August 2011

Youkilis Tutors The Kid Who Could Eventually Replace Him

Someday in the not-too-distant future, Will Middlebrooks could replace Kevin Youkilis as the Boston Red Sox third baseman.  But rather than fiercely protecting his turf, Youkilis could be seen giving Middlebrooks pointers at third base prior to Wednesday’s game between Pawtucket and Rochester at Frontier Field.

“I’ve heard that he’s a great third baseman and a player of the future,” Youkilis told me.  “It’s nothing that I worry about because whatever is going to happen is going to happen.  If I play for the Boston Red Sox for the rest of my career that’s great.  But for me, I just want to have as much fun as I can, try to win as many World Series as possible before I leave, and have no regrets.”

“He easily could not want to have anything to do with me and that’s human nature,” Middlebrooks said.  “But he’s a great guy and acts like he’s one of us.  It’s been a lot of fun to have him around.”

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Youkilis spent Tuesday and Wednesday with Pawtucket on a rehab assignment (going 2-for-8 with a home run), and the 22-year-old Middlebrooks paid close attention to the 3-time All-Star.

“I’m not in the lineup today because he’s playing third base and I wasn’t going to take any ground balls,” Middlebrooks said.  “But I saw him out there and I said, ‘This is a great opportunity to go be a sponge and ask questions.’  He’s a great guy to talk to because he handles the hot corner pretty well.”

Middlebrooks – currently rated as Boston’s top minor league prospect by Soxprospects.com – has struggled since being promoted from Double-A Portland to Pawtucket on August 19th.  Will is batting .150 (6-for-40) with no extra base hits in 12 games with the PawSox.   

“Initially, I heard that the biggest jump was from High-A to Double-A, but I would have to say that going from Double-A to Triple-A is a bigger jump,” Middlebrooks said.  “You have older pitchers who have played in the big leagues and they don’t miss over the middle of the plate.  You don’t see many pitches over the middle of the plate – even in hitter’s counts.  You have to learn how to hit that pitch off of the corners. 

“I can’t complain – you probably expect me to be frustrated at this point because I’m hitting some balls hard and not getting anything out of it, but right now I’m gauging my games on quality at-bats.  If I swing at a good pitch and hit it hard, then I did all that I could do.”

Let the record show that in Kevin Youkilis’s first taste of Triple-A ball in 2003, he batted .165 in 32 games with Pawtucket.  There’s a lesson to be learned there too.

* * * * *

The opening game of the two-game series in Rochester was Zoo Night, as the Red Wings wore special jerseys that were auctioned off to raise money for a new exhibit at the Rochester Zoo.

But after seeing the jerseys, I almost thought it was the Red Wings way of wishing me good luck as I leave the International League for a broadcasting position with the Cincinnati Bengals.

(Photo courtesy of the Rochester Red Wings)

See what I mean?

* * * * *

Despite a 4-2 loss in Rochester on Wednesday, the PawSox magic number for winning the IL North was reduced to 2 as second-place Lehigh Valley lost to Scranton/WB.

As a result, Pawtucket could clinch its first division title since 2003 as soon as Friday night, as the PawSox open a 4-game homestand at McCoy Stadium.

Friday is PawSox Card Set night as the first 5,000 fans get the PawSox Baseball Card Set.  It should be a great night at McCoy.

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’ve finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

After Getting A Shot, Youkilis Looks To Provide Shot In The Arm

This season, it would probably take less time for Kevin Youkilis to tell you which body parts don’t hurt than which ones do.

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

The three-time All-Star played through hip, ankle, and shoulder pain before finally going on the disabled list on August 18th with a lower back strain.

“They pulled me in after a game and said, ‘Let’s go get an MRI.’  I needed it,” Youkilis said.  “I couldn’t run well, I couldn’t bend over well, and I’m the type of player that will play through a lot of injuries and I might hurt myself more.  So we went in and got the MRI done and the next day they gave me an epidural.  They gave me the injection to help me out, so I rested for three days because that’s how long it takes for the shot to kick in and get you feeling a little bit better.  After that, for the next seven days we’ve been rehabbing and slowly progressing into baseball activities.

