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Providence overcoming injuries

The fifth weekend of the AHL season has already come and gone, but it wasn’t an easy one for the Providence Bruins. Entering Friday with five straight wins, the P-Bruins dropped a home game to Portland followed by a road loss to Worcester. They were able to salvage two points in their third game, playing well against a dismal IceCaps team and winning at home 4-1. The team sits at 7-4-1 after 12 games, and their 15 points is only two shy of first place.

It is no surprise that Providence is going through a little rough patch, as injuries to their team and Boston’s team have changed the look of their roster. Bobby Robins, Jordan Caron, and Ben Youds are just some of the P-Bruins out recently with injuries, and no timetable has been given for their return. Injuries to Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, and Kevan Miller have forced Boston to deplete Providence’s defense core. This leaves the P-Bruins without Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman, and David Warsofsky for the foreseeable future.

It takes a team effort to overcome these kinds of losses, but if there has been an MVP so far it is rookie David Pastrnak. Pastrnak has been as advertised this season, leading the team in assists (10), points (13), and rating (+12). Last weekend in Providence’s two losses he was held scoreless, but in the team’s win he registered three assists. He has been playing with another talented young star in Alexander Khokhlachev, who is second on the team in scoring and also had a good day Sunday. However, the team could very well be without Pastrnak for three weeks next month. According to Mark Divver, he likely will participate in the World Juniors tournament, though no final decision has been made. Hopefully by then, some of the team’s injured or called up players will be back to fill the huge void he will leave.

Another huge reason for the P-Bruins’ success has been the play of their goaltenders. Much was made about Malcolm Subban going into 2014, and he has played very well early on. However, Jeremy Smith has been just as good, if not better, in the backup role. The two have split time in net, with Subban getting one more start than Smith in the early going. Having two goalies that can be relied upon is so important not only for the depth it provides, but also for the fact that both can remain fresh.

Providence will kick off their next stretch of games Friday when they take on the Springfield Falcons at home.

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Providence season underway

We are only a week into the AHL season, and the Providence Bruins have already had some roster shakeups. The team’s second line center Seth Griffith was recalled to Boston, and one could argue that through two games this was the team’s most productive line. Along with Matt Lindblad and David Pastrnak, the line has combined for three goals already with Griffith netting one of them. This line also has a +7 rating combined, though the loss of Griffith will likely break up this group.

Pastrnak, a highly touted rookie, has looked good in his first two games. He has plenty of skill and speed, showing his ability to be creative with the puck in a Brad Marchand type way. His one goal and two assists, including one early in overtime to Joe Morrow opening night, gave a glimpse at what he is capable of doing. However some of that might be due to his chemistry with Griffith, as the two worked well together in training camp. With Griffith out of the picture for now, the rookie will have to adjust to new line mates likely on the first line. This happens all the time in hockey, but since Pastrnak has so much to learn in the coming weeks this was one adjustment that the team would have liked to avoid for the time being.

With Griffith’s promotion, the signing of Simon Gagne, and the return of David Krejci, two players were sent to the P-Bruins from Boston. Jordan Caron and Bobby Robins will rejoin the team this weekend after both spent time on the Bruins roster to start the year. Robins wasn’t bad in his time with Boston, but with so much depth the team didn’t need him anymore. The team has stated they expect him back at some point, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he gets another call. Fans know of his fighting ability, but when on the ice he provides energy to his team while showing some skill as well. He is more than just a bruiser and the more time he has the showcase it the better he will be. This is someone capable of playing at the NHL level.

The team went 1-1 in their first weekend of the season, dropping a game in Portland 3-2 to the Pirates after taking their home opener 2-1 in OT against the IceCaps. Head coach Bruce Cassidy said he wasn’t happy with the team’s defensive effort on opening night, and despite the loss thought they did better in game two. Defense should be a strength of this club as they have several talented, experienced players with NHL potential at these spots.

While it is only two games, there is a lot to be excited about with this team, as several of their core players have bright NHL futures. The madness of promotions and demotions has already struck the team, but this will be a group that competes for a playoff spot in Calder Cup playoffs yet again.

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Red Sox Look to 2015

The Red Sox season is FINALLY over. As the they develop their shopping list I thought I would take a look at each position for 2015. The good news is that the July trades of Jon Lester and John Lackey helped solidify the outfield situation. The bad news is that the Red Sox are severely lacking a #1 and #2 starter (and maybe a #3 depending on Clay Buchholz).

