After suffering a slight tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in early March, Red Sox top pitching prospect Bryan Mata has recently restarted his throwing program, manager Alex Cora said earlier Sunday morning.
Mata, who experienced soreness behind his right triceps during the early stages of spring training, underwent an MRI last month that revealed a slight tear in his UCL.
At that time, the right-hander was to be shut down for at least three weeks as the Sox opted for rest and treatment as opposed to surgery.
On April 4, Cora revealed that Mata had indeed restarted his throwing program.
“He started his throwing program towards the end [of camp],” Cora said Sunday. “I’m not sure where he’s at right now as far as [distance], but I know he started his throwing program when we left camp.”
Mata, who turns 22 in May, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No.4 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking tops among pitchers in the organization.
The 6-foot-3, 227 pounder out of Venezuela was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster in November 2019. With no minor-league season in 2020, the righty spent his year developing at the club’s alternate training site — where his fastball reached 97 mph — and fall instructional league and was viewed as arguably the top starting rotation depth option the Red Sox had to offer at the minor-league level.
With this recent setback, though, it would seem to be in the Sox’ best interest to not rush Mata back and instead see how he responds to the throwing program he has recently started again before determining the next steps in this rehab process.
(Picture of Bryan Mata: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Pitching in a game that was broadcast on NESN for the first time this spring, Red Sox reliever Hirokazau Sawamura put together what was without a doubt his most impressive outing with his new team thus far.
Coming into Wednesday night’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles, the Japanese right-hander having allowed two earned runs on three hits and seven walks through his first three appearances and 2 1/3 innings pitched of the spring. That’s good for an ERA of 7.71.
After Nathan Eovaldi recorded the first 17 outs on Wednesday in pretty simple fashion, Red Sox manager Alex Cora departed from the third base dugout to give the veteran starter the hook in favor of Sawamura.
With the bases empty and one out to get in the top half of the sixth, the 32-year-old got that out by getting Tyler Nevin to ground out to first to retire the side.
An inning later, Sawamura came back out for the sixth, marking the first time this spring he was going to be used in multiple frames. The righty did not miss a beat, though, as he proceeded to punch out both Rio Ruiz and Pat Valaika before inducing a groundout off the bat of Ramon Urias to end things there.
All in all, Sawamura needed all of 23 pitches to get four outs en route to picking up his second hold of the spring.
Since signing a two-year, $3 million deal — which includes a dual club/player option for 2023 — with the Sox back in February, it’s fair to say the past few weeks have been an adjustment period for Sawamura.
Not only is he dealing with a new country and new culture, but he is also adjusting to a style of baseball in the United States that differs from what he had grown accustomed to in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization overseas.
That being said, Sawamura, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, is clearly starting to find his footing with the Sox. Wednesday’s performance marked his second consecutive scoreless appearance out of the Boston bullpen, and it also marked the first time all spring he did not allow a single base runner.
The fact he worked multiple innings for the first time indicates just how vital he could be for Boston’s pitching plans in 2021.
“That was important,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of getting Sawamura into a multi-inning appearance. “He’s going to have to do that during the season. And you can tell he feels more comfortable. He’s been able to throw his slider for strikes. Today was his best fastball out of all the outings. The split is still a work in progress. Little that we knew. We thought we had a fastball up, split guy. Now he’s developed a slider all of a sudden. And it’s a really good one. He can throw it for strikes and expand. We just wanted to see that and he did an outstanding job.”
Known for his fastball and splitter combination during his time with the Yomiuri Giants and Chiba Lotte Marines over the course of a 10-year career in Japan, Sawamura figures to emerge as late-inning option out of the Sox’ bullpen for Cora once the regular season begins.
Before Opening Day, though, the next step for Sawamura will be to pitch on back-to-back days, which should happen soon according to pitching coach Dave Bush.
“We’re trying to encourage him just to get comfortable and go one step at a time,” Bush said earlier Wednesday afternoon. “Each outing has been better than the previous one… He’s going to have back-to-back appearances coming up soon. Offhand, I don’t know the exact days, but it will be soon. He’s built up well. He’s getting better each time and is on the right path.”
The two-year contract Samura signed with the Red Sox over the winter does include a unique dual option for a potential third year in 2023, and it also includes escalators and bonuses that could take its total value up to $7.65 million.
(Picture of Hirokazu Sawamura: Mark Brown/Getty Images)
At that time, Red Sox manager Alex Cora said the plan would be to shut down Mata for an extended period before treating his injury without surgery.
