Rodriguez close to MLB return

Rodriguez_640_360_hpnsxn8o_bsrmxeyt[1]By Eddie Pannone

(photo via milb.com)

The Boston Red Sox have a hole in their starting rotation, and a man they were relying on coming into the season is ready to fill it. Lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez entered spring training as the projected number two starter behind David Price, but was placed on the disabled list with a right knee subluxation suffered shagging fly balls early in camp. The 23-year old made his third rehab start for Pawtucket Sunday afternoon in what should be his last minor league tune-up.

In his first two starts the early innings had given Rodriguez problems, as he allowed three runs in each of his starts after two frames had been played. He got off to a fast start against the Rochester Red Wings in this one, as he struck Byron Buxton to start the game and induced a double play after allowing two singles in the first.

After a 1-2-3 second inning, the Wings broke the scoreless tie in the third. A nine pitch at-bat ended with a Buck Britton double and a Buxton groundout eventually brought him home and brought Rochester a 1-0 lead. Kennys Vargas added to it with a solo home run leading off the fourth and Buxton followed suit with a solo shot in the fifth.

Rodriguez ended his day pitching 5.2 innings while giving up three runs on six hits and one walk. He threw a season-high 93 pitches and topped out at 94 mph. Working off the fastball for most of the outing, he used his changeup, slider and recently added curveball as well. He induced many ground ball outs, but for the third straight appearance struck out less than thee hitters. With the exception of the two home runs, which went to the opposite field, Rodriguez didn’t let many balls get past the infield.

“He looked more comfortable today,” PawSox Manager Kevin Boles said post game. “There is definitely more flex in that leg and you can tell he is much more comfortable and confident in his landing foot. He is pitching down more consistently and the trust in his mix is better. Overall he did a terrific job.”

“I was thinking too much in my first start about my knee, but now I am thinking just about executing my pitches,” Rodriguez said after the game. “All of my pitches, all of my mechanics feel ready to go.”

When and where his next start will be is not yet known, but the expectation is that it will come sometime this week with Boston. Nothing that happened Sunday should change that plan.

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Buxton getting back to successful approach with Rochester

By Eddie Pannone

(Photo via Jim Donten)Jim Donten Buxton

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Baseball fans across the country have heard about Byron Buxton’s potential ever since the Minnesota Twins drafted the outfielder number two overall in 2012. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the 22-year old despite being the number one prospect in baseball for three years. He has dealt with various, unlucky injuries throughout his young career including a thumb sprain just two weeks into his first big league stint last year.

Fully healthy, Buxton started the season as the Twins’ centerfielder but struggled making contact. He hit just .156 and struck out in half of his at bats, leading the organization to option the future star to the Rochester Red Wings.

With the Red Wings, Buxton has some of the pressure lifted off his shoulders as he works through some of his problems. A true five-tool talent, there isn’t anything he can’t do well on the baseball field and has proven that during his time in the minors. The big-leagues are a different animal, and pitchers have been able to exploit the few weaknesses he has. While in Triple-A, focusing on reducing his strikeout rate and finding ways to get on base consistently to utilize his blazing speed is what he’ll be doing.

“It is getting better,” Buxton said of his strikeouts and approach at the plate. “I’m swinging at better pitches in the zone and being aggressive. Most of my strike outs here have been on pitches in the zone. I’m just trying to limit them and put the ball in play a little more.”

That was on display this weekend at McCoy Stadium, where his Red Wings took on the PawSox for a four game set. It was especially noticeable Sunday afternoon. Buxton struck out on a changeup from rehabbing Boston starter Eduardo Rodriguez. Two at-bats later he took that same pitch to the opposite field for a laser home run. His extra base power has been on display much more often since being sent down and is getting back to what made him the number one overall prospect.

“You have to go up there with a solid approach and stick with it. Slowly, it is coming back for me. I just try and stay gap to gap and put good swings on the ball. If it goes out it goes out. As the leadoff hitter I’m just up there trying to get on base and let my teammates drive me in.”

