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Red Sox notebook: Boston comes closer to more stable lineup as Shane Victorino makes return

As the Red Sox head into the rubber match of their series against the Yankees the team will take a step toward solidifying its lineup. In 23 games this season, including Thursday night’s contest, the Red Sox have had 21 different lineups as they dealt with injuries and an ongoing search for a player to take hold of the leadoff spot.

With the team finishing out the series against New York and getting on a plane to Toronto, though, some of its stability is returning.

Shane Victorino will return to the lineup Thursday night, making his regular-season debut after he suffered an injury to his right hamstring toward the end of spring training.

“This is something we’€™ve been waiting for for some time here,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “Shane’€™s return we feel like will help solidify our outfield defense particularly, and, in addition to that, the top of the order for us. It’€™s good to have him back in the lineup, there’€™s no doubt about it.”

Victorino, who will hit second in Thursday’€™s order, went 1-for-11 during a three-game rehab stint with Triple-A Pawtucket.

The Red Sox have spent the first month of the season without Victorino and the past three weeks without Will Middlebrooks.

“You deal with what you have in the moment and knowing that players are going to come back to you, that’€™s always a positive outlook,” Farrell said. “We don’€™t make excuses because guys have been injured or there’€™s been some performance that’€™s been a little less than. We’€™re setting out to compete and win every single night and sometimes that hasn’€™t always been the case.”

Farrell added that with Victorino back in the lineup, he hopes to keep Dustin Pedroia in the leadoff spot with Victorino hitting second.

“Hopefully with [Pedroia] and [Victorino] at the top of the order the on-base will be there at a higher, and at a more consistent rate,” Farrell said. “I think stability is what this team is in need of right now.”

OTHER RED SOX NOTES

– Middlebrooks has likely finished his own rehab assignment and will probably fly out to Toronto to join the team for its three-game series with the Blue Jays. Middlebrooks, who was placed on the disabled list after suffering a Grade 1 calf strain on April 5, joined Pawtucket on April 21. While the 25-year-old was hitless in 10 at-bats over three games with the PawSox, Farrell said Thursday that Middlebrooks€™ was swinging the bat better in his final appearance.

– Since joining the Red Sox on April 18, Brock Holt has accumulated a .400 average with a .458 on-base percentage while driving in four runs over the course of six games. The team called Holt up to the majors after Ryan Roberts struggled to fill the gap left by Middlebrooks’€™ calf injury.

“When he came to us, we hoped he would spark the bottom third of the order,” Farrell said. “He’€™s done exactly that. He’€™s been fine defensively at third base, he’€™s given us quality at-bats — even in situations where he’€™s made an out, he’€™s been working the count deep and he’€™s gotten on base at a high rate.

“He’€™s given us a jolt in the arm, and we’€™ll see where things go from there.”

Farrell added that the team is having an on-going discussion of what to do with Holt, who went 1-for-2 with two walks and an RBI during Wednesday’s 5-1 win over the Yankees, once Middlebrooks returns. The team will only need one utility player, and so either Holt or Jonathan Herrera would appear to be the odd-man out. Both have options remaining, though Herrera is considered the superior defensive shortstop, and Farrell said that his preference to get the most capable glove at that position remains unchanged.

– Farrell said on Thursday that Jonny Gomes and Grady Sizemore could potentially platoon in left field. Farrell added that Sizemore may also get playing time in center, so his playing time won’t necessarily be restricted to days in which right-handed pitchers are on the mound.

“With [Victorino's] return there’s still going to be some managing of that playing time there,” Farrell said. “I can’t say he’s solely going to be in left field, particularly in Fenway where we might see Grady in center and Jackie [Bradley Jr.] in right on any given day. We’ve got to remain open to not only who’s available to us, but where we’re playing — home or on the road.”