It’s been a little less than three weeks since Cora revealed these plans regarding Mata’s road to recovery, and Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush provided an update Wednesday afternoon on how the 21-year-old right-hander is holding up.
“He’s in a rehab protocol right now,” Bush said. “There’s some strengthening exercises they’re doing. A whole variety. I’m not even sure exactly what they all are. But he will get back into a throwing program before too long to test it out and build from there. I don’t have a lot of specifics on it just because he’s [spent] more time with the trainers lately. Certainly he’s not throwing, not on the mound. But I still see him every day. He’s in here every day doing his rehab work and working back towards the throwing program.”
Mata, who turns 22 in May, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking tops among pitchers in the organization.
The Venezuelan hurler — listed at 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds — spent the entirety of the 2020 season at the Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester, where his fastball sat between 96-97 mph.
He also took part in the club’s fall instructional league and came into the spring projected to begin the 2021 campaign at the alternate site, which is now in Worcester, with the chance to perhaps make his big-league debut later this year.
Now that he has been sidelined for the time being, though, the Red Sox will have to look elsewhere for internal starting rotation depth.
“With Bryan Mata on the IL right now, I’d probably say Connor Seabold is in that mix,” said Bush. “We also have a handful of minor league free agents that we signed. Some of them we signed last year and had at the alternate site.”
Stephen Gonsalves, Daniel Gossett, Kyle Hart, and Matt Hall were among the pitchers Bush named who are not currently on Boston’s 40-man roster but do have big-league experience.
As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, this group of pitchers will likely start out the year at the alternate training site.
“So we have a clump of guys that we’re going to get stretched out in Worcester,” Bush said. “And [we will] have them available for whatever we need, whenever we need it.”
(Picture of Bryan Mata: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
In his first offseason as a member of the Red Sox organization, right-hander Nick Pivetta moved to Fort Myers in order to be closer to the club’s Fenway South complex.
Put another way, rather than return home for the offseason as many players across baseball do, the 28-year-old opted to travel to southwest Florida and familiarize himself with his new club.
“We talked about it as the season was ending last year, and he was telling me he was thinking about coming down here and setting up shop because he didn’t have anywhere else he needed to be,” Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush said of Pivetta earlier Saturday. “I think it’s great. It gave him a chance to be around the staff, to be around the complex, to get his work in consistently.
“Look, it’s not for everybody,” he added. “Some guys like being able to go home, some guys like being here. But for him this winter, it was perfect. Because it gave him access to the personnel, the equipment, and the space that he needed, and he took advantage of it.”
The Red Sox originally acquired Pivetta — as well as right-handed pitching prospect Connor Seabold — from the Phillies back in August for right-handed relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree.
Pivetta arrived in Boston in late August, but rather than make his team debut right away, the club optioned the 6-foot-5, 214 pounder to their alternate training site in Pawtucket, where he would stay for about a month before getting called up on September 22.
In his first two starts in a Red Sox uniform — which came against the Orioles and Braves — Pivetta impressed by yielding just two earned runs on eight hits and five walks to go along with 13 total strikeouts over 10 total innings pitched.
“Nick was great last year,” Bush said. “Obviously he performed really well when he came up. After the trade, we kept him at the alternate site for a little while, and it gave the other people in the organization a chance to get to know him. I talked to him plenty of times over the phone before he came up. So I think the relationship started building pretty early last year, and we carried it through those last few starts at the end of the year.”
Ending the 2020 campaign on a high note, Pivetta headed down to Fort Myers and continued to put the work in to improve his craft.
“He’s worked very hard this offseason,” said Bush. “I was in regular contact with him once or twice a week. He was sending me videos as he was throwing his bullpens leading up to camp. He’s worked very hard. He’s dedicated himself to making himself a complete big-league pitcher and being able to stick in the big-leagues.”
As he prepares to embark upon his first full season with the Red Sox in 2021, Pivetta finds himself in a somewhat precarious position given the fact he is out of minor-league options. That means that if Boston wanted to send down the British Columbian hurler to the minors, they would have to remove him from their 40-man roster and expose him to waivers in the process of doing so.
With that in mind, it would appear that Pivetta, who primarily works with a four-seam fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup, has the inside edge on a spot on the Sox’ Opening Day starting rotation since other potential candidates — like Tanner Houck — have minor-league options remaining.
Even considering that point, though, the former fourth-round draft pick will still have to prove his worth and compete for said starting rotation spot over the next few weeks.
“I think he’s very excited for the opportunity,” Bush stated. “He’s going out there to compete for a spot, and he’s worked really hard for it. So I’m excited for him. I’m excited to see him go out there and pitch, compete, and show that the hard work he put in was worth it. It’s going to pay off.”
