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April 30, 2012 at 10:46 PM

Barnes' family shares in promotion

Matt Barnes (Kelly O'Connor)
WILMINGTON, DEL. -- In a profession where most of a player’s time is spent out on the road and away from their families, the timing of Matt Barnes’ promotion to High A Salem had a bit of special significance for the 2011 first round pick.

Barnes, who allowed a run on three hits and no walks while striking out eight in 5.2 innings on Sunday for Low A Greenville up Interstate 95 in Lakewood, N.J., was informed after the game that he’d received the rare April promotion and was to meet up with Salem the next day.

Then, he got to share the news with his parents, who were in town from Connecticut on the Drive’s sole northern swing of the season.

“Like I’ve said, I’m not trying to focus on (when it was going to happen),” Barnes said. “Nonetheless, I was excited my family was there and they got to experience it with me. I’m just kind of excited to have the opportunity to move up this early.”

Barnes, who posted a 0.34 ERA in 26.2 innings of work for Greenville, began his career with 21 straight scoreless innings for the Drive, and said he’s pleased with how consistent he’s been so far this season.

He said that during Sunday’s outing, he was able to go out and attack the zone with his fastball and work in his secondary pitches.

Barnes said he believes he’ll debut Saturday for Salem, but until then, he’s settling in with the new club.

“I know a bunch of guys from spring training, so it’s been nice to catch back up with them and just get settled into the atmosphere,” he said.
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at 7:30 AM

The Book: Will Middlebrooks

Date: April 24, 2012
Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
Line: 1 for 2, triple, groundout, 2 walks, 1 stolen base

Pitch Selection: Middlebrooks’ first two plate appearances were shorter sequences that ended up with him first offering at pitches in 2-1 counts. In his first at-bat, he took two offerings above the belt to get up 2-0 and then let a fastball pass on the outer third for a called strike. Middlebrooks showed discipline to not reach out for it, instead content with letting it pass and looking for a better fastball to handle. He got one in the middle of the plate at the belt with the next pitch, but brought his hands too far above the baseball and ended up pounding it on the ground to the third baseman. He again was up 2-1 in his next plate appearance after taking the first three pitches he saw. Geared up for a fastball, Middlebrooks was way out in front of a changeup from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre righty D.J. Mitchell and pulled it weakly foul. His body indicated he was fooled by this offering as his hips and head pulled out quickly. Still alive in the at-bat at 2-2, he got a fastball out and over the plate, driving a hard, slicing line drive past the diving right fielder for a triple.

Mitchell worked around Middlebrooks in their next encounter, issuing a four-pitch walk with nothing close. His last plate appearance of the night also resulted in a walk, but was much more of a challenge. Facing right-handed reliever Jason Bulger, Middlebrooks took the first pitch for a strike, before laying off two straight curveballs for balls. Again up 2-1, Bulger painted a 92 mph fastball on him at the knees, which Middlebrooks took for a strike. The next pitch ended up being the key one of the plate appearance. Bulger’s 2-2 delivery was another painted fastball on the outside of the plate, but a bit further out. The definition of a pitcher’s pitch and one Middlebrooks could do nothing with had he swung. Showing an understanding of his strike zone, he took the pitch for a ball, forcing the righty into a 3-2 count. Bulger could not execute a curveball, tossing it high and outside of the strike zone, with Middlebrooks taking his second base on balls.

Swing: Middlebrooks’ swing has evolved since his early career within the organization. Initially on the level side, he used to pull the head of the bat through the hitting zone with little post contact extension and follow-through. He has always been capable of creating strong backspin when squaring pitches up, but was more of a line drive hitter and would go into ruts of rolling over the ball. He has learned how to get more lift out of his swing the last couple of seasons. Middlebrooks exploded through the fastball he drove for a triple in this game, with upward path through the hitting zone and strong post-contact extension. Able to keep his shoulder square to the pitcher, his hands stayed inside of the ball during his swing and the head of the bat went out to the ball, instead of yanking over it like he frequently did in the lower minors. He also generated very easy batspeed due to the fluidity of his swing mechanics.

Take: Similar to last season in Double-A, Middlebrooks is presently showing a lot of confidence in his hitting ability. His body language points towards a much higher comfort level than during his stint in Triple-A at the tail-end of the 2011 season, where the speed of the game looked ahead of him. Middlebrooks continues to show consistency with staying back on the ball and trusting his hands when attacking pitches. The fluidity of his swing enables his plus batspeed to do the rest. What jumped out during this scouting opportunity was the progress with his understanding of how to control at-bats. Middlebrooks worked to get his pitch and was content with letting others pass that he either couldn’t handle or was not looking for. He also showed the discipline to know that despite being up in the count, the next pitch delivered is not necessarily the appropriate one to swing out. Even at times last season, getting in the situation of being up in the count usually meant he was swinging regardless of what was coming. The dedication to apply his growing knowledge of himself as a hitter and continuing to trust the process regardless of the results are the keys to putting the finishing touches on his career as a minor league player.

While Middlebrooks has shown an uptick in his strike zone management skills to start the season and demonstrated it in this game, there is still work to do going forward. He was a bit too amped up in his second at-bat of this game when ahead in the count 2-1. Middlebrooks did not pick up the changeup early and can expect to see more secondary offerings at any point in the count his second time around the International League. He is an excellent fastball hitter, but needs to show he can handle breaking balls consistently. I saw it as a good sign during his later plate appearances that he was distinguishing curveballs quickly. His weight stayed balanced when taking them and he did not transfer out onto his front foot early like he has in the past. They were not overly deep major league caliber curves, however, instead more of the sweeping variety. As he continues to go around the league and face higher quality arms, Middlebrooks is going to be further tested. How he adjusts in this regards, for me, is a better indication of how close to being ready for the transition to the major leagues he is. Follow-up scouting opportunities will be focused on the next step in the progression, after seeing the initial steps taken towards being a major league-ready hitter.

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen
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at 6:00 AM

Cup of Coffee: Barnes and Bradley, Jr. continue recent dominance

4/30 Cup of Coffee: Pawtucket continued its late-April slide, Portland's bats were stymied, Salem won easily, and Matt Barnes did not disappoint in what was most likely his last start in Low-A
Jackie Bradley, Jr.
(John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

Pawtucket lost its fourth straight game, falling to the Columbus Clippers (CLE), 3-2. Nate Spears, who appeared in his first game since being outrighted to Pawtucket, led the game off with a double to center field, and came in to score on an error by the first baseman. Spears did not show any signs of rust, going 3 for 5 in the game. The PawSox scored another unearned run in the third, when Jose Iglesias reached on an error and came around to score on a Mauro Gomez ground-rule double. Gomez finished the game going 2 for 4 with two doubles. PawSox starter Justin Germano pitched another good game, going 5.1 innings allowing 2 runs on 7 hits. He walked 1 and struck out 5. The walk was the first Germano allowed in 28.1 innings this season. With the game tied in the seventh, the Clippers scored when PawSox second baseman Tony Thomas threw the ball away trying to complete a double play, allowing the go-ahead run to score from second.

After an offensive outburst on Saturday, the Sea Dogs bats struggled on Sunday, losing to the Reading Phillies (PHI), 4-2. After giving up a run in the first inning, Portland starter Chris Hernandez settled down to toss 5.2 innings allowing only the 1 run on 6 hits. Unfortunately, the Sea Dogs offense could not give him any support, as they did not record their first hit until the bottom of the sixth when Juan Carlos Linares hit a single to left. Still down 1-0 in the seventh, Oscar Tejeda crushed a solo home run to left-center field to tie the game. The tie would not last long, as Caleb Clay gave up a two-run double in the top of the eighth which secured the win for the Phillies.

