July 2010

Welcome Back Wags

My all-time favorite line of dialogue from The Sopranos was when Paulie Walnuts tried to convince Christopher that he went to purgatory – not hell – by saying, “Hell is hot.  That’s never been disputed by anybody.”


Along the same lines:  Catching is brutal.  That’s never been disputed either.


On June 22nd, Dusty Brown strained ligaments in his left thumb when a runner slid into his glove at home plate.


Six days later, Victor Martinez broke his left thumb when he got hit by a pair of foul tips in back-to-back innings.


And three days after that, Jason Varitek broke a bone in his right foot when he got nailed by a foul ball.


Then you have catcher Mark Wagner who was out of action for nine weeks with a broken hamate bone in his left hand.  Was it a foul tip?  A violent collision?  A shard of a broken bat?


Not exactly.


“It was just on a normal swing of the bat,” Wagner said.  “I felt fine leading up to it and then on one weird swing – that’s all she wrote.”



(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


Wagner had surgery to remove the hamate bone on May 4th, and hoped to be back in action in as little as six weeks.  But after his hand healed, Mark began to experience pain in his left wrist.


“I’m no doctor but it seems like they did a heck of a job healing my hand,” Wagner said.  “Unfortunately, I must have tweaked something else while taking swings and I had a little setback.  But I’m trying to fight through it and I’m happy to be back in action.  It’s coming along and feeling a lot better.”


The 26-year-old catcher returned to the PawSox on Tuesday and will catch every-other-game until the All-Star break.  When he isn’t in the lineup, the Sox want him to cut back on his swings in the batting cage to make sure that he allows his wrist to completely heal.


“It’s a challenge not to do extra work,” Wagner told me.  “I’ve always been the kind of guy that tries to play with his hair on fire.  It’s going to be tough for me to come back and slow things down because I try to do everything 100%.  But it’s definitely a good learning experience.  I need to be smart, listen to my body, and know what to expect.”


With Martinez and Varitek currently on the disabled list, Wagner admits it’s frustrating to know that he would probably be Boston’s starting catcher right now if he had remained healthy.


“A little bit, but there’s really nothing you can do about it,” Wagner said.  “It’s one of those things that unfortunately happens and right now, the bottom line is that we’ve got to find a way to get healthy.  Cash and Molina are doing a heck of a job, but everybody wants to get up there and help.  We wish Martinez and Varitek speedy recoveries, because everybody wants to win a championship.”


If Wagner can prove that he’s healthy and performs well, there could be an opportunity for a rapid promotion to Boston.


“That’s out of my hands and I have no idea what’s going to happen,” he said.  “Right now I just want to make sure that I’m healthy enough to play every day and help the team win.”


* * * * *


After salvaging the final game of the 4-game series at Lehigh Valley with a 4-2 win on Wednesday, the PawSox open a 4-game homestand on Thursday night as they host Rochester at 7:05.


Since the Red Sox have the night off, you can get your baseball fix at McCoy Stadium and it’s PawSox Cap Night for the first 4,000 fans.  If you can’t make it to Pawtucket, you catch watch the game on NESN or we invite you to join us for radio coverage on the PawSox radio network or pawsox.com beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50.


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

Bowden To Bullpen

Michael Bowden has been moved to the PawSox bullpen.  You don’t have to be Abner LaRussaday to figure out why.


The Boston bullpen has the worst ERA in the American League at 4.83 and the Red Sox have obviously decided that Bowden might be able to help.  He’s expected to make his first relief appearance for Pawtucket on Wednesday night at Lehigh Valley and another at McCoy Stadium on Saturday or Sunday.


Bowden Fenway.jpg 

(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


“I’m actually extremely excited,” Bowden told me.  “I got a little bit of work at the big league level in the bullpen last year and I became pretty comfortable with it.  I got a routine down and it’s exciting going out there every day knowing that you have a chance to pitch.  And anything that will help the Red Sox bullpen – whatever role I can play to help them – it’s definitely going to be a good opportunity.”


Bowden has been used exclusively as a starter this year for Pawtucket, going 4-3 with a 3.77 ERA in 16 starts.  Since May 31st, he’s been one of the best pitchers in the International League posting a 1.83 ERA in his last 7 starts.


“I’m always a confident guy – even early in the year when I was doing badly – I continued to work as hard as I could and thought the success was going to come,” Bowden said.  “It’s started to and I feel great going out there every time.  I feel like I’m going to give this team an opportunity to win, and hopefully I can put together some quality innings in the bullpen and just keep us in ballgames.”


The 23-year-old righty was notified on Monday that he was moving to the PawSox pen.


