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Athletics 8, Red Sox 3: Velázquez Fails to Impress

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It was not a good first outing, and with Price on the mend, he might not get a second chance for a long time.

Boston Red Sox v Oakland Athletics
Hector Velázquez was not very good tonight in his MLB debut.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Today, the Red Sox witnessed the Major League debut of Hector Velázquez, a 28-year-old pitcher from Mexico who the Sox acquired from the Mexican League over the off-season. The debut was met with much excitement, at least among the writers of this blog, although expectations were tempered. It’s safe to say, anyone watching this game could tell you that even those tempered expectations were not met. Velázquez didn’t see the 6th inning, and gave up over two base runners per inning.

He would go toe to toe with Sonny Gray, a pitcher whom some have forgotten recently. Once a highly discussed trade target for the Red Sox, injuries and inconsistency since have dimmed his star, somewhat. Still only 27 years old, he entered today’s start, with a respectable 3.78 ERA in 3 starts. Nevermind that he wasn’t striking guys out, and that his FIP was 5.20, he was at least pitching like a big leaguer again. In his career against the Red Sox, Gray has struggled (5.40 ERA, in 16.2 IP entering today’s start). Unfortunately for the Red Sox, the only struggles Gray would have in the game would be early on. After the first, Sonny Gray began to pitch like it was 2015 again.

Mookie would get the game started with a hard hit single, and things would escalate quickly, as bad defense at shortstop (Adam Rosales) and third base (Trevor Plouffe) would allow him to advance to third on a weak ground ball by Dustin Pedroia (Pedey would be safe at first as well in the exchange, highlighting an inability to get even an acceptable result). Hanley Ramirez would then literally fall over swinging, and manage a hit to give the Sox an early lead. After walking Mitch Moreland to load the bases, Sonny Gray would face-off against Chris Young (playing for the resting, and slumping, Andrew Benintendi). One long sac-fly later, a second run would score. After a 31-pitch inning, Gray would escape, and the man they call Hector would get a chance to shine.

Boston Red Sox v Oakland Athletics
No, Hanley isn’t hurt. This is Hanley mustering a single where he literally fell over during his follow-through.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Velázquez’s first appearance resulted in a single to Rajai Davis. But Vazquez (who is now part of Vazquez and Velázquez, the new tag team) would throw him out almost instantly. Following a walk to Matt Joyce, a wild pitch would allow Joyce to move into scoring position with only one out. Not that it ended up mattering, as Jed Lowrie would muscle up, and hit a good curveball at the bottom of the strike-zone for a home-run, tying the game.

Boston Red Sox v Oakland Athletics
Jed Lowrie appeared to have Velázquez’s number in this game.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Then Khris “Khrush” Davis, would live up to his nickname, and crush a ball over the right-center field wall, to put the Red Sox behind. The pitch to Davis was not as good as the pitch to Lowrie was, and Velázquez paid the price.

After a mound visit, Velázquez would buckle down, striking out Ryon Healy and forcing Steven Vogt to ground out. After 31 pitches of his own, the first inning would finally conclude for both parties.

Gray would have a solid shutdown bounceback. He would allow a long fly-ball that would be caught against the fence in center-field, but get two quick ground-outs as well, that would get Gray off the hook.

How would Velázquez respond? He would strike-out Trevor Plouffe, then force Chad Pinder (who I wasn’t aware was in the major leagues) to ground out, and get Rosales to pop up, resulting in his own solid bounce-back inning. Just like that, it looked like a baseball game would be had. Crisis would be averted, for at least one inning.

The third inning would be mostly uneventful, until a foul ball would hit the umpire, hard. Of course, the Red Sox were pitching. Once things settled down, a long triple would get stuck underneath the fence in the outfield, which resulted in a Rajai Davis triple, that you could argue was either a double, an out, or a triple. It was a very confusing string of plays, that resulted in an out, somehow. The Aceves smiled upon the Red Sox for once, and baseball, and life, would go on.

Velázquez would find himself in trouble again, shortly, after Deven Marrero’s attempt at the play of the year at third base. Failing to hold onto the baseball, Jed Lowrie would line another hard shot into right field, to give the Athletics a runner at first and second with only one out.

Boston Red Sox v Oakland Athletics
Velázquez would struggle at times on the mound, and be bailed out by spectacular defense, especially at third base.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

But in what would become a confusing twist of fate, for the 2017 Red Sox, the defense would bail him out. And boy, was the defense impressive early on, spearheaded primarily by Deven Marrero. With how weak the position has been, both offensively, and defensively, it was nice to see some legitimate hustle and good play out of the position.

Mitch Moreland would start the fourth inning with a long solo-shot, tying the game up. And boy, did the ball fly. 412 feet to be precise. Now, the Red Sox have an open 40-man roster spot, after the DFA of Chase D’arnaud, and the move of Steven Wright to the 60-day DL. There’s some speculation that the open slot could be used on either Sam Travis or Rafael Devers. Whether I believe that’s the case is a topic for another day. But if Moreland continues to hit like he has, the Red Sox may be more willing to save that roster spot until someone needs it down the line.