Salem played some great baseball on Sunday, finishing off its sweep of the Carolina Mudcats (CLE) with an 8-3 victory. Jackie Bradley, Jr. is giving Will Middlebrooks some competition for SoxProspects Player of the Month for April. Bradley went 2 for 3 with a walk, stole two bases, and scored three runs. He is now batting .370 with a .479 on-base percentage and .493 slugging percentage on the season. In the top of the first Bradley walked, stole second, and came in to score on a Sean Coyle double. Coyle went 3 for 5 with two stolen bases of his own. In the fourth, Brandon Jacobs knocked in Bradley with an RBI single, and finished the game going 2 for 4 with a walk. Salem scored two more runs in the sixth when Drew Hedman hit a two-run double to right field. The run support was more than enough for Keith Couch who went 6.1 innings allowing only 2 unearned runs on 4 hits.

In what was most likely his last start for Greenville, Barnes was dominant once again, but the Lakewood BlueClaws scored seven runs in the sixth to beat the Drive 7-3. It was more of the same for Barnes, who threw 5.2 innings allowing only 3 hits and 1 run, walking 0 and striking out 8. The run was the first that Barnes gave up all year, and he was not even on the mound when it scored. The leadoff hitter reached in the sixth on a single, but Barnes retired the next two batters, leaving the game with a runner on first and two outs. Hunter Cervenka came in and hit the first batter he faced, walked the next batter, then gave up a single to score the runner that he inherited. Cervenka was lit up for 6 runs in 0.2 innings. Greenville's offense was lead by Matthew Marquis, who went 3 for 4 with an RBI single. Nick Natoli and Keury De La Cruz each had two hits and a stolen base, with Natoli contributing an RBI and De La Cruz picking up his third triple of the season. 

Player of the Day: Matt Barnes completed one of the most impressive beginnings to a season for a Red Sox prospect in recent memory. His 0.34 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, and .338 OPS against all rank first in the Red Sox system. He also struck out 14.18 batters per nine innings and walked only 1.35 batters per nine. 
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April 29, 2012 at 5:25 PM

Matt Barnes to be promoted to Salem

SoxProspects sources indicated that right-hander Matt Barnes will be promoted and make his next start for Salem. The 21-year-old has breezed through the South Atlantic League, allowing just a single run in 26.2 innings over five starts. He struck out 42 batters and walked only 4. Barnes made his fifth start of the year for Low A Greenville on Sunday, allowing 1 run, his first of the year, on 3 hits and no walks while striking out 8 over 5.2 innings.

Barnes has been dominant for Greenville, winning SoxProspects Pitcher of the Week honors each of the first three weeks of the year and setting himself up to win again with two more stellar starts this week. His first High A start will likely be on Saturday at Winston-Salem (CWS).
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at 3:54 PM

Wilson groomed to help 'pen

It has been obvious to Red Sox followers this season that the bullpen has been one of the team’s biggest weaknesses, as Boston relievers’ 6.55 ERA entering this weekend was nearly half a run higher than that of any other team. However, help could soon be on the way. Earlier this week the club moved its 2011 minor league pitcher of the year, Alex Wilson, to the bullpen, setting him on a track to possibly help in the majors quite soon.

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at 11:27 AM

Cup of Coffee: Daisuke strikes out seven in Portland

4/28 Cup of Coffee: Pawtucket and Greenville saw their bullpens give up late leads, Daisuke Matsuzaka made a rehab appearance in Portland, and Salem extended its winning streak to four games. 
Aaron Cook
(William Parmeter)

Pawtucket is now on its first three-game losing streak of the season after falling to the Columbus Clippers (CLE) 6-4. With his May 1st opt-out date looming, Aaron Cook delivered another quality start, allowing 3 runs in 6.1 innings. He allowed 5 hits and 2 walks, and struck out 5. Pawtucket got on the board in the top of the third when Daniel Nava doubled and came in to score on an Alex Hassan single. Hassan hit another RBI single in the fourth, and came in to score on a two-run double from Che-Hsuan Lin. Andrew Miller came on in relief of Cook with a one-run lead in the seventh, and struck out the first two batters he faced to end the inning. He stayed in the game to face left-hander Lonnie Chisenhall to lead off the eighth, but allowed a sharp single to center. Miller was replaced by Tony Pena, Jr., who would allow a single, sacrifice fly, and two-run home run to give the Clippers the 6-4 lead. Alex Wilson came into the game after Pena allowed the home run and induced two ground-outs to end the inning. Pawtucket had five players record two hits, including Nava, Hassan, Pedro Ciriaco, Mauro Gomez, and Will Middlebrooks

Making his second rehab appearance, and first with the Sea Dogs, Matsuzaka was able to improve on his first start and lead the Sea Dogs to a 9-1 win over the Reading Phillies (PHI). Daisuke set down the first 7 batters he faced, and allowed only 3 hits in his 4.2 innings of work. He allowed only 1 run while walking 2 and striking out 7. The Sea Dogs were able to give him plenty of run support as well, in what was one of their best offensive showings of the year. Portland pushed across two runs in the third on an RBI double from Reynaldo Rodriguez and RBI single from Oscar Tejeda. The offensive onslaught continued in the fourth, as Portland scored four more times. Ryan Dent and Derrik Gibson had an RBI apiece before Rodriguez knocked the Phillies starter out of the game with a two-run single. Rodriguez, Dent, and Dan Butler all had two hits to lead the Sea Dogs offense. Second baseman Heiker Meneses had to leave the game after diving to catch a line drive in the top of the third. While there is no word on the severity of his injury, Zach Gentile tweeted that he was heading to Portland.

Salem won its fourth game in a row, squeaking by the Carolina Mudcats (CLE), 3-2. In what was by far his best start of the year, Ryan Pressly tossed 6.0 innings allowing 2 runs on 3 hits, walking 1 and striking out 6. Salem gave Pressly an early lead when Xander Bogaerts singled to score Sean Coyle in the top of the first. Salem added to its lead in the second when Jackie Bradley, Jr. hit a deep fly ball to the opposite field for a two-run double. Bradley, who has been one of the hottest hitters in the minors recently, is now batting .447 over his last ten games, and his 1 for 3 performance yesterday actually lowered his batting average on the season to .362. Felix Sanchez also had a good showing, going 2 for 3 with two stolen bases. Salem got 2.0 hitless innings out of Marco Duarte and 1.0 hitless inning out of Michael Olmsted to secure the victory. 

Greenville blew a late lead, and eventually lost to the Lakewood BlueClaws (PHI) 6-5 in 12 innings. Greenville took a 3-1 lead in the fifth when Keury De La Cruz connected for a two-run triple to right field. Lucas LeBlanc helped extend the lead in the sixth with a sacrifice fly, and De La Cruz provided another insurance run with a solo home run to lead off the top of the seventh. De La Cruz finished the game 3 for 7, while LeBlanc went 3 for 6. Ahead 5-1 going into the bottom of the seventh, Drive reliever Matty Ott came out for his third inning of work. After loading the bases on two singles and a walk, Ott gave up a grand slam to tie the game. The game remained tied until the twelfth, when Nefi Ogando came on in relief of Justin Erasmus, who had just thrown 4.0 scoreless innings. Ogando was not able to record an out, and the BlueClaws hit a walk-off single to win the game. Drive starter Jason Garcia threw the first 4.0 innings, allowing only 1 run on 1 hit while striking out 7. 

Player of the Day: Jason Garcia made his first start of the season after appearing strictly out of the bullpen. The results were solid for Garcia, who struck out 7 in 4.0 innings. The seventeenth-rounder in the 2010 draft will be nineteen all season, and will be an interesting arm to follow this season. 
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April 28, 2012 at 7:45 AM

Cup of Coffee: Salem shines in win, other affiliates struggle

4/28 Cup of Coffee: Salem, led by standout pitching and hot bats, was the only affiliate to pull off a victory last night in match ups for all the teams in the system.

