Boston Red Sox: Christian Vazquez

BOSTON -- The Red Sox are expected to activate outfielder Shane Victorino prior to Saturday night's game against the Royals, though manager John Farrell said the team will evaluate the right fielder earlier in the day before making a final determination.

Victorino played seven innings in right field for Triple-A Pawtucket on Friday, going 1-for-4 with a double in his second straight day in action.

“Vic came out of his game after seven innings, four at-bats," Farrell said Friday after his Red Sox rallied for a 5-4 win over the Royals. "We’re going to check him here tomorrow before we make any kind of roster move just to insure that he’s OK after the full night."

Victorino has been limited to just 21 games for the Red Sox this season, with a .242 batting average, one home run and 10 RBIs. His last game for Boston came on May 23 at Tampa when he reinjured his hamstring. During his rehab, he suffered a few setbacks with his hamstring and back.

"We've missed his energy, we've missed his talents," Farrell said. "His in-game decisions, his instincts on the basepaths. We've missed a very good player for a majority of the year. That being said, we're very much looking forward to him getting back. We recognize that there's been a couple of start-and-stops along the way, so what kind of production he gives us immediately remains to be seen."

Prior to his 3-for-8 performance for the PawSox on Thursday and Friday, Victorino had gone 1-for-30 during his minor league rehab stints with Single-A Lowell and Pawtucket. After Thursday's game, he admitted it was the best he's felt on the field all season, but he realizes the production may not be immediate once he's activated.

Will Middlebrooks, who has been on the disabled list with a fractured finger and sore wrist, played third base for the PawSox on Friday. Farrell believes Middlebrooks isn't too far behind Victorino.

"I wouldn't say that they're tied to one another," Farrell said. "We're hopeful Will has fully healed over the things he's been battling -- the wrist, the finger -- and he gets back to us as a productive player. I can't tell you sitting here right now that that would be tomorrow."

Farrell did say it's a possibility Middlebrooks would be activated before the Red Sox leave for their next road trip Sunday night. With both Middlebrooks and Victorino on the verge of returning, the Red Sox will need to make a pair of corresponding moves. Farrell said they're still trying to figure out the best scenario.

• Don't expect rookie catcher Christian Vasquez to sit too often the rest of the way. Farrell has veteran catcher David Ross working with starter Clay Buchholz tonight, and Ross will again start with Jon Lester on the mound Sunday, but Vasquez will get his share of starts.

"I wouldn't say every other [game]," Farrell said. "I like the fact that David has the ability to take the first game of a series, take our game plan, implement it and can also mentor Christian in that way as it works inside of a given series. Still not looking to break up [Ross] and Jon Lester -- that will be something that will be preserved as we go forward. That's the approach right now."

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 11, Astros 0

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13

HOUSTON -- Clay Buchholz delivered his best start of the season Sunday, and the Red Sox didn't even really need it.

A day after Jake Peavy pitched his best game of the season and only got two runs of support and his eighth straight loss to show for it, the Red Sox gave Buchholz more than enough support in an 11-0 blowout over the Houston Astros.

In a departure from their one-run nail-biters of late, it was the Red Sox's widest margin of victory of the season. They enter the All-Star break having won four of their last five games.

Playing about 90 miles from his hometown of Nederland, Buchholz pitched a dazzling shutout, allowing just three hits, zero walks, while recording a career-high 12 strikeouts. He retired the last 17 batters he faced in the dominant performance.

On a day when Buchholz only needed one run of support to win, the Red Sox gave him much more than that.

The Red Sox poured runs on the Astros, and they did it without a whole lot of what Farrell has been preaching for weeks -- timely hitting.

The final score wasn't as lopsided as the final hits category, which ended at 16-3. After Mike Napoli was the only hitter in the starting lineup to go hitless on Saturday, David Ortiz was the lone goose egg on Sunday, as he went 0-for-4 with two walks and one RBI.

The Red Sox knocked Houston starter Brad Peacock out of the game just one out in, as Brock Holt led off with a home run and the Red Sox loaded the bases early. Houston burned through five relievers, and the Red Sox touched just about every one of them in the hitting clinic.

Holt stays hot: Brock Holt has hit well pretty much everywhere he has played since his May call-up, but he really liked Houston. A few miles down the road from where he spent a year playing college ball at Rice University, Holt destroyed the Astros in the series, going 10-for-15 and hitting for the cycle across three games, collecting two RBIs and scoring four runs. He was 5-for-6 on Sunday with two runs scored and an RBI.

Ducks on the pond: Although the Red Sox scored 11 runs, they could have scored a whole lot more. They stranded 11 runners on base and hit into five double plays.

Walking the line: Several players were asked after Saturday's game if it felt like they were pressing and trying too hard to make things happen. If their patience at the plate is any indication, the Red Sox couldn't be much more relaxed. They drew eight walks on Sunday, nearing the season high of 10, and rank second in the majors in walks, trailing only Oakland.

Vazquez going bananas: After Friday's three-hit breakout performance where he collected his first major-league hit, catcher Christian Vazquez said, "After the first one, they come in like bananas." On Sunday, Vazquez picked up two more hits along with two RBIs.

Farrell lays out Vazquez/Ross timeshare

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
HOUSTON -- After a breakout night on Friday from catcher Christian Vazquez, Red Sox manager John Farrell was asked how excited he is to see the rookie phenom play in the second half of the season.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him play on Sunday," Farrell said with a grin before Saturday's game against the Houston Astros.

Farrell laid out his vision for how Vazquez will share time with veteran David Ross behind the plate moving forward. After the Red Sox return from the All-Star break next week, Vazquez will start for three of the five starters in the rotation, with Ross handling Jake Peavy and Jon Lester.

After Vazquez caught Rubby De La Rosa in his major league debut on Wednesday and John Lackey in his 3-for-4, three-RBI performance on Friday night, the rookie has received high praise all around.

