Josh Winckowski goes just 2 innings in latest start for Triple-A Worcester in case Red Sox need additional pitching in coming days

Red Sox pitching prospect Josh Winckowski went just two innings in his fifth start of the season for Triple-A Worcester on Wednesday afternoon.

Taking on the Rochester Red Wings at Polar Park, the right-hander allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out a pair over two scoreless innings of work. 19 of the 32 pitches he went for strikes.

Given his rather low pitch count, it was somewhat surprising to see Taylor Cole take the mound in the third inning as opposed to Winckowski. However, several members of the media — including MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo — that the plan all along was for Winckowski to pitch just two innings.

Shortly after the WooSox fell to the Red Wings by a final score of 3-2, manager Chad Tracy told reporters (including MassLive.com’s Katie Morrison) that Winckowski’s outing was shorter than usual just in case the Red Sox need to call up a pitcher in the coming days.

“Just potential stuff that could happen up top that they don’t know yet,” explained Tracy. “So we wanted to make sure between [Connor] Seabold, who threw yesterday, and Winc that there’s options available. I’ll leave it at that. I don’t know what’ll happen, but those things happen sometimes. And we’ll see where all that falls.”

Winckowski, who is on Boston’s 40-man roster, has now posted a 2.75 ERA and .181/.234/.264 slash line against to go along with 19 strikeouts to five walks over 19 2/3 innings of work for Worcester this season.

The 23-year-old is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 9 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks third among pitchers in the organization. The Red Sox, of course, acquired Winckowski from the Mets as part of the three-team trade that sent Andrew Benintendi to the Royals last February.

While Winckowski, a former 15th-round draft pick of the Blue Jays, has mostly been used as a starter throughout his professional career, the Florida-born righty does have past experience as a reliever. In the Arizona Fall League last year, for instance, he made six relief appearances for the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Pitching in shorter bursts allows Winckowski to add more velocity to his fastball that typically sits at 94-96 mph, and he put that on fill display on Wednesday.

“I tried to keep it the same,” Winckowski said when going over his performance. “I kind of came out a little bit hotter than normal, I guess you could say, obviously when you only have two it’s a little bit shorter, but relatively, it was all the same for me.”

The Red Sox, at present, have two starters and one reliever on the 10- and 15-day injured lists in Rich Hill (COVID-19), Michael Wacha (left intercostal irritation), and Josh Taylor (low back strain).

Following their series finale against the Braves in Atlanta on Wednesday night, the Sox will head to Texas for a three-game series with the Rangers that begins on Friday.

Per The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham, Nick Pivetta will get the start for Friday’s series opener. The hope is that Hill will start on Saturday or Sunday and whichever one he does not start will be a bullpen game that could fall to Seabold or Wincowski.

Wacha, on the other hand, is out until May 20 at the earliest since his stint on the injured list was backdated to May 5. Garrett Whitlock will make his next start against the Astros back in Boston on Monday so he is not available.

With that, Alex Cora and Co. will likely shake up their pitching staff this weekend since Hill will either be activated or Seabold/Winckowski will be recalled from Worcester.

Because of this, corresponding moves will need to be made in the not so distant future. Kutter Crawford, for instance, has not pitched since last Thursday and is a candidate to be optioned to Worcester. Hirokazu Sawamura is another reliever who has minor-league options, so there is some flexibility there.

All that being said, Seabold and Winckowski represent internal options for the Red Sox when they find themselves in need of reinforcements on Saturday and/or Sunday.

Seabold made his big-league debut against the White Sox last September. Winckowski would be getting called up for the first time if it were to happen.

(Picture of Josh Winckowski: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox prospect Kutter Crawford tosses four scoreless innings for Double-A Portland in first start back from Tommy John surgery

On Saturday, Red Sox pitching prospect Kutter Crawford made his first start of the minor-league season for Double-A Portland.

Not only was it Crawford’s first start since August 24, 2019 with the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but it was also his first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2019.

Matched up against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Double-A affiliate of the Blue Jays, at Hadlock Field over the weekend, the right-hander turned in a solid outing in his 2021 debut.