“I tend not to give out all of my injuries because, quite honestly, I never like to use them as an excuse.  Every year you have nagging stuff that bothers you and you’re never 100 percent.  But you find a way, get treatment, and figure it out.  Some days you’re hurting and you pop in a couple of Advil and you go out there and do your job.  Hopefully, I’ll have no problems for September and October and do some great things and stay healthy.

Youkilis and J.D. Drew joined the PawSox on 2-day rehab assignments on Tuesday, and both looked good in Pawtucket’s 8-6 loss at Rochester.  Drew singled in each of his three of his at-bats before leaving the game in the 5th inning, and Youkilis went 1-for-4 with a walk.  Kevin also lined a shot under the glove of Rochester third baseman Chase Lambin that was scored an error.    

Youkilis was Pawtucket’s designated hitter on Tuesday, so I figured that he would be making frequent trips to the clubhouse to get updates on the opening game of the Red Sox/Yankees series at Fenway Park, but Kevin said that his full attention would be on the action at Rochester’s Frontier Field.

“It’s fun to watch a lot of these young guys because they could be future teammates of mine,” Youkilis said.  “Also, some guys might have questions during the game and I feel like I might be able to help out.  If they have questions about baseball or anything in life, I’ll try to give them a little insight.  And hopefully, I can help them win because they’re in a pennant race too.”

Since Lehigh Valley lost in 14 innings to Scranton/WB, Pawtucket’s magic number for clinching the IL North is down to three.  If the PawSox make the playoffs and go on to win the Governor’s Cup, will Youkilis want a ring?

“I don’t want the PawSox to spend money on a ring for me,” Youkilis said.  “Hopefully I get the proper ring in the 2011 World Series with the Boston Red Sox.”

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’ve finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

The “Babe” Returns With A Bang

When Ryan Lavarnway belted 8 home runs during a 10-game stretch in mid-July, his Pawtucket teammates started calling him “Babe”… as in Ruth.

They had no idea what that meant to the 24-year-old slugger.

“I actually have been obsessed with Babe Ruth since I was a little kid,” Lavarnway told me.  “I ended up writing a 20-page term paper about him at Yale.  I read the version of his autobiography that he typed on his typewriter with coffee stains and editing marks on it.  So I have a pretty close relationship with him – as close as it can be since he’s not living and I didn’t actually know him.  It was pretty cool that the guys started joking around like that because I have such affection for him.”

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

After making his major league debut on August 18th and spending eight days with Boston, Lavarnway returned to the PawSox on Monday and lived up to his nickname with a “Ruthian” home run at PNC Field in Moosic, PA.  The towering shot over the left field wall was Lavarnway’s 31st HR of the season and helped Pawtucket split a doubleheader against Scranton/WB, winning the second game 2-0 after losing the opener 3-0.

Since Lehigh Valley dropped both games of a doubleheader against Syracuse, the PawSox have a 2-game lead over the second-place IronPigs in the IL North with six games remaining.

“Hopefully, I can get back up (to Boston) after I help Pawtucket clinch a playoff spot,” Lavarnway said.  “I’m going to assume I’m here until I hear otherwise.”

Lavarnway did well in his first major league stint, batting .304 with 2 2B and 3 RBI in 7 games with the Red Sox. 

“I’m pretty happy about it,” Ryan said.  “I’ve been getting some grief about not hitting a homer up there from just about everybody that I know, but I had a great time, we won some games, and I was happy to be there.  Hopefully I get back up there and help the team win.”

Naturally, Lavarnway was subjected to some good-natured rookie hazing.

“I had to carry water bottles and drinks for the guys on the bus and hand them out – that was about it,” Ryan said.  “Major league baseball for the players is definitely a fraternity and the fact that they kind of make you earn your way makes you feel like you belong once you’ve served your time.”

According to Lavarnway, he has to spend at least seven days with Pawtucket before he’s eligible to return to Boston.  Manager Terry Francona publically stated that Ryan will be recalled as soon as possible, so Lavarnway is likely to rejoin the Red Sox on Monday, September 5th in time for a 7-game road trip to Toronto and Tampa Bay.  Since his first major league games were in Kansas City and Texas, Ryan is looking forward to eventually getting to play in a big league game at Fenway Park. 

