Tagged: Spring Training

Tavarez to start All-Star Game

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

OK. I admit that’s a stretch. Still, Julian Tavarez picked up tonight where he left off last September by allowing one run and six hits in 5.2 innings. The Sox held on for a 6-5 win over Philadelphia. Tavarez faced a lineup that included most of Philly’s regulars. He threw 69 pitches, an economical outing. Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka give the Sox one of the game’s best 1-2-3 punches. Tim Wakefield can be counted on for 12-14 wins. If Tavarez keeps his ERA near or below the 4.00 mark, where he was as a starter last season, the Sox will have one of the game’s most formidable rotations.

Boston was productive offensively. Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew continued their torrid pace by each slugging a home run. Manny Ramirez added a dinger, too. Jason Varitek had two hits to lift his spring training average to a dismal .143. Dustin Pedroia went yard and is now hitting .217. Let’s hope this game helps the confidence of Varitek and Pedroia at the plate.

It was not a pleasant outing for Kyle Snyder, who surrendered four runs and five hits in 2.2 innings. Of course, three of those runs scored on the two hits that Travis Hughes gave up after relieving Snyder. Hughes did retire Michael Bourn to end the game and record the save.

I still find it amazing that the fortunes of Tavarez can fall, rise, fall and rise again as he shuttles between the bullpen and rotation. He was atrocious as a reliever last year, but gained the confidence of Sox management and fans with his performance in the rotation last September. Then he performed poorly at the beginning of spring training, and though he started to throw the ball well in relief, Red Sox Nation shuddered at the thought of the lone remaining EZ-brother closing, as was projected until Jonathan Papelbon reclaimed that role. Once again, he proved his worth as a starter tonight. If he wore Yankee pinstripes, he would likely be the No. 3 or No. 4 starter.

Until Jon Lester is ready, the Sox have options at Triple-A if Tavarez falters. That won’t be an issue if Tavarez builds on tonight’s start. What are your thoughts about the Sox No. 5 spot in the rotation? Are you as high on Kason Gabbard and Devern Hansack as I am? Are you comfortable when Tavarez takes the hill (at least as a starter)?

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Sox bullpen looks just fine, thank you

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

Future Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz pitched scoreless baseball through his first four innings this afternoon, and then allowed three runs and four hits in the fifth inning before being lifted for Javier Lopez. The Sox and Devil Rays ended spring training with a 3-3 tie. The Sox now play two exhibition games up north against the Phillies and then open the season with a three-game series in Kansas City, starting on Monday. It was an encouraging appearance today for Boston’s top pitching prospect. Even more promising is the continued performance of the Sox bullpen.

Lopez, who will be part the Sox bullpen until Mike Timlin returns, added another 1.1 scoreless innings to his spring training stat file. Hideki Okajima, Barry Hertzler (another Sox minor league relief pitching prospect) and Jonathan Papelbon each added a scoreless frame.

Yankees fans and naysayers who believe that the Sox bullpen is not deep and talented will be sorely disappointed when the regular season begins. There are no holes in the pen now that Papelbon has returned to the closer’s role. The Sox have one of baseball’s best starting rotations. The bullpen will be more than adequate enough to preserve leads. 

Epstein’s decision about Gagne looks good right now

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

I no longer hear anyone questioning Theo Epstein’s decision to sign Joel Pineiro to a $4 million deal with $2 million in closing incentives rather than inking Eric Gagne to a $6 million contract. Even if Jonathan Papelbon did not return to the closer’s role, Pineiro has looked better than Gagne in spring training. Pineiro started slowly but has recovered to post a 3.09 ERA (10 games, 11.2 innings, five runs and 15 hits) while the injury-plagued Gagne has recorded a 15.00 ERA (five runs and seven hits in three innings) and has clearly not rebounded from his injury woes.

Rangers officials admit that he will not be able to pitch back-to-back games early in the season, but they are committed to Gagne opening the season as the team’s closer. Akinori Otsuka, who has thrown the ball well this spring, will close on days that Gagne is unavailable. The Sox play a three-game series at Texas April 6-8.

Perhaps Gagne will recover at some point this season and become a dominating closer, but I am glad Epstein chose not to sign him. I advocated a deal with Washington for Chad Cordero (at the right price) or a deal with Houston for Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls or Dan Wheeler (at the right price as well), but it was too risky for the Sox to depend on an injury-maligned pitcher like Gagne to regain his form as an overpowering closer. Pineiro is better suited as a middle reliever than he is a closer, in my opinion, and he also can help as a spot starter. I would rather have Pineiro on the roster than Gagne.

Who will close when Papelbon is unavailable?

This is a question many Sox fans have not considered. Unlike last season, when Papelbon entered some games in the eighth inning and then appeared the next night, Terry Francona will likely (hopefully) be more cautious in using the all-star closer. Who do you think should get the call on days when Papelbon will not pitch? My guess is Mike Timlin, when he returns, and possibly Pineiro, if he throws the ball well early in the season.

