June 2011

Hottovy Making Most Of Opportunity…And Bump In Salary

Since being promoted to Boston exactly one week ago, Tommy Hottovy has been earning a pro-rated portion of the major league minimum salary of $414,500. 

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

The 29-year-old pitcher is not getting rich – at least not yet – but every little bit helps since he and his wife Andrea are expecting their first child in about a month. 

“Instead of going with the baby glider and ottoman that was on sale, I think we splurged and did a custom fabric on one that we wanted,” Hottovy said with a laugh.  “That’s basically our big purchase.”

Hottovy’s rise to the big leagues after more than seven years of minor league anonymity has been the feel-good story of the year for the Red Sox.  When he made his major league debut last weekend at Fenway Park, his parents, siblings, high school coaches, and some friends were there to see it. 

“We had 17 people fly out to Boston last weekend to come to the games, so it was an awesome, awesome time,” Tommy said.  “The only one that couldn’t make it was my wife because she’s 35 weeks pregnant so she had to stay home and watch it with friends.  She said there were a couple of places in Kansas City that had big parties going on to watch the game.”

The first time that I talked to Hottovy this year was with a few days left in spring training.  After adopting a full-time sidearm pitching motion, Tommy did not allow a run all spring, and I sensed a confidence level that I hadn’t seen last year.

“I felt really good and I was getting great feedback – not only from the coaching staff but from the hitters,” Hottovy said.  “Seeing the swings that they were taking and the contact that they were making – no one was hitting the ball very well.  Not giving up a run all spring added to my confidence.  I really felt like I was on the right path and I knew my role and what I needed to do to be successful.  I think I just carried that on into the season.”

His role in Boston is to be a LOOGY or Lefty One-Out GuY.  In his first weekend with the Red Sox, Hottovy retired Oakland’s David DeJesus three days in a row, and between the majors and minors this year, Tommy is holding left-handed batters to a .108 average (4-for-37). 

“I just need to be ready whenever they call my name,” Hottovy said.  “In my first five games with the Red Sox, I pitched in three and warmed up in the other two.  So I’m definitely getting a lot of work and I’m just trying to learn with I can do day-in and day-out to be ready to go.  But I love it.  I know when certain guys are coming up, so I have an idea when I need to start doing some exercises to get loosened up and ready to go.”

When Rich Hill suffered his season-ending elbow injury, Hottovy was the pick to replace him as the Red Sox left-handed relief specialist over Hideki Okajima and Felix Doubront.  Tommy says keeping the job is up to him.  

“I feel like they’re going to give me an opportunity to come in and get lefties out until I don’t execute,” Hottovy said.  ” To me, as long as I keep doing what I’ve been doing this year, they’re going to give me opportunities to come into those situations and get guys out.  I going to try to continue to get better and continue to work.”

His hard work has definitely paid off.  A new baby glider with custom fabric proves it.

* * * * *    

The PawSox will try to snap a 3-game losing streak on Friday as they conclude their series in Norfolk at 7:15.

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage 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.

Bitten By The Cobra

Happy 60th birthday to the only person to ever hit me with a golf ball.

I was playing at Avon Fields Golf Course in Cincinnati.  While standing at a tee box at the bottom of a hill, I got drilled on the leg by a wild shot that came from an adjacent fairway that was out of my line of sight.  I never heard anyone yell, “Fore!”

The pain was excruciating and I told my playing partners that the idiot that hit the shot was about to get an earful when he came to find his golf ball.

All of the sudden a 6’5”, 230 lb behemoth came into view.  It was former National League MVP Dave Parker.

I had been bitten by The Cobra.

His list of career achievements include 7 All-Star Game appearances, 2 batting titles, 3 Gold Glove awards, 2 World Series rings, an MVP award…and a large purple welt on my shin.

So what did I say when Dave Parker arrived at his wayward Titleist?

I’m pretty sure it was something like, “Uh, sorry for getting in the way of your ball Mr. Parker.”