Brandon Workman (Kelly O'Connor)
Pawtucket traveled down to Columbus and lost 4-1 to the Clippers (CLE). Columbus started things offensively when the scored 1 run off of Pawtucket starter Ross Ohlendorf in the first. Ohlendorf was able to keep them scoreless after that until the sixth when they got another run. Ohlendorf pitched 6 innings with 10 hits, 2 runs and 4 walks. The Clippers homered off of Andrew Miller, who came on in the seventh, adding 2 more runs. Miller pitched 1 inning for 1 hit, 2 runs, and 1 walk. In the eighth inning, Mark Melancon took the mound for the PawSox and pitched 1 inning with 1 hit, no runs, no walks, and 2 strikeouts. The Clippers' pitching kept the PawSox bats fairly quiet, with only Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway, and Josh Kroeger getting hits. Pawtucket's lone run of the night came when Kroeger homered in the fifth.

The Sea Dogs battled back-and-forth with the Reading Phillies (PHI) in a 5-4 loss at Hadlock Field. Portland got the first tallies of the game when they scored 2 runs in the second. Reynaldo Rodriguez doubled to drive in Bryce Brentz, and then Heiker Meneses singled to drive in Brentz. The Phillies answered in the third when they drove in three runs off of Portland starter Stomly Pimentel. Pimentel pitched 5 innings with 7 hits, 3 runs, and no walks. The Sea Dogs tied the game in the bottom of the fourth when Dan Butler singled to drive in Brentz. They took the 4-3 lead in the sixth when Juan Carlos Linares blasted a solo homer. Brock Huntzinger took the mound for Portland in the sixth and pitched 2 solid innings with no hits, no runs, and 1 walk. Huntzinger was replaced in the eighth by Aaron Kurcz, who was credited with the loss. He gave up a run in both the eighth and ninth innings, and overall pitched 2 innings with 4 hits, 2 runs, and no walks.

The Salem Red Sox had hot bats to support great pitching in a 7-2 win over the Carolina Mudcats (CLE) at LewisGale Field. Red Sox pitchers combined to keep Carolina scoreless until the eighth inning when they scored 2 runs. Starter Brandon Workman pitched 6 shutout innings with 3 hits, no walks, and 4 strikeouts. He was replaced in the seventh inning by Manuel Rivera, who was credited with the save. Rivera pitched 3 innings, giving up 3 hits, 2 runs, and no walks. It was also a good night for Salem's offense. The Red Sox drew first blood in the bottom of the second when Christian Vazquez was driven in by a Michael Almanzar single and Felix Sanchez grounded out to score Shanon Wilkerson. Salem picked up three more runs in the fifth inning when Almanzar, Sanchez, and Jackie Bradley  were all batted in. The Red Sox tallied their last two runs of the game in the seventh inning when Vazquez homered to score Travis Shaw and himself. All but 2 Red Sox batters had a hit in the game with Wilkerson and Almanzar each recording 2.

The Drive was shut out by the Delmarva Shorebirds (BAL) in a 6-0 road loss. The game was scoreless until the sixth inning when Delmarva tallied 4 runs. Greenville starter Miguel Pena had a good outing, throwing 4.2 innings with 2 hits, no runs, and 1 walk with 4 strikeouts. With one man on, Pena was replaced in the fifth with 2 outs by Hunter Cervenka. He finished out the fifth by striking out a Shorebirds' batter, but ran into trouble when he came back out in the sixth. Cervenka, who was given the loss, gave up a pair of doubles that each scored 2 runs. He pitched 1.1 innings for the Drive, with 3 hits, 4 runs, 4 errors, and 2 walks. Tyler Lockwood took the mound for Greenville in the seventh and struck out the side, but then let up 2 runs in the eighth when Delmavra's Nick Delmonico hit a 2 run homer. Lockwood pitched 2 innings with 1 hit, 2 runs, and 1 walk. On the offensive side, three Greenville batters combined for 4 hits. Keury De La Cruz had the best night at the plate with 2 hits.

Player of the Night: Salem starter Brandon Workman had a good night on the mound, pitching six scoreless innings with just 3 hits, no walks, and 4 strikeouts. His great start to the game helped the Red Sox on their way to a 7-2 victory.
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April 27, 2012 at 5:51 PM

Rich Hill activated; Justin Thomas optioned to Triple-A

Left-handed reliever Rich Hill will be activated tonight, according to WEEI.com's Rob Bradford. The Providence Journal's Brian MacPherson confirms that Hill has a spot in the locker room. In the corresponding roster move, fellow lefty Justin Thomas has been optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket.

Hill's conversion to the bullpen had been going extremely well, with 15 consecutive scoreless appearances between 2010 and 2011, until he tore the UCL in his elbow on June 1, necessitating Tommy John surgery. The 32-year-old Milton, Mass. native has made 8 rehab appearances this April beween Greenville, Salem and Pawtucket, pitching 9.0 innings, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits, while walking 2 and striking out 18. 

Thomas, 28, made the major league club out of spring training in his first season in the Red Sox organization. He appeared in 7 games, allowing 4 runs on 10 hits in 4.2 innings, with 2 walks and 4 strikeouts.
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at 5:22 PM

Pimentel to be activated, will start tonight in Portland

Stolmy Pimentel (Kelly O'Connor)
Portland announcer Mike Antonellis is reporting that right-handed pitcher Stolmy Pimentel will be activated from the disabled list and will start tonight for the Sea Dogs. In a corresponding roster move, righty Michael Lee was released. Pimentel will start in place of Brock Huntzinger, who is moving to the bullpen per Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press Herald.

Pimentel, 22, is taking his second crack at the Double-A level. He began the 2011 season with Portland but struggled mightily in 15 starts, going 0-9 with a 9.12 ERA, striking out 30 and walking 23 in 50.1 innings pitched. A mid-season demotion to High A Salem seemed to help get him headed back in the right direction, as he finished up 6-4 with a 4.53 ERA, with 35 strike outs and 16 walks in 51.2 innings. Tonight will be the 2012 debut for Pimentel, as he had been out since a lat strain early in Spring Training.

Lee, 25, was an eighth-round draft choice in 2008. He had some success in the lower minors early on in his Sox career, but had struggled to make the transition to Double-A. Going back to last year, he had a 5.87 ERA in 96.2 innings with the Sea Dogs.

Huntzinger, a 2007 second round draft pick, has shown promise, but his recent results have been poor. After a 2011 season where he went 5-11 with a 6.17 ERA in 25 starts, Huntzinger began 2012 0-4 with a 9.19 ERA. The Red Sox hope a move to the pen will get his career back on track.
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at 12:33 PM

Weekly Notes: April 27th

This week's minor league notes:

