Boston Red Sox: Alex Wilson

The going gets tougher for snakebit Sox

May, 25, 2014
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- So, if scoring five runs in the first inning against Tampa Bay's David Price, one of the best left-handers in baseball, isn't sufficient to end a losing streak, what exactly is Plan B?

How about trying to win with a minor league call-up making his fourth big league start, backed by a tapped-out bullpen and a lineup that when healthy wasn't producing, and now has a huge fault line running right down its middle?

Those are the prospects Sunday facing the Boston Red Sox, who went 15 excruciating innings Saturday before losing their ninth straight game, 6-5, to the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that made franchise history with its third straight walk-off win while Andrew Miller extended a run of personal agony unmatched by any Sox reliever in at least 40 years, if ever.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Miller
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAndrew Miller has been on the hook for four walk-off losses in 11 days.
Miller has now been charged with four losses in the span of 11 days, the most losses of any American League reliever, and all have come in walk-off fashion -- two in Minnesota, one in each of the first two games here. The one Saturday was particularly torturous: Miller gave up a leadoff single to James Loney, who grounded a ball through a vacant spot in Boston's shifted infield. Brandon Guyer then lay down a bunt that went undisturbed by either third baseman Brock Holt or Miller, each thinking the other was going to make a play.

The next batter, Desmond Jennings -- who on Friday night drew a walk off Miller, stole second and scored the winning run on a base hit by rookie Cole Figueroa off Burke Badenhop -- hit a comebacker to the left-hander, who fielded it cleanly, whirled and threw the ball past an uncovered second base into center field.

A pale-looking Miller lamented that he was unable to hold up on his throw when he realized that neither shortstop Jonathan Herrera nor second baseman Dustin Pedroia had arrived at the bag.

"Perfect storm," he said. "It happens. You'd like to think you could do something different about it. If I check up and get the out at first, I can still get a strikeout or a popup or put somebody on and still get the double play.

"We have options. Just the way it unfolded, I didn't react quick enough to shut it down, to realize I didn't have a play, or didn't like the play I had."

That ended a 5-hour, 16-minute exercise in which neither team had scored since the fifth inning. The Red Sox, who were missing Mike Napoli, David Ortiz and Shane Victorino, managed just two hits after the first inning, and advanced only one baserunner to second base the rest of the way, when Holt chopped a ball over the head of pitcher Cesar Ramos in the 13th and Ramos threw wildly to first. The Sox could not exploit that error, Ramos recovering to strike out Herrera and Mike Carp sandwiched around an intentional walk to Pedroia. The Sox went down on strikes 16 times, and from the ninth inning on had two strikeouts in four innings.

[+] EnlargeJake Peavy
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsHanded a 5-0 first-inning lead, Jake Peavy gave it all back over six innings.
"There is no 'give up' in this group," Farrell said. "You do the best you can with what you have, where you are. That's the mode we're in right now."

The Rays' clubhouse reverberated with shouts after Miller's misplay made them winners.

"He's been through a tough stretch," Farrell said. "No question. Every [late] inning situation he's in, he's coming up on the short end. We're aware of it. We're conscious of it. We've got to go with who's available.

"The stuff is there -- there's no backing up the stuff. He's not catching a break right now, nor are we."

And so, with the Sox now eight games under .500 (20-28) and seven games behind first-place Toronto, they search for a way to avoid a third straight series sweep. Right-hander Brandon Workman, who started three games last season for the Sox and has had so-so results in Pawtucket this spring, is Sunday's emergency starter, Felix Doubront having gone on the disabled list after losing a one-on-one confrontation with a car door last week. The Sox went through seven relievers Saturday, so they were casting about for a way to keep another minor league call-up, reliever Alex Wilson, here for another day so they'd have at least one fresh arm behind Workman.

The lineup is in disarray. Right fielder Victorino went on the disabled list for a second time in less than two months with a strained right hamstring, prompting the recall of Daniel Nava; Victorino's first stint on the DL lasted 22 games. First baseman Napoli may soon join him on the DL as the roster move required to keep Wilson; unless the Sox can somehow get creative, that is the most obvious path available.

Farrell said Napoli is still bedeviled by the flu-like symptoms that sidelined him for two games last week, has hamstring and calf issues, and has never given the dislocated ring finger on his left hand a chance to fully heal, because he's tried to play through it.