Happy Birthday to The Cobra – born on June 9, 1951.

Control Freak

Andrew Miller has gone two starts and 15 consecutive innings without giving up a walk.

 

“I don’t think I had one game last year where I didn’t walk a guy,” Miller said.  “I’ve always tried to throw the ball over the plate – it’s not like I’ve been trying to walk guys.”

 

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

The 26-year-old lefty wasn’t exaggerating.  In 30 appearances (28 starts) last year in the Marlins organization between Single-A Jupiter, Double-A Jacksonville, and Florida, Miller did not have a single game where he did not give up a walk.

 

But after pitching 6 innings with no walks in his previous start at Durham, Miller worked 7 walk-free innings on Wednesday night at Norfolk.  In his last 3 outings, Andrew has only walked 2 batters in 20 innings.

 

“It’s the command of the fastball that’s so important,” said PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur.  “He’s been able to establish the fastball in his last three outings.  I think if you look back a week-and-a-half ago, he was leading the league in walks and now he’s gone two starts without walking anyone.  When you add his secondary pitches with that fastball command, this kid is a major league pitcher.”

 

In his previous start, Miller was able to throw his breaking ball for strikes and it helped him whiff a season-high 9 batters.  He was not able to throw his slider for consistent strikes on Wednesday, so he relied on fastballs (93-96 MPH) and change-ups to hold the Tides to 1 ER in 7 IP.  Norfolk added 2 runs in the 8th inning off of Blake Maxwell and beat the PawSox 3-0.

 

“It’s going to be like that sometimes,” Miller said.  “I had to rely on the fastball more and it’s not always going to be as easy and as comfortable as the last game.  We made it work, but unfortunately came out on the losing end tonight.” 

 

“He didn’t have his slider, but he kept throwing it so it was always in the back of the hitter’s heads,” Sauveur said.  “That enhances the other pitches.  He threw 13 changeups tonight and 9 were strikes.  Even though he didn’t have a good breaking ball, the hitters couldn’t eliminate it because he kept throwing it.” 

 

Miller’s outstanding three-game stretch comes after he altered his pre-game routine and began throwing a simulated inning in the bullpen before taking the mound in the game (read more about it here).

 

Is his dramatic improvement really that simple?

 

“I think it has a lot to do with it,” Miller said.  “If it’s not that, I don’t know what it could be, but it’s certainly working right now.”

 

“You tell me?” Sauveur said.  “That’s three starts and two bullpen sessions where we’ve done the exact same thing now.  I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but whatever it is, it’s working and it’s fantastic.  He’s so much more upbeat and so much more positive.  He got a loss tonight, but he knows he pitched well.  He pitched 7 strong innings in 94 degree weather.  He’s going to continue to do this – I can see it.” 

 

“I think it was definitely a continuation of what I’ve been doing and it was nice to go out there and carry it over,” Miller said.  ” The idea is to do it again in five days.”

 

* * * * *

 

While Miller was terrific on Wednesday, Norfolk’s Brad Bergesen was even better, tossing a 4-hit shutout as the Tides beat the PawSox 3-0.

 

The two teams play at 12:15 on Thursday afternoon.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 12:00 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.

And The Emergency Catcher Is. . .

Luis Exposito learned that he was going to New York to join the Red Sox at approximately 2:00 in the afternoon, leaving the PawSox with one catcher – Michael McKenry – for tonight’s game against the Norfolk Tides.

The emergency catcher tonight is jack-of-all-trades Nate Spears.

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

“I caught a little bit in Little League,” Spears said with a laugh. “I put the mitt away for a few years and I was asked to help out in the bullpen in 2008. We were running short on catchers so I caught about five bullpens that day. I felt pretty comfortable, but I never thought anything of it. Then today when I came into the clubhouse, Arnie said, ‘Hey man, we might need you. I want you to catch a couple of bullpens and see how comfortable you are.’ So I went down there and caught Millwood and Duckworth and got a pretty good workout in.”