“I’m definitely excited about my first experience at Fenway,” Lavarnway said.  “The Fenway faithful have been great to me coming up through the minor leagues with all of the support they’ve shown, so I’m excited to get up there for that.”

It’s about time there was another Babe at Fenway Park.

* * * * *

The PawSox will look to take another step toward their first division title since 2003 as they open a 2-game series at Rochester on Tuesday at 7:05. Pawtucket is expected to have Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew in the lineup as they begin brief 2-game rehab stints. 

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’ve finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Nava Feasting on IL Pitching

What’s gotten into Daniel Nava?

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

In his last 14 games, the 28-year-old outfielder has blasted 7 home runs in 68 at-bats (after hitting 3 HR in his first 348 AB).  Since Nava always pays close attention to nutrition, his power surge cannot be attributed to suddenly increasing the spinach or salmon in his diet.  In fact, Michael Bowden is the only player on the team that rivals Nava for the title of “healthiest eater.”

“I smoke Bowden – he’s got nothing on my healthy eating habits – I would like that to be on the record,” Nava said with a laugh.  “All joking aside, Bowden is actually a very healthy eater.  Nothing has really changed for me.  I don’t try to hit home runs so when they do go out it’s a nice surprise.  Sometimes you just go through streaks and I’m just trying to be as relaxed as possible.  That’s one thing this year has really taught me because I was pressing a lot in the beginning.  It’s been a good thing to learn that that’s what I need to do to put myself in a good position to hit.”

After batting .326/.416/.504 at the minor league level in his first 3 years in the Red Sox organization, Nava opened this season by batting .159 with 0 HR in April.  His batting average didn’t climb above The Mendoza Line for good until May 27th.  While Nava’s overall stats are still not what he’s accustomed to, Daniel has lifted his average to .264 (.367 OBP) with 24 doubles, 1 triple, and 10 home runs.

“The challenging part was trying so hard to put things together and getting the exact opposite result,” Nava said.  “I felt some expectations and I just pressed.  Struggles definitely have a benefit to them and I’m glad that this season has happened.  I’ve learned a lot about just getting back to who I am.”

One of Nava’s recent home runs came at Fenway Park in the “Futures at Fenway” event on August 20th.  Daniel launched a shot to deep right-center in his first at-bat – much like the grand slam he hit in his big league debut last season.

“It was kind of funny,” Nava said.  “When I got back to the dugout, guys had some things to say about that.

“(Hearing about the grand slam) brings back good memories and reminds me of the road that I’ve taken to get to this point.  At the same time, if you ask anybody, if you get a shot up there and you make a good impression or even a bad impression, you want to get up there again and contribute in some way.  So I’m happy and grateful that it happened, but I’d love to get back up there and not have that be the only thing.  But at the same time, if that is the only thing, it’s not something that I’m going to complain about.”

While Nava has not received a big league call-up so far this season, it has been a great year in other respects.  Daniel got engaged during the all-star break, and is looking forward to doing some wedding planning when the season is finished.

“I’m driving back home to California and I’m going to enjoy my drive and then I’m going to spend as much time as I can with my fiancé and work on the wedding,” Nava said.  “I’m going to spend about a month relaxing and then I’m going to get back into it and start getting ready again.”

Something tells me that they’ll have a fat-free wedding cake.

* * * * *    

Thank heavens that the PawSox stay at a nice hotel in Scranton.

Due to Hurricane Irene, the PawSox and Scranton/WB Yankees were unable to play on Saturday and Sunday meaning that the team is basically marooned at its hotel before returning to action in a doubleheader on Monday at 5:35.

Lehigh Valley won at Louisville on Saturday night, meaning that the PawSox have a 1-game lead in the IL North with 8 games to go.

Ryan Lavarnway is expected to be back in the lineup on Monday after being optioned from Boston over the weekend, and the PawSox are also expected to have Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew join the team for brief rehab stints on Tuesday and Wednesday in Rochester.

