The Sox have scored 526 runs in 137 games this season, an average of 3.84 runs per game. Last season, they averaged 5.27 runs a game.
Only twice since 1946 have the Sox scored fewer runs than their current projected rate: in 1992, when they scored 599 runs, and in 1968, when they scored 614.
The Sox led the league in runs scored in 2013. They are last in 2014. Scoring is down around the league. Teams are averaging 4.22 runs per game in 2014, compared to 4.33 in 2013. No team in the AL is averaging five runs or more. Three teams -- the Tigers (4.71), Athletics (4.70) and Angels (4.69) -- are neck and neck in scoring.
• Girardi, answering the same question in a variety of ways, said if everyone else in the Yankees’ lineup was hitting, maybe he’d make a change. But since that isn’t the case, Jeter (7-for-40, one extra-base hit) is staying put.
• Actually, the only Yankees hitting worse over that stretch are Stephen Drew (2-for-18, .111) and Mark Teixeira (3-for-33, .091).
• Tearing it up has been Jacoby Ellsbury, batting .469 (15-for-32) with 4 home runs, 2 doubles, a triple and 10 RBIs in that span. Ellsbury is returning to the starting lineup after sitting out the last two games (he had a pinch single on Sunday). After spending much of the season batting third, Ellsbury has hit leadoff in his last seven starts. His OPS in the No. 1 spot is almost 200 percentage points higher than in the No. 3 hole (.926 to .728).
• Ellsbury is coming off what was easily his best month of the season, posting a .324/.366/.539/.905 slash line in August.
• Dustin Pedroia, who is still experiencing concussive symptoms, is now all but certain to be kept out of the Yankees series.
“Yesterday when he tried some activity, he didn’t feel quite right,’’ manager John Farrell said of Pedroia, who evidently did a little work in the batting cage. “I say that only because it’s hard for me to categorize or specifically define what he’s feeling.
“There are some inconsistencies with his sleep. These are symptoms consistent with a concussion, and we have to be cautious with this, go day to day.’’
• Rookie right-hander Anthony Ranaudo, as expected, was recalled from Pawtucket and will start against the Yankees Wednesday night. Ranaudo made his major league debut against the Yankees on Aug. 1 in Fenway Park and earned his first big-league win, checking the Yankees on four hits and two runs in six innings.
• Also recalled was catcher Daniel Butler, who is still looking for his first big-league hit after going hitless in 11 at-bats during a brief call-up last month. Brandon Workman will be called up to start against the Bombers on Thursday night.
• When rookie center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. was optioned back to Pawtucket on Aug. 17, Farrell expressed confidence that Bradley would be back in September.
“Nothing has changed,’’ Farrell said Tuesday.
In his 14 games with the PawSox after his demotion, Bradley posted a .212/.246/.273/.519 slash line. With the PawSox scheduled to begin a semifinal playoff series Wednesday at home against Syracuse, it appears Bradley will remain with the team for the time being.
“The reports have been mixed,’’ Farrell said. “There have been days he has executed in between the lines as he’s been working on [adjustments]. Still a work in progress.’’
• The Red Sox have no plans to play Mooke Betts in the infield the rest of the season, Farrell said. After converting Betts to the outfield earlier this summer, Farrell said the Sox want to keep him there and that to do otherwise would be too disruptive.
• Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo is scheduled to play five innings Wednesday for Double-A Portland as the Sea Dogs open their Eastern League semifinal in Binghamton, N.Y.
• In 18 starts since the July 31 trading deadline, former Sox pitchers Jake Peavy, Jon Lester and John Lackey are a combined 8-6 with a 3.34 ERA, 96 strikeouts and 28 walks in 110 1/3 innings. Sox starters in that span are 7-9 with a 5.08 ERA, 117 strikeouts and 77 walks in 168 1/3 innings.
NEW YORK -- How to say goodbye to Derek Jeter? The Red Sox, here to play the Yankees the next three nights, have the distinction of offering the final answer to that question, with the Bombers scheduled to end the 2014 season in Fenway Park on Sept. 28.
Field box seats for the finale are listed as high as $4,000 on StubHub. Dugout boxes are going for north of 10 grand, and a luxury suite is being peddled for $35K. The scalpers who work the corner of Brookline Avenue and Yawkey Way have already booked their vacations to Aruba.
Evidently, this is a big deal. Bigger than the 2004 World Series, the Yaz send-off, Ted's final at-bat, JFK's inaugural, the Boston Tea Party, the dawn of the universe.