Perhaps we have all been spoiled with the amount of young talent that has come up over the last few years that we expect a talented youngster to come up and produce right away. That isn’t fair when we are talking about the highest level of baseball. For those even remotely concerned about Buxton, just remember that Mike Trout hit .220 in his first taste of the big leagues and that ended up working out just fine. More at bats and more experience will go a long way for Buxton, and it shouldn’t be a surprise if this is his last stint in the minors.

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Fisher Cats Walk Off in Home Opener

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER, NH)—There was not a single cloud in sight over Northeast Delta Dental Stadium on Thursday evening as the New Hampshire Fisher Cats hosted the 2011_Fisher_Cats_NH_LogoTrenton Thunder for their first official game at home this season.

New Hampshire’s Thursday evening tilt with the division-rival comes just one day after fans had the opportunity to see the hometown Fisher Cats play the Hartford Yard Goats in the Queen City, as the Fishers played a three-game series as the visiting team on their home turf, because Hartford’s stadium is still under construction. The Yard Goats organization is the newest in the Eastern League, as the New Britain Rock Cats (Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies) relocated twelve miles north to Connecticut’s capital city.

Things started off rough for New Hampshire, who gave up four runs in the top of the 1st inning. Trenton’s Dante Bichette Jr. hit a two-out RBI double, which was followed by a Juan Silva walk, and a two-RBI double from Kyle Higashioka, which got the Thunder a 3-0 lead after just half a frame.

New Hampshire countered in the home half of the second inning after K.C. Hobson doubled to center field, which scored Rowdy Tellez from third base. The Fisher Cats tacked two more runs in the next at-bat when Melky Mesa scored on a wild pitch, and Hobson scored on the same play due to a throwing error by Higashioka, Trenton’s catcher.

New Hampshire’s starter, Luis Santo, took the bump for the first time in his Double-A career after recently getting the call up from Dunedin (Advanced-A). The right-handed native of the Dominican Republic tossed 5.2 innings, giving up three hits, four runs (all earned), three walks, and struck out eight batters. It wasn’t a terrible debut for the twenty-five year old once he found his groove after a shaky top of the first inning.

The bats fell quiet through the middle frames for both teams, as both pitchers worked efficiently for their respective clubs. It was the Fisher Cats who finally broke the silence in the home half of the seventh inning when Jorge Flores hit a grounder to shortstop, which was errantly fielded by Cito Culver and allowed K.C. Hobson to score from third base. Two batters later, New Hampshire took the lead for good when Jon Berti connected on a line drive to left-field, which scored Wilkin Castillo and put the Fisher Cats on top by a score of 5-4.

Trenton’s excitement peaked with two outs in the top of the 9th inning, when Higashioka cranked a solo homerun out to centerfield that tied the game at 5-5, and forced extra frames.

It was the Fisher Cats who had the final celebration however, as in the bottom of the 11th inning, New Hampshire’s Rowdy Tellez walked with two outs, was replaced with pinch-runner Ian Parmley. The late-game substitution stole second base before he was knocked home by a Melky Mesa RBI-single to right field which won the ballgame by a score of 6-5.

New Hampshire reliever Will Browning (1-0) gets credited with the win, while Trenton’s Jonathan Holder (0-1)  is charged with the loss.

Opening Night at the ballpark also meant the big reveal of the results in the “We the Fans” contest. Fans had the opportunity to celebrate New Hampshire’s political history and importance by voting for which hat the team will wear with the jerseys on Opening Day. The two options were either a red hat with an elephant (to represent the Republican party), or a blue hate with a donkey (to represent the Democratic party). When the team took the field, they wore their red and blue bipartisan jerseys with the red cap.