The PawSox return home for their final 4-game homestand of the regular season on Friday.

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’ve finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

A Good Night After a Good Night’s Sleep for Middlebrooks

When Will Middlebrooks – the Boston Red Sox top-rated minor league prospect – got promoted from Double-A Portland to Pawtucket last Friday, one of his first phone calls went to New England Patriots rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett.

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

“It definitely was because I had to sleep somewhere,” Middlebrooks said with a laugh.  “Ryan was one of my best friends growing up and that’s who I’m living with right now.  It’s about a 20 minute drive, but he won’t let me pay him anything for rent so I’m not going to argue with him.”

Middlebrooks first weekend with the PawSox was a whirlwind.  He had fewer than 2 hours of sleep following an all-night bus trip with the Portland Sea Dogs on Friday when he was told to packs his bags and drive to Pawtucket.  On Saturday, the PawSox bused back-and-forth to Boston for a game at Fenway Park, followed by an afternoon game at McCoy Stadium on Sunday.  Perhaps it should have been no surprise when the sleep-deprived Middlebrooks went 0-for-11 with 6 strikeouts in his first three Triple-A games.

But the 22-year-old third baseman said that he wasn’t concerned about the slow start before going 2-for-4 in Pawtucket’s 3-2 win over Syracuse on Monday.

“You would think that I am, but I’m really not worried,” Middlebrooks told me.  “I’m up here having fun and I’m getting settled in.  I know I can hit, so it’s not a problem.  Sunday night was my first full-night of sleep I guess you could say and I feel like a new guy today – I can tell you that.”

Middlebrooks is having an exceptional season, batting a combined .296/.340/.525 with 26 doubles, 21 HR, and 86 RBI in 104 games for Portland (96 games), Pawtucket (4 games), and Single-A Lowell (4 game rehab stint).  After beginning the season as Boston’s 13th-best prospect according to SoxProspects.com, Will has climbed to the top spot on the list.

“It’s an honor with all of the good players that we have in this organization for people to think that highly of me,” Middlebrooks said.  “It goes back to the coaching that I’ve had and the teammates that I’ve been able to learn from.  It’s all come together as far as my approach and my plan is concerned.”

Middlebooks was a 5th round draft pick out of Liberty-Eylau HS in Texas, and turned down a baseball/football scholarship at Texas A&M to sign with the Red Sox in 2007.  Will was a star quarterback on the high school football team – just like his current roommate Mallett.

“I think we met in about 6th grade in a little town called Hooks, Texas – where (former Heisman Trophy winner) Billy Sims is from actually,” Middlebrooks said.  “Our dads coached together and we were the little ball boys on Friday nights for the football team.  We always hung out together through middle school and high school, but we were both quarterbacks so we went to separate high schools.  But we still spent a lot of time with each other and competing against each other and it was a lot of fun.”

Middlebrooks was in attendance on August 11th at Gillette Stadium to see Mallett’s spectacular pre-season debut for New England, when the Patriots third-round draft pick went 12-for-19 for 164 yards and a TD pass in a 47-12 rout of Jacksonville.

“We played at noon that day and had an off-day the next day, so I was able to drive down and watch him play,” Middlebrooks said.  “He loves the situation that he’s in.  Of course he would love to come in and play right away, but he wants to learn and get better and there is no better duo to learn from than Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.” 

Mallett has reached the NFL and now Middlebrooks is one step away from the big leagues.

“I really wasn’t expecting to get promoted to Triple-A this late in the season,” Will said.  “You play for a promotion and to get better every day, so it felt good to get the call.  I was extremely sleepy, but extremely excited at the same time.”

* * * * *

The PawSox have a 1-game lead in the IL North with 13 games to go as they conclude a homestand against Syracuse on Tuesday 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’ve finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Good Movie…Better Phone Call For Alex Wilson

The Portland Sea Dogs had their last off-day in August on Monday, and pitcher Alex Wilson took advantage of the free time to see a movie.

“I saw Horrible Bosses,”Wilson said.  “It’s a great movie if you want a couple of laughs.”