"Guys on the mound know he cares and they feel that," Farrell said. "I think that goes a long way."

• While Farrell was prepared to discuss his plans for how the catching rotation will work after the break, he was not ready to lay out his plan for the starting pitching rotation on Saturday. He said those plans might be made available Sunday before he heads to Minneapolis to manage the American League All-Star team.

Farrell, however, did make one thing perfectly clear -- lefty Felix Doubront will remain in the bullpen for the time being.

After opening the season as the club's No. 3 starter, the 26-year-old was moved to the bullpen two weeks ago. Doubront expressed his disappointment with the decision, but Farrell reiterated his stance Saturday, that Doubront will remain in the bullpen.

"That's our plan right now," Farrell said. "The rotation is what it is."

Doubront is 2-4 with a 5.17 ERA. Farrell complimented his most recent relief appearance on Monday against the White Sox, when Doubront pitched two scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out one.

• Farrell spoke highly of the importance of the Red Sox defense, particularly in the middle of the field, from behind the plate with Ross and Vazquez, all the way out to the extensive range of Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field.

"The center of the diamond is the backbone of your defense," Farrell said. "We've got two catchers that have the ability to shut down a running game."

• After a hot start to the season, rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts is in a major slump.

Over his last 27 games, Bogaerts is hitting .090 and slugging .120 with just one extra-base hit, four RBIs and four walks with 31 strikeouts in 105 plate appearances. It's a stark contrast to the first two months of the season, when he hit .299 and boasted a .452 slugging percentage with five home runs, 17 doubles and 17 RBIs.

Still, Farrell said he's sticking with the rookie.

"What's right for our team, long-term, is to get a productive Xander Bogaerts," Farrell said. "We've done some things here recently in a pinch-hit situation to win a ballgame. That may be the case going forward, but we won't lose sight that we still have confidence and know that he's going to be an impact player. We're working through some things to get there."

Bogaerts will hit sixth on Saturday, when the Red Sox send Peavy to the mound in search of their first four-game winning streak since June 1.

Here's the full lineup:

1. Brock Holt, SS
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. David Ortiz, DH
4. Mike Napoli, 1B
5. Jonny Gomes, LF
6. Xander Bogaerts, 3B
7. David Ross, C
8. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
9. Mookie Betts, RF

Jake Peavy, SP

Vazquez leads Sox hit parade in Houston

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12

HOUSTON -- The Red Sox discovered a quick and easy way to score runs on Friday night -- ditch the singles.

While the Red Sox have struggled with consistency at the plate in recent weeks, one thing has been constant -- their inability to get extra-base hits. Although they extended their homerless drought to 187 at-bats, dating back to a David Ross shot this past Sunday, rookie catcher Christian Vazquez showed his new teammates how to swing a big bat.

In an 8-3 thrashing of the Houston Astros in the opener of the final series before the All-Star break, Vazquez had two of the team's seven extra-base hits, both doubles. Stephen Drew and Brock Holt chipped in triples, and Holt, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz each added a double apiece.

It was their highest outpouring of extra-base hits since notching a season-high nine extra-base hits nearly two months ago on May 14 in a 9-4 win over Minnesota. On the Ortiz double, the Red Sox fell just a few feet shy of a home run, which would have completed a cycle for the team for the first time since June 13.

[+] EnlargeChristian Vazquez
AP Photo/Pat SullivanChristian Vazquez was 3-for-4 with two of the Red Sox's seven extra-base hits.
When asked about his team's modest three-game winning streak, Red Sox manager John Farrell praised the offensive approach.

"The thing that stood out was the number of extra-base hits that's been somewhat elusive," Farrell said. "Just a good offensive showing."

It marked just the second time in the last four weeks that the Red Sox won a game by a margin of more than one run. They entered Friday ranked 22nd in the majors with 242 extra-base hits and moved up to 19th in a matter of one game at Minute Maid Park.

But instead of utilizing the short left-field fence in the ballpark aptly nicknamed "The Juicebox," the Red Sox pounded the alleys.

After making his major league debut in a jittery 0-for-3 performance on Wednesday, Vazquez had a breakout night, going 3-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored. His first hit came in the third inning as he drove a Scott Feldman breaking ball into left-center for a single.

"Once you get the first one, it's easier," Vazquez said. "Then, they come in like bananas."

Vazquez later displayed opposite-field power with his first career RBI on a double that scored Drew. Farrell said that Vazquez's ability to utilize that strength in his swing has fueled his rapid rise in 2014.

"He's playing with a lot of confidence and surprising line-drive power," Farrell said.

Vazquez became one of just three Red Sox players since 1914 to record at least three hits and three RBIs within their first two career games, joining Sam Horn in 1987 and Merl Combs in 1947.

For what it's worth, Babe Ruth went 0-for-2 in his major league debut 100 years ago Friday and followed with an 0-for-1 performance in his second game with the Red Sox.

Perhaps even more impressive than Vazquez's performance at the plate was his performance behind the plate.

Veteran pitcher John Lackey said he was very comfortable pitching to the rookie for the first time since a few scattered appearances in spring training.

"He's awesome," Lackey said. "He really catches the ball well. Really sticks the low pitch, really wants to learn, really executed the game plan we talked about beforehand. He did a great job."

Lackey recorded his 10th win of the season, hitting the double-digit plateau for the 11th time since 2003, barring the 2012 season that he missed for Tommy John surgery.

After going six innings, allowing two runs and four hits, while walking five and striking out three, Lackey had a sense of rejuvenation as he enters the All-Star break. He talked about a "new energy" around the clubhouse with the sudden youth movement in the lineup.

Wednesday's lineup, which featured five rookie starters, marked the earliest date the Red Sox have started five rookies in a game since July 6, 1952.

Farrell said that the recent spark is about more than just age.

"Talent more than youth," Farrell said. "They're young guys that are talented. That's going to be a successful combination. Sure, there's going to be some getting established here at this level, but they're talented guys and they're playing to their capabilities."