Pivetta, who turned 28 earlier this month, will make his spring debut on the road against the Twins on Wednesday.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Friday during an appearance on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni, and Fauria that S0x starters will each work two innings in their first starts of the spring and three innings in their second starts.
(Picture of Nick Pivetta: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Red Sox manager Alex Cora’s coaching staff for the upcoming 2021 season is now set.
While pitching coach Dave Bush, hitting coach Tim Hyers, assistant hitting coach Peter Fatse, first base coach Tom Goodwin, and third base coach Carlos Febles will retain the same roles they held this past season, changes have been made in other areas.
For starters, Will Venable has officially been named Red Sox bench coach after it was reported on Tuesday that he was going to get the job.
The former big-league outfielder had spent the previous three seasons as a first and third base coach with the Cubs, and he was one of several candidates who interviewed for Boston’s managerial opening last month.
That vacancy was ultimately filled by Cora, but the 38-year-old Venable now has the chance to strengthen his resume as a bench coach for the first time in his coaching career.
“Will is a bright, young mind that will add a lot to what is already a strong collection of coaches,” Cora said of Venable in a statement released by the team earlier Friday.
With Venable succeeding Jerry Narron, who succeeded Ron Roenicke, as bench coach, the Red Sox also named Jason Varitek as the club’s new game-planning coordinator.
For the past eight years, Varitek had been working for the Red Sox in a special assistant/catching coach capacity. He, like new quality control coach/interpreter Ramon Vazquez, will now step into more significant roles within the organization moving forward.
“I am also pleased that both Jason and Ramón will step forward and play larger roles for us,” Cora added.
Finally, Kevin Walker, who was named assistant pitching coach under Bush last October, has been named the Sox’ new bullpen coach. That position opened up when Craig Bjornson was let go by the club last month.
With his promotion, it would appear that the Red Sox could be in need of a new assistant pitching coach to take over for Walker unless they otherwise choose not to carry one next year.
That being said, Cora seems pleased with his new-look coaching staff as he prepares to embark on his second stint as Red Sox skipper.
“I am thrilled to have so many great baseball minds on our staff,” he said, “and I look forward to their contributions as we set out to achieve our goals.”
Red Sox rookie right-hander Tanner Houck is coming off a superb major-league debut against the Marlins last Tuesday in which he collected seven strikeouts over five scoreless innings en route to picking up his first career victory.
Following that impressive showing, a new challenge for Houck awaits on Sunday, as the 24-year-old hurler will be going up against a red-hot Yankees team in the finale of a three-game series at Fenway Park.
With a 6-5, 12-inning win over Boston on Friday, New York extended their current winning streak to a season-best nine consecutive games. Over that dominant stretch, which goes back to September 9, the Bronx Bombers are slashing an absurd .314/.401/.711 against opposing right-handed pitchers while clubbing 25 home runs and posting a 194 wRC+. These numbers are something Houck will have to keep in mind when he takes the Fenway Park mound for the first time.
“For me, nothing really changes,” Houck said of his mindset going into his first home start of the season. “As long as you go out there and attack the zone, I think good things happen. If you go right at people, get them on their heels early, it sets up a lot more. Typically, whenever you’re behind in the count, a lot of people become more dangerous. So, go out there, attack right away and I’ll definitely real confident.”
In his debut against Miami last Tuesday, Houck faced 19 batters. Among those 19 batters, the former first-round pick fell behind the count on several occasions, but he did manage to limit the opposition to just three walks while mixing in his four-seam and split-finger fastball as well as his sinker and slider.
Limiting traffic on the base paths could prove to be pivotal for the Illinois native on Sunday, as the Yankees have accrued the second-highest walk percentage in the American League (11.9%) going back to the start of their current winning streak.
To construct a proper game plan for a team as dangerous as New York, Houck will need to be diligent in his preparations. He does however have one tool that he did not have available to him in the minor-leagues: advanced analytics.
“It’s definitely got its new challenges with everything,” the Mizzou product said of his introduction to the majors. “There’s a lot more scouting report info to take in, which I love. Being able to go out there and know my opponent just a little bit more helps me set up a game plan a lot.”
On top of the insights he has received from the Red Sox’ analytics department, Houck has also gotten some helpful advice from fellow former Missouri Tigers in the majors, such as Nationals ace Max Scherzer and Rangers right-hander Kyle Gibson.