Alex was still smiling after the flick, but not because of what he saw on the big screen. 

“I got the call that I was going up to Pawtucket right after I walked out of the movie,” Wilson told me.   “I was kind of surprised because it is so late in the year.   It’s definitely something that I had as a goal.  I pitched well enough to put myself in this position and I’m excited that it worked out.”

(Photo courtesy of Tom Perreira)

The 24-year-old righty was 9-4 with a 3.05 ERA (5th best in Eastern League) in 21 starts for Double-A Portland, including 4-0 with a 2.89 ERA in his last 8 outings.  One of the keys to his success has been a pitch that he learned from his spring training roommate and current PawSox teammate Kyle Weiland.

“He helped me out a little bit with a 2-seamer (sinking fastball) and it’s been a huge factor in my game,” Wilson said.  “I’ve been able to keep the ball down with a little run and a little sink and I’m getting more ground balls this year than I’m used to getting.  It’s allowed me to keep the ball in play and get some quick outs.  I’ve been able to move it in-and-out, and when I’m able to do that and keep it down it’s a great thing for me.”

The Red Sox 2nd round draft pick in 2009 already had an outstanding breaking ball.  Wilson has been rated by Baseball America as having the best slider in the Red Sox farm system after each of his first two professional seasons.

“It’s definitely my bread-and-butter pitch – no doubt about that,” Wilson said.  “I started learning it in high school from a guy in my hometown who went to West Virginia University– Billy Biggs.  I was a sophomore in high school and he came out and showed me how to throw it and I’ve stuck with it ever since.” 

After being named the high school player of the year in the state of West Virginia in 2005, Wilson went to Winthrop (SC) University where he was named Collegiate Baseball’s National Freshman Pitcher of the Year in 2006 after going 13-3.  But in the summer after his sophomore year at Winthrop, Wilson got a major scare while pitching for Falmouth of the Cape Cod League.

“I called home from the Cape League and when I went to hang up the phone my arm just didn’t want to go anywhere,” Wilson said.  “I had a bone chip in my right arm and the bone chip had rotated into the joint.  My arm was stuck, so I had to use my left arm to straighten out my right one so that I could function a little bit.

“It didn’t feel too good.  When I got the news that I needed Tommy John surgery, I was pretty devastated because I was going into my junior year of college and that’s the big year.  It was a major setback for me.”

After missing the 2008 season, Wilson pitched for Texas A&M in 2009 before being drafted by Boston with the 77th overall pick.  Alex was the Red Sox second selection in that draft after OF Reymond Fuentes (traded to San Diego in Adrian Gonzalez deal) and says that he doesn’t mind the added scrutiny that comes with being a high draft pick.

“I don’t think about it,” Wilson said.  “I try to go out there and play my game and see what happens.  I haven’t been worn-out too much yet, so I guess that things have been going OK.”

* * * * * 

Wilsonis scheduled to make his Triple-A debut on Thursday night at 7:05 as the first-place PawSox host Columbus. Pawtucket has a one-game lead over Lehigh Valley in the IL North with 18 games to go.

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 Link Between Brent Dlugach and Patriots Kicker Stephen Gostkowski

The biggest New England Patriots fan on the PawSox roster this year was not born and raised in New England.

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Brent Dlugach is from Memphis, Tennessee, but he has a good reason to root for the Pats:  Brent is a close friend of Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

“Stephen and I played college baseball together,” Dlugach said.  “He’s from Madison, Mississippi and went to the University of Memphis with me.  He actually started out on a baseball scholarship and ended up on a football scholarship because he’s a pretty darn good kicker.”

Gostkowski made a school-record 70 of 92 field goal attempts at Memphis, but didn’t fare as well as a pitcher.  In three seasons on the baseball team, Stephen went 6-18 with a 6.06 ERA.

“Good arm – low 90’s fastball with a little run,” Dlugach said.  “Threw a slider.  Effectively wild.  He was the kind of guy that you didn’t want to face in intrasquad games because he was just as likely to hit you in the helmet as he was to throw a strike.  But he had a lot of talent.”