With the victory, New Hampshire advances to 3-3 on the season, while Thunder falls to 4-3. The Fisher Cats are back in action tomorrow night, hosting Trenton for game two of the four-game series. First pitch is slated for 6:35 PM and southpaw John Anderson (0-0, 2.25) is expected to start on the hill for New Hampshire. Fans who make it to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium will receive a magnetic schedule giveaway, courtesy of Elliot Orthopaedics.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com. Follow him on Twitter: @pcava12.

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Vatrano off to amazing start for P-Bruins

By Eddie Pannone

PROVIDENCE, R.I., – It is safe to say that the Providence Bruins are off to a better start than their parent club in Boston. Despite earning just one win in three games, the P-Bruins have earned a point in every game so far in 2015 and are one of only two teams with double digit goals already.

This hot start offensively is in large part due to rookie forward Frankie Vatrano. Vatrano is on an absolute tear in the first three games, including a four-goal performance Sunday against the Portland Pirates. Signed as free agent from UMass-Amherst, he scored just seven seconds into the game and is leading the AHL in scoring early on. Just how good has his performance been? Vatrano leads in scoring despite not recording an assist. He is doing this based solely on goal scoring, as he has six on the year while no other player has more than three.

Not surprisingly, his fellow line mates are enjoying success as well. Alexander Khokhlachev and rookie Austin Czarnik are both among the league’s leading scorers as they each have five points. Czarnik has a goal and four assists while Khokhlachev has five helpers. This line has a combined +9 rating just three games in and combined for all the scoring in Sunday’s win.

Starting goaltender Malcolm Subban has been sidelined with a lower-body injury and has yet to see any action. In his absence, rookie Zane McIntyre has stepped in and played well. Sunday’s victory was his first as a pro and he has stopped 91 of 101 shots on the season. Both marks are far and away tops in the league while he also leads in minutes played.

Not even a full week into the season and Providence has already seen its roster take a hit, though it is probably one that Tommy Cross is happy about. The P-Bruin captain received his first call-up to Boston and made his NHL debut last night. With the young Bruin defense core struggling early on, Cross has a chance to make an impact if he plays well.

The team is back in action tomorrow as they begin a home-and-home series with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

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Japan tenure helping Bowden get back to MLB

By Eddie Pannone

It has been quite the baseball journey for Rochester Red Wings pitcher Michael Bowden to say the least. It’s a journey that has taken him from Boston to Chicago to Japan on his quest to return to the big leagues.

Originally a first round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2005, Bowden made his MLB debut in 2008 for the club, recording a win in his first start. With depth in both the rotation and the bullpen, it was tough for him to stick in the big leagues and was constantly sent back and forth between Boston and Triple-A Pawtucket. Bowden was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 2012 and the same situation presented itself despite him posting solid numbers. He was released following the 2013 season and his dream of being a big league pitcher seemed as far away as it ever had.

But Bowden continued to fight and find a way, even if it was a way that not many players have taken. Many times we hear about Japanese players that make the transition over to America, though it is uncommon to hear about Americans that head over to Japan. That’s the road Bowden decided to take, and it is one he is glad he got to experience.

“It was unbelievable,” Bowden said. “I like to travel, so I figured if I had the opportunity to play baseball there and see another part of the world, it doesn’t get much better than that. The fans, the food, the culture, the games, I had a great time.”

Obviously there are going to be challenges anytime one goes to a foreign place to work for the first time. Fortunately for Bowden, the daily routine of a ball player in the states was not among them.

“It’s fairly comparable,” he said about comparing the two. “Batting practice might be a little longer and the days are probably a little longer. Overall it is very much the same as over here.”

Aside from enjoying a new environment and a new culture, Bowden continued to grow as a pitcher with the Seibu Lions. While working to show he could still compete at a high level, he was also able to pick up some new tools that are helping him this year.

“There’s plenty that I learned there,” he explained. “I feel like I’m a student of the game everyday I come to the park, and my time in Japan was no different. My split-finger that I throw now is a good pitch for me and I learned it over there.”

