Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo Progressing ‘Really Well’ From Back Injury

For the first time since last September, Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo faced live hitting on Saturday.

Throughout spring training and the COVID-19 pandemic-induced layoff, the 24-year-old was limited to hitting at home and in the batting cages at JetBlue Park while working his way back from a lower back stress fracture.

As excited as he was to get back to seeing live pitching at Fenway Park on Saturday, facing off against flame-throwing right-hander Nathan Eovaldi was no easy task.

“Let’s say I got welcomed real quick to good old 99 MPH,” Verdugo told reporters via Zoom. “The biggest thing for me today was to see the (velocity) out of his hand, see one of the most elite, best pitchers and go from there. I took a full swing, swung and missed and had no pain or discomfort. That was reassuring. That’s what this is about, to get my timing back, to reassure that my body, physically, is handling progression really well.”

The COVID-19 break has physically “done wonders” for Verdugo’s body in terms of endurance and strength. He is now looking forward to making a name for himself in a crowded Red Sox outfield.

“For me, I’m an everyday player,” the left-handed hitter said when asked about the prospect of being part of a platoon. “That’s just that. It’s that simple. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. I want to be out there every single day competing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lefty out on the mound to a righty on the mound. I feel like my splits are reversed. I hit lefties better than I hit righties. So I’m just someone who wants to be out there every single day. I want to play and I want to be a starter.”

Speaking of splits, since making his major-league debut with Los Angeles in 2017, Verdugo owns a career .273/.335/.448 slash line in 355 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers, and a career .306/.333/.452 slash line in 133 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. So, he’s not entirely wrong about having reverse splits.

As currently constructed, the Red Sox have three left-handed hitting outfielders on their active roster in Verdugo, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley Jr. Kevin Pillar and J.D. Martinez represent the opposite side of that coin as two right-handed hitting outfielders.

Despite how amped up he may be to get back on the field, it would not be shocking to see the Sox ease Verdugo back into things, especially when considering how serious back injuries can be.

How Roenicke manages the outfield once the 2020 campaign begins will definitely be something to keep an eye on.

 

Red Sox One of Several Teams Who Could Sign Yasiel Puig, per Report

The Red Sox are among the teams who could possibly sign free-agent outfielder Yasiel Puig, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.

Per Heyman, who appeared on Thursday night’s edition of MLB Tonight, the Red Sox are one of four clubs “who have been mentioned as possibilities” for the 29-year-old outfielder. The others being the Giants, Padres, and Rays.

Arguably the best free agent remaining ahead of the start of the 2020 season, Puig did have major-league offers on the table prior the coronavirus-induced, league-wide shutdown. The Marlins, for instance, were one of those teams who had offered the Cuba national a one-year deal.

But, as Heyman noted, Puig wanted to hold out in the hopes of playing in front of bigger crowds.

That component to his decision is off the table now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so it would appear that guaranteed money and/or playing time would be most prevalent in Puig’s pursuit to find a new club.

Splitting time between the Reds and Indians last season, the one-time All-Star slashed .267/.327/.458 with 24 home runs and 84 RBI over 149 games played primarily as a right fielder.

The Red Sox, as currently constructed, are a team that has a solid amount of outfield depth at the major-league level. Between Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Alex Verdugo, Kevin Pillar, and J.D. Martinez, it’s somewhat difficult to see how Puig would fit in that crowded outfield picture in 2020.

Of course, as noted quality Twitter follow @RedSoxStats brings up, “If the Sox know they have any room below the tax threshold, they should gobble up any talent [at] any position.”

It’s definitely surprising that Puig is still on the open market six days after MLB’s freeze on roster moves was lifted. On a personal note, I don’t view Boston as favorites to sign the former Dodgers star, but it will certainly be fascinating to watch how things unfold regarding Puig and other free agents in the coming days.

Red Sox Open Fenway South Complex for Players to Prepare for 2020 Season, If There Is One

The Red Sox have opened the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers back up for players to once again prepare for the 2020 season, according to The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham.

