June 2011

A Buchholz-like Performance by Kyle Weiland

Perhaps the best way to describe Kyle Weiland’s performance on Wednesday night at McCoy Stadium is to call it Buchholz-like.

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

More specifically, the 2007 version of Clay Buchholz when he didn’t worry about low pitch counts and tried to strike everybody out.  That season at the minor league level, Buchholz finished with 171 strikeouts in 125.1 IP between Portland and Pawtucket– an astonishing 12.3 K per 9 innings pitched.  On September 1st of that year, Clay threw a no-hitter against Baltimore in his second major league start.

Weiland began Wednesday’s start against Rochester by striking out Brandon Roberts on three pitches – the first of a career-high 12 Ks.  In the first three innings, the 24-year-old righty whiffed five batters and did not allow a ball to hit out of the infield.

On the radio, I said that Weiland appeared to have “diabolical stuff.”  In the dugout, Kyle’s teammates and coaches began to think a no-hitter was possible.

“I thought about it, but there’s an unwritten rule that you don’t say anything so I didn’t,” said pitching coach Rich Sauveur.

Weiland did not allow a hit until their were two outs in the 6th inning when a ground ball by Dustin Martin ricocheted off the glove of diving second baseball Brent Dlugach and rolled into shallow center field.  The single scored Danny Lehman who had been hit by a curve ball (making little effort to get out of the way) and moved to second base on a passed ball.

That was the only hit that Weiland allowed in 8 innings in a 4-1 win over the Red Wings. 

“It’s very tough to match a Buchholz gem, but it was very close – no doubt about it,” Sauveur said.  “He was dominating.  We always talk about fastball command – if you have that your secondary pitches will be enhanced and he had everything working.”

Weiland threw 70 of his 99 pitches for strikes and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.  Four of his strikeouts came on just 3 pitches, and a breakdown of his 12 Ks shows how well Kyle used his entire repertoire.

Curveballs – 5 strikeouts

Cutters – 3 strikeouts

Changeups – 2 strikeouts

Fastballs – 2 strikeouts

“He was outstanding from pitch one to pitch 99,” Sauveur said.  “He has really good stuff.  I’ve said all along that he will pitch in the big leagues and he’s going to have a nice career ahead of him.”

I’m not going to suggest that Weiland will be as good as Clay Buchholz who is 35-24 with a 3.64 ERA at the major league level.

But he sure looked like him on Wednesday night.

* * * * *

Prior to Wednesday’s game, the PawSox unveiled Mondor Gardens– a tribute to team owner Ben Mondor who passed away last October.

Mondor Gardens is located near the McCoy Stadium ticket office and features six bronze statues of children playing baseball in a beautifully landscaped area with trees, plants, flowers, and park benches.

“Ben bought these six statues and said, ‘We’ve got to find a special place at the stadium for these.’” said PawSox president Mike Tamburro.  “We were building this walkway near the ticket office and every day he would say to me, ‘When is that walkway going to get done because I want to put these statues somewhere.’  Well, we just thought the perfect tribute would be Mondor Gardens.  It’s in a great area here, and these kids playing baseball in a park setting is a great tribute.  I think that fans are going to love it.”

Almost from the day that Ben passed away, people began speculating about how the PawSox would pay tribute to his legacy.

“I knew that this is something that he truly wanted more than anything else,” Tamburro said.  “He’s been talking about a park setting at McCoy for probably 15 years. I can absolutely see him sitting here at 5 o’clock before a ballgame waiting for the fans to come in and talk.  You know what?  Maybe he is sitting here right now.”

* * * * *

The PawSox will look for their fourth straight win on Thursday as they host Rochester at 7:05.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

I Told You So

A few days ago, my pal Chris Hatfield from SoxProspects.com, send out the following tweet:

@Dan_Hoard I happily look forward to reading your “I told you so” blog post re: @dnavs33 ‘s hot streak.

In case you’re not fluent in Twitter, @dnavs33 is short for Daniel Nava and Chris was referring to what I wrote one month ago when I predicted that Nava was about to go on a tear.

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

I don’t claim to be The Amazing Kreskin.  My logic at the time was simple:  When a player has an established track record, his statistics will eventually trend toward his career averages.  Nava was hitting .199 at the time and entered the season with a career minor league batting average of .321.  It was only a matter of time before he moved the needle in the right direction.