Blog Author: 
Meredith Perri

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Colorado WR Paul Richardson

WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2014 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

Paul Richardson (AP)

Colorado wide receiver Paul Richardson caught 83 passes for a school-record 1.343 yards in 2013.(AP)

PAUL RICHARDSON

Position: Wide receiver

School: Colorado

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 175 pounds

Achievements: 2013 first-team All-Pac-12

What he brings: Richardson is an athletic specimen with blazing speed and reliable hands, highlighted by 4.40 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine. Add in that he’€™s an alert player who has a knack for being in the right spot and Richardson could be a good receiver in the NFL. His biggest problems are his slight frame and injury history, both of which have scouts concerned. Richardson also struggles to make catches in traffic, meaning he may be a better second or third receiver.

Where the Patriots could get him: Rounds 2-3

Notes: In 2013 Richardson hauled in 83 catches for 1,343 yards (a school record) and 10 touchdowns. The 22-year-old missed four games in 2011 due to an injury and the majority of the 2012 season due to a torn ACL. … Richardson originally committed to UCLA, but he was arrested in 2010 on felony charges, leading to his dismissal from the school. … Richardson’€™s father, Paul Richardson Sr., played in the NFL with the Jets, Packers, Eagles and Raiders.

Related articles:

The Sacramento Bee: Need for speed: 49ers meet with Colorado WR Paul Richardson

SB Nation: Report: Cowboys Met With Colorado Wide Receiver Paul Richardson

Video: Here are Richardson’€™s 2013 highlights with Colorado.

Blog Author: 
Arjuna Ramgopal

Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett ‘happy’ for playoff support of Celtics fans during Nets run

Kevin Garnett works on his signature 18-footer during Nets practice. (Justin Barasso)

Kevin Garnett works on his signature 18-footer during Nets practice. (Justin Barasso)

Paul Pierce knows the postseason as well as he knows Boston.

“This is the playoffs,”€ he said from the Nets practice facility in East Rutherford, N.J. “This is do or die.”

Pierce played 136 playoff games over 15 seasons for the Celtics. His 24,021 points rank second on the team’s all-time scoring list, brought a championship back to Boston in 2008, and also earned the NBA Finals MVP that very same season. The Truth restored meaning to the NBA’€™s signature franchise, so No. 34 still appreciates that Celtics fans are watching his run in Brooklyn.

“There’€™s a lot of fans [in Boston],” he added, “and I’€™m happy for their support.”

Kevin Garnett spent the last six seasons as a Celtic, patrolling the Garden paint and delivering a Bill Russell-esque intensity focused completely on winning. Up until this season, Garnett had played his last 84 playoff games for Boston, providing the interior defense, elbows, scowls and growls that the people of Boston know intimately well.

“€œThis is a different level of intensity,”€ said Garnett, who verified the fans in Boston understand that vigor and fury. “€œA different level of concentration. Some people can withstand that for 48 minutes, and some can’€™t.”

Pierce and Garnett helped Brooklyn split the first two games with the Atlantic Division champion Raptors. Now the Nets head back to play two home games in the Barclays Center, a place Pierce still finds odd calling home. He has registered two playoff games so far for the Nets, and is still getting used to placing his long arms through a green and white jersey before each game.

“I’€™ve already been through the regular 82 games,” said Pierce, who still wanted to know more about the Red Sox win over the Yankees and the Michael Pineda pine tar incident. “So that’€™s helped me get over that.”€

Pierce also admitted he feels significantly better than he did a year ago, when his Celtics lost in five games to the Knicks in the opening round of the playoffs.

“Throughout the regular season, the [Rajon] Rondo injury physically and mentally took a toll on me,”€ said Pierce. “€œI started playing up toward the 40-minute mark in the second half of the season, and I was kind of spent in the playoffs.”

Despite surprising the Association with 48 wins this season, the Raptors were unable to protect the home-court advantage and dropped the series opener to the Nets. Pierce dropped 15 points in the win, including nine straight in the fourth, while Garnett swallowed up the paint on the defensive end in the fourth quarter.