There's a challenge to offering the final farewell. Everyone else already has thrown their parties, lavished their gifts and rolled out their A-list of celebrity glad-handers. Maestro Charles Steinberg and protégé Sarah McKenna have few equals when it comes to commemorating a moment, but for the retiring Yankees captain, nothing short of the Big Bang will do. Or so it seems for a player whose likeness appears on this week's cover of the New Yorker.
The Rangers had President George W. Bush on hand when they gave Jeter a pair of Italian goat leather cowboy boots.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A few quick hits after the Red Sox's last trip to the Trop in 2014, beginning with some numbers for August:
• The Sox were 12-16 for the month, seven games worse than the division-leading Orioles (19-9). The only AL East team with a worse record was Toronto, which faded from the playoff picture with a 9-17 August.
• The Sox were 13th in the AL in batting average (.231), 14th in OBP (.298), 14th in slugging (.335) and 14th in OPS (.633). The starters’ ERA for the month was 5.08, 14th in the league, exceeded only by Minnesota’s 5.76. The bullpen ranked fourth with a 2.57 ERA.
• Five Sox batters hit .275 or better, with David Ortiz the only player over .300 (.342/.442/.592/1.034). Dustin Pedroia was next at .297, followed by Daniel Nava at .280, Yoenis Cespedes at .276 and Mookie Betts at .275. Cespedes’s 22 RBIs led the club; Ortiz led with five home runs.
• Five Sox batters hit .200 or under: Christian Vazquez (.200), Will Middlebrooks (.190), Mike Napoli (.175), Allen Craig (.138) and Xander Bogaerts (.123). Bogaerts’s average was the lowest by a Sox player in August since Glenn Hoffman batted .101 in 1981.
• Lefty Tommy Layne, promoted after Andrew Miller was traded to the Orioles, had a 0.82 ERA in 15 August appearances. Edward Mujica, rebounding from his horrid start, posted a 1.59 ERA in 14 appearances. Newcomer Joe Kelly had the lowest ERA among the starters (3.86).
• Rookie Brandon Workman had the worst ERA (0-4, 8.04 in four appearances, three starts), while Allen Webster was 2-3 with a 7.28 ERA in six starts.
• With his game-tying single in the eighth Monday, Cespedes is now batting .382 (13-for-34) with runners in scoring position. Despite playing just 28 games with Boston, Cespedes is tied for the team lead with five game-tying or go-ahead hits in the seventh inning or later.
• Junichi Tazawa pitched a scoreless seventh, the first time he has pitched since blowing a save in Toronto on Aug. 27. The blown save came in Tazawa’s fourth appearance in a five-game stretch. Closer Koji Uehara warmed up each of the last two days, but was not summoned. Uehara last pitched on Aug. 25, and has hit the mound just once in the last 10 days. Manager John Farrell said he intended to ease their workload over the final weeks.
• Newcomer Jemile Weeks, acquired Saturday from Baltimore, made his first appearance in a game Monday, when he entered in the 10th inning as a pinch runner. He was picked off by Rays reliever Grant Balfour, a former teammate in Oakland.
• Dustin Pedroia, when asked by reporters about following the concussion protocol required before he is cleared to play, said, "I've got to pass (tests), which is tough. Didn't pass many tests in my schooling life."
• Anthony Ranaudo and Workman are expected to join the Red Sox in New York on Tuesday and pitch the first two games of the series in some order. Ranaudo last week was named International League pitcher of the year. Triple-A Pawtucket named Mookie Betts its most valuable player. Betts doubled and singled out of the leadoff spot and drove in six runs in this series. Double-A Portland named catcher Blake Swihart its MVP and left-hander Henry Owens its pitcher of the year. Both are now with Pawtucket.
• Tough series for Brock Holt. After singling safely in his first two at-bats Friday night, Holt went 1-for-14 the rest of the way, with eight strikeouts. Holt batted second Sunday, the first time since May 23 he had hit anywhere but leadoff in the Sox lineup, a span of 88 games.
• Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. sat out Pawtucket’s finale Monday. In his 14 games with the PawSox after his demotion, he posted a .212/.246/.273/.519 slash line.
Castillo went 0-for-3 in Monday’s game, but drew a walk with the bases loaded to drive in the go-ahead run, as the Red Sox beat the Yankees 8-1.
Castillo, who signed a seven-year, $72.5 million deal with Boston last month, went 1-for-5 in his first two games in pro baseball. On Sunday, he hit a single and struck out once while playing five innings as the DH. On Monday, he stayed in the game for six innings and had a quiet day.