In 27 games since being designated for assignment by Boston on May 20 and clearing waivers, Daniel is batting .365 (38-for-104) to lift his batting average for the season to .267 (.379 OBP).  On Tuesday night, his RBI double in the 7th inning drove in the winning run as the PawSox rallied from a 6-0 deficit to beat Rochester 8-6.

So what exactly did Nava do to turn his season around?  Basically nothing.

“He’s such a perfectionist and he was trying to find his swing,” said PawSox hitting coach Chili Davis.  “Sometimes as a hitter, you lose sight of the fact that you’re swinging at a ball.  You try to perfect a swing instead of focusing on hitting a moving object.  We were in the cage one day and I said, ‘Hey Nav – how long have you been working on that swing?’  He gave me a weird look and I said, ‘Since spring training right?  You can trust it now.’  I told him to start tracking the ball and whacking the ball.  Track it and whack it.  The next four or five pitches that I threw to him he hit line drives and said, ‘Wow, that’s great.’  So now when he sees me he says, ‘Trust it!’  His swing is good – instead of worrying about mechanics, he started looking for something to hit.”

“I think if you ask any guy, there are usually phrases that they relate to and that’s a phrase that allows me to turn my brain off and trust the ability that I’ve been given,” Nava said.  “At least for me, I put myself in a better position to succeed when I’m not thinking and I’m just reacting.  See the ball, hit the ball.  There’s nothing too deep about it.  Before the game, I remind myself of that and just kind of let it go.”

So Chris Hatfield — this is for you.

I told you so.

* * * * *

Tuesday night was the 32nd annual Armed Services Night at McCoy Stadium and we were informed that United States soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan were tuned in to the broadcast on Pawsox.com.

We were honored to receive an e-mail from Officer Thomas Desillier who is stationed in Afghanistan with the 43rd Military Police Brigade and woke up at 3:30 am to watch the game on the internet.

Thomas asked us to send out an “I love you forever” shout-out to his wife Christine and daughters Michelle and Cynthia.

He also wrote the following:

“I thought I might miss this year’s Armed Forces Night.  I am glad I did not.  Thank you.”

No Thomas – Thank You!  For watching, writing, and most of all – serving our country.

May God bless all of the men and women serving in the Armed Services and keep you safe.

* * * * *

The PawSox will look to climb a season-high 6-games-over-.500 on Wednesday as they host Rochester at 7:05.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

“The Most Dominant Inning That I’ve Ever Seen”

PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur has seen a lot of innings.

(Photo courtesy of Tom Perreira)

Sauveur spent 18 years as a professional pitcher – including parts of 5 seasons in the big leagues – and his teammates included Randy Johnson, Dennis Martinez, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Tim Hudson, and Barry Zito.

In his 9 seasons as a pitching coach, Sauveur has worked with the likes of Ben Sheets, Yovani Gallardo, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, and Felix Doubront.

That’s why his description of a June 4th outing by PawSox relief pitcher Randy Williams really caught my ear.

It was the most dominant inning that I’ve ever seen,” Sauveur said.  “I’ve seen a lot of guys strike the side out, but I saw swings against him in that inning that looked like little league hitters against a major league pitcher.”

(Photos of Randy Williams courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

That night in Durham, Williams struck out the side in the 8th inning on 11 pitches that ranged from a 94 mph fastball to a knee-buckling 77 mph curve.

“That’s by far the best inning that I’ve ever had,” Williams said with a smile.  “To go out there and throw that many quality pitches consecutively – that’s what you live for and why you come out here and play the game.  At my age, you’re not out here to get your 10 years in the big leagues – it’s the competition and to have those nights where you really feel invincible.” 

That’s been the norm for the 35-year-old lefty this season as Williams has posted a 0.69 ERA in 11 outings for Pawtucket, with 18 strikeouts in 13 IP.

“His stuff is really good,” said Sauveur.  “I think he’s put himself on the radar up in Boston because he’s done a great job so far.  Everybody has their ups and downs and he had an outing the other day that wasn’t up to par, but for the most part he’s been very consistent.” 

“I’m at that point where I have to do things that I didn’t have to do before to stay in shape and to be ready every day,” Williams said.  “But as far as the life on my fastball and how I feel when I’m out there pitching – as I’ve gotten older I’ve actually been able to throw a little bit harder.  I actually have better stuff and I’ve started to figure out the game – I hope I get it all figured out before it’s too late.”

