and Yaisel Puig, Castillo took 18 months off from playing baseball before signing with Boston as he was defecting from the island. In a sport like baseball that kind of layoff is tough to overcome, especially when dealing with injuries along the way. That fact is not lost on PawSox manager Kevin Boles.

“Game experience plays a big role in his struggles,” Boles said. “You can only simulate so much in batting practice. His experience has been limited because of the time he took off before he signed and the injury bug earlier this year.”

Boles and his staff are not worried about Castillo’s long term future in the organization, suggesting that his struggles will only be temporary. Both Castillo and the club know what he needs to work on in addition to getting more game experience, and Boles looks forward to getting him back to the big leagues.

“For him the key will be strike zone management and building up confidence,” Boles explained. When he got his second look at the big leagues, they were able to exploit some weaknesses. Some of that was self-induced with expansion of the zone and I think he understands that. On the flip side with base running and outfield play it’s just focusing on the details. He’s the hardest worker we have and we look forward to getting him back on track.”

Castillo has performed well since returning from Boston, hitting around .300 while showing off extra base power and speed. The talent is still evident from him, and with Alejandro De Aza emerging in the Boston outfield along with Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Shane Victorino, the organization will likely keep him in Pawtucket to get the consistent playing time he needs.

It is important not to forget that Castillo is still adjusting to life in America while learning and adjusting to pro ball. He is still a big part of Boston’s future and is someone who shouldn’t be given up on by Red Sox nation.

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Top PawSox prospects in action

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – With Eduardo Rodriguez already making an impact in Boston, this weekend featured two of Boston’s other top pitching prospects. Lefthanders Brian Johnson and Henry Owens each made starts at McCoy Stadium against the Toledo Mud Hens, one of the top offenses in the International League.

Johnson got the start Saturday night and was able to battle his way through seven innings. Coming off back-to-back outings where he threw under 80 pitches in an effort to manage his innings, the plan was for him to go over 90 for the first time in June. It was an interesting outing for Johnson to say the least. He allowed five runs, though just one of those was earned. After not hitting a batter in almost a year and a half, he drilled four in addition to walking two. Despite that, he was able to record the win while striking out six men and working through some jams. Through it all, he never looked intimidated and his mound presence was impressive.

“I felt fine,” Johnson said afterwards. “My changeup was there, though my fastball command wavered a little bit. Overall I feel great, no complaints about my body or arm.”

“His command was a little suspect at times,” manager Kevin Boles said. “He had to battle through some things out there. But to be able to go seven innings, there was some efficiency there. He did some good things. He competed the whole time even though we made some mistakes behind him.”

Both Johnson and Boles cited the changeup as a big reason for his success. Boles said the pitch helped him get out of some big jams and Johnson said it was one of the best changeups he’s had all season.

Owens went into his start with his team just 1-6 in the last seven games he pitched, but he did all he could to put an end to that funk. Sunday was arguably his best game of 2015, as he threw a season high 99 pitches and 65 strikes through six innings. He allowed just one run on four hits and one walk while striking a season best seven batters. He didn’t factor in the decision as Pawtucket fell 4-3.

“He showed a little bit more command of the zone today,” Boles said. “He worked out of some jams, but he gave us six solid innings.”

“Control has been a focus all year,” Owens said about his season. “I’ve felt comfortable out there mechanically and any adjustments I needed I made quickly.”

Though pleased with his performance, Owens was disappointed he could not complete the sweep for the PawSox against the Mud Hens. After an off day tomorrow, Pawtucket will hit the road for six games before returning home June 22nd.

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Flawed from the start

By Eddie Pannone

We all stood up and applauded Red Sox GM Ben Cherington after he constructed a championship roster in 2013. He was able to trade unwanted and unneeded salaries, was able to find good players that gelled together and was able to hire the right manager to lead the team. While he obviously didn’t play in any games, he was as big a reason as any why the Boston Red Sox won the World Series.

In 2015, he is the biggest reason why his club sits in last place.

Cherington ignored obvious flaws with the club while trying too hard to fix other ones. 2014 saw a team that couldn’t hit or pitch and his offseason saw him address the need for hitting. The need for a big bat was easy to see, but the need for a front line pitcher was needed just as much.

With an outfield producing no offense at all, Cherington’s first move really came in August when he signed Rusney Castillo to a 7-year, $72.5 million contract. With a young Mookie Betts ready to shine, a veteran in Victorino whom the organization claims to have full faith in when healthy, and Brock Holt who showed he could handle any position and produce, it would seem that the outfield was taken care of. The team also had Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley and Allen Craig who could play outfield on their bench.