“I feel OK, I’m looking at pitches and keep improving,” said Castillo, who grounded out to third in the first inning, drew a walk in the second, grounded out to short in the fourth and hit a fly ball to right in the fifth.
“With each at-bat, I’m getting closer to my top level. I’m not trying to guess pitches, just trying to hit anything that comes close to the strike zone.
“Also, I’ve heard about the legendary rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees. Although this is rookie ball, actually it’s my first playoff in the U.S., so I pretended it was like a playoff game in Cuba,” Castillo said.
With his first assignment in the books, Castillo will take another step toward the big leagues, as he reports with Double-A Portland. The Sea Dogs begin their best-of-five series against the Binghamton Mets on Wednesday.
“Now it’s time to play in the Double-A playoffs, and once I’m done with that, the team will decide whether I’ll go to Triple-A ball or jump to the big league club. I’m ready for any scenario,” he said.
Castillo has no problem when people compare him to Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes. Just like his fellow Cuban players, Castillo is a pretty good base runner and can hit with power, but has a slight advantage with the glove over Puig and Cespedes.
“I’ve got a lot of admiration for both Puig and Cespedes. I’ll try to emulate them,” he said. “I try to be aggressive on offense and defense, just like them.
“But right now, I’m still adapting. I’ve heard a lot of advice that might help me getting used to all these things. But I’m also aware that this is a long process.”
“My hips are the only thing that don’t hurt,’’ said Napoli, who hit his 17th home run in Boston’s 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s actually gotten better. My last MRI about a month ago, it looked like it had gotten a little bit better, which is weird. Not supposed to happen.’’
Since being diagnosed with avascular necrosis after the Red Sox originally signed him in the winter of 2012, Napoli had been taking osteoporosis medication, which slows the rate of bone degeneration and maximizes healthy bone production. He recently stopped taking the medication, just short of the prescribed period he was supposed to do so. (“I just don’t like taking so many pills,’’ he said.) But Napoli continues to take massive-sized calcium pills, morning and night.
Napoli, who has been symptom free from the time he was diagnosed, still undergoes an MRI every three months to chart the progress of the disease. “It’s still there,’’ he said, “but it’s not getting bigger, it’s getting smaller.’’
Napoli has been on the disabled list only once this season, missing 14 games in late May and early June with a dislocated left ring finger, but he could have missed a lot more time. He played in 29 games over five weeks with the dislocated finger, which he injured on April 15 in Chicago with a slide into second base, before shutting it down. He batted just .238 in that span, with two home runs in 126 plate appearances.
But over the course of the season, he said, he also has sustained knee and toe injuries that were slow to heal, both requiring cortisone injections. He aggravated his toe condition at least once by fouling a ball off his foot.
Then 10 days ago, during the team’s last homestand, Napoli was knocked out of the lineup by back spasms.
“The other day I woke up and I couldn’t roll out of bed,’’ he said. “Terrible spasms, on both sides. Every once in a while it tightens up. During a game, I had go up to the clubhouse and do exercises.’’
On Sunday, manager John Farrell gave Napoli a day off. The day before, he had just missed a long home run before it veered foul. Last week in Toronto, he hit one into the fifth deck of Rogers Centre, a drive measured at 451 feet by ESPN Stats and Information. Monday’s home run was more conventional, landing in the front rows of the left-field seats. It was just his third hit in his last 32 at-bats.
“I’m banged up,’’ he said. “I’ve been banged up all year, but I grind through it.’’
So much for the conventional wisdom that it wouldn’t be as hard on Napoli’s body to play first base as it would be to catch, which is what he did the first seven seasons of his big-league career.
But his overall production should come close to approaching the numbers he put up in 2013, when he hit 23 home runs and posted a slash line of .259/.360/.482/.842. With the season down to its last 25 games, Napoli’s slash line reads .251/.371/.433/.804. He has sharply reduced his strikeouts from 187 in 2013 to 125 this season, but the number of doubles he has hit has been halved, from 38 last season to 19 in 2014.
Napoli, who turns 33 on Halloween, has another year left on the two-year, $32 million extension he signed last winter. He remains a valued presence in the clubhouse, and said that after his experience with his hip, he has learned not to look ahead. “I just take it as it comes,’’ he said.