Dlugach says it didn’t take long to realize that Gostkowski was better suited for the NFL than major league baseball.

“I think his college choice came down to Memphis and Ole Miss and Ole Miss just wanted him for baseball,” Dlugach said.  “Memphis said that he could go ahead and do both so we knew that he was a kicker.  But I don’t think that anyone knew how good that he was.  He started kicking his freshman year and the whole baseball team was out there rooting for him.  We were thinking, ‘Dang, this guy is kicking them from 50 yards like it’s nothing.’  The next thing you know he’s getting drafted by the Patriots and is the highest-paid kicker in the NFL”

Dlugach is in his first year in the Red Sox organization, and playing for Pawtucket has given him the opportunity to get reacquainted with his former college teammate.

“Being up there this summer has brought us a lot closer,” Brett said.  “He was always home in the summer when I was gone for the season.  Then when I would come home for the off-season, he was playing for the Patriots.  Now that we’re close to each other, we’ve hung out together quite a bit and rekindled the friendship. 

“(Recently), me and my roommate Tommy Hottovy went up to Gillette Stadium.  I guess they had a practice for season-ticket holders and he got us into the friends and family section.  We went to eat afterward with all of the team and Bill Belichick was there.  It was pretty neat hanging out five feet from Bill Belichick, Wes Welker, and Danny Woodhead.  Then we went down to the locker room and on to the field.  It was a pretty special night.”

Gostkowski is looking to bounce back from a torn quadriceps muscle that ended his season in Week 9 last year, and Dlugach looks forward to following his progress.

“He’s turned me into a Patriots fan,” Brett said.  “There’s only one guy in the NFL that I know and it’s him.  The only problem is that I can never get him on my fantasy football team.  Somebody always drafts him before I get a chance to, but it’s not going to happen this year.”

* * * * *

The PawSox will look to maintain their grip on first place in the IL North (1-up on Lehigh Valley with 19 games to go) as they host Columbus on Wednesday 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.

Getting Caught-Up With PawSox Manager Arnie Beyeler

After missing 5 PawSox games to move my wife and son to Cincinnati and call the Bengals first pre-season game on Friday night, it was great to be in the PawSox booth with Steve Hyder on Saturday.

PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler got me up-to-date on some key issues in a Q-and-A on Sunday morning.

Arnie, the team is a half-game up in the division and 1 ½ up in wild card race with 22 games to go.  The final three weeks should be pretty exciting.

“It should be a good time.  We kind of hope when we start the season that we give our guys a reason to come to the ballpark over the last couple of weeks of the season.  The guys have done a great job and battled all year.  It’s been a nice season.”

Kyle Weiland wasn’t bad last night (4 ER in 5.1 IP) but he hasn’t been sharp in three starts since returning from Boston.  What have you noticed?

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

“It seems like he got a little bit out of his routine up there.  Any time guys go up there and get into the bullpen and don’t know exactly when they are going to pitch, they get out of their routine a little bit and he hasn’t got it going quite as strong as when he was here earlier.  I don’t think he threw badly last night – it wasn’t like he gave up a bunch of runs.  He faced a big leaguer last night in Brian McCann and he got him a couple of times.  But Kyle threw well-enough to give us a chance to win last night.”

Junichi Tazawa made his second appearance for Pawtucket last night and has tossed 4.1 scoreless innings so far.  You managed him in 2009 before Tommy John surgery.  How does he look now compared to then?

“The stuff is not quite as crisp yet.  The fastball velocity was better before, but he’s locating it very well and working down in the zone.  He’s throwing a better slider now than he did a couple of years ago.  The curveball isn’t quite as sharp, but he’s getting the feel again for that pitch.  We’re seeing the split-finger a lot more – when I had him in Portland, he pitched in the rain all of the time and didn’t like the feel of that pitch and didn’t throw it very much.  The goal for him this year is to be consistent every time out.  The performance is kind of secondary.  We need him to post-up every three or four days and get his work in.  Usually with guys that have come back from Tommy John surgery, the second year is when the velocity comes back.  It can be frustrating for those guys because they don’t have their best stuff, but on the flip side, it helps them because they learn how to pitch a little bit.”