Let’s start by looking at the pitching staff…

Starter #1: TBD. Many fans are expecting the return of Jon Lester but I am not sure that the Red Sox will go beyond 5 years and $125 million dollars so Lester will need to take the “hometown discount” he has mentioned in the past if he is coming back to the Sox. A fallback to Lester could be Cole Hamels who is on a more “reasonable” contract but Hamels will cost the Red Sox 3-4 top prospects.

Starter #2: TBD. James Shields seems like a good fit here. He is battle tested in the AL East and his age would seem to limit the years/total dollars that the Red Sox want to avoid.

Starter #3: Clay Buchholz. Buchholz has been incredibly inconsistent since he started off last year as one of the best pitchers in the AL. He could be a #1 or be out of the rotation by May 1 next year. 2015 is a make or break year for Buchholz.

Starter #4: Joe Kelly. Kelly came over to Boston in the Lackey deal and has been decent. If he is your #4 starter then you are in pretty good shape.

Starter #5: One of the “kids”. This should be a great battle in spring training. Rubby De la Rosa would seem to have the inside track based on his performance this year but Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens could also been in the mix.

Bullpen: Koji Uehara’s struggles have put his return in question. He is a free agent and it is hard to tell if he is tired from the workload of the past two seasons or if he is becoming less effective because of his age. Other relievers should include Junichi Tazawa, Burke Badenhop (has been effective this year), Craig Breslow and Brandon Workman (long man). Expect some veteran pitchers to be added in the off season, especially a potential closer as insurance.

Catcher: Christian Vazquez would seem to be the starter in 2015. He has handled the pitching staff fairly well and his defense is excellent. Blake Swihart is close but may be a September 2015 call up. I would expect the return of David Ross on a one year deal to help mentor the younger catchers.

First Base: Mike Napoli. He is in the last year of his contract and needs to provide more power than he did this year but he should be a solid part of the lineup in 2015.

Second Base: Dustin Pedroia. There is also an outside shot that the Sox could move Pedroia and his long contract and put Mookie Betts at second. I would be surprised if the PR conscious Red Sox traded one of the most popular players on the team.

Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts. Hopefully the Sox have stopped moving around Bogaerts and will give him a complete season at shortstop.

Third Base: Big ?. I don’t see Will Middlebrooks bouncing back although his right handed power ability will make the Sox give him one more shot in the spring. Brock Holt is an option here as well but a solid Free Agent may be the most likely scenario.

DH: David Ortiz. Not much to say here. He continues to rake. His career will end soon but he should have an above average season in 2015.

Outfield: There are a lot of candidates. Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig seem like the outfield as of today. Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. will also fight for playing time. The most likely scenario would have the Sox packaging at least one of these players in exchange for a #2 pitcher or a Third baseman.

Overall, the outlook is good for the Sox. The July trades and the signing of Castillo gave the Sox some much needed depth and they have the money to go after top free agent pitchers. General Manager Ben Cherington will have a lot of options and the Red Sox could go from worst to first again if he makes the right decisions.

By Ryan Winn

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BC off to 3-1 start thanks to excellent running game

by TOM JOYCE

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — After losing Andre Williams to the NFL Draft, the Boston College Eagles took a huge hit in their run game. Last year Williams rushed for 2177 yards on 355 attempts in a true breakout senior year. He was even a runner up in the Heisman trophy voting.

Despite losing one of the most prolific running backs in the team’s history, the Eagles have found a new way to generate yards on the ground — and lots of them for that matter.

Florida transfer and Eagles starting quarterback Tyler Murphy has done his best to fill the void losing Andre Williams left in the offense. In four games, he has already rushed for 500 yards on 55 carries while leading the Eagles’ option-based offense.

In total, the Eagles have six players who have rushed for at least 100 yards meaning that they share the ball well and use the correct personnel for each situation.

Saturday marked the first time all year that Murphy did not rush for 100 yards in a game. He was one shy rushing for 99 yards on 13 carries. The reason why he did not reach the 100-yard mark is because he was taken out late in the game in favor of backup quarterback Darius Wade as the Eagles led 33-10. They ended up winning 40-10.