“We understand we have to take this one game at a time,”€ said Garnett. “When you’€™re playing off energy, momentum, adrenaline, and all that wears down and goes out the window, now it’€™s time to use what you know. If you never experienced that, then you’€™re just playing basic basketball.”

Three more victories will give Brooklyn the opportunity to tangle with the back-to-back champion Heat, including longtime Celtics adversary LeBron James. Ray Allen, an integral piece of the C’s championship in 2008 and the new Big Three, chose to take his talents to South Beach and play for the Heat, a fact the two former Celtics in Brooklyn have yet to forget.

Long memories are no issue for veterans like Pierce and Garnett, who remember their time in Boston as a pinnacle of their career.

“I’€™ve only done this one time,” said Pierce. “It’€™s a hard thing to do.”

“I’€™ve never seen a series in Brooklyn before,” added Garnett. “We’€™re about to see what that’€™s like.”

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda suspended 10 games

Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda has been suspended for 10 games “for possessing a foreign substance on his person” in their 5-1 loss to the Red Sox on Wednesday, the league announced.

The substance, believed to be pine tar, was discovered by umpire crew chief Gerry Davis at Red Sox manager John Farrell‘s behest in the second inning.

According to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, Pineda’s suspension will be paid, and the 25-year-old right-hander will not be forced to pay a fine.

Both Pineda and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman admitted they expected a suspension immediately following the game, although New York manager Joe Girardi claimed he would “talk to MLB about” changing Rule 8.02(b) in the future.

Should Pineda accept the league’s ruling and begin his suspension without an appeal, he will be eligible to pitch again May 4 against the Rays, missing one start and delaying another.

Blog Author: 
WEEI

Patriots sign free agent linebacker Josh Hull

The Patriots announced the signing of linebacker Josh Hull on Thursday afternoon. Here’s a portion of the release issued by the team on the move:

Hull, 26, is a veteran of four NFL seasons with the St. Louis Rams (2010-12) and the Washington Redskins (2013). The 6-foot-3, 246-pounder was originally drafted by St. Louis in the seventh-round (254th overall) out of Penn State in 2010. He was released by St. Louis at the end of training camp in 2013 and signed with Washington as a free agent on Oct. 15, 2013.

Hull has played in 39 NFL games with one start and has registered 25 total tackles. Last season with the Rams, Hull played in 11 games and finished with 14 total tackles.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Devin McCourty: Bonding process with new defensive backs like Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner ‘begins now’

FOXBORO — For defensive backs, the getting-to-know-you process can take some time. That’s why Devin McCourty and the rest of the new look New England secondary is getting down to business as quickly as possible.

During a break in offseason workouts Thursday at Gillette Stadium, McCourty said that when it comes to getting acclimated to working together, every second counts. That’s why the old faces like McCourty are spending as much time as possible with the new guys like Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.

“I think us as a secondary, the bonding begins now,” he said. “(In year’s past), you guys always saw us in the locker room, we were always together, laughing and joking. That starts now. A group of us, we’re always working out together. We’re running together. We’re in the locker room together. The bonding as a secondary, as a unit, it starts now. The good thing is that everybody is all in and we’re down to have fun and get better together as a unit.

“It’s a great experience right now,” he added. “When you add good football players — veteran football players — with Revis and Browner in our secondary, I think it’s going to be good. Those guys have played a lot of good football, and just at this time of the year, getting that knowledge — our knowledge — and working together, (it)  will be exciting. I think the biggest thing we understand right now is that we have a lot of work. Every year, we have a lot of new guys who have to learn the defense and start working together. So that’s our focus right now, just working to try and get better together as a unit.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Celtics’ mock draft a coin flip

Danny Ainge

Danny Ainge

If you’re a Celtics fan, then you know this: Boston has never had lottery luck. This year, the C’€™s tough luck started early. With the lottery still almost a month away, the C’s already lost a coin flip to Utah, breaking the tie for the fourth position.