On Saturday, the Red Sox will send 33-year-old righty Jake Peavy to the mound -- with trade rumors swirling -- to try to give them their first four-game winning streak since June 1, a span of 12 series.

"We've gotten some timely hitting," Farrell said. "Our pitching has been solid in the three games, and we're playing with a lot of energy. Guys that have come up recently have injected some of that into us, but more than anything, we're getting the timely hit."

And when they do, they're more than just singles.

Vazquez has exciting, eventful debut

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
BOSTON -- Watching from the Red Sox dugout as the winning run scores in the ninth inning of a walk-off victory over the Chicago White Sox? Not a bad way to begin your major league career, Christian Vazquez.

Starting at catcher and batting ninth Wednesday night after being called up to replace the recently designated-for-assignment A.J. Pierzynski, Vazquez enjoyed a successful debut and an exciting 5-4 comeback victory. Despite going 0-for-3 at the plate, Vazquez made two strong defensive plays behind the dish that contributed to the team’s win.

[+] EnlargeChristian Vazquez
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesChristian Vazquez made a pair of key plays behind the plate in his big-league debut.
After Mike Napoli's error in the fourth on a Dayan Viciedo grounder allowed a run to score, Vazquez showed off his “cannon for an arm,” as fellow catcher David Ross described it before the game. Vazquez corralled a throw from right fielder Mookie Betts and nailed Viciedo at second when he tried to advance on the throw.

In the seventh inning, Alejandro De Aza tried to score on Tyler Flowers' double, coming around from first as the ball got away from Jonny Gomes in left -- the ball appeared to hit Gomes in the head. He was able to recover quickly, and relay man Xander Bogaerts fired a strike to Vazquez, who placed a clean swipe tag on De Aza at home for the out.

Vazquez also guided former Triple-A Pawtucket teammate Rubby De La Rosa along through five solid innings. De La Rosa allowed three runs on six hits (two home runs) in his spot start.

“I thought Christian Vazquez did an excellent job running the game tonight,” manager John Farrell said. “The number of pitches at the bottom of the strike zone were framed exceptionally well. He did a very good job overall.”

Vazquez was pinch hit for in the bottom of the ninth, with Daniel Nava coming through in his spot to drive in Betts with a double that tied the game. Nava then scored the winning run on Brock Holt's single.

After the game, Vazquez admitted that he was nervous during his debut. However, the walk-off win was enough to make him all smiles in the clubhouse.

“We’re just going to tell Vazquez this is what he should expect every game,” Nava said. “This is what happens all the time.”

More: Vazquez gets opportunity to show his stuff

Vazquez gets opportunity to show his stuff

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
BOSTON -- The word around Triple-A Pawtucket for the last month has been that catcher Christian Vazquez felt he was ready to make his way to Boston.

He had already done enough to prove himself to the Red Sox defensively, catching nine of 14 would-be base stealers during 26 spring training games. He even impressed with the bat in those outings, hitting .297 and reaching base at a .366 clip.

It wasn’t until Wednesday, however, that the Red Sox finally were ready for Vazquez, designating catcher A.J. Pierzynski for assignment and moving forward with the 23-year-old native of Puerto Rico as their primary backstop.

“I’m excited to be here to help the team to win,” Vazquez said. “It’s my dream to be here playing in the big leagues and I’m very happy.”

[+] EnlargeVazquez
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesChristian Vazquez threw out 40 percent of base stealers at Triple-A Pawtucket.
The Vazquez era at catcher began immediately, with the youngster joining four other rookies (Brock Holt, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts) in the Red Sox lineup Wednesday night. He hit ninth and wore No. 55 in his major league debut.

“It is an opportunity for us to invest in players that are going to be here beyond 2014,” manager John Farrell said of the switch to Vazquez. “That brings Christian to us -- a guy that we are high on his abilities, particularly as a defender ... and someone who continues to develop as an offensive player.”

In Vazquez, the Red Sox have a young catcher with all the tools to find success at the major league level. His defense is above average, with caught stealing percentages in each of his seven minor league seasons that have been consistently high. In 66 games with Pawtucket this season, Vazquez caught 19 of 48 attempted base stealers, good for 40 percent. By comparison, Boston catchers have caught 16 of 71 base stealers, or 23 percent.

Even Vazquez’s bat has come around recently, with the catcher hitting .342 in his last 10 games and riding a seven-game hitting streak. On the season, Vazquez sports a .279 average with three home runs and 20 RBIs.

“He can help us certainly defensively and his at-bats over the last six weeks or so have been more consistent,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “It’s a bit of an investment in him and opportunity for us to find out a little bit more about him as we start looking forward.”

At the major league level, Vazquez will have a trustworthy mentor to turn to in David Ross. Having worked together in spring training the past two seasons, Ross raved about Vazquez’s attitude and dedication toward his craft.

“He wants to help the pitchers,” Ross said. “He’s not just about hitting, he’s not just about catching -- he’s about both. I think he’s going to be a good bright spot for us.

“He’s a guy that’s about winning first and I think we’re going to be better off for having him.”

Farrell said he expects Ross to serve as a guide for Vazquez, planning to start the rookie four times a week and Ross three times a week to ease the transition.

“David Ross’ ability to mentor in that role will be part of this, but we’re not leaving it solely up to him,” Farrell said. “He, along with our staff and our pitchers, [will] play a pivotal role in this.”

“I think I can help him a lot,” Ross said. “I think it’s the in-game stuff that I’ll help the most -- the managing of an inning, the managing of if you feel like guys are sitting on pitches or not sitting on pitches or looking to execute a certain plan and how to go against that plan.”

Despite the quick turnaround, Vazquez said he’s happy to get started immediately. With a familiar face from Pawtucket in Rubby De La Rosa on the mound Wednesday night and a “great catcher and teammate” in Ross to turn to when needed, Vazquez will look to take advantage of what he described as a great opportunity before him.