As usual, Jon Hilliman played effectively against Maine. Second in rushing on the team with 241 rushing yards, he was able to take the rock 21 times totaling 98 yards. Two of his carries resulted in touchdowns.

For backup running back Marcus Outlow, the blowout against Maine very well may have been his breakout game this year. Working in primarily with the second offense, the freshman rushed for 107 yards on 14 carries, with a long run of 27 yards. Before breaking out against Maine, Outlow had only played against UMass, a game in which he carried the ball twice for three yards. After his performance against Maine, expect Outlow to get some carries while the games still matter.

With this in mind, the Eagles rank fifth in the nation in rushing yards averaging with 336.3 a game. As one could imagine, the passing game lags behind. The team ranks just 122nd with 124.3 yards a game.

Still though, the ground game works for the Eagles who are 3-1 on the year including a 37-31 win over a USC team which was ranked the ninth-best team in the nation.

In the running department, Tyler Murphy is a huge upgrade over former Eagles quarterback Chase Rettig who gained -225 yards rushing in his BC Eagles career. Passing is a whole different ballgame, but yards are yards and Murphy has done a good job helping his team gain yards as have the running backs.

Despite a lack of a good throwing arm on Murphy’s part, the team is 3-1 and destined for some sort of a bowl game. He might not be the prolific pocket threat that Tom Brady is, but Murphy does what he does and does it well which leads the team to victory more often than not.

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PawSox season another success

It doesn’t matter how you slice it, 2014 was a tremendously successful year for the Pawtucket Red Sox. The team made it to their third straight Governors’ Cup Final, and for the second time in those three years they came away with the Cup. It was an epic series filled with excitement, big moments, and players with little Triple-A experience stepping up with big performances.

But even before the team clinched the Cup, the season was still a big time success.

While winning at any level is good to see, minor league wins and losses don’t define the success of a season. It is all about player development and any organization will admit as much. Winning the Governors’ Cup, along with getting players some postseason experience, is icing one cake so long as the goal of player development is accomplished.

Going into the season, the biggest thing I wanted to see was how the team’s young pitchers grew and adjusted. I needed to see that Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, and Rubby De La Rosa were ready to contribute at the big league level. Each in their own way showed that they were ready to be Major League arms.

Ranaudo made the biggest impression by far, winning the I.L. Pitcher of the Year. Ranaudo’s numbers were dominant with Pawtucket, producing several brilliant stretches that Ranaudo himself described as “the best run of his career.” He was able to make adjustments early in the season to his delivery, something he attributes his success to. In limited MLB action he’s had his ups and downs, but has ultimately shown he can be successful.

De La Rosa bounced back from a rough 2013 season, showing why he was a highly regarded prospect. He made an impact with Pawtucket early and spent most of the year in Boston’s rotation. Barnes started off the year injured, but after a rocky start dominated in the finals months of the season. Webster was promoted in July, and though again his MLB numbers aren’t impressive he showed he has graduated from Triple-A.

The bottom line for all four of these young arms is they reestablished their value at a critical point in their careers. Will they all make Boston’s rotation, or roster, next year? That is highly unlikely, as there won’t be enough room for all of them. One would assume the organization goes out and acquires at least one established free agent arm to join Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly, leaving two openings in the rotation. With many the many needs the organization wants to address in the offseason, the value of these young arms with MLB experience becomes huge for trade purposes. The possibilities are endless for how they manage these prospects, but they have certainly lived up to their end in 2014.

The offensive player I was looking forward to seeing coming into this year was Garin Cecchini, and I was happy with the season he put up. The numbers don’t jump out, especially after a hot start with Pawtucket. He struggled in the middle of the season, specifically in June and July where he hit under .200 in each month. However, he was able to fight through it, make adjustments in his swing, and deliver strong numbers the rest of the way. Factor in the fact that he learned the outfield in addition to his normal third base position, and one has to be happy with how he progressed this year. Will Middlebrooks has done nothing to show he deserves the third base job in 2015, so the idea the Cecchini could start there is very possible.

As the season moved forward, more and more of the Sox future passed through McCoy. Henry Owens dazzled in his Triple-A debut, giving the organization a glimpse of what he can do on the mound. He also had some struggles at this level, but that is to be expected. At just 22 years old, he is the number one pitching prospect in the Boston system and will almost certainly start 2015 with the PawSox. As he gets more innings under his belt, expect the dominance to continue and a big league call up to be not far away.