“It came from above so obviously the front office and the organization would like to see me in the bullpen,” Bowden said.  “Hopefully, like I said, there will be some good opportunities there.


“Everybody knows that they probably have the best rotation in the world.  It’s tough to break into that rotation, so if this gets me to the big leagues to stay there then I’m excited about it.”


119 of Bowden’s 122 minor league outings have been as a starter, but he made 7 relief appearances for the Red Sox last year, beginning with 2 hitless and scoreless innings against the Yankees in a Sunday night game on April 29, 2009.


“Last year against the Yankees was the first time that I had ever pitched out of the bullpen,” Bowden told me.  “It’s still something new to me.  I felt like I adapted fairly quickly last year when I got the opportunity to go up there and pitch in relief.  It was exciting – every time the phone rang your heart skipped a beat with the adrenaline rush.  I really enjoyed my time in the bullpen last year so I’m excited about this move.”


* * * * *


It’s official – Josh Beckett will make a rehab start at McCoy Stadium on Sunday as the PawSox host Syracuse at 1:05.


Beckett wide.jpg 

Beckett’s scheduled start for the GCL Red Sox was rained out on Tuesday, so he threw a 64-pitch simulated game at Tropicana Field instead.


“I’m ready to get back to pitching here – that’s the goal,” Beckett told reporters.  “I felt like I had good stuff today, and that’s kind of what we’re trying to get to. Repeating the delivery is definitely something we’ve been working on. We’re going to push this thing until we can do that.”


Sunday’s start for the PawSox will be Beckett’s first minor league outing since 2003 when he made one start for Single-A Jupiter and one start for Double-A Carolina.


Looking for a good omen?


Later that summer he was named the MVP of the Marlins’ World Series victory over the Yankees.


Plenty of great seats are still available for Sunday’s game at McCoy.  Just go to pawsox.com or call the ticket office at 401-724-7300.


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

Beckett Could Start Parade of Stars To Pawtucket

They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no – Amy Winehouse


Fortunately for the PawSox, “saying no” to rehab is not an option for most of the 11 players currently on the Boston Red Sox disabled list and several of Boston’s biggest stars are likely to play at McCoy Stadium over the next two months.



(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


Josh Beckett is slated to make his first rehab start for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox on Tuesday at noon in Sarasota.  If the game is rained out (and there is rain in the forecast), Beckett will throw a simulated game at Tropicana Field before the Red Sox play at Tampa Bay.  If all goes well, Josh’s next scheduled start would be on Sunday and it could be at McCoy Stadium where the PawSox host Syracuse at 1:05 in their final game before the All-Star break. 


Jed Lowrie, who missed the first half of the season after being diagnosed with mononucleosis in spring training, finally played in a game on Monday night as he went 1-for-2 with 2 walks as the DH for Class-A Lowell.  As some point, I assume that Lowrie will get promoted to Pawtucket.


Catcher Mark Wagner, who broke a bone in his left hand in late April, should be back at McCoy Stadium soon.  Wagner has played in three games for the GCL Red Sox, going 3-for-5 with 5 walks.  It probably makes sense to keep him in Florida for at least one more day to catch Beckett’s start on Tuesday.


Clay Buchholz probably won’t need a rehab stint before returning to the Red Sox rotation right after the All-Star break, but we could conceivably see Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek, Jeremy Hermida, and Mike Lowell suit up for the PawSox before the end of the season.    


Sorry Ms. Winehouse, but PawSox fans could be saying “yes, yes, yes” to rehab.


* * * * *


While three of Boston’s top young prospects have been promoted from Double-A Portland to Pawtucket this year in the trio of Lars Anderson, Felix Doubront, and Ryan Kalish, one youngster who isn’t likely to make the jump in 2010 is 20-year-old pitcher Casey Kelly.



Kelly is among the youngest players in the Eastern League, and the Red Sox top-rated pitching prospect is 1-3 with a 5.05 ERA after his first 15 starts with the Portland Sea Dogs.  I asked Mike Hazen, Boston’s Director of Player Development, to assess Kelly’s progress.


“We think he’s doing really well,” Hazen said.  “I know that everybody wants to see the numbers that he put up last year (2.08 ERA), but it’s just not going to happen.  It may not happen for a majority of this season and it may not happen next season.  As a 20-year-old pitcher who is consistently facing lineups in the mid-to-upper 20’s, there’s an experience gap there that needs to get closed.  Casey is learning how to deal with that.  The most positive thing that we’ve seen is that he’s bigger and stronger than last year and the overall power in his stuff has improved tremendously.  The changeup has been swing-and-miss at times and the velocity of the fastball has been up to 95 mph.  He’s consistently been up to 94 mph in every outing since May and we didn’t see any of that last year.  He topped out at 92 mph last year and was sitting 89 to 90.  We feel good about the developmental things that don’t necessarily show up in the numbers.  We knew he was going to have his struggles.  We pushed him to an advanced level for a reason – he had basically beaten the levels below him so we needed to push him to a spot where he would face some stiffer competition and he’s found that.  It’s not an excuse – he’s got to learn how to deal with those things and continue to get better every time out, but in talking to him, he’s in a great place.  His ability to compete, him makeup, and his stuff are outstanding.  We really couldn’t be happier in where he is in his development right now.”


