Allen Webster: ‘I feel pretty confident right now on the mound’

By Ryan Hannable

BOSTON — After allowing six runs on four walks in 2.2 innings three starts ago against the Yankees, Allen Webster has turned things around.

The 24-year-old has strung together three straight quality starts — the latest being Tuesday against the Angels when he went six innings allowing three runs on seven hits, while walking two and striking out three, taking a no-decision in the Red Sox’ 4-3 loss to the Angels. For a young pitcher who was boo’d off the mound three weeks ago at Fenway, he’s turned things around.

“I feel pretty confident right now on the mound,” said Webster. “I just have to telling myself to trust my stuff and let them put the ball in play.”

Webster had just one bad inning — the third — when the Angels sent seven men to the plate and scored the three runs. Kole Calhoun singled to tie the game at one then Mike Trout tripled to put the Angels ahead 2-1. Finally, Albert Pujols reached on an infield single after the Angels challenged a spectacular diving stop at third base from Will Middlebrooks, but the throw from his back was just a split-second late, giving the Angels a 3-1 lead at the time.

The third inning has given Webster issues this season as he has a 23.14 ERA in the third this season.

“I just left some balls over the middle – hung a slider to Trout and he got a triple off that. They got a few from there,” said Webster.

From there Webster calmed down and cruised as the Angels had just one hit against him after that inning and he retired the last five hitters he faced.

“I thought tonight was another step forward for [Webster],” manager John Farrell said. “He gets about a three hitter stretch where they squared up a couple of pitches that stayed up on the plate, but six solid innings of work. I thought he settled in after the third inning pretty well.”

Control will always be the issue with Webster as coming into Tuesday’s start he had a six walks per nine innings ratio in the majors. Although he’s allowed at least two walks in the three starts since the Yankees outing, he hasn’t let them hurt him and he’s developed a new approach to force the hitters to put the ball in play.

“I just tried to do the same thing I did before, which is let them put the ball in play and let the defense do the work,” said Webster.

Webster has an opponents batting average of .223 — the lowest among Red Sox starters.

For Webster, who throws fairly hard — in the mid-to-upper 90s with his fastball — has arguably the best raw stuff among the rising Red Sox pitching prospects, but it’s the command that has held him back. If he can build on his recent consistency there is no question he has the stuff to be in the Red Sox’ starting rotation to open 2015.

“It’s good to see him backup outings in a positive way and build some momentum and some confidence on his own right,” Farrell said.

What do you think of Allen Webster of late? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment section or on Twitter @RyanHannable.

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Ben Cherington on Bradley Jr., Bogaerts, are the Red Sox willing to trade prospects?

By Ryan Hannable

BOSTON — Ben Cherington spoke to the media Tuesday, the day after the club sent Jackie Bradley Jr. down to Pawtucket and recalled Mookie Betts. The general manager also touched on a few other subjects, including why the struggling Xander Bogaerts hasn’t been sent down and is the organization willing to trade prospects this offseason.

Here are a sample of his responses:

Why Jackie Bradley Jr. was sent down: “We have gone through several phases of the year before the All-Star break where it looked like some things were starting to take hold with some momentum – we certainly expected and hoped that would continue after the All-Star break. He started to struggle again and I think once we got past the deadline – as the direction of the team changed – we started to think how do we give him the best chance to build some momentum going into the offseason knowing he’s a very important guy for us moving forward and certainly no question he has the defense so we were more focused on the offense. We just got to a point where we felt in order for him to build some momentum going into the offseason it would be best for him to get a bunch of at-bats with Pawtucket and try to lock into a routine that works for him that he could feel good about. We fully expect him to be back in September, but that is also so he can go into the offseason with a good solid routine and plan in place to build on for 2015.”

Why hasn’t Xander Bogaerts been sent down: “As you guys know it is not uncommon for a really talented player like Xander to go through struggles and frankly we didn’t expect him to struggle to this extent because we’ve seen him be so good, especially at the big league level. Sure enough it’s happened so he’s battling through that and we’re trying to help him anyway we can. It hasn’t changed at all what we think of him and what he could be.”

“Every player is different. I can just tell you that in our eyes this is where he needs to be – be our shortstop for the rest of this season and allow him to work though what he’s working through. Every player has a different circumstance and this is where we feel is best for him.”

Are the Red Sox willing to trade away some of their prospects: “I don’t think we’ve ever been unwilling to trade prospects … for the right player of course we would consider trading prospects. We just have to see. Clearly there are areas we’d like to add to this offseason and we have to figure out what makes the most sense. Whether that is to add via free agency or through trades – we have to weigh the cost and expected return. Definitely times when a trade makes more sense than free agency and vise versa the same thing. We just have to get into the offseason and see where the opportunities are.”

