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MIke Shalin's Working Press: Sox rotation may have sprung leak

By MIKE SHALIN
July 16. 2018 9:51PM

Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez delivers a pitch during the first inning earlier this month against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)



When your team is 68-30 at the All-Star break, there is no reason to point to any one real problem looking down the road.

But it’s the nature of the Boston-area sports fan to find the negative — and that’s why we’re here.

The Red Sox, long thought to be in need of a bullpen arm and perhaps a right-handed bat at the trade deadline, have sprung a bit of a leak in the starting rotation and that may be where Dave Dombrowski’s focus could be in these final days of July.

Drew Pomeranz is rehabbing — and struggling — in the minors. Steven Wright is struggling with the same knee problem as Dustin Pedroia. And now, Eduardo Rodriguez is down after that play at first base on Saturday.

That leaves Chris Sale, who starts his third straight All-Star Game tonight, David Price, Rick Porcello and … Brian Johnson? Answers have to be found and found rather quickly — the need, of course, depending on how long Rodriguez will be out or the status of the other two.

“There is some serious damage to the (right) ankle,” Manager Alex Cora said Sunday. “No surgery required. He is going to have a boot for two weeks and then we will re-evaluate after that. Some ligament damage, yeah.”

How’s that for a crimp in your 68-30? Sale was named Monday as the All-Star starter and is part of a field for the early Cy Young leaders. While J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts are currently 1-2 in the MVP picture, Sale has plenty of company among Luis Severino, Corey Kluber, Gerrit Cole, etc. and that would be a race to watch.

Biggest lead

Meanwhile, the Red Sox’ 4 ½-game lead over the Yankees is their biggest of the season as the race to avoid the play-in game and then road disadvantage in an ALDS between the two rivals heats up. The Yankees should get stronger going forward when Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres come back — and you know they’ll trade for a starter and perhaps even a reliever.

Will they trade for Manny Machado? Will the Red Sox trade for him? Machado was removed from Sunday’s game in Baltimore and the social media world erupted. A trade must be imminent, right? Wrong. They took him off the field because the field was wet and this isn’t the best time to get the guy hurt.

However, it does appear there’s a very good chance Machado will be dealt before Friday’s play resumes. Where is the only question.

Machado wants to play shortstop in the future. But he knows he may well have to play third for the rest of this season before free agency. “It’s out of my hands,” he says, knowing he has no control over a trade or the orders of his new employer.

Impressive stuff

Back to the 68-30. A look at the post-game Sox notes from Sunday: “THE RED SOX earned their ML-leading 68th win of the season ... Are 4½ games ahead of NYY in the AL East, their largest lead of the season.

• Their .694 winning percentage is the second-highest in franchise history entering the All-Star break, trailing only the 1946 club (.701, 54-23).

• Marks the 11th-best win percentage by any team entering the All-Star break, the highest since SEA in 2001 (.724, 63-24).

• Their 68 wins are the most by any team ever before the All-Star break (previous: 65, 1969 Orioles).

• Are tied for their most wins ever through 98 team games...Also went 68-28-2 in 1946.

• Marks the first time they have recorded 68 wins over any 98-game stretch since 1949.

• Are the fifth team in the Expansion Era (1961-present) to win as many as 68 of their first 98 games (last, SEA in 2001)...Each of the previous four finished the regular season with over 100 wins, averaging 109.0.

• Are the 20th team in MLB’s Modern Era (1900-pres.) to win as many as 68 of their first 98 games...Of the previous 19, 17 went on to win their league’s pennant (89.5 percent), and 11 (57.9 percent) won the World Series.

• Have won 12 of their last 13 games ... Improved to 40-16 (.714) in their last 56 games, including a 17-3 mark in their last 20.

• Have won 10 of their last 11 games at Fenway Park ... Enter the All-Star break with the best home record in the majors (34-13, .723).

• Won their fourth straight series entering the All-Star break, improving to 22-7-2 in series this season ... Are 25-6 in series finales this year.

• Are 8-1 in their last eight games vs. the Blue Jays ... Hold a 10-3 advantage in the season series, clinching a season-series victory.

• Improved to 32-13 (.711) vs. their divisional opponents this season, including a 18-5 record (.783) against AL East clubs at home.