It hasn’t escaped his attention that the Sox have loaded up on right-handed hitters with the additions of Allen Craig, Yoenis Cespedes, Mookie Betts and (soon) Rusney Castillo, an imbalance that probably will have to be addressed this offseason. At the moment, David Ortiz, Daniel Nava and Brock Holt are the team’s only regulars who hit from the left side.
“I guess we just have to become a right-handed dominant team,’’ he said.
But for Napoli, remaining in the lineup is a goal that never changes, regardless of the issues he’s dealing with.
“I like to grind through it,’’ he said. “I like to be out there as much as I can. That’s how I am. Do whatever I can. Find a way.’’
Both Triple-A Pawtucket and Double-A Portland are scheduled to open best-of-five playoff series on Wednesday, the PawSox playing at home against Syracuse on Wednesday and Thursday, the Sea Dogs in Binghamton, N.Y. on the same days. The PawSox would then go to Syracuse for games Friday, and if necessary, Saturday and Sunday, while the Sea Dogs would return home to play Binghamton under the same format.
If either team wins its series, it would advance to the best-of-five league finals, which would open Sept. 9 for both the PawSox and Sea Dogs. If the Triple-A finals go the distance, they are scheduled to end on the 13th; the Double-A finals are scheduled to end on the 14th.
Castillo played five innings Monday for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox in the deciding game of their rookie league finals series against the GCL Yankees. Castillo grounded out in his first at-bat and drew a four-pitch walk with the bases loaded in his second plate appearance. He also hit into a force play and flied out to shallow right.
Farrell suggested that as long as Pawtucket or Portland was still playing, Castillo would remain in the minor leagues.
“Let’s get every available at-bat before those teams shut down before we entertain the thought [of Castillo taking] the next step with us,’’ Farrell said.
Adhering to that approach, Castillo could make his Red Sox debut on the next homestand, which opens Friday against Toronto, if the PawSox and Sea Dogs are both knocked out in the semifinals. If not, he could either join the Sox in Kansas City during their four-game visit there (Sept. 11-14) or in Pittsburgh, where they open a series against the Pirates on Sept. 16.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- In front of a smaller paid crowd in Tropicana Field (10,543) than the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox had the night before in McCoy Stadium (11,767), the Red Sox fell to the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-3, in 10 innings.
Matt Joyce’s bases-loaded single over a drawn-in outfield brought home the winning run off Burke Badenhop, the sixth Sox pitcher. Ryan Hanigan opened the inning with a double to the wall in left, Hanigan just beating an amazing throw by outfielder Yoenis Cespedes with a head-first slide into the bag. Two intentional walks sandwiched around a sacrifice bunt set the stage for Joyce, who lofted a ball over Cespedes’s head for the winning run.
Cespedes had sent the game into extra innings with a two-out RBI single in the eighth. Cespedes is batting .382 (13-for-34) with runners in scoring position since joining the Red Sox.
The walk-off win was only the fourth this season for the Rays, the last three coming against the Sox. The Rays had three straight walk-offs May 22-24, Cole Figueroa doubling off Badenhop for the only run in a 1-0 game May 23, and Andrew Miller’s throwing error giving the Rays a 6-5 win in 15 innings the next day.
The Red Sox, who split a four-game series here after taking two of three in Toronto, will conclude their penultimate trip of the season with three games against the Yankees in New York beginning Tuesday night in Yankee Stadium.
With Dustin Pedroia (concussion) and David Ortiz (day off) out of the lineup, the Sox managed just six hits against Rays starter Drew Smyly and five relievers. Mookie Betts drove in a run with a double in the third and Mike Napoli hit his 17th homer in the fourth.
The Rays scored all three of their runs off Red Sox starter Rubby De La Rosa in the third, on an RBI double by Wil Myers and a two-run single by Evan Longoria.
De La Rosa went 5 1/3 innings, giving up six hits and striking out four. He did not walk a batter.
Jemile Weeks, acquired from Baltimore in a trade Saturday night, made his Sox debut as a pinch runner in the 10th for Christian Vazquez, who had singled. Weeks was picked off by Grant Balfour, a former teammate in Oakland.
Houston Astros: The "new wave" gets a full season
The Astros have "graduated" a number of their top prospects this season, including George Springer, Jon Singleton, Mike Foltynewicz and Domingo Santana from their own system, and Jake Marisnick from the Miami Marlins. These players have had rough patches to be sure, but they all have flashed their potential.
“He’s a little bit better, yet he still has some symptoms,’’ Farrell said Monday morning.