For up-to-the-minute Red Sox news and updates, follow @RyanHannable.

 

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How impressive is David Ortiz’s 400 career home run with the Red Sox milestone?

By Ryan Hannable

BOSTON — David Ortiz is now linked to two of the greatest hitters in Red Sox history — Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski — as Ortiz belted his 400th and 401st home runs as a member of the Red Sox Saturday night at Fenway Park.

Williams leads the Red Sox with 521 career homers with Yastrzemski posting a not too shabby 452.

“It’s an honor to be up there mentioned with those legends,” Ortiz said. “You come to this organization to play and you’re not expecting your name to be mentioned with those guys, but it happens. You do what you have to do.”

Even more impressive is the number of plate appearances it took Ortiz to do it compared to the other two. He beat Ted Williams to the milestone by 678 plate appearances — roughly a little more than a full season.

“When you consider how many fewer games he’s done it in it’s really remarkable,” manager John Farrell said. “He’s in rare company with the two other guys he’s now linked to – to see it in roughly 60 percent of the games with one and almost half the games with the other it’s amazing with what he’s been able to do here.”

Ortiz has now hit 28 home runs on the season, which leads all left-handed hitters in MLB, and is on pace for another 30 home run, 100 RBI season even at the age of 38. It’s even more impressive if you consider all the different players he’s had to hit between this season.

“To be on pace for another 30 and 100 and well past that pace – he’s the main cog in the lineup,” Farrell said. “Whether there’s been different guys around him in the lineup it seemingly hasn’t effected the overall power and production, which I think is a testament to him at times being more aggressive and drive the ball in situations where in the past he’s part of building an inning. He’s having one heck of a year once again.”

Even with the 56-66 record and being 13 1/2 games out of first place, that has no barring on how Ortiz approaches the game.

“Pride. You have to have pride in what you do,” he said. “You have to make sure that you go 100 percent out there, you play your best. The fans come in to watch you play and you have to give that what they expect.”

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Clay Buchholz takes some accountability for ‘frustrating’ season

By Ryan Hannable

BOSTON — The 2014 season has not gone the way both Clay Buchholz or the Boston Red Sox have wanted it to.

With the departures of Jon Lester and John Lackey, Buchholz finds himself as the veteran leader of the Red Sox pitching staff. His first start in that role did not go as well as he would have liked as he went five innings allowing seven runs on eight hits, while allowing five walks in taking a no-decision in the Red Sox’ 8-7 loss to the Yankees. Buchholz’s ERA is now 6.20 on the year — the worst in the American League (minimum of 60 innings).

“I felt like that a lot this year,” Buchholz said of being frustrated. “Just go back to work tomorrow, I guess. It’s been a frustrating year for me individually — and obviously the organization — it’s definitely not the way you want to go out there and wear the Boston Red Sox uniform and not perform on any given night. A lot of that is on my shoulders and not picking up the weight that I need to pick up during the season.”

Buchholz just hasn’t been able to put anything together consistently this season, with the walks being the major problem. In his first five outings coming off the disabled list on June 24 he issued just one walk spanning 35.2 innings, but in his last three starts he has issued 13 walks in 16 innings.

“Well the walks once again,” manager John Farrell said. “Over the last three or four games the walks have played a key part in the runs we’ve allowed. That was the case again tonight.”

After opening the 2013 season 11-0 with a 1.51 ERA, it has all been downhill since for the 29-year-old. Of the 18 starts Buchholz has made this season — in six of them he has allowed six or more earned runs, which equates to a third of his starts. That simply is not acceptable at the major league level.

“Yeah, pretty frustrating,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s definitely frustrating.”

He added: “Constant battle of going out there trying to throw up zeros and when it doesn’t happen it just gets more frustrating. It’s part of the game, that’s why the game is hard. You have to find a way to get through it.”

Being the leader of the pitching staff might give Buchholz a little more added pressure, but he brushed that aside following the game.

“No different. My mindset is always to go out and compete, try and keep the team in the game and obviously I didn’t do either of those tonight,” said Buchholz.

There is no denying Buchholz is the veteran leader of the pitching staff as besides newly acquired Joe Kelly, no one in the starting rotation has a full year of major league experience. Whether or not the Red Sox go out and get one or two proven top of the line starters this offseason remains to be seen, but in all likelihood Buchholz will be a part of the rotation.