Williams has pitched in 90 major league games for four different teams – despite shoulder and elbow injuries that caused him to miss nearly four full seasons early in his professional career. 

“I was hurt when I got drafted and missed most of my first two seasons,” Williams said.  “I came back from that injury and then I blew out my elbow, had surgery, and got released.  After that, I did a lot of construction work and played softball actually to recover from Tommy John surgery.  It’s kind of a weird approach, but when they wouldn’t let me play in the infield anymore, I knew that my arm was getting stronger and started to think that maybe I still had a chance.

“In 2002, I went and played independent ball and by the time I was in my first full professional minor league season, I was 27 years old.  It kind of puts you behind the 8-ball when you start out that way.”

The injury bug bit again this spring as Randy missed most of April and May with a sore shoulder (read more about his injury here).

“To be perfectly honest with you, when I came off of the disabled list, I didn’t know how much longer I would be with the organization,” Williams said.  “For them to stick with me as long as they did – I’m just glad that they gave me an opportunity to show that I’m healthy and to get out there and compete.”

Like another hard-throwing lefty – Andrew Miller – Williams had an out clause in his contract on June 15th, but elected to stay with the Red Sox organization.

“I had been back from the D.L. for a couple of weeks and knowing how they had treated me when I was hurt – I really feel that this is the best place for me,” Williams said.  “If you get a chance to play for the Red Sox, that’s an opportunity that’s hard to pass up – especially when it’s an All-Star team up there like it is this year.  If you’re going to be in Triple-A and looking to get an opportunity in the big leagues, I can’t imagine a better place to be than here.”

Williams definitely has good enough stuff to help the Red Sox as a left-handed arm in the bullpen at some point this season. 

Who knows, he might even provide the most dominant inning that you’ve ever seen.

* * * * *

After going 5-3 on their road trip to Louisville and Indianapolis, the PawSox open a 6-day, 7-game homestand on Tuesday night at 7:05 vs. Rochester.

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

A Yamaico Navarro Update…and The Indy (Above) .500

In the first four weeks of the season, Yamaico Navarro was tearing the cover off the ball, batting .321/.430/.607 and leading the International League with a 1.037 OPS.

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

So it seemed strange when the 23-year-old infielder/outfielder suffered a strained oblique muscle not while taking a vicious swing but after trying to bunt for a base hit.

“After I bunted and started to run, my oblique area felt a little bit tight,” Navarro said.  “When I went to the doctor, I told him I had a problem with my oblique.  I had never had anything like that before.  It kept me out longer than I thought it would.”

Navarro was out of action for six weeks and has struggled since returning to the PawSox lineup.  Yamaico is 2-for-23 with 1 HR since being activated, and his batting line has dropped to .278/.391/.528.

“He’s been down for awhile so he’s got to get his timing back,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler.  “It’s like spring training all over again for him.  He’s got to get himself back into shape and it will take care of itself.  When guys come back and they haven’t played in awhile, the game is kind of fast for them.” 

“My swing is not 100% right now – maybe 50% right now,” Navarro said.  “I’m working every day to get all the way back.  My swing feels a little slow, but I’m trying man.”

Five days after Yamaico strained his oblique on May 3rd, Marco Scutaro went on the disabled list with a similar injury in Boston.  The Red Sox promoted Jose Iglesias for 12 days before replacing him on the big league roster with Drew Sutton.  Shortly after Scutaro returned from his injury on June 7th, Jed Lowrie went on the D.L. with a shoulder strain meaning a return to Boston for Sutton. 

That’s nearly two months of major league time that probably would have gone to Navarro if he had been healthy.    

“There are no guarantees, but he’s got to do what he did that put him in that position before,” Beyeler said.  “He’s got to work hard, stay in shape, and get rolling again and see what happens.”

The good news for Navarro is that the oblique injury is no longer an issue.

“I feel great man,” Yamaico told me.  “Right now, I don’t feel any pain.  I’m hungry and I want to play every night.  I love to play baseball man.”

* * * * *

The Indy (Above) .500 – Less than a month ago, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – the Indy 500 – was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  In roughly 7 months (hopefully), Indianapolis will host Super Bowl XLVI on February 5, 2012 at Lucas Oil Stadium.  In between those two epic events is this weekend’s 4-game series between two teams with winning records – the Pawtucket Red Sox and Indianapolis Indians.  The PawSox – who are 3-1 on their 8-game road trip after a 4-3 win (10 innings) at Louisville on Thursday night – face Indianapolis tonight at 7:15 pm, tomorrow night at 7:05 pm, Sunday afternoon at 2:05 pm, and Monday night at 7:05 pm. 

