June 2010

Bowden Is Back

I think we can safely say that Michael Bowden is back.


Bowden tight.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


On Sunday, the 23-year-old righty pitched his third straight quality start, allowing 1 run on 4 hits in 6 IP in an 8-1 win at Syracuse.


On the last day of May, Bowden was 1-2 with a 5.83 ERA, but in his six starts since, Michael is 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA (8 ER in 36.2 IP).


“We’re very comfortable when he’s in the ballgame,” manager Torey Lovullo told me.  “At the start of spring training, he had a little bit of a bumpy road to get to this point, but the bottom line is that he’s throwing the ball very well right now.  He’s giving himself a chance to compete and ultimately get back to the big leagues.  I was very aware of Michael Bowden from managing against him for the past few years and I liked what I saw because he attacks the zone.  He had to play catch-up because of a small injury in spring training, and it was frustrating for him and he started battling some issues here and there, but he’s thrown the ball very well over the last five or six games, and we’re looking for that to continue.”


Bowden’s next start is schedule for Friday at McCoy Stadium against Scranton/WB.  He’ll enter that game with a streak of 14.2 consecutive scoreless innings at home.


* * * * *


Michael Bowden was not the only standout on Sunday as cleanup hitter Ryan Shealy went 3-for-4 with a single, double, home run, and 4 RBI.



(photo courtesy of Louriann Mardo-Zayat)


Shealy and I have something in common – we both attended colleges that feature blue and orange as their uniform colors:  I’m a Syracuse grad while Shealy is a former University of Florida Gator.


But unlike Shealy, I do not have a gigantic display of school pride in my home.


“I have a 6-foot bronzed alligator that my sister got for me as a college graduation present,” Shealy told me with a laugh.  “He’s huge – it’s a real alligator that had been bronzed and it is in my living room.  I call him ‘Tater’ and that’s probably one of my favorite things.”


So how much does a bronzed alligator weigh?


“I don’t even know – it took three of us to move it,” Shealy said.


* * * * *


Torey Lovullo shared some interesting insight into evaluating pitching prospects while discussing 25-year-old Robert Coello.


Coello tight.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


The PawSox manager says that Coello has something that scouts look for – the ability to throw a fastball in a fastball count and still get a swing and a miss.


“I didn’t know anything about Robert Coello when he got to this level except for a phone call that (Director of Player Development) Mike Hazen made to me saying that he has the highest percentage of swings and misses on fastballs in the organization,” Lovullo said.  “There’s a lot to be said for that.  His fastball is downhill and watching from my perspective, he has a big league arm.  Guys can be zoning up his pitch and they’re still not putting a good swing on it – in fact they swing and miss, and that doesn’t happen very often in baseball.”


* * * * *


Interesting weekend for the Red Sox huh?


Dustin Pedroia breaks his foot . . . Clay Buchholz hyperextends his knee . . . and Victor Martinez breaks his thumb.


The news wasn’t great for the PawSox either as Bubba Bell got hit by a pitch on the right shin on Saturday and had to leave the game.  He rolled-up his pant leg on the bus ride to the stadium on Sunday to reveal a nasty-looking bruise in the exact size and shape of a baseball.



(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


The timing was awful because Bubba is swinging a white-hot bat.  The 27-year-old outfielder has a 7-game hitting streak, going 14-for-23 (.609) with 3 2B, 2 HR, and 8 RBI.  In his last 15 games, Bell is 21-for-45 (.467) with 4 2B, 3B, 3 HR, and 10 RBI. 


“He’s a tough kid and he’ll be back in there in a couple of days,” Torey Lovullo said.  “He was x-rayed and there are no issues in terms of breaks or fractures and that was a very good sign.  Injuries are part of baseball and they happen every single year.  The Boston Red Sox have gone through a disastrous stage and they’re managing to win ballgames.  We’re looking to do that too.” 


* * * * *


As I’ve mentioned before, the PawSox have two huge soccer fans that have been completely obsessed with the World Cup in Lars Anderson and Ryan Kalish.


But on Saturday when several players gathered around the big screen TV in the clubhouse to watch the match between the US and Ghana, no one was getting more excited than pitcher Chad Paronto.



(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


In Chad’s case it was a matter of patriotism.


“I hate soccer,” Paronto told me, “but I love America.”


* * * * *


The PawSox conclude their 8-game road trip on Monday night as they face Syracuse at 7:00.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:45 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.


I’d love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


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

Nava Getting Movie Offers

It’s been two weeks since Daniel Nava hit a grand slam on the first pitch he ever saw in a big league game and his life story just keeps getting better and better.