So what are their two big offseason moves? Signing Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to long term deals. To be clear, I like both of them as players, but the way the roster was constructed it just didn’t make sense. Of Castillo, Ramirez and Sandoval there was only room for two on this team. If Cherington thought that highly of Castillo, then either Ramirez or Sandoval made sense to fill third base. If the team really thought Ramirez could play left field (which so far doesn’t look like a good prediction), then the acquisition of Sandoval makes sense but the signing of Castillo doesn’t.

Castillo and his big contract were wasted away in Pawtucket for the beginning of the season while Ramirez struggled to handle left field. Meanwhile the Sox rotation, which could have used a front line starter like Jon Lester, James Shields (both free agents) or Cole Hamels, struggled with starters failing to reach expectations that weren’t that high to begin with. Wade Miley has been up and down while the man they traded away for him in Rubby De La Rosa has pitched more innings, struck out more batters, and issued less walks. Yoenis Cespedes, who the team got for Jon Lester, was traded away for Rick Porcello who has also been up and down all year. The only free agent pitcher signed was Justin Masterson, who Cherington hoped the club could turn around. It was a good idea, but not at the $9.5 million price tag.

Had some of that money invested in one of those offensive players been used to acquire a pitcher, some pressure would have gone off the staff on every start knowing they didn’t have to do too much. Players would feel much more comfortable in their roles and this team could be in a much better spot.

Cherington needed to address the organization’s needs, and while it looks like he made moves to address them they were not nearly adequate enough. The moves he made have not worked out well and the construction of the roster seemed to play a very little role in his moves. Unfortunately for this club, there doesn’t appear to be a miracle move that can turn them around. They have to rely on the players they have turning things around and at this point over performing. That is a scary position to be in, but one Cherington and the Red Sox put themselves in.

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Masterson tosses best rehab outing

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Red Sox pitcher Justin Masterson continued his rehab assignment at McCoy Stadium Wednesday afternoon as he works his way back from a sore shoulder. After throwing 80 pitches for Double-A Portland June 5, Masterson looked to build on that outing in his second appearance for Pawtucket and third rehab start overall.

It was easily Masterson’s best performance, as he dominated the Charlotte Knights over his six innings of work. He allowed just two hits and a run while walking one, hitting a batter and striking out six. He only threw 75 pitches and was able to attack the strike zone while keeping the ball down most of the game.

“I was real happy with my outing,” Masterson said after the game. “I went out and was able to throw a lot of strikes. My sinker was moving. I had a good slider and four seam fastball and was able to stay under control. Each time I’ve gone out I’ve got better as well as being better under control and able to throw strikes.”

At one point, he was able to strike out four of five hitters and the only right handed batter he allowed to reach was on a hit-by-pitch. Charlotte, one of the top offenses in the I.L., did not look comfortable against Masterson and had several awkward cuts at his pitches.

“Everything was down in the zone,” he said “I got some bad swings and some uncomfortable swings and that’s what we want to have.”

Masterson didn’t say if he will make another rehab start, but it is assumed that he will make as many as he can before his rehab time is up. A spot in Boston’s rotation seems unlikely, though with what he showed today he would make a quality arm out of the bullpen. For now, Masterson is enjoying watching some of Boston’s other pitchers have success while focusing on his confidence.

“Guys are pitching well up there, but for me it’s just trying to build up that confidence. Last time I built up innings and then things started going haywire for me. That’s why I made this start and I felt good about it.”

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MLB debut giving Shaw confidence

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – The start of 2015 did not go as Travis Shaw had planned. The 25-year old prospect finished April with a .185 average and just five extra base hits. Trying to prove he belonged in the big leagues led him to press at the plate and question whether or not he would get his chance with Boston.

However, despite his slow start and all the other talent in the organization, that chance came on May 8 as he made his MLB debut against the Blue Jays. He made just one start with the Red Sox before being sent back to Pawtucket, but that promotion turned his season around.

“Getting the call was a confidence boost for me because I wasn’t swinging well early in the year,” Shaw said. “Being able to come back down and sort of relax a little bit after getting that call, showing that I’m still in their mind, it calmed me down and allowed me to go through my daily routine.”

His confidence and comfort have shown ever since. Shaw has been the hottest PawSox hitter since he was sent down, showing more extra base power while leading the team with 26 RBIs. His last 18 games have been exceptional, batting .348 with two home runs, four doubles, nine RBIs and seven walks.

Shaw, a left handed hitter, has been able to perform against left handed pitchers almost as well as right handers, with his splits being just 12 points apart. His 2014 numbers didn’t show he could produce against southpaws, but with work it is something that Shaw is becoming more comfortable with.