High Five – The PawSox are 38-34 and can equal their high-water mark of 5-games over .500 with a win tonight in Indianapolis.  The PawSox have been 5-games over .500 on three occasions this year (18-13, 30-25, and 31-26).  The Sox have not dropped below .500 since they were 4-5 on April 15th.

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage tonight beginning with the pre-game show at 7:00 on the PawSox radio network and PawSox.com.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Remember When Ted Williams Was Surrounded By All-Stars in 1999?

I’ve been extremely lucky to cover some great sporting events over the years and one of the most memorable was the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park.

I was working for Fox 19 in Cincinnati at the time and when three Cincinnati Reds were picked for the National League squad (Barry Larkin, Sean Casey, and rookie Scott Williamson), I followed them to Boston to cover the local angle.

The star of that All-Star Game was Pedro Martinez, who struck out 5 of the first 6 National League batters, but the highlight of night was seeing 80-year-old Ted Williams enter the stadium on a golf cart before being surrounded by the American and National League players on the pitcher’s mound where he threw out the ceremonial first pitch. 

(You can see video here)

One of those 1999 All-Stars is currently pitching for the Pawtucket Red Sox – Kevin Millwood – who tossed a scoreless 6th inning that night as a 24-year-old member of the Atlanta Braves.

“It’s one of those moments in your life that gives you the chills,” Millwood told me.  “I still get them today thinking about that pre-game ceremony.  When you think about how great of a player Ted Williams was – that definitely added a lot to that experience.”

Millwood almost certainly won’t be an All-Star again, but he’s making a pretty convincing case that he can still pitch.

The 36-year-old righty is 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA in his last 3 starts for Pawtucket and will look to run his winning streak to four on Thursday night at Louisville.

“I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit better every time out,” Millwood said.  “That’s all that I can do right now.  If I go out and pitch well and continue to improve, then it’s totally up to (Boston).  I feel like I can still get people out and win ballgames at the major league level.  Hopefully at some point they’ll feel the same way.”

Millwood is getting Triple-A hitters out with guile more than gas.  In Kevin’s last start, his fastball was typically timed at 88 mph on the stadium radar gun, and peaked at 90 mph.

“If I stay right there, I think I’ll be fine,” Millwood said.  “My game is locating and keeping guys off balance.  The velocity is fun for the fans and it’s even fun for us when you have a guy out there throwing in the high 90s, but for me, if I can stay in the high 80s to low 90s, I think I can get anybody out.”

“He knows how to get people out,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler.  “I’m sure the stuff is not what it used to be.  I saw him as a kid coming up in ’97 when I was coaching with the Yankees and he was young flame-thrower back then.  Now, he’s a crafty veteran with a lot of experience and he sure knows how to get guys out.  He throws strikes, gets ahead of hitters, and has done a real nice job.  He’s fun to watch and he’s a total professional here with the other guys.”

“As a younger pitcher, it was more about the velocity and I got a lot of strikeouts up in the zone,” Millwood said.  “In my middle years, I still had pretty decent velocity but I knew how to pitch and I used my off-speed pitches a little bit better.  Now it’s more about keeping the ball down, hitting my spots, and trying to keep guys off balance.”

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

The 14-year major league veteran signed with Boston on May 19th after injuries to John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka led the Red Sox to increase their starting pitching depth.  Since then, Lackey has returned from the disabled list, Tim Wakefield has gone 4-1 after replacing Matsuzaka in the rotation, and Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller have also been given opportunities to start in Boston.

Is Millwood wondering where that leaves him?

“Not at all,” Kevin said.  “I think everything is coming together and in the best-case scenario, I get a chance to pitch in Boston.  But at the same time, I think that there are a lot of other teams out there that need help and if I keep pitching well, either somebody will come calling or I’ll go home and go fishing.

“Boston’s been great and they’ve taken good care of me.  They’ve made it clear that I’ll be able to look elsewhere if an opportunity comes along.  But my first thought and the best-case scenario for me would be to get the chance to pitch in Boston.”

* * * * *

The PawSox conclude their 4-game series in Louisville on Thursday night at 7:05 as Millwood squares off against RHP Scott Carroll.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

“I Will Be Back As Soon As I Humanly Can Be” — Ryan Kalish

On Tuesday, it will be two months since Ryan Kalish injured his left shoulder while making a diving catch at McCoy Stadium.   