Spears had the misfortune of getting this opportunity on a 98 degree day in Norfolk, VA. Before he could melt in the bullpen, he had to scrounge up some catcher’s equipment.

“The other team was fortunate enough to have an extra set of gear and they sent it over,” Spears said. “And Mike McKenry is awesome – he’s probably not the most happy guy to lend me a mitt since it’s soaking wet with sweat, but he’ll do anything to help the team.”

While some players would be upset to be asked to catch – even for a night – Spears says that he’s excited about it.

“It’s another tool that I can add to the belt,” Nate said. “The only positions that I haven’t played in a game are center field and catcher, so maybe it will happen. I think it would be fun. I don’t know if I could catch all nine innings, but maybe a couple of innings would be fun.”

Fun for Spears perhaps. But McKenry is under strict orders not to get ejected tonight.

From A Locked Bedroom To The Brink Of The Big Leagues

In the Red Sox 2008 draft, two players received most of the media and fan attention: First round pick Casey Kelly and fifth round selection Ryan Westmoreland who would have been chosen higher if teams weren’t concerned that he would be difficult to sign.

Like most third round picks, pitcher Kyle Weiland didn’t receive big headlines, and draft day was agonizing for the former Notre Dame pitcher.

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

“I was home with my parents and I actually locked myself in my bedroom,” Weiland said. “I got a few calls from teams early on saying, ‘Hey, if you’re still available when it’s our turn, we’re going to draft you. Will you sign for this?’ Of course I said, ‘Yea, I’ll sign for that.’ But I didn’t get picked for a few rounds so I was like, ‘Oh man, I’m not going to get drafted until the 30th round.’ So I was worried and just locked myself in my bedroom and told me parents, ‘Let me know when it’s over.’ It wasn’t much longer until they came in and told me that I had been picked by the Red Sox. Obviously, I was very excited about that. There’s not a better organization to get drafted by. They take a very high interest in player development and I don’t think I would be at the point I am today if it wasn’t for the Red Sox.”

Since Kelly was traded to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal and Westmoreland is recovering from last year’s brain surgery, Weiland appears likely to be the first player chosen by the Red Sox in the 2008 draft to make it to Boston. The 24-year-old righty is 5-4 with a 3.00 ERA in 12 starts for Pawtucket, and leads the International League with 69 strikeouts in 63 IP.

“I’ve definitely gotten more strikeouts this year than I have in past years,” Weiland said. “I think it’s a matter of experience and knowing how to pitch and using the pitches that I have in different counts. A lot of credit goes to the catchers too. They’ve done a great job of learning what I like to throw and knowing what my best options are when it comes to certain counts.”

Weiland’s biggest strikeout weapon is a hard-biting curveball that he learned as a freshman in college.

“It’s continued to get a little bit better each year,” Kyle said. “In the past it’s been one of those pitches that was night and day – some days it was there and some days it was not. This year, it’s been a lot more consistent and I’m getting a lot better feel for it. It’s definitely a pitch that I like to go to in an 0-2 or 1-2 count.”

Weiland typically gets ahead in the count by throwing a sinking fastball that tops out around 94 mph.

“It’s just a two-seam sinker,” Weiland said. “I tell everybody that I can’t see it sink – they tell me that it sinks. I guess it’s something that’s just natural for my arm angle. I just work on keeping a consistent delivery and sometimes it sinks and sometimes it doesn’t – when it doesn’t I get hit.”

“I had never seen him before this year,” said outfielder Josh Reddick. “Watching him from center field, he’s got a lot of movement on his fastball and he’s throwing it 90 to 94 miles an hour. And he’s got that great curveball to go with it. It starts out around a right-handed batter’s hip and breaks right over the plate. He’s coming along really well.”

Going into the season, Baseball America rated Weiland as Boston’s 20th-best prospect. Soxprospects.com, which updates its prospect rankings on a frequent basis, has elevated Weiland from 18th to 8th since the start of the season.

