03/18/2013 7:07 PM ET
Boston coaches enthralled by Classic drama
By Evan Drellich / MLB.com
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Red Sox are still in the thick of the World Baseball Classic, literally and from afar, with just two games to go.
Pitching coach Juan Nieves and assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez have Puerto Rico roots. The team has its top prospect playing for the Netherlands and another player striking out everyone in sight for Team Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico has already advanced to the 8 p.m. ET championship game, set for Tuesday night at AT&T Park in San Francisco, and is waiting on the winner of Monday night's 9 p.m. semifinal game between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic.
"I think that's going to be a big thing," Rodriguez said of the finals. "Talking to my family in Puerto Rico, the people are very excited about it. Hopefully that will help pick up baseball like it used to be when I played there a long time ago and get the baseball spirits back in Puerto Rico."
Xander Bogaerts, who is ranked the organization's No. 1 prospect by MLB.com, is 5-for-19 (.263) with two doubles and a .364 on-base percentage for the Netherlands.
There are 28 pitchers with more innings thrown in the Classic than reliever Jose De La Torre, the Red Sox right-hander playing for Puerto Rico. Only three pitchers, relievers or starters, in the tournament have more strikeouts.
De La Torre, 27, has walked just one batter and fanned 11 in 5 1/3 innings during the Classic, including names like Jimmy Rollins, Brandon Phillips and Ryan Braun.
"Awesome," Nieves said of De La Torre. "He's a game pitcher. Of course, you see some guys in the bullpen, you're like, 'Oh my God,' but you know he's a reliever and they need that little geek to get after it, and of course it shows in the WBC. He's a game pitcher. I'll tell you one thing: He has a great feel."
Neither Rodriguez nor Nieves could stay up late on Sunday to see Puerto Rico clinch a spot in the finals, but Puerto Rico's run has both smiling.
"I'm elated by the way they've been playing and representing such a small [area] is beautiful," Nieves said. "It's awesome. There's a little culture coming up of pretty good players coming up now."
"It's always nice to see the guys are playing good baseball, because nobody was expecting that," said Rodriguez, who was born in New York but attended high school in Puerto Rico. "I wasn't expecting that -- especially when the first pool was against the Dominican, Venezuela."
Much has been made of Puerto Rico's baseball decline, but both men were optimistic about the game's direction.
"If you go to Puerto Rico -- and I heard it from a great scout -- the pitchers that you look for, the picture of a player, 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4 guys, they're all playing basketball, too," said Nieves. "So the courts are full of basketball players going to college and playing basketball in college, knowing that they're probably not getting drafted as high. But yeah, the crop of new players are coming up."
Farrell searching for DH as Ortiz remains sidelined
BRADENTON, Fla. -- David Ortiz did not take batting practice on Monday, at one point a hope for the Red Sox designated hitter who's battling right heel inflammation.
"I haven't been able to play and do what I'm supposed to do. It's not fun," Ortiz told reporters in Fort Myers. "Just trying to deal with it. The setback is what pretty much frustrates me the most, because you think you're doing the right thing to get better. It's like walking backwards. That's the part of this game I don't like. We're approaching it different and hopefully we get to the point we don't have to worry about it anymore."
Ortiz said his left heel hasn't been the primary problem. The right heel was always the more bothersome one, but an MRI revealed both heels had inflammation.
"It's fine," Ortiz said of the left heel. "It's just compensating for the [right] one. Once I stopped doing things it started feeling better right away. The [right] one is getting there. It's just a matter of time."
Manager John Farrell didn't seem overly alarmed about Ortiz's inability to take batting practice on Monday. Farrell said the concern is that Ortiz will need a few more days than originally thought after the week-long shutdown period Ortiz was instructed to take.
"When he was shut down, there was that five to seven day period where we're going to take a look and see how the medication took hold, how the anti-inflammatory and the other treatments were bringing that along," Farrell said. "To what extent there's progress being made, some, but not to the point obviously where he's ready to take some swings in the cage."
The question of just how the Sox fill Ortiz's spot in the early-going of the season persists. Farrell said experience as a DH in some capacity is important to him and indicated that Jarrod Saltalamacchia isn't a consistent option since he's the primary catcher.
On Boston's current roster, outfielder Jonny Gomes has the most Major League experience as a DH other than Ortiz. Gomes has played 322 games as a DH, while Mike Napoli (49), Ryan Lavarnway (25), Mike Carp (24), Saltalamacchia (24) and Lyle Overbay (13) have limited experience in the spot.
"How a guy keeps himself -- particularly in the cold weather -- stays warm, stays in the flow of the game," Farrell said of his criteria. "I will say that guys that would be in consideration probably have had some at-bats in that role, whether it's in the Minor Leagues or the Major Leagues, so there's some initial routine that they would have. Again, we've got some decisions to make here in the last nine to 10 days."
Tempo, quick rhythm keeping hitters off-balance
BRADENTON, Fla. -- These are the get-it-and-throw-it Red Sox.
Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, likely the team's Nos. 1 and 2 starters, have combined for 11 innings of one-hit ball the last two days. Buchholz followed Lester's six perfect innings from Sunday with five innings, four strikeouts, one walk and one hit allowed in a 4-3 loss against the Pirates on Monday.
