Talkin Sox with Dan

Where baseball fans gather for commonsensical, opinionated Red Sox banter.

Archive for the tag “Daisuke Matsuzaka”

Weekend News

Photo via milb.com

–There will not be a competition for the starting shortstop position in Spring Training, according to GM Ben Cherington. Stephen Drew will be the guy, barring injury. That’s bad news for Jose Iglesias.

–Staying on the subject of shortstops, last year’s first round pick, Deven Marrero, received an invite to major league camp. No big deal, right? Not so fast. Marrero is the first position player to be invited to major league Spring Training in the year after he was drafted since Scott Hatteberg in 1992. Marrero is 22 years-old and played in only 64 games last year. Dude must be thrilled.

Here is what Cherington had to say about Marrero’s invitation: “Typically, it’s not something we do very much, bringing a draftee from the previous year into camp. We felt like in this case, we knew him well enough because we had scouted him all the way back to high school, and he’d been through a lot and played a lot of baseball at a high level — college, Team USA — and played a premium position. We just wanted to get him exposed to the major-league staff and felt like it was appropriate to do in this case.”

–Most Red Sox followers were extremely surprised about the news regarding Marrero when the non-roster invites were announced. I was more surprised that Bryce Brentz was not included. He participated in the rookie development program in Boston earlier this offseason–all signs pointed towards the power hitter getting the nod to report to big league camp. As it turns out, Brentz shot himself in the leg while cleaning one of his guns. Although he is not 100 percent, the accident will not keep him on the shelf for long.

Daisuke Matsuzaka signed a minor league deal with the Indians. He will be reunited with former manager Terry Francona. We imagine Tito is just thrilled.

Things to Watch For This Weekend

Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals rolled into Fenway Park on Friday night and won the first game of a three game set against the Red Sox. Strasburg was electric, using all of his pitches effectively. The guy looked good. Harper went bridge to most cavernous area of Fenway–the apex of the triangle in center field. He also made an above average catch as he tracked down a hooking liner off Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s bat. He is a concoction of both Five Hour Energy and Red Bull. I was impressed. Let’s examine some other points of interest as the series continues on Saturday.

One of the most frustrating things is baseball is when a pitcher goes out and gives up runs after his offense provides him support. This was on display last night when Felix Doubront surrendered three runs in the top of the third inning after the Red Sox drew first blood in the bottom half of the second. With two outs in the bottom of the second inning, Mike Aviles smacked a clutch two-out double to left center, scoring two runs. Strasburg, at the time, seemed to look human. Doubront promptly went out and let three runs cross the plate the next half inning. So, so frustrating. Baseball is a game of momentum, and a one-two-three inning in the top of the third could have seriously changed the complexion of the game.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is back. Damn it. I’m half kidding. Dice-K will pitch Saturday afternoon for the Red Sox for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. This will undoubtedly be his final year in a Sox uniform, and maybe, just maybe, he can bring something to the table. Hope resides in the idea that Bobby Valentine may have some sort of a positive impact on him due to his ability to speak Matsuzaka’s native language. Time will tell, but if I wouldn’t place any kind of a substantial bet on the Japanese import.

Gio Gonzalez was close to becoming a member of the Red Sox, but the deal fell through. It would have included new fan-favorite Will Middlebrooks along with other prospects like Josh Reddick. The Sox would have likely landed Ryan Sweeney, Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey. Instead, the Athletics and Nationals brokered a deal that sent the young south paw to the nation’s capital, where he has been excellent. Gonzalez will tote a 2.31 ERA to the mound on Saturday.

Baseball is all about winning two out of three. Middle games in three game sets are vital. Think about it. If your club wins the first game of the series, then, a day later, takes the second game, you’ve already won the series. The final game is gravy. If your team drops the first game but is able to snag a W in the next game, you at least put yourself in a position to win the series with a victory in the final contest. So, if you’re the Red Sox, stack your lineup full of right handed hitters and grab a win Saturday–because then you’re only one win away from having an extremely successful weekend.

It’s easy to get down on Kevin Youkilis. I mean he did go down looking on a fastball in a 3-2 count with the bases loaded against Strasburg on Friday. Youkilis argued, probably to save face, and was ejected. The ballgame was essentially decided then and there. I’m not someone who believes that just because a player helped win a championship or two he must always receive the benefit of the doubt, but Youkilis is still an asset. He’s in a tough spot on a team where there isn’t a ton of flexibility at the corners. I wish there was a way to utilize both Middlebrooks and Youkilis, but it just may not be possible. I’d be surprised if Middlebrooks wasn’t in the lineup Saturday.