“He’ll have an opportunity to learn a lot about catching,” Cherington said. “We’ll help him as much as we can with that.”

Bogaerts, Nava go deep in loss

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Red Sox have dropped five of their six exhibition games, including Wednesday’s 8-6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, their third consecutive defeat.

In games that counted last season, Boston never lost more than three straight games all year.

But relax, Red Sox fans, it’s only spring training. And, as a bonus, at least three Boston players turned in positive performances on Wednesday: shortstop Xander Bogaerts, left fielder Daniel Nava and Christian Vazquez.

Here’s a closer look:

* Bogaerts, batting third, went 1-for-2 with a two-run homer and a walk.

He struck out his first time up, chasing a pitch up and away for strike two and getting caught looking for the punch out.

[+] EnlargeXander Bogaerts
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonXander Bogaerts, who hit a two-run homer in the sixth, is congratulated by Will Middlebrooks.
After that, his selection of pitches to hit was much better, and the results left him thrilled.

“It was awesome,” Bogaerts said when asked how he felt about the homer. “For the past few days, I’ve been hitting a lot of line drives right at people. So it was good to hit one where no one was at.”

Bogaerts, 21, said he had some timing issues in the beginning of camp, which left him chasing pitches instead of letting the ball get to him.

He’s made the adjustment, though, and the native of Aruba seems poised to show what he can accomplish when given the opportunity.

“Xander has swung the bat really well in spring training,” manager John Farrell said. “Even the other day, he hit a couple of hard line outs.

“He looks comfortable at the plate. He is an exciting young player. We are going to need production from him.”

* Nava, batting leadoff, went 1-for-2 with a solo homer, a walk and a strikeout. He also got picked off at first base.

“He’s a candidate to hit lead off against certain starting pitchers,” Farrell said. “He has the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, and, if he does that, certainly we will take it.

“But his at-bats haven’t changed despite the slot in the lineup that he has occupied.”

Nava, 31, had an excellent .385 on-base percentage last season. He also had 29 doubles and 12 homers and scored 77 runs, numbers good enough that he should find a home somewhere in the lineup, which is all he cares about.

“I’m not looking at leadoff any differently than any other spot,” he said. “The only time it’s any different is the first inning. Besides that first time, it’s still the same approach. How many times after that will I lead off an inning?”

As for the pickoff, when he got caught by lefty reliever Randy Choate, Nava said he was going on first move and just guessed wrong.

Nava said baserunning is a point of emphasis for him this year.

“That applies to whether I am batting fifth or leadoff,” he said. “It doesn’t mean to steal more bases. It means as an overall baserunner, go from first to third, take that extra base when I can.”

* Vazquez went 2-for-3 and threw out two runners trying to steal.

“He was great,” veteran pitcher Chris Capuano said of Vazquez. “From the first day I threw a bullpen session to him, he was asking me what pitches I like to throw, what counts, how I want him to set up.

“He is very eager to learn and has a good head for the game.”

Vazquez, 23, is a native of Puerto Rico and was Boston’s ninth-round pick in 2008. He played 96 of his 97 games at Double A last season, batting .287 overall with five homers and 48 RBIs.

But Vazquez’s defensive skills are what set him apart.

“Physically, he is very gifted,” Capuano said. “He receives the ball well, throws the ball well. You can tell he has a passion for what he is doing. I enjoyed working with him.”

A solid vote for Vazquez

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When one of the Magnificent Molina Brothers extols your virtues, you must be doing something right.

Indeed, Christian Vazquez, the 23-year-old catcher who last spring played for Double-A Portland, appears on an accelerated path to the big leagues. One National League scout said this week he would take Vazquez right now on his defensive prowess alone and would live with whatever struggles he might have at the plate. He first showed off his arm in big league camp last spring, and this spring he has thrown out all 11 runners who have attempted to run on him, according to Red Sox manager John Farrell.

Farrell says Vazquez's offense is coming.

[+] EnlargeChristian Vazquez
AP Photo/Steven SenneChristian Vazquez, who says he wants to learn all he can about catching, found a good source of information in the Rays' Jose Molina.
“What’s impressive to me is the progress he’s making with the bat,’’ Farrell said the other day. “There’s more strength in his swing; there’s more solid impact. He drove the ball well to right-center field, and then there was the home run the other day [against Boston College]. When you look at the numbers [.289 AVG/.376 OBP/.395 SLG/.771 OPS], it’s heading in the right direction. He’s on a very good path.”

Vazquez spoke Tuesday about how Rays catcher Jose Molina, a fellow Puerto Rican, has offered assistance on that path.

“We worked out, long-tossed and talked a lot -- good things,’’ Vazquez said. “He’s helped me calling games, read swings, helped me to trust yourself and have good communication with the pitchers -- especially veterans like Lester and Lackey, but with everybody.

“I love to listen to him because he’s a veteran guy. He knows a lot. That’s good for me. I’m a young player and I want to learn a lot.’’

Molina, 38, is entering his 15th season in the big leagues.

“I can’t say we went to the bullpen and practiced a lot,’’ Molina said, “but what we practiced was a lot of mind stuff, what he could retain and use. A lot of work ethic, work habits, how to spot different situations, a lot of little things that can help.

“Pretty much we were on the mindset of keeping his head up, knowing he was just a step away from the big leagues and with his talent, it could be any time. He’s got to take advantage of that situation because that situation is going to come only once and you don’t want to let it go.’’

Molina said he has seen Vazquez only a handful of times, including a couple of times catching winter ball in Puerto Rico.

“But when you hear a guy’s name, there’s a reason, right?’’ he said. “He’s doing something good and doing something right. One of my things is to keep continuing that. Don’t go backwards -- keep moving forward, be even better.’’

Sox catcher David Ross, who is known for his arm, told Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald that Vazquez reminds him of Yadier Molina, Jose’s younger brother, who is considered the best defensive catcher in the game. Puerto Rico has a tradition of producing great catchers, including Benito Santiago, Sandy Alomar Jr., Pudge Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Javy Lopez and the Molina brothers (Jose, Yadier and Bengie).

