Red Sox Reliever Phillips Valdez Pitching Himself ‘Into Bigger Role,’ Ron Roenicke Says

One week into the 2020 season, Red Sox relievers own the 15th-best ERA (4.54), the 15th-best FIP (4.21), and the 20th-best fWAR (0.0) in baseball. Put simply, the Boston bullpen has been rather mediocre to begin things this year, which is understandable given the current state the starting rotation is in.

Despite that ‘mediocire’ notion, there have been a handful of Sox relievers who have stuck out in a positive way thus far, and one of them worked 2 2/3 scoreless innings against the Yankees on Friday night. His name? Phillips Valdez.

Yes, the right-hander scattered three hits and struck out three batters in relief of Ryan Weber in Friday’s series-opening loss to New York. With that outing in mind, Valdez has yet to give up a run through his first three appearances and 5 2/3 innings pitched as a member of the Red Sox.

Originally claimed off waivers by Boston from the Seattle Mariners back in February, the 29-year-old hurler has struck out more than 27% of the 22 hitters he has faced so far this season while holding them to a .200 clip.

Because of his strong first impression, Valdez could find himself in more high-leverage spots out of the Red Sox bullpen in the near future. His manager, Ron Roenicke, said as much when speaking with reporters Friday night.

“He’s pitching himself maybe into a bigger role,” Roenicke explained. “That’s why we stuck with him today because he’s been throwing the ball well when he starts going through some of these really good hitters and getting them out.”

Some of those “really good hitters” Valdez has gotten out thus far include Aaron Judge and Luke Voit, who both fell victim to 84 mph changeups from the Dominican Republic national on Friday.

Signed by the Indians as a 17-year-old out of the DR back in 2008, Valdez made his major-league debut with the Texas Rangers last June and is under team control with Boston through the end of the 2025 season.

Per Statcast, the slender 6-foot-2, 160 lb. righty primarily works with a changeup and sinker, while his slider and four-seam fastball lean more towards secondary pitches.

At the time he joined the Sox during the first version of spring training earlier this year, Valdez seemed like a long shot to make Boston’s Opening Day roster. But, coming out of the pandemic-induced layoff, the club obviously liked what they saw during Summer Camp and he was in there pitching against the Orioles last Friday.

Now, after getting off to a hot start with his new team, Valdez could become a legitimate weapon out of the Red Sox bullpen if he continues to prove that he can handle tougher situations as a reliever.

Ryan Weber Only Makes It Into Fourth Inning as Red Sox Drop First Series of Season to Orioles

For the first time this season, the Red Sox find themselves in the midst of a losing streak as they dropped their second straight to the Orioles on Sunday afternoon.

Ryan Weber, fresh off making his first ever Opening Day roster, struggled in his first official start of 2020. The right-hander yielded six runs, all of which were earned, on six hits and three walks, all while failing to record a single strikeout, over 3 2/3 innings of work.

The O’s offense got on the Sox starter right away on Sunday, with Rio Ruiz crushing a two-run homer off a first-pitch, 85 MPH cutter in the first.

Following that mishap, Weber managed to retire three of the four hitters he faced in the top half of the second, which seemed encouraging at the time until he served up four additional runs over the next two innings.

Weber’s day came to a close as soon as Anthony Santander finished rounding the bases after crushing a 3-2, 80 MPH cutter from the 29-year-old into the Red Sox bullpen with two outs in the top of the fourth.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 65 (42 strikes), Weber relied on his sinker exactly 40% of the time he was on the mound Sunday and topped out at 89.6 MPH with the pitch. His next outing should come against the Yankees in the Bronx on Friday night.

In relief of Weber, Colten Brewer entered with two outs in the fourth, got out of the inning unscathed, and also tossed a scoreless top half of the fifth.

From there, Marcus Walden and Matt Barnes combined to walk four Orioles over three shutout innings of relief in the sixth, seventh, and eighth, while Austin Brice surrendered one run on a Chris Davis RBI double in the ninth.