Over four innings of work, Crawford kept the Fisher Cats off the scoreboard while scattering just three hits and no walks to go along with five strikeouts on the afternoon. He retired 12 of the 15 hitters he faced in the process of throwing 54 pitches, 40 of which were strikes.

Crawford, who turned 25 last month, was originally selected by the Red Sox in the 16th round of the 2017 amateur draft out of Florida Gulf Coast University, the same school Chris Sale attended.

Signing with Boston for $125,000, the Florida native rose through the ranks and came into the 2019 season ranked as the Sox’ No. 22 prospect according to Baseball America.

Crawford opened the 2019 campaign with High-A Salem and posted a 3.39 ERA and a 77:30 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 14 starts and 69 innings of work to earn Carolina League All-Star honors.

Promoted to Portland on June 20, Crawford provided six quality innings in two of his first three Double-A starts. But after lasting just 2 2/3 innings in his fourth start on July 12, he was placed on the injured list.

From that point forward, Crawford would be sidelined for a month before making one start in his return from the IL in August before once again getting shelved for the remainder of the season.

As he explained to MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith in February, Crawford had been experiencing elbow issues throughout the 2018 and 2019 seasons. He was able to pitch through it for a quite a while, but the discomfort got to a point in 2019 where he couldn’t throw every five days.

That led to an MRI on the hurler’s right elbow, which revealed a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament that would require Tommy John surgery.

Crawford had the procedure done by Dr. James Andrews on October 29. About nine months later, he began experiencing elbow pain again while getting back into his throwing program and would have to have bone spurs removed from his right elbow as a result.

Since then, Crawford has obviously been able to get back on track to the point where he was ready for the start of the minor-league season. His pitch arsenal still consists of a fastball, cutter, curveball, and changeup.

“One of my main focuses with the rehab throwing was to shorten my arm action a little bit,” Crawford told Smith. “I had this little hitch in 2019. I don’t really know how it developed. I didn’t have it in college. But I started having this little hitch. And that was really one of my main focuses: getting rid of that hitch and also trying to shorten my arm path just to make it more efficient so it can work a little bit easier.” 

With that new arm action in tow, Crawford will look to re-establish himself as a legitimate pitching prospect that caught people’s attention in 2018 and 2019.

The 6-foot-1, 192 pound hurler out of Okeechobee, Fla. can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career this December. The Red Sox would need to add him to their 40-man roster by November 20 in order to prevent that from happening.

(Picture of Kutter Crawford: Jill Brady/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Eduard Bazardo tosses scoreless inning, picks up first career strikeout in major-league debut for Red Sox: ‘For us to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish, he will be a factor during the season,’ Alex Cora says

Lost in the shuffle of the Red Sox sweeping their doubleheader against the Twins and extending their winning streak to nine consecutive games on Wednesday was Eduard Bazardo making his major-league debut.

The 25-year-old right-hander was called up by Boston from the alternate training site to serve as the team’s 27th man in Wednesday’s twin bill.

After not making an appearance in Game 1, Bazardo was called upon to work the seventh and final inning — a point in which the Sox already had a 7-1 lead, making for a low-leverage, low-pressure outing — of Game 2.

Bazardo, donning rec specs, high socks, and the No. 83, faced five Twins hitters in total; walking two, striking out one, and getting two more to ground out.

All in all, the Venezuelan hurler needed 24 pitches — 15 of which were strikes — to work a scoreless bottom half of the seventh and lock down the 7-1 victory for his side.

Of those 24 pitches, 11 were sliders, nine were four-seam fastballs, and four were curveballs. He induced four swings-and-misses with his slider while also sitting at 93-95 mph with his heater.

Though Bazardo was ultimately and unsurprisingly sent back down to the alternate training site in Worcester following Wednesday’s action, Red Sox manager Alex Cora seemed optimistic that this will not be the last time he sees the 6-foot, 190 pound hurler pitching for the Sox this season.