Admirable, to be sure, but Napoli hasn't been the same hitter since dislocating the finger with a headfirst slide into second base April 15 in Chicago against the White Sox. Since then, Napoli has continued to draw his share of walks -- 24, which matches the number of hits he has gotten in that span -- but has just two home runs and 13 RBIs in that time.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Pierzynski
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsThe Sox seemed to be sitting pretty after A.J. Pierzynski's three-run homer, but the Rays rattled off six unanswered runs to hand Boston its ninth loss in a row.
"It's impacted [him]," Farrell said before Saturday's loss. "To what extent, it's hard to say, but ever since the injury it's pretty clear. He's not one to make excuses, but at the same time coming off the flu and everything he's dealing with, he needs at least a couple more days. This isn't a one-day thing; we're hopeful it's not 15."

In addition to Victorino and Napoli, DH Ortiz also sat in what Farrell called a planned day off to deal with a calf issue, though Ortiz did pinch hit for Jackie Bradley Jr. in the 10th and grounded out. Given Ortiz's numbers against Price (8-for-37, .216, no home runs), and the fact he had just one broken-bat single in his past 19 at-bats, the decision to rest him made sense. And when the Sox piled on Price for five runs in the first, the last three coming on A.J. Pierzynski's first three-run home run of the season (he also has a grand slam), it looked like the Sox might get away with their undermanned lineup.

But the Rays pecked away with single runs against Jake Peavy in the second and fourth, then tied the score in the fifth with three straight singles and a two-run double by Guyer, who whacked a hanging full-count curveball after Peavy had jumped ahead in the count, 0-2.

"That's the pitch," Peavy said, "that's going to haunt me all night."

The Sox clubhouse hasn't exactly turned into a ghost town, but without the music that blares after a win, it has become eerily quiet.

"I feel like I've got what, four losses, attached to my name in the last 11 days," said Miller, who had struck out Matt Joyce to end the 14th, the eighth straight inning in which seven Sox relievers had held the Rays scoreless, on four hits.

"That [stinks]. The goal is to win, not to feel good about yourself afterwards. Right now I'm the one who has been stuck on the field a bunch of times, and it feels like crap. I don't want to be there anymore. My job there is to put up a zero, however you get there, and I didn't do it.

"We're grinding it out. It's tough. Nobody wants to lose a game, let alone a streak we're on right now. All 25 guys, we're in a hole we've got to dig ourselves out of. I'm as much a part of that as anybody."

Gentlemen, start your shovels.

Sox aquire INF McDonald from Phillies

August, 31, 2013
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BOSTON -- The Red Sox have acquired veteran infielder John McDonald and cash considerations from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for minor league pitcher Nefi Ogando.

McDonald, 38, will join the Red Sox on Sunday, when rosters expand from 25 to up to 40 players. To make room on the 40-man roster for McDonald, RHP Alex Wilson was transferred to the 60-day DL.

McDonald, a native of New London, Conn., current Scituate, Mass., resident and former Providence College standout, is a 15-year MLB veteran and considered one of the best utility players in the game.

"A New England kid getting a chance to be a part of this franchise, this group of players and staff, with everything that has happened this year, I get to live out what we all wanted as kids. Pretty amazing feeling," McDonald told ESPNBoston.com via text message.

He has played a total of 45 games this season between the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians and Phillies. He’s hitting a combined .098 with one double, one home run and four RBIs, but the Red Sox didn’t acquire him for his bat. He can still play defense and will add another veteran presence in the clubhouse.

"He's a premium defender at all three [infield] positions and he’ll serve as depth, particularly in the middle of the infield," manager John Farrell said. "He can obviously also play third base but we felt like even though we put Will [Middlebrooks] at second base a couple of times, if something were to happen unforeseen we've got someone who's not only tested but very seasoned at second base as well."

Ogando, a 24-year-old left-hander, spent the season at Single-A Salem. In 33 relief appearances, he went 2-3 with three saves, a 4.09 ERA and 44 strikeouts.

Farrell: LHP Morales likely to return soon

August, 8, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Left-handed pitcher Franklin Morales, who made his fifth rehab appearance for Pawtucket Wednesday night, is on deck to be called up, said Red Sox manager John Farrell, implying that his promotion could come sometime this weekend.

Morales' return would give the Red Sox a third lefty again in their bullpen, the number Farrell had at his disposal until Matt Thornton strained an oblique muscle Sunday and went on the disabled list. With rookie Drake Britton pitching as well as he has and Craig Breslow considered an integral part of the bullpen mix, a healthy Morales could give the Sox a potential piece to move during the August waiver period.