Nava number 60.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


Heading into Saturday’s game in San Francisco, Nava is batting .326 with 7 doubles, 1 HR, and 10 RBI in his first 12 games with Boston and he’s the first Red Sox player since Mo Vaughn in 1991 to reach base in his first 12 major league games.


By now, the basic details of his remarkable story are well-known . . . too small to play a significant role on his high school team . . . two years as a team manager in college before a growth spurt allows him to play . . . overlooked in the draft despite starring at Santa Clara . . . MVP in the independent Golden Baseball League . . . contract purchased by the Red Sox for a buck . . . hits everywhere he plays in the minors . . . the toast of Red Sox Nation.


Even with that surplus of incredible material, it seems that we learn another great nugget about Nava every day including this gem from today’s San Jose Mercury News:


When Daniel Nava picked up the first and only hit of his junior season at St. Francis High School, his coaches considered it such a momentous occasion that they gave the ball to his parents as a memento.


Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard more than one person say, “They should make Daniel Nava’s story into a movie.” 


Guess what, it might happen.


Daniel’s father Don joined us on Saturday’s episode of “PawSox Insider” and I asked him if they’ve received any movie offers.


“A lot,” Don told me.  “Even before the last few weeks, people have told me it would be a great movie.  I agree because it’s the ‘Rudy’ story except that Daniel has talent and Rudy was only in for a couple of plays at Notre Dame.  There have been several movies offers – in fact, the first week that Daniel was with Boston, I had two people approach me within five minutes of each other.”


If a movie actually gets made, Don Nava hopes that it helps inspire people to do what Daniel did and follow their dreams.


“The great thing about it is that it could be like the movie ‘Blind Side’ – how can our lives be used to impact people’s lives and bring hope to people who have lost hope,” Don Nava said.  “Maybe they put their dreams on the shelf and now they dust them off and say, ‘Look at that Daniel Nava – he can do it, why can’t I do it?’  That would be the best thing about a movie.  His story would be told and could potentially inspire people who have lost hope.”


I’m thinking that the movie will be called “Grand Slam – the Daniel Nava Story.”  Hoard and Hyder are hoping to play ourselves.


* * * * *


The PawSox will have Josh Reddick back on the lineup on Saturday as they face Syracuse at 7:00.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:45 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.


I’d love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


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

A Special Visit

The scene would have been fitting for a visit by the President.


Every member of the Pawtucket Red Sox sat in front of his locker in full uniform.  When the special guest walked into the home clubhouse at McCoy Stadium, every player stood up and applauded before eventually approaching the individual for a personal greeting.


But the visitor was not Barack Obama or another dignitary.  It was 20-year-old Red Sox prospect Ryan Westmoreland.



(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


The date was April 29th and it was Ryan’s first visit to Pawtucket since having surgery to remove blood vessels from his brain stem six weeks earlier.  After a stop in the manager’s office, Westmoreland walked into the clubhouse with Torey Lovullo.


“Without a doubt, the single most emotional moment I’ve had as a manager,” Lovullo said.  “I’ve been in this game for 24 years and to see the impact of his presence was startling and emotional all in one because the guys were so excited that he was going to be there.  When he walked in, everybody was right there waiting for him and they all stood up and gave him a standing ovation.  It lasted for a good 25 or 30 seconds and then the guys one-by-one came up and gave him a hug and welcomed him.  Ryan was in the middle of the room with his teammates and friends and it’s one of those things you don’t see in sports very often.  People have asked me about Daniel Nava’s grand slam and that’s the second-most excited I’ve ever been in baseball.  The Ryan Westmoreland moment was easily the most impressive and emotional moment I’ve ever had in sports.”


35-year-old Joe Nelson was still with the PawSox at the time and helped organize the greeting.


“Four or five guys on the team knew him pretty well and we didn’t know what to expect,” Nelson said.  “We weren’t sure how far along he was going to be in his recovery, but he looked great.  We got a heads-up that he was coming in, so we all went to our lockers so that he could walk into a full clubhouse.  We wanted him to feel like he was part of our team.  There were a lot of hugs and handshakes and afterwards, Torey said that he was pretty emotional.  We tried to make it as normal but as special as possible.  Our hearts all went out to Ryan because we all want to see him get back and do what he’s always wanted to do.” 


“If you weren’t there, it seems like it was very orderly and scripted, but that wasn’t the case at all,” Lovullo said.  “I just gave the guys a heads-up that there was a really good chance that Ryan was going to visit the clubhouse and they made him feel welcome.  It was one of these special impromptu moments and that’s the impact that this guy has on so many people at so many levels.  That’s how much of an impact his fight has had on these guys.  He is never far from our thoughts.  We care for him – those that know him and those that don’t know him – we care for him on an incredible level.”