Do my eyes deceive me, or is Junichi much bigger physically than he was before?

“He sure is.  Our training staff does a great job with those guys.  A lot of times when guys get hurt, they get the opportunity to work on strength and things that they don’t get to work on as much when they are playing every day.  For pitchers, they can’t throw so they work out and get stronger.  The young guys really benefit from stuff like that.” 

Ryan Kalish is 4-for-12 with 2 doubles and 2 stolen bases since coming back from shoulder and neck injuries.  He doesn’t look like a guy that missed three months does he?

“He’s doing a nice job.  It’s nice to have him back in the lineup, but he’s kind of limited.  We’re still building him back up, but he’s just happy to be back on the field and playing again.  Hopefully, we can keep getting him reps to give him some options in September.”

Ryan Lavarnway looked like Ted Williams in his first month with the PawSox.  We knew the league would adjust and he’s hitting .172 in his last 17 games.  How are teams getting him out?

“I think he’s getting himself out.  When he first got up here, he was doing a great job discipline-wise of getting into good counts and laying off off-speed stuff.  Now it seems like he is pressing a little bit and missing the fastballs when he’s getting them.  Then when he gets behind in the count, he’s chasing pitcher’s pitches.  He had a special month where every ball that he hit well went into the gap and through a hole.  It seems that right now, every ball that he’s hit hard has been caught.  That’s baseball.  He’ll get rolling again – he’s just pressing a little bit and trying to do too much right now.”

The PawSox open an 8-game homestand on Tuesday and next Saturday, you get to play a game at Fenway Park.  Are you excited about that?

“It’s great.  Being a career minor league guy, it’s neat to go to a big league stadium.  It’s special because the place is going to be full.  We’ll also get to see some of our other guys in the first game (Portland vs. Binghamton) and that will be fun.  It will also be nice to have our guys play in front of the front office people so they can put their ‘eyes on the guys.’  It’s definitely exciting.” 

The PawSox will look to maintain their grip on first place as they face Gwinnett on Sunday at 2:05.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 1:50 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.

Kevin Millwood Leaves PawSox

Going, going, gone.

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Kevin Millwood’s attempted comeback has ended – at least with Pawtucket.  The 35-year-old veteran emptied out his locker on Saturday night and has been granted his release by the Boston Red Sox. 

“(The call from another team) would have to come relatively quick,” Millwood told Brendan McGair of The Pawtucket Times.  “I’m not going to throw, play catch, or things like that.  Something is going to have to happen soon, but I’m not looking for that.  I just thought it was time.”

“It wasn’t a shock,” said PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur.  “I was hoping he would stay with us for at least a few more games, but he felt that nothing was happening for him in Boston – those were his exact words – and he just said ‘it’s time.’”

“He was not here to play in Triple-A all year – I don’t think any of us are – but especially for him,” said pitcher Brandon Duckworth.  “It wasn’t a monetary thing for him – he wants a ring – but he just felt it was time.  A lot of guys say, ‘I’m done,’ and then it doesn’t happen.  He felt that it was his time to go and that it just wasn’t going to work out here.”

Millwood was 5-1 with a 4.28 ERA in 13 starts for Pawtucket, and the team went 11-2 in those games.  But in early July, the Red Sox promoted rookie Kyle Weiland to make a pair of starts when Jon Lester was injured and more recently, Boston traded for Erik Bedard to bolster its starting rotation.

“It is a big loss,” said Sauveur.  “We all knew that this was a very good possibility at some point, but it’s a shame that it happened right now because I still say that you never know what might happen up there.  A few years ago, Paul Byrd got a chance when he was basically sitting on his back porch and to have a guy that was ready in Triple-A is obviously better.  But it was a decision that he wanted to make and I respect him for that.”

“He did a great job with our young guys and was a quality guy around here,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler.  “He’s been a guy that we’ve depended on and we’ll see how things work out.  He’s been a very professional guy the whole time that he’s been here.”

If Millwood’s career is over, he finishes with 159-137 record in 14 major league seasons, an All-Star Game appearance in 1999, and a no-hitter for Philadelphia in 2003.