It has been a difficult season for Morales, who was shut down early in spring training with a bulging disc in his back, returned in late May, then strained his left pectoral muscle, which put him back on the DL on June 25 (retroactive to June 23). He has missed 92 games while making just six appearances (one start), in which he has posted a 2-0 record with a 7.30 ERA. In five rehab appearances, four with Pawtucket, he has allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings, striking out 6.

--Right-handed reliever Alex Wilson has had his rehab stint placed on hold after experiencing discomfort in his sprained right thumb. Farrell said Wilson will be re-examined. He had made four appearances, the last on Monday.

--Knuckleballer Steven Wright was optioned back to Pawtucket with Daniel Nava back from paternity leave.

--The Sox came into Thursday's game with 25 home runs since the All-Star break, second in the majors to Toronto (26).

5 Questions -- 5. Young contributors?

February, 8, 2013
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The final installment of a five-part series looking at the biggest questions facing the Red Sox leading into spring training:

5: Which young players will help this season?

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox begin camp next week with what appears to be few open roster spots and little competition for jobs. One injury could change all that, of course, but at the moment, the bullpen and a backup reserve spot or two would appear to be the only jobs up for grabs in February.

SportsNation

Which young Red Sox player will make the biggest impact in 2013?

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    19%
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    10%
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    46%
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    10%
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    15%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,272)

Still, there are a number of young players who may not break camp with the club on Opening Day but almost certainly will make an impact before the end of the season, some for years to come.

Here are seven to watch:

Ryan Lavarnway: Lavarnway's immediate future took a detour when the Red Sox signed veteran David Ross as a backup catcher to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, leaving Lavarnway looking at a return to Pawtucket, where he certainly has little left to prove, especially at the plate. Coaching guru Gary Tuck praised the strides Lavarnway made behind the plate, although that still remains a matter of debate in some circles. Lavarnway batted just .157 in 153 at-bats in 2012, far too small a sample size to draw any conclusions, and with Saltalamacchia just a year away from free agency, a trade is not out of the question.

Jose Iglesias: 2013 was the year the Red Sox had projected for Iglesias to arrive, but his light bat and this winter's signing of Stephen Drew have postponed any coming-out party for the gifted shortstop, whose defensive skills may have no equal. Yes, that's saying a lot, but it may all be for naught if Iglesias, who has looked woefully overmatched at the plate in two big league exposures, doesn't pick up his offense. It's much too soon to quit on him -- he is still just 23 -- but Xander Bogaerts, the player regarded as the best prospect in the system, is closing fast.

Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa: They're served as a parlay here because they came together from the Dodgers in the Gonzo/CC/Beckett deal, and both have legitimate shots at cracking the rotation at some point this season. De La Rosa has the more spectacular assets, including a 100 mph fastball and a changeup inherited from Pedro Martinez, but he also has had Tommy John surgery. Webster, who turns 23 on Sunday, may actually be the more polished pitcher, and has outstanding sink action on his fastball that should play well in the big leagues. They may be in Pawtucket in April, but check back at midseason, if not sooner.

Steven Wright
AP Photo/Mike Janes/Four Seam ImagesCould Steven Wright succeed Tim Wakefield as Boston's resident knuckleballer?
Jackie Bradley Jr.: We all may be getting just a little ahead of ourselves here. Bradley, after all, began last season in high Class A and has just half a season of Double-A experience. Don't be surprised if he opens 2013 back in Portland, although a promotion should not be long in coming. Bradley is an above-average defender with a strong arm who has not only been productive at the plate but also disciplined, which accounts for his rapid rise. He projects as the team's center fielder of the future if Jacoby Ellsbury leaves as a free agent, but it's no certainty that he'll contribute to the big club this season. Still, I wouldn't bet against it.

Steven Wright: The knuckleballer with the comedian's name is 28 -- old for a rookie but equivalent to puberty for the practitioner of the pitch that made Tim Wakefield famous. Wright came to the Sox from Cleveland, and if any organization is inclined to give a fair hearing to a knuckler, it should be this one.

Alex Wilson: He may have a tough time cracking what looks to be a crowded bullpen, but the former Texas A&M star successfully made the transition to the 'pen in Pawtucket last season and could receive a summons at some point.

SoxProspects: Wilson groomed to help 'pen

April, 29, 2012
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It has been obvious to Red Sox followers this season that the bullpen has been one of the team’s biggest weaknesses, as Boston relievers’ 6.55 ERA entering this weekend was nearly half a run higher than that of any other team. However, help could soon be on the way. Earlier this week the club moved its 2011 minor league pitcher of the year, Alex Wilson, to the bullpen, setting him on a track to possibly help in the majors quite soon.