Here’€™s what losing the coin flip means for the Celtics‘€™ draft selection.

  • 1. The Celtics get one less combination for a top-three pick than the Jazz. This is the least of Danny Ainge‘€™s concerns. Utah has a 10.4 percent chance at the top pick, and Boston has a 10.3 percent shot. The C’€™s also have 11.1 and 12.0 percent chances at second or third, respectively.
  • 2. The Celtics cannot pick fourth. If both teams miss out on a top-three pick, Utah receives the higher draft spot. As a result, Boston has a 66.6 percent chance of picking between 5-8 if they don’t win a lottery spot.
  • 3. The Celtics’€™ most likely spot to draft is sixth. In fact, there’s a higher chance they pick sixth (34.2 percent) than in the top three (33.4). It’€™s safe to say they’ll be in the top seven, although there’s a 0.3 percent chance they pick eighth.

Until May 20, as I say in every draft piece, nobody can be sure of anything. That being said, let’s pretend the Ping Pong balls fall exactly as they’re suppose to, even if they most certainly will not. Here is my mock draft for picks 1-17 as of April 24, covering both of Ainge’s first-round selections.

  • 1. BUCKS: Jabari Parker (Duke, freshman) — One of the fun things about this draft is that we have no clue who is going to get picked first … or second … or third. But NBA executives believe Parker is the best player in the draft. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported as much. In his poll of 30 NBA execs, 17 would take Parker No. 1 overall (8 said Joel Embiid, 5 went for Andrew Wiggins).
  • 2. 76ERS: Andrew Wiggins (Kansas, freshman) — Wiggins would be a great fit in Philly. They have a young point guard who will soon be Rookie of the Year, and while they still need to find out what Nerlens Noel is, Wiggins would give them the young wing they need to cultivate a star trio.
  • 3. MAGIC: Dante Exum (Australia) — Here’€™s a twist. I’€™m not going to lie; I do not know as much as I would like to about Exum. But I’€™ll tell you what I do know: he’€™s a legit 6-foot-6 combo guard, meaning his size and skill-set are rare to find in the same player. Scouts love him, and the Magic apparently really love him. He has received Penny Hardaway comparisons, which would make Magic fans happy if he avoids injury.
  • 4. JAZZ: Joel Embiid (Kansas, freshman) — Exum’€™s rise makes for an odd pick at four. You absolutely can’€™t pass on a talent like Embiid here, but the Jazz are also stocked with young bigs. They could add him to the rotation, or maybe even work a trade at the top of the draft. As of today, it seems impossible for Embiid to fall past four, and he’€™s still a very likely top-three pick once we see how the lottery plays out.
  • 5. CELTICS: Aaron Gordon (Arizona, freshman) –€“ Somewhat of another surprise here, but Gordon is another player that many feel is on the rise. If Gordon slides further, it is because scouts view him as an NBA ‘tweener. However, Gordon is also seen as a Blake Griffin clone (they even kind of look alike). If that’€™s the case, Gordon is a no-brainer at five. Jared Sullinger and Julius Randle are a tempting combo, but Gordon’€™s defense and versatility makes him a better fit in Boston if they miss out on the top prospects. If the draft were to play out like this, it wouldn’€™t be a surprise for Ainge to trade the pick for a veteran, or even move up to four to get Embiid. If they use it, though, I see Gordon as the best fit.
  • 6. LAKERS: Julius Randle (Kentucky, freshman) — The Lakers have the ability to rebuild through free agency, so this gives them the freedom to simply take the best player on the board. At this point, Randle is most likely just that. If Pau Gasol is re-signed, they can play side-by-side. If Gasol walks, Randle can fill in as his replacement. Or the Lakers could trade the pick for Kevin Love, because they’re the Lakers.
  • 7. KINGS: Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State, sophomore) –€“ Smart has been through a lot of adversity this past season, but there is no denying his talent. The Kings could use a big, strong combo guard, and Smart brings them that. If he keeps his head on straight, Smart has as much potential as almost anyone in the draft.