  • Long-time prospect Michael Bowden was traded to the Chicago Cubs this week along with a player to be named later in exchange for outfielder Marlon Byrd. Bowden, a supplemental first round pick in 2005, ended his Red Sox minor league career with a 42-32 record with a 3.19 ERA in 690.1 innings pitched. 
  • Rich Hill (Kelly O'Connor)
  • Assistant General Manager Mike Hazen talked with the Providence Journal's Brian MacPherson about Bowden's development in the Red Sox system and his belief that the right-hander still possess major league stuff. 
  • A bit of good news for the weary Red Sox bullpen, left-hander Rich Hill is expected to be recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket this weekend after completing his rehab assignment. Hill has appeared in 8 games with Low-A Greenville, High-A Salem and Pawtucket, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits while striking out 18 in 9.0 innings pitched.  
  • Reliever Mark Melancon made his Pawtucket debut this week, appearing in 3 contests, not allowing a run in 3.1 innings pitched while striking out 6 and picking up a save. Melancon spoke to the Boston Herald about his early season struggles
  • Will Middlebrooks continued to make noise with his hot start, hitting .395/.477/.947 with 6 home runs and 18 RBI in his last ten games. While the Red Sox top prospect has impressed at the plate, he caught up with Pawtucket broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith to discuss his defensive prowess. 
  • Middlebrooks' stellar performance thus far has some fans wondering why the third baseman has yet to receive a call up to Boston. WEEI's Alex Speier discusses why Middlebrooks spending time in Pawtucket is for the best. 
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka, returning from Tommy John surgery, tossed 4.0 innings for the Salem on Monday, allowing 3 runs on 6 hits while striking out 3. Matsuzaka will make his next rehab start tomorrow afternoon for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs. 
  • SoxProspects Senior Editor Matt Huegel and Special Contributor Elizabeth Dreeson checked in with news and notes on the Pawtucket Red Sox. Huegel and Dreeson catch up with Alex Wilson, who discusses his recent move to the bullpen as well as Pedro Ciraco and Alex Hassan
  • Huegel also talked with right-hander Aaron Cook about his stellar start to the 2012 season and his impending opt-out deadline. 
  • Alex Wilson (Kelly O'Connor)
  • SoxProspects Director of Scouting Chris Mellen gives the scouting take from Wilson's first relief appearance as a professional. 
  • In what was perhaps the most publicized minor league game of the week, top prospects Matt Barnes and Dylan Bundy squared off against each other in a Tuesday night match-up between Low-A Greenville and Delmarva (BAL). SoxProspects Senior Columnist Jon Meoli took in the action and chronicled the evening
  • Meoli also talked with left-hander Henry Owens, who is making his professional debut in 2012 after being drafted in the supplemental first round of the 2011 amateur draft. 
  • Right-hander Luis Diaz was placed on the 7-day disabled list for Greenville. SoxProspects Digital Correspondent Jonathan Singer reports that Diaz underwent an MRI on his pitching elbow.  
  • Pawtucket's nine-game winning streak was snapped Wednesday night in a loss to Scranton Wilkes-Barre (NYY). The winning streak included the first time in team history that the PawSox have swept back-to-back four-game series. The team sits at 15-6, 2 games ahead of second place Lehigh Valley (PHI). 
  • Pawtucket's reignited offense is due in part to first baseman Mauro Gomez. In his first season with the Red Sox organization, Gomez has hit .347/.398/.720 with 7 home runs and 20 RBI. 
  • Earlier this week the Red Sox signed catcher Mike Rivera to a minor league deal. Rivera, 35, spent 2011 as a member of the Triple-A Nashville Sounds (MIL), hitting .238/.315/.399 with 7 home runs and 31 RBI. In 15 minor league seasons, Rivera is a career .262/.319/.465 hitter. 
John Gray is a Senior Writer for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnRGray
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at 7:45 AM

Scouting Scratch: The read from McCoy

-Jose Iglesias still tends to get too far out on his front foot when trying to handle secondary offerings. With all of his weight committed, the head of the bat drags through the hitting zone and he has trouble squaring breaking balls up. In one recent plate appearance, Iglesias got a hanging curveball, but had opened up too early with his hips and could only carve the ball out to right field for a lazy flyout. The pitch was in a good spot for him to drive. Iglesias has also looked indecisive. Despite his plus batspeed, he has been in-between pitches and jammed consistently with fastballs to produce weak contact during scouting looks. His lack of trust in his batting eye shows as he hesitates when attacking pitches instead of being comfortable to let his swing flow.

-Alex Hassan looked much more relaxed at the plate against Triple-A pitching during this go-around than earlier in the season. Hassan stayed back well to put good swings on two fastballs and drove both hard back up the middle. While Hassan’s swing is on the long side, he has learned how to be quicker with his swing load to clear through offerings on the inside of the plate with greater frequency. Sharp breaking balls, especially ones away, do give him trouble. Hassan’s defense in the left field has been on the shaky side. He does not get the best of reads off the bat and has around average range. His defensive value is limited and he is more of a tweener offensively. How well he can continue to adjust to advanced pitching will be a strong determining factor as to whether he can get a shot to stick at the major league level down the line.   

-Che-Hsuan Lin’s offensive development has been at a plateau. He has reverted back to some bad habits that had been cleaned up while in Double-A too. Lin has been lunging frequently at off-speed pitches, resulting in a lot of off-balanced swings and weak contact created. In three of his four plate appearances during this look, he was diving out at the ball. Lin’s swing dragged considerably to cause the head of the bat to dip under the ball and produce weak contact in the air all three times. His swing path also showed too much downward movement when trying to drive a fastball in a 2-1 count. Despite hitting the ball well, it was beaten into the ground for a one-hopper to the third baseman. Lin can provide above-average defense in centerfield for a major league team, but his light bat makes it tough to see him in anything more than a fifth outfielder’s role.

-Ryan Lavarnway’s batting eye is ahead of Triple-A pitching. Lavarnway did get fooled by a couple of secondary offerings to swing over the top of them, but he turned in four solid plate appearances during this look. He showed the type of patience at the plate that should enable to him have quality at-bats when he gets the chance at the major league level. His swing has also looked fluid. The challenge for Lavarnway is getting pitches to hit. Opposing pitchers have been apt to stay away from feeding him fastballs and instead try to nibble consistently. When he finally did get a fastball in the zone, he just missed hitting it out to dead centerfield. His bat will be tested by big league pitching, especially on the inner-third, but he looks beyond the level when in the batter’s box.

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen
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at 6:20 AM

Cup of Coffee: Bradley's hot hitting leads Salem

4/27 Cup of Coffee: It was a lighter night of action on the farm, as Pawtucket and Portland had days off. The remaining affiliates split, with Salem picking up a victory over Wilmington and Greenville falling to Delmarva.

Jackie Bradley, Jr. (Kelly O'Connor)
Salem took a 4-1 victory over the Wilmington Blue Rocks (KC) to manage a split of their four game series. Wilmington took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a pair of doubles off starting pitcher Miguel Celestino. That was all of the offense the Blue Rocks would manage though, as Celestino had an excellent outing, finishing his 6.0 innings allowing just that 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 3 without allowing a walk. Salem tied the game when Xander Bogaerts led off the second inning with his second home run of the season. They rallied for two more in the third to take the lead. Adalberto Ibarra singled and scored on a double by Carson Blair followed by a Jackie Bradley, Jr. single that scored Blair. Salem added an insurance run to take a 4-1 lead in the fifth as Bradley reached on a bunt single and scored on a Travis Shaw double. The bullpen took charge from there, with Jeremiah Bayer tossing 2.0 scoreless innings, allowing only 1 hit, and Michael Olmstead throwing 1.0 inning, also allowing 1 hit and striking out 1 to pick up his third save. Bradley's continued offensive outburst was the big story for Salem, as he went 4 for 4 with a run scored and an RBI to bring his season line up to .371/.476/.484. The.476 OBP leads the Carolina League. Travis Shaw also had a nice evening for Salem, going 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI.

Greenville managed only three hits in a 5-1 loss to the Delmarva Shorebirds (BAL). Drive starter Madison Younginer got off to a shaky start, giving up four runs in the first, but he settled in after that, not allowing a hit after the first, and retiring the last nine batters he faced. Younginer's final line was 5.0 innings, allowing 4 runs (3 earned) on 4 hits, walking 2 and striking out 5. Scott Swinson pitched the final 3.0 innings, allowing a run on 3 hits, 1 walk and 3 strikeouts. Greenville's only run came in an inning where they did not get a hit. Henry Ramos led off the top of the seventh inning with a walk. He stole second base, and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Ramos then came in to score on a sacrifice fly by Nick Natoli. Garin Cecchini, David Renfroe, and Boss Moanaroa each managed one hit apiece for the Drive. Greenville will attempt to salvage a split of the four-game series tonight.

Pawtucket, whose nine-game winning streak came to an end Wednesday, had the day off before they begin a ten game road trip this evening in Columbus, where they will play a four game series with the Clippers. Portland had its first off-day since April 8, and will host Reading for a three game series beginning tonight.