Bowden earned another chance in the states following his run in Japan, signing a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds to start 2015. His contract was purchased by the Baltimore Orioles at the end of spring training and he was assigned to the Norfolk Tides. Bowden shined for his new team, making the International League All-Star team while pitching as both a reliever and a starter. After opting out of his contract on July 16, he signed with the Minnesota Twins on July 26 and was sent to Rochester in hopes of getting back to the MLB. He continues to impress in their rotation, maintaining his place amongst the International League’s ERA leaders. Bowden certainly has done enough to earn a chance to pitch in the majors for the first time since 2013, but until then he continues to do whatever is asked of him while putting up quality numbers.

“I’m just trying to go out every time and get outs while being as consistent as I can in whatever role I’m in,” he said. “Hopefully the results speak for themselves and I’ll have another opportunity.”

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Marrero cousins reunited with PawSox

Photo by Ken Jancef

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – As children growing up who enjoyed watching and playing baseball, we all had that certain player we idolized. Someone who we wished we could be like or play with. For millions across the country that player could be Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton or a number of other MLB superstars.

For Pawtucket Red Sox shortstop Deven Marrero, it was his cousin Chris.

Chris Marrero is two years older than Deven and was a star baseball player from a young age in Florida. Despite the cousins being only two years apart, the duo never played much together due to Chris’s early success.

“We played together back in the day when I was 8-years old and he was 10,” Deven said. “He was always playing older than his age, sometimes three years above because he was the best player in Florida.”

Chris Marrero took this success all the way to the pros, as he was drafted in the first round by the Washington Nationals out of high school in 2006. Deven took a different path than his cousin, opting to go to Arizona State for three seasons and play college baseball before becoming a first round pick in 2012. Even though this was different from what Chris did, Deven still credits him for opening up that door in his life.

“He was the one who created a path for me and really got the name Marrero out there,” he explained. “He and his brother (Christian) got the Marrero reputation out there and I’ve just tried to continue that reputation and live up to that last name the best I can.”

Fast-forward to 2015 and the Marrero’s are still working towards their goal of being major league regulars. Deven remains a prospect with Boston and has Gold Glove potential at shortstop. Chris has had to fight his way back into the league, starting the year in the Independent League before the Chicago White Sox gave him a chance. After getting released by the club in early August, an opportunity to reunite with his cousin for the first time in years presented itself. Boston signed him to a minor league deal and assigned him to Pawtucket, thrilling his younger cousin.

“Chris being here makes me feel really comfortable and really happy,” Deven said. “To play with my idol and someone I’ve looked up to ever since I was born is amazing. I’ve always wanted to be like him and to have him by my side is awesome. To both live our dream together is pretty cool.”

The Triple-A season is coming to an end and Pawtucket is far out of contention, so the amount of games the two have together is likely numbered. However, it is an experience they are savoring and enjoying. After all, it isn’t everyday you get to play ball with your idol

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Fisher Cats Defeat Erie, Avoid Sweep

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)—The New Hampshire Fisher Cats are back over .500, as they avoided the sweep and defeated the Western Division rival Erie SeaWolves by a score of 8-3 on

Austin Bibens-Dirkx pitched very well on Sunday against the Erie SeaWolves. (MiLB.com)

Sunday afternoon.

Ryan Schimpf remained hot for New Hampshire, as he wasted no time getting the Fisher Cats on the board with a solo homerun to lead off the bottom of the second inning. The line drive off the scoreboard is Schimpf’s third home run in as many games.

In the bottom of the 3rd inning, New Hampshire managed to score two more runs after Dwight Smith Jr. hit an RBI single, and later Roemon Fields scored on a fielder’s choice. This offensive showing in the third gave the Fisher Cats an early 3-0 lead.

Erie answered with a lone run in the top of the 4th inning, after Miguel Gonzalez hit an RBI single to score JaCoby Jones from third base. Though they weren’t done scoring yet, the SeaWolves could not capitalize on several prime opportunities, as they went on to leave twelve men on base.