Jayhawk Bill says Ortiz and Ramirez on the decline

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

Last night, I had the privilege of serving as a guest on Up On The Monster Radio, an extension of the web site I encourage you to visit, www.uponthemonster.com. The show featured a thorough review of the Sox farm system by Jonathan Singer, editor of Sox Prospects (www.soxprospects.com), another must-read web site for die-hard Sox fans who crave every bit of information they can get about the team’s future.

I was part of a panel discussion regarding how the Sox look for 2007. Fellow guests were Jeff Moon of Fenway Fanatics (www.fenwayfanatics.com), host Dave Devlin and a character named Jayhawk Bill from Up On The Monster. It was Jayhawk Bill who offered some questionable if not ludicrous opinions. I will not invest the time to list all of these remarks, but you can get the idea by just reading one – his view that you cannot pencil in David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez for 35-plus home runs and 100-plus RBI because they are reaching a point in their career where their numbers will start to slide. He justified this by mentioning their spring training numbers, which we all know is definitely a true indication of how the regular season will progress (I say with sarcasm).

Believe me, you can pencil in – make that, etch in stone – that Big Papi and Manny will surpass 40 home runs and 100 RBI this season. Ortiz is 31 while Ramirez is 34 (he will turn 35 in May). Both are far from done. Ramirez is one of the best all-around hitters in the history of the game. Gary Sheffield still swings a productive bat at 40. There is no reason while Ramirez can’t do the same, though it will likely not be in Boston, since there is room for just one DH, and Big Papi isn’t going anywhere. Spring training is a time when pitchers are ahead of hitters. Do you honestly think that Big Papi and Ramirez are on the decline, and that their spring training numbers are reason to worry? Like you, I don’t think so either, but Jayhawk Bill does.

Pavano the Yankees opening day starter? Are you kidding me?

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

Pardon me while I snicker. Excuse me as that light snickering envelops into a bellowing laugh. Joe Torre announced that Carl Pavano could be the Yankees opening day starter. With Chien-Ming Wang on the disabled list with a balky hamstring, Andy Pettitte recovering from back spasms and Torre’s preference to keep Mike Mussina in the No. 2 spot, apparently Pavano will get the call. It’s only against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, you say? Well, the Devil Rays feature a productive lineup, and left-hander Scott Kazmir (who is unkind to AL East foes) will likely start on the mound. On paper, it’s not a promising season opener for the Yankees. Too bad.

Red Sox season preview to air on Up On The Monster Radio

If you want to share your opinion on the state of the Sox in 2007, be sure to listen to Up On The Monster Radio this Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. Yours truly will be a guest on the Red Sox season preview show along with Jonathan Singer of Sox Prospects, Jeff Moon of Fenway Fanatics and a yet to be determined host from Up On The Monster. This is an Internet radio show, and the URL is http://www.blogtalkradio.com/hostpage.aspx?show_id=16236. You can call the show at 718-664-6916. For more information, visit http://www.uponthemonster.com and click on the UOTM Radio section in the top left column.

Damon says what?

Last week, Johnny Damon told the New York Post that the Yankees are the team to beat. Of course, this is the same Johnny Damon who confidently proclaimed that no matter how aggressively the Yankees pursue him, he will never wear pinstripes, and then the next season debuted in center field wearing those same pinstripes. So it is evident you cannot seriously consider what Damon has to say.

After the Tigers dismissed the Yankees from the ALDS last October, Damon told the media that the best team doesn’t always win. That is not applicable in 2007 – the part about the Yankees being the best team. Has Damon reviewed the roster lately? Chien-Ming Wang on the disabled list. An injury-prone Andy Pettitte experiencing back spasms. Kei Igawa, who is best suited as a middle reliever, starting at the No. 4 spot. And Carl Pavano, the guy who was supposedly their No. 5 starter is now being considered for opening day. Pitching wins championships, Johnny boy, and your team is weak in that department. Good luck with that!

Let the talk about Helton and Clemens begin

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

Now that Jonathan Papelbon has answered the most prominent question of the spring (Who will close for the Sox?), let the banter begin about Todd Helton and Roger Clemens.

It was Rockies owner Charlie Monfort who approached the Red Sox about a Helton deal, then pulled back when Theo Epstein would not send two top prospects along with Mike Lowell and Julian Tavarez. With Papelbon slated to close this season – and prized prospect Bryce Cox primed for duty in 2008, either as a set-up man or a closer, depending on if the Sox move Papelbon to the rotation – would the Sox consider dealing Hansen and Delcarmen along with Lowell and Tavarez to get Helton?

It’s an interesting debate. Helton appears to be healthy again, and he would fit nicely at Fenway Park. The Sox could move Youkilis to third. Boston’s minor league system is ripe with promising relief pitching prospects. And Helton’s salary would not hamstring the payroll, especially since the contracts of Lowell ($9 million a year), Clement ($8 million a year, I believe) and Schilling ($13 million a year) will expire at the end of this season. Do you think Helton is worth surrendering Lowell, Tavarez and two prospects, or would you only make the deal for Lowell, Tavarez and Hansen or Delcarmen (which is my preference, but I’m not sure if the Rockies would be receptive)?

