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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.