New Hampshire came to life in the bottom of the sixth inning when Ryan Schimpf hit a leadoff single before K.C. Hobson hit a line drive that cleared the right-field fence. Derrick Chung walked and Emilio Guerrero hit a double before Jorge Flores hit a 2 RBI single to right-field adding two more runs to the tally. The Fisher Cats ended their rally with Kevin Nolan sacrifice fly that scored Roemon Fields. After six innings, the score held 8-1 in favor of the Fisher Cats.

“The pitcher’s did a great job today,” said Fisher Cats manager Bobby Meacham. “They kept us right in it until we got our offense rolling.”

A Jason Krizan sparked some hope for the SeaWolves, but Fisher Cats reliever John Anderson shut Erie down, and the final score held 8-3.

New Hampshire starter Austin Bibens-Dirkx tossed seven complete innings, giving up six hits, one earned run , one walk, and striking out seven Erie batters.

“Austin did a great job,” praised Meacham. “He kept them guessing and off balance, and performed well enough so we could roll him out there for seven innings.”

Bibens-Dirkx was credited with the win, while his Erie counterpart, Michael Fulmer, was charged with the loss.

The Fisher Cats hit the road tomorrow for a four-game series with the Reading Fightin Phils at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, Pennsylvania. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM and Taylor Cole (5-9, 4.41) will start on the mound for New Hampshire.

TIME WINDS DOWN: There are just seven home games left to be played here in Manchester, and it feels like fans have seen it all this year at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. For the first time this season, fans saw their first “pitch clock violation” as Erie’s starter Michael Fulmer exceeded the 2:25 break in between innings before delivering his first pitch to start the bottom of the first inning. The penalty in violations like this is for an automatic ball to be added to the current batter’s count. This rule was implemented into both Double-A and Triple-A baseball this year, in an effort to see if it helped speed up the pace of a nine-inning ballgame.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18.com. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com. Be sure to follow him on Twitter: @pcava12.

 

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There’s A Chopper in Centerfield!

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

The Seacoast Helicopters R66 chopper lands at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium prior to fans entering the ballpark.

(MANCHESTER)—Before Sunday afternoon’s game at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, Seacoast Helicopters was in attendance with one of their helicopters sitting in centerfield, as they gave one lucky fan the opportunity to take off from the ballpark and enjoy a birds-eye view of the Queen City, before landing back on the field and delivering the game balls.

“This is going to be quite the memory for one lucky fan,” said Fisher Cats president and GM Rick Brenner in a press release. “Riding in a helicopter is such a thrilling experience, but landing in the outfield and then delivering the ball to home plate takes it to a new level.  We look forward to working with Seacoast Helicopters to create this memorable opportunity.”

It was quite the sight for fans that arrived at the ballpark early on Sunday afternoon for the Fisher Cats game. Most fans expect to see batting practice, athletes playing catch, or coaches hitting their infielders ground balls, not a helicopter stationed in straightaway center-field.

Click here for BSU18 exclusive video of the helicopter landing at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.

The gates to the ballpark opened at noon, and the Fisher Cats allowed fans onto the field for a half-hour to take pictures with the R66 helicopter and enjoy an on-field sing-a-long with Lil’ Iguana Children’s Safety Foundation.

So how did the lucky fan win this one-of-a-kind experience?

The Fisher Cats hosted an online contest on their Facebook page, and anyone over the age of 18 was free to enter. The random winner was selected on Friday, August 14, amd will depart from the outfield by chopper at approximately 12:40 PM and return at 1:15 PM with the game balls in hand to deliver to today’s umpires at the pre-game plate meeting.

The Fishers host the Erie SeaWolves today and finish off their homestand at 1:35 PM. New Hampshire looks to avoid being swept after falling in the first two games of the series. RHP Asutin Bibens-Dirkx takes the hill for New Hampshire. Be sure to stay tuned to BSU18’s social media outlets for live updates and a game recap.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18.com. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com. Follow him on Twitter: @pcava12.