The important distinction here is that before this week, the complex was only available to players who were working their way back from injuries, such as Alex Verdugo and Chris Sale.

Now though, I would imagine the facility surrounding JetBlue Park is available to Red Sox players and staff in the same capacity it was before pitchers and catchers reported to camp back in February.

Per Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, the complex was open on Wednesday and Thursday to a handful of players that included Jackie Bradley Jr. and Tzu-Wei Lin, and he expects that the exact number of players who show up “may vary day to day.”

This news comes at a time where the club is debating on whether to hold a second version of spring training in Boston or Fort Myers if baseball does indeed return this year. Of course, that all depends on the ongoing negotiations between Major League Baseball and the MLBPA.

As Abraham notes, if the two sides can reach an agreement on starting the season relatively soon, “formal workouts would begin approximately June 10th and last three weeks.”

These preseason workouts would more than likely consist of intrasquad games, so it would seem like it would be in the Sox’ best interest to hold a second version of spring training in Fort Myers rather than Boston given the volume of players who would be on hand in this scenario.

Looking Back at Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 29-Game Hitting Streak

On this day in 2016, Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 29-game hitting streak came to a close, as the Red Sox outfielder went 0-for-4 in an 8-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies at Fenway Park.

Hitting out of the leadoff spot for the first time in 2016, the then-26-year-old flew out to right in his first at-bat, grounded out to the pitcher in his second at-bat, flew out to center in his third at-bat, and grounded out to second in his fourth and final at-bat.

Headed into the bottom half of the ninth with his side trailing by six, Bradley Jr. was slated to bat sixth in the inning, and he even made it to the on-deck circle with two outs and two runners on before the pinch-hitting Mookie Betts grounded out to first to end the game.

“It was a fun ride,” said Bradley postgame. “I had a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. Most of all, the team played really well during it. I’m blessed to be in this situation.”

From April 24th, the day the hitting streak began, to May 25th, the day before it ended, the Red Sox went 21-8 to propel them to first place in the American League East at that point in the season.

Looking at Bradley Jr.’s numbers over that stretch, the South Carolina product posted an absurd .415/.488/.783 slash line to go along with eight home runs and 30 RBI over 29 games played.

By that time Bradley Jr.’s hitting streak came to an end on that faithful Thursday night at Fenway four years ago, he was just five games away from tying Dom DiMaggio for the longest hitting streak in Red Sox history (34 games in 1949).

Despite not being able to reach that mark, Bradley Jr. still became the first major-leaguer since 2013 to have a hitting streak of at least 29 games. The last Red Sox hitter to reach the 30-game plateau was Nomar Garciappara, who accomplished that feat in 1997.

After going hitless for the first time in several weeks, Bradley Jr. got back on track the following day in Toronto and recorded hits in three of his next four games to wrap up a terrific month of May in which he was named American League Player of the Month.

From there, the 2011 first-round pick was named to his first All-Star Game that July and went on to have his best season in the majors in terms of fWAR (5.3).

Cape Cod Baseball League Cancels 2020 Season Due to Coronavirus Pandemic

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has put the sports world on hold, the Cape Cod Baseball League decided to cancel its 2020 season on Friday.

Per an official release, the league’s executive committee “voted unanimously to cancel the 2020 Cape Cod Baseball League season.  The decision was based on the health concerns and safety needs of all involved. Following CDC guidelines and medical recommendations, the league determined it would be impossible to guarantee the safety of players, coaches, umpires, host families, volunteers and fans during this unprecedented health crisis.”

Made up of 10 teams scattered across the cape, the Cape League was founded in 1885 and has become one of the top summer collegiate baseball leagues in the country.

Notable Red Sox players and prospects who spent their college summers on the cape include Chris Sale, Mitch Moreland, Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr., Brian Johnson, Bobby Poyner, Brandon Workman, Bobby Dalbec, and Cameron Cannon to name a few.

“We would like to thank all our dedicated volunteers and sponsors for their support and look forward to playing again in 2021,” the aforementioned statement read. “Thank you for your continued support and stay safe and healthy.”

