Spring Training games don’t usually mean very much, but last Tuesday night, the Yankees beat the Red Sox 6-3 in a game at Jet Blue Park in Florida. The fact that the Yankees won and the Red Sox lost really meant nothing but both teams came away with some really good news.
On the Red Sox side, David Price, even though, by his own admission, he didn’t have his best stuff, had superb control and good velocity and looked like the Ace that he is. He went four innings and gave up just one run and that came on a good pitch. The Yankees Aaron Hicks homered to right center but the pitch that he hit was down and on the outside of the plate, not a mistake on Price’s part and usually a good pitch. David Price is one of the best left handers in baseball but this was the first time he had gone four innings and Red Sox fans got a good look at him as their Ace.
On the Yankee side, Ivan Nova, who came back last year late in the season after Tommy John surgery and is looking to get back into the Yankee rotation, went four innings as well, giving up just one run, in the first inning. He had good velocity and his control was better than it was at the end of last year. When he and Price left after four the score was 1-1 and they had both looked good.
In Nova’s case, he may very well end up in the regular rotation depending upon what happens with C. C. Sabathia coming back from his personal problems and a horrible year last year. If Nova can continue to improve on last night’s performance, it will make the Yankees much stronger. With Michael Pineda’s tendency to injury, the possible problems with Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow and Sabathia’s problems, Nova could be a real key to the Yankee season.
From the Red Sox perspective, Tuesday night’s game against the Yankees, although a loss, also showed off the depth of their bullpen. Craig Kimbrel pitched a scoreless fifth with no hits, two strikeouts and showed good velocity and control. Junichi Tazawa and Carson Smith both pitched 1-2-3 innings in the sixth and seventh. All three of these relievers were in their third game of the spring, had all pitched three innings and given up only one run between them. Robby Ross came on in the eighth and gave up five runs, only two earned, and had control problems. It was his fifth outing of the spring and he has generally looked as good as he did last year when he relieved in 54 games.
On the other hand, the Red Sox starting pitching staff has had some bumps in the road this past couple of weeks. Eduardo Rodriguez, after dislocating his kneecap on February 27, has yet to throw an inning in Spring Training and had his first bullpen session on Wednesday. He was expected to be a part of the regular rotation opening the season but will not be ready for that. After a rookie season in which he won 10 and lost six with a 3.85 ERA, any significant lost time once the season starts will affect the Red Sox chances.
In the meantime, the pitcher expected to be the one to fill Rodriguez’s spot, left hander Henry Owens, had had two good starts to begin spring training against Minnesota and Tampa Bay, pitching five scoreless innings, but gave up four runs on two hits and four walks in 2 2/3 innings against Miami Monday night.
Then there’s the enigma that is Rick Porcello. He came to the Sox last year from Detroit where he had won 76 and lost 63 in six years and proceeded to win 9 and lose 15 with a 4.92 ERA. He was shelled by Tampa Bay in his second outing, on last Sunday, giving up eight runs on ten hits in just three innings, including seven consecutive hits, three of them consecutive doubles, in the second inning. Although he had a stronger second half than first in 2015, outings like the Sunday one do not inspire confidence as the season gets nearer.
Joe Kelly, in his first three outings, went 8 1/3 innings, giving up just one run on eight hits with seven strikeouts. On Monday, he went four shutout innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates and looks to have the form back that gave him eight wins in a row at the end of last year.
The often injured and disabled Clay Buchholz, who gave up four runs, just one earned, on three hits and three walks in just 1 1/3 innings in his first outing against Baltimore on March 6, did not pitch again until this Wednesday against Minnesota. He gave up three runs in three innings against the Twins, and also walked three batters. The positive side of that is, Buchholz has pitched twice and hasn’t gotten hurt, yet.
Koji Uehara, who will take over the set up role for Kimbrel, came on after Buchholz and lasted just 2/3 of an inning, giving up four runs on four hits but, if anything, looked worse than the numbers. The knuckleballer, Steven Wright, who is fighting for a starting position, gave up two runs in 2 2/3 innings after Koji.
Well, after all, that’s why they have spring training, to get ready for the real thing which is getting close. Ups and down like these two games for the Red Sox pitching staff are par for the course. But, as Jerry Remy keeps saying, this is where you develop the habits that will stay with you through the year.
The Red Sox have not had a good record in spring training. Wednesday night’s loss gave them seven losses in a row. On the plus side, aside from pitching, I like the way Hanley Ramirez is adapting to first base defensively and is hitting line drives. Travis Shaw is getting closer to being the regular third baseman with that hot bat of his. Pedroia looks healthier and better than ever.
Overall, the Red Sox have not looked bad, despite their record, up and down pitching and sometimes sloppy fielding. I sill think they have the ability to go all the way if Farrell can exercise some control and get them focused as the season begins.