Red Sox Waste Big Offensive Nights From Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers in Soul-Crushing 9-7 Loss to Yankees

In their highest-scoring game since Opening Day, the Red Sox still found a way to lose to the Yankees on Sunday night, as they fell to the Bronx Bombers by a final score of 9-7 and were unable to avoid getting swept by their division rivals.

Utilizing the opener strategy in this one, the Sox first turned to right-hander Austin Brice on Sunday, who was technically making his first career major-league start although he only pitched a scoreless first inning while walking two and striking out the side.

From there, left-hander Matt Hall, who served as an opener for Boston last week, had a tougher time of things from the middle of the second on. That being the case because the 27-year-old served up a three-run blast to Aaron Judge in his first frame of work and back-to-back, two-out RBI doubles to Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela in his second.

Heath Hembree was next up, and after tossing a perfect bottom of the fourth, the veteran righty got taken deep by Luke Voit on a two-out solo shot in the fifth. At the time, Voit’s homer pulled the Yankees back even with the Sox at 6-6.

The Boston offense was able to tack on another run in between Marcus Walden’s two shutout frames of relief in the sixth and seventh, but things took a turn for the worse for the Red Sox bullpen in the bottom of the eighth.

There, Matt Barnes entered with his side up one run at 7-6, got the first two outs of the inning rather easily, and then walked Mike Tauchman, the Yankees’ No. 9 hitter, on five pitches.

As the saying goes, “walks will haunt,” and that walk certainly would come back to haunt Barnes later on.

With New York’s lineup turning back over, Tauchman took off for second base with D.J. LeMahieu at the plate and got to the bag safely. Having to deal with a runner in scoring position now, Barnes couldn’t sneak a 2-2, 96 mph fastball past the Yankees second baseman and instead gave up a game-tying, run-scoring single back up the middle. 7-7.

It would have been one thing if Barnes managed to escape the eighth with the 7-7 stalemate still intact, but the ever-dangerous Judge had other ideas in mind.

Arguably the girthiest No. 2 hitter in baseball, the Yankees slugger took a 2-0, hanging 84 mph curveball from Barnes and deposited it 468(!) feet to the bleachers in left field.

That soul-crushing missile of a two-run home run put the Yanks up 9-7, which would ultimately go on to be Sunday’s final score as Barnes was hit with his first loss and blown save of the season.

On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against another familiar foe in the form of Yankees southpaw James Paxton.

With the Canadian-born Paxton on the hill, the Boston bats actually got on the board in the first inning for the first time all weekend when after J.D. Martinez reached base on a two-out double that could have been caught, Xander Bogaerts crushed his second big fly of the season 386 feet to right-center field to put his side up two early on.

In the third, more damage off Paxton came when Kevin Pillar led things off with a ground-rule double and came around to score moments later on a Rafael Devers RBI base knock to right.

A Martinez strikeout followed by consecutive one-out, run-scoring singles off the bats of Bogaerts and Christian Vazquez brought in two more runs, and the Red Sox had themselves a 5-3 lead just like that.

Fast forward to the fifth, and Bogaerts struck once more, this time taking Yankees reliever Michael King 437 feet to left-center field for his second dinger of the evening. 6-5 Boston.

And in the seventh, it was Devers’ turn to put his pull-side power on display, as he watched King hang a 2-1, hanging changeup on the inner half of the plate and proceeded to send it all the way to the right field bleachers, or more specifically, 427 feet away from home plate.

Devers’ long-awaited first long ball of the new season looked to be the all-important go-ahead hit in this one as it put the Sox up by one run at 7-6. A las, as previously mentioned, the Yankees staged a rather soul-crushing comeback in their half of the eighth, and 9-7 would go on to be your final score. Red Sox get swept.

Some notes and observations from this loss:

The Red Sox are 3-7 through their first 10 games of 2020.

From MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith:

From The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier:

Despite the loss, Rafael Devers had an impressive night on both sides of the ball.

10 games into the season, the Red Sox have one of the worst records in baseball. Not great! It’s not a total surprise, but it’s still not great!

Anyway, the Sox have an off day on Monday before opening up a rare two-game set against the Rays in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and left-hander Martin Perez are slated to start for Boston, while right-hander Charlie Morton and left-hander Ryan Yarbrough are lined up to do the same for Tampa Bay.

This will be the first of two trips to St. Pete for the Sox this season. They won 60% of their games at Tropicana Field in 2019.

First pitch Tuesday is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. eastern time on NESN and WEEI. Enjoy the off day.

Austin Brice to Make First Career Start for Red Sox in Series Finale Against Yankees

Right-hander Austin Brice will make his first career major-league start for the Red Sox against the Yankees on Sunday night, manager Ron Roenicke announced following Saturday’s 5-2 defeat in the Bronx.

This announcement comes as the No. 5 spot in the Red Sox’ starting rotation is due up next. Last time through, left-hander Josh Osich served as the opener out of the No. 4 spot this past Monday, while fellow southpaw Matt Hall was lined up to be more of a traditional starter in the No. 5 spot, but only lasted 2 2/3 innings against the Mets this past Tuesday.

Now, as Boston is about to complete their second turn through the rotation, it will be the 28-year-old Brice getting the call to open against the vaunted Yankees to close out the weekend.

Originally acquired by the Sox in a minor trade with the Marlins back in January, Brice has never started a game at the major-league level since making his debut with Miami in 2016. However, the former ninth-round draft pick out of high school in 2010 has made 114 career starts at the minor-league level.

