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Red Sox 7, Pirates 4: Kuhl Game, Bro

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We have stooped to name based puns. That’s where we are in the doldrums of spring training.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Andriese was originally tabbed to start today’s game against the Pirates, but unfortunately, as you may have heard, Matt Barnes contracted COVID and Andriese is undergoing contact tracing and is thus unavailable for the ball game. Getting the honor of starting this mostly meaningless spring training game is A.J. Politi, who has been a name I’ve long been curious about.

For those unintroduced, Politi was largely a career reliever (who made a few starts) in college for Seton Hall. His debut season was okay, but his 2019 in Salem stood out to me. He pitched 78 23 innings in 33 games, lowered the amount of baserunners he gave up despite tougher competition, and struck out 11 batters per nine innings. Right now, I would say he has two pitches that he can reliably use: His fastball and his slider. Both are above average pitches by my estimation. He also has a changeup that may give him a chance to be a swing-man/opener type in the major leagues one day. I imagine he starts out in Double-A this year.

MLB: Boston Red Sox-Media Day USA TODAY NETWORK

The Pirates went with Chad Kuhl starting today, a man who has only known the Pirates organization. He has had a deceptively fine career, being a league average pitcher largely for his career. He faces a Red Sox lineup that has most of the projected opening day starters, save for Christian Vázquez, Xander Bogaerts, and perhaps Franchy Cordero.

Now, Politi is still a minor-league pitcher thrust into action against a major-league team. The worst major-league team sure, but a major-league team. He showed this in the first inning. A bloop single to Kevin Newman, followed by a steal of second that never really had a chance of going the Red Sox way, and a Bryan Reynolds single that was hit too hard to score the runner from second, had the runners on first and third with one out. Politi came back and struck out Gregory Polanco (while Reynolds advanced to second without a throw). Phillip Evans flew out to get Politi and the Red Sox out of a jam.

The Red Sox, for their part, had their first scoring chance in the second. Rafael Devers led off the inning with a walk and Hunter Renfroe followed withanother a walk. While this Red Sox team is definitely more built to dingers than contact, they can still take a walk and will hurt you that way if you let them. Marwin Gonzalez made the Pirates pay. The Red Sox drew first blood on a slap single that snuck between the second baseman and shortstop for a 1-0 lead. One is all they would get in the second inning, but a lead is still a lead, even in spring training.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Atlanta Braves Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Politi was good in his second inning of work, but three innings was probably too much to ask for. Kevin “Red Sox Killer” Newman had another single, and Bryan Reynolds had one of his own. Gregory Polanco continued the death by a hundred paper cuts technique by, you guessed it, slapping a single that scored Newman from second, tying the game. Phillips Valdez would be the Politi replacement. New pitcher, same result, a pop up into the sun for the second time in the inning would bring in the go ahead run for the Pirates. Then a chopper got a hold of Rafael Devers; this should have ended the inning, but instead it resulted in the third run for the Pirates in the inning. Mercifully, the inning ended.

In the bottom of the fourth, Kevin Newman came up again, and I am getting sick of Kevin Newman. Kevin Newman hit a double that Alex Verdugo could just not corral over his shoulder in center field. The fun thing is, at least it is not just the Red Sox, Newman had an absurd .727/.750/.909 triple slash in 9 spring training games entering today’s action.

Phillips Valdez was a long shot to make the 2021 Red Sox out of spring training, and today’s play did not help him make any in-roads there. Valdez was removed for Kyle Hart shortly after the Pirates took a 4-1 lead, and Hart retired the remaining batter to stop the bleeding.

Things would be quiet until the 6th inning, when the Red Sox struck back with a vengeance. To start the frame, Alex Verdugo hit a single to left field. After a J.D. Martinez strikeout, Rafael Devers singled on the first pitch of the next at-bat. Hunter Renfroe, known for his big power bat singled on the ground to score the runner from first (now Michael Gettys as the starters began to be removed from the game). A Marwin Gonzalez walk loaded the bases for Bobby Dalbec.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Atlanta Braves Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

He didn’t hit a dinger, but he did the next best thing today. He hit a pop up to the outfield, which has been absolutely deadly. Turns out it’s not just the Red Sox who can’t field pop ups in the sun. Anthony Alford missed the ball in center field, and two runs scored to tie the game. Then Christian Arroyo provided his own base hit to score Jeter Downs (in for Marwin Gonzalez). Kevin Plawecki laced a ball to center field, where Alford made another miscue defensively that allowed the runner from second to score.

The ninth batter of the inning would be Gilberto Jimenez, who put in a few healthy cuts that would have landed the ball on Mars if he’d both made contact and put it in fair territory, but he chased a ball almost in the dirt. You would be excused for thinking this would result in a double play, but I have a secret for you. Jimenez is really fast. It wasn’t even that close. One out on the play, at second, but the Red Sox successfully batted around, thanks to some poor defense from the Pirates. On the force out, another run scored, putting the lead at 7-4. Unfortunately, Jimenez, while fast, is not the greatest base stealer. He got caught stealing second base, and the inning ended before more damage could be done.

Pitching the 7th inning is the suddenly incredibly important Hirokazu Sawamura. He is more important now in the wake of the Matt Barnes COVID news, as he will be asked to get key outs along with Adam Ottavino in the early phase of the season, if not longer. His first opponent of the afternoon ended up being the man nobody can get out: Kevin Newman. And he got him out. Sawamura for reliever of the year, am I right? Other than a walk, the rest of his outing was pretty uneventful, which is generally how you want things to go. Sawamura did end up hitting 97 mph which was pretty cool, if you are into that sort of thing. His pitches showed a lot of movement, but his control wasn’t quite perfect. In a few ways, he actually reminded me of Matt Barnes.

The last pitcher for the Red Sox on the afternoon, naturally was Matt Hall. Even after last year, I cannot escape games he pitches in. Just when you think you are safe, you get roped right back in. It must be fate. Hall promptly gave up a soft base hit to the first man he faced, before striking out top prospect Liover Peguero on 7 pitches. Then he struck out Tony Wolters too. Anthony Alford absolutely crushed a double the other way that almost had enough to get out of the yard, putting a runner on second and third. It was quite Dalbec-ian even. Brian Goodwin walked, putting the tying run on first. The bases were loaded. And in stepped pinch hitter Hunter Owen (who was last seen in Triple-A in 2019, where he hit .192/.297/.325 in 42 games). Owen gave it a ride, but thankfully the ball stayed in the yard.

It took almost 30 pitches against the Pirates, but Hall lowered his spring training ERA to 9.00, and the Red Sox won a ball game.

They go for it again tomorrow, when they take on the Twins. Unlike today’s action, the game will be televised on NESN (and that alone will make the game more fun).

The Good

  • Hirokazu Sawamura looked pretty decent. We will need him early.
  • Offense did what the offense does. Capitalize on mistakes. And the Pirates made a lot of them.
  • Line will say otherwise, but I liked Politi’s stuff a little bit. Think there may be something there in the future.

The Bad

  • Phillips Valdez is not having a fun time out there.

The Mixed

  • Gilberto Jimenez needs to work on his reads on the base paths. He has the speed to beat out an infield play, but still gets caught stealing way too much for a guy of his speed.