“I think throughout the season, this guy, he’ll help us,” Cora said of the young righty Wednesday morning. “Good fastball. The best breaking ball. Everybody talks about it in the organization, right? A strike thrower. A strike-throwing machine. He’s not afraid. He attacks the strike zone with good stuff. He impressed a lot of people last year. He impressed me in spring training. … For us to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish, he will be a factor during the season.”

Bazardo, who does not turn 26 until September, was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster last November on the strength of an impressive showing at the team’s fall instructional league in Fort Myers.

He is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as the 28th-ranked prospect in Boston’s farm system.

(Picture of Eduard Bazardo: David Berding/Getty Images)

Top Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata returns to throwing program after suffering slight UCL tear in early March

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.

Since then, Mata has apparently been progressing at a steady pace. On March 24, Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush revealed that the young hurler would “get back into a throwing program before too long” to test out his elbow.

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)

New Podding the Red Sox episode: Pitching prospect Zach Bryant joins the show

On this week’s installment of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by newest Red Sox right-handed pitching prospect Zach Bryant, who the club acquired from the Chicago Cubs last weekend.

Among the topics Zach and I discussed were how he grew up a Red Sox fan despite being born and raised in Florida, how weightlifting helped turn him into a legitimate prospect, how he works out with Orioles outfielder Austin Hays and Rockies first-round draft pick Zac Veen in the offseason, how Driveline Baseball has helped him improve, how he faced off against Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani while at the Driveline facility, what Red sox fans can expect out of him in 2021, and much more!

The episode is available to listen to on iTunes and Spotify, among other platforms.

Thanks to Zach for taking some time out of his busy schedule to have a conversation with me. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here, and you can follow him on Instagram by clicking here.

Thank you for listening and we will see you next time! Please make sure to subscribe and leave a five-star review if you can!

(Picture of Zach Bryant: Aussiedi Photography)

Red Sox ‘have some interest’ in free-agent reliever Ben Heller, per report

As pitchers and catchers report to their respective spring training camps this week, the Red Sox are reportedly interested in adding to their bullpen mix.

According to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, the Sox “have some interest” in free-agent right-handed reliever Ben Heller.

Heller, 29, was released by the Yankees last week after initially being designated for assignment so that the club could make room on its 40-man roster for fellow reliever Darren O’Day.

In parts of four seasons (2016-17, 2019-20) with New York, the Wisconsin native posted a 2.59 ERA and 5.57 FIP over 31 total appearances and 31 1/3 innings of work.

The reason Heller did not pitch in 2018 was due to the fact that he underwent Tommy John surgery that also involved the removal of a bone spur in his throwing elbow in April of that year.

Per Baseball Savant, the 6-foot-3, 210 lb. righty operates with a four-seam fastball, a curveball, and a changeup.

Originally selected by the Indians in the 22nd round of the 2013 draft out of Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.), Heller is perhaps most notably known for being part of the trade that sent left-hander Andrew Miller to Cleveland and outfielder Clint Frazier and lefty Justus Sheffield, then top prospects, to New York in July 2016.

As noted by Cotillo, Heller should be a popular name on the free-agent market because not only has he put up decent numbers in the majors, but he’s also under team control for three more seasons and has one minor-league option remaining on his contract.

Taking those factors into consideration, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think that Heller could net himself a major-league deal — or at the very least a potentially lucrative minor-league pact with an invite to big-league camp — at some point before Opening Day.

If the Red Sox were to sign Heller, or another available reliever, to a major-league contract, they would have to clear a 40-man roster spot for that individual since their 40-man is currently at full capacity.

That note does not take into account that utilityman Marwin Gonzalez still needs to be added to the 40-man as well since his signing has not yet been made official.

(Picture of Ben Heller: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Red Sox add right-hander Matt Carasiti on minor-league deal, per report

The Red Sox have signed free-agent right-hander Matt Carasiti to a minor-league contract for the 2021 season, according to WEEI’s Rob Bradford. The deal also includes an invite to major-league spring training.

Carasiti, 29, is a veteran of two major-league seasons — first with the Rockies in 2016 and then with Mariners in 2019 — and owns a lifetime 7.46 ERA and 4.83 FIP over 30 appearances (five starts as an opener) and 25 1/3 innings of work between the two clubs.