Player of the Night: Jackie Bradley, Jr. continued to swing a red-hot bat, going 4 for 4. He finished the series against Wilmington 9 for 16 with 3 walks, a double, a triple, and  4 runs scored. He has reached base safely in twelve consecutive games, and scored a run in eight straight.
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April 26, 2012 at 11:22 PM

Bonus babies pan out

It’s no secret the John Henry ownership group has had its share of hits and misses when it comes to long-term major league contracts, whether free-agent acquisitions or re-signing of homegrown Red Sox players to extended deals. The same has been true with high-profile signings in the amateur and international markets -- there have been some great acquisitions that have paid dividends for years, and others that didn’t live up to the hype. The current ownership group has given signings bonuses of $1 million or more to 25 different amateur or international players since December 2001, all of which are listed [after the jump] by bonus amount. Decide for yourself, but it seems to me that the front office has had a better rate of success with “bonus babies” than it has with major league deals. 
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at 3:02 PM

PawSox Notebook: Melancon and Tazawa swap spots

Mark Melancon was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket after struggling through four big league relief appearances and posting a 49.50 ERA. Junichi Tazawa, who is coming back for his first full season since having Tommy John surgery at the beginning of the 2010 season, was called up in his stead.

“It happens to a lot of people where guys just get off to rough starts and confidence is so much a part of what we do with hitters and pitchers, and that’s a tough thing to shake,” Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler said on Melancon. “He just got off to a tough start and he needs to get going and get some positive things to happen.”

“I’m going to talk to him and see what he feels has been going on and what he thinks he needs to work on so I can get his perspective before I try to do anything,” catcher Ryan Lavarnway said. “He’s here to get his confidence back up, and I’m going to do what I can to help that.”

In 7.0 innings with Pawtucket this season, Tazawa did not give up any runs, struck out nine batters, walked two, and gave up five hits.

“[Tazawa] keeps a very high level of focus, and he’s got four pitches that he can throw for strikes,” Lavarnway said. “I think that’s what makes him dangerous is that when [he] can control that many pitches and throw them where [he wants], it really keeps the hitter off balance.

“If [he goes] up and can throw all those pitches for strikes and keep it down in the zone, I think he will be successful.”

Since joining the big league club last week, Tazawa has thrown 3.0 scoreless innings, giving up only one hit. Since joining Pawtucket, Melancon has thrown 3.1 innings, giving up three hits, no runs, and striking out six.

Alex Hassan rebounds from early woes

After starting off his season 0 for 17, Alex Hassan has batted .294 with 10 hits, 9 RBI, and an OBP of .415 since that stretch.

“I feel like I had some good at-bats [at the beginning of the season] and hit some balls hard, but they just didn’t fall,” said Hassan at the tail-end of his slow start. “It’s still early. I haven’t had that many at-bats where it’s really time to press the panic button.”

Hassan saw a lot of success in Double-A Portland in 2011, where he batted .291 with 75 hits and 64 RBI and posted an OBP of .404.

On his adjustment to Triple-A, Hassan said, “At the end of the day it’s the same game. The pitchers still need to throw strikes, and if they throw it over the plate, I need to make something happen. I don’t think it’s necessarily that the level of competition is much greater. It’s just a matter of being successful and making something happen when they throw strikes.”

Pedro Ciriaco makes his return

After a fantastic spring training with the big league club, Pedro Ciriaco, who was signed as a minor league free agent in the offseason, spent time on the seven-day DL with an oblique injury. A stint during which the Red Sox called up fellow utilityman Nate Spears. Had he not been hurt, it’s possible Ciriaco would have been the one to get the call.

The 26-year-old returned to the PawSox lineup on Monday though, and batted leadoff in the designated hitter spot. He went 0 for 3 in his first outing, but Beyeler said after the game that the idea was just to “get him some swings.” After a day off, Ciriaco hit a home run and had a walk in five plate appearances Wednesday, while playing in the field at second base.

Ciriaco does have past major league experience, playing in 23 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season where he batted .303.

Ciriaco said that one of the hardest things about his time with the Pirates was being shuttled back and forth between Triple-A Indianapolis and the majors because he didn’t get to play on an everyday basis. Nevertheless, he still values his time with the big league club and learned a lot from his experiences.

“I feel more comfortable now,” he said. “I just have to prove myself so I can play in the big leagues and do my job over there and just try to be consistent.”

Ciriaco said he knows that his speed and the consistency of his defense in the middle of the infield could be key to getting back to the big leagues.

“I just have to keep doing what I did in spring here in Triple-A, and I know I can do [the same thing at the big league level].”

Alex Wilson takes on new challenge

Alex Wilson is arguably on the cusp of the majors, but it is likely that he will find his opportunity out of the bullpen instead of the rotation. Though he came up through the system as a starter, many predicted his ultimate role to be as a reliever, and the conversion was officially made on Tuesday.

The role of reliever seems to suit his fastball-slider combination well, and may put him on the fast-track for a promotion to The Show. His first relief appearance Tuesday had mixed results though as he allowed an earned run on two hits in his inning pitched. Director of Scouting Chris Mellen was at the game and broke down the outing in his most recent The Book entry.

Wilson dominated the lower levels of the minor leagues--skipping Greenville entirely--but struggled in his initial call-up to Double-A Portland, where he posted a 6.66 ERA over 78.1 innings pitched with a 1.65 WHIP.

“That’s the biggest jump in the minors. It was just a lot of learning how to pitch rather than just throw,” Wilson said. “You can’t just blow fastballs by everybody. You have to learn how to pick your spots, when to use it, when not to mix your speeds up, and you have to be able to locate at all times.”

Wilson was able to take what he learned from his struggles in the second half of the 2010 season and applied it to a successful 2011 season with Portland. He posted a 3.05 ERA over 112 innings, struck out 99 and posted a 1.25 WHIP. He earned himself an end-of-the-season promotion to Triple-A, but has seen mixed results thus far this season.

Pair of southpaws returning to form

Left-handed relievers Rich Hill and Andrew Miller are both nearing the end of their 30-day rehab periods and, for the most part, making it hard not to give them a shot in majors.

Hill had great success at the major league level last season, allowing no runs in 8.0 relief innings before undergoing Tommy John surgery in June. Already well ahead of the normal recovery time for the surgery, he is doing everything he can to force his way into the Boston bullpen.

Opponents are just 5 for 32 hitting against him during the rehab stint with 18 strikeouts in half as many innings pitched. Mellen saw him in his outing on Tuesday and wrote that his stuff looked back to form. Hill made another appearance Wednesday, which was his first time making back-to-back appearances this season.

Miller is rehabbing from a hamstring strain suffered during spring training, and while he has a 5.68 ERA at Triple-A in 6.1 innings pitched, he has been solid minus one bad outing. He also has an impressive 12 strikeouts, but is still battling the control issues that have plagued him throughout his career, as he has allowed 10 walks.

On Monday he had a 1-2-3 seventh inning against Durham with two strikeouts. Beyeler talked about the improvement he’s seen from the 6-foot-7 lefty after the game, saying, “[Pitching coach] Rich [Sauveur] talked to him a little bit and he took some adjustments out there as far as slowing down, staying back a little more. He stayed a little squarer and didn't fly as much. He got on top of the ball a little more today and when he gets on top of the ball, he's pretty nasty. When he's flying open and the elbow's dragging, you have to make some adjustments.”

Odds and Ends

Pawtucket ended a nine-game winning streak with a loss on Wednesday. The streak tied a franchise record … During that streak the PawSox swept back-to-back four-game series for the first time in their history … Garrett Mock and Will Inman lead the team in saves with two apiece. Mock had not allowed an earned run until allowing four on Wednesday while blowing the save and ending the team’s winning streak … Jose Iglesias has batted second in every game he’s played this season … Will Middlebrooks has batted sixth or fifth in every game this season, likely to prepare him for the spot he will end up occupying in a big league lineup ... Lavarnway played catcher in 62 of the 116 (53.4%) minor league games he appeared in last season, so far this season he’s caught in 15 out of his 16 games (93.8%) … The lineup that has begun the game was the exact same one that finished it for the PawSox every time but once this season (pinch runner, April 11).