Jose Molina said he hasn’t seen enough of Vazquez to say whether the comparison is valid: “He’s following my brother, so he’s following the best catcher in the game right now; so he’s a good guy to follow. I wish I was younger, so I could follow him too. That’s the best example he can follow, my brother.’’

Molina acknowledged talking with Vazquez about the importance of communicating with the pitcher.

“I always say communicating with the pitcher is the most important thing,’’ he said. “It’s like [with] your brother, with my brothers. I know everything about my brothers. They know everything about me.

“I love my pitchers; they are my brothers. I don’t have my brothers close, so they are my closest brothers. I have learned everything about them, [so when they are doing something wrong], I can pass the message to them.’’

Molina said he enjoys mentoring, but the real reward is seeing a player such as Vazquez make it.

“The best thing you see is these guys making strides, getting better and better, and someday they will be here,’’ Molina said. “That’s the best thing.’’

Quick hits: Ellsbury said thanks

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A few quick hits from John Farrell’s media session Friday morning:

* Yes, he has spoken with Jacoby Ellsbury since the former Sox center fielder signed his seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees.

“He called after the deal was agreed upon," Farrell said. “To his credit, he called to say thanks. I got the sense he was a little surprised it happened so fast, and the magnitude [of the deal]. I wished him well. We’ll certainly miss him, but now he’s on the other side.

“He handled it with a lot of class. He was grateful for his time here and gave thanks to the way things unfolded last year."

* Grady Sizemore came out of his spring debut fine and is scheduled to start in center field Saturday against the Twins.

“He feels great," Farrell said. “I’m sure he was eager to get going."

* Daniel Nava (pinched nerve in neck) is expected to start Saturday in left field.

* Left-hander Craig Breslow is on his own throwing program. He’s out to 90 feet in long toss and is ahead of the program he was on last season, when he opened the season on the DL with tendinitis in his left shoulder. Breslow returned to make 61 appearances and posted a career-best 1.81 ERA.

* Jonny Gomes will bat leadoff. Grady Sizemore led off in Thursday’s first game, Brock Holt in the second. With Nava still out and Shane Victorino still some time away from playing in games, you can expect to see a number of hitters in that spot. “Availability has something to do with it," Farrell said of Gomes in the 1-spot. “He puts up quality at-bats whether it’s a lefty or righty, as you saw last year. It’s a look at an alignment you may see later in the year."

* Farrell on the offensive improvement of strong-armed catching prospect Christian Vazquez, who homered against Boston College: “He took a big step forward last year. An improved average, but more than anything when you see the walks and strikeouts even out, that shows increased confidence in the box, to be comfortable or remain calm in two-strike situations. He’s an exciting-looking player who took a solid step forward last year.’’

Vazquez posted a .289/.376/.395/.761 slash line with 47 walks and 44 strikeouts in Double-A Portland, and figures to share time in Pawtucket with some combination of Daniel Butler and Ryan Lavarnway.

The 2014 Baseball Prospectus gave him a rave: “Blake Swihart deservedly gets the attention, but Vazquez has a real chance to be much better as a major-league backstop than as a prospect. Vazquez’s pop times are off-the-charts ridiculous, scouts and his coaches laud him for his precocious handling of the pitching staff, and the Brothers Molina think enough of him to include him in their offseason training in Puerto Rico. While Vazquez could thrive as an all-defense backup, he has real offensive skills."

* Added note: The two players listed as the top two prospects in the game are here. Twins outfielder Byron Buxton is ranked No. 1 by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, with both sites also listing Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts No. 2. Buxton, 20, finished last season at Class A and is at least a year away from the big leagues.

Here's the Prospectus on Buxton: "The premier talent in the minor leagues, Buxton has the type of impact tools to develop into a franchise player at the major league level. With elite speed, well above-average potential with the glove in center, a plus arm, a plus-plus potential hit tool complemented by an advanced approach, and power potential that he only scratching the surface of, Buxton has the highest tool-based ceiling of any player in the minors. If everything comes together, he could change the Twins' fortunes."

Takeaways from the Fort: College sweep

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Fort after the Boston Red Sox beat Northeastern and Boston College by the identical scores of 5-2:

[+] EnlargeGrady Sizemore
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty ImagesGrady Sizemore was 0-for-2 Thursday in his first game action with the Red Sox.
Grady Sizemore looked comfortable on a baseball field. It has been two years since he was able to say that. Sizemore played left field and went 0-for-2 in his two at-bats, flying out and lining out. He is scheduled to play again Saturday.

"He's working hard," David Ortiz said. "Looked good. Trying to stay healthy. We'll see how it goes."

When someone asked a follow-up question about Sizemore, asking Ortiz what he sees, he replied: "Looks all sexy and good-looking. What do you want me to tell you?

"He's a great player, man, but he's just been dealing with injuries. Sad, man, that he's dealing with injuries. It's hard to want to continue playing when things go that way, but he looked good to me."

• A dozen pitchers got in work for the Sox, six in each game. Brandon Workman started the first game, Rubby De La Rosa the second. Each pitched two scoreless innings, allowing a hit and striking out two.

"I thought for the most part we threw strikes, stayed in control of the count for the better part of the guys who walked to the mound,"Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "And it was good to see guys in game situations, to see their instincts."

• Nonroster outfielder Corey Brown was hit in the back of the left hand while swinging at a pitch in the third inning of Game 2 and was taken out for precautionary reasons, but checked out OK afterward, Farrell said. No fracture of any kind, he said.

• Catcher Christian Vazquez hit the day's only home run, a long ball over the top of the left-field wall, in the second game.

• Three players had two hits apiece for the Sox on Thursday: third baseman Garin Cecchini, first baseman Travis Shaw, and catcher Ryan Lavarnway. Shaw and Lavarnway each had a double.