It’s been three months since Ryan’s surgery and the Portsmouth, RI resident is making tremendous progress.  Dan Barbarisi wrote an outstanding story this week in the Providence Journal about Westmoreland’s road to recovery that I highly encourage you to read if you haven’t already.


Westmoreland spoke to reporters on Wednesday and said his goal is to return to professional baseball.


“I feel a lot better,” Westmoreland said. “If you asked me three months ago, the progress has been amazing. I heard from a bunch of doctors and the progress has been remarkable. I’m just excited to keep it going.


“From the doctor’s point of view, not one of them has set a time-table as to when I’m going to get back to playing.  I can think in my head, I’m really confident. And going to see the Portland games and the Pawtucket games and the Boston games just gives me that extra motivation and confidence that I’m going to get back again but as far as the time-table, I’m not really sure. I’m just really focused on the next day ahead and just trying to get better every day.”


Hopefully one day, Ryan will walk into the home clubhouse at McCoy Stadium as an active player.  But he is already welcome to walk in as a member of the PawSox family.

“The clubhouse is a sacred place among players,” Nelson said.  “Occasionally we’ll bring our kids in and they get to come through, but our wives have never been in the clubhouse and that’s a place that’s a safe haven from the outside world when you’re a ballplayer.  Every day when you go to work, that’s the place where you go to clock in.  We wanted Ryan to remember how special the clubhouse can be and how your teammates are a family.  He hadn’t been in a clubhouse since spring training and we wanted to bring back that special feeling of home for a ballplayer.  It was important for us for Ryan to feel like he was back home.” 


* * * * *


When I called Joe Nelson for this story, I was happy to reach him in Tacoma, WA where he has just joined the Seattle’s Triple-A team in the Pacific Coast League.


chicken man.jpg 

Nelson began the year in Pawtucket and earned a promotion to Boston after going 3-2 for the PawSox with a 2.49 ERA in 16 outings.


But after posting a 9.72 ERA in 8 games with the Red Sox, Nelson was designated for assignment on June 11th.  After clearing waivers on June 17th, Joe declined an assignment to Pawtucket and told reporters he had probably thrown his last pitch.


But the Mariners changed his mind.


“It came out of nowhere,” Nelson told me.  “I had kind of hung it up.  I didn’t pick up a ball for about eight days.  The Red Sox were the team I wanted to be with and they gave me a chance – I just didn’t throw well.  I was disappointed, but they didn’t owe me anything.  I got everything I wanted – I got an opportunity, I got enough appearances, and I just didn’t produce.  That was frustrating and I think that was why I was planning to stay home with my family.  But after about eight days my wife said, ‘Are you sure?’  I got phone calls from about three or four teams that said they were interested in having me come to Triple-A and that it could be for a short time.  Seattle came with a pretty good offer and they said that they had some needs to fill.  I could have walked away from the game with no regrets but this opportunity presented itself and you have to weigh each one individually.  I feel like this is a good spot for me to be right now.  The Red Sox were great.  Tito and Theo and Ben and my teammates were unbelievable – I loved being up there.  But I felt like I had probably fallen too far down on the depth chart and it was going to take a lot for me to get back to the big leagues.”


Seattle is clearly looking for veteran bullpen help.  In recent weeks the Mariners have also signed Billy Traber and Scott Patterson to minor league deals.  Traber pitched for Pawtucket last year, but did not get any offers as a free agent and wasn’t in a spring training camp.  Patterson was expected to pitch for the PawSox this season, but was one of the Red Sox final cuts in Ft. Myers.


Nelson realized his goal of making it back to Boston for the first time since 2004 when he earned a ring after making three regular season appearances for the Red Sox.    


“The last time they let me go they won a World Series so maybe they’ll go ahead and get that done again.”


* * * * *


The PawSox will have Felix Doubront on the mound on Friday when they open a 4-game series at Syracuse.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:45 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.


I’d love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


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

The Painful Details Courtesy Of Ryan Shealy

Over the last few years, you’ve probably heard the term “microfracture surgery.”  Jason Kidd, Reggie Bush, and Grady Sizemore are among the prominent athletes who have undergone the procedure.


But do you have any idea what microfracture surgery is?  PawSox designated hitter Ryan Shealy can explain the operation, after having it performed on his left knee in May of last year.


“They puncture holes in the bone trying to promote new cartilage growth when you have a bone on bone situation,” Shealy said.  “It was a bad deal.  I was on crutches for two months and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but it’s come back great.  I had great doctors and great rehab people to help me through it. 