Perhaps Epstein would hesitate to include Tavarez since he is the No. 5 starter until Jon Lester is ready. Of course, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Boston has depth in the starting rotation. Today, Kason Gabbard and Devern Hansack could make the starting rotations of many MLB teams. They are ready to occupy a back of the rotation spot with Boston, if needed. Kyle Snyder is an option as well, but I think he is best suited for a middle relief role.

Regarding Clemens, though I am not convinced that he would help the Red Sox, I’m sure that Papelbon’s move to the bullpen increases the chances of the Rocket signing with Boston. The Yankees have a greater need. Their rotation is shaky, and now Pettitte is recovering from back spasms and Chien-Ming Wang experienced discomfort in his hamstring today. The Yankees could give Jeff Karstens and/or Darrell Rasner a chance, and they might even summon Phil Hughes and/or Humberto Sanchez from Triple-A at some point, but I think that signing Clemens is a priority for Brian Cashman.

Early April rotation set

With his closer in place, Terry Francona announced the rotation as it will begin the season. Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka will pitch in Kansas City followed by Tim Wakefield, Julian Tavarez and Schilling in Texas. Beckett is slated to start the Sox home opener against Seattle on April 10.

The numbers game

After such a dismal performance from the starting rotation and bullpen last season, it’s encouraging to see positive numbers in spring training. The Sox rank fourth among AL teams with a 3.63 ERA in March, including a 2.59 ERA (23 earned runs in 80 innings) in the last nine games. The bullpen? It has allowed just seven runs in the last 31.2 innings for a 1.99 ERA. Curt Schilling (2.20), Dice-K (2.84), Kason Gabbard (2.70) and Julian Tavarez (3.55) are leading the way in the rotation while Javier Lopez and J.C. Romero (1.17), Bryan Corey (1.64), Hideki Okajima (2.08), Jonathan Papelbon (2.31) Kyle Snyder (2.89), Devern Hansack (3.18) and Joel Pineiro (3.38) are throwing the ball well in relief. 

Papelbon as closer, Tavarez/Lester as No. 5 starter, make Sox a better team

This post is just a taste of what you will find at Sox and Pinstripes (http://www.soxandpinstripes.com), a web site and blog where readers discuss, debate and learn about all things Red Sox, Yankees and baseball. Visit Sox and Pinstripes to read more about the Red Sox from Jeff Louderback’s perspective.

Jonathan Papelbon is back in the closer’s seat and Julian Tavarez will be the No. 5 starter, at least until Jon Lester is ready. This is a brilliant move by Theo Epstein and Terry Francona. Would you rather have Papelbon start and Tavarez close, or Papelbon close and Tavarez or Lester start? The answer to that question is obvious. Joe Torre himself said that he was "delighted" that Papelbon was starting and not closing. Boston answered its’ most prominent question with the decision.

The bottom line? With Papelbon as the closer, and the depth Boston has in its rotation, the Sox will have a starting five and a bullpen that is superior to the Yankees. Tavarez, Lester, Gabbard and even Hansack are better options than Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano, whose days as an effective starter have long passed. Believe me, if the Yankees had Lester and Gabbard, they would be No. 4 and No.5 rather than Igawa and Pavano. Even Tavarez would make the Yankees rotation as it currently stands. Beyond Mariano Rivera and Scott Proctor, the Yankees bullpen is mediocre. Give me J.C. Romero, Hideki Okajima, Brendan Donnelly and Kyle Snyder over any set-up man in the Yankees bullpen than Proctor. A healthy Mike Timlin will make a positive difference as well, as long as he waits until he is truly healthy to return.

Will ‘Tek regain his hitting stroke?

In an injury-plagued 2006 season, Jason Varitek hit just .238, including a .213 mark in 61 at-bats after returning early from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. This spring, he has just two hits in 25 at-bats for an .080 average. In an article written by Gordon Edes in today’s Boston Globe, Varitek says he is concerned. That, in itself, is reason for concern.

At any level of baseball, confidence is an important element of hitting success. If you walk to the plate burdened about what will happen, chances are you will fail. A player at his best in the big leagues gets a hit just three out of every 10 times. Varitek doesn’t have the luxury of solely focusing on perfecting his swing. He is helping Dice-K adjust to the bigs and learning several new pitchers in the bullpen.

The captain turns 35 in April. Like every big league catcher in his mid-30s, Varitek isn’t as spry as he once was. Still, he is a valuable part of this team with his leadership and game-calling abilities alone. Yet the Sox do need more production than last year’s .238 average. It’s crucial that Doug Mirabelli hits much better than .193 as well since he will see more at-bats to give Varitek days off beyond Wakefield starts. Varitek has more left in the tank. A multi-hit opening day at Kansas City would certainly help his confidence.