“Having guys like that reach out is truly an honor,” Houck added. “I’m truly blessed to be a part of that brotherhood. I’ve definitely gotten to talk to Gibson and Scherzer over the years having that Mizzou connection, and just kind of bouncing ideas off them is truly great. It’s more people to learn from and this is a game that you got to learn from your elders a little bit, see what they’ve done and just try to learn from that.”
Houck will get the ball against the Yankees and fellow rookie righty Deivi Garcia on Sunday afternoon.
Rookie left-hander Kyle Hart is about to make his third career major-league start on Tuesday, and for the first time since getting drafted by the Red Sox in 2016, he has access to more information than he’s grown accustomed to while in the minors.
Speaking with reporters prior to Sunday’s game against the Orioles, the 27-year-old went into detail about this increase in resources that have been made available to him in between starts since he made his big-league debut on August 13.
“The analytics is probably the biggest adjustment, but also the biggest improvement,” Hart said. “You have access to everybody’s everything. That is something I really didn’t grapple with too much in the minor-leagues, both out of my own personal desire and also the lack of resources itself.
Despite that self-proclaimed “lack of resources,” Hart was still one of the more consistent pitchers in Boston’s farm system since he joined the organization out of the University of Indiana four years. Just last season, the Ohio native posted a 3.52 ERA and .233 batting average against over 27 outings (24 starts) and 156 innings pitched between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.
Last November, Hart was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster, and as previously mentioned, he was called up to the majors for the first time earlier this month.
“Up here, it’s very readily available and it’s also something that we use and the coaches want us to use,” he added. “I’m adjusting to that and I’m trying to learn from it. Nate [Eovaldi] has been really good about helping me learn the system that some of the starting pitchers use to scout other teams.”
On top of getting assistance from his fellow rotation mate in Eovaldi, Hart can also turn to Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush for plenty of advice, information, and insights as well.
“Bushy, obviously, has a whole slew of notes, so we’re kind of combining our heads there,” said the southpaw. “The analytics are the biggest. In between starts, in terms of physically preparing, hasn’t changed much. And then the instruction I would say hasn’t changed much because I’ve worked so closely with [assistant pitching coach Kevin Walker] and Bushy throughout the year. So it is a high level of instruction, but it isn’t something I’m not used to.”
As he prepares to make his third start of the 2020 season, Hart will be pitching away from Fenway Park for the first time in his brief major-league career on Tuesday when he goes up against the Blue Jays in Buffalo.
Through his first two outings this year, the former 19th-round draft pick has allowed nine runs (seven earned) on nine hits, seven walks, and nine strikeouts over 5 2/3 total innings of work.
First pitch Tuesday is scheduled for 6:37 p.m. eastern time on NESN and WEEI. Hart will be going for his first career winning decision.
The Red Sox’ first road trip of the 2020 season has not been very kind to one Matt Barnes.
On Thursday, the right-hander needed 37 pitches to work out of a bases loaded jam he got himself into in the eighth inning of an eventual 4-2 win over the Mets at Citi Field.
On Sunday, Barnes was not so fortunate, as he entered the eighth inning of a game his side had a 7-6 lead in. By the time he was done though, the 30-year-old hurler had seen that one-run lead turn into a two-run deficit. The main reason behind that was after issuing a two-out walk to Mike Tauchman, the Yankees No. 9 hitter, Barnes allowed Tauchman to steal second before allowing D.J. LeMahieu to tie the game on an RBI single to center field.
Just a few moments later, Barnes fell behind in the count against the ever-dangerous Aaron Judge, who had already gone deep earlier that night.
After falling behind 2-0 to Judge, Barnes or the Red Sox bench could have opted to put the Yankees slugger on base intentionally to avoid the worst-case scenario. Instead, Barnes hung an 84 MPH curveball on the inner half of the plate, and Judge made him pay for the mistaken location by crushing a 468-foot two-run blast deep to left field.
That put the Yankees up 9-7, and it would result in Barnes getting hit with his first loss and blown save of the season later on. The UCONN product didn’t hold back on the self-criticism during his postgame media availability.
“Can’t walk (Tauchman). Can’t walk the nine-hole hitter,” Barnes said via a Zoom call late Sunday night. In regards to serving up that two-run blast to Judge, Barnes added: “Just a poor sequence of events there.”
Through his first four relief appearances of 2020, Barnes has surrendered four earned runs on five hits (two home runs), four walks, and four strikeouts over four innings pitched. Opponents are currently slashing .313/.476/.688 off the former first-round pick. That’s not going to cut it in the long-term.
“I’ve got some stuff to figure out for sure,” Barnes added Sunday. “Hasn’t been as clean as I would have liked through the first four innings.”
