July 2011

It’s A Juggling Act For Lars Anderson

After being around Lars Anderson for the last season-and-a-half, I thought that I knew him well.

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

After all, I know his favorite author…that he has a batting cage in his backyard…and that he knows how to knit and crochet.  But until recently, I had no idea that the 23-year-old first baseman is a skilled juggler.

“I’m pretty much self-taught,” Anderson said.  “I started juggling with two balls when I was in first or second grade, and then I graduated to three.  My brother Leif is actually a very impressive juggler – the type of person that could juggle sticks with fire on the end.  Maybe it runs in the family a little bit.”

Juggling balls is undoubtedly fun, but Lars would rather be slugging them out of the park.

After 88 games, Anderson is batting .252 (.744 OPS) with 20 2B, 2 3B, and 7 HR.  In his last 16 games, Lars is batting .288 (17-for-59) with 3 HR.

“I felt like my swing was getting kind of long, so I worked with (hitting coach) Chili Davis on shortening it,” Anderson said.  “I was getting tired of reaching out and rolling over (ground balls) to the first or second basemen, so I’m trying to let the ball travel a little more while staying short to the ball with my bat path.  I don’t have to swing hard to hit it hard.  I think I fall into the trap of thinking, ‘OK, it’s a 2-and-0 count, I need to take a big swing and try to do damage.’  I’m strong enough and I have enough leverage that if I just try to make contact the ball is going to jump.  My dad has been telling me that since I was about three years old, but I guess I was too hardheaded to listen.”

One thing that Lars has always grasped is the importance of swinging at good pitches. Anderson is tied for third in the league in walks (50) and has a .354 OBP.

“If I look at my at-bats, the balls that I hit well are strikes and more specifically good strikes to hit,”Andersonsaid.  “Not the sinker at the knees on the outside black – that’s a tough pitch to hit.  When you swing at good strikes the results are better and when you swing at balls, more often than not, you get yourself out.  My goal is not to go up there and walk.  My goal is to get a good pitch to hit and drive it.  Walking is a by-product of that.”

Anderson’s home runs have come in the following spurts:

0 HR in first 127 at-bats, then 2 HR in next 3 at-bats…

Followed by 0 HR in 52 at-bats, then 2 HR in next 4 at-bats…

Followed by 0 HR in 91 at-bats, then 3 HR in next 16 at-bats 

“Sometimes when you’re hitting well you’re just spraying line drives all over the field and sometimes you get in a groove where you find that bat path where the ball starts jumping and gets into the air with backspin,”Anderson said.  “I think there are different kinds of rolls that you get on.  In the beginning of the year when I couldn’t hit a home run, I still had streaks where I was able to drive the ball but it just wasn’t going in the air.”

After heading home to California for three days during the All-Star break, Anderson had a key RBI double in Thursday’s 3-2 win over Durham and says he’s feeling confident going into the final month-and-a-half of the minor league season.

“(My confidence) is pretty good, but I don’t think it’s because of results,”Anderson said.  “A lot of times this year I’ve put pressure on myself to perform and you’re inevitably going to fall short of those expectations with this game.  I’ve been trying to make it so it’s not life-and-death every time where you’re so upset that you can’t even have a conversation.  That’s something that I’ll probably always have to work on and improve upon, but it’s something that I’ve been focusing on.”

You might say that it’s all part of the juggling act of being a highly-touted prospect.

* * * * * 

Friday night figures to be a big one at McCoy Stadium.  For starters, it’s PawSox Replica Jersey Night as the first 5,000 fans will receive a replica road gray Pawtucket #31 jersey.

Additionally, Carl Crawford will be in Pawtucket’s lineup as he begins a 2-game injury rehab assignment.  The 4-time All-Star has been on the disabled list since June 18th with a hamstring injury.

Friday’s game begins at 7:05.  If you can’t make it out to McCoy, I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

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

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

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

Kyle Weiland Can Share His Secret

Kyle Weiland learned a couple of days ago that he was likely to start for the Red Sox on Sunday, but the 24-year-old pitcher was told not to share the news with his teammates, parents, or even his wife Rachel.

“I was under strict instructions to keep it quiet so you have to respect that and do what you’re told,” Weiland said.

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Mum is no longer the word.  Red Sox manager Terry Francona told reporters on Friday afternoon that Weiland will make his major league debut on Sunday in place of the injured Jon Lester.