  • 8. PISTONS: Doug McDermott (Creighton, senior) –€“ The Pistons have a stacked frontcourt, but one of them could be moved this summer. Regardless, McDermott can help them right away. This guy is no Adam Morrison. He can really play. Speaking of Morrison, if for some reason a team jumps Detroit and gets into the top-three (unlikely), this pick goes to the Bobcats. Detroit owns the pick top-eight protected.
  • 9. CAVALIERS: Noah Vonleh (Indiana, freshman) — Vonleh has the talent to be selected higher, but it’€™s hard to argue with the names above him. Vonleh probably has the most upside on the board here, so the Cavs should roll with him. Cleveland is a mess right now, though, so who knows how their offseason will play out?
  • 10. 76ERS: Gary Harris (Michigan State, sophomore) –€“ If the Sixers do add Wiggins to what they already have, they would have a ton of raw talent to develop. Harris gives them more of a sure thing. He’€™s not going to blow anyone away with his game, but he is very solid in all aspects, plays hard and can score the ball.
  • 11. NUGGETS: Dario Saric (Croatia) — Saric is a 6-foot-10 forward that plays inside and outside. He has been called a “point power forward€,” and for a team like Denver with a lot of bangers down low, Saric could bring them some versatility.
  • 12. MAGIC: Tyler Ennis (Syracus, freshman) — Ennis is a perfect pick for the Magic. Jameer Nelson is on his way out, and even though they already have Exum in this draft, the two can play in the backcourt together. The beauty of taking Exum is that they can use him at either guard spot, which keeps their options open with this pick (via the Knicks). Ennis is a real gamer and always seems to keep his cool.
  • 13. TIMBERWOLVES: Nik Stauskas (Michigan, sophomore) –€“ Stauskas is another guy climbing the board, and rightfully so. He can be a very solid off-guard in the league if he reaches his potential. He is a spectacular shooter, and an underrated athlete. He would fit well with the Wolves.
  • 14. SUNS: K.J. McDaniels (Clemson, junior) — McDaniels, believe it or not, is one of the most explosive players in the draft. The Suns had 48 wins this season, so they want help right away for a playoff push next year. McDaniels is 21 years old, and his game should easily translate to the league.
  • 15. HAWKS: T.J. Warren (N.C. State, sophomore) — Another ACC star that gets overlooked. Warren actually beat out Parker for ACC Player of the Year this past season, averaging 24.9 points his sophomore season. Warren could bring the Hawks the wing scoring they need right away.
  • 16. BULLS: James Young (Kentucky, freshman) — At this point, you remember Young for his insane slam over seemingly the entire UConn squad in the championship game. But getting to the rim is just part of Young’€™s game. He is a fantastic shooter, and the Bulls always seem to be looking for wing scorers, especially after the loss of Luol Deng. (This pick is from the Bobcats).
  • 17. CELTICS: Shabazz Napier (UConn, senior) — Call it a hometown pick, but this is a smart one. Napier is more of a sure thing to become a star than any player left on the board, so it really is an easy decision. Whether Rajon Rondo is in Boston or not (I believe he will be), Napier is the guy to take here. Shabazz gets to come home and grow into the star he likely will become. This is a best-player-on-the-board scenario. It just happens to be a hometown guy that plays the same position as your best player.

(Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow)

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Bruins won’t let Henrik Zetterberg distract them from Pavel Datsyuk

DETROIT — Mike Babcock used the expression “who knows?” when talking about whether game-time decision Henrik Zetterberg will play in Game 4 against the Bruins.

Claude Julien thinks he knows.

“In my mind, he’s going to be there tonight,” Julien said.