“That’s kind of been the story of my career, even dating back to college.  I somehow managed to have Tommy John surgery as a first baseman which is really uncommon.  I threw a ball to second base and ended up tearing a ligament.  I had a couple of knee cleanups in the minor leagues and then last year, I had microfracture knee surgery and missed most of the season.”



(photo courtesy of Louriann Mardo-Zayat)


Shealy became a minor league free agent and signed with the Tampa Bay organization.  But after spending two-and-a-half months with Durham, he left the Bulls on June 15th and joined the PawSox. 


“I had an out clause in my contract,” Shealy said.  “I liked the Red Sox growing up and I’ve always admired the way they’ve gone about their business as an organization.  I almost signed with them in the off-season – it came down to Boston and Tampa.  I chose Tampa and that organization has so many corner infielders that it was hard to get at-bats every day in Durham.  It’s nice to be here.  This is a lot younger team, but hopefully I can help them grow as players and get myself going again too.”


In his first week with Pawtucket, Shealy has been a force in the cleanup spot.  In 7 games, he’s batting .409/.552/.682 with 3 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, and 6 walks.


“I’m just starting to be the hitter that I can be,” Ryan told me.  “After missing all of last year, it was tough early to be honest with you.  I wasn’t able to go play winter ball, and in spring training I just got eaten up.  I got off to a terrible start in the first month, but I’m starting to feel like I used to feel.”


That bodes well for Pawtucket.  Shealy is a former MVP of the Pioneer League and the Texas League, and had a monster month for the Kansas City Royals in September of 2008 when he belted 7 home runs and drove in 20 runs in 20 MLB games.


“That September I played about as good as I could in the big leagues,” Shealy said.  “Then last spring, I was the last guy sent down by Kansas City so that was tough and I took that hard.  But talk about perspective – I went to Triple-A and blew out my knee and that was some real perspective because it’s one thing to get sent down to Triple-A, but when you lose a whole season that is really tough.  I’m just glad to be playing again and I’m really enjoying it.”


* * * * *


At the start of the season, Mark Wagner and Dusty Brown were sharing catching duties for the PawSox.


Now they’re both on the disabled list.


Brown beard.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


Wagner remains out of action after breaking his hand in late April, and on Wednesday, Brown was placed on the D.L. with a strained left thumb.  Dusty told me that x-rays were negative, but he will fly back to Boston to get an MRI.


“There’s definitely some damage to the ligament,” PawSox manager Torey Lovullo said.  “We’re not sure how extensive it is – we’re going to get more information after he sees the doctors in Boston – but he’s going to be on the D.L. for at least seven days.  We won’t put him in harm’s way until we know for sure that he’s able to go out there at 100%.”


Gustavo Molina will be the primarily starter while Brown is out, and Juan Apodaca was promoted from Double-A Portland to be his backup.


* * * * *


Over the last couple of nights in Scranton, there’s been a rather loud fan right below our broadcast booth that has some of the most unusual material I’ve ever heard.


On Tuesday, he blasted the home plate ump by yelling, ‘That call was reprehensible!”


On Wednesday, he showed his support for #4 Eric Bruntlett by bellowing, “Let’s go square root of 16!”


Now that he’s shown off his vocabulary and math skills, I’m expecting the dude to delve into a little science in the final game of the series on Thursday.  I’m thinking he’ll praise the curve ball of Scranton/WB starter Tim Redding by screaming, “Now that’s how you use Bernoulli’s Principle!”


* * * * *


Philadelphia’s Jamie Moyer surrendered his 505th career home run on Tuesday to tie the all-time major league record held by Hall of Famer Robin Roberts.


But the 47-year-old pitcher also earned his 266th career win to move into a tie for 36th in all-time wins with Bob Feller.


When informed of Moyer’s achievement, Feller barked, ‘Get those darn kids off my lawn.’


(Just kidding.  “Rapid Robert” strikes me as something of a grouch.)


* * * * *


The PawSox will look to win three straight road games for the first time in 2010 when they face Scranton/WB on Thursday 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.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


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

Searching For Gems In the Golden League

This season, the average attendance at a Golden Baseball League game is 2,147.  Pretty soon, they’ll have that many scouts packing the stands.


The independent Golden League is where Boston discovered Daniel Nava when he played for the Chico Outlaws.  In his first 9 major league games, Nava is batting .355/.412/.613 with 5 2B, 1 HR, and 7 RBI.


A year after they signed Nava, the Red Sox unearthed Robert Coello in the GBL after he had pitched for the Calgary Vipers and Edmonton Cracker Cats (now known as the Capitals).