“It’s something that I’ve been working toward for a long time and it’s everybody’s dream and goal since they’re little kids,” Weiland said.  “The fact that I’m getting the opportunity on Sunday is a tremendous honor and I’m really excited about it and can’t wait for it.”

Weiland says that as far as he knows, he’ll only be starting one game.

“I’m going in there to spot start and fill a role on Sunday,” Kyle said.  “Obviously, I want to pitch the best that I can and if they need another spot starter or something else happens, then I would like to show them that I can be the guy to fill that role and help the Red Sox win games.”

After 17 starts for Pawtucket, Weiland is 8-6 with a 3.00 ERA and ranks 2nd in the I.L. in strikeouts with 99 (in 93 IP).  The former Notre Dame closer has been especially dominant in his last 3 starts, going 3-0 with a 1.83 ERA.

“I don’t think (my confidence) could be any better than it is right now,” Weiland said.  “In my last two starts I went out there and had all four pitches right from the get-go and my confidence is at its highest.  I absolutely think that this is the best time for this to happen.

“It will be nice not to keep it a secret more than anything.  I’m not a huge guy for the limelight and I don’t desire to be that guy – I just like to go about my business and do the best that I can and be a good team player.”

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.

Kyle Weiland Come On Down?

So who starts in place of Jon Lester on Sunday?  Red Sox manager Terry Francona isn’t saying.

“There’s just no reason for us to do something premature,” Francona told reporters on Thursday. “We’ll see how we get through the week.  We’ll have an announcement when we think it’s appropriate.”

If it is not Alfredo Aceves who tossed two scoreless innings in relief on Thursday – but only threw 15 pitches – the most likely candidates are PawSox starters Kevin Millwood and Kyle Weiland.

Millwood is scheduled to start on Friday night at Syracuse, so the Red Sox plans would become clearer if he’s scratched in the hours leading up to the game.  If he makes the start, Millwood is eliminated and Weiland would remain a possibility.

Weiland says that he’s not spending much time thinking about it.

“You try to keep you mind focused on what you can do on the field and the other stuff will come,” Kyle told me.  “Whenever I get that call-up is up to other people – the only thing I can do is do my best every five days and hope for the best.  When it’s my time, I’ll try to be prepared and let them know that I’m ready to fill-in.”

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

One factor that could hurt Weiland’s chances is his contractual status, as explained by Brian MacPherson in the Providence Journal:

The only reason for the Red Sox not to promote Weiland to replace Lester is the fact that he’s not on the 40-man roster. If they add him to the 40-man roster and then send him back to Triple-A for more than 20 days, they burn one of his three option years.

If the Red Sox wait until mid-August to call Weiland up, even if he ends up going back until rosters expand on Sept. 1, they wouldn’t have to send him back to the minor leagues for more than 20 days – thus preserving the option.

On the other hand, if the Red Sox think that Weiland could play an important role as a starter or reliever at some point this year, they could promote him now to start gaining big league experience.

The 24-year-old righty is 8-6 with a 3.00 ERA after 17 Triple-A starts, with 99 strikeouts in 93 IP and an opponent’s batting average of .206.  Weiland has won each of his last 3 starts, and flirted with a no-hitter last week vs. Rochester, allowing 1 hit and 0 walks in 8 innings while striking out a career-high 12 batters.

“I came into that game and I had four pitches working right from the start,” Weiland said.  “Usually when that happens it makes the rest of the outing a little bit easier – especially when the hitters see that you have four pitches working.  When you have games like that, you take your mind out of it, you stop thinking, and you just trust your stuff and go at it.”

The folks at SoxProspects.com have elevated Weiland from their #18 prospect in Boston’s system going into the season, to #8 in early July.

“I really don’t mind not having huge hype – I think that can only hurt,” Weiland said.  “Some people do just fine with it, but I’ve enjoyed being under the radar and being able to work on my game and progress through the minor leagues.  It’s been an advantage in my eyes.”

Weiland is clearly on the radar now.  And he could be in Boston as soon as Sunday.

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.

Don’t Forget About Doubront

When Felix Doubront took the mound on Wednesday night in Syracuse, they should have played the song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by the band Simple Minds over the stadium loudspeakers.

Between injuries to Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz and John Lackey’s bloated ERA, there could be a need in Boston for a starting pitcher after the All-Star break.

Was Doubront looking to make a statement in Wednesday’s start that he should be considered?

“Definitely,” Felix told me.  “I feel like I can go up there and help.”