2014 also saw “Mookie Madness” hit Pawtucket, as Mookie Betts tore up the minor leagues on his way to Boston. Betts showed that he can do a little bit of everything on the baseball field, impressing me more than I though he would. Learning the outfield was very easy for him as he transitioned out of second base plus he didn’t let the move impact his offense. A ceiling of dynamic leadoff hitter for Boston in 2015 is not out of reach based on what he has shown.

Three players that will likely start 2015 with Pawtucket after coming up in the final months of the season are Blake Swihart, Deven Marrero, and Edwin Escobar. Each of these players made huge contributions to the team’s championship run and will look to continue their growth after promising years.

As we look back on 2014, the PawSox have a lot to be proud of. They were able to develop the organization’s young pitchers and hitters, promote some of their brightest Double-A talent to McCoy, send major league ready players to Boston, and return the Governors’ Cup to its rightful home.

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PawSox let Game Two slip away

Already up 1-0 in their best of five Governors’ Cup series, Pawtucket would have to get a game two win with someone who has never pitched in Triple-A.

Brian Johnson, who spent most of this year dominating in Portland, was summoned to make his Triple-A debut when Matt Barnes was called up to Boston on Monday. He faced off against Alex Colome who has spent time in the big leagues this season for the Rays.

Johnson pitched strong, but the PawSox lost 4-3 after letting a late lead slip away. Their series is now tied 1-1.

For the second consecutive game, Pawtucket struck quickly with runs in the first two innings. The team loaded the bases with no outs in the first, though only managed one run on a groundout from Ryan Lavarnway. Ivan DeJesus Jr. started off the second with a triple and Corey Brown launched a two-run home run giving Pawtucket a 3-0 lead.

That would chase the ineffective Colome from the game after an inning and a third, marking the second time in as many games a Durham starter didn’t make it past three innings.

Durham responded with a two run home run in the third inning by Mike Mahtook to make it 3-2, but that would be all the offense until the later innings. Pawtucket had plenty of scoring chances early, though didn’t capitalize nearly enough on them.

“We had a chance to blow it open,” Manager Kevin Boles said. “We missed some opportunities. I liked how we burned through their starter and get opportunities but we just couldn’t push runs across.”

Johnson looked solid in his six innings of work, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks while striking out seven. He flashed an impressive curveball, though did not factor in the decision.

“He pitched well,” Boles said. “He settled in with a good pitch mix and he gave us what we needed tonight.”

“I was excited to get out there,” Johnson said of his debut. “I got on the same page as Lavarnway pretty quick. This year has been fun for sure and hopefully we finish on the right note.”

Heath Hembree, who was shaky in last night’s appearance despite recording the save, came out for the ninth but gave up a game tying solo home run to Vince Belnome making the score 3-3. Brown led off the ninth with a double for Pawtucket, but was stranded at third.

Pawtucket again squandered a golden chance to win it in the 10th, loading the bases with two outs for Brown who struck out.

The Bulls would not waste their chance to win in the 11th. With runners on first and second, Mike Fontenot lined an RBI single to right off John Ely, giving the Bulls a 4-3 lead. The PawSox limited the damage, but Pawtucket wouldn’t score in their half and fell by that final.

The Rusney Castillo watch continued, as he went 1-4 with a walk in his second Triple-A game. He had a chance to win the game in the ninth, however popped out weakly with a runner on third and one out. Once the game went into extras, he was removed as the plan was for him to play nine innings. He has shown that he will continue to be an aggressive player and when watching him play it is tough not to see flashes of fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig. Boles said that it is doubtful he plays in game three.

Pawtucket will hope to regain their series lead tomorrow as Henry Owens takes the mound against Matt Andriese.

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Castillo, PawSox lead Governors’ Cup

Tuesday marked Game One of the 2014 Governors’ Cup at McCoy Stadium, but more importantly for Red Sox fans it marked the Triple-A debut of Rusney Castillo. The 27 year old outfielder has come with plenty of hype, even though many aren’t quite sure what to expect from the Cuban. Though not a tall guy, reports indicate that he is fully capable of playing centerfield in the big leagues right now with the ability to have gap power and good speed. If this is the case, the organization is looking not only at their centerfielder of the future, but a potential leadoff or number two hitter.