In order for the Red Sox to be good again, they need Buchholz to be good. These last two months of the season will be important for the right-hander to gain some confidence and prepare him for 2015 as whether he’s the No. 1, 2 or even 5 starter, he will play a valuable role.

 

 

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Red Sox didn’t settle on prospects at trade deadline, got major league players in effort to win immediately

By Ryan Hannable

BOSTON — Most times when major league teams complete four trades on trade deadline day they kick-start a major rebuilding process. The Red Sox this season may be one of the only exceptions to this as they certainly are not in a rebuilding mode.

While they traded away four-fifth’s of their starting rotation, one of their best relievers and a proven platoon player, in return the Red Sox got three major league players, including one of the premier right-handed power hitters in the game in Yoenis Cespedes.

“This isn’t a development setting right now. It’s still about us going out and winning,” manager John Farrell said prior to Friday’s game. “This isn’t a group of prospects brought in through trades. We brought in established big leaguers. Our focus should remain the same and that is to go out win each night. This isn’t about going out and getting X number of at-bats for a young guy or getting a certain number of starts for a young pitcher. We have youth in the rotation, but the expectation isn’t going to change. I think that is important for us guys to know that because we’ve gone though a number of changes – large in part because we contributed to the record to date, that is not acceptable – there are changes that have gone on and winning is the priority.”

At 48-60 on July 31, moves needed to be made with an eye towards the future. Teams in a position like the Red Sox, trading the top two pitchers of the World Series winning starting rotation from the year before in Jon Lester and John Lackey usually would be seeking top prospects in return to build their next great team.

Not for Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington as he would only have traded those two players unless he got major league players in return – which he did in Cespedes, Joe Kelly and Allen Craig — as the Red Sox have their eye on winning in 2015, not a few years down the road.

“It didn’t make any sense for us to trade both Lester and Lackey unless we were getting at least one major league starting pitcher back — if not major league players total back – in return,” Cherington said. “In light of what I said, it didn’t end up making sense for us to do either of both for a prospect package. It just would have made the next several months of the season more difficult to build to what we want to be. If we were going to do it, we really prioritized getting major league players, but then in particular at last one starting pitcher back, and in Kelly we feel like we have a guy who is on the come and is a developing, advancing major league starting pitcher.”

While the rest of the season will be primarily about getting themselves in a good position of knowing where their young players stand, particularly from the mound, it still is about winning. With the roster the Red Sox have, it should be nothing except winning.

They still have their core position players in David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and rising stars in Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Will Middlebrooks and Christan Vazquez. Adding Cespedes and Craig to the mix make them even stronger and gives them such much needed power.

“More than anything where we are in the standings is not acceptable and that is why changes took place. I would hope this wouldn’t be seen as a chance to ease in – I don’t think that is what the Boston Red Sox are about,” Farrell said. ”It’s still an approach and an expectation that we share that our focus is daily and the day that night is the most important thing.”

The Red Sox have acknowledged no matter what happens in their rotation the rest of the season they will be actively seeking starting pitching in the offseason either via free agency or trade likely for a top of the rotation pitcher as right now they only have Clay Buchholz as a proven veteran.

Moving forward, aside from Buchholz and Kelly the Red Sox will be holding a “tryout” of sorts for the younger starters in their system – the likes of Anthony Ranaudo, Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and possibly Steven Wright and Henry Owens – to see who of those is ready to take the next step in being a major league pitcher in 2015.

“We feel like they’ve gone through a transition phase and whether or not that was part of last year or the year prior in De La Rosa’s case, we feel like the majority of that transition is now behind them,” said Farrell. “Now that comes a greater expectation.”

Friday night was the beginning of the “new 2014” for the Red Sox as they had Ranaudo make his big league debut and hold the Yankees to two runs over six innings to pick up his first major league win. Craig recorded a double in his first game as a Red Sox and Cespedes will make his debut on Saturday after flying cross country Friday.

There was a different feel at Fenway on Friday night – more excitement and enthusiasm with the team that hadn’t been there since the few month or so of the season – with that came a well-played in and some intrigue in Ranaudo’s start.

This will likely be the case for the rest of the season as although they are seemingly out of any chance of making the postseason, there is still the development of their younger players to track, along with getting to know new-comers Craig, Cespedes and Kelly, who are almost certain to play major roles on the 2015 ballclub.

Cherington and Co. did it again, as instead of settling for prospects and a long-term rebuild or even letting Lester and Lackey pitch out the year, he was bold and did what he needed to do to make the Red Sox better instantly and not rely on how prospects pan out for their future success.

 

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