That proved to be a back-breaking hit, as Baltimore went on to take the series by a final score of 7-4.

On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against veteran left-hander and Orioles starter Wade LeBlanc on Sunday.

Already trailing by a pair of runs before even taking their first at-bats of the day in this one, the Sox offense was catapulted by Christian Vazquez, who put his side on the board in the second inning with his first home run of 2020, a 389-foot solo shot over the Monster. 2-1.

Fast forward to the fifth, and another right-handed hitter went deep for the first time this season, as Kevin Pillar led the inning off by depositing a 2-2, 87 MPH sinker from LeBlanc onto Lansdowne Street. His first homer as a member of the Red Sox made it a 6-2 game in favor of Baltimore.

In the sixth, a leadoff single courtesty of Jackie Bradley Jr. and a two-out double off the bat of Rafael Devers, his first hit of the year, chased LeBlanc out as the Orioles brought in right-hander Miguel Castro to face off against Xander Bogaerts.

After fanning against Castro on Saturday, Bogaerts rebounded by lacing a two-run double through the left side of the infield to score both Bradley Jr. and Devers. Just like that, Boston was only trailing by two.

A las, nothing more came for the Boston bats as they went down rather quietly in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings to ultimately come up short in this one by a final score of 7-4.

Some notes and observations from this loss:

From MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith: Ryan Weber has a 6.55 ERA in 12 major league starts (55 innings, 40 earned runs).

The Orioles went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and still managed to win this game by three runs.

Speaking of runs scored, the Red Sox have scored six over their last 18 innings. That’s not going to get the job done.

Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll welcome the New York Mets into town for a four-game, home-at-home series beginning on Monday.

Left-hander Josh Osich will serve as the opener for Boston and will be making the first start of his career in doing so, while the Mets will roll with veteran right-hander Michael Wacha.

Osich, who turns 32 in September, tossed a scoreless ninth inning on Saturday in his Red Sox debut.

First pitch Monday is scheduled for 7:35 p.m. eastern time on NESN and WEEI. Red Sox looking to halt a two-game skid.

 

Red Sox Lineup: Andrew Benintendi Sits, Alex Verdugo Gets Start in Left Field in Series Finale Against Orioles

After managing just two runs in Saturday’s loss to the Orioles, the Red Sox have again shook up their lineup for Sunday’s series finale at Fenway Park.

With veteran left-hander Wade LeBlanc getting the start for Baltimore, the left-handed-hitting Andrew Benintendi and Mitch Moreland will start this one on the bench in favor of Kevin Pillar and Michael Chavis.

Alex Verdugo, on the other hand, will be making his second consecutive start for the Sox and his first as a left fielder batting out of the seven-hole. The fact that he is in against a left-handed starter likely has to do with his three-hit performance on Saturday, while Benintendi is a chilling 0-for-9 to start the new season.

Other notable lineup notes for Sunday include Jose Peraza batting out of the leadoff spot, J.D. Martinez remaining in the two-hole for the third straight game, Rafael Devers remaining in the three-hole despite going 0-for-his-first-9 at the plate, Xander Bogaerts returning after starting Saturday’s game on the bench and batting cleanup, Kevin Pillar batting fifth and starting in right field once again, Christian Vazquez returning after a day off on Saturday and batting sixth, and Jackie Bradley Jr. rounding things up and starting in center field.

Among Boston’s starting nine, Martinez by far has had the most success off LeBlanc, as the 33-year-old slugger owns a 1.856 OPS in 12 career plate appearances against the O’s starter.

All this is coming as Red Sox right-hander Ryan Weber, fresh off making his first even major-league Opening Day roster, will be making his first start of the 2020 campaign for Boston. I believe Red Sox manager Ron Roenick said the goal is for Weber to go at least five innings in this one.