The tie was not long-lived this time, either. Velázquez would give up an early hit in the bottom half of the fourth, to Healy. And this time, Velázquez didn’t settle down. He would give up a double to Trevor Plouffe, that would score Healy, and follow it up by allowing Chad Pinder to destroy the baseball, and the Red Sox’s participation in the game. After the ball eventually landed 428 feet later, the Red Sox would be down 6-3.

Sonny Gray would lock things down in his half, and suddenly, the Red Sox chances of winning the game started to look relatively bleak. With Gray pitching well after a poor first inning, Moreland solo-shot aside, the Red Sox would need to go back to the drawing board, to find a way to get back into the game. With Velázquez struggling, and the pen likely to be involved in short order, the time to act was sooner, rather than later.

Entering the 5th inning, the expectations for Velázquez changed from “get through 5 innings without giving up too many runs” to “get through 5 innings at all”. Thankfully, Velázquez would provide his second good inning of the afternoon, showing a much better ability to handle major league hitting. There’s something there, but it just wasn’t there tonight. Having thrown 101 pitches through 5 innings, his night would be concluded.

Five innings, nine hits, two walks, six earned runs, on three big home-runs, all stand out as negatives. The lone positive to be found was that he was able to muster four strikeouts in his outing, which isn’t awful, but isn’t really enough to outweigh what he did wrong. For those who buy into single-game FIP samples (you shouldn’t because that’s a ludicrously small sample size) will look at the 10.44 FIP, and wonder what happened. I’m kind of wondering too (the obvious answer is that he wasn’t locating, and he was hanging his changeup/fastball), because while I had tempered my expectations, I didn’t expect what we got.

Now, I’m not low on Velázquez. I think he was put in the wrong role for 2017. But Velázquez has the potential, and ability, to be a back-end major league starter. It is worth noting the sheer mileage on his arm in recent years. In 2016 alone, he threw 246.2 innings, and he got a very brief period of time off between that and 2017 Spring Training. With 29 innings under his belt at the AAA level, already, he seems on pace for 140-160 IP, dependent on health, and whether or not he is moved to the pen (my personal recommendation).

Boston Red Sox v Oakland Athletics
The defense was able to bail out Velázquez time and time again, yet he still finished with a poor line for the ball game.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

All of this said, Velázquez was not sharp today, and it showed. His second inning notwithstanding, he simply did not have any swing and miss stuff, and was giving up hard contact all night. He probably won’t be making any starts at the major league level for the foreseeable future, with Price coming back, and Pomeranz seemingly not needing surgery, and Brian Johnson solidly ahead of him on the depth chart (my belief is Johnson wasn’t called up because of a desire to keep his schedule perfectly synched long-term).

Sonny Gray, meanwhile, would continue to find his groove, and manage to get through the sixth inning, with 103 pitches on his scorecard, ending his night. After the 31 pitch first inning, Gray would throw 72 pitches over the next five innings, for an average of 14.4 per. All told, it was a solid start for the opposing pitcher, even though the Red Sox offense definitely did its job early in the game.

Coming in for Velázquez would be Robbie Ross, and just like that, the pen would be relied upon to make up for the short outing from the spot starter, likely to be sent down following the game. If not for David Price, then for Brian Johnson, or another spot starter.

Naturally, when one thing goes bad, other things have to as well, so Ross gave up a walk and a single, and then threw the Sox second wild pitch of the outing, moving two men into scoring position, with not one out to speak for. The first out would come courtesy of a Chad Pinder strikeout, but would lose a similar battle with Adam Rosales, driving the score to 7-3. A sharp shot to third would make the score 8-3, but not for lack of effort; Marrero would almost start his second stellar double play of the game, only foiled by the speed of Rajai Davis. Ross would force a Matt Joyce fly-out that would stop the bleeding.

Boston Red Sox v Oakland Athletics
During the 6th inning, the deficit expanded from 6-3, to 8-3. What was once a winnable game had completely spiraled.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Liam Hendriks would be called upon to be the man to keep the Red Sox from spoiling Sonny Gray’s night. As Bradley flew out to left field, and as Vazquez softly grounded out, it was suddenly on the hero of the day, Deven Marrero, to do something else heroic. Unfortunately, Marrero would not be made of actual magic, and be set down on strikes.

Matt Barnes would be the third pitcher of the evening for the Sox, and suddenly a low-risk game of roulette was on. With Barnes, you never know which pitcher you are getting. After being pretty much perfect in his first 7 games, he’s had an 8.34 ERA in his last 10 appearances.