Though he has already played in some games within the organization, this will be the highest level of baseball he has competed in. Not to mention it comes in the most crucial series the PawSox have played in all season.

For the third straight season (second against the Durham Bulls) the Pawtucket Red Sox will play in the Governors’ Cup Finals, though they will be without one of their star pitchers Matt Barnes. Barnes was called up to Boston for the first time on Monday after a great outing in the semi-finals. Edwin Escobar, coming off a brilliant semi-final effort as well, took the ball in game one against hard throwing Rays prospect Enny Romero.

Behind another strong outing from Escobar, Pawtucket won 3-2 to take the lead in this best of five series.

Pawtucket struck quickly in the first when Ivan De Jesus Jr. singled to right and eventually scored on an RBI single from Travis Shaw. They added to their lead in the second after Blake Swihart doubled and scored on an opposite field single from Deven Marrero to make it 2-0 PawSox.

Durham responded with two in the third on a two out, two run single by Mike Mahtook but Pawtucket quickly regained the lead on an 11 pitch sacrifice fly from Garin Cecchini.

The early theme for the PawSox offense was working counts as they were able to chase Romero from the game by making him throw 77 pitches through three innings.

Doug Mathis was called upon to silence the Pawtucket bats, and he did a good job of that in the middle innings. However Escobar was able to the same to the Bulls’ bats, keeping them off balance and limiting chances. He had to give way to the bullpen in the eighth inning, but they were able to close it out and secure the 3-2 PawSox win.

Escobar picked up the win, going seven innings giving up two runs on six hits and five strikeouts. For the second consecutive postseason start he didn’t walk a batter. Hembree earned a four out save, escaping trouble in the eighth and ninth innings. This included getting out of a bases loaded, one out jam to close the game.

“He was impressive and had a good mix,” Manager Kevin Boles said of his starter. “The tempo with him and Swihart was good and he did a good job keeping the defense involved.”

Castillo ended his debut going 1-4 with two strikeouts. His first Triple-A hit came on a sharp single past the third baseman, however he was quickly erased on a caught stealing. Both strikeouts came on 96 mph fastballs, one looking and one swinging. Though it’s tough to judge on just one game, his swing has some resemblance to fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig.

“He expanded the zone a couple of times but he’s an athlete and you can tell,” Boles said. “It stands out. We’re going let him play his game and be himself. There’s a lot to like.”

“I felt good,” Castillo said through his translator. “It was nice to pull out the win in a tight game but I felt more comfortable as the game progressed. I may have been a little over aggressive at first but I tried to be more patient after my third at bat.”

Pawtucket looks to take a commanding 2-0 series lead tomorrow night when Brian Johnson makes his Triple-A debut against Alex Colome.

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Barnes, PawSox take 2-0 lead

Coming off a walk off victory last night, the Pawtucket Red Sox looked to take a commanding 2-0 lead in their best of five series against the Syracuse Chiefs. Matt Barnes took the hill for the Wild Card Champion PawSox looking to build upon his strong campaign while Scott McGregor got the start for the I.L. North Champion Chiefs.

Barnes was able to follow up Edwin Escobar’s tremendous start with a great outing of his own, leading the PawSox to an 8-2 victory.

After both offenses started out cold in game one, Pawtucket wasted no time striking first in game two. Jackie Bradley Jr. singled to start the first and scored on a Travis Shaw double. After a Ryan Lavarnway ground out plated another run, last night’s hero Garin Cecchini singled home Shaw giving the Sox a 3-0 lead.

The pitching dominance then picked up right where it left off, as neither team would see many scoring chances through five innings. The closest Syracuse came to Barnes was a one out double by Jeff Kobernus in the sixth, but that’s all Pawtucket’s young hurler would allow.

Pawtucket opened it up in the bottom half of the inning, taking advantage of the Chief’s bullpen. Shaw and Cecchini reached to begin the inning and moved into scoring position on a balk from Felipe Rivero. Ryan Roberts drove them home with a two run double and scored on Devin Marrero’s single to make the score 6-0 after six.

“We had a lot of quality at bats, and if we made an out it was a tough out,” manager Kevin Boles explained. “Cecchini has turned a corner and he’s back to the guy we know. He’s using the whole field and impacting the baseball.”

The PawSox added two more in the seventh on a Cecchini triple and a Roberts single, winning by the final of 8-2.