As a piece of advice, try not to let your new found affinity for the young, talented Middlebrooks manifest itself into hate or disdain for Youkilis. If you had a team of 25 Youks, you’d win a lot of games.

Nine Focal Points in 2012

Alright, so I’m pretty GD excited. Opening Day (in the United States) is awesome. It’s a feeling that is tough to beat. The negativity around the Olde Towne Team is justified, but, as objective as I try to be, I can’t help but be all sorts of jacked up for baseball to be back in Boston.

And I’m not even going to have the privilege of watching a single live pitch when the Red Sox fire up the 2012 season this afternoon against the Tigers in the Motor City. Working gets in the way of day games from time to time.

Last night, I checked in with Josh Johnson, the Cardinals, and the Marlins new amusement park stadium–which actually looks really nice. Baseball is back, and this guy couldn’t be happier.

——–

Back to business. Andrew Bailey has a bum thumb. So does Josh Beckett, but he is apparently fine for now. Surgery is a distinct possibility at some point down the road, which is a miserable thought. Alfredo Aceves is the closer of the Boston Red Sox. And Vicente Padilla is somewhere, sweating. With the first pitch of the 2012 season just a handful of hours away, the Sox could certainly be in a better position, but hey, it could be worse.

Here are nine points of interest to monitor throughout the season:

Bobby Valentine’s Approval Rating-Valentine is going to piss some people off. He isn’t quite as abrasive as an Ozzie Guillen-type. He’s more like an intelligent gnat. He has a little Joe Maddon in him. But instead of just having a glass of red wine in his office after a game, Valentine will trick you into buying the bottle and pouring it for him. Curt Schilling was largely off base in his premature criticism of Valentine last week in an interview on WEEI. However, there were some grains of truth in what he had to say–you just had to look hard for them. Valentine should not try to reinvent the game during his tenure in Boston. I encourage him to place his own stamp on the Red Sox, make them his team. I’m all about that. With that said, no one wants Mike Aviles leading off a ballgame. Ever. Kevin Youkilis belongs in the fat part of the lineup. Don’t even flirt with the idea of putting him at the top. In the end, it’s important to judge Valentine by the number of ballgames he wins. Try to keep that in mind. The rest is just noise.

Carl Crawford‘s Ability to Hit the Glass-He needs to rebound. Let me rephrase. He NEEDS to rebound. I’m expecting to see CC back in action during the first week in May, and it is vital for Valentine to handle his return correctly. There are three acceptable spots in the batting order where Crawford fits: Lead off, the two-hole, or the nine-hole. Look, I’m all about the idea of a guy hitting in the latter half of the lineup until he “proves” he is ready for a prime spot in the order, but that’s not the way to get the most out of the speedy left fielder. He is most effective when he feels comfortable, and he feels comfortable hitting in a part of the lineup where his speed can be utilized. I believe Valentine will excel at getting the most out of his players. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Crawford are a couple of great candidates. It is the job of the Red Sox and Valentine to put Crawford in the best possible position to succeed. Crawford will be responsible with taking advantage of that opportunity.

Alex Wilson‘s Impending Promotion-Here is Wilson’s player page from the folks at Sox Prospects. Wilson isn’t going to dial it up at a Bard-like 98 MPH, but he throws hard enough and locates his pitches extremely well. Good teams are able to bring up a player or two from their farm system halfway through the year who can contribute. Wilson could very easily be that guy for the Sox. Keep an eye on this kid who will begin the year as a starter in Pawtucket. You could see him evolve into a quality option out of the ‘pen.

Bobby Valentine’s Man-Crush on Jose Iglesias-Okay, so I share the same sort of affinity for the Cuban phenom–I just didn’t want to put it in bold writing. Mike Aviles will be at shortstop today in Detroit. That we know. I’m still not completely convinced that he is the best choice, but that’s an argument suited for a different day. The ideal scenario consists of Iglesias spending the majority of 2012 in Triple-A, remaining healthy, and receiving a ton of at-bats. However, that plan could be derailed by an injury to either Aviles or Youkilis–the latter hasn’t exactly been a model of health over the course of the past couple of seasons. A significant injury to a member of the left side of the Red Sox infield would likely prompt GM Ben Cherington to summon Iglesias from Rhode Island to Boston. Let’s just say Valentine wouldn’t put up a ton of resistance.