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

A few days later, Kalish said that he hoped to be back in action in a month.  Now that Ryan has been out for twice that long, is the 23-year-old outfielder still confident that he will play again this season?

“Absolutely,” Kalish told me.  “I’ve experienced some setbacks and it’s been frustrating, but at the same time, we were also possibly looking at shoulder surgery and I think we’ve avoided that.  I plan on playing at some point this year – I don’t know when, but I can’t wait for it.”

Kalish actually faced live pitching as a designated hitter in a few extended spring training games in late May, and Red Sox manager Terry Francona told reporters that Ryan was likely to be playing for Pawtucket within a week.  But a different injury halted Kalish’s progress.

“It’s my neck right now,” Ryan said.  “My shoulder is really, really good but you can’t do much if you don’t have freedom with your head and neck.  It shuts everything else down, but it’s getting a lot better which is encouraging.  It’s one of the slowest-healing things that I’ve ever had to deal with.

“I got a couple of hits one day and after the game I felt really stiff.  I woke up the next day and it was the same.  When my neck was really acting up, the only thing I wanted to do was lay down.  I couldn’t even really drive.  It got to a point where it was forcing me to lay on the floor and just let it calm down.”

Kalish batted .252/.305/.405 in 53 games (44 starts) for Boston last year and was named the Red Sox Rookie of the Year.  This year, he had only played in 14 games for Pawtucket before the shoulder injury.

“It’s been frustrating because I just want to play baseball,” Ryan said.  “This is what I love to do and regardless of where I’m playing, I just want to be part of a team and be a part of some wins.  It’s tough to sit back and watch, but I’ll be playing again this year.  I’m just not sure when.”

Ryan accompanied the team on its 8-day road trip to Louisville and Indianapolis where he will continue to rehab under the direction of trainer Jon Jochim and strength and conditioning coach Mike Roose.

“I’ve been on a little bit of a roller coaster because there have been times that everything feels good and you start to get giddy,” Kalish said.  “But this is an injury that I have to take slowly.  I have no idea where it came from.  I am getting better.  I’ll be back as soon as I humanly can be.”

* * * * *

I am excited to see how Andrew Miller does on Monday night as he makes his first start for the Boston Red Sox.

The 26-year-old lefty has been tough to hit all year, holding opponents to a .181 batting average – the lowest of any International League starting pitcher.

But in his first 9 starts, Andrew’s low hit total was significantly offset by a high walk total.  Miller walked 32 batters in his first 40.1 innings (7.1 BB per 9) and typically reached his pitch limit before finishing the fifth inning.

But since altering his pre-game routine to pitch a simulated inning in the bullpen before taking the mound (more details here), Andrew has had pinpoint control, walking 3 batters in 25.1 innings (1.1 BB per 9) while striking out 26.

“It was all about getting him some innings and getting him comfortable,” PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler said.  “Since he tweaked his pre-game preparation, it’s really turned him around.  He started throwing a lot more strikes and commanded the baseball much better.  His tools are off the charts.  He’s got three plus-pitches at any time and a fastball in the mid-90’s from the left side.  He’s got that Randy Johnson look to him and he’s just nasty.  Guys don’t get good swings on his ball even when they’re ahead in the count.  It will be interesting to watch (on Monday) and hopefully he can go up there and continue to do what he’s been doing for us.”

* * * * *

The PawSox open a 4-game series at Louisville on Monday night at 7:05.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

A Father’s Day To Remember For Jose Iglesias

Tonight, Jose Iglesias plans to take his father Candelario out to a nice dinner.  But even the most lavish Father’s Day feast will pale in comparison to the celebration they shared on May 8th when the slick-fielding shortstop made his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox.

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

“His dream was to see me play in the big leagues and it has happened already,” Iglesias said.  “My father was my first coach.  We started when I was 6 years old.  He knows baseball because he used to play in an amateur league in Cuba.  He loves baseball and is a great fan.”

(Jose Iglesias with his father, Candelario, and a friend.  Photo courtesy of Gordon Edes/ESPNBoston.com)

Jose Iglesias defected from Cuba in July of 2008 and went nearly two years without seeing his father.  Candelario Iglesias was finally able to join his son in the United States last January. 