“I don’t know whose eyes I’m opening and whatnot,” Weiland said. “I try to distance myself from what is being said about me because that can be a distraction. I just try to keep focused on the game and the things that I can control. Everyday, I try to go out there and improve and see what happens.”

First Kyle unlocked his bedroom door. Now he’s unlocking his potential.

* * * * *

On Wednesday night, the PawSox and Norfolk Tides will begin their game at 7:15. I have no idea when it will end.

On Tuesday, the two teams played a 13-inning, 3:47 marathon that the Tides won 4-3. It was the third time in five meetings that the PawSox and Tides have gone extra innings.

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage, 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.

Glad I Asked

I finally got around to asking Clevelan Santeliz about the origin of his unusual first name.


(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

“My father loves baseball and he was a big Cleveland Indians fan,” Santeliz told me. “So he started with Cleveland and since there is a Hall of Fame pitcher named Grover Cleveland Alexander, he gave me the middle name of Alexander. My full name is Clevelan Alexander Santeliz.”

“But what happened to the letter ‘d’ at the end of Cleveland?” I asked.

“My father spelled it wrong,” Clevelan said with a laugh. “He left it off the birth certificate.”

I think his father was secretly a big Jimy Williams fan too.

* * * * *

Josh Reddick’s commute to work just got a little bit easier.


The 24-year-old outfielder rejoined the PawSox on Sunday after batting .385 (5-for-13) in a 10-day stint with Boston. Reddick continued to live in an apartment in Providence while playing for the Red Sox.

“If we don’t have a day game the next day, I drive back to Providence and get home around midnight or 12:30,” Reddick said. “I get a good night’s sleep and then drive back. When we have a night game/day game turnaround, I stay in a hotel. We get 7 free nights in a hotel, so I save them up for those days so that I don’t have to get up early and battle the traffic.”

When Josh is with the PawSox, everyone on the team calls him “Redd.” But as soon as he walks into the Red Sox clubhouse, his nickname changes to a character from the “American Pie” movies.

“They call me ‘Stifler,’” Reddick said. “Tito hasn’t called me Josh or Reddick since the day he discovered that I look like that character. Tito has a lot of nicknames for guys on this team. He calls Lars Anderson ‘Dirk’ for Dirk Nowitzki. He calls Ryan Kalish ‘Al’ because he’s from Jersey and kind of looks like a mobster.”

It was good to see Josh perform well during this stint with Boston. Last year, Reddick batted .194 in 29 games with the Red Sox and felt like he got passed on the organizational totem pole.

“If you don’t the job, they’ll find somebody that will,” Reddick said. “That’s what happened last year. Nava went up and he swung the bat well, and Kalish did well too. That kind of opened my eyes a little bit that I needed to step it up and swing the bat like I know that I can.”

That’s exactly what he did this time around. As a result, Reddick will almost certainly be driving back-and-forth between Providence and Boston before the season is finished.

* * * * *

Admittedly it’s only one start, but the Red Sox acquisition of Kevin Millwood to increase their starting pitching depth looked like a smart move on Monday in Durham.

The 36-year-old veteran pitched with Mark Buehrle-like efficiency, allowing 1 ER in 6.2 IP while only throwing 62 pitches (40 strikes). Millwood didn’t throw hard, but had good command of all of his pitches and never faced more than four batters in an inning.

If you would like to see Millwood for yourself, the former National League All-Star is scheduled to start the opening game of Pawtucket’s next homestand on Saturday night at McCoy Stadium.

* * * * *

Tommy Hottovy’s promotion to Boston is the organization’s feel-good story of the season so far (Kansas City’s David DeJesus might disagree), and it will be interesting to see what that means for Felix Doubront.

Doubront had just returned from a groin injury when Rich Hill hurt his elbow in Boston. As a result, the Red Sox turned to Hottovy to be their left-hander in the bullpen and he’s done the job in his first three major league appearances.