A native of Berlin, Conn., Carasiti was originally selected by Colorado in the sixth round of the 2012 amateur draft out of St. John’s University in Queens.

Across seven minor-league seasons between five different levels, the 6-foot-2, 205 lb. righty is 17-29 with an ERA of 4.26 and batting average against of .272 over 250 total appearances, 34 of which were starts, and 432 2/3 innings pitched.

He also has experience overseas, as he pitched for the Yakult Swallows of Nippon Professional Baseball in 2018 before coming back over to the states.

Around this time last year, Carasiti inked a minor-league pact with the San Francisco Giants only to undergo Tommy John surgery in March.

Per Bradford, the New England-born hurler recently held a workout for approximately nine clubs in Connecticut, leading to his signing with the Sox.

Based off data from Baseball Savant, Carasiti works with a sinker, a cutter, a forkball, and a changeup.

(h/t Chris Hogan for the video)

Carasiti will have the opportunity to further showcase this pitch mix while competing for a spot in the Red Sox’ Opening Day bullpen next month, though he will likely begin the year with Triple-A Pawtucket in more of a depth role.

So far this offseason, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have either signed or re-signed the following players to minor-league deals:

C Roldani Baldwin
C Jhonny Pereda
1B Joey Meneses
1B Josh Ockimey
INF Jack Lopez
INF Jeremy Rivera
OF Cesar Puello
OF Michael Gettys
OF Johan Mieses
LHP Emmanuel De Jesus
LHP Stephen Gonsalves
RHP Kevin McCarthy
RHP Seth Blair
RHP Raynel Espinal
RHP Caleb Simpson
RHP Zack Kelly
RHP Jose Disla
RHP Daniel Gossett
RHP Zac Grotz
RHP Jose Adames
RHP Matt Carasiti

(Picture of Matt Carasiti: John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Red Sox add right-hander Zac Grotz on minor-league deal

The Red Sox have signed free-agent right-hander Zac Grotz to a minor-league contract for the 2021 season, according to MLB.com’s transaction wire.

The deal includes an invite to major-league spring training, per MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Grotz, who turns 28 next month, was originally drafted by the Astros in the 28th round of the 2015 amateur draft out of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Shortly after getting drafted, though, Houston released the righty the following April, and it wasn’t until August 2016 when he was picked up by the Dodgers.

Since then, Grotz has spent time with the Dodgers, Mets, and Mariners organizations as well as three independent league teams. He made his major-league debut for Seattle on August 2, 2019.

In 19 appearances out of the Mariners bullpen between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the California native posted a 7.30 ERA and 6.45 FIP to go along with 22 strikeouts and 19 walks over 24 2/3 innings of work. It is worth noting that he was far better in 2019 than he was in 2020, as was the case with many players.

Looking at what he’s done in the minors, Grotz owns a lifetime 3.29 ERA over 65 outings, 21 of which were starts, and 180 1/3 innings pitched across five levels.

Per Baseball Savant, the 6-foot-2, 195 lb. hurler’s pitch mix consists of a slider, a curveball, a split-finger fastball, and a slider.

With his addition, Grotz figures to vie for a spot in the Red Sox’ bullpen at the onset of spring training next month. In all likelihood, though, he’ll probably begin the 2021 season with Triple-A Worcester.

So far this offseason, the Red Sox have either signed or re-signed the following players to minor-league deals:

C Roldani Baldwin
C Jhonny Pereda
1B Joey Meneses
1B Josh Ockimey
INF Jeremy Rivera
OF Cesar Puello
OF Michael Gettys
OF Johan Mieses
LHP Emmanuel De Jesus
LHP Stephen Gonsalves
RHP Kevin McCarthy
RHP Seth Blair
RHP Raynel Espinal
RHP Caleb Simpson
RHP Zack Kelly
RHP Jose Disla
RHP Daniel Gossett
RHP Zac Grotz

(Picture of Zac Grotz: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Red Sox ‘uninterested’ in exploring four-year deals for free-agent pitchers this winter, prefer ‘shorter-term deals of up to to two or three years in length’

Before coveted Japanese right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano returned to the Yomiuri Giants of the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization on Thursday, it appeared as though the Red Sox had at least some interest in signing the 31-year-old hurler before his posting period ended.