On a personal note, this news stinks. Going to a handful of Cape League games every summer was always something I looked forward to. Now, it looks like we’ll have to wait until 2021 for the CCBL to return.

Eduardo Rodriguez Continues to Impress With 10 Strikeouts Over Four Scoreless Innings as Red Sox Top Rays to Win Fourth Straight

After pitching came through in a 3-2 victory over the Cardinals on Tuesday, the Red Sox extended their winning streak to four and improved to 9-10-2 in Grapefruit League play on Wednesday following a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte.

Making his third start of the spring for Boston in this one was Eduardo Rodriguez, who appears to be in line to get the Opening Day nod from interim manager Ron Roenicke despite no official announcement being made yet.

Tossing four full innings for the second time in a row, the left-hander impressed by keeping the Rays off the scoreboard despite scattering six hits and one walk. 10 of the 12 outs he recorded came by way of the strikeout.

As those numbers suggest, Rodriguez did deal with his fair share of traffic on the base paths on Wednesday, but the majority of the trouble he faced came with two outs in an inning, so he was able to work his way around it.

The 26-year-old capped off his night by fanning the last two Rays he faced in the fourth to finish with a final pitch count of exactly 80. His next outing should come on Monday against the Pirates.

In relief of Rodriguez, Ryan Brasier got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen in the fifth, and he tossed a perfect frame in his fourth appearance of the spring.

From there, Heath Hembree put together his first scoreless appearance of the spring in the sixth, Austin Brice worked his way around a leadoff single in an otherwise clean seventh, Domingo Tapia served up a solo home run to Brian O’Grady in the eighth, and Kevin Lenik allowed the go-ahead run to come to the plate on a two-out walk and single before escaping the jam to secure the 3-1 win for his side.

On the other side of things, a Red Sox starting lineup that featured Kevin Pillar, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Michael Chavis, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jonathan Lucroy, Jose Peraza, Tzu-Wei Lin, and Rusney Castillo was matched up against Rays left-handed pitching prospect Shane McClanahan to begin things on Wednesday.

Nothing came against McClanahan in his 1 1/3 innings of work, and it was not until the top half of the third when the Boston bats livened up.

There, three straight two-out hits from the 3-4-5 hitters off of Dylan Covey resulted in the Sox driving in their first run of the night, with Bradley Jr. plating Bogaerts from second on an RBI single up the middle.

Lucroy followed suit a few moments later with an RBI base hit of his own, with this one scoring Chavis from second to make it a 2-0 contest early.

Fast forward to the fifth, and it was Bradley Jr. getting the job done with two outs once more, as he drove in Chavis from second on an RBI double to left off new Rays reliever Anthony Banda.

That two-base hit put the Red Sox up 3-0, and after Tampa Bay pushed across a run of their own in the eighth, 3-1 would go on to be Wednesday’s final score at Charlotte Sports Park.

Some observations from this win:

The Red Sox have won four straight Grapefruit League contests. They have a run differential of +5 over that span.

Austin Brice has yet to give up a run this spring and appears to be a lock to make the Opening Day roster as a bullpen option.

Jose Peraza played left field.

Jonathan Lucroy on Wednesday: 2-for-2 with one walk and one RBI.

Kevin Plawecki, off the bench, on Wednesday: 1-for-2 with a double.

Xander Bogaerts recorded his first hit of the spring on a third-inning single.

Jackie Bradley Jr. owns an OPS of 1.141 through 31 plate appearances this spring.

Next up for the Red Sox, it’s their first off day of the spring on Thursday before taking on this same Rays club back at JetBlue Park on Friday afternoon.

Left-hander Martin Perez is slated to start for Boston, while Tampa Bay has yet to name a starter.

Perez put together his best outing of the spring in his last time out against the Twins this past Sunday as he punched out seven over four scoreless frames of work.

First pitch Friday is scheduled for 1:05 PM EDT. This game will not be televised.