But Doubront has been excellent in his first two outings for Pawtucket since coming off of the disabled list, allowing 1 ER in 8 IP. In his last start, Felix gave up 2 infield singles in 4.2 IP, with no walks and 5 strikeouts.

“I think he’s 100% healthy, but he’s kind of in spring training mode where we have to stretch his arm out a little bit at a time,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler. “I think he’s going to be pitching for awhile this season, so we’re going to be careful with him. He’s a nice bullet to have down here if something happens in Boston. Hopefully we can have some starting depth down here if they need somebody in the second half of the season when guys start to get tired and they need that help. It’s a long season and the big league guys are going to need help from time to time, and we want these guys fresh and strong if they get an opportunity.”

* * * * *

After taking 3 out of 4 in Durham, the PawSox open a 4-game series in Norfolk on Tuesday night at 7:15. I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage 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.

Millwood Hopes For Red Sox Opportunity

On Monday afternoon in Durham, Kevin Millwood will take the mound for the 542nd time in a professional baseball career that started 18 years ago.

 

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

According to baseball-reference.com, the 36-year-old pitcher has earned nearly $88.7 million dollars during his career to rank 55th in major league history.  So he’s not back in the International League for the first time in 14 years because he needs the dough.

 

“The money is not an issue,” Millwood told me.  “I feel like I can still play the game at a high level and win ballgames at the major league level.  If I didn’t feel that way I would stay at home.  I want to play as long as I can be competitive.  I don’t ever want to walk out on to the field and doubt that I can get the job done.  As long as I feel like I can get people out and win major league ballgames, then I’ll play.  But there’s got to be somebody to give you that opportunity and right now, maybe that’s these guys.  Hopefully, that’s the case.”

 

After going 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA for Baltimore last year, Millwood did not find work this season until the end of spring training when the Yankees offered him a minor league deal.  After 3 starts between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/WB, Millwood opted out of his deal with the Yankees on May 1st, and sought an opportunity elsewhere.  When injuries knocked John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka out of the Red Sox rotation, Boston signed the former National League All-Star to a minor league deal on May 19th.

 

Millwood made his PawSox debut last Wednesday and the rust was evident as he gave up 4 ER on 5 hits and 2 walks in 2.2 IP.

 

“Physically, everything was good,” Millwood said.  “I thought my slider and curveball were good, and I threw a couple of good changeups, but my fastball location wasn’t very good.  That’s a big part of my game.  I can’t expect to go out there right away and be lights-out with location.  I feel like when my fastball location comes back, everything will fall into place.

 

“I’m still trying to build my pitch count up.  I didn’t feel like I got tired in my last outing, but my mechanics aren’t as sharp as they need to be.  When that comes around, my location will come around and everything should take off from there.”

 

Lackey returned to the Red Sox rotation on Sunday and earned the win in a victory over Oakland, but Matsuzaka will miss the rest of the season due to Tommy John surgery.  44-year-old Tim Wakefield is Boston’s fifth starter for now, and Alfredo Aceves has pitched well when needed, but Millwood’s goal is to be ready if he gets a call.

 

“It’s a great spot to be in right now with where this organization is and the type of team that they have,” Kevin said.  “Knowing that there’s an opportunity to possibly go up and help this team win some ballgames is huge for me and it’s exciting.  Obviously Wakefield and Aceves are throwing the ball well, but they see some potential in me or I wouldn’t be here.  If I get myself right, you never know what’s going to happen.  If they feel like it’s best for the team for me to go there and pitch some ballgames, then that would be great.”

 

* * * * *

 

After having their 5-game winning streak snapped on Sunday, the PawSox will look to take 3 out of 4 in Durham in a Monday matinee at 12:05 – a game that will be nationally televised by the MLB Network.

 

Radio coverage begins at 11:50 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.

Ringers…uh, I Mean Rehabbers…Help PawSox Win 5th Straight

It’s nice to have ringers.