“Clearly, it’s a day to day thing. He’s probably at least another day away from any kind of exertion tests or any kind of ramping up of the heart rate to see how he does. He’s still sore from where the impact [occurred] on the side of the head.’’
Pedroia has not played since the second inning Saturday night, when he was injured on a tag play at second base. Rays base-runner Logan Forsythe, who had tagged up on a fly ball and came into second base with a head-first slide, struck Pedroia in the head with his right forearm when Pedroia turned to apply the tag.
With rosters expanding on Monday, the Sox have no procedural need to place Pedroia on the seven-day disabled list, but Pedroia still must be cleared medically through MLB’s concussion protocol before he can return.
“Like I mentioned, we’ll be cautious with this,’’ Farrell said. “If he returns sometime in the Yankee series that’s optimistic. Not ruling it out. Dustin may have a different view of that right now.’’
Triple-A Pawtucket clinched a wild-card spot Sunday with a 10-4 win over Rochester. The International League playoffs are expected to get underway Sept. 3, with the PawSox likely hosting the club's opening game that day.
Meanwhile, Double-A Portland recorded its best winning percentage in franchise history: 88-53 heading into Monday's final game. The Sea Dogs will start the best-of-five Eastern League division finals at Binghamton on Sept. 3. That same day, high-Class A Salem is scheduled to begin the best-of-three Carolina League division finals at Myrtle Beach. Low-Class A Greenville and short-Class A Lowell, the only Boston affiliates not headed to the postseason, both close out their seasons Monday.
The rookie-level affiliates’ regular seasons are already over, and both Boston affiliates are deep into playoff runs. The GCL Red Sox are scheduled to play the GCL Yankees in the decisive Game 3 of the Gulf Coast League finals Monday, and outfielder Rusney Castillo is slated to play three to five innings in center field. The DSL Red Sox beat the DSL Rangers 4-1 in Game 1 of the best-of-five Dominican Summer League championship series Sunday, with Game 2 slated for Monday morning.
Here's a look at how the Red Sox system's top prospects fared in August (SoxProspects ranking as of Sept. 1 in parentheses):
Notes: Betts has played only center field since Boston's acquisition of center fielder Castillo, calling into question whether the club sees the top prospect's future at another position or whether he might be dangled as trade bait this offseason. ... Swihart, arguably the top catching prospect in the minor leagues, has struggled offensively since his promotion to Pawtucket on Aug. 4, but he has seen most of the time behind the dish despite splitting time with backstops Dan Butler and Ryan Lavarnway. ... Devers, 17, appears to have hit a wall offensively, which is not surprising given that this is his first pro season, but he has impressed in three games in the GCL postseason, with an OPS of 1.024. ... Vazquez has dazzled defensively since his promotion to the majors, making it easy to overlook (or even excuse) his lackluster offensive performance in August. ... Margot posted the best numbers in the entire system in August, showing no signs of an adjustment period after a midmonth promotion to Salem. ... Chavis showed he was past his adjustment period to pro ball in August, bringing his overall numbers back in line with what was expected from Boston's 2014 first-round pick. ... Cecchini returned to form this month after two consecutive poor months, showing increased power and more comfort defensively at third base. ... Marrero, an Arizona State alum, will play in the Arizona Fall League, which gets underway Oct. 7. ... Longhi was hitting .330/.388/.440 before landing on the disabled list with a torn UCL in his thumb July 24.
Notes: After pitching 135 innings in 2013, Owens is up to 159 innings for the season and likely will get at least one postseason start with Pawtucket. ... He was recently named the 2014 Eastern League Pitcher of the Year. ... Rodriguez has been spectacular for Portland since being acquired from Baltimore for Andrew Miller on July 31, but not better than Brian Johnson, who seems in line to win the organization's minor league pitcher of the year award this season after going 13-3 with a 2.13 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. ... Ranaudo has earned consideration for a spot at the back end of Boston's starting rotation in 2015, but there could be a lot of competition for rotation spots if the club brings in a couple of starters from outside the organization this offseason, as expected. ... Barnes must have taken exception to not being mentioned as a possible starting option in 2014, possibly using that fire to take his game to another level in August. ... Ball, the No. 7 overall draft pick in 2013, started to show flashes of brilliance in July and August after a dreadful first three months of the season. ... Escobar, acquired from St. Louis as part of the July 26 Jake Peavy deal, made his major league debut Aug. 27.