Barnes earned the win pitching seven strong innings, scattering three hits while striking out six and walking no one.

“I felt pretty good,” Barnes said after the game. “I was able to establish my fastball early and let the change up play off of that. Being here last year for the playoffs got me used to the atmosphere and what its like. You know you have to go out there, put up zeros, and pitch as deep as possible.”

“He was terrific,” Boles said of his pitcher. “Not walking anyone was a huge key for him. He was able to attack this lineup and that was huge.”

Cecchini paced the offensive attack going 4-4 with two RBIs while Roberts went 3-4 with three RBIs. Bradley and Marrero each added two hits of their own.

Pawtucket looks to end the series tomorrow in Syracuse, as top prospect Henry Owens takes the mound against Mitch Lively.

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PawSox win Game One in extras

It came down to the last series of the year but the Pawtucket Red Sox clinched their fourth consecutive playoff berth with a win over the Rochester Red Wings. In a game featuring over two hours of rain delays the PawSox were able to weather the storm, winning 10-4 to secure the I.L. Wild Card and set up a playoff series with the I.L. North Champion Syracuse Chiefs.

They got their postseason off to a good start, taking game one of this best of five series 2-1.

Minor league rosters are impacted by Major League September call-ups, as clubs want to see if some of the young talent they have can make an impact at the highest level. Pawtucket will be without Anthony Ranaudo (I.L. most valuable pitcher), Brandon Workman, Mookie Betts (2014 PawSox MVP), Steven Wright, and Dan Butler (2013 PawSox MVP) as they were all promoted to Boston in recent days. However, the depth of the Boston organization is on display as Pawtucket’s roster is still formidable for the postseason.

The lineup features top prospects and players with MLB experience, most notably Jackie Bradley Jr. Their rotation in particular features tremendous talent, as top prospects Henry Owens and Matt Barnes will be anchoring the staff. It also features Edwin Escobar, another young pitcher acquired in the Jake Peavy trade who took the mound for game one.

The 22 year old Escobar showed why he is highly thought of in his start, dominating the Syracuse lineup. His fastball topped out at 95 mph while showing very good off speed pitches. He also showed good command, not walking a batter and not giving Chiefs hitters many good pitches to hit.

Meanwhile, Pawtucket’s hitters were equally quiet offensively. Though the team had some early chances off Chiefs starter Taylor Hill, they were unable to push home any runs through the first five innings.

That would change in the sixth, as Travis Shaw launched the first pitch of the inning into the Chiefs bullpen to give the PawSox a 1-0 lead.

That would remain the score until the ninth, when Syracuse would fight back to tie the game at one. Down to their last out, Brandon Laird hit a towering home run to left field chasing Escobar from the game.

The game went into extra innings, and the middle of Pawtucket’s offense did not disappoint. Bryce Brentz doubled to lead off the inning and got to third on a wild pitch. Shaw and Ryan Lavarnway walked to set up Garin Cecchini for the heroics, and he delivered a walk off single up the middle to give the Sox a 2-1 win.

In his best start with Pawtucket Escobar fired 8.2 innings allowing one run on five hits while allowing no walks and striking out seven.

“Everything was working,” joked Escobar. “The defense was good, the catcher was good. I feel strong right now.”

Heath Hembree earned the win, pitching 1.1 innings of perfect ball out of the bullpen. Former PawSox pitcher Manny Delcarmen was charged with the loss.

Shaw finished the game 2-3 with a pair of walks while Blake Swihart went 3-4. Bradley Jr. continued his slump going 0-5 with two strikeouts. Laird finished 1-4 while Jhonatan Solano went 3-3 with a double.

To see Manager Kevin Boles talk about the victory, go to https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/223562408/20140903_221454.mp4 or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d50WqeA9XYk&list=UUJGUYa3IGT6SeKFVskP3Jiw

Pawtucket looks to take a commanding 2-0 series lead tomorrow night at McCoy as Matt Barnes will face off against Scott McGregor.

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PawSox in playoff position

The Minor League baseball season is in its final weeks and the Pawtucket Red Sox are right in the mix of the playoff picture. The PawSox are just three games behind first place Syracuse and have a three game lead over Rochester for the Wild Card. As is usually the case at the Triple-A level roster additions and subtractions down the stretch can make a huge impact on the standings, and with Pawtucket playing both the Chiefs and Red Wings to close out their season they could be a deciding factor.