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Doubront’s performance spoke volumes, as the 23-year-old lefty tossed 7 shutout innings in a 2-0 win over the Chiefs.  Felix allowed 4 hits – all singles – and struck out 4 batters while throwing a season-high 108 pitches.

“It felt pretty good,” Doubront said.  “I had my fastball command where I was able to drive the ball down – that was one of my goals in my last bullpen session.  My fastball was very effective, my changeup was pretty good, and I was able to show them my curve.  Because I had such a good fastball, I didn’t need the curve ball as much.”

“I thought it was a great outing,” said catcher Luis Exposito.  “He was aggressive and he was focused the whole game.  There are times where he is not as focused and that affects him on the mound, but the tempo he brought yesterday was a different tempo.  I haven’t seen it all year.”

Doubront was not only motivated by the potential need for a starter in Boston.  In his previous outing, Felix allowed 10 hits and 6 earned runs in an 8-4 loss to Rochester– the only time in 12 starts that he has allowed more than 4 earned runs.    

“I was upset,” Doubront said.  “It was the first game with Pawtucket where I left like I was really bad.  That was frustrating for me and I was happy to come back strong.  Beginning on the day after my last outing, I was really focused on my next start.” 

After being named the Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010, Doubront has been slowed by injuries this season.  Felix missed most of spring training due to elbow tightness, before spending two weeks on the disabled list in May with a strained groin.

Wednesday’s outing offered proof that Doubront is fully healthy.

And definitely not forgotten.

* * * * *

The PawSox will look to climb a season-high 8 games over .500 on Thursday 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.  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.

Blow To The Head Sends Iglesias To The DL

PawSox shortstop Jose Iglesias has a Mohawk on the top of his head, and a big knot on the back of it.

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

The swollen area behind his left ear was the result of a fastball thrown by Scranton/WB’s Andrew Brackman that hit Iglesias on the batting helmet on Sunday at McCoy Stadium.  Iglesias fell to the ground and remained down for several minutes while being examined by PawSox trainer Jon Jochim.

“I saw the ball coming toward my face and all I could do was turn my head,” Iglesias told me.  “I got hit by the pitch right next to my ear.  I’ve never been hit in the head before in my whole life.”

Iglesias traveled with the team to Rochester on Monday but did not do any baseball activities.  On Tuesday, Jose was placed on the 7-day disabled list with a concussion.   

“I don’t feel 100%, but I’m doing better and I feel lucky that it wasn’t that bad,” Iglesias said.  “I’ve got a headache and feel dizzy – my balance is a little bit off – but I’ll be alright.” 

“He’s doing well,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler.  “He’s got a sore spot in the back of his head.  He’s going to be down for a few days and with the new concussion rules that they have in place, he’s going to have to undergo a few tests and things like that.  He has to be pain-free and asymptomatic before he can do that.”

This year, major and minor league baseball put rules into effect that requires mandatory testing for all players who have received a blow to the head.  Players deemed to have even the mildest of concussions are put on the 7-day disabled list and may not return to the game.  The players must be cleared by a team physician or independent expert before returning to the field.

“It’s a big deal – especially in today’s day and age with concussion syndrome and stuff like that,” Beyeler said.  “You have to make sure that you give guys enough time to get back on their feet so that you don’t have any long-range issues.”

“I want to get back to help my team as quickly as possible,” Iglesias said.  “But I want to make sure that I feel good.  I don’t want to hurry and then have to miss a month.  I want to make sure that everything is alright.”

* * * * *

To Quote Ernie Banks… – Let’s play two!  The Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings conclude their brief 2-day series at Frontier Field with a doubleheader on Tuesday at 5:05 pm. The PawSox won the opener on Monday, 6-3, on the strength of 3-run home runs by Lars Anderson and James Kang.  The PawSox are 7-3 vs. the Red Wings this season – their most victories against any IL opponent this season. Rochester enters play with the worst record in the International League (31-51, .378). 

Seven Heaven? – The PawSox could equal their high-water mark of 7-games over .500 with a win on Tuesday.  The PawSox were 43-36 before losing three straight games over the weekend, but they’ve rallied to win two in a row.   The PawSox have won 6 of 9 and 13 of their last 20 games since June 16. 

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 4:50 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 PawSox Are Like A Great Point Guard

Is the manager of the PawSox Arnie Beyeler or Rajon Rondo?

I ask that question because of the high number of assists that Pawtucket has dished out to Boston in the first half of season.