“I have a brother in Mexico,” Jose said.  “My father flew to Mexico and after that, he was able to cross the border into San Diego.”

Father and son are currently living together near Pawtucket, along with Jose’s girlfriend and 3-month-old son.  Having dad in the apartment might not be the preference of some 21-year-olds, but Jose says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

(Photo of Candelario Iglesias courtesy of Rick “JOTS” Medeiros)

“I live with my dad, but I feel free because he’s here,” Iglesias said.  “If I didn’t have him here I would be sad, but I feel very happy.  I think the most important thing in life is family.  You always learn when you are with your family – every single day you learn something.  They always want the best for you.”

Tonight Jose and Candelario will celebrate their first Father’s Day together since being reunited in the United States.  Does the same holiday exist back home in Cuba?

“Yes, we have Father’s Day in Cuba,” Iglesias said.  “It’s already happened this year, so me and my father are lucky – we get to celebrate twice.” 

* * * * *

My Father’s Day celebration started bright and early as 5-year-old Sam Hoard burst into his parent’s bedroom at 5:35 am to give me my present – a painting of a baseball stadium.

I wouldn’t love an original van Gogh as much as Sam’s masterpiece.

Happy Father’s Day!  Especially to my father Larry Hoard and my step-dad Jack Bailey.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Andrew Miller Opts In…and Hideki Okajima on Daisuke’s Future

On Wednesday, 32-year-old Brian Gordon – who had made 3 major league appearances in 15 professional seasons – used an opt-out clause in his contract to leave the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.  Yesterday, he was the starting pitcher for the New York Yankees.

Do you think the Yankees would have preferred Andrew Miller?

The 26-year-old lefty had a June 15th opt-out clause but elected to stay in the Boston Red Sox organization.

“You have to look at all of your options, but just because it’s an option doesn’t mean it’s a good option,” Miller told me.  “Everything has gone as well as I could have hoped for and I would hope that the organization thinks the same thing on their side.  I signed here because it seemed like a good fit and it seemed like a good organization and so far it’s been better than I could have expected.”

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

It’s been widely reported that Miller met with Red Sox G.M. Theo Epstein on Wednesday and was told that he would start for Boston next Monday in a home game against San Diego.  Miller did not confirm or deny that report, but did acknowledge talking to Epstein. 

“I had a conversation with him and he told me generally what will happen and they’re going to take care of me and I am a big part of their plans,” Miller said.  “My goal in signing here was to get better, but also to help the big club win some games at some point, and I’m looking forward to that opportunity when it comes.”

After 13 outings for Pawtucket, Miller is 3-3 with a 2.47 ERA and is holding opposing hitters to a .181 batting average – the lowest of any starter in the International League.  Since altering his pre-game routine to pitch a simulated inning in the bullpen, Andrew has posted a 1.80 ERA in 4 outings with 3 walks and 26 strikeouts in 25.1 IP.   

“I go out with (pitching coach) Rich Sauveur maybe 10 or 15 minutes earlier than most guys would and get loose like you would before the game,” Miller said.  “Then I sit down with Rich and the catcher and do a mini half-inning where we sit down for 4 or 5 minutes and talk and maybe go over the lineup a little bit.  Then I get up and try to simulate game speed and simulate hitters and maybe work out some kinks that generally I’ve had to battle in the first inning.  By the time I go out and pitch in the real first inning, it feels like it would in the second or third inning.  So far it’s been great.  I think it’s accomplished everything we were hoping it would, and I’ve gone out there and felt aggressive and in the zone to start the game.”

If the news reports are accurate and he’s about to take the mound at Fenway Park on Monday, Andrew says he’s ready to face big league hitters.

“I’m certainly confident that if I throw the ball the way I have in the last three weeks or so that I will do pretty well and hold my own up there,” Miller said.  “You never know until you go up there and compete, but I certainly like the way I’m throwing the ball and I like my chances.”

* * * * *

Technically, Luis Exposito has not made his major league debut.  But the 24-year-old catcher is a big leaguer after spending two days on the Boston Red Sox active roster last week at Yankee Stadium.

 

“I think the highlight was calling my father and letting him know that his son reached the major leagues,” Exposito said.  “We were both very emotional and it was an unbelievable experience.”

With the recent trade of Michael McKenry to Pittsburgh, Exposito is clearly the first catcher in line for a promotion if a need arises in Boston.  After getting a taste of major league life, Luis is eager to get back to the show.