According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, “the Sox had some interest in Sugano – who possesses excellent command of a four-pitch mix anchored by a low-90s fastball along with a slider and splitter – but his asking price exceeded the team’s level of interest.”

This is mainly the case because Sugano was reportedly seeking out a contract of four years or more from interested clubs, which apparently goes against Boston’s philosophy when it comes to signing free-agent pitchers this offseason.

In other words, the Red Sox “have been uninterested in exploring deals of that length for pitchers” and “have been focused on shorter-term deals of up to two or three years in length this winter,” per Speier.

Free-agent righty Jake Odorizzi would seemingly fit that mold after The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on Wednesday that the 30-year-old “expects to land a three-year contract in the $36 million to $42 million range” at some point this winter.

Aside from Odorizzi, who is familiar with chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom from their time together in Tampa Bay, Speier notes that while top free-agent pitcher Trevor Bauer likely won’t garner interest from the Red Sox on account of his hefty price tag, the club is still very much in need of starting pitching help following a dismal 2020 campaign from its shorthanded rotation.

With that in mind, Boston may look into signing other veterans still on the market such as Corey Kluber or Rich Hill, both of whom reside in Massachusetts during the offseason.

Kluber, a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner, is expected to hold a workout — one in which the Red Sox will attend — for interested teams in Florida on January 13.

(Picture of Chaim Bloom: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox sign former Athletics right-hander Daniel Gossett to minor-league deal, per report

The Red Sox have signed free-agent right-hander Daniel Gossett to a minor-league contract for the 2021 season, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. The deal also includes an invite to major-league spring training.

Gossett, 28, was originally drafted by Boston out of high school in the 16th round of the 2011 amateur draft, but he opted to honor his commitment to Clemson University as opposed to signing with the club.

Later drafted out of Clemson by the Athletics in the second of the 2014 amateur draft, the South Carolina native made 23 big-league starts with Oakland between the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

He posted a 5.91 ERA and 5.67 FIP over 115 2/3 total innings of work in those outings before undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2018.

Since going under the knife, Gossett may have missed the remainder of 2018 and the entirety of 2019, but he did make five starts for the Mesa Solar Sox in last year’s Arizona Fall League.

In those five starts, the 6-foot, 185 lb. hurler yielded just four earned runs on 10 hits and three walks to go along with 12 strikeouts over 14 innings pitched. That’s good for an ERA of 2.57 and .204 batting average against.

Following that impressive showing in the desert, Gossett opened up the shortened 2020 campaign on the Athletics’ 40-man roster and at the team’s alternate training site in San Jose. But, the once-highly touted pitching prospect was designated for assignment and subsequently released in late July.

According to The Athletic’s Melissa Lockard, Gossett “is healthy and ready for a full season in 2021.”

If anything, Gossett could provide intriguing starting rotation depth to a Red Sox team in need of it at the moment.

Working primarily with a four-seam fastball, slider, changeup, curveball, and sinker, the former A’s righty owns a lifetime 3.36 ERA over 23 appearances (21 starts) and 128 2/3 innings spanning parts of three seasons, as noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

With that in mind, Gossett could begin the 2021 season in Triple-A Worcester’s rotation depending on how well he performs in spring training. We will have to wait and see on that.

So far this offseason, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have either signed — Gossett included — or re-signed the following players to minor-league deals:

C Roldani Baldwin
C Jhonny Pereda
1B Joey Meneses
1B Josh Ockimey
OF Cesar Puello
OF Michael Gettys
OF Johan Mieses
LHP Emmanuel De Jesus
LHP Stephen Gonsalves
RHP Kevin McCarthy
RHP Seth Blair
RHP Raynel Espinal
RHP Caleb Simpson
RHP Zack Kelly
RHP Jose Disla
RHP Daniel Gossett