Other top performers: Portland outfielder Keury De La Cruz, who spent much of the season on the disabled list, hit .337/.402/.547 with four home runs in August. The former Red Sox Latin Program Player of the Year, NY-Penn League all-star and South Atlantic League all-star is Rule 5 eligible this offseason and likely won't be protected by the club. A small-market team might be willing to take a chance on him in December's Rule 5 draft.
Two other top offensive performers were Salem utility man Carlos Asuaje, who hit .342/.417/.541 for the month, and GCL Red Sox second baseman Victor Acosta, who hit .390/.446/.525.
On the pitching front, one of the top performers was Greenville right-hander Teddy Stankiewicz, who went 4-1 with a 1.89 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 29 strikeouts and four walks in 38 innings for the Drive. The 20-year-old was Boston's second-round pick in 2013, signing for a $915,000 bonus. He throws an 89-93 mph fastball with fringe-average command, a plus-potential 11-to-5 curveball and a developing low-80s changeup. Stankiewicz is likely to be promoted to Salem to start the 2015 season.
Other strong performers on the mound were Portland right-hander Justin Haley and Lowell righty Aaron Wilkerson. Haley, 23, went 3-1 with a 1.14 ERA and 1.20 WHIP for the Sea Dogs. The 2012 sixth-round pick is a ground ball specialist with decent control and a two-pitch mix, making him profile more as a reliever over the long term. Wilkerson went 3-1 with a 1.69 ERA and 0.84 WHIP for the Spinners. The 25-year-old former indy leaguer is not considered a prospect at this point, but he is a name to keep an eye on in 2015, especially if he's given a shot at higher levels.
Promotions: Eleven players got the call to Boston from the minor leagues in August: pitchers Heath Hembree, Steven Wright, Alex Wilson, Tommy Layne, Ranaudo and Escobar, catcher Dan Butler, infielder Carlos Rivero and outfielders Corey Brown, Alex Hassan and Betts.
Minor leaguers who received level promotions during the same time frame included Swihart from Portland to Pawtucket; catcher Carson Blair and infielder Mike Miller from Salem to Portland; pitcher Taylor Grover, catcher Jake Romanski and outfielder Margot from Greenville to Salem; pitchers Oscar Perez and Ellis Jimenez, catcher Jordan Procyshen, first baseman Travis and outfielder Danny Mars from Lowell to Greenville; and pitcher Williams Jerez and catcher Alex McKeon from the Gulf Coast League to Lowell.
Mike Andrews is the founder and editor-in-chief of SoxProspects.com and a special contributor to ESPNBoston.com.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Sweet music has long been a part of Clay Buchholz’s repertoire, whether it’s playing guitar so skillfully in the clubhouse that Yoenis Cespedes grabs a spot on the couch to listen, or pitching like a virtuoso the way he did here Sunday afternoon.
Too often this season, his pitching has struck some dissonant chords, but that has not been the case of late. Buchholz needed just 98 pitches Sunday to shut out the Tampa Bay Rays 3-0 on three hits and no walks, and said afterward that he may have hit some high notes he’d never reached before.
“Fastball command to both sides of the plate, that’s probably the best it’s been, ever, maybe," said Buchholz, who faced just 29 batters, only two over the minimum, abetted by a first-inning double play started by Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks and six strikeouts.
Manager John Farrell put the brakes on the suggestion that this may have been Buchholz’s best start ever, noting that the right-hander does have a no-hitter to his credit.
But Farrell did not skimp on the praise, either.
“Today he was extremely efficient," Farrell said. “When you consider the number of first-pitch strikes he threw, overall strikes, command of the count, multiple pitches for strikes, he was very good.
“He was able to bring his two-seamer back to the inside part of the plate to left-handers and to the outside part of the plate to right-handers. A key double play, and he was in complete command for nine innings."
The Rays have now gone nearly two full seasons and 22 innings (three starts) against Buchholz without scoring a run.
“He’s always pitched well against us," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, “but today there was nothing he didn’t have going on. Whether it was his two-seamer in, cutter away, curveball for a strike, elevated when he wanted to, he could have thrown a strike where he wanted to all day long."
Buchholz threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 29 batters he faced. When he started with a curveball, it was nine out of 10. He did not have a three-ball count in the first six innings, had just four overall, and did not have an inning in which he threw more than 14 pitches.
He set down the last dozen batters he faced after Molina’s single in the sixth.
Farrell said the key to Buchholz’s outing was the way he pitched off his fastball.
“It’s the late action and quality of location combined," Farrell said. “He puts hitters on the defensive. He sinks it, cuts it to both sides of the plate. That really slows some hitters down."