[+] EnlargeOrtiz
AP Photo/Steven SenneDavid Ortiz smiles after getting fooled by a pitch from Northeastern's James Mulry.
• The Sox remain undefeated against their college visitors, 12-0 against Northeastern and 24-0 over BC. The Huskies actually took a 2-1 lead into the sixth, but the Sox scored four runs in the bottom of the inning, helped by a double error and a triple by Scott Cousins, the former Marlin.

• The only extra-base hits by the college kids were doubles by Northeastern freshman Jimmy Hand in the first game and Boston College senior first baseman John Hennessy in the nightcap. Hand is from Georgia, Hennessy from Andover, Mass. Another Andover kid, Huskies freshman Dustin Hunt, pitched two scoreless innings in the first game, while West Roxbury (and Boston Latin School) pitcher James Mulry had a moment to savor for Northeastern when he retired Dustin Pedroia on a called third strike and struck out David Ortiz, the next batter, with a breaking ball on which Ortiz was fooled badly, sending him back to the dugout laughing.

"He threw me a nasty breaking ball," Ortiz said. "He can party tonight."

Something for the kid to talk about years from now? "Why that long?" he said. "He can have a drink tonight, say, 'I struck out Papi.'"

Vazquez gives Sox special weapon

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox thought they had something special in catcher Christian Vazquez going into last year’s camp. But after he spectacularly snuffed out the base-stealing attempt of Trevor Pflouffe in a game against the Twins on March 8, they knew they had something special.

Vazquez’s home-to-second pop time was measured at 1.77 -- the best time that any Red Sox front-office members had ever seen, and well below the time of 1.95 that is considered the major-league average.

In 15 appearances during camp, he threw out all five baserunners who attempted to steal. But the Pflouffe punchout remains No. 1 on his hit list.

“That’s the one I remember the most,” he said Tuesday. “I was proud of that. For me, that’s as good as I can do it.”

[+] EnlargeChristian Vazquez
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty ImagesChristian Vazquez, who was promoted to Pawtucket last season, has forged a reputation as an assassin behind the plate. "If he gets the opportunity to fill in, everybody's comfortable with that possibility," said veteran catcher David Ross.
Vazquez continued to be a terror for would-be base stealers, throwing out 47 percent of them at Double-A Portland before he was promoted to Pawtucket. And then, in 33 games for Santurce in the Puerto Rican winter league, he nailed 63 percent of them.

Vazquez credits his father, Rafael, for teaching him the basics and Rays catcher Jose Molina for refining them. Molina, who lives near Vazquez in Puerto Rico, worked out with Vazquez three times a week during the offseason. It doesn’t hurt to get some tips from a catcher who twice has led the American League in caught-stealing percentage.

Now the 23-year-old Vazquez, a ninth-round pick by the Red Sox in 2008, is imparting wisdom to Blake Swihart, who’s making his first appearance in big-league camp.

“He welcomed me in,” Swihart said. “He’s always been a great guy. I’ve learned from him, ‘Let the ball come to you, and relax back there. You can’t rush anything.’ One thing you find out is everybody is really close-knit here. There’s no bitter taste in people’s mouths. Everyone’s working together.

“He’s a great defensive catcher -- one of the best. Great arm, great feet. He’s quick back there,” he added.

Both Swihart and Vazquez are scheduled to play in Thursday's game against Boston College.

Pitcher Andrew Miller first ran into Vazquez on a rehab assignment in Greenville in 2012. He was impressed, but said no one could have expected to see what they saw last year during spring training.

“Most guys didn’t know who he was yet,” Miller said. “It doesn’t sound like he surprised himself. It’s all been part of the process. When you come into your first camp, guys may have heard whispers here and there, but in reality they don’t know much about you.

“He threw out a bunch of guys in spring training," he added. "That goes a long way. Our guys at the big-league level did a great job with him. David Ross carries one of highest percentages of throwing out runners at the major-league level. There’s value in that. A lot of times when you give up a hit and the catcher throws the guy out, that makes the inning a heck of a lot easier. It gets you out of a jam. The ability to do that is a special trait and something that certainly has a lot of value.

“He certainly has seemed to progress and get better every year. His star seems to keep getting brighter and brighter. His reputation is impressive. If he gets the opportunity to fill in, everybody’s comfortable with that possibility.”

Vazquez, Swihart looking to catch on

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
BOSTON -- There's no bad blood between Boston Red Sox catching prospects Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. Working out together as part of the Red Sox's annual Rookie Development Program, the two were both in good spirits on Friday, joking with the rest of the team's 10 participants this year.

However, Vazquez and Swihart are both competing with the same goal in mind: being the Red Sox's next starting catcher for years to come.

"I think we're very lucky to be in a position where we've got three guys, potentially four with Blake at the upper levels, that could help us at the major-league level," director of player development Ben Crockett said. "Obviously [Ryan] Lavarnway was there last year and is the most experienced of that group and I think the two other guys that saw time at Triple-A last year, with Vazquez and [Dan] Butler, there wouldn't be a ton of hesitation to expose any of those guys if the timing was right and the situation was right."

[+] EnlargeSwihart
AP Photos/Mike JanesBlake Swihart was named 2013 Sox minor league defensive player of the year after throwing out 41.5 percent of attempted base stealers with High-A Salem.
Lavarnway, 26, and Butler, 27, have been at the upper rungs of the pro baseball ladder longer than Vazquez, 23, and Swihart, 21. The younger prospects have continued to progress through the Red Sox system each year. Vazquez is projected to start at Triple-A Pawtucket while Swihart, 21, is a decent bet to break camp with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs. The duo is believed to be the reason Boston signed veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal this offseason as opposed to going long term with another free-agent option.

Since being drafted out of high school in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft, Swihart has had high expectations. A switch-hitter out of New Mexico, Swihart had a breakout season last year, hitting .298 in 103 games with High-A Salem and being named Red Sox minor league defensive player of the year.