 

When PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler put out a lineup card on Saturday that included rehabbing  Boston Red Sox veterans Marco Scutaro and Darnell McDonald, Durham manager Charlie Montoyo cracked, “Are Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez showing up tomorrow?”

 

The reinforcements proved valuable as Scutaro went 1-for-4 and McDonald went 2-for-4 including a towering 3-run home run, as Pawtucket beat Durham 7-1 to win its fifth game in a row.

 

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Scutaro was playing for the first time since May 7th after going on the disabled list due to an oblique strain that he suffered in late April.

 

“It was the last series that we played in Baltimore (April 26-28),” Scutaro told me.  “I was taking batting practice and I felt a little pinch in my oblique.  I didn’t really pay attention to it because I’ve been playing for 16 years and I’ve never had that before.  I didn’t say anything and then about a week-and-a-half later it got worse.  The last game that I played in, I fouled off a ball in my second at-bat and it was pretty painful.  I was having a hard time just breathing.  At that point, I definitely had to say something and they told me that this injury is kind of tricky.  When you think you’re feeling good, you’re probably not ready.  You go to swing and you irritate it again and you can lose 4 to 8 weeks, or something like that.  So I did everything that they told me to do.”

 

Scutaro is scheduled to play for the PawSox on Sunday and Monday in Durham before rejoining the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday.  With Jed Lowrie batting .293, Scutaro expects to be in a reserve role when he returns to Boston’s roster.

 

“Jed is playing very well, so I’ll probably play twice a week – I don’t really know – I’m just going to try to be ready for any situation and try to help the team,” Scutaro said.  “I just want to finish rehab and be back on the field.  It’s kind of boring just watching and doing nothing.”

 

Scutaro’s brief stint with Pawtucket has an added benefit and it gives him time to mentor 21-year-old Jose Iglesias – a role that Marco embraced in spring training. 

 

“He’s a really good defensive player – everybody knows that – and I think he’s got a great future in this organization,” Scutaro said.  “He’s a great kid too.  I’m becoming very good friends with him.  We work out together in the off-season in Miami and I’m just trying to teach him a lot of things.  Game situations…how to handle himself in the clubhouse…all that kind of stuff.  When you’re young, you don’t really know how things work and I’m trying to prepare him.”

 

Was there a veteran that did that for Scutaro when he was beginning his career?

 

“When I got to the big leagues with the Mets in ’02, Edgardo Alfonzo was the one that taught me things,” Marco said.  “He gave me advice on how early I should get to the ballpark, how often I should take early hitting, he told me not to be too loud in the clubhouse, respect the veterans, and all that kind of stuff.  When you’ve never been there, you don’t know what to do and how to act.  When somebody tells you those things, it’s nice to know.”

 

Scutaro is in his 10th major league season, but was hardly an overnight success.  Marco spent 7 ½ years in the minors before making his major league debut – including parts of 7 straight seasons in the International League.

 

“I’ve been lucky I guess,” Scutaro said.  “Sometimes, what you need is an opportunity and some guys never get it.  When I got my opportunity in ’04, unfortunately it was because a lot of guys got hurt, but I guess God was looking down and said, ‘Let’s open a little space for this guy.’  It’s hard man.  I spent a lot of years in the minors and I’ve been coming to Durham since ’97 when it was a Single-A team for the Braves.  So it’s kind of nice coming back here and reliving some old memories.”

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox will look for their first 6-game winning streak of the season on Sunday as they face the Durham Bulls at 5:05.  We’ll have radio coverage beginning at 4:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com, or you can watch the game live on NESN.

 

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 Return To Tobacco Road For Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller will take the mound tonight in Durham, NC roughly 12 miles from where he was the top pitcher in college baseball in 2006 at the University of North Carolina.

 

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

On Friday afternoon, Miller walked to the ballpark in a camouflage Tar Heels hat and is clearly proud of his alma mater, but the 26-year-old pitcher grew up in Gainesville, Florida rooting for another collegiate powerhouse.