• Have won eight straight day games and 18 of their last 20 ... Own the ML’s best winning percentage in day games this year (.828, 24-5).

By the way, do you realize the Sox have now had stretches of 17-2 and 17-3? “We’ve had an amazing first half,” says Craig Kimbrel, who is 30 for 32 in save chances.

Kimbrel was extra excited for his seventh All-Star appearance. He was taking 8-month-old daughter, Lydia Joe, to Washington. The baby survived two open heart surgeries during the offseason.

Days are past

Sorry, but it says here the Home Run Derby has outlived its shelf life in these eyes. I like Betts’ suggestion that we should see some sort of NHL-like skills competition. No, we don’t mean Zdeno Chara hitting a fastball. We means getting the guys out there to flash different skills, like running, throwing, etc.

Hey, it’s All-Star week — the four worst days of the baseball season. And Thursday night, when there’s no All-Star festivities and no ESPYs, is the absolute worst day of the sports year.

Papi likes it

David Ortiz managed in the Futures Game and sang the praises of the Red Sox.

“These guys’ offense is ridiculous. We’ve had years where we’ve had that type of offense, but it’s like we’re expecting two or three hits from Mookie (Betts) and J.D. (Martinez) every night.”

Asked about Betts, he said, “(He) is always hungry. This guy, even when he’s doing well ... he wants to do better. That’s the kid that I saw coming up with us. Mookie goes two days without getting things done the way he likes it and he starts going crazy. Sometimes, people believe that you only learn from the veterans. No. You learn from guys like him. Me watching him acting like that, me being the veteran, I was like, ‘Man, I like that.’”

Ortiz, who joked he lost “500 hits” to the shift, feels bad for old friend Pedroia.

“Pedroia is so frustrated right now,” Ortiz said. “Everybody who knows Pedroia knows that the guy loves being on the field. Not being able to, because of his knee, I can tell you is killing him. It is just killing him. Hopefully things get better so he can go back on the field so we can watch the little guy that we know.”

On tape

Martinez is having an incredible first year in Boston and credit the use of iPads that tape his batting practice — so he can go back to the clubhouse and see what he’s done.

“It makes me who I am,” Martinez told buddy Ken Powtak of The Associated Press. “I always tell everybody that I’m not a natural hitter. I’m a trained hitter.

“I had to teach myself the proper swing and the mechanics that I have to do. I have to stay on top of it because my body will find a way to let 10 million swings I’ve taken when I was a kid slowly come back in. So I have to grind away to get out of the bad habits.”

Martinez heads back to Detroit with the Red Sox for three games this weekend (followed by three in Baltimore). Comerica Park is known as a pitchers’ haven, but here are Martinez’s numbers at the place he used to call home: .318, 58 homers, 163 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 235 games.

Martinez, who signed a five-year contract with the Red Sox, but has opt-out clauses after the second, third and fourth seasons, was asked Monday if he’d like to erase those clauses.

“Absolutely,” he said in Washington, where he will be the cleanup hitter for the American League. “It obviously would have to be discussed later. I’ve liked my time there. It’s been fun so far, so I don’t see why not.”

He clearly appreciates the environment he now calls home — even with all the media attention he didn’t have to deal with in Houston, Detroit or Phoenix.

“(It’s) the fans, the passion, the environment you get to play every day in,” he said. “They love their baseball and love their team. They’ll die with them and they’ll live with them.”

The Red Sox are 25-3 in the games Martinez has smashed his 29 home runs.

Ryan Brasier impressed the Red Sox with a fastball that hit 96 on the gun in spring training. In his first game up with the Sox last week, he hit 97 — and Sunday was clocked at 99. He could be a find.

Finally, Betts, talking about long-term plans involving Boston, said Monday:

“I love it in Boston. So I think you’ve just got to cross that bridge as it comes. Right now, I’m enjoying every moment that I’m here.

“Boston’s got a lot to offer. It’s just a matter of getting out there and seeing it. It’s kind of tough when you have a game every day. But there’s a lot of things Boston can offer that you’ve just got to get out there and see. You have to do it more in the offseason, but it’s definitely fun.”

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com.


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