"Blake really has continued to make a lot of progress on both sides of the ball but particularly defensively," Crockett said. "I think we kind of recognized that with the defensive player of the year. He's a tremendous athlete, someone that had gotten a lot better behind the plate and he's got plenty of arm strength and I think that athleticism is really starting to translate behind the plate."

Swihart threw out 41.5 percent of attempted base stealers in 2013, leading the Carolina League. The 21-year-old is proud of the work he's done, but still feels there's room to improve.

"I've learned a lot and I still have a lot more to learn," Swihart said. "It's been great, a good experience. I love catching, I love being in every play. It's come along really good."

Swihart is one of eight Red Sox rookies not on the 40-man roster to be invited to major league spring training this year. He thinks the experience will give him a whole new set of opportunities heading into next season.

"I feel like everything I still need to work on, especially catching," Swihart said. "I'm still new to catching. You're always learning with catching. You might find a new pitcher you're catching that day you need to get comfortable with, learn his pitches, learn what he likes to throw in certain counts."

He added, "They always need catchers for bullpens in big league camp. It's great for me to go in there and be able to catch all those guys up there. Just to get comfortable with them and see what they throw and how their pitches move."

[+] EnlargeVazquez
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioChristian Vazquez hit .287 with a .375 OBP across Double- and Triple-A last season.
Big league camp is where Vazquez made a name for himself last year, featuring an incredible throwing arm that allowed him to catch all five baserunners who attempted to steal against him. His success carried over into the regular season, when he threw out 46.5 percent of attempted base stealers, and even continued into the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he threw out 63 percent of attempted base stealers while playing with Santurce.

Vazquez is participating in the Rookie Development Program for the second consecutive year, the first Red Sox prospect to do so since pitcher Felix Doubront in 2009 and 2010. Vazquez said his hitting is what he hopes to emphasize this season.

"Working with my offense, my hitting point," Vazquez said he'd like to improve. "[I want to] continue to work on that."

Vazquez led the Sea Dogs with a .289 average last season, ninth among Eastern League qualifiers. Between Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, the 23-year-old hit .287 while getting on base at a .375 clip, both new single-season career highs.

"I think I was more focused, patient," Vazquez said. "Watched the game, watched the opening pitcher. I was more concentrated in the batter's box. Talking to [Rich Gedman] who was my hitting coach last year, he helped me a lot to be focused to the game more and look for one spot to hit."

With a logjam of catchers at the upper levels of their minor league system, particularly in Pawtucket, the Red Sox will have a tough time this season ensuring playing time for everybody involved. However, Crockett believes that working with the major league staff during the team's Rookie Development Program as well as spring training is the key for ensuring a smooth transition to the major-league level.

"I think each of those three guys [Lavarnway, Butler and Vazquez] are at different points in their development offensively and defensively," Crockett said. "I think this camp in particular and others that we've done in the past are really important for everybody but in particular the catchers to get as much exposure as possible to the major-league staff, the way of thinking things, the information that goes into the advance reports is something they just need to get more familiar with."

As for Swihart, who remains lowest on the depth chart, there's no concern about whether or not he'll get a chance to make his debut this season.

"I let everyone else worry about that, the front-office guys," Swihart said. "I just go out and play my game, do what I can do. That's what I can focus on."

Takeaways from the Fort: Futures deferred

March, 15, 2013
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Fort, where the Red Sox bid adieu -- for now -- to two young pitchers who came to camp with the advance billing of future big leaguers, and a young catcher who showed up unheralded but is leaving as a bona fide eye-opener.

Pitchers Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, the young right-handers who came from the Dodgers in last August's transformative megadeal, and catcher Christian Vazquez, who showed off a throwing arm as impressive as those of the two pitchers, were all sent down to the minor leagues Friday. The Sox trimmed their spring roll call to 48 players, including 34 players on the 40-man roster and 13 non-roster invitees. Also included in that number is Ryan Kalish, who is on the 60-day disabled list after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder.

Webster and De La Rosa were both optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket, while Vazquez was optioned to Double-A Portland.

While De La Rosa came advertised as the pitcher with a 100 mph fastball and a changeup he learned from Pedro Martinez, it was Webster who made the biggest impression, stamping himself as the pitcher most likely to be summoned first from the minors should the Sox need another starting pitcher.

Webster made four exhibition appearances, the last three going three innings apiece, pitching a total of 11 innings and allowing two earned runs for a 1.64 ERA. He struck out 14 and walked just one, offering an affirmative answer to those who had questioned his control coming into camp while exhibiting a sinking fastball that sat in the 94-97 mph range, an outstanding changeup and an effective slider and curveball.

After watching the 23-year-old right-hander, an 18th-round draft choice signed for a paltry $20,000 out of high school in North Carolina, one major league scout said that he had the best stuff of any pitcher in camp. Webster should headline the rotation in Pawtucket, as the Sox remain committed to beginning the season with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront and John Lackey. No need to rush Webster. By having him begin in the minors, the Sox can delay starting his service-time clock, which impacts when he becomes eligible for arbitration and ultimately free agency.

De La Rosa, meanwhile, was pitching with inning restrictions imposed by the club, which is proceeding cautiously after the 24-year-old Dominican pitched just 12 innings last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011. De La Rosa impressed early, but was rocked for 7 earned runs in 2T innings, with manager John Farrell suggesting he was overthrowing. He left with a 9.45 ERA, and figures to be brought along slowly. The Sox still see him as a starter, although there are scouts who believe his future may be as a late-inning reliever.

Meanwhile, the 22-year-old Vazquez, drafted out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in the ninth round in 2008, threw out all four baserunners who attempted to steal off him and picked off another runner, showing off one of the best throwing arms by a Sox catcher in years. With Ryan Lavarnway and Daniel Butler expected to catch in Pawtucket, Vazquez will return to Portland, where he finished last season after beginning the year in Class A Salem. He batted .188 while here, but there is no question he can catch and throw on the big league level.