First pitch Sunday is scheduled for 1:35 p.m. eastern time on NESN and WEEI. Red Sox going for the series victory.

Martin Perez Struggles in Debut as Red Sox Suffer First Loss of 2020 Season Against Orioles

The dream of the Red Sox going undefeated this season has flown out the window, as the club fell to the Orioles by a final score of 7-2 on Saturday afternoon.

Martin Perez, making his Red Sox debut, got the starting nod for Boston in this one, and let’s just say his Red Sox career did not get off to the best of starts.

That being the case because over five innings of work, the left-hander surrendered five runs, four of which were earned, on six hits and two walks to go along with a pair of strikeouts on the day.

If there are any positives to take away from Perez’s first outing of 2020, it’s the fact that all five runs he gave up to the Orioles came within the first two innings, as Renato Nunez clubbed a two-run double and proceeded to score on a Rafael Devers fielding error in the first, and Hanser Alberto and Jose Iglesias plated a pair on back-to-back one-out knocks in the second.

From there, Perez was able to escape the top half of the second thanks to some poor base running on the part of Alberto, then proceeded to sit down nine of the final 10 hitters he faced heading into the middle of the fifth to end his day on a more positive note.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 84 (52 strikes), the 29-year-old hurler turned to his trusty cutter nearly 42% of the time he was on the mound Saturday, inducing three whiffs with the pitch. He also topped out at 94 mph with his four-seam fastball, a pitch he threw just eight times.

Falling to 0-1 on the young season, Perez will look to bounce back in his next time out, which should come against the Mets in Queens on Thursday.

In relief of Perez, the Red Sox bullpen combined to yield two runs over the final four innings of Saturday’s contest. Heath Hembree was not a part of that effort, though, as the right-hander looked solid in his season debut by working a scoreless top of the sixth.

Newcomer Dylan Covey, on the other hand, was the Sox reliever who gave up those two runs. The 28-year-old served up a two-run double to Anthony Santander in the seventh which saw his side’s deficit increase to five runs, but he did somewhat rebound by fanning two in a 1-2-3 eighth inning.

And in the ninth, just looking to keep the deficit the same as it was, another newcomer, left-hander Josh Osich, needed just eight pitches to toss a perfect frame of relief in his Red Sox debut.

On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup, fresh off plating 13 runs on Friday, was matched up against a familiar foe in Orioles starter Alex Cobb on Saturday, and they had a much more difficult time getting anything across while matched up against the veteran right-hander.

In fact, the only time the Boston bats managed to get to Cobb came in his final inning of work, when with one out in the sixth, Mitch Moreland took the 32-year-old deep to right off a 1-1, 93 mph fastball for his and his side’s first home run of 2020.

At the time, that cut the Orioles’ lead down to four runs at 5-1, and after O’s manager Brandon Hyde swapped out Cobb for left-hander Paul Fry, three straight two-out hits from Alex Verdugo, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Kevin Plawecki resulted in Boston’s second run of the inning crossing the plate courtesy of an infield RBI single off the bat of the Sox backstop. 5-2.

Another pitching change in the inning saw the pinch-hitting Xander Bogaerts come up to the plate representing the tying run with runners at the corners against Miguel Castro, but all the three-time Silver Slugger could do was whiff on three pitches to simultaneously kill the rally and end the inning.

That scoring chance would prove to be the Sox’ best chance to make things interesting, as J.D. Martinez and Verdugo were the only hitters to reach base for Boston the rest of the way in what would turn out to be a disappointing 7-2 defeat at the hands of the Orioles.

Some notes and observations from this loss:

Alex Verdugo collected three hits in his Red Sox debut, two of which came against left-handed pitching.

Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers are a combined 0-for-18 with nine strikeouts to begin the season.

Jackie Bradley Jr. is still an elite defensive center fielder. He also collected another two hits on Saturday.

From MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith:

Following his Red Sox debut, Dylan Covey was subsequently optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket.

Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll look for their first series win of the year over Baltimore on Sunday afternoon.

Right-hander Ryan Weber, fresh off making his first career Opening Day roster, will be getting the ball for Boston, while fellow southpaw Wade LeBlanc will be doing the same for the Orioles.

First pitch Sunday is scheduled for 1:35 p.m. eastern time on NESN and WEEI once again. Sox looking to bounce back.

After Four-Hit Debut, Jose Peraza Moving up in Red Sox Lineup

After going 4-for-5 with two doubles and two RBI in his Red Sox debut on Friday night, second baseman Jose Peraza has moved up in Boston’s lineup for Saturday’s contest against the Baltimore Orioles.

For the first time in his Red Sox career, Peraza will be hitting out of the five-hole less than 24 hours after he was the club’s No. 9 hitter on Opening Day.

In his five plate appearances on Friday, Peraza saw a total of just eight pitches, proving a patient approach might not work best for every hitter.

“He doesn’t waste a lot of time,” Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said of Peraza postgame. “First pitch, if he sees it and it’s in there, he rips it.” The average exit velocity of Peraza’s four hits was 95.6 mph off the bat.

Prior to coming over to Boston in December, the Venezuela native accrued 19 plate appearances out of the five-hole over four seasons with the Reds and posted a .316 batting average in that spot.

Cincinnati non-tendered Peraza back in December after he mustered an OPS+ of 62 in 2019, which prompted the Red Sox to sign the infielder to a one-year deal just days later.

During Summer Camp workouts earlier this month, Peraza seemed very confident that he would be able to bounce back offensively in 2020 when speaking with reporters via Zoom on July 14.

“Offensively I feel like I’m a completely different person,” he said. “Because I put in so much work during the offseason and then obviously during (spring training) camp and even during this pandemic while we were waiting, just making the minor tweaks. Offensively I’m a different person than I was back in Cincinnati.”

It was only one game, but Peraza could prove to be a key piece of the Red Sox’ infield puzzle this season and beyond seeing how he is under team control through 2022.

Kevin Pillar, Jose Peraza Shine in Debuts as Red Sox Open 2020 Season With 13-2 Rout of Orioles

The Red Sox are undefeated in the Chaim Bloom/Ron Roenicke era, as the club picked up their first win in their first game of the 2020 season in a 13-2 whopping of the Orioles at a fanless Fenway Park on Friday night.

Nathan Eovaldi, making his first career Opening Day start, got the nod for Boston in this one, and as he had done during spring training and Summer Camp, impressed once more to kick off his second full season with the Sox.

Working six one-run innings on Friday, the right-hander scattered five hits and one walk to go along with four strikeouts on the evening.

That lone Baltimore tally surrendered by Eovaldi came in his final frame of work, when Renato Nunez drove in Anthony Santander on a two-out, RBI double with two outs in the sixth.

Other than that one blip though, Eovaldi looked solid, accidentally wore a No. 7 jerseyfor an inning, worked at a consistent pace, and ended his outing by fanning Chris Davis on an 0-2, 89 MPH cutter at the top of the zone.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 89, 67 of which were strikes, the 30-year-old hurler relied on his four-seam fastball nearly 40% of the time he was on the mound Friday, inducing one swing and miss and topping out at 100 MPH with the pitch.

Able to start the truncated season 1-0, Eovaldi will look to pick up from where he left off in his next time out, which should come against the Mets in Queens next Wednesday.

In relief of Eovaldi, right-hander Austin Brice made his Red Sox debut by coming on for the seventh inning, and he served up a solo homer to Rio Ruiz on a 94 MPH fastball in his lone frame of work.

From there, Phillips Valdez, another slender righty making his team debut for Boston, plunked two Orioles and struck out two more over a scoreless top of the eighth and ninth to ultimately secure the 13-2 victory for his side.