There was an echo when both pitchers talked about their outings: tempo, rhythm and everything else that would make for good dance lessons is translating to mound success.
"The results are good," Buchholz said. "That's what builds confidence, when you go out there and your numbers are good. On the flip side of that, this isn't really what this is about. Even though everyone wants to do good every time out, it's more doing your preparation and being ready to be out there, and that's what we've been working on. The pace of the game is big for me, I think. That does a lot to help me. It's more just, get the ball and get a pitch and throw it and take all the thinking out of it. It's definitely helped me out a lot."
Lester echoed similar comments following his Sunday gem.
"Just keep getting better at what we've been preaching from Day One: the good tempo, attacking hitters, being relentless in the zone," said Lester. "You've seen that from us as a full unit. We've gone right after guys, and I think we've taken some guys aback with that, as far as opposing hitters. 'Wow, these guys are really coming after us.'"
This is a team-wide effort. Manager John Farrell noted that when he was the team's pitching coach, Jonathan Papelbon and Josh Beckett were both very deliberate pitchers, and that could have had a trickle-down effect to guys like Lester and Buchholz.
"Pap obviously was one, Beckett would take his time, and that was what was comfortable to them, but at the same time, you saw some other guys start to follow that lead a little bit and it looked like it took away from their overall sharpness and effectiveness to the pitches," said Farrell. "It was a clear point of emphasis in seeing guys over the past couple of years and coming in here and trying to stress that. I think guys have bought in and taken hold to it."
Some of the advantages to keeping the game moving include heightened awareness for the fielders, the batter stays more on the defensive and an easier time of repeating pitches.
"When you have that much of a time span between pitches, it can be more difficult to repeat the feel of certain pitches and the touch to secondary pitches, and really, these guys are good athletes," Farrell said. "The ability to keep that tempo and use their athleticism to their advantage, I think at the same time the byproduct is to get the hitter on the defensive, which is kind of what we're seeing."
Pitching coach Juan Nieves too is a believer in keeping the game moving, in part because it keeps guys from thinking too much.
"I think it creates rhythm, I think it helps get in a rhythm themselves," Nieves said. "You do anything slow nowadays, you start thinking less, your physical ability comes out and you don't let the mental guy choke the physical guy. We're here because we have great ability, not because we're rocket scientists. Let's play the game."
Drew likely to see concussion specialist
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Barring a very quick recovery in a day's time, shortstop Stephen Drew will head to Pittsburgh to meet with Dr. Michael Collins, who is the executive director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's concussion program and worked with Brandon McCarthy and Brian Roberts after their own head injuries.
"Reports this morning [were that he had] similar symptoms, and if nothing is improved or if there's no improvement by the end of day tomorrow, we're going to have him go see Dr. Collins in Pittsburgh."
Drew's been dealing with concussion symptoms since March 7, when he was hit in the helmet by a pitch. His symptoms do not increase when he's doing physical activity, but they're still present when he's idle.
"He feels it even when he's not in that exertion mode," Farrell said. "He still feels some of the symptoms from the night of hit by pitch. While there's been some improvement, they're still present. … He's still in this phase where he's unable to get back on the field."
Farrell spoke highly of Jose Iglesias on Monday morning, and it seems all but guaranteed now that the 23-year-old will be Boston's Opening Day shortstop. Pedro Ciriaco can also play the position, but he's able to play a lot of spots and therefore may be most valuable off the bench.
"Jose has done a very good job," Farrell said. "He feels confident in the box, and that's what we're seeing. His work has been outstanding, and he spoke openly about maybe some disappointment was brought in over the offseason but understood it, and yet he's put that behind him. He goes out and he plays and he's eager to get here every day. The one thing about Pedro, he's a versatile guy. As he's proven, he can move around the infield. He should be back on the field. I know he was talking about taking BP today with the back spasms he was feeling. I think Pedro's versatility might keep him in that utility type of role."
As camp winds down, Sox seeking pitching depth
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pitchers -- and veteran pitchers in particular -- will be released as Spring Training winds down, and some will surely be available by trade, too. The Red Sox will be watching.
"That's something that has been discussed," manager John Farrell said after a 4-3 road loss to the Pirates on Monday afternoon. "We recognize where we're at as far as our starting depth is concerned, particularly with guys that have experience."
Alfredo Aceves and Franklin Morales are the two pitchers who came to camp that profiled as depth starters, the Nos. 6 and 7 in the rotation if needed. Aceves' issues with negative attention aside, he alone isn't enough to give the Red Sox security in case of injury.
Morales (bulging disk) threw out to 60 feet on Monday and will attempt the same in a couple of days, but it's unclear if he'll make it into a Grapefruit League game before the season starts, said Farrell.
"Franklin's injury affects [the pitching depth]," Farrell said. "Alfredo is a guy that we know that we can stretch out and continue to do so and has Major League starting experience, but overall, I think that's an area we're looking to add to."
Clayton Mortensen and Steven Wright are the only pitchers who have made Grapefruit League starts for the Red Sox this spring beyond the regular five starters, Aceves and Morales.
Right-handers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster are both on the 40-man roster, but both are young and have already been assigned to Triple-A Pawtucket.