Red Sox Fail to Muster Any Offense in 5-0 Loss to Astros

After falling to the Tigers on Wednesday, the Red Sox saw their losing streak grow to three games on Thursday following a 5-0 defeat at the hands of the Houston Astros at JetBlue Park. They are now 4-8-2 in Grapefruit League play.

Making his first start and third overall appearance for Boston was Kyle Hart, coming off two scoreless innings of relief in his last time out against the Twins this past Friday.

Working the first three innings in this one, the left-hander surrendered two runs, both of which were earned, on three hits and two walks to go along with three strikeouts on the afternoon.

Both of those Astros runs came on one swing of the bat in the top half of the third, when after retiring six of the first nine hitters he faced, Hart yielded a one-out walk to Myles Straw and followed that up by serving up a two-run home run to Kyle Tucker.

That mistake gave Houston the only lead they would need, but Hart was able to rebound by getting the final two outs of the frame in order to end his outing on a more positive note.

As one of several candidates still vying for a spot in the Sox’ rotation, Hart, 27, will probably appear in another game sometime early next week.

In relief of Hart, Brandon Workman tossed a scoreless fourth inning and yielded one run on three hits and a sacrifice fly in the fifth before minor-leaguer Tom Windle came on and finished the inning for him.

From there, Marcus Walden sat down the only three hitters he faced in order in the sixth, left-hander Brian Johnson appeared to be on top of things in the seventh and eighth, but ended up being charged with two runs on three hits and a walk in the ninth before Konner Wade relieved him, allowed an inherited runner to score, and finished up the inning by getting Grae Kessinger to fly out to left.

All in all, Red Sox pitching combined to allow five earned runs on 12 hits, three walks, and 10 strikeouts over nine total innings pitched.

On the other side of things, a Red Sox starting lineup that featured plenty of regulars in Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Michael Chavis, Christian Vazquez, Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Pillar, and Jose Peraza was matched up against Astros right-hander Josh James to begin things on Thursday.

Despite having all those regulars in the lineup though, the Boston bats could not muster much against James, or any other Houston pitcher they faced for that matter.

Five hits, only one of which went for extra base hits, one walk drawn, and one HBP. That’s it.

That lone extra base hit belonged to Michael Chavis, who doubled off James with one out in the second and was subsequently picked off by Garrett Stubbs at third on a failed stolen base attempt.

Other than that, the Sox sent three batters to hit in five of their nine trips to the plate on Thursday. Not much to write home about in what wound up being a 5-0 shutout loss.

Some observations from this defeat:

This game was not televised, so I really do not have much to add here, but I will say that the Red Sox went 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position on Thursday.

Xander Bogaerts in his first start at shortstop this spring: 0-for-2 with another pair of strikeouts.

Out of the 31 players the Astros sent from West Palm Beach for this contest, none were on the team in 2017, so from what I heard on the radio, there didn’t appear to be too many boos from the crowd at JetBlue Park.

Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll head to North Port to take on the Atlanta Braves at their new spring training facility on Friday afternoon.

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez is set to get the start for Boston, while Atlanta has yet to name a starter.

Rodriguez impressed in his spring debut against the Yankees last Saturday, fanning six over three scoreless innings at Fort Myers.

Matt Barnes, Colten Brewer, and R.J. Alvarez are among the Sox pitchers who will follow Rodriguez.

First pitch Friday is scheduled for 1:05 PM EST on ESPN.

Red Sox Add Collin McHugh on One-Year Deal, Designate Hector Velazquez for Assignment

The Red Sox have agreed to a one-year major-league deal with right-hander Collin McHugh. To make room for McHugh on the 40-man roster, fellow right-hander Hector Velazquez was designated for assignment. The club made the transaction official earlier Thursday.

McHugh, 32, had spent the previous six seasons with the Astros, and most recently posted a 4.70 ERA and 4.34 xFIP over 35 appearances (eight starts) and 74 2/3 innings pitched in an injury-shortened 2019 campaign.

According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, McHugh will earn a base salary of $600,000 in 2020, “though performance bonuses related to innings and active days could drive that higher.”

He probably won’t be ready for the start of the season after just recently being cleared to throw following an offseason tenex procedure that alleviated an elbow concern, but once he is up to speed, McHugh is a solid piece to fill out the Sox’ starting rotation in the wake of the concerns surrounding left-hander Chris Sale.

As for Velazquez, the 31-year-old was a potential candidate to take one of those rotation spots, but will now likely begin the year with Triple-A Pawtucket if he does clear waivers.

 

Red Sox Free Agency Targets: Collin McHugh

It’s pretty late to do being one of these with spring training well underway and less than a month ago until Opening Day, but with the news that ace left-hander Chris Sale will start the 2020 season on the injured list, the Red Sox find themselves in need of starting pitching help.