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Fisher Cats Fall to Erie

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)The New Hampshire Fisher Cat fell to .500 (58-58) on Saturday night, as the Erie SeaWolves scored early and often, before edging out the hometown Fishers by a score of 5-3.

Erie wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, as they plated their first run in the top of the first inning on a Jason Krizan RBI single that scored leadoff man Wynton Bernard from third base. The SeaWolves tacked on three more runs in the third inning after a sacrifice fly and a 2 RBI single from Dominic Ficociello. Then in the 5th inning, Dean Green hit a loud RBI double to left-field, which gave Erie a 5-0 lead.

New Hampshire finally broke the silence in the bottom of the 6th inning. Christian Lopes led off the inning with a single, before Kevin Nolan reached on an error, and Ryan Schimpf cleared the bases with a three-run homerun over the right-field fence, reducing Erie’s lead to 5-3. However, the Fisher Cats could not capitalize on any further opportunities.

New Hampshire starter Scott Barnes was charged with the loss after tossing three innings, giving up five hits, four runs (all earned), walked two, and struck out four. Josh Turley, his Erie counterpart, was credited with the win. SeaWolves reliever Joe Mantiply was credited with the save.

The Fisher Cats are back in action tomorrow afternoon as they finish off the series and the homestand with a Sunday afternoon matinee against the Erie SeaWolves. First pitch is scheduled for 1:35 PM. RHP Austin Bibens-Dirkx (4-6, 4.82) is slated to start for New Hampshire. You can follow Patrick Cavanaugh on Twitter for live updates throughout the game.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18.com. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com. Be sure to follow him on Twitter: @pcava12.

 

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Fisher Cats Rally Early, Fall to SeaWolves

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER, NH)—The New Hampshire Fisher Cats continued their homestand and opened up a three-game series with the Erie SeaWolves on Friday night, falling to the

Casey Lawrence pitches in an outing earlier in 2015. (MiLB.com)

Western Division rival by a final score of 5-4.

The Fisher Cats got on the board early, plating three big runs in the bottom of the first inning. Roemon Fields walked to leadoff the game, and stole second base before Melky Mesa hit a pop-up that was mishandled by Erie the shortstop, which allowed him to score. Later in the inning, K.C. Hobson hit a 2 RBI infield single that gave New Hampshire a 3-0 edge.

The SeaWolves were able to strike back however. They tacked one run on the scoreboard in the top of fourth inning, after Dominic Ficociello hit a sacrifice fly to left-field and scored Jason Krizan from third base. Then in the sixth inning, JaCoby Jones hit a solo homerun to right field. In the top of the 7th, Erie plated a run on an Alberto Gonzalex RBI double, and Dean Green sealed the deal with a deep two-run homer in the top of the 8th frame, giving Erie a 5-3 lead.

New Hampshire scraped one run across in the bottom of the 8th inning after Ryan Schimpf hit a solo homer, but their efforts fell short and New Hampshire fell by a final score of 5-4.

“We had a chance to win the ballgame,” said Fisher Cats manager Bobby Meacham. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t come through a couple of times.”

New Hampshire’s ace starting pitcher Casey Lawrence threw well in Friday night’s contest. The righty hurled 7.1 innings, gave up 9 hits, 4 runs (all earned), and walked no Erie hitters. He showcased a dominant fastball in addition to a changeup, slider, and curveball.

“Casey goes out there, throws strikes, and gets them to put the ball in play,” said Meacham. “He kept us close, and in the end they got to him a little bit.”

Lawrence was charged with the loss, while the win was credited to Erie’s reliever Montreal Robertson.

With the loss to open up the weekend, the Fisher Cats drop game one of the three-game series with Erie. The Fishers and SeaWolves are back in action tomorrow night at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester. New Hampshire left-handed pitcher Scott Barnes (2-3, 3.99) will take the hill. First pitch is slated for 7:05 P.M.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18.com. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com. Be sure to follow him on Twitter: @pcava12

 

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