The last time Brice was a full-time starter was during the 2015 season, when in 25 outings and 125 1/3 innings pitched with Double-A Jacksonville, the North Carolina native who was actually born in Hong Kong posted a 4.67 ERA and 4.19 xFIP, per FanGraphs.

According to Roenicke, the plan is to have Brice go the first one or two innings on Sunday before dispatching up to six to seven relievers rather than a “bulk-inning guy.” This comes as the Red Sox have an off day in Tampa Bay following Sunday’s series finale against New York.

“We will see where we are. But the bulk-inning guy, if we’re scoring runs and it’s tight, probably won’t be as long as what we normally do,” Roenicke told reporters Saturday. “I think that off day the next day (Monday) certainly helps us to bring in some of the guys to keep it tighter instead of going maybe three or four innings with somebody.”

In what will be his first start and fifth overall appearance as a member of the Red Sox, Brice will enter Sunday’s contest with a 7.71 ERA and 7.81 FIP through his first 4 2/3 innings pitched of 2020.

Reintroducing Red Sox Left-Hander Matt Hall

You probably haven’t heard much about Matt Hall since the Red Sox acquired him from the Tigers in January, but the left-hander has a chance to be a key cog in Boston’s bullpen this season.

After Hall finished his three innings of work while striking out five in Monday morning’s intrasquad game which was more of a simulated game/live batting practice session, Sox manager Ron Roenicke seemed pleased with the 26-year-old’s efforts when speaking to reporters via Zoom.

“Matt Hall,” Roenicke said. “Matt is one of those guys… He looked really good today.”

On what he specifically liked about Hall’s outing, Roenicke mentioned the lefty’s curveball, which Hall himself has said is his best pitch.

“We know he’s got a good curveball, and he showed that today,” said the Sox skipper. “Talking to our hitters commenting on the curveball, that is a real nice weapon he has. And he threw the fastball well. He kind of cuts it in on right-handers. I was really impressed with him today.”

As noted by The Providence Journal’s Bill Koch, “Hall’s high fastball and curveball start in the same tunnel – up and away from right-handers, high and tight to left-handers – and appear capable of causing some confusion if he commands them,” which can somewhat be seen in the accompanying video:

Roenicke added that the Red Sox view Hall, a product of Missouri State, as someone who could provide the club with multiple innings out of the bullpen, and he seems best suited for the “bulk-inning guy” role, or the pitcher who comes in after the opener, which Boston will likely employ seeing how thin their starting rotation currently is. Colten Brewer and Marcus Walden are among the candidates for that particular role.

As for Hall, the six-foot, 200 lb. southpaw was originally drafted by Detroit in the sixth round of the 2015 amateur draft. The Tigers designated him for assignment over the winter after a disappointing 2019 campaign in which he posted 7.71 ERA over 16 appearances and 23 1/3 innings pitched.

On January 17, Hall was dealt to Boston in exchange for minor-league catcher Jhon Nunez.

Flash forward nearly six months later, and Matt Hall should certainly be someone to keep an eye on as the 2020 season nears.

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.

Travis Lakins Would Be Intriguing Option to Open Games for Red Sox in 2020

As things stand headed into the new year, the Red Sox have five viable options to make up their starting rotation next season in Chris Sale, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and the recently-signed Martin Perez.

However, with it looking more and more likely that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom will eventually trade Price away to a club like the Los Angeles Dodgers or St. Louis Cardinals, a hole in that rotation may open yet again.

Because of that possibility, it’s not all that ridiculous to think that the Sox could pursue using an opener in 2020 if they do not add another starting pitcher. Remember, Bloom was at the helm in Tampa when the Rays began employing the opener strategy in 2018.

Going off what The Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey said in a predictions piece last week, Boston would be more prepared to implement an opener next season than they were this past one, when they had to turn to the strategy out of necessity due to injuries.

With that, right-hander Travis Lakins presents one potential name who could fill that opener role for the Sox come the spring.

In 16 appearances, three of which were starts, in 2019, the 25-year-old rookie posted a 3.86 ERA and 5.22 xFIP over 23 1/3 innings of work spanning five stints with the big-league club.

A 5.22 xFIP in the majors is certainly nothing to write home about, but when you narrow Lakins’ numbers down to when he appeared as an opener for the first time on September 7th against the Yankees, the results improve greatly to the tune of a 2.25 ERA, a 4.45 xFIP, and a .650 OPS against over six outings (three starts) and eight innings pitched.

It’s a small sample size, sure, but if Bloom and Co. are going to be looking for a creative way to fill Price’s spot in the starting rotation once he is eventually dealt, Lakins certainly checks that box.

Josh Taylor to Make First Career Start for Red Sox in Second Game Against Angels

Red Sox left-hander Josh Taylor will be making the first start of his major league career on Saturday night, as he gets the ball for Boston in the second of three against the Los Angeles Angels.

Named the starter earlier Saturday, Taylor will serve as the “opener” in what will be a bullpen day for the Sox as they go for the series win over the Halos.

Through 40 relief appearances this season, the 26-year-old rookie has posted a 3.15 ERA and .235 batting average against over exactly 40 innings pitched since making his big league debut against the Cleveland Indians on May 29th.

Taylor did allow two runs in the fifth inning of Friday’s 7-6 15-inning win over Los Angeles to snap a stretch of 12 straight scoreless outings.

Over the course of that impressive run, Taylor did do something somewhat similar to starting a game, when in the continuation of that August 7th contest against the Kansas City Royals on the 22nd, the Arizona native picked up where he left off and tossed a 1-2-3 top half of the 10th to earn the first winning decision of his young career.

Here is how the rest of the Red Sox will lineup behind Taylor on Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 9:07 PM EDT on NESN.