The Red Sox 25-man roster currently includes five players that opened the season in Pawtucket.  Check out their current major league stats:

Alfredo Aceves:  3-1, 1 save, 3.75 ERA in 21 games (4 starts).

Andrew Miller:  2-0, 3.06 ERA in 3 starts.

Yamaico Navarro:  Batting .500 (2-4) including a HR in his first at-bat.

Josh Reddick:  .Batting .422 (19-for-45) with a HR and 10 RBI in 17 games.

Drew Sutton:  Batting .318 (14-for-44) with 7 2B a .362 OBP in 23 games.

Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen is obviously pleased by the contributions that the organization’s prospects have made with Boston this season.

“It’s our number one job requirement to be honest with you – even beyond developing prospects and having guys move up through the system,” Hazen said.  “Those guys are good players and they’ve been recognized as such by the major league staff.  Tito has never been afraid to run those guys into games and it has been fun to watch.” 

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Andrew Miller’s success might be the biggest surprise considering that he was 2-9 with a 5.35 ERA in 21 minor league starts last season, and entered 2011 with a career major league ERA of 5.84 over the last five seasons with Detroit and Florida.

“This kid has been unbelievable since we got him,” Hazen said.  “You hear about guys that get to this stage of their career that are stubborn and don’t listen, but Andrew was a wide-open book and really took to what people were asking him to do.  I don’t think there was a magic formula here.  I think he’s gone back to being the athletic, loose, left-handed pitcher with power stuff that he used to be and letting everything else go.  Anytime you have a guy who can just jump into the rotation of the Boston Red Sox – you have to be a pretty special guy from a talent and stuff standpoint.  It’s been encouraging so far and hopefully he continues to do it.”

Josh Reddick entered the season with a career .182 batting average in 56 big league games, but his solid play in 2011 was clearly a contributing factor in the recent DFA of veteran outfielder Mike Cameron.

“I think it’s safe to stay that Josh has done everything within his power to make his case (to stay in Boston),” Hazen said.  “As much as Josh sort of resisted some things in the past, we’re seeing a different hitter these days.  He’s much more under control.  I think that’s what has been the biggest difference for Josh Reddick this year.  He’s got survival skills now when he gets behind in the count.”

Last year, Reddick batted .207 before the All-Star break, but rallied to bat .351 with 11 HR after the break.  Hazen hopes for a similar second-half surge by PawSox first baseman Lars Anderson who is currently batting .251 (.360 OBP) with 5 HR and 39 RBI.

“The guy is a major league hitter – it just hasn’t clicked-in for him yet on a consistent basis,” Hazen said.  “He’s certainly shown us flashes, and when he learns how to drive the baseball a little bit more effectively, he’s going to start hitting home runs.  There has been a lot of steady growth and improvement; it just hasn’t been by leaps and bounds.  We really think he’s going to be a middle-of-the-lineup bat – it may not be on everybody else’s time frame, but he’s done a lot of good things.  We think we’re going to see a pretty big second half out of this guy.”

* * * * *

Saturday’s doubleheader at McCoy Stadium began in bizarre fashion.  Following a leadoff single by Scranton/WB’s Austin Krum, Arnie Beyeler walked out to home plate to alert the umpires that the Yankees had batted out of order.  Apparently, the lineup cards that Scranton/WB handed to the PawSox and the home plate umpire were from the previous night’s game.

“We actually said something to (the Yankees) before the game, but once the umpires have the card it’s too late, and they didn’t really know what we were talking about,” Beyeler said.  “It was right at game time and once the pitch is thrown, they have to go with the lineup that is on the card.  You sit over here and there are ways that you can do it.  You can wait until the DH hits and then they lose their DH and the pitcher has to hit, but you don’t want to be too extreme about things like that.  I respect those guys and it was an honest mistake so we just got it out of the way and went on with the game.”

Krum’s hit was wiped out, but it didn’t hurt the Yankees.  They swept the doubleheader 7-0 and 3-0.

* * * * *

So what will Kyle Weiland do for an encore?

The 24-year-old returns to the mound on Monday night to face the same Rochester team that he completely dominated last Wednesday.  Weiland took a no-hitter into the 6th inning before allowing a 2-out single to Dustin Martin – the only hit he allowed in 8 innings – and finished with a career-high 12 strikeouts (you can read more about that performance here). 