 

“The town pretty much revolves around the University of Florida,” Miller said.  “I’m a season ticket holder for football and basketball and that’s some of the most fun stuff that I get to do when I go home.  To this day I’m a Gators fan.  I spent the first 18 years of my life there and I live there now in the off-season, so that allows me to be a Gator fan and a Tar Heel.”

 

Miller was 13-2 with a 2.48 ERA in his final year at North Carolina and his earned run average after 10 starts with the PawSox is nearly identical at 2.47.  Andrew is holding opponents to a .160 batting average – the lowest of any qualifying pitcher in the International League – but control has been a problem as Miller ranks second in the league in walks with 34 in 47.1 IP.

 

His highest percentage of walks has come in the first inning (12 in 9 IP), so before Miller’s last start, pitching coach Rich Sauveur suggested that he change his pre-game routine.

 

“We talked after his previous outing about how he felt so good in the 4th or 5th innings but his pitch count was already killed,” Sauveur said.  “He’s had 3 or 4 outings like that.  So he said that he’d like to have a higher pitch count and I said, ‘I can’t do that, but what we could do is try the routine of Clay Buchholz.’  Clay gets ready in the bullpen, sits down for 3 to 5 minutes, then he gets back up and pretty much throws an inning as if he’s in the game.  So that’s what we did.  Andrew got ready and then he threw an inning in the bullpen before taking the mound in the game.  It looked good didn’t it?”

 

“We’re trying to get the first inning out of the way in the bullpen and by the time I enter the game, my body will think it’s the second inning,” Miller said.  “We’re trying to play tricks on it and get up to game speed in the bullpen so when I go out there, it’s not the first time that I’m making adjustments on the mound.”

 

The experiment worked perfectly last Sunday at McCoy Stadium as Miller threw 7 shutout innings, allowing 1 hit and 2 walks while striking out 4.

 

“I got early contact and threw a lot of strikes and when you do that it keeps your defenders on their toes and they made one incredible play after another,” Miller said.  “I was able to throw all three of my pitches for strikes for most of the game.  It’s not always going to be that simple or easy, but I’m looking to build off of it.”

 

It will be interesting to see what kind of reception Miller gets when he takes the mound on Friday night.  While Durham Bulls Athletic Park is close to the University of North Carolina, it is much closer to archrival Duke. 

 

But Andrew is quick to point out that Blue Devils fans should given him a nice reception too.

 

“My wife went to Duke,” he said with a laugh.

 

The PawSox will look for their 4th straight win as they face the Bulls on Friday 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.

 

The World’s Fastest Batboy

Minor league baseball teams are always looking for new ways to entertain fans.  Perhaps they should start scouting high school track meets.

 

(Photo courtesy of Louriann Mardo-Zayat)

Some of the biggest cheers at McCoy Stadium this year have been showered upon Chris “The Road Runner” Curtin.  He’s the batboy who bursts out of the PawSox dugout to retrieve any foul ball hit down the left field line before sprinting as fast as he can back to the dugout.

“The first day I was here the other batboy told me, ‘Chris, you’ve got to move faster. You’re just not moving fast enough.’” Curtin said.  “So basically from that first day I’ve been sprinting to make sure I get the foul balls.  I’ve always thought it was a good workout and I just try to give 110% with what I’m doing.”

The sight of Chris racing after foul balls like he stole something is amusing.  But the fans at McCoy Stadium really started to embrace “The Road Runner” after the PawSox video board crew of Kevin Galligan, Chris Judge, Matt Volpini, and Katy Fitzpatrick started showing his nightly sprints while playing the theme music from the old Benny Hill Show.

 Watch video of Chris in action here

“One night I look up on the big screen and I see myself running and I was like, ‘Honestly?  I’m going to be on the big screen now?’ Curtin said.  “I appreciate it, but it was a little bit awkward for me.  I’m not a show-offy kind of person and I like to stay under the radar.”