With the news of Sale starting the year on the shelf, in addition to trading David Price to the Dodgers earlier in the month, the Sox’ starting rotation only has three established starting pitchers at the moment in Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Martin Perez.

Guys like Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez could fill in in either the No. 4 or No. 5 spots, and it also appears likely that an opener or two could be used, but that shouldn’t stop chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom from looking at external options as well.

Obviously, with it being the last day of February and all, the free-agent market has essentially been thinned out, but there is still one intriguing name out there in former Astros right-hander Collin McHugh.

According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, the 32-year-old has “recently been given the go-ahead to begin throwing after a [non-surgical] tenex procedure alleviated an elbow concern” and “nearly every team has checked in” on him thanks to his versatility.

Appearing in 35 games, eight of which were starts, for Houston last year, McHugh posted a 4.70 ERA and 4.34 xFIP over 74 2/3 total innings of work while dealing with ongoing right elbow discomfort.

His days of pitching anywhere between 150 to 200 innings in a season are probably behind him and he likely wouldn’t be ready for the start of the 2020 season if he were to sign soon, but there are still plenty of things working in McHugh’s favor.

First off, there’s the versatility piece I mentioned earlier. Maybe it’s just me, but I could see McHugh starting, serving as an opener, or working in relief once he gets up to speed with whatever club he signs with this year.

Second, he probably won’t be demanding much as a free agent. A one-year deal for cheap or even a minor-league deal could get it done. That way, if things didn’t work out, it would not be all that costly to cut ties.

Per MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, the Red Sox now have a little more than $13 million in payroll flexibility to work with before reaching that $208 million luxury tax threshold they got under by dealing Price and Mookie Betts to Los Angeles.

McHugh would surely not command more than 25% of that $13 million as a free agent, so the rewards in this case would far outweigh the risks, in my opinion.

Outside of McHugh, free agent starting pitchers who remain unsigned include old friends Clay Buccholz and Andrew Cashner, Jason Vargas, Clayton Richard, and Marco Estrada.

Red Sox Part Ways With Alex Cora

The Red Sox and manager Alex Cora have mutually agreed to part ways, per a team release.

This news comes in the wake of the Houston Astros firing general manager Jeff Lunhow and manager AJ Hinch on Monday after both were handed down one-year suspensions by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred for the roles they played in Houston’s sign-stealing scandal during the 2017 season.

Cora, who served as Hinch’s bench coach in 2017, played a key role in, “developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit sign,” according to Manfred.

Because of this, the Astros were stripped of their 2020 and 2021 first and second-round picks and fined $5 million.

Although Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Red Sox’ use of illegally decoding signs through the club’s video replay room during the 2018 season is still ongoing, it is believed that Cora is facing ‘harsh’ discipline, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

In his two seasons at the helm with Boston, Cora led the Sox to a historic 119-win season capped off by the club clinching their ninth World Series title in 2018 and followed that with a sub-par 84-win campaign last year.

“I want to thank John, Tom, Sam, the players, our coaching staff and the entire Red Sox organization,” Cora said in a statement Tuesday. “I especially want to thank my family for their love and support.

“I do not want to be a distraction to the Red Sox as they move forward,” added Cora. My two years as manager were the best years of my life. It was an honor to manage these teams and help bring a World Series Championship back to Boston. I will forever be indebted to the organization and the fans who supported me as a player, a manager and in my efforts to help Puerto Rico.

“This is a special place. There is nothing like it in all of baseball, and I will miss it dearly,” he concluded.

Now just about a month out from when pitchers and catchers are due to report in at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Sox ownership and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom have found themselves in quite the predicament with no manager currently in place.

Ron Roenicke, who served as Cora’s bench coach the last two seasons and has managerial experience with the Milwaukee Brewers from 2011 until 2015, is an obvious candidate. He is scheduled to attend Red Sox Winter Weekend at MGM Springfield.

In a span of four months, the Red Sox have parted ways with both the architect and leader of their 2018 World Series-winning team in Dave Dombrowski and Cora.

Now, as the 2020 season looms, turbulent times may be on the horizon with plenty of decisions still to make.

Red Sox Used Video Room Illegally in 2018, per Report

The Red Sox reportedly used their video replay room illegally during the 2018 season, according to The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal.

According to one source who was with the Red Sox during the 2018 season, the club, under new manager Alex Cora, employed a system where, “A staff member in the Red Sox’s video replay room would tell a player the current sign sequence. The player would return to the dugout, delivering the message on foot, rather than through a wearable device or a phone.” Then, “Someone in the [Red Sox’] dugout would relay the information to the baserunner, leaving the runner with two easy steps: Watch the catcher’s signs and, with body movements, tell the hitter what’s coming.”