“It makes you realize how special it is to be up there,” Exposito said.  “That difference that everybody talks about and you see on TV and read about – I got to live it out.  That is where we all want to be and it definitely makes you want to go back.”

* * * * *

Daisuke Matsuzaka underwent Tommy John surgery last Friday, and since most pitchers require at least a year to recover, there’s been rampant speculation that Matsuzaka may have thrown his last pitch as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

I thought it would be interesting to ask Hideki Okajima, through his translator Jeff Cutler, if he thought that Daisuke would return to pitch in the United States or go back to Japan.

“I can’t answer that question,” Okajima said.  “But there are very few Japanese pitchers who have had that surgery and have had successful comebacks.  Having said that, Daisuke is still young and I’m sure he will recover quickly.  I’d like to see him come back strong and continue playing in the U.S.”

As for Okajima’s future, he declined to discuss his recent request to be traded, saying that reporters should speak to the Red Sox front office about his future with the organization.  The 35-year-old lefty did tell me that he feels good physically and would like to pitch for at least two more years.

“At the very least, I would like to play until my uniform number – until I’m 37,” Okajima said.

I wonder if that is the real reason why Alfredo Aceves wears the #91.

* * * * *

The PawSox opened a 4-game series against first-place Lehigh Valley with a 6-5 win on Thursday as Ryan Lavarnway drove in the winning run with a 10th inning single.

The two teams meet again on Friday at McCoy Stadium on PawSox/Axis Bat Night as the first 4,000 kids (14-and-under) receive a regulation Axis baseball bat.

If you can’t make it out to McCoy, I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Lavarnway Advances To Pawtucket…Luggage To Follow

Ryan Lavarnway, the Boston Red Sox top-rated minor league catching prospect, made it to the Triple-A level on Monday.  Unfortunately, his equipment did not

“On Sunday after our noon game in Portland, we put all of our stuff on a bus and sent it to Akron, Ohio, so my catcher’s gear, cleats, and gloves are all in Ohio right now,” Lavarnway said before Mondays’ game.  “I’m going to be borrowing some stuff.  They had an extra set of catcher’s gear in the clubhouse, I’m going to borrow Exposito’s cleats, and Hideki Okajima’s translator’s catcher’s mitt.  Fortunately, I had some extra bats sitting around in the locker room in Portland.”

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

If Lavarnway was uncomfortable without his own “stuff,” it certainly wasn’t obvious in his Triple-A debut.  The 23-year-old went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and gunned down the only runner that tried to steal against him in Pawtucket’s 4-1 loss to Charlotte.

“He’s a good kid,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler.  “Everybody always asked about his defense and his defense when I had him last year in Portland was great.  He caught the ball, pitchers liked throwing to him, he blocked the ball pretty well, and threw runners out.  He’s got a little bit of unorthodox throwing mechanics I guess – it’s not the clean, strong arm that you’re used to seeing – but he throws guys out.  He’s got a quick release and gets the ball down there.”

Lavarnway, who didn’t become a full-time catcher until his sophomore year in college, has battled the “good bat/suspect glove” reputation since the Red Sox drafted him out of Yale in the 6th round in 2008.  Does Ryan consider that scouting report to be fair?

“It definitely was fair coming in,” Lavarnway said.  “Especially looking back at how far I’ve come in Lowell (2008) and even to start the year in Greenville (2009).  I had a long way to go with my catching and I got exposed a little bit, and I don’t think I could have caught a five-man pitching staff without getting exposed.  I’ve put in timeless hours and countless effort and I’m pretty good back there now and people are starting to notice. It’s not widely recognized yet and I guess that’s to be expected. I have to earn that, and I’m going to come out here and earn the respect of the pitching staff first and hopefully everyone else will follow.”  

“A few years ago, he was ‘a bat.’” said Beyeler.  “But he’s really taken to catching and he’s developed.  He’s still improving and it’s still kind of new to him, but we’re letting him do what he does and it’s working.”

But it’s fair to say that Lavarnway was drafted primarily for his offensive ability.  Ryan led the NCAA in batting with a .467 average as a sophomore, and holds the Ivy League record for career home runs with 33.  The California native says he chose Yale for its baseball program more than its academic reputation.