Elizabeth Dreeson and Matt Huegel contributed to this report. Elizabeth is a Special Contributor for SoxProspects.com. Follow her on Twitter @Eli_Dreesox. Matt is Senior Editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.
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at 10:11 AM

The Book: Alex Wilson

Date: April 24, 2012
Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
Line: 1.0 innings, 2 hits, 1 earned run, 1 strikeout, 19 pitches

Fastball: Wilson’s heater worked 91-93 mph and topped out at 94 mph during this appearance. His fastball showed late finish when he kept it down in the zone, but he struggled to command the offering and it was mostly flat as a result. Wilson grabbed too much of the fat part of the plate and left it up during sequences as well, with opposing batters getting good swings on it. Three of the four balls put into play came against his fastball. In one instance, Wilson tried to get a 92 mph fastball inside on Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s Ramiro Pena, but he left it at the belt in the middle of the plate and it was lined into right field for a ringing single. He again couldn’t finish his delivery to throw his fastball downhill to the next two batters, with both able to elevate heaters in the upper tier of the strike zone for deeper flyball outs to centerfield. Wilson’s best fastball was his last pitch of the night. Finishing on top of the ball in this instance, he painted the inner third of the plate with a 92 mph fastball to catch Jayson Nix looking to end the frame. This one, as opposed to most of his others, showed late downward movement as a result of Wilson finishing through his delivery.

Slider: This pitch lacked its usual bite in the outing. Sitting 82-83 mph, Wilson had trouble creating strong rotation and did not have much feel for it. He snapped off one lone sharp slider at 83 mph, which resulted in a swinging strike and had the opposing batter pulling off the ball. This slider had tight, late break to fall off the table at the last instance. The other five he threw never started with the appearance of being a strike or floated at the tail-end, rather than darting. Wilson hung an 0-1 82 mph slider to Brandon Laird that resulted in a hard one-hop single into left field and got away with another slurvy one that was taken for a strike later in the frame. Both lacked strong depth. The rest started out too low and ended up bouncing in the dirt. There was not enough deception created with these offerings and he held onto the ball too long when snapping them off. They were made even easier to take by the fact that his fastball was elevated all outing. Similar to when throwing his fastball, Wilson rushed through his delivery and could not keep his hand above the baseball to generate the type of rotation necessary to allow him to be consistent with the pitch.

Take: This is the second time I have seen Wilson throw in a relief setting as a professional. Although the first time was in last year’s Double-A All-Star game and in an exhibition environment, the patterns were similar. Wilson came out in this appearance rushing his delivery. As a result, he could not command his fastball well or keep the ball down. He looked a little stiffer than usual when throwing too, which made it tougher to create fastball velocity. His body appeared out of sync. Wilson’s four-seamer flattens out in the upper tier of the strike zone, which makes it important for him to finish his delivery consistently. He needs to pick his instances to elevate his heater carefully to avoid solid contact in the air. Wilson’s slider plays up much better when he makes opposing hitters respect the lower tier of the strike zone. Even with a crisper one during this outing, he was not creating enough variation with the eye level or getting ahead of opposing batters to force them to swing.

Wilson’s fastball and slider combination can play up well in a relief role. This is what his stuff is best suited for in the long run at the major league level. Given this was his first appearance out of the bullpen since transitioning, I expected him to be a bit on the rough side and need some time to get acclimated. When Wilson does not rush through his delivery, he is able to consistently throw to spots on both sides of the plate and generate better fastball velocity. In short bursts, his fastball can touch up to 97 mph. The key going forward is reeling in the pace of his delivery when relieving. This will allow him to finish fully and eliminate the wavering release point he showed in this outing. Both the command of his arsenal and crispness of the slider depend on this aspect. After a few more outings out of the bullpen, I see Wilson having a better handle on how he needs to execute in this role and can begin to show he is trending towards a future seventh inning reliever at the big league level.

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen
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at 7:45 AM

Cup of Coffee: Britton picks up first win in Salem victory

4/26 Cup of Coffee: Drake Britton picked up his first win, pitching 5 scoreless innings for the Salem Red Sox after having a rocky start to his season.

Drake Britton (Kelly O'Connor)
The PawSox gave up 4 runs in the ninth inning for an 8-4 loss against the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees (NYY) at McCoy Stadium. Daniel Nava kickstarted Pawtucket's offense when he blasted a two run homer in the first. The PawSox increased their lead to 5-0 in the third inning with a solo shot by Pedro Ciriaco and a two run home run by Will Middlebrooks, his 9th of the season. Starting pitcher Doug Mathis was able to keep the Yankees scoreless through 3 innings, but ran into trouble when he allowed 3 runs in the fourth and 1 run in the fifth. Mathis pitched 5 innings for 4 hits, 4 runs, and 2 walks. He was replaced in the sixth inning by Andrew Miller who gave up no hits, no walks, and 1 walk. Rich Hill took the mound for Pawtucket in the seventh and was perfect through one inning. Will Inman came on for one inning in the eighth and allowed just one hit, no runs, and no walks. However, it was the ninth inning that would cause the PawSox trouble. Pitcher Garrett Mock gave up 2 hits for 4 runs and had 4 errors and 3 walks. With two outs in the top of the ninth, Mock was replaced by Chorye Spoon, who gave up 1 hit, no runs, and no walks. Pawtucket attempted a rally in the bottom of the ninth, scoring 1 when Tony Thomas scored off of a Nava sacrifice fly. At the plate, just 6 batters had hits, 4 of whom recorded multiples. Nava was the only PawSox to have three hits on the night.

Portland rallied for 5 runs in the ninth inning to clinch a 7-3 road win over the New Britain Rock Cats (MIN). The Rock Cats drew first blood, scoring 2 in the first and 1 in the second. Portland righty Chris Balcom-Miller started on the mound and pitched for 5 innings, recording 4 hits, 4 runs, and 3 walks. Balcom-Miller was relieved in the sixth by Eammon Portice who pitched 2 innings, allowing just 1 hit, no runs, and 1 walk. Charle Rosario continued to shut down Rock Cats batters in the eighth and ninth, recording just 1 hit, no runs and no walks. Offensively, the Sea Dogs recorded 1 run in both the fourth and fifth innings. In the fourth, Reynaldo Rodriguez scored after a New Britain wild pitch, and in the the fifth Dan Butler was driven in by a Derrik Gibson single. Facing a score of 3-2, Portland rallied in the ninth and drove in 5 runs. Jeremy Hazelbaker scored on a Butler single, Ronald Bermudez crossed the plate after a Heiker Meneses single, and Butler and Meneses both scored when Juan Carlos Linares singled. The last run of the evening came when Kolbrin Vitek scored off of a New Britain throwing error. Every member of the lineup for the Sea Dogs except Hazelbaker, who came on as a pinch runner in the ninth, recorded a hit. Gibson had 3, while Bermudez, Butler, and Meneses each had 2.

After a rough last outing, Britton came through for the Salem Red Sox and got his first win of the season in a 4-1 decision over the Wilmington Blue Rocks (KC) at LewisGale Stadium. Britton, who has had a rocky start to the season, allowing 18 runs in 12.1 innings pitched before last night's outing, had a great outing for the Red Sox. He pitched 5 innings, with just 1 hit, no runs, 2 walks, and 7 strikeouts. At the plate, the Red Sox gained a 2-0 lead in the fourth when Shannon Wilkerson singled, scoring Michael Almanzar and Christian Vazquez. They recorded another run in the fifth when Travis Shaw crossed the plate after being advanced by a Wilkerson ground out. To start off the sixth, Andrew Jones came in to relieve Britton, and pitched 2 innings, allowing 3 hits, 1 run, and 1 walk. The Red Sox recorded one more run in the sixth inning when Sean Coyle singled to score Jackie Bradley. Pitcher Ruben Flores took the mound for Salem in the eighth and threw 2 innings for only 1 hit, no runs, and no walks, striking out 3.