The baserunner, either on first or second base in this case, would step off the bag with either his left or right foot to let the hitter at the plate know what type of pitch was coming.

If the opposition managed to change up their signs in the middle of a game, the Red Sox would send a player from the dugout to the video replay room to decipher the new signals. A process that surely did not take all that long, as Boston’s video room is just a few feet away from the dugout entrance.

Rosenthal does note that Major League Baseball began to implement in-game, in-person video security at the start of the 2018 postseason play, and club sources did say that, “this system did not appear to be effective or even viable,” that October, when the Red Sox went on to win the World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games.

Despite that though, one Red Sox source did tell The Athletic that the team had video monitors in their “back pocket,” meaning they could still act if they could still turn to the video if they felt inclined to do so.

This news comes nearly two months after Drellich and Rosenthal reported that three major-league managers, including Cora, were a part of the league’s investigation into the Astros stealing signs in 2017.

At that time, Cora served as Houston’s bench coach under AJ Hinch, and the third-year manager did not comment about the ongoing investigation at the Winter Meetings in San Diego last month.

As things stand right now, it seems as though this drama could drag out for quite some time. Stay tuned if more information becomes available in the meantime.

Red Sox Manager Alex Cora Reportedly Played ‘Key Role’ in Astros’ Sign Stealing Fiasco in 2017

Red Sox manager Alex Cora will be interviewed by Major League Baseball as part of the league’s investigation into the Houston Astros stealing signs throughout the 2017 season, per The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal.

According to the report, Cora, “played a key role in devising the sign-stealing system the team used that season.”

Cora served as bench coach under manager A.J. Hinch during the Astros’ World Series-winning campaign in 2017. New Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who played his final season with Houston as the team’s designated hitter, will also be interviewed.

In case you missed this news from Tuesday, the basic premise is that the Astros had a system at Minute Maid Park where a camera was set up in the outfield so that it could capture what the opposing team’s catcher was laying down to his pitcher. With that information coming through on a monitor and some decoding of said signs, someone in the Astros dugout could signal to the hitter at the plate what kind of pitch was on the way, which was done through making, “a loud noise — specifically, banging on a trash can, which sat in the tunnel,” behind Houston’s dugout.

This much was confirmed by former Astros right-hander Mike Fiers, who was with the club from July 2015 until the end of the 2017 season.

What does this have to do with Cora and the Red Sox? Well, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the league spoke with Sox bullpen coach Craig Bjornson, who came over from Houston with Cora back in 2017, on Wednesday.

Cora appeared on WEEI’s Dale & Keefe show on Thursday, and was asked about his involvement in what is currently transpiring.

“I appreciate the question,” Cora said. “…I have talked to MLB and I’ll leave it at that.”

As for what is in store for Cora and the Sox, more is sure to come as the league’s investigation progresses, so stay tuned for that.

As Opt-Out Decision Looms, J.D. Martinez Is Officially on the Clock

Even though there is still one game remaining in this year’s installent of the World Series between the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros on Wednesday night, a former Astro in J.D. Martinez is on the clock.

Yes, the 32-year-old now has until 5 PM eastern time next Monday to decide whether or not he will opt out of the remaining three years and $62.5 million of his contract and become a free agent.

Martinez originally inked a five-year, $110 million deal with Boston back in February 2018. A deal that included built in opt-outs after the 2019, 2020, and 2021 seasons.

In the two seasons he has spent with the Sox to this point, the Florida native ranks second among qualified American League hitters in home runs (79), first in RBI (235), sixth in runs scored (209), and second in slugging percentage (.593).

While introducing new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom on Monday, Red Sox principal owner John Henry said that he does not know what Martinez’s decision will be and that, “We’ll find out very soon.”

A client of super agent Scott Boras, Martinez may be enticed to enter free agency once again, as at 32, he may only have one last chance to earn a sizable contract in terms of both length and dollar figures.

In the following days leading into Monday evening, the Red Sox will have exclusive negotiating rights with their two-time All-Star slugger, as well as their other free agents. Martinez could reach a decision as early as 9 AM on Thursday, per MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith.

If Martinez were to opt out of his contract, the Sox would owe him a buyout in the form of $2.5 million. They would also more than likely extend him a qualifying offer in this scenario, which will be worth $17.8 million this offseason. That way, any club that signed Martinez would also owe Boston a compensatory draft pick, one that would fall after the fourth round of the 2020 amateur draft.

Given how Henry and chairman Tom Werner have essentially made it clear that they would like to cut down on payroll this winter, it should be interesting to see how serious the club is about bringing Martinez back if he does indeed opt out.