Hazen also said that 20-year-old shortstop Jose Iglesias, who broke his right index finger when he was hit by a pitch in late May, should be back in action soon.



“The broken hand was very unfortunate but I guess it goes along with the theme of our season so far,” Hazen said.  “But he’s healing nicely and he’s going to start doing some baseball activity hopefully within the next seven days.  He’s been running and he’s been able to field ground balls since it was his throwing hand, so gripping a bat and throwing the ball will be the things that will determine when he’s ready to go.”


Iglesias signed with the Red Sox with the reputation for being an exceptional fielder but he’s also hit well in his first professional season.  The Cuban defector was batting .306 in 40 games with Portland and Hazen says that the Red Sox never agreed with scouting reports that suggested that Iglesias was a “good glove, questionable bat” prospect.


“Not according to (International Scouting Director) Craig Shipley when he signed him,” Hazen said.  “Our expectation was that this guy was a pretty good bat as well as a glove.  I know that the industry may not have said that, but Craig said all along that this guy had a pretty good bat and don’t sell him short with the ‘defender’ tag.  He’s hit from day one whether it was the Arizona Fall League or Portland.  He still lacks a little bit of size and strength to really impact the ball, but he’s got some power, he just doesn’t show it consistently because he’s still really young and needs some time to physically mature.”


* * * * *


The PawSox will look to snap a 2-game losing streak as they face Lehigh Valley 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 Butler Did It

This season, catchers in the Red Sox organization have been dropping like Spinal Tap drummers.


First Mark Wagner broke the hamate bone in his left hand.  Then Dusty Brown strained a ligament in his left thumb.  And now, Victor Martinez is on the disabled list with a fractured thumb.


And just like that, Dan Butler finds himself in Triple-A.



(photo courtesy of the Lowell Spinners)


A year ago at this time, the 23-year-old catcher was playing for the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League.  After going undrafted following his redshirt junior year at the University of Arizona, Butler came to Massachusetts hoping to catch the eye of big league scouts. 


“That was my whole goal last year when I went to the Cape League – finding a team that would give me the opportunity to play,” Butler told me.  “That’s all I asked for.”


Butler played so well for Brewster that he was selected to play in the Cape Cod League All-Star Game at Fenway Park last July.  Four days later, he signed with the Red Sox as a non-drafted free agent and was assigned to Single-A Lowell.


“They had an injury at Lowell and asked me if I was interested in signing – I said yea,” Butler told me with a laugh.  “It’s been a little bit of a whirlwind ever since.” 


Butler only batted .173 in 24 games last season, but this year he’s put up big numbers for Single-A Greenville, batting .316 with 5 HR and 26 RBI in 55 games.  Last week, Dan was the starting catcher for the South Division in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game.


“That was a great experience,” Butler said.  “It was fun to hang around all of those guys.  It meant a lot – from where I’ve been it was definitely uplifting.”


Butler has actually been with Pawtucket twice this year.  In early May he joined the team for one game in Charlotte and took batting practice, but was never put on the active roster.


“I came up for the day because they were worried that Jason Varitek might be hurt and that Dusty Brown might have to go up.  But ‘Tek turned out to be OK and Brownie didn’t get called-up so I left right after the game.  It was still fun to hang out with these guys for a day and get to experience Triple-A a little bit.”


Within days, Butler is likely to make his Triple-A debut in front of a Fireworks Night crowd at McCoy Stadium.  That’s quite a leap from the baseball field at Stony Brook Elementary School where the Brewster Whitecaps play their home games.


“I think it speaks volumes about the guys we have in the organization,” PawSox manager Torey Lovullo said.  “He’s not a ding-dong that can’t run a baseball game and that’s really the reason why he was picked.  He can block the baseball, control a pitching staff, and run a baseball game and we’re looking for him to do that while he’s here.”


* * * * *


The PawSox will look for their third straight win over first-place Scranton/WB when they host the Yankees on Thursday at 6:15.


I’ll join Bob Montgomery for TV coverage on Cox Sports throughout Rhode Island beginning at 6:00.  Mike Logan will join Steve Hyder on the PawSox radio network.


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