It was a hot night at the plate for the Drive in their 9-4 victory over the Delmarva Shorebirds (BAL) at Perdue Stadium. Greenville picked up their first runs of the game in the second inning when Keury De La Cruz reached home on a Delmarva fielding error and Jordan Weems singled to drive in Nick Natoli. The Shorebirds answered in the bottom of the second with two runs of their own off of Greenville starter Henry Owens. The Drive scored again in the third when Garin Checcini was driven in by a David Renfroe single. In the top of the fourth, the Drive tallied 3 more runs when Cody Koback tripled, scoring 2. Koback then crossed the plate after a Delmarva wild pitch. Owens ran into trouble in the bottom of the fourth inning when he loaded the bases with 2 outs. Owens pitched 3.2 innings for the Drive with 5 hits, 2 runs, and 3 walks and was replaced by Yeiper Castillo. Castillo got them out of that inning, and pitched 3 more, recording 4 hits, no runs, and 1 walk. The Drive scored 3 more in the seventh inning when Renfroe blasted a 2 run shot and Henry Ramos scored after Weems grounded out. Nefi Ogando took the mound for the Drive in the eighth, and pitched 1 inning with no hits, no runs, and no walks. He was replaced by Justin Erasmus in the ninth, who recorded 1 hit, 2 runs, and 1walk. It was a multiple hit night for four members of the drive, including Renfroe who had three.

Player of the Night: Drake Britton, who started for Salem, pitching 5 innings with just 1 hit, no runs, and 2 walks. Britton recorded his first win after having a rocky start to his season.
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April 25, 2012 at 3:54 PM

Owens fans seven in short outing

Henry Owens (Kelly O'Connor)
SALISBURY, MD. – Greenville left-hander Henry Owens recorded his best statistical start of the season in the Drive’s 9-4 win over Delmarva (BAL) Wednesday morning. Owens went 3.2 innings and struck out seven, but allowed two runs on five hits and three walks to lower his season ERA to 10.05.

On the positive side, Owens’ seven strikeouts on the day make it four straight starts with seven or more. 29 of the 43 outs he has recorded have been on strikeouts.

But again, Owens didn’t make it past the fourth inning, and only escaped a fate similar to his first three starts—a late barrage of runs—when Yeiper Castillo got out of a bases-loaded jam to end the fourth. Owens exited the game after 77 pitches—44 of which were strikes. Castillo picked up the win with 2.1 innings of scoreless relief.

“I just fell behind a few batters late, but I felt good,” Owens said after the game. “I’m just trying to get through that fifth inning. I think through the first two innings, I was at 47 pitches, so after that, I started calming down. Early in the game, I’ve got to establish my fastball, try and get guys out in three pitches or less, and pitch to contact.”

Owens struck out the final two batters of the first inning, the first swinging at a hard curveball in the dirt and the last on an elevated 91 mph fastball. But the Shorebirds were on Owens’ fastball early, fouling off several in the first two at-bats of the game to send him into the dugout having thrown 24 pitches in the first.

Owens threw 23 more pitches in the second, opening the frame by throwing a backdoor curveball for a called third strike to right fielder Michael Planeta. But a five-pitch walk and a single to left field put runners on with one out, and shortstop Sammie Starr plated both when he pushed an off-speed pitch the other way into right field for a two-run single.

The 19-year-old left-hander struck out left fielder John Ruetigger on an 0-2 curveball to open an 11-pitch third inning. After a five-pitch walk, Owens posted his sixth strikeout of the game on a backdoor 70 mph curveball. He picked off the runner at first one pitch later.

The fourth was where Owens ran into trouble. He gave up back-to-back singles to open the inning before picking up his final strikeout of the night, this time on an elevated 91 mph fastball. He coaxed a pop-up to second baseman Nick Natoli on the first pitch of the next at-bat, but even after an encouragement visit from catcher Jordan Weems, Owens walked his final batter of the game on four pitches and ceded to Castillo.

After the game, Owens, who was drafted out of Edison (Cal.) High School with the 36th overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft and signed for $1.55 million, lamented his early exit.

“Establishing my pitches will essentially bring down my pitch count,” he said. “The only thing I’m trying to do is give the team a chance to win, so if I can get to the fifth inning and we have a lead, that’s all I’m trying to do.”

Owens featured a low-90s fastball and worked his changeup off that pitch, but also utilized two different curveballs in the outing.

“If I think they’re looking fastball, I’ll throw (the curve) a little slower to see if I can get them out in front of it or to take one,” Owens said. “Then with two strikes, sometimes I’ll throw it a little harder and spike one in the dirt.” The former, Owens' “get-me-over” curve, was between 69-71 MPH, while the harder one sat in the mid 70s. Early in the start, Owens struggled with commanding his off-speed pitches.

“I was coming out curveball out of my leg kick,” he said. “When I’m coming out curveball, it’s going to drift on me and float on me. I’ve got to stay fastball longer. I talked to (Greenville pitching coach Dick Such) and got on top of it in later innings.”

Such said repeating his mechanics is going to be key to Owens keeping his pitch-count low and throwing deeper into games.

“He’s been showing flashes, but his concentration level falls off at times,” Such said. “Mechanically, he’s long and lean, and to repeat his delivery is not consistently there right now. When he does, he shows you some outstanding stuff… (But) he’s young and he can’t repeat his mechanics enough. He threw a lot of pitches for the time he was out there.”

Jon Meoli is a Senior Columnist for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli
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at 1:58 PM

Spears clears waivers, outrighted to Pawtucket

Nate Spears (Kelly O'Connor)
Infielder Nate Spears has cleared waivers after being designated for assignment on April 21 and been outrighted to Triple-A Pawtucket.

The 26-year-old Spears went hitless in 4 at-bats with Boston and returns to Pawtucket where he was 6 for 26 with 5 runs scored and 2 RBI in 8 games this season. He joined the Red Sox organization in 2010 and had a stellar season for Double-A Portland, hitting .272/.380/.463 with 20 home runs and 82 RBI. 
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at 1:30 PM

Players of the Week, April 16-22

Will Middlebrooks (Kelly O'Connor)
This week's Player of the Week votes were won by a pair of no-doubters: Will Middlebrooks and Matt Barnes. Both are on winning streaks, back-to-back for Middlebrooks and three in a row for Barnes.

Middlebrooks powered himself to Player of the Week honors with 4 home runs, all hit in consecutive games against Syracuse and Durham. He also hit .409 with a .458 batting average and knocked in 11 runs. On the season, Middlebrooks is hitting .375/.430/.778 with eight home runs, 3 doubles and a triple. His .375 batting average is sixth-best in the International League at the time of this writing. The last hitter to win consecutive player of the week awards was Miles Head in 2011.

From the outset there was little question that Matt Barnes was going to be the Pitcher of the Week, but rather the question was by how much he would win. Barnes took the hill at Lexington last Wednesday and turned in another stellar performance, holding the Legends scoreless over 6.0 innings, allowing only 3 hits, striking out 9, walking none and earning the win. In four starts so far in 2012, Barnes owns a 2-0 record, having allowed a mere nine hits (.125 average against) over 21.0 innings of shutout work, striking out 34 and walking four. Barnes becomes the second pitcher to earn three consecutive Pitcher of the Week honors after Clay Buchholz did it in 2009.

Middlebrooks and Barnes are currently ranked as the first and fourth prospects in the Red Sox organization by SoxProspects.com, respectively.
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at 9:41 AM

Barnes extends scoreless streak in no decision

Matt Barnes (Kelly O'Connor)
SALISBURY, MD. – Greenville right-hander Matt Barnes was every bit the equal of Orioles top prospect Dylan Bundy on Tuesday night, matching zeroes with Bundy en route to a no decision in the Drive’s 4-2 loss at Delmarva (BAL).

Barnes struck out nine in 5.0 scoreless innings for the Drive, ceding just three hits and walking two on the night. While operating within a tight strike zone, he threw 54 of his 77 pitches for strikes and through 21.0 innings, kept his season ERA at 0.00.

“I thought it was pretty good,” Barnes said after the start. “I pounded the zone early with the fastball, and I was able to make pitches when I had to.”

After Bundy opened the game with a pair of strikeouts in the top half of the first, Barnes responded with two of his own. He fanned leadoff batter Glynn Davis on three pitches, punctuated by a 95 mph fastball on the outside corner for a called third strike. After a single to right field and a fly-out the same way, Barnes got catcher Gabriel Lino to chase a 77 mph curveball for his second strikeout of the frame.