“Last year my numbers didn’t show it, but I didn’t feel overmatched,” he said. “This year my numbers show a little bit more success early on. I’m still working on things everyday but right now I’m comfortable whether it’s a lefty or righty.”

Being able to identify breaking balls has been the key to his success. Pitches that he would have chased in past games he can hold off on, something that lets him know he is seeing lefties well.

“If they flip in a good breaking ball down and I don’t chase, then I know I’m in a pretty good spot.”

Shaw knows a return to the majors won’t be easy, but he is doing whatever he can to get that call sooner rather than later. A natural first baseman, he has spent time at third base and left field in an effort to increase his versatility. From game to game he doesn’t know where he’ll be playing, but it’s something he enjoys.

“For me versatility is always good because you never know where you will be needed. If you play three different spots, then that’s three different opportunities if someone goes down in Boston.”

The next MLB opportunity for Shaw is unknown, but until then he will continue to develop and learn with Pawtucket. For a player who was not talked much about to start 2015, he certainly has made the case for his MLB future.

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Masterson makes first rehab start

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Red Sox pitcher Justin Masterson made his first rehab appearance with Pawtucket on Sunday as he recovers from right shoulder tendonitis. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list May 13, a day after getting roughed up by the Athletics for six runs in just 2.1 innings. Overall in seven starts for the Red Sox, he is 2-2 with a 6.37 ERA, pitching more than five innings just three times.

Returning to McCoy Stadium for the first time since 2008 when he was just a prospect, Masterson was scheduled to pitch three innings for the PawSox. His outing did not inspire confidence for a struggling Boston pitching staff.

Masterson could only muster five outs in the game while showing poor command throughout. In addition to two earned runs and two hits, he allowed three walks and two wild pitches. Masterson was able to record a pair of punch outs, but threw 50 pitches in his effort. He topped out at 91 M.P.H, though he sat in the high 80s.

Mechanics have been problematic for Masterson by his own admission, and working through some bad habits he’s formed is his focus.

“My warm-up and first inning felt tremendous,” Masterson said. “In the second I felt good physically, but mechanically not so much. I was rushing, drifting and everything was going out, so everything started falling behind.”

Masterson, who was upbeat after his start, reported that his shoulder felt good and his struggles came strictly because of his mechanics.

“It wasn’t because I was tired. I was like ‘I want to throw harder, I feel so good, let me gain more,’ but that’s not how you gain more. That’s something I’ve been battling as I’ve played catch because I’ve formed some bad habits.”

A return to the rotation is far from a sure thing for Masterson when he is ready to go, as Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright have outperformed him at the big league level. A more likely scenario would be Masterson moving to the bullpen as a long reliever or situational pitcher. In the mean time, Masterson will throw a bullpen session in two days before making his next rehab start with Portland.

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PawSox embrace versatility

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Change is not always the easiest thing for someone to buy into, especially when that person is a professional baseball player. However, the Pawtucket Red Sox know change could be their calling card to Boston. From night to night, manager Kevin Boles shakes up his lineup by putting players at positions where they have minimal experience.

“I come to the ballpark, check the lineup out and wherever I’m at, that’s the glove I use that day,” PawSox slugger Travis Shaw said.

He is one of many players who are trying to gain position flexibility. Shaw, a natural first baseman, has played more than half his games at third base this season and recently added left field to his list of positions played.

“I like it,” he explained. “For me versatility is always good because you never know where you will be needed. If you play three different spots, then that’s three different opportunities if someone goes down in Boston.” This versatility allowed Shaw to be promoted to the Red Sox on May 8, as he made his MLB debut against the Blue Jays.

This doesn’t get lost on other players in the clubhouse. Deven Marrero, who has the potential to be a gold glove shortstop, has moved around to third base and second base for the first time in his pro career.

“Obviously we love him as a shortstop,” Boles said, “but to gain him some versatility I think will be beneficial to him. He’s done well wherever we ask him to play and shows pretty good game awareness.”

Garin Cecchini, who moved around last year as well, has played third base, left field and recently added first base to his repertoire. Allen Craig played first base, left field and right field in his MLB career and has done so in limited time with the PawSox. The list goes on and on, as almost everyone on the roster can play multiple spots.

So how has Boles and his staff got their players to buy into this day-to-day change?

“I think it speaks for itself as far as the major league club,” he said. “Obviously we have a terrific example in Brock Holt and we always point to that. He’s the ultimate example of versatility and how much it is needed.”

Seeing multiple success stories has allowed the team to embrace change and be ready whenever they get their chance to play in the big leagues.

“As long as you’re playing in the big leagues, you want to make sure you have answers and are ready,” Boles said. “The tone is set by John Farrell and the major league staff as far as versatility and the importance of it. We all understand that.”

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