“I saw him after the game and it was tough,” Sauveur said.  “He’s one of the most down-to-earth guys around and it was a pleasure to have him here.  It was an honor to be his pitching coach for the time that he was here.  He was great on and off the field and if I ever write a book, he’ll have a chapter.”

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.

Brett Carroll Unpacks His Bags In Pawtucket

On Friday, outfielder Brett Carroll joined the PawSox with exactly one month to go in the regular season.  Let’s review his season-to-date.

December 7 – Signs as a free agent with Kansas City and goes to spring training in Surprise, Arizona.

March 22 – Traded to Milwaukee

March 24 – Assigned to Triple-A Nashville

July 21 – Promoted to Milwaukee

July 30 – Designated for assignment

August 3 – Refuses minor league assignment and elects to become a free agent.

August 5 – Signs with Boston and joins Pawtucket.

When I introduced myself to Brett before Friday’s game, I had an obvious question:  Where is all of your stuff?

“It’s been a crazy year,” Carroll said with a laugh.  “I spent my first six years with the Marlins organization and now, over the last four or five months, I’ve been with three teams.  I guess you start to get used to that when you become a free agent.  I’ve had stuff in Nashville, stuff in Arizona…I finally gathered everything together now and it’s all back in my hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee.  Now I just have one suitcase full of stuff, so I’m good to go from here on out.”

Let’s hope that he unpacks and stays for awhile.

In his first game with Pawtucket, Carroll gunned down a base runner from right field, had an RBI single in his second at-bat, stole a base, and ultimately delivered a 2-out, 2-run single in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the PawSox a dramatic 6-5 win over Buffalo.  It marked the third time in the last four games that Pawtucket trailed by a run going into the bottom of the ninth inning before scoring two runs to win.

(Watch Carroll’s game-winning hit here)

“I was trying not to do too much and just be simple at the plate,” Carroll told reporters after the game.  “Thankfully, I was able to come up with a chance to win it and came through.”  

Carroll spent most of this season with Nashville of the Pacific Coast League where he batted .281/.356/.469 with 15 HR and 9 SB in 93 games.  The 28-year-old has also spent parts of 5 seasons in the big leagues withFlorida (2007-2010) and Milwaukee (2011), batting .203 with 5 HR in 175 games. 

“I’ve just always enjoyed this game and love to get after it every night,” Carroll said.  “I might play sometimes like I have my hair on fire.  In my time with Florida, I think that defense really helped me get to the big leagues.  I know that pitchers appreciate it if you play good defense behind them, so I really try to take pride in that.  Offensively, it’s been a good year because I’ve been able to get every day at-bats.  I’d say that I’m a gap-to-gap hitter, but hopefully fans will see that I just like to get after it and play the game the way that it’s supposed to be played.”

Carroll is a right-handed hitter, giving him hope of a September call-up since Darnell McDonald is currently the only right-handed hitting outfielder on Boston’s roster.

“The fact that I am a right-handed hitter was intriguing to them I guess,” Brett said.  “Hopefully I can put myself into a position to get an opportunity like that, but right now, I’m just excited to get back on the field. 

“I just felt like there could be some other options when I chose to leave Milwaukee.  They were getting pretty crowded in the outfield over there and I thought I would explore free agency.  In the past, there’s been some interest from Boston and I was hoping they were still interested.  Thankfully they were, and here I am today.”

Carroll has played in one game at Fenway Park as a member of the Florida Marlins in interleague play in 2009.

“I took a camera and just like a spectator,” Brett said.  “I got there early and went around and took some pictures.  I went inside the Monster and it was one of those times where I was like, ‘Man, I want to get back to playing at this place.’  Lord willing that happens.  I think it was a rainy night and it was still packed, and they still sang ‘Sweet Caroline’ in the 7th inning like it was nobody’s business.  It was a fun experience.”

I’m sure there is room in the suitcase for a Red Sox uniform.

* * * * *

The PawSox continue their 8-game homestand as they host Buffalo on Saturday night at 6:05.  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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