“I love it,” said PawSox president Mike Tamburro.  “I think the kid adds a lot of personality to this park.  He’s been doing it for over a year now, but I think the fans are really starting to get into it.  He’s a great kid and he adds a lot to the game.”

 

(Chris places a rose on home plate on Opening Night in tribute to the late PawSox owner Ben Mondor.  Photo courtesy of Louriann Mardo-Zayat)

Curtin’s nightly responsibilities go well beyond bolting – make that Usain Bolt-ing – after foul balls.

“I have to get here an hour early before every game,” Chris told me.  “I’ve got to bring the towels out, bubblegum, sunflower seeds, batting equipment, and the water jugs for the bullpen and dugout.  Then during the game, the usual stuff – get the bats, make sure the ump has baseballs, and chase down foul balls.  After the game I go to the bullpen and clean out the gum wrappers, bring in the towels, water jugs, seeds, and bubblegum.  Then I sweep, vacuum, mop, and all of that fun stuff.”

It’s not exactly glamorous work, but the batboy who has been called everything from Forrest Gump (“Run Forrest Run!”) to Speedy Gonzalez, has become a McCoy Stadium celebrity.

“I’m a little embarrassed by it because everyone says, ‘I can’t believe how fast you run after the foul balls.’” Curtin said.  “I always tell them, ‘It’s just part of the job.’  It’s nothing spectacular to me – it’s just something in my head that I should do.”

“How often do you see a kid showing the hustle that this kid shows?” Tamburro said.  “I think it’s great that the fans are embracing it, because the kid is genuinely doing this.  He’s not doing it to put on a show and I think that really shows through.”

 * * * * *

On Wednesday, the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs fell behind 8-0 and wound up beating New Britain 18-9.  The Sea Dogs scored the game’s final 17 runs. 

So I guess the PawSox has the second-best comeback in the Red Sox organization on Wednesday.

Pawtucket rallied for 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th inning to erase a 7-3 deficit and stun the Norfolk Tides 8-7.  It was Pawtucket’s 2nd walk-off win in as many nights.

Che-Hsuan Lin knocked in the winning run with a 2-out single, as the PawSox had four straight hits off of Norfolk closer Mark Worrell to pull out the win.

The outcome had to feel eerily similar to Norfolk starter Chris Tillman who did not allow an earned run in 5 IP and left the game with a 4-run lead, only to get no decision.  Twenty-three nights earlier, Tillman pitched 5 shutout innings against the Red Sox at Fenway Park and left the game with a 6-0 lead, before Boston rallied against the Orioles bullpen in an 8-7 victory.

 * * * * *

Darnell McDonald belted a 3-run home run on Wednesday in the second day of what is expected to be at least a 10-day rehab stint with Pawtucket.

 

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

The 32-year-old outfielder says he is healthy, and Darnell is looking to scrape the rust off of his game after only having 21 at-bats in the first 8 weeks of the season with Boston.

“It’s a game of repetition, so for me, it’s kind of like starting over again,” McDonald said.  “I don’t think you ever get used to (being on the bench).  I try to focus on the process instead of the results.  I try to get my work in before the game and during the game and try to stay as ready as I can.  When I get an opportunity, I try to see how many quality swings I can put on the baseball and hope for the best.”

Darnell was with the Red Sox as they overcame their 2-10 start to climb back into contention in the A.L. East, and says he never doubted that Boston would overcome its early-season struggles.

“It was probably the best thing that could have happened to be honest with you,” McDonald said.  “There were a lot of high expectations coming out of spring training.  Everyone wanted to crown the Red Sox as the World Champions before the season started, so to come out and get humbled like that was probably a good thing.  It’s a long season and teams go through tough stretches, and it just so happened to be the beginning of the season for us.”

 * * * * *

The PawSox conclude their 8-game homestand on Thursday as they host Norfolk 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.

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