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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Positive Preseason for Pats

After last night’s game against the Eagles, the Patriots have completed half of their preseason schedule and we are beginning to see things that bode well for the regular season. Preseason wins and losses along with statistics are numbers that usually don’t provide an accurate representation of how a team is performing, however having watched the two games as well as some practices many things have stood out.

Training camp and preseason always provide the chance to see some unknown talent step up and show what they can do. These players don’t always pan out during the regular season (Zach Sudfeld last year), but many times they prove they can be useful players.

Defensively, the player that really caught my eye early was CB Malcolm Butler. The first time I watched him practice I saw a physical player who wasn’t afraid to compete. He hasn’t only impressed me, but he has impressed the coaching staff. Butler received the start in yesterday’s game and played more snaps than any other corner. He has played well and made plays when given the chance, taking advantage of any opportunity he has received. The question becomes if there is room for him on a team deep at his position. At this point I would be shocked not to see him make the 53 man roster. Kyle Arrington has been seeing time at safety, a position the team is not as deep at, plus Brandon Browner will be suspended the first four games of the season. If he continues to shine, these factors should help him make the week one roster.

Offensively, anyone who has watched a preseason game has noticed WR Brian Tyms. Granted he is playing against second and third team players, but he has shown the ability to get open downfield and the ability to make some circus catches. He too has had a very good camp and has forced the coaching staff to give him more reps, but like Butler he plays a position the team has a lot of depth at. However, I think he will survive cut down day for a reason one usually is not happy about. Tyms will be suspended due to Adderall use for the start of the season, so keeping him would not take up a roster spot. This gives the team more time to decide if he can play and provides insurance should a receiver get injured. Don’t be surprised if Tyms finds his way onto the roster.

While Tyms has been a bright spot for the second and third team offense, the team’s starters, specifically in the passing game, really stood out this week. Last year, Tom Brady and his receivers not named Julian Edelman had trouble getting on the same page for most of the season. While it was frustrating to watch, it is important to realize that most of them were thrown into the fire before they were ready. With a year under their belts, players like Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson should be more consistent and in sync with Brady. Against the Eagles starters in practice and the game, timing with all receivers was there that hadn’t been present all of last year. Look no further than the touchdown to Thompkins last night, as he turned around in the right position at the right time and was waiting for a perfect pass. Add in a healthy Rob Gronkowski and this has the potential to be a Patriot offense more accustomed to years past.

Overall it has been a very productive and positive camp, but there are still some concerns I have that haven’t been answered. One is the depth at tight end. The team has tried several different players out but so far none have produced. Right now the team has the injury prone Gronkowski along with Michael Hoomanawanui, but the team needs at least two more reliable options at the position before I am satisfied. James Develin has the potential to fill in, but the team likely won’t move him from his fullback position. I would also like to see the linebacker depth improve. The team’s defense is poised for a big year, however should Jerrod Mayo or Jamie Collins go down, the linebacker depth could be exposed. This isn’t a major concern, but I haven’t been impressed with the backups at the position.

So far this has been an exciting preseason with lots of surprises and anticipation. With Brady leading the offense and a top defense fully healthy, it should be a season to remember in New England.

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