(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


On Tuesday night, Coello made his first Triple-A start and dominated the Scranton/WB Yankees, striking out 10 batters in 5.2 IP in Pawtucket’s 3-1 win.


“He’s got a downhill fastball, he’s aggressive in the strike zone with it, and quality secondary stuff is always going to be the recipe for a solid outing,” PawSox manager Torey Lovullo said.  “He was attacking the hitters all night long and it was great for us to watch.  We were a little thin, and for him to pitch into the 6th inning was just a great effort and we’re really pleased.”


Coello has been nothing short of dazzling since being promoted from Double-A Portland on June 12th.  In his first three outings for Pawtucket, the 25-year-old righty is 1-0 with a 0.73 ERA and has 19 strikeouts in 12.1 IP while only giving up 5 hits.


Tuesday’s outing marked the second time this month that Coello has registered double-digit strikeouts in less than 6 IP.  On June 2nd, he whiffed 11 batters in 5.2 IP in a start for the Portland Sea Dogs.  For the season, he has 70 strikeouts in 55.2 IP between Double-A and Triple-A.


“He’s got a big league arm,” Lovullo said.  “In his last relief outing for us, I turned to (pitching coach) Rich Sauveur in the middle of an inning and said, ‘We’re looking at big league pitches.  This is what a big league fastball looks like.’  He has the highest percentage of swings and misses of anyone in the system this season.”


What makes Coello’s story so remarkable is that he’s only been pitching for 3 years.  Robert was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds as a catcher in 2004, but never caught in a professional game due to injury.


The Angels gave him a shot as a pitcher, but released Coello even thought he posted a 1.37 ERA in his only season in their organization.  That led to Robert’s stint in the independent GBL where Boston purchased his rights in November of 2008.


“It’s pretty impressive that we have scouts watching this type of baseball – semi-pro type baseball – hunting and searching for guys like this,” Lovullo said.  “It’s another great story.”


This week, the Red Sox grabbed another player from the GBL as they signed pitcher Jay Broughton from the Calgary Vipers and assigned him to the Lowell Spinners. 


Is it possible that they discovered another hidden gem?


I guess that’s why it’s called the Golden Baseball League.


* * * * *


With Josh Reddick promoted to Boston for the third time this season and Ryan Kalish still on the disabled list with a hip flexor strain, the PawSox were hurting for outfielders on Tuesday.


Enter 22-year-old Alex Hassan from Single-A Salem.



The Boston-area native joined Pawtucket and made his Triple-A debut as a defensive replacement in the 9th inning and immediately caught two fly balls.


He did so without any of his own equipment.


The Carolina League is on its 3-day All-Star break, and Hassan elected to spend the time with friends in Richmond, VA.  As a result, when he got the call to join the PawSox in Scranton, he arrived with a small duffle bag of clothes but didn’t have any of his baseball gear.


“I took a piece of equipment from just about every guy on the team,” Hassan told me after the game.  “I think my glove belonged to the clubbie, but I’m not really sure.  I wore Ryan Kalish’s shoes.”


Hassan is only in his 2nd professional season after being drafted in the 20th round out of Duke University last year.  The Milton, MA resident was batting .228 with a .352 OBP in 47 games with Salem.


“I know I’m here just to help out the team because they’re a little short right now,” Hassan said.  “Hopefully I can play good defense and help out the team for as long as they need me.  My family is pretty excited.  Hopefully they’ll be able to come to at least one game while I’m still on the team.”


Hassan says he attended games at McCoy Stadium on summer camp field trips when he was a kid, so it would be exciting to still be with the PawSox when they return home next Tuesday.


By then, he’ll definitely have his own glove.


* * * * * 


The PawSox continue their series at Scranton/WB on Wednesday 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.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


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

Lars And The Dreaded Soft Bed

Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench famously said that “Slumps are like a soft bed.  They’re easy to fall into and hard to get out of.”


Lars Anderson can identify.


Anderson fist.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


After going 0-for-4 in Friday’s 2-1 loss to Columbus, the PawSox first baseman is hitless in his last 29 at-bats.  His batting average in 44 games with Pawtucket has dipped below the Uecker Line at .199.


If you’ve never heard me discuss it on the radio, I go with the Uecker Line instead of the Mendoza Line since the immortal Bob Uecker batted exactly .200 in his big league career.  Mario Mendoza finished his career at a robust .215.