On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup, with J.D. Martinez batting out of the two-hole, was matched up against Orioles veteran left-hander Tommy Milone to start things out in their first game of the season.

Perhaps they needed to shake some rust off during their first go around, but after going down quietly in the first and second innings, the Sox offense was jump-started by Jackie Bradley Jr. and newcomer Jose Peraza in the bottom half of the third.

Bradley Jr. led the frame off by ripping a leadoff double off Milone to the left field corner. Peraza followed a few moments later with a two-bagger of his own to plate Bradley Jr. and give the Sox the early one-run lead.

As it turned out, doubles would be the theme of the night for the Boston bats, as J.D. Martinez drove in Peraza by pulling a one-out RBI double to left field once more, and Kevin Pillar plated both Martinez and Rafael Devers on another two-base hit to make it a four-run contest before it was even a third of the way over.

In the fourth, the Sox lineup took advantage of Orioles reliever Cody Carroll, who seemingly couldn’t find the strike zone, by loading the bases on two walks and a single and scoring yet another run on a bases-loaded walk drawn by Andrew Benintendi.

With the bases still full and no outs recorded, Martinez nearly lifted a grand slam to right field off new O’s reliever and old friend Travis Lakins, but he settled for a two-run ground rule double instead to increase his side’s advantage to seven runs.

A Rafael Devers groundout to third was good for the first out of the inning, but three consecutive one-out, run-scoring knocks off the bats of Xander Bogaerts, Pillar, and Christian Vazquez put the Sox ahead 10-0.

Fast forward to the sixth, and the Sox’ No. 8 and No. 9 hitters were at it again, as Bradley Jr. and Peraza all but put this one to bed with back-to-back, run-producing doubles off David Hess, which in turn made it a 13-1 contest.

As previously mentioned, Baltimore would tack on a run of their own a half inning later, but the Red Sox pretty much sailed to their first win of the 2020 season in a 13-2 rout of the lowly Orioles.

Long story short, the Sox doubled the O’s to death.

Some notes and observations from this win:

Kevin Pillar’s Red Sox debut got off to a great start right away in this one.

From MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith:

From MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo:

From MLB Stats:

Starting a season 1-0 for the first time since 2017, the Red Sox will look for win No. 2 against the O’s back at Fenway on Saturday afternoon.

Left-hander Martin Perez will be making his first career start in a Red Sox uniform in the middle game of this weekend series, while familiar foe Alex Cobb will be taking the mound for Baltimore.

First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 1:35 p.m. eastern time on NESN and WEEI.

Alex Verdugo Left Out of Red Sox’ Opening Day Lineup; Outfielder Reassured Ron Roenicke That He ‘Hits Left-Handers Well’

As he is about to embark on his first season with his new team, Alex Verdugo will not be starting for the Red Sox on Opening Day.

With left-hander Tommy Milone getting the start for Baltimore opposite Nathan Eovaldi on Friday night, the 24-year-old outfielder was left out of the Sox’ starting lineup by manager Ron Roenicke in favor of right-handed hitting outfielder Kevin Pillar.

When speaking with reporters prior to Friday’s season opener against the Orioles at Fenway Park, Roenicke addressed this decision, saying that he called Verdugo earlier in the day to let him know that he was not starting against the left-handed starter.

“He reassured me that he does hit left-handers well,” Roenicke said via Zoom in regards to Verdugo’s response. As a reverse splits guy, that is indeed true for the left-handed hitter.

In 106 games played for the Dodgers last season, the Arizona native racked up 109 plate appearances against southpaws. Over the course of those 109 PAs, he slashed .327/.358/.485 with two home runs, nine RBI, and a 121 wRC+. Against right-handed pitching, his OPS dropped by 36 points and his wRC+ dropped by 10 points over 268 plate appearances.

Earlier this month, Verdugo insisted that he wanted to be an everyday player with the Red Sox, but he also acknowledged that he could start the season in a platoon role with his new team.