Zetterberg has not played an NHL game since February 8 and had back surgery on Feb. 21 after playing one Olympic game. He skated on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Justin Abdelkader in Thursday’s morning skate, suggesting he will be in the lineup and play on Detroit’s top line. Babcock did note that he must first be cleared by a doctor.

Babcock matched Datsyuk’s line against David Krejci‘s in Game 3. If he does that again Thursday, it will be interesting for a couple of reasons. For starters, it could potentially make that top line a handful for Krejci’s trio. Having Datsyuk play against a line not centered by Patrice Bergeron is one thing, but Datsyuk and Zetterberg together is a different animal.

For Krejci, his focus won’t change if Zetterberg’s in the lineup. As he sees it, there is one man that absolutely has to be accounted for, and that’s Datsyuk.

“You know what? [Zetterberg] is a good player, but Datsyuk is Datsyuk and we still have to be aware of Datsyuk any time he’s on the ice,” Krejci said.

The Bruins have held Datsuk to one goal on four shots on goal in the first three games of the series. In total, Detroit has scored just two goals through three games.

With Zetterberg skating with Datsyuk, Krejci would welcome the challenge of facing such a line. Krejci has led two of the last three postseasons in scoring, but has no points thus far as he has been tasked with keeping Detroit’s offense quiet, especially in Game 3. That’s different from some other series, but it’s working out for Boston.

“It’s kind of fun,” Krejci said. “For most of the year, you’re facing lines that are trying to shut you down and you’re fighting through it. This time, it’s a little bit different. We’re trying to shut their line down. It’s kind of fun. It’s a little bit challenging at times, but I’ve been having lots of fun this series so far.”

If Datsyuk’s line with Zetterberg does play against Krejci’s line, it also means that a player returning from a back injury will have to take regular shifts against Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla — two very physical players — in his first game back.

Asked whether he thought Zetterberg would be up to that physical challenge, Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith laughed.

“Are you serious? Like yeah, obviously I think he can,” Smith said. “I mean, the harder the competition, the better Z is. You look at series before where you have [Ryan] Getzlaf and [Corey] Perry, who are big boys. He just came in and stepped in really well there and then he had to go against [Marian] Hossa and [Jonathan] Toews and just kind of toyed with them.

“He’s an unbelievable player. He’s a top-notch player. Yeah, any first line on any team is going to be tough to come in for your first game, but that’s the type of player he is. He’s a competitor.”

Regardless of which line plays against Datsyuk and Zetterberg, you can bet Zdeno Chara will be on the ice against them. Zetterberg scored two five-on-five goals this season when both Chara and Bergeron were on the ice, which is fairly unheard of.

“They’re very dangerous,” Chara said of Datsyuk and Zetterberg being teamed together. “They play really well together. They know about each other pretty well, even without looking at each other, they know every time where they’re at. It’s a really good line with them being together.”

Blog Author: 
DJ Bean

Absolutely no surprise as Patrice Bergeron a finalist for Selke

Patrice Bergeron won his first Selke in 2011-12. (AP)

Patrice Bergeron won his first Selke in 2011-12. (AP)

DETROIT — To the surprise of no one, Patrice Bergeron finished in the top three in Selke voting for the trophy annually awarded to the league’s best defensive forward.

The other nominees were Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews; Bergeron will in all likelihood win, with Kopitar likely finishing second and Toews coming in third.

Bergeron won his first Selke in the 2011-12 season and just barely lost to Toews last season. With a 30-goal season, the most faceoff wins and first-and-second place finishes in Corsi and CorsiRel, respectively, this regular season, Bergeron appears to be in line for his second Selke.