After striking out in his first two at-bats on Friday, Anderson hit the ball well in his last two trips to the plate.  In the 6th inning he hit a screaming line drive over the first base bag that probably would have been a double, but it came with Columbus first baseman Wes Hodges holding a runner, and he didn’t have to budge to make the catch.  In the 9th inning, Anderson flied out to the warning track in left (a Wall Ball at Fenway).


As a result, Lars has gone eight games without a hit.


“Not to be unexpected,” PawSox manager Torey Lovullo told me.  “I think a lot of young players have good and bad moments.  I think Lars is experiencing that wave of emotion where he’s trying to go out there and do too much every single day.  We have to understand that there are going to be some struggles for a young player.  He will go through some growing pains this year and learn from this.  When he is a great big leaguer, he will use this year as a reference – I’m certain of that.  He’ll say, ‘I learned those lessons when I was 22 years old,’ and that’s what is going to make him special many years down the road.”


Lovullo speaks from experience.  In 1989 after he excelled in spring training with the Detroit Tigers, Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson called Torey “the finest young player I’ve seen since Johnny Bench.”


Anderson made Lovullo his starting first baseman on Opening Day and told reporters that “I’ll die before he comes out of the lineup.”


Lovullo began the season 0-for-20 and was out of the lineup by May.


It wasn’t the last slump of his career and Torey says that one of the biggest lessons he had to learn was to ignore the well-intended suggestions of teammates and friends.


“Keith Moreland told me once to pick up the bat that is the most uncomfortable in your hands and you are guaranteed to get two hits,” Lovullo said.  “Well, I got two hits but it took me about three weeks because I had this bat in my hands that felt like a lead weight.  Everybody wants to help.  I think the bottom line is that you have to have some fundamental beliefs and know that you don’t have to change.  That’s what Lars is going to remember.”


As soon as he climbs out of that soft bed.


* * * * *


The PawSox host Columbus on Saturday 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.


And don’t forget “PawSox Insider” on Saturday afternoon from 2 to 3.  If you can’t get it on the radio, you can listen online at http://www.whjjam.com/main.html


I’d love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


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

Ready For Another Longshot?

How good has PawSox reliever Robert Manuel been this season?


His ERA is better than Ubaldo Jimenez’s.


While the Colorado Rockies ace is 12-1 with a 1.16 ERA, Manuel is 3-1 with a 1.08 ERA and is 7-for-7 in save opportunities.



(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


Manuel rarely tops 88 mph on the radar gun, but he has a 4-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio (28 K, 7 BB) and has not allowed an earned run in his last 12 outings (15.2 IP).


“I’m throwing strikes and changing speeds,” Manuel told me.  “Some guys throw 97, but I have good control and I’ve used that to my advantage.  Every time I go out to the mound I force the hitter to swing the bat early, so I get a lot of quick outs and ‘cheap outs’ so to speak.”


“He forces you to beat him,” manager Torey Lovullo said.  “He can put that 86 to 88 mph fastball on each edge of the plate and that’s one thing we talk about in baseball – velocity and movement are outstanding, but you have to have command of your pitches.  When you play catch with him, or go behind home plate and watch him, the ball takes off right around the hitting zone and there’s something to be said for that.”


“It’s not anything that I try to manipulate – the ball just naturally moves,” Manuel said.  “I don’t throw very hard, but I get that late movement.  I didn’t even know I had it until a couple of years ago when a couple of the guys were telling me that the ball moved the last 3 or 4 feet.  With a wood bat, the sweet spot is only a couple of inches, so it’s hard for hitters to square the ball up.”


Robert Manuel’s story is not quite as unlikely as Daniel Nava’s, but like the current darling of Red Sox Nation, the 26-year-old pitcher has been proving doubters wrong throughout his professional career.  Manuel did not pitch in high school, before getting an opportunity to take the mound at San Jacinto North College.  He transferred to Sam Houston State, but wasn’t drafted after leading the Bearkats in saves in 2005.    


The Mets eventually signed Robert as a non-drafted free agent, and after being traded to Cincinnati, he made it to the major leagues last year on his 26th birthday.  On July 9th, Manuel debuted by throwing 1.1 scoreless innings against the Phillies.


“Those guys were defending champions and they were no slouches by any means – they’re like the Red Sox or the Yankees of the National League,” Manuel told me.  “So going through those guys proved to me that I belonged and that I can stick if given the chance.  That was a major confidence booster even coming into this year, because I know that I can get big league hitters out.”    


He doesn’t have a 100 mph sinker like Ubaldo Jimenez, but Manuel has not allowed a run in three major league appearances (4.1 IP).  Still, does Robert ever wonder what it be like to throw 100 mph?