Jackie Bradley Jr. and J.D. Martinez Both Homer as Pitching Struggles Continue for Red Sox in 13-9 Loss to Tigers

After allowing nine runs in a 9-1 loss against the Yankees on Tuesday, the Red Sox fell to 4-7-2 in Grapefruit League play on Wednesday following a 13-9 defeat at the hands of the Detroit Tigers at JetBlue Park.

Making his first start and third overall appearance of the spring for Boston was Jeffrey Springs, coming off a scoreless inning of relief in his last time out against the Yankees this past Sunday.

Working just the first inning of this one, the left-hander got hit hard for five runs, all of which were earned, on five hits and zero walks to go along with zero strikeouts of the afternoon.

All five of those early Tigers tallies came courtesy of the long ball, with C.J. Cron whalloping a three-run homer off of Springs, and Frank Schwindel following that up with a two-run shot a few moments later.

It was a laborious task, but Springs was able to at least retire the final two of the eight hitters he faced in order to retire the side without giving anything else up.

From there, Eduard Bazardo walked one and struck out another in a scoreless top half of the second, Ryan Brasier bounced back from a tough spring debut with a pair of perfect frames, Heath Hembree followed by serving up two home runs, a solo shot in the fifth plus a two-run shot in the sixth, over two innings of relief, Yoan Aybar worked around a leadoff walk and one-out HBP in an otherwise clean seventh, Mike Shawaryn fanned three in the eighth, and left-hander Matthew Kent got bombarded for five runs, although none of them were earned, in the ninth before Matthew Gorst came on and recorded the final out on a punchout.

All in all, Sox pitching combined to surrender 13 runs (eight earned) on 15 hits, five of which were home runs, and two walks to go along with 10 total strikeouts over nine innings of work.

Since the calendars flipped to March, Red Sox pitching has allowed 35 runs over their last four games.

On the other side of things, a Red Sox starting lineup that featured Kevin Pillar, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Christian Vazquez, Jonathan Arauz, Josh Ockimey, Jantzen Witte, and Jeter Downs was matched up against veteran right-hander Ivan Nova to begin things on Wednesday.

Despite going down by five before even taking their first at-bats, the Boston bats responded swiftly in their half of the first, as Pillar and Bradley Jr. greeted Nova with a leadoff single and double to put runners in scoring position with one out for J.D. Martinez.

Martinez didn’t waste anytime, either, as he took the second pitch he saw from the Tigers starter and deposited deep to left field for a three-run shot. His second homer of the spring cut the deficit to two at 5-3.

An inning later, it was the bottom half of the lineup getting it done, with Ockimey leading the frame off with a double and Downs, the organization’s top prospect, driving him in on a one-out, run-scoring single to left. 5-4.

In addition to his first inning double, Bradley Jr. capitalized in his second plate appearance against Nova in the third, as he ripped a leadoff homer over the left field wall to knot things up at five runs apiece. His second big fly of the spring.

Fast forward all the way to the seventh, after Detroit had jumped out to an 8-5 edge, Chad De La Guerra brought his side back to within two runs on another solo shot off Tigers reliever Rony Garcia.

And in the ninth, in what had suddenly turned into a runaway for the Tigers, Roldani Baldwin came to the plate with two outs and the bases full, and he promptly unloaded them on a three-run double off Jose Cisnero.

That three RBI knock made it a 13-9 contest, which would go on to be Wednesday’s final score after Nolan Blackwood got Ryder Jones to line out to short.

Some observations from this loss:

Xander Bogaerts, in his spring debut at designated hitter: 0-for-2 with two strikeouts.

This game was not televised, but the fact that Heath Hembree has a 10.13 ERA through his first two appearances of the spring is far from promising. His roster spot could be in jeopardy if he continues to struggle.

Nice to see Ryan Brasier bounce back with two scoreless innings of relief Wednesday. Probably the highlight of the day pitching-wise.

Kevin Plawecki walked in his lone plate appearance of the afternoon after replacing Christian Vazquez behind the plate in the fifth. Jonathan Lucroy did not play.