This was Buchholz’s eighth career complete game and sixth shutout, his first since July 13 in Houston, when he struck out a dozen Astros and did not walk a batter. The Sox had hoped that start, which came just before the All-Star break, signaled that Buchholz had worked out the issues that landed him on a rehab assignment to Pawtucket, but he was lit up in his next four starts for 31 hits and 23 earned runs in a span of 22 innings.
Since that stretch, however, Buchholz has turned in a quality outing in four of his past five starts, including last Tuesday in Toronto, when he shut out the Blue Jays for eight innings, then loaded the bases on two hits and a walk, all three runs scoring when Koji Uehara blew the save.
This time, Buchholz needed just eight pitches to finish off the Rays in the ninth.
“He’s throwing the ball right now like he did early last season, when he was dominant," Farrell said.
Having dispensed with four of the five starters with which they began the season -- Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront -- the Sox would love to be able to count on this version of Buchholz heading into 2015. But experience has taught them that’s hardly the safest of bets.
Buchholz has four or five more starts left this season. He will once again fall far short of 200 innings, the benchmark for a staff ace, he has won just six games and his earned run average remains an unsightly 5.40.
Still, the hope is that Buchholz will use September as a proving ground.
“Consistency, durability," Farrell said, “and going through the final month pitching the way he is now."
Cespedes’s performance -- a team-high 22 runs batted in during August -- would suggest that he has handled the transition to a new team with some degree of ease.
He was inclined to agree.
“My adjustment here, I am comfortable both on and off the field,’’ said Cespedes, who had a single in four trips in Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field.
Cespedes, Napoli and Ortiz combined to hit 13 of Boston’s 19 home runs in August, the fewest the team has hit in any month in 2014.
“I was able to adapt more quickly here than in Oakland,’’ Cespedes said through translator Adrian Lorenzo, the Miami native, Penn grad and Sox baseball operations intern who has had extensive experience with Spanish-speaking players while working with agent Adam Katz (who, incidentally, represents Cespedes).
“Not because of any difference in Oakland,’’ Cespedes said. “Just the result of three years here in the major leagues, understanding the system. In both clubhouses, everybody has been incredibly nice, welcoming and receptive. It’s just been a little easier, given my experience. So yes, I’m comfortable.’’
When Cespedes was traded by Oakland for Red Sox ace Jon Lester on July 31, the Athletics had the best record in baseball and held a two-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.
A month later, the Athletics are five games behind the Angels in the West after losing four straight this weekend in Anaheim, and are facing the prospect of a one-game wild-card play-in to qualify for the playoffs. On Sunday, they acquired all-or-nothing slugger Adam Dunn from the Chicago White Sox to provide a presence in the lineup sorely missing since the Cespedes trade.
The Athletics had a worse record in August (12-17) than the Sox (12-16). The Red Sox outscored the Athletics, 111-103. Nineteen times in August, the Athletics were held to three runs or fewer, and they scored a total of four runs in four games against the Angels this weekend.
It’s pretty clear, then, what effect subtracting Cespedes from the Oakland lineup has had on the Athletics, even though his numbers in June made for by far the worst month in his nearly three seasons in the big leagues. In his first season with the Athletics, in 2012, Cespedes did not have a single month in which his OPS dipped below .800. That happened twice in 2013, and three times this season.
Cespedes said he could not pinpoint a reason for his struggles in June.
“I don’t think there was anything specific or special in that period,’’ he said. “Every ballplayer goes through their ups and downs.’’
He was equally opaque when asked to describe how he knows when he is locked in at the plate.
With a month to observe Cespedes, Red Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn has come away impressed by what he has seen.
“Fun to watch him play,’’ Colbrunn said. “He can beat you with his arm, glove, bat, baserunning. I knew he was a good athlete, but watching him on an everyday basis, he can do some things out there.’’
Cespedes’s sub-.300 on-base percentage and total of three walks in 111 plate appearances this month would seem to run counter to the prevailing philosophy of the Sox in recent years.
“But he’s been swinging at good pitches,’’ Colbrunn said. “That’s what we talk about, getting a good pitch. Not necessarily trying to draw a walk, but going up there and getting a good pitch, and taking good swings at good pitches.
“For the most part, he’s done that. And his approach with runners in scoring position, that’s added to our lineup immensely.’’
All four of Cespedes’s home runs with the Sox have given the team a lead.
Colbrunn said Cespedes is not one to study much video, but has excellent work habits.