“I want to play and I want to be a starter,” he said during one of his Summer Camp media sessions. “That’s what everybody comes into the big leagues for. That’s what everybody wants to be. So I want to play every day. But, if they want to do what they have to do, then I’ll follow and I’ll play as hard as I can.”

Perhaps we’ll see Verdugo make his first start with the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon, when right-hander Alex Cobb will be taking the mound for the O’s.

 

Blue Jays to Play Majority of 2020 Home Games in Buffalo, Team Announces

The Blue Jays will play a majority of their home games this season in Buffalo, N.Y., the club officially announced Friday.

Per said statement, the Jays will be taking up residence at Sahlen Field, where the Buffalo Bisons, the club’s Triple-A affiliate, play.

This news comes two days after Toronto’s initial plan to play the majority of its 2020 home games at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pa. fell through after the Pennsylvania Department of Health denied the club’s request to share the ballpark with the Pirates this year while citing the risks that would involve.

Baltimore’s Camden Yards, home of the Orioles, and Dunedin’s TD Ballpark, the Jays’ spring training home, had also been viewed as possible contingency plans for Toronto, but due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in Baltimore County and Florida, those ideas were seemingly thrown out the window.

Instead, after the Canadian government ruled last week that the Blue Jays could not play at Rogers Centre this season, the country’s lone MLB team finally has a home for 2020.

The Blue Jays are scheduled to play the Red Sox 10 times during this truncated 60-game season, and three of those games will now take place in Buffalo from August 25 through August 27 if all goes according to plan.

Blue Jays Still Without a Home Ballpark for 2020 Season as Pittsburgh Plan Unravels

Contrary to what was posted on here earlier Wednesday, the Red Sox will not be traveling to Pittsburgh for their lone road series of the year against the Toronto Blue Jays this season.

That being the case because, according to The Associated Press’ Marc Levy, the Pennsylvania Department of Health will not allow the Jays to play their home games at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

This decision from the PDH comes despite the fact that the Blue Jays and Pirates had already reached an agreement to share the ballpark for this truncated, 60-game season, which for Toronto begins this coming Friday.

With no home ballpark at this point, the Blue Jays have quite a bit of work to do before their “home” opener on July 29 against the Nationals. As a matter of fact, it looks like that series could take place at Nationals Park seeing how the two sides play two games against each other in the nation’s capital right before then.

schedule

As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Mason, “It’s unclear where the Jays go from here. Hypothetically, they could play all 30 of their home games in road cities, but that would leave them at a massive disadvantage.”

Alternative venues the Blue Jays could use for their home games in 2020 include TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla., the home of their spring training facility, and Sahlen Field in Buffalo, NY., the home of their Triple-A affiliate that has been serving as the club’s alternate training site since Summer Camp began.

Baltimore’s Camden Yards has been thrown out there as well.

Orioles Rule Out John Means for Opening Day, Red Sox to Face Tommy Milone Instead

As Opening Day for the 2020 season draws ever closer, the Red Sox were originally planning on facing Orioles left-hander John Means this coming Friday night at Fenway Park.

Those plans have since changed though, as O’s manager Brandon Hyde announced Tuesday that fellow southpaw Tommy Milone will get the Opening Day nod for Baltimore in place of Means.

That being the case because, as Hyde noted over the weekend, Means is dealing with dead arm “fatigue,” something that plagued him last season as well, but should not be viewed as a serious concern in the long-term.

As disappointing as it is that Means will not be making his first career Opening Day start, it has to come as somewhat of a relief for the Red Sox that they will not have to face the 27-year-old hurler later this week.

On his way to finishing second in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2019, Means posted a 2.89 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over five starts and 28 innings of work against Boston last season.

With Means now sidelined, the Sox can prepare to face his replacement in the form of Milone, a 33-year-old veteran journeyman who owns a lifetime 9.33 ERA in four career starts at Fenway Park.