Rusney Castillo hit a triple.

Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll host the Houston Astros at JetBlue Park on Thursday afternoon.

Left-hander Kyle Hart will get the start for Boston, while right-hander Josh James will do the same for Houston.

As mentioned before, Hart is one of several candidates vying for a spot in the Sox’ starting rotation. He owns an ERA of 9.00 through two appearances (one start) this spring.

The Astros have been subject to plenty of boos from opposing crowds this spring, so it will be interesting to see, or hear about, how the JetBlue Park crowd handles things given the fact that the 2018 Red Sox are still under investigation by the league.

Anyway, first pitch Thursday is scheduled for 1:05 PM EST. This game will not be televised.

 

 

Connor Wong Crushes Grand Slam as Red Sox Blow out Orioles

In a game that was not televised, the Red Sox improved to 2-2-1 in Grapefruit League play on Tuesday afternoon with a 12-4 win over a split Baltimore Orioles squad at JetBlue Park.

Making his first start of the spring for Boston in this one was Ryan Weber, one of the many names vying for the fifth spot in the Sox’ starting rotation with just over a month to go until Opening Day.

Tossing two innings on Tuesday, the right-hander kept the O’s off the scoreboard while scattering two hits and zero walks to go along with one strikeout on the afternoon.

Both of those Baltimore hits came consecutively with two outs in the top of the first, but Weber was able to settle down and get Pat Valaika to fly out to center before retiring the side in order in the second.

In relief of Weber, left-hander Mike Kickham had a tough showing, as he surrendered one run in the third and three more, one of which was unearned, in the fourth due to a wild pitch and passed ball that got through Connor Wong behind the plate.

Hunter Haworth had to come on to try and clean Kickham’s mess up with two outs in the fourth, and he did just that by getting Anthony Santander to ground out to third.

From there, lefty Brian Johnson worked his way around a one-out single in an otherwise clean fifth to eventually earn his first win of the spring, while Domingo Tapia and Denyi Reyes combined for four scoreless frames of work to close this thing out with a final score of 12-4.

On the other side of things, the Red Sox starting lineup that featured a healthy number of regulars like Andrew Benintendi, Christian Vazquez, J.D. Martinez, and Mitch Moreland was matched up against Orioles right-hander Tom Eshelman to start things out on Tuesday.

Eshelman may not have given up any runs over the course of his brief two-inning start, but he gave up plenty of hard contact, including a line-drive one-out single off the bat of Vazquez in the first.

Two innings later, it was Vazquez coming through again, as he drove in Benintendi all the way from first on a hard-hit double to left off Orioles reliever Zac Lowther for his side’s first run of the day. 1-1.

In the fourth, the Boston bats once again responded to Baltimore, as they countered three more O’s tallies with three of their own on a two-run home run off the bat of Jackie Bradley Jr. and RBI single off the bat of Tommy Joseph to plate Bobby Dalbec from second.

Both of those knocks came off Lowther, and they pulled the Sox back even with the Orioles at four runs a piece.

Fortunately, that stalemate did not last long at all, with the first five hitters who came to the plate in the fifth all reaching off Hunter Cervenka on two singles, two walks, and one HBP to make it a 6-4 contest.

Marco Hernandez added on to that with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to score Bobby Dalbec, Kevin Pillar re-loaded the bases with an infield single off new O’s reliever Zach Muckenhirn, and that brought Connor Wong to the plate with the chance to redeem himself after making a few defensive mistakes the inning prior.

On the third pitch he saw from Muckenhirn, Wong did just that, as the 23-year-old crushed a grand slam over the fence in right-center field for his first homer in a Red Sox uniform.

That gave the Sox a commanding 11-4 advantage, and after Nick Longhi scored on a fielding error in the same inning, 12-4 would go on to be Tuesday’s final score.

Some observations from this win:

Because this game was not televised, I really do not have much to add here. Kevin Pillar went 2-for-2 with a double off the bench and Mitch Moreland hit a triple. Both of those things are nice to see.

Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll travel to Bradenton to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first time this spring.

Left-hander Martin Perez will make his Red Sox debut for Boston, while right-hander Mitch Keller will get the start for Pittsburgh.

Perez is essentially a lock to be the No. 4 starter this year, so I’m looking forward to see how his first outing goes even if it is just an exhibition game. He is no stranger to the Grapefruit League either.

First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 1:05 PM EDT at LECOM Park. This game won’t be on NESN, but it will be on the Pirates’ network, so if you have MLB.TV, you are in luck.

 

Red Sox Reportedly in Agreement With Kevin Pillar on One-Year Deal

The Red Sox are reportedly in agreement with free-agent outfielder Kevin Pillar on a one-year deal in the $4 million range, according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. The completion of the deal is still pending a physical.

MLB Network’s Jon Heyman had reported that the two sides were close to a major-league deal on Tuesday.

After officially dealing Mookie Betts to the Dodgers earlier this week, the Red Sox found themselves in need of a right-handed hitting outfeilder, as the club’s projected everyday outfield — Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Alex Verdugo — are all left-handed hitters.

Pillar fills that need in addition to providing exceptional defense in center field.

In 161 total games between the Blue Jays and Giants last year, the 31-year-old slashed .259/.287/.432 with a career-best 21 home runs and 88 RBI to go along with 14 stolen bases. He was non-tendered by San Francisco in early December.

One thing Pillar did exceptionally well last year was produce against left-handed pitching, as he posted an .823 OPS in 174 plate appearances against southpaws.

Compare that to Jackie Bradley Jr.’s struggles against left-handed pitching in 2019 (.640 OPS in 188 PAs), and the two could create quite the platoon for Boston in center field.

A native of California, Pillar was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn approximately $9.7 million in his final year of salary arbitration heading into the 2020 season.

The former Blue Jay owns a lifetime slash line of .307/.339/.380 with one career home run and 22 RBI at Fenway Park.

Red Sox Avoid Arbitration With 5 of 7 Eligible Players

The Red Sox have agreed to one-year deals with five players for the 2020 season, thus avoiding salary arbitration. Those five players are outfielders Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr., and relievers Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, and Brandon Workman.

On the other hand, two players, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez and outfielder Andrew Benintendi, were unable to reach one-year agreements with the Sox, meaning they are both more than likely headed to arbitration hearings come early February.

Starting with the five players who did reach agreements on Friday, here are the figures that were settled upon by both sides.

Matt Barnes – $3.1 million

Coming off an up-and-down 2019 campaign, the 29-year-old Barnes was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $3 million in penultimate year of arbitration eligibility. Instead, the UCONN product received a bit more than that projected figure and even saw a 94% increase in his salary from last year.

Mookie Betts – $27 million

As has already been discussed on here, Betts’ $27 million payday for 2020 marks the highest ever for a player in their final year of arbitration eligibility, surpassing Colorado’s Nolan Arenado’s record of $26 million from last February. The 27-year-old was projected to earn slightly more ($27.7 million) than that historic figure.

Jackie Bradley Jr. – $11 million

This time, MLB Trade Rumors got it right in the dot, as Bradley Jr. and the Sox settled on $11 million nearly three months after the site released that projection. Like his outfield counterpart in Betts, Bradley Jr. too is set to become a free agent for the first time at the conclusion of the 2020 season.

Heath Hembree – $1.6125 million

A potential non-tender candidate back in late November and early December, Hembree has struck around for the time being, earning a $300,000 raise from his 2019 salary.

Brandon Workman – $3.5 million

Another free agent at the end of the 2020 season, Workman enjoyed great success last year and earned a well-deserved 204.3% raise because of it. He was projected to earn $3.4 million by MLB Trade Rumors.

Going back to Benintendi and Rodriguez, the player and team could still theoretically split the difference in their price and reach an agreement, according to The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham.

With that scenario unlikely to happen, it appears as if the two will take part in individual arbitration hearings by the first week of February. Winter Weekend just a got a bit more interesting.