This week has seen a number of moves, the most notable of which was the demotion of Jackie Bradley Jr. The center fielder’s struggles at the plate have been well documented, and the organization finally decided that he needed more time in Triple-A. Mookie Betts was promoted to take his spot in the outfield, and a good performance from him could earn him a starting spot somewhere in the 2015 Boston outfield.

The timing of Bradley’s demotion seems odd as offensive struggles have been a problem all year, but the team will now see what Betts can do with his chance. Bradley has always been a mentally tough player, and his toughness and love for the game will get him back on track soon according to Manager Kevin Boles.

“We talked to him the first day before we even knew he was going to report.” Boles explained. “He said ‘I want to play tonight.’ His frame of mind has been terrific from the jump.”

Bradley hit just .216 with Boston, striking out at a very high rate and looking overmatched at times in the batter’s box. His glove and arm in center field may have been the best in the majors this year, but his offensive growth needed work and Pawtucket may be the best spot for him to this.

“There’s a plan with the offensive approach that’s been laid down and he’s taken to it,” Boles continued. “I’m sure he’s had some disappointment but he hasn’t shown any of that. Knowing what type of athlete he is the adjustment period should be shorter than longer.”

The coaching staff and organization constantly express their admiration for his work ethic and natural talent, so his demotion isn’t a sign that they are ready to give up on the youngster.

With David Ross being activated off the DL, it is not a surprise that Dan Butler was sent back to Pawtucket. Butler is coming off his first MLB stint, and though he failed to record a hit in his 11 at bats the fact that the undrafted catcher worked his way to the big leagues is a credit to his perseverance. Butler will likely see time at both catcher and DH while being a strong candidate for September call ups.

His time at catcher will likely be limited however, as Ryan Lavarnway and Blake Swihart will also be behind the dish. Boles said that all three would play and that they would find creative ways to play them all, but Swihart will likely get the bulk of the time. Swihart has only spent two weeks with the club, but Boles said he and the team are impressed with him.

“We’ve seen him where he can impact the baseball from both sides of the plate. We’ve seen a more consistent approach from the right side of the plate, but he has the chance to be a real impact bat. Defensively he’s shown above average arm strength and a very quick release. He’s not afraid and he’s learning the pitch plan. Guys are taking to him.”

Swihart isn’t the only youngster catching the eye of the team. Much was made of Henry Owens and his dominating debut, but his last two starts don’t look nearly as good on paper. Owens gave up four runs in each of his last two outings, though continued his impressive strikeout numbers.

“I liked his last two starts,” Boles raved. “He showed flashes of real quality stuff. The three pitch mix, being able to throw his change at any point in the count, being able to throw it left on left. The breaking ball is better than everybody advertises. He has a lot of weapons.”

When asked about managing his workload, Boles said that they would keep an eye on it but they didn’t expect it to be an issue because he has been managed well all season.

Another young player the organization is high on is Garin Cecchini. It hasn’t been the easiest season for him, as he has dealt with slumps and position changes. However, August has been a different story as he is hitting above .310 and driving in plenty of runs. Boles attributes this to his adjustments and his familiarity with Triple-A.

“Being familiar with the league he’s made the adjustments and seen how they’re trying to attack him. He’s also taken care of his business too as far as staying back and getting in a better position to hit. Younger hitters tend to drift and get out on their front foot but we are seeing him stay more balanced.”

In other PawSox news, the team welcomed back Steven Wright and said goodbye to Alex Hassan, who was promoted so Boston had more depth on their bench. With Mike Napoli ailing, having someone like Hassan who plays both OF and 1B is a valuable asset.

Matt Barnes continued rolling in his last start, going 6.1 innings giving up no runs while allowing just two hits and striking out seven. He has been dominant since the All-Star break, and on a staff of young pitchers like Anthony Ranaudo and Owens, Barnes has been their best pitcher in the second half.

“Any time you can string together a few good outings its fun,” Barnes said, “but the most important thing is going out and giving quality starts. When you have other young guys performing well it definitely motivates you. We’re all trying to go out there and do the best we can to get up to Boston as fast as we can and help them win. When you have someone pushing you it makes you work harder.”

The PawSox continue their series with the Iron Pigs Thursday as Owens will get the ball looking for his second Triple-A win.

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