“Yea, I wonder what it would be like, but I’m happy with what I’m doing,” Manuel said.  “Not everybody is blessed with an arm like that, but people are blessed in different ways.  I’m happy with what God gave me and with what I’ve been able to do.  I wouldn’t trade location or control for velocity any day of the week.”


* * * * *


The PawSox conclude a 4-game series against Louisville 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 or pawsox.com.


I’d love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


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

The PawSox Biggest Futbol Fan

Lars Anderson is a huge football fan.  But in his case, it’s the football played all over the globe.



(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


The PawSox first baseman describes himself as a “soccer freak” and says he’s obsessed with the upcoming World Cup.  Lars will be rooting for the USA, but admits that his favorite team to watch is Spain because of the Spaniards quick and intricate passing.  Anderson can frequently been seen off of the baseball field wearing the jersey of FC Barcelona (Futbol Club Barcelona) – his favorite soccer club.


It’s been six weeks since Lars was promoted from Double-A Portland, and in his first 36 games with Pawtucket, the 22-year-old first baseman is batting .244/.350/.423 with 4 HR and 16 RBI.  He’s batting .296 vs. right-handed pitchers, but has struggled vs. lefties, going 1-for-25 (.040).


Most hitters struggle at times in their first exposure to Triple-A pitching, and Anderson has maintained an upbeat attitude.


“There’s no use ripping my hair out over something that’s already happened because there’s nothing I can do about it,’ Lars told me.  “It’s a process where you have to learn from it and move on to what’s happening in the moment.  It’s such a challenge.  This game can really wear you out mentally, and I’ve been letting it wear me out for however long I’ve been playing.  I’m trying to reverse that trend, and it’s such a joy when you’re not killing yourself.”


Lars is currently ranked as the #2 prospect in the Red Sox organization by soxprospects.com, and while he’s not complaining, Anderson admits that being “rated” takes some getting used to.


“I’ve never understood how you could compare me to a shortstop or a relief pitcher,” Lars said.  “We all play different positions and have different roles – maybe Angel Sanchez is the best guy in the organization at hitting a fastball to the opposite field.  It’s a strange concept to me – it’s like ranking bands – it’s very subjective.”


But then again, so is picking a favorite soccer team.


* * * * *    


We had surprise visitors in the radio booth in Indianapolis on Wednesday – Don and Becky Nava – the parents of PawSox outfielder Daniel Nava.


Don Nava is a Life Fitness Coach and the author of the book Fit After 40.  It’s obvious that he practices what he preaches, as Don has a chiseled physique and could pass for 20 years younger.


Something tells me that he would not approve of the eating habits of Hoard and Hyder (chicken wings, burgers, nachos, etc . . . after night games).  In fact, Mr. Nava noticed that Steve had a bottle of Mountain Dew in the booth and playfully disapproved.



The meeting did inspire a funny idea.  I told Daniel after the game that we’re going to drive his dad nuts on a future broadcast by making up a list of all of the junk food that we’ve seen Daniel eat. 


The reaction should be classic.


* * * * *          


The PawSox will look to snap a 2-game losing streak on Thursday as they face Indianapolis 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.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


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

Doubront Tops Chapman In Battle of 22-Year-Old Lefties

Aroldis Chapman began Monday’s game against Pawtucket with a 101 mph fastball.


So what was Tug Hulett thinking in the PawSox dugout?


“I hope that his off-speed stuff isn’t working,” Hulett said with a laugh. 


Chapman hit 99 mph on the radar gun three times and threw 10 pitches in the first inning that were 95 mph or faster.  But the 22-year-old Cuban defector threw ineffective breaking balls and couldn’t locate any of his pitches as the PawSox scored seven runs in the first three innings in a 7-2 win in Louisville.


“It doesn’t really matter how hard he throws – it’s all about timing,” Hulett said.  “If he’s going to throw 100, we’re going to try to time it.  If he can’t throw his off-speed stuff for strikes to mess up your timing, you just crank it up.  That’s part of the game.” 


Chapman walked a career-high 6 batters in 2-plus innings, threw a pair of wild pitches to the same hitter, and only threw 33 of his 72 pitches for strikes.  Hulett, who entered the game batting .183, drilled a mid-90’s fastball over the right field wall for a 2-run home run in the 2nd inning, his 4th HR in 165 at-bats.


“It always feels good to hit a home run – it’s hard to do,” Hulett told me.  “And it’s really good if you haven’t been doing it in awhile.  I’m hoping that maybe I’ve turned a corner.  It’s one of those years where I really haven’t made a lot of adjustments, so hopefully I’ll get the ball rolling a little bit while there’s still time.”