‘€œI’€™ve always been taught to play the game that way ‘€“ both sides of the ice,’€ Bergeron said Thursday. ‘€œGrowing up playing junior my coach put a lot of emphasis on that and I tried to work on my faceoffs, as well. I came into the league and guys like Ted Donato, and other older guys that were taking a lot of pride in that aspect of the game helped me through it. Obviously, with the coaching staff here now, that’€™s something we put a lot of work on and I’€™m trying to get better at it.’€

Zdeno Chara is the main reason as to why the Bruins are such a great defensive team, but its forwards — most notably Bergeron, who plays against other teams’ top lines — is why Boston regularly finishes with one of the league’s top goal-differentials.

“I think there’s no [surprise] about the nomination,” Chara said of Bergeron. “Even before it was announced, a lot of people knew that he would be one of the finalists. [It's] well-deserved; he works really hard on both ends of the ice. He does so many things offensively, defensively that it’s nice that he’s recognized again. I’m sure he’s probably going to be one of the favorites to win it.”

Bergeron’s 30-goal season was the second of his career, as he scored 31 in the 2005-06 season. Given that he never cheats offensively or risks a potential odd-man rush for the sake of a scoring opportunity, the consensus is that he could score much more if he didn’t such a responsible game.

Yet throughout his career, Bergeron has never cared to find out just what would happen if he sacrificed two-way play for scoring. That sense of responsibility is why he wears an ‘A’ on his sweater and why the Bruins pay him handsomely. Next year, Bergeron will begin an eight-year, $52 million contract that makes him the team’s highest-paid forward.

‘€œThat’€™s the way I want to play the game,’€ Bergeron said. ‘€œIt does feel natural for me to play both sides of the ice.’€

Blog Author: 
DJ Bean

Red Sox minor league roundup: The bigger picture for Allen Webster; Will Middlebrooks faces heat; Jamie Callahan bounces back; A triples machine in Greenville

Right-hander Allen Webster had his best outing of the 2014 season on Wednesday. (AP)

Right-hander Allen Webster had his best outing of the 2014 season on Wednesday. (AP)

It would have been easy for the Red Sox to summon Allen Webster to the big leagues on Wednesday. They needed a pitcher capable of providing innings in case anything went off the rails with John Lackey, given that the team’s bullpen had been pushed to obscene (11 innings) lengths in the prior two days. Webster, whose day it was to start in Pawtucket, would have given the team the possibility of a significant workload if needed.

But the Sox resisted the temptation to do so, instead electing to bring up Alex Wilson for the day. The reason?

“Didn’t want to disrupt Webster’s starting rotation work there. We felt like a two-inning reliever is what we needed, which Alex has done,” Sox manager John Farrell told reporters. “Familiarity with the role. That’s why Alex is here.”

The Sox are mindful of what occurred a year ago, when Webster got off to a spectacular start in spring training and then April in Pawtucket, but started to see his dominant early performance get derailed once he started shuttling up and down between Pawtucket and the big leagues. He seemed to struggle with the transitions, lost confidence along the way and went from a pitcher who looked like he was on the cusp of being a big league-ready starter to one who looked lost.

And so, Webster remained in Pawtucket this time, under different circumstances than the ones that had the Sox looking for opportunities to bring him to the big leagues last year. He’s struggled through four starts, permitting more walks (12) than strikeouts (11) in 20 innings.

The decision to leave Webster in Triple-A was rewarded by his best outing of the year. For just the third time in his Triple-A career, he pitched more than six innings, logging 6 1/3 frames in which he attacked the strike zone in a fashion that stood out from his prior outings, walking just one, throwing 66 percent of his pitches (64 of 97) for strikes, punching out five, getting (by the count of Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal) 14 swings and misses and getting seven outs via groundball (including his first six of the game).