Jon Lester: Pony or Horse?-Alright, so pony is probably too harsh. If Lester is a pony, he is the best damned pony around. I have detailed my thoughts on the left handed pitcher. In short, he is not efficient with respect to his pitch count. He relies too heavily on his cutter and often nibbles around the plate. It is extremely frustrating because I am an absolutely massive fan of Lester and the tools he brings to the rubber. The tall lefty recently made some interesting comments during an interview on WEEI. Look, Jon, you don’t need to win 20 games to be considered elite. Instead, you do need to pitch north of 200 innings, decrease your walks, and work deeper into games. I am beyond interested to see if the Washington native finally puts together a season that leaves voters unable to leave him off of their Cy Young ballot.

Rich Hill is My Boy-There’s no point in hiding it. I love Hill like Tommy loved Walter. Hill is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Thus far, he has been making a tremendous amount of progress. When Hill is able to finally join the big club, he has the potential to serve a vital role as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen. His sidearm delivery and ability to consistently throw strikes make him quite the weapon against guys like Robinson Cano and Carlos Pena. Pay close attention to his road back to the majors.

Daniel Bard The Starter vs. Daniel Bard The Reliever-Let’s hope the former wins out. I’m not going to beat a dead horse here. I’ll make it quick. Bard wants to start. He would prefer not to close. Cherington and the Red Sox granted him the opportunity to start. He did nothing this spring to lose that opportunity. The Red Sox owe it to themselves and Bard to let the plan run its course. Bailey’s injury, however, is not good for Bard’s development as a starter. In all likelihood, there will be external and internal pressure to slot Bard back into the bullpen. It would be an easy fix, a cop out. Converting a stud reliever to starter is not supposed to be easy. If the Red Sox and Bard are equally committed to his long term success as a starting pitcher, they must not even consider moving him back to the bullpen. This will be something to monitor closely.

Jacoby Ellsbury‘s Encore-Call me a downer, but I’m not expecting another 32 long balls from Ells in 2012. I still think 24-28 home runs is within reach. Last season, Ellsbury got on base at a .376 clip. I believe that is a figure the Oregon native can improve upon. Pitchers will undoubtedly be more apt to work around the 2011 MVP runner-up. He will have the opportunity to take his fair share of free passes. The Red Sox don’t need Ellsbury to mash 30 home runs–getting on-base and applying pressure to opposing pitchers does the trick just fine. Ells had a massive year last year, and it will be fascinating to see how he responds in 2012.

Three’s Company-Everything discussed above is meaningless if Lester, Beckett, and Clay Buchholz do not perform well. In order to perform well, health is a necessity. Beckett has already begun to deal with thumb issues. Buchholz is coming off of an always ambiguous back injury. Lester is the only guy who can be described as anything close to a sure thing. With an already weakened bullpen, the Red Sox top three starters must combine to start at least 90 games and throw in the neighborhood of 900 innings. If healthy, Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz are bound to find success in 2012. They’re that talented.

And in the interest of Opening Day…

“You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.”- Joe DiMaggio

Your Fifth Starter Pitches Tonight

As the Red Sox enter the dog days of spring, two questions still remain for the team that totes around quite a bulky payroll: Who will be playing shortstop on Opening Day and who will be the fifth fourth and fifth starters when the season begins? Jose Iglesias would almost certainly be readying himself to begin the year in Triple-A Pawtucket if such a large personality was not the at the helm of the club, but with Bobby Valentine as the skipper, anything is possible–even if it is not what GM Ben Cherington would prefer.

The latter question does not possess a firm answer. Throughout the course of a 162-game season, injuries occur, rotations become jumbled, and teams rarely use the same five starters. Who begins the season at the tail end of a rotation is often not nearly as important as the individuals who finish the season in those slots.

The 2012 Boston Red Sox may begin the season with Felix Doubront and Alfredo Aceves (or Daniel Bard) as the fourth and fifth starters, but neither of the pitchers will likely finish there. Instead, it certainly sounds like  Daisuke Matsuzaka will be ready sooner rather than later as he is being tabbed for a June return time. Say what you want about the buzzkill from the Eas, butthat’s good news. Two words: Contract year. The second piece to the second half of the rotation puzzle will be taking the mound this evening at Jet Blue Park as the Red Sox take on the Yankees.

Aaron Cook will certainly not be ready to suit up on April 5, but he has the opportunity to be a serious, summer-long contributor to a staff that is thirsty for someone to step up and provide valuable innings from the back end of the rotation.

If he is healthy and receives an opportunity, Cook is a guy that fans, teammates, and coaches will really enjoy.

According to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, in his two starts this spring “he has thrown 5 ⅓ innings without giving up a run.” Even better, the 16 outs that Cook has recorded, “eight have come on ground balls.”

Giddy up.

The downside to Cook is two-fold. First, he is not on the same pace that the other candidates for the rotation are on. Early reservations about the strength of Cook’s shoulder prevented him from getting on the mound in a timely fashion. Second, the righty inked a minor league deal with the Sox which allows him to opt out of his contract on May 1. The guy is a veteran who does not want to toil in Pawtucket for the majority of the season, waiting for a spot to open via injury. If he feels as though he can contribute on the major league level and the Red Sox are not giving him a shot, he should have the opportunity to explore greener pastures. However, as long as he continues to progress, the Red Sox will likely give Cook a chance to start.

For the Red Sox sake, I hope the 33 year old stays healthy and builds up his endurance. That would at least put him in position to be given an opportunity. He is a sinkerball pitcher who would slot nicely into the back end of a rotation that, for all of the criticism it has taken this winter, is actually quite good.

And Cook would be a welcomed commodity.

“I’m pitching to contact. I’m trying to get guys out of the box as quickly as possible and get our offense back on the field.”

Bard in Limbo

According to a report from CSNNE’s Sean McAdam, Daniel Bard could be heading back to the bullpen to begin the 2012 season.

Recently, it has seemed like Alfredo Aceves would be the one boxed out of the Red Sox rotation. McAdam’s report contradicts that belief entirely.

“One Red Sox staff member has told others outside the organization that, when all is said and done, Alfredo Aceves and Felix Doubront will have spots in the rotation, with Daniel Bard returning to the bullpen.”

Hmm. What happened to giving Bard a chance to show his mettle as a starter? Throughout the winter and spring, it has not seemed as if there was even a question as to whether the hard throwing righty would be in the rotation or the bullpen. Sure, there was competition for fifth spot in Boston’s rotation but certainly not the fourth–that was Bard’s. Times have changed, I guess.

Has Bard put together an exceptionally good spring? Not at all. But heck, the guy has thrown less than 13 innings. Is that enough to formulate an opinion? WEEI’s Lou Merloni certainly does not believe that is the case.

So for now, we will wait and see what happens. In a perfect world, Aceves and Bard would serve as cogs in the Red Sox bullpen (that would be one solid ‘pen) because John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka would be the bottom half of the rotation. However, that is simply not the case. Pragmatically speaking, one of the two will have to occupy a spot in the rotation.

If I’m choosing, it is Bard. Aceves is versatile and has an arm made of rubber. I’m pretty sure he pitched in every game from August 1 of last year until the final game of the season, or at least it seemed that way. Ultimately, I believe Bard will stick in the rotation, but we will keep you updated.

Wednesday’s Notes: Crawford, Ortiz, Ellsbury

Yesterday was a busy day, especially with a great deal of players around baseball avoiding arbitration and signing on with their respective teams. Towards the end of the work day, Red Sox fans received a swift punch to the neck as we learned of Carl Crawford‘s wrist surgery. So let’s get caught up as we head into Wednesday…

  • David Ortiz made $12.5MM last season. He submitted a proposal of $16.5MM for 2012. That is too high. The Red Sox went with a figure of $12.65MM. That is too low. Ideally, the two sides will come together somewhere in the middle before an arbitration hearing would take place. As the Globe’s Peter Abraham reports, that could get messy.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury and the Sox avoided arbitration by agreeing on a one year deal for $8.05MM. I thought this agreement would come with a bit more turbulence, but it is nice to see that friction was avoided. I would be using multiple exclamation points too if I just more than tripled my salary, so I guess I won’t make fun of him.
  • Obviously, the Carl Crawford injury is bad for Carl Crawford, but after my previous blog about his surgery, I realized that this is not good for Ben Cherington. Everything I have heard regarding the Red Sox approach going forward indicates that they are very content to keep the roster as it is currently constituted. That is fine with me as long as the team is confident that Crawford will not be missing much time at all. Cherington, like the majority of us, is not a doctor. Therefore, he will be relying on what he is told. If he passes on adding a piece now and Crawford’s wrist injury nags him, forcing him to miss more time, Cherington will be crucified.
  • I’ve waited as long as possible to even touch on this, but we’re down to the wire here. Yu Darvish and the Rangers have until this afternoon to come to an agreement on a contract. I believe Darvish will be in Texas next season. He will probably get a deal that is worth more than Daisuke Matsuzaka made but not a ton more. The Rangers know that their posting fee would be returned to them if a deal is not done, and a portion of that can be put towards a more than serviceable starting pitcher. Or…Prince Fielder.

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