Per Statcast, Barnes has relied on his curveball exactly 61% of the time he has been on the mound this season. Although it’s still relatively early, it’s becoming more clear that Barnes’ curve in 2020 is not nearly as effective as it was in 2019. That being the case because last season, opponents slugged a measly .272 off the offspeed pitch. This season, opponents are slugging .721 off it.
That is just one of several examples showing the decline in Barnes’ curveball, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities that the flame-throwing right-hander can bounce back from this slump as long as he figures out what he needs to figure out.
At the top of his game, Barnes is a quality set-up man, and just about every club could use one of those. Especially the Red Sox.
At this point exactly one year ago, Red Sox pitchers had combined to throw exactly 411 innings through the club’s first 46 games of the 2019 season.
Flash forward to 2020, and that number of innings pitched on the same date stands at zero, and it appears that it will stay at zero until at least early July.
First-year Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush, who was appointed to the position last October in place of Dana LeVangie, would be learning the ropes of his new post under normal circumstances. Instead, due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has put Major League Baseball on hold for the time being, Bush, like many across the sport, have to find new ways to coach up his players.
In a recent conversation with The Athletic’sPeter Gammons, Bush, 40, said that he has told the Boston pitching staff to stick with “normal throwing programs” until they know when they can get back to a spring training setting and can “begin a supervised program for the season” from there.
This is the same sort of sentiment Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom echoed earlier this month in a radio interview with WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni, and Fauria regarding the pandemic-induced shutdown’s effect on players.
“Even if we have a spring training, however long that spring training is, guys will need to get ramped up well in advance of that to make sure they’re in shape and make sure they can safely get back up to ready to roll whenever the season does start,” he said. “We are so used to working backward from a specific start date and we can’t do that right now. So we’re trying to keep them at a level that is responsible where we’re not trying to get them at too high a gear and then ask them to hold. But we also want to make sure they don’t run out of time to get up to speed if and when we do get a specific start date. So we’re just trying to find that happy medium.”
The conventional version of spring training was suspended by MLB on March 13th. The majority of Red Sox players left Fort Myers at the time to return to their respective homes, but it appears that some individuals, such as Alex Verdugo and Chris Sale, have returned to work out at the Fenway South complex in recent weeks. More could return relatively soon, too, considering how Florida has been loosening its COVID-19-related restrictions across the state.
According to Gammons, MLB clubs are currently terrified of two things. The first being a potential second wave of the coronavirus and all the ramifications that come with it, and the second being “that the re-ramping-up process, coming four-plus months after the initial ramping-up process, will result in a rash of injuries.”
To add on to that, Gammons writes, “Two prominent orthopedic surgeons with significant baseball experience have predicted waiting lines at the doors of Dr. James Andrews, Dr. Neal ElAttrache and the many other physicians who have preserved so many careers.”
The re-ramping up process that Gammons mentions should be a concern for pitching coaches and general managers across the league. I can’t say for sure, but it seems like these guys went into ‘prepare for the season mode’ around the same time they are accustomed to and then all of a sudden were told to go into ‘offseason mode’ just like that. I’m no pitching guru, but disrupting someone’s routine like that has to have negative connotations, right?
For now, it will be fascinating to see how Bush continues to coach his pitching staff without being in the same physical location as them.
The Red Sox have reportedly hired pitching analyst and minor league coordinator Dave Bush to be their new pitching coach, according to Barstool Sports’ Jared Carrabis and confirmed by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.
Identified as the “clear front-runner” for the role by The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier earlier in the week, Bush has been with the Red Sox’ organization since 2016.
Going back to his playing days, the soon to be 40-year-old right-hander was originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the second round of the 2002 amateur draft out of Wake Forest University.
In 211 career big league appearances (187 starts) between Toronto, Milwaukee, Texas, and Toronto again from 2004 until April 7th, 2013, Bush posted an ERA of 4.73 and FIP of 4.69 over 1,141 1/3 total innings pitched. He finished eighth in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2004.
Per the Sox’ 2019 media guide, Bush, was promoted to pitching performance coordinator in January. He also spent two years coaching overseas through MLB International and for the Chinese and South African national teams before joining the Sox three years ago.
A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Bush will be taking over for former Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie, who was reassigned as a pro scout for the club earlier in the month.
This news also comes just two days after the Sox formally introduced Chaim Bloom as their new chief baseball officer, so it would be interesting to see how much influence he had in this decision given the notion that Boston is headed towards a more analytics-driven approach with their pitching staff.
Kevin Walker was named assistant pitching coach on Thursday.