It was the sort of performance — mid-90s velocity with the ability to get grounders and swing-and-misses while throwing strikes — that points to the considerable potential the pitcher possesses. Now, he must start showing that he can achieve such results consistently. Leaving him in Pawtucket on Wednesday may have been a critical foundation for that pursuit.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-1 WIN VS. ROCHESTER (TWINS)

(BOX)

– For the second time in as many rehab games, third baseman Will Middlebrooks faced a top prospect with tremendous velocity and stuff and came away with a rough line to show for it. He went 0-for-3, striking out in all three plate appearances against giant Twins prospect (and former Red Sox draftee — whom the Sox wanted to sign so badly that they sent a front office cabal on owner John Henry‘s private jet to the pitcher’s doorstep in Indiana) Alex Meyer, who hit 99 mph on the McCoy Stadium gun.

“€œI asked a coach, ‘€˜Who’€™d he make mad? Why is he here? Are there five guys better than him in Minnesota?’€™’€ Middlebrooks told the Providence Journal. “I don’€™t know what his deal is. I just know that today he was nasty.”

Middlebrooks will get one more rehab game. He’s in the PawSox lineup on Thursday morning. He’s expected to be activated for the weekend series in Toronto.

– Middlebrooks was replaced for the top of the eighth by Garin Cecchini, who jumped on a 2-0 fastball away and up from left-hander Edgar Ibarra and drove it to left-center for a two-run double. Though Cecchini’s numbers to date this year against lefties (.273/.273/.364) have been modest, he’s had a consistently impressive approach throughout his minor league career against players of both handedness, contributing to the impression of him as a near-lock as a future big league everyday player.

Bryce Brentz went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk — the 11th free pass he’s now taken in 20 games, matching his total from his first 42 games of 2013 in Pawtucket. Brentz is hitting .316/.567/.474 when ahead in the count.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: POSTPONED AT BINGHAMTON (METS)

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 4-2 WIN VS. LYNCHBURG (BRAVES)

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– Left-hander Corey Littrell allowed one run in five innings, his fourth straight outing to open the year in which he’s permitted two or fewer runs. To date, the 22-year-old — who owns a 2.08 ERA — has punched out more than a batter an inning (22 in 21 2/3 innings) with eight walks. Interestingly, he’s been dominant to this stage against righties, who own a .204 average with 19 strikeouts and three walks against him; fellow lefties have hit him at a .360 clip with five walks and three strikeouts.

– Right-fielder Aneury Tavarez, a hyperaggressive hitter with the ability to put a charge into the ball, launched his second homer of the year, and now has four homers among his six hits in seven games. He’s hitting .231/.310/.577 in the early going.

– Right-hander Pat Light has been promoted to High-A Salem from Single-A Greenville.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 6-0 WIN VS. ASHEVILLE (ROCKIES)

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– Right-hander Jamie Callahan, given seven days of rest between starts instead of the typical five after getting shelled for five runs on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings in his prior outing, rebounded with five shutout innings. The 19-year-old worked out of the stretch and around trouble for much of the game, as he permitted four hits (two doubles, two singles), walked three and uncorked a wild pitch while throwing just 48 of 90 pitches (53 percent) for strikes, but he also showed an ability to pitch out of jams, with four strikeouts and six groundball outs.

– Though Carlos Asuaje has played second, third and left field thus far this year, the 22-year-old has taken up unofficial residence at third base. He continued his outstanding start on Wednesday by going 3-for-4 with a double and a triple. His five triples this year are second most in all of minor league baseball. The development comes as somewhat surprising given that he had 12 doubles and one triple (along with one homer) in his pro debut with Lowell last year, but Asuaje insisted that his cluster of three-baggers is not accidental.

“I took a long time getting out of the box before,’€ Asuaje told the Greenville News. ‘€œThis year, in spring training, I worked to speed that up. Last year, I hit a lot of doubles. This year, I’€™m getting more triples because of that. It was definitely an adjustment I had to make.’€

Asuaje has 11 extra-base hits in his first 15 games this year, and owns a robust line of .396/.492/.698 with an equal number of walks (9) and strikeouts (9).

– Shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin went 1-for-4 and stole his second base in as many games and his fourth (in four attempts) this year.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier