Rusney Castillo learning from Dwight Evans

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – With the Boston Red Sox trading Shane Victorino and designating Daniel Nava for assignment, they have cleared room for OF Rusney Castillo to step up and show he belongs in the big leagues. In a short time since being promoted on July 27 he has played as well as he ever has at the MLB level, getting a hit in each of his games including a home run last night.

It hasn’t been an easy go of things in 2015 for Castillo. He’s battled injuries, a language barrier and an 18-month layoff while defecting from Cuba. His aggressive style of play has led to some self-induced slumps and he hasn’t always looked comfortable at the plate.

Enter Red Sox HOF Dwight Evans, a player development consultant for the organization for ten years who visits with players and gives them advice on how to have a successful career. Evans was recently at one of Castillo’s games in Pawtucket and during batting practice was talking to him with catcher Humberto Quintero acting as a translator. Though translation wasn’t always needed, Evans wanted to make sure Castillo was as comfortable with him as possible.

“I’ve been around guys who are still learning the language,” Evans explained. “The confidence in his English probably isn’t there but he understands what I’m saying to him.”

“He’s a calming presence,” PawSox manager Kevin Boles said of Evans’ work with Castillo. “He’s been there, has experience and keeps the game in perspective. He’s a tremendous resource.”

As Evans talks to Castillo, the conversation is not about mechanics or how to change his swing. Rather it is strictly on the mental side of the game, something a player with loads of talent like Castillo could have trouble with.

“He’s so strong and I don’t want to change him,” Evans said. “I just want him to relax and give him ways to do it. People used to tell me ‘Try and relax,’ but they never told me how to do it. It’s easy to say but it’s tough to do. I just want to give him some tools on how to not be so tight.”

Focusing on the mental approach to baseball is what Evans likes to do. It is why Boston typically sends him to their upper-level minor league facilities and let him talk to players during spring training.

“I like working with the older guys,” Evans said, “because it’s more about the mental part of the game. That for me is enjoyable.”

For example, Evans recalls talking a lot with Justin Masterson and other pitchers over the years about pitching despite being an outfielder.

“I don’t know anything about pitching,” he said, “but I know what hitters don’t like to see. Hitters really hate pitchers that pound the strike zone and get ahead. Then they can use their nasty pitches to get you out.”

Listening to Evans talk for even just a few minutes, it is clear the knowledge, experience and love he has for the game. His words of wisdom have helped other PawSox as they came up through the minors, and it looks as if “Dewey” could have done it again for Castillo.

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Break comes at good time for PawSox

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – The All-Star break couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Pawtucket Red Sox as the club has fallen on hard times the past month. Dating back to June, the PawSox are just 7-20 in their last 27 games including a 12-game losing streak from June 29-July 10. Offense has been the biggest problem all season long for the team, consistently struggling to score runs despite some highly regarded talent in the lineup. Pawtucket is in the basement for several offensive categories, including runs scored, batting average and hits.

Even with the team’s struggles, there hasn’t been a lack of excitement in terms of the roster the team has put together. Red Sox Nation was taken by storm when pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who started 2015 with the PawSox, came up and quickly showed he can be a future ace. He was able to develop his three pitch mix effectively in Pawtucket, dominating Triple-A hitters in his brief tenure with the club. Now he looks like a staple in the rotation for years to come. Other young prospects like Brian Johnson and Deven Marrero also got the call up to Boston for the first time after spending parts of the last two seasons with Pawtucket.

Plenty of Boston Red Sox have come down on rehab assignments including Shane Victorino, Ryan Hanigan, Justin Masterson, and currently Daniel Nava and Blake Swihart. Other struggling Red Sox have been sent to Pawtucket to regain their form like Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. Obviously, Pawtucket is not where these guys want to be, but manager Kevin Boles has seen progress from all three.

Much was expected from Castillo after signing a 7-year, $72.5 million contract last August, but it has been a rough go of things in 2015. Boles says some of his struggles are the result of taking 18 months off while defecting from Cuba. He also points to the aggressiveness Castillo plays with and how that may have hurt him at the MLB level.

“When he got his second look at the big leagues, they were able to exploit some weaknesses. Some of that was self-induced with expansion of the zone and I think he understands that. On the flip side with base running and outfield play it’s just focusing on the details. He’s the hardest worker we have and we look forward to getting him back on track.”

For Craig, the team is trying to get him back to his St. Louis Cardinals form, when he was a National League All-Star. Batting .275 with three home runs and 14 runs batted in, Boles has seen improvement stemming from strike zone management and his lower half.

“People know who he is when he’s in the lineup and they pitch him tough,” he said. “He’s looked back at film from a couple years ago as far as getting his lower half under control and getting his timing with the barrel of the bat before the pitch.”

Kelly has pitched exceptional in his brief time with the PawSox, posting an earned run average of 2.57 with good command of his pitches. Most importantly for him, he has been able to mix up his pitches effectively and work inside to hitters. Boles has been very impressed with the arsenal Kelly has and is impressed with what he’s done so far.

“He’s got weapons,” he said. “He has life to his fastball. Its explosive, it gets on hitters quick and the slider comes off the same plane as it. He’s able to give a lot of different looks.”

Most of the PawSox will now head home for the break, but the team will have two representatives at the Triple-A All-Star game in Omaha, Nebraska. Jackie Bradley, Jr. has been Pawtucket’s best hitter in 2015, hitting well above .300 all season long while playing his usual stellar defense. He has made the necessary adjustments to his swing and has shown that he can still be an everyday major leaguer if given the chance. Kevin Boles will also represent the PawSox as a coach on the team. Brian Johnson was named to the team but is currently in Boston.

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Bruins Add Irwin

By Tyler Hetu

General Manager Don Sweeney announced on Friday (July 10th) that the Boston Bruins have added defenseman Matt Irwin to a one year contract worth $800,000 through the 2015-16 season.

Irwin manned the blue-line for the San Jose Sharks last year, tallying eight goals and 19 points with a plus/minus of +3. Over his three seasons in San Jose, he played 13 postseason games posting two points in those games.

Irwin also played four seasons an hour away in Worcester for the Worcester Sharks, piling up 88 points since 2009. Before his professional career started, he played for the University of Massachusetts where he tallied 42 points in two seasons.

Irwin is the fourth free agent signed under Sweeney, and the first defenseman to be signed through free agency this year.

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PawSox not worried about Castillo’s struggles

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Red Sox fans have seen a lot of disappointing things so far in 2015, and near the top of that list has been the performance of Rusney Castillo. Signed to a 7-year, $72.5 million contract last August, much was expected from the soon to be 28-year old Cuban. Right from the start of 2015 the cards were stacked against him, getting hurt early and missing most of spring training.

That injury led the organization to start him with the Pawtucket Red Sox, where again he got hurt diving for a ball in the outfield. Eventually, he received his chance in Boston on May 22, but he struggled in his 26 games there, batting just .230 with little production. Now he is back in Pawtucket and is just one of several things to go wrong for Boston.

But don’t give up on him just yet.

Unlike other Cubans Jose Abreu and Yaisel Puig, Castillo took 18 months off from playing baseball before signing with Boston as he was defecting from the island. In a sport like baseball that kind of layoff is tough to overcome, especially when dealing with injuries along the way. That fact is not lost on PawSox manager Kevin Boles.

“Game experience plays a big role in his struggles,” Boles said. “You can only simulate so much in batting practice. His experience has been limited because of the time he took off before he signed and the injury bug earlier this year.”

Boles and his staff are not worried about Castillo’s long term future in the organization, suggesting that his struggles will only be temporary. Both Castillo and the club know what he needs to work on in addition to getting more game experience, and Boles looks forward to getting him back to the big leagues.

“For him the key will be strike zone management and building up confidence,” Boles explained. When he got his second look at the big leagues, they were able to exploit some weaknesses. Some of that was self-induced with expansion of the zone and I think he understands that. On the flip side with base running and outfield play it’s just focusing on the details. He’s the hardest worker we have and we look forward to getting him back on track.”

Castillo has performed well since returning from Boston, hitting around .300 while showing off extra base power and speed. The talent is still evident from him, and with Alejandro De Aza emerging in the Boston outfield along with Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Shane Victorino, the organization will likely keep him in Pawtucket to get the consistent playing time he needs.

It is important not to forget that Castillo is still adjusting to life in America while learning and adjusting to pro ball. He is still a big part of Boston’s future and is someone who shouldn’t be given up on by Red Sox nation.

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Top PawSox prospects in action

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – With Eduardo Rodriguez already making an impact in Boston, this weekend featured two of Boston’s other top pitching prospects. Lefthanders Brian Johnson and Henry Owens each made starts at McCoy Stadium against the Toledo Mud Hens, one of the top offenses in the International League.

Johnson got the start Saturday night and was able to battle his way through seven innings. Coming off back-to-back outings where he threw under 80 pitches in an effort to manage his innings, the plan was for him to go over 90 for the first time in June. It was an interesting outing for Johnson to say the least. He allowed five runs, though just one of those was earned. After not hitting a batter in almost a year and a half, he drilled four in addition to walking two. Despite that, he was able to record the win while striking out six men and working through some jams. Through it all, he never looked intimidated and his mound presence was impressive.

“I felt fine,” Johnson said afterwards. “My changeup was there, though my fastball command wavered a little bit. Overall I feel great, no complaints about my body or arm.”

“His command was a little suspect at times,” manager Kevin Boles said. “He had to battle through some things out there. But to be able to go seven innings, there was some efficiency there. He did some good things. He competed the whole time even though we made some mistakes behind him.”

Both Johnson and Boles cited the changeup as a big reason for his success. Boles said the pitch helped him get out of some big jams and Johnson said it was one of the best changeups he’s had all season.

Owens went into his start with his team just 1-6 in the last seven games he pitched, but he did all he could to put an end to that funk. Sunday was arguably his best game of 2015, as he threw a season high 99 pitches and 65 strikes through six innings. He allowed just one run on four hits and one walk while striking a season best seven batters. He didn’t factor in the decision as Pawtucket fell 4-3.

“He showed a little bit more command of the zone today,” Boles said. “He worked out of some jams, but he gave us six solid innings.”

“Control has been a focus all year,” Owens said about his season. “I’ve felt comfortable out there mechanically and any adjustments I needed I made quickly.”

Though pleased with his performance, Owens was disappointed he could not complete the sweep for the PawSox against the Mud Hens. After an off day tomorrow, Pawtucket will hit the road for six games before returning home June 22nd.

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