“I don’t think we’ve seen what we are going to see out of Kyle,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler.  “He’s a young kid and he’s going to get bigger and stronger and learn how to pound the strike zone.  When he has all of his pitches working he’s pretty tough – but he’s pretty good on the other days too.  He’s got a good sinking fastball, he can throw his breaking ball to both sides of the plate, and he’s come up with a cutter that helps him out against lefties.  He’s just learning how to pitch and as he gets bigger and stronger he should throw harder.  He’s a lot of fun to watch.”

Recently, someone asked me via Twitter whether I see Weiland as a starter or reliever in the major leagues.  I said starter, but I thought I should ask Beyeler the same question.

“Anytime you can throw four pitches for strikes you put yourself into a starting role, and he’s shown that he can be durable,” Beyeler said.  “I tend to think that until a player shows you that he can’t do something, you let him keep doing what he’s doing.  A lot of times it just becomes where a guy fits at the big league level.  The money is a little bit better up there then it is here, so guys take whatever role they’ll give them.”

The PawSox open a 5-day, 6-game road trip in Rochester on Monday 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.

Fox Will Gladly Forego Vacation

This year the Pawtucket Red Sox were scheduled to play 144 games in 152 days.  For those of you that share my limited math skills, that’s 8 days off in 5 months.

Three of those coveted eight off-days occur during the All-Star break, but PawSox pitcher Matt Fox says he’ll happily give up the mini-vacation after being selected to pitch in the Triple-A All-Star Game in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 13th.

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

“The time off would be nice, but it’s an honor to be going and I’m going to try to make the best of it and have fun with it,” Fox said.  “Being a starting pitcher, I guess you have more off-days than others.  It’s not the day-to-day grind of a position player or a relief pitcher.  I’m feeling good and looking forward to it.”

The International League All-Star roster was announced on Thursday, and Fox learned that he had been selected from a former teammate.

“I was out to lunch at Subway and I got a text message from Kyle Waldrop who is with Rochester saying, ‘Congratulations,’” Weiland said.  “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’  And he said, ‘You made the All-Star team.’  I looked it up and then I texted some family members.  It’s a great honor and I’m happy to be going.”

Fox is 4-2 with a 3.73 ERA, but would rank among the league leaders in wins if he had not been the victim of blown saves in 4 of his last 8 outings.  Because of major league call-ups and injuries, there are always changes to the Triple-A All-Star rosters, and Matt hopes that he’ll be joined in Salt Lake City by some of his PawSox teammates.

“There are so many guys on our team that deserve to be there,” Fox said.  “One is my roommate Kyle Weiland (7-6, 3.02 ERA).  What he’s doing is impressive – I haven’t seen many guys with his stuff out there, so I’d like to see him get a chance to go.  Scott Atchison (3-1, 2 saves, 1.31 ERA) has been up-and-down to Boston several times this year, but what he does is pretty impressive when he comes into the game.  Tony Pena (6-3, 2 saves, 3.04 ERA) is throwing the ball as well as anybody too.  That’s just the pitchers – I haven’t thought a lot about the hitters.  We have a leader in Hector Luna at third base and he’s having a solid year offensively and defensively (.288, 9 HR, 31 RBI).  Personally, I hope that somebody else from our team gets named.”

This will be Fox’s second All-Star game appearance in the last three years.

“I threw the second inning in the Eastern League All-Star game in 2009 at Trenton.  I had family there from DC and New York that took the train over.  My mom and dad flew in along with my brother and grandma.  It was my first one, and being around all of that talent was a lot of fun.  I’m not sure if anyone will be able to make it to Salt Lake City.  It’s a long trip for my family members in Ohio and Florida, but we’ll see.” 

If his family members in Ohio aren’t able to make the trip, at least Fox knows that he’ll see them in a few months.  Shortly after every baseball season, Matt makes a pilgrimage to Columbus to see his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes play football.

So what was his reaction to the recent resignation of head football coach Jim Tressel?

“I was shocked,” Fox said.  “He’s such an iconic figure in Columbus and the whole state of Ohio, but I think it was the right decision.  Hopefully, the NCAA doesn’t come down with too harsh of penalties and Ohio State can move forward with whoever they decide to hire next year.  Jim Tressel is a great coach and I’ll always be a fan of his, but I guess it’s time to move on.”

* * * * *

The PawSox open a 3-game series against the Scranton/WB Yankees with a 4:05 doubleheader on Saturday.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 3:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

And we also invite you to tune in to “PawSox Insider” from 2:00 to 3:00 on the PawSox radio network and 920WHJJ.com.  This week’s guests include Boston Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen.

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.