There is one thing Barnes would do that no one else today had been able to. Strike-out Jed Lowrie. It was a weird thing, seeing the suddenly inhuman Jed Lowrie looking like a human again. After a brief hiccup, where he would allow Davis to khrush a single, he would repeat his strikeout act, this time taking down Ryon Healy. A mile high pop-out from Stephen Vogt would end the inning, without any damage, marking, if you can believe it, the fourth inning of scoreless baseball from either side in this ball-game (up until this point, the only runs scored were in the 1st, 4th, and 6th innings).

Former Sox prospect Frankie Montas would make his first career appearance against the Red Sox. After a quick fly-out from Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia would get the motor started, in a late comeback attempt. With Xander Bogaerts coming up in a potentially key situation, Montas would walk him on five pitches, with only one of them anywhere near the strike-zone.

Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Frankie Montas, a former Sox prospect, made his first appearance against the Red Sox. Montas would strike out one, and get Mookie to fly out, but did leave the game with two runners on base, in the midst of a rally. One that would be squashed by Daniel Columbe.
Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

This would be the best opportunity the Sox were going to have to get back into this game.

The role of game-changer would shift to Hanley Ramirez. After a wild-pitch that would be recovered quickly enough by the catcher, Vogt, Montas would come back with a quick strike, and a long foul ball, that just barely got into out-of-bounds territory between third base and left field. One 87 MPH slider later, Hanley would be retired, and Montas’ night would be done.

The A’s would bring in Daniel Coulombe to face Mitch Moreland, hoping to play the handedness game. This is a game that the Athletics would win. Moreland would hustle down the line, but a weak grounder that hit into the shift was no match for the Athletics, and the Red Sox were retired, needing to score 5+ runs in the 9th. With three outs remaining, time was running out for the Red Sox to do much of anything.

Matt Barnes would attempt to give the rest of the bullpen the rest of the night off, which was much appreciated in a game where the starter struggled to get through five innings. Entering the 8th inning, down by five, there was really no reason to burn another pitcher if you didn’t need to. And with Pedroia removed from the game (deep inhale), the white flag was seemingly waved.

Division Series - Boston Red Sox v Cleveland Indians - Game Two
While Matt Barnes isn’t the best pitcher in the Sox bullpen, he’s one of the few you can turn to, to go two innings in a completely lost game. Mop up guys like that do have value in today’s game.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

He would quietly strike out three of the four batters he would face in the 9th, all three after a leadoff double by Trevor Plouffe. While almost nobody is going to look at this one game from late May, when evaluating Matt Barnes and his 2017, it’s worth noting that his presence was huge, to save the rest of the bullpen, even slightly. With his lock-down innings, one would be forgiven for believing Barnes could be trusted with more high leverage situations, at least until Carson Smith returns.

Ryan Madson would come out to finish off the Red Sox in the 9th, but Adam Rosales would give Sox fans one last brief glimmer of hope for the game, as he bobbled a swinging bunt that managed to make it to the shortstop. It wasn’t a bad defensive play, or anything, the ball took an awkward hop, but it’s still nice to believe something like that can go right, even when many things are going wrong.

One such thing almost happened again, as Jackie Bradley Jr would instantly line one of the hardest shots to the hot corner that we’d seen all game (exit velocity of 108 MPH). It would be snagged by Plouffe, who almost doubled off Young at first base, just like that.

This would only delay the inevitable, as a weak swing from Vazquez would give the Athletics an easy double play, forcing the Sox into the loss column for the game.

With this loss, the Red Sox drop to 21-19, 4 games behind the Yankees for first in the AL East, and tied with the Rangers for the second wild card spot (percentage points ahead, however). Chris Sale takes the mound tomorrow, which is as close as you get to a guaranteed good outing.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox
Get hyped.
Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

And after how hard the bullpen had to work tonight, Sale will feel rather appreciated with any sort of lengthy outing tomorrow.

The Good

  • Matt Barnes was effective for two innings, helping to save the rest of the bullpen from being used in this lost game.
  • Deven Marrero was a wizard defensively.
  • It was a day off for Andrew Benintendi who 100% needed the rest.
  • Chris Sale pitches tomorrow.

The Bad

  • Hector Velázquez was not good at all. There were two good innings in there, but the three bad innings were enough to make it clear that Velázquez isn’t ready to be a major league starter, and should either be moved to the pen for 2017 (for arm mileage purposes) or left in AAA as a “break glass in case of emergencies” option.
  • Weak offense. While three runs will be enough some nights, the Red Sox were completely quiet outside of two innings in the first half of the game. A late rally began to form, but was pretty quickly squashed, without a single run being scored to give the team a chance in the final inning.
  • Robbie Ross didn’t exactly look sharp, either. He either locks the other team down, or gives up 2 or 3 runs in one inning of work. No in-between, right now.

I want to end on a positive note, so let’s take a look at this picture, and have a good night, or good morning, depending on when you see this. Remember, no matter how bad things seem, the sun will come up in the morning for all to enjoy*. See you all, tomorrow. And as always, go Sox!

Boston Red Sox v Oakland Athletics
This is the best thing to come out of the game tonight.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
*unless there are clouds blocking the way

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