There was an impressive 22-year-old left-handed pitcher on Monday – Pawtucket’s Felix Doubront, who picked up the win by allowing one run in five innings while striking out five.


Doubront wide.jpg

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


Prince Felix improved to 2-1 with a 1.08 in four starts with the PawSox.  If you combine his Double-A and Triple-A numbers this season, Doubront is 6-1 with a 2.11 ERA.


Chapman fell to 5-3 with a 4.45 ERA, but the PawSox weren’t exactly talking trash after beating him.  Perhaps because they are likely to face him again on Saturday when the PawSox open a 4-game series against the Bats at McCoy Stadium.


“You can’t teach 103 or 101 or whatever he was throwing tonight,” Hulett said.  “Maybe we caught him on a bad night, I don’t know, but you can see that there’s a reason why he got $30 million dollars.  You can make a lot of mistakes throwing that hard and get away with them.  He’s got a chance to be something special.”


* * * * *


On Monday, the Artist Currently Known as Prince celebrated his 52nd birthday.



PawSox manager Torey Lovullo actually had dinner with the pop superstar before he made it big.


“It was before he was ‘Prince’ and before the movie Purple Rain came out,” Lovullo told me.  “He was just a young musician and I had a friend whose father was his producer.  My friend’s dad was talking about this up-and-coming star and I was over at their house for an Italian dinner and in walked this very small but powerful young man who’s name was Prince.  We had dinner and after we were finished, he sat down with his guitar and played for us.  At the time I was like 15 or 16 years old and could have cared less about it, but five years later, I was like, ‘I know that guy.’  I saw him way before he was a superstar – that was pretty special.”


* * * * *


After splitting a 4-game series in Louisville, the PawSox open a 4-game set in Indianapolis on Tuesday 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.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


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

The PawSox Go Shopping In Louisville

This morning it felt like I walked into a Manolo Blahnik store with the gals from Sex and the City.


I went on a tour of the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum with a group of PawSox including nine players.


You can’t miss the museum in downtown Louisville because the world’s largest baseball bat leans against the five story building. 



The bat is 120 feet tall and weighs 34 tons (68,000 pounds).  It’s too big for even the most notorious steroid user.


Our tour guide was Chuck Schupp, the director of professional bat sales for the company, and the first thing he did was take the guys shopping.  He guided us to a huge rack filled with a wide variety of makes and models, and each player was allowed to pick out six bats that were paid for by the Red Sox.


Just picture shoppers tearing through bargain bins on the day after Thanksgiving at Filene’s Basement.


Several players held the bats up to their ears and hit the barrel with the base of their hand to listen for “good wood.”  Lars Anderson gave Hyder and me a demonstration and told us that the higher the sound the better.  I was skeptical, but you could actually hear a difference.


Daniel Nava wins the good guy award.  He said that Ryan Khoury was disappointed that he was sent to Double-A Portland just before this road trip because he was looking forward to the factory tour and picking out some free bats.  Nava made sure that his box of six freebies included a few for Khoury.




PawSox hitting coach Gerald Perry found his name on a wall featuring signatures of all of the players who have been under contract to Louisville Slugger over the years.  In 1978, Gerald was offered $200 or a set of golf clubs to sign with the company.  He took the cash, and received made-to-order bats that featured his signature for the rest of his career.


We were also greeted by Brian Hillerich, the great-grandson of Bud Hillerich who made the very first Louisville Slugger bat 126 years ago.  Brian told me that his son has started working for the company, meaning the tradition of making baseball bats has made it through five generations of Hillerichs.


“I hope it’s in the family for another 125 years,” Brian said.


After walking through the factory and getting a quick lesson on how baseball bats are made, our final stop was the museum.  It includes a big photo of Ted Williams kissing his bat, along with a classic quote:


“I’d have been a .290 hitter without a Louisville Slugger,” Williams wrote in a 1993 letter to the company.


As one of our players pointed out, “.290 sounds pretty good to me.”


* * * * *


We have a tremendous pitching match-up to look forward to on Monday night in Louisville, as Felix Doubront squares off against Aroldis Chapman.


After defecting from Cuba last summer, Chapman signed a 6-year, $30.25 million dollar deal with Cincinnati in January.   The 22-year-old lefty has reached 103 mph on the radar gun, and is 5-2 with a 3.42 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 52.2 IP.


Doubront is 1-1 with a 0.77 ERA in his first three outings for Pawtucket, and if you combine his AA and AAA stats, Prince Felix is 5-1 with a 2.14 ERA.  Furthermore, Portland and Pawtucket are a combined 10-1 in the 11 games he’s started.


First pitch is at 7:05 and 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.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


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