A one-out double on a grounder down the first base line in the second inning gave Delmarva one of its two runners in scoring position against Barnes, but the 22-year-old out of UConn sandwiched a pair of strikeouts around his first walk of the game to get out unscathed.

Greenville pitching coach Dick Such said he was most impressed with Barnes’ handling of runners on base in the outing.

“You’d think when you put up all those zeros, you might panic when you get some base runners, but he had five tonight and he worked his way around them and did a nice job,” Such said.

Barnes picked up two more strikeouts—and a second walk—in the third inning, and was at 48 pitches through three. But it was his fourth inning that was Barnes’ most impressive. He struck out the side on 15 pitches—picking up swinging strike-threes on each—to give him nine in the outing.

The only other blemish of Barnes’ evening came with two down in the fifth, when Davis singled up the middle and advanced to second on a balk, but Barnes ultimately got out of the inning unscathed.

Seven of Barnes' nine strikeouts came via his fastball, which sat between 93 and 96 mph and topped out at 97 twice. Throughout the evening, Barnes spotted his fastball on the corner well and left the Delmarva hitters guessing. Of his 54 strikes, 19 were called strikes on fastballs—many of which came in at the knees on either edge of the plate.

When he commanded it, Barnes’ curveball was sharp and deceptive, but he threw the pitch for a strike only twice and just missed the edge on two others. When he struggled, the pitch started low and ended in the dirt. He said command of the pitch has been good thus far, but was frustrating Tuesday.

“Even if it was a good pitch, it wasn’t where I wanted it,” he said. “Sometimes my arm lagged behind a bit, but overall, I can’t really complain. The off-speed stuff has been pretty good all season.”

Such said they’re also working on adding Barnes’ changeup into the mix so he’s used to throwing it as he advances in the system. Against the Shorebirds, Barnes threw half of his eight changeups for strikes and worked the pitch in more frequently the second time through the lineup.

But as the front office has said throughout the young season, Barnes, an advanced college pitcher, is in the South Atlantic League to get used to the five-man rotation and the routines of professional baseball. Barnes said the transition has been “pretty smooth.”

“The trainers have been doing a good job helping me,” he said. “We’ve been taking care of everything, conditioning, side sessions, and things like that.”

Such agreed that the progression is going well, and that unlike other pitchers he’s seen in Barnes’ situation, Barnes has been under control in each of his starts.

Specifically, Such said that at this young stage in his career, Barnes compares favorably to fellow college ace Anthony Ranaudo, who spent the first two months of last season in Greenville before his promotion to Salem—a path many assume Barnes will mirror.

Through four starts, Ranaudo had a 0.46 ERA in 19.2 innings pitched. He was ultimately promoted to Salem after 10 starts with a 3.33 ERA.

“I think Barnesy may be, with his ERA the way it is, ahead of Ranaudo at this stage, but when Anthony got on his game and started angling the ball down, good things started to happen,” Such said. “That was about the only difference. Ranaudo was up in the zone a little bit to start with last year, and Barnes is down in the zone. I think they’ve both got outstanding stuff, and I think both of them have got a bright future ahead of them.”

Jon Meoli is a Senior Columnist for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli.
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at 8:30 AM

Cup of Coffee: Barnes, Tejeda shine in losing efforts

4/25 Cup of Coffee: With many eyes on the marquee pitching matchup in Delmarva, Pawtucket grabbed the lone victory of the evening as the remaining affiliates lost close battles. 

Oscar Tejeda (Kelly O'Connor)
A four run fourth inning and solid relief pitching propelled Pawtucket to a 4-3 victory over the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees (NYY). Brandon Duckworth received the start for the PawSox and tossed 4.0 innings, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits and a walk, striking out 3. Clayton Mortenson picked up the victory for his 2.0 innings of flawless relief, punching out 3. Alex Wilson added an inning of relief, allowing 1 run on 2 hits in his first professional appearance out of the bullpen. Rich Hill added a scoreless inning out of the bullpen and Mark Melancon struck out the side in the ninth to earn the save. Down 2-0 in the fourth, Pawtucket struck for four runs on a Daniel Nava solo home run, a Mauro Gomez two run blast and a Josh Kroeger RBI double. Despite the Yankees chipping away for a run in the seventh, the Pawtucket bullpen stifled the remainder of Scranton’s rallies to earn the victory. Gomez’s home run was his sixth of the season, good enough for third in the international league behind teammate Will Middlebrooks and Toledo’s (DET) Brad Eldred

Despite a solid start on the mound and a quick five run lead, Portland fell to the New Britain Rock Cats (MIN), 7-6. Billy Buckner had a tremendous night on the mound for the Sea Dogs, tossing 6.0 innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits and a walk while striking out 11. Jeremy Kehrt followed Bucker but was unable to duplicate his success, allowing 5 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks in just 0.2 innings. Will Latimer received the loss for his 1.1 innings of relief, allowing 1 run on 2 hits and a walk, striking out 3. A run scoring double play and an Oscar Tejeda RBI double in the first inning gave the Sea Dogs a quick 2-0 lead. After New Britain responded with a run in the bottom half of the first, Ronald Bermudez led off the second inning with a solo home run to give Portland back its two run advantage. In the third, a Tejeda two run home run and a Jeremy Hazelbaker RBI single widened the Sea Dogs lead to 6-1. The Rock Cats staged a two out rally in the seventh, tying the game 6-6 as seven straight hitters reached base. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, New Britain walked off with a victory as Nathan Hanson doubled in the winning run. Tejeda was 3 for 4 a double, home run, run scored and 3 RBI to pace the Sea Dogs offense. 

A back-and-forth contest did not break the Red Sox way as Salem was clipped by the Wilmington Blue Rocks (KC), 4-3. Keith Couch received the start for the Red Sox, tossing 4.0 innings, allowing 3 runs on 8 hits while punching out 4. Pete Ruiz received the loss as he allowed 1 run on 2 hits while striking out 6 in his 4.0 innings of relief. Down 3-0 in the fifth, Salem cut Wilmington’s lead to one as Brandon Jacobs laced an RBI single and Xander Bogaerts smacked an RBI double. Jackie Bradley’s RBI double in the sixth tied the game, 3-3. The Blue Rocks plated a run in top of the ninth to reclaim the lead while the Red Sox left a runner on third in the bottom half of the inning to secure their second loss in a row. Travis Shaw, Bogaerts and Michael Almanzar each had two hits to lead the Salem offense. 

A special match up on the mound lived up to its billing, but the Delmarva Shorebirds (BAL) ultimately flew away with a 4-2 victory over Greenville. Two 2011 first round selections squared off on the mound as Dylan Bundy and Matt Barnes went toe-to-toe in the early portion of the contest. Bundy tossed 4.0 perfect innings for the Shorebirds, striking out 6 and extending his hitless innings streak to 13.0. Barnes was equally impressive for the Drive, tossing 5.0 innings, allowing 3 hits and 2 walks while punching out 9. Jason Garcia followed Barnes out of the Greenville bullpen, allowing 2 runs on 2 hits and a walk while punching out 3 in his 2.0 innings of relief. Tyler Lockwood picked up the loss for Greenville as he allowed 2 runs on 2 hits and a walk in his lone inning of relief. Down 2-0 in the seventh, Bryan Johns’ RBI single cut the Shorebirds lead in half, 2-1. Greenville would tie the game up the next inning as Henry Ramos laced an RBI single. The knotted affair did not last long, as the Shorebirds plated two runs in the bottom half of the eighth to take home the victory. 

Players of the Night: Matt Barnes and Oscar Tejeda, who both provided stellar efforts for their teams in losing efforts. Barnes tossed 5.0 shutout innings against Delmarva, allowing 3 hits and 2 walks while striking out 9. Tejeda went 3 for 4 with a double, home run, run scored and 3 RBI in Portland’s 7-6 loss to New Britain.
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