  • In the nightcap of split-squad action, the Red Sox shut out the Twins 5-0, with Doubront allowing just two hits, both doubles, in four innings. He struck out four while throwing 68 pitches, and with each outing is allaying concerns about the shoulder discomfort [and subpar conditioning] he exhibited when he arrived in camp.
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a home run -- his first of the spring -- with a man on base, and is now batting .417 this spring. He also has five doubles. Saltalamacchia, who is in his free agent year, hit 25 home runs last season, but got off to a slow start, going 3-for-29 (.103) before busting out with a four-hit game against the Yankees. He also tailed off badly at the end, going 4-for-35 (.114) with 15 strikeouts, and finished with a .222 average. With David Ortiz out indefinitely, the Sox could use some early production from Saltalamacchia.
  • Injury update: Pedro Ciriaco was scratched from Friday night's game with back spasms. He was replaced at shortstop by Deven Marrero, last year's No. 1 draft pick who also played a few innings in the split-squad game in Sarasota on Friday afternoon.
  • And one red, white and very blue Hawaiian will be returning to the Sox earlier than he hoped. Shane Victorino served as DH in Team USA's 4-3 loss to Puerto Rico in an elimination game Friday night, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, including a called third strike in the ninth on a dubious call. Victorino had just 1 hit in 11 at-bats for Team USA; he was 0-for-11 in early exhibition action for the Sox.

Takeaways: Sox, O's tie; Brentz impresses

March, 15, 2013
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Before Friday’s 3-3 tie against the Orioles, Bryce Brentz wouldn’t mention names but he admitted being the source of plenty of jokes this spring. Considering the alternative, he doesn’t mind the ribbing.

In January, the Boston Red Sox outfield prospect was just weeks away from beginning his first big-league camp when he accidentally shot himself. The bullet went through his left hip without significantly injuring him.

“Lucky, to say the least,” said Brentz, who was the starting right fielder Friday in Boston’s split-squad game against the Baltimore Orioles. “My teammates have had a whole lot of fun with it, though. As players, we all have fun with it. A couple handshakes going on with it now, names for it, all kinds of stuff. Of course, the players are going to have a lot of fun with it. I know I got lucky, though.”

Brentz understands what type of opportunity he had this spring, but he doesn’t consider the missed time completely lost. He was called up from minor league camp for a start in Friday’s contest and, according to Red Sox manager John Farrell, he will make another appearance on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Of course, you want to make a good impression in your first big-league camp and you have something like this happen,” said Brentz, who hit a combined .290 with 17 home runs and 76 RBIs last season in Double-A and Triple-A. “I just want to do what I came to do now. Hopefully, I can impress them today.”

In his second at-bat Friday, facing Luis Ayala, a pitcher with eight years experience in the Majors who has allowed 52 home runs in 521 1/3 innings, the 24-year-old Brentz did just that, ripping a solo shot over the wall in left-center. With an 0-2 count, no less.

“He’s a sinker guy and he threw a slider, then he threw a split, then a guy like that you just have to stick with one location and I was looking for the sinker and it didn’t really sink that much, left it up and I just put a good swing on it,” said Brentz, who was drafted by Boston in the first round of the 2010 draft.

Brentz will most likely start the season in Pawtucket, but the Tennessee native appreciates where is now.

“It’s a good chance to be up and to be able to play, and to make an impact is a great thing,” Brentz said. “It feels like I’m on track. Everything feels good.”

* Clayton Mortensen pitched three scoreless innings in his first spring start. Mortensen tossed 46 pitches, 27 for strikes, giving up two hits and striking out one.

“It was interesting going back to an old routine considering it was my first start in over a year,” said Mortensen, whose last start came in 2011 with the Colorado Rockies. “But it was good to get out there and stretch myself. My particular role this year could involve many things, possibly a spot start in the future. It was good to get out there and do well.”

Mortensen went 1-1 with a 3.21 ERA in 26 relief appearances last season with the Red Sox. He walked 19 and struck out 41 over 42.0 innings.

“He pitches to get outs and he’s not afraid to attack the zone,” Farrell said. “He has a chance to get into the rhythm of the game, which is very good for him and us.”

* Mitch Maier, who started in left field, made an impressive diving catch on a line drive by J.J. Hardy in the second inning. In doing so, the right-handed-throwing Maier rolled on his glove hand, prompting Farrell and the Red Sox trainer to hustle out to inspect him. Maier stayed in the game and singled to lead off the third, but was replaced by Juan Carlos Linares when the frame ended.

“I feel like I jammed it and kind of rolled it under me,” said Maier, 30, who appeared in 360 games over six seasons with the Kansas City Royals before being signed to a minor league deal with Boston in the offseason. “It didn’t feel great (in the at-bat) because I got jammed. I wanted to give it a go, but since it was spring training, they didn’t want me to keep going out there.”

Farrell said Maier will have X-rays performed when he returns to Fort Myers.

* Linares hit his second homer of the spring, a solo shot off Orioles minor league pitching prospect Clayton Schrader to break up a 1-1 tie in the ninth inning.

* Left-handed pitching prospect Chris Hernandez looked impressive with 3 1/3 perfect innings and one strikeout.

* Red Sox catching prospect Christian Vazquez was at it again, throwing out another runner trying to steal base. The put-out makes him 5-for-5 this spring.

* Ryan Lavarnway went 0-for-5 with one strikeout as the designated hitter.

* The Orioles have traded minor league infielder Michael Flacco, (brother of Joe) to the Red Sox for cash considerations or a player to be named later. Flacco is 26 and hit .218 last year for Class-A Frederick.

"The Orioles have more corner players than spots in our system and the Sox had interest in Mike Flacco so we thought it was a match," said Orioles GM Dan Duquette.

* The Red Sox helped the Orioles produce a sellout crowd of 8,100 at Ed White Stadium in Sarasota.