“When I tell people that playing baseball has been my childhood dream since I was five years old and never really faded, they ask, ‘Well then why did you go to Yale?’” Lavarnway said.  “I tell them that’s where the opportunity to play baseball was. I wasn’t as big as I am now coming out of high school and wasn’t a widely-recruited prospect, and the opportunity to play was at Yale. I wasn’t good enough to play pro ball out of high school and I wasn’t good enough to play at a lot of big-time D-I schools, and that’s not the only way to get to pro ball.”

Now Ryan finds himself one step from the major leagues.  His luggage is expected to join him in Pawtucket today.

* * * * *

The PawSox conclude a 4-game series against Charlotte on Tuesday night at 7:05.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Prince Felix is Getting Close…and Nava’s Horoscope Was Accurate

When Rich Hill suffered his season-ending elbow injury, Felix Doubront had just returned to Pawtucket’s active roster after a stint on the disabled list.  If he hadn’t been recovering from a groin injury, Doubront probably would have replaced Hill as the left-hander in Boston’s bullpen instead of Tommy Hottovy.

“Yea, it crossed my mind but things happen for a reason,” Doubront told me.  “I feel good for Tommy Hottovy and I’m just trying to get healthy.”

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Doubront is getting close.  The 23-year-old has made three starts since coming off of the disabled list on May 30th, going 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA.  For the season at the Triple-A level, Felix has a 2.33 ERA in seven starts, with 30 strikeouts in 27 IP.

“My leg feels pretty good,” Doubront said.  “It’s not completely ready, but it is a lot better.  I feel like all of my pitches are working and my delivery is pretty good.  Everything is working now.  I can throw all of my pitches for strikes and I can do a lot of damage with those pitches.”

Felix gives the Red Sox an excellent weapon in Pawtucket since he provides depth for Boston’s starting rotation or can be used as a left-handed reliever.  He’s almost certain to be in the big leagues when rosters expand in September – if not sooner.

“They told me that I have to get ready for the end of the season and to get ready to help the team in Boston,” Doubront said. 

This coming Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of Doubront’s major league debut.  On June 18, 2010, Felix allowed 3 ER in 5 IP to beat the LA Dodgers 10-6 in Manny Ramirez’s first game back at Fenway Park after being traded by Boston.  The crowd included Roger Clemens who watched from the Green Monster Seats.

“That was a great moment,” Doubront said.  “I finally accomplished my first goal which was to get to the big leagues.  I didn’t know until I saw the highlights the next day and I said, ‘Oh my God – Roger Clemens was there.’  It was pretty cool.”

Felix was named the Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010 and established himself as one of the organization’s top prospects.  His countryman Felix Hernandez of the Mariners is known as “King Felix”…so what should we call Felix Doubront?

“The Prince,” Doubront said with a laugh.  “A couple of friends call me Prince.  I like it.” 

* * * * *

Daniel Nava is a pisces and on Sunday his horoscope said, “Let yourself dream today.”

I could have told him that without consulting stars or planets – it was June 12th.

Last year on that date, Nava belted a grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues and added a double in his major league debut.

Yesterday (June 12th), he led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run and added a single in his second at-bat.

For the fun of it, I decided to see how Nava had done on June 12th in previous seasons.

In 2009 at High-A Salem, Daniel went 3-for-3 with a double and 2 walks.

In 2008, Nava entered the game as a pinch-hitter for Single-A Lancaster and had a walk, RBI, and scored a run.

Since joining the Red Sox organization, Nava’s career totals on June 12th are 7-for-11 (.636) with 2 2B, 2 HR, and 6 RBI.

I couldn’t find day-to-day records for the 2007 Chico Outlaws of the independent Golden Baseball League, but something tells me that Nava had a great game on June 12th.

* * * * *

Best of luck to Michael McKenry who was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday night for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

The Pirates are hurting for help behind the plate after injuries to Chris Snyder, Ryan Doumit, and Jason Jaramillo.  Former PawSox catcher Dusty Brown is currently the primary catcher for the Pirates, but is 2-for-21 in his first 8 games.  His backup, Wyatt Toregas, was 1-for-29 for Triple-A Indianapolis at the time of his promotion.

No word yet on who will replace McKenry on Pawtucket’s roster, but Kevin Thomas who covers the Portland Sea Dogs for the Portland Press Herald, speculated this morning that Ryan Lavarnway will get the call.  I wrote about Lavarnway in February.

* * * * *

After snapping a 4-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over Charlotte on Sunday, the PawSox look to make it two wins in a row as they host the Knights on Monday at 6:05.  The start time was moved up one hour due to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 5:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

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