Until the move was actually made, the Red Sox gave no indication that such a transition was imminent. But hours before Wilson's scheduled start Tuesday for Triple-A Pawtucket, word came down that he was being replaced by veteran Brandon Duckworth. This led to natural questions about whether Wilson, the 14th-ranked prospect at SoxProspects.com, was injured. Those were quickly put to rest. Instead, hopes of a quick elevation to the big league club for the righty emerged.

“I was told [Monday] night,” Wilson said. “I sat down and [they] said they were going to make the switch. The front office came to the decision to go ahead and slide me back there, and [told me] not to look at it as a demotion, but as an opportunity. I’m going to take that and run with it.”

It is an opportunity that could yield quick results for the 25-year-old if the Red Sox bullpen continues to struggle. The organization made a similar switch with Junichi Tazawa in spring training, and he has been one of the better relievers in Boston since his promotion on April 18.

[+] EnlargeAlex Wilson
Elsa/Getty ImagesAlex Wilson, viewed by many scouts as a natural for the bullpen when in college, is making the transition back to a relief role.
A reliever in his final season at Texas A&M after undergoing Tommy John surgery the year before, many scouts viewed Wilson's fastball-slider combination as tailor made for a bullpen role at the big league level.

“I’m lucky enough to have done it before, so I know what it’s going to be like coming into it,” Wilson said. “The biggest thing for me, it’s not the training, but the mindset of being ready every day. I’ve been used to having four days off, not having to worry about game action or anything like that. For me to be ready day in and day out will be the biggest adjustment.

“I’ve always been a guy that comes right at you -- fastball, slider, changeup if I need it -- kind of deal. I think it’ll play well into my game actually.”

Wilson made his first relief appearance on Tuesday to mixed results. While he struck out a batter in his inning of work, he also allowed an earned run on two hits. An adjustment period is to be expected as he settles into the role, but Wilson expressed confidence following the outing and had little negative to say about the experience.

“I felt great today,” the 6-foot-1 right-hander said. “I had no problem whatsoever. It’s always nice to start with a clean inning. I had the whole half inning -- I knew about it ahead of time. It was smooth sailing really.”

PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler echoed that sentiment, saying, “We talked [to him] earlier about his routine and he seemed to get up and wait, and do what he’s supposed to do. He didn’t get up early and throw down there forever. He just got up, went in, and did what he does.”

SoxProspects.com director of scouting Chris Mellen was in attendance at Pawtucket for the appearance and commented afterward that Wilson appeared to be rushing his delivery and generally looked a bit out of sync. As a result, he wasn't able to keep his fastball down and the pitch sat around 91-93 m.p.h., topping out at 94, similar velocity to what he showed as a starter. But Mellen believes that in short bursts the righty's fastball will be able to touch as high as 97 m.p.h. as he settles into the role.

“I thought he did a nice job of getting the ball down [the] further in the outing he went,” said Beyeler. “As he went on, his fastball got down in the zone much better. That’s where he’s going to have to be to have some success and that’s where he hasn't been consistently so far this season.”

In general, the Red Sox prefer to let pitching prospects work as starters for as long as possible to give them more opportunity to hone their craft and develop their pitches, so Wilson had started exclusively as a professional since signing as a second-round pick in 2009.

With a 3.05 ERA in 21 Double-A starts last season, followed by a solid four-game stint in Pawtucket in which he had 24 strikeouts in 21 innings, Wilson had handled the role well. This season with the PawSox, he had a 1.80 ERA up until a rough start on April 19 in which he allowed six earned runs at Syracuse. So rather than being based on performance, the move is likely a sign that the Red Sox are content with their other starting depth options at this time, and see this as an opportunity to improve one of their biggest areas of weakness at the big league level.

Since Wilson spent those years starting, there are still many nuances of relieving for him to adapt to, such as coming into games mid-inning and making back-to-back appearances. Beyeler said that there are no immediate plans to pitch Wilson in a back-to-back situation, but that will be worked into the mix before long.

“I’m sure I’ll get different kind of looks -- be brought in the middle of an inning,” Wilson said. “It’s just getting acclimated to that whole world. It’s totally different and it’s a different mindset. It’ll take some time to get used to, but hopefully we’ll make it quick.

“It’s just going to take a couple of outings to kind of get the feel back and really learn my body again for this kind of situation.”

The Red Sox can only hope Wilson is correct in that assessment of how long the transition will take. If true, it may not be long before he receives the call he's been waiting for since signing with the organization.

Matt Huegel is a senior editor and columnist for SoxProspects.com. Kevin Pereira contributed to this report.

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