“He’s been great in the cage,’’ Colbrunn said. “He comes in every day, working hard. He doesn’t miss a day swinging. He works very hard when he’s hitting.’’
Cespedes said that like Castillo, he went nearly a year and a half without playing in a game after leaving Cuba. The difference for him, he said, was that he had the benefit of spring training with Oakland. Castillo is learning on the fly.
“It will probably be to [Castillo’s] benefit to see some live pitching before he gets here,’’ Cespedes said.
And if Castillo, eager to make a good first impression, struggles when he does arrive in the big leagues?
“If it’s not a strong-minded player and he gets here and doesn’t succeed right away and struggles, it will go a little different for him,’’ Cespedes said. “But to his benefit, he’ll have me and David (Ortiz) and everybody else to help him, explain how this works and the ups and downs.’’
Cespedes may even be able to help Castillo with his English. While he employs a translator to conduct interviews, it’s clear he understands a good deal of what is said in his adopted language. That became apparent when a reporter concluded an interview by asking him whether it was too late for the reporter to have a physique like Cespedes’s.
The player did not wait for the translation. “I think so,’’ he said.
Castillo, the Cuban defector signed by the Red Sox to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract earlier this month, was thrown out a minute or two later trying to steal second base in a Gulf Coast League playoff game against a team of New York Yankees minor leaguers.
Castillo, 27, followed it up 30 minutes later striking out on three pitches, all fastballs. In that at-bat, he swung and missed on the first pitch, fouled the next pitch back, then took a called third strike on a pitch on the outside corner.
That was the end of Castillo’s first professional game. He was the designated hitter, batted leadoff, wore No. 38 and played only three innings in the GCL playoff game.
It was the beginning of a process for Castillo, who hopes to play in Fenway Park before the end of the season.
While the game continued, Castillo and a translator met with reporters in the shade of JetBlue Park on a typically scorching Florida August day.
“I’ve wanted this day to come for a long time now,” Castillo, who doesn’t speak English, said through the translator.
It was his first baseball game since July 2013.
“I’ve done this for a long time,” Castillo said. “It’s like riding a bike. I’m happy. … Saw six pitches, got on base, was able to run around a little bit.”
The speedy center fielder was thrown out in the first inning on the steal with a headfirst slide.
“That’s my game,” Castillo said to several reporters as curious fans watched from a short distance away. “Get on and try to steal.”
Although he hasn’t played in a game in more than a year, Castillo is confident he’ll be able to proceed swiftly to Fenway Park. He’s not sure how many at-bats will be required before he feels ready to face big-league pitching.
His at-bats Sunday were against a pitcher who turned 20 in July. Cedeno, despite a 1-3 record in the GCL, has a 1.13 ERA and opponents have batted .161 against him.
“There’s no specific number of ABs,” Castillo said. “It’s a matter of just playing and we know the goal from the beginning has been to play in the big leagues this year.”
Castillo is eager to play a game in the outfield instead of being a DH. Between now and the end of the big-league season, he expects competition to make him better.
“I love to hit like any hitter loves to hit,” Castillo said.
He’s heartened by the success fellow Cuban players Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu are enjoying in the big leagues.
“It’s definitely added a lot of confidence,” Castillo said. “Motivates me. I want my countrymen to do well. … It’s definitely a motivating factor.”
When he arrives in Boston near the end of the season, Castillo expects to be the same player he’s always been.
“Try not to do too much and try to become somebody else,” Castillo said. “Another type of player I’m not.”
On Sunday, Castillo was an old-timer compared to many of his teammates and opponents. Every other Red Sox starter except 22-year-old right fielder Derek Miller is in his teens. Third baseman Rafael Devers is 17 and six of the starters are 18.
Although he was the oldest player on the field by a considerable margin, many Red Sox fans in attendance look on Castillo as part of the future, part of a chance to forget the miserable 2014 season and look ahead to better days.
Several dozen fans clustered in the bleachers around the field and peered through a chain-link fence, trying to catch a glimpse of the latest Cuban phenom playing his first game in a Red Sox uniform.
“This whole thing had a Woodstock, love-in feel to it,” said Red Sox fan Roy Kaplan, who drove a few miles from his Fort Myers home to watch the game.
Longtime fan Bob Maloney, who will turn 90 later this year and attended his first Red Sox game in 1935, also came out for the event. Despite the hype over Castillo, Maloney isn’t ready to anoint him the starting center fielder for Opening Day 2015.
“I’m going to have to see a lot more to put him ahead of Mookie Betts,” Maloney said.