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Sunday baseball notes

The Rays turned Red Sox castoff Jeffrey Springs into another successful reclamation job

An injury forced Jeffrey Springs to leave Thursday's start against the Red Sox after three innings.Julio Aguilar/Getty

The Red Sox used 27 pitchers during the 2020 season, which doesn’t count the three position players who took the mound. The team cast a wide net and gathered up a group of prospects and suspects hoping to find a few diamonds hiding in the gravel.

It didn’t work. Nick Pivetta was a smart pickup from the Phillies, but the Sox swung and missed with almost everybody else, including lefthander Jeffrey Springs.

Yes, the same Jeffrey Springs who is since 16-6 with a 2.53 earned run average in 79 games for the Tampa Bay Rays.

And the same Jeffrey Springs who was designated for assignment twice in a span of 13 months.


“I severely underperformed with the Red Sox, which I regret,” Springs told the Globe. “I think I put too much pressure on myself there. I felt like I had to put up a zero every time and that made it harder on myself. That’s a bad mentality to have.”

The Sox acquired Springs from Texas before the 2020 season for first baseman Sam Travis, a swap of two players who had been DFA’d.

“It was one of those things where I was just happy to get the opportunity,” Springs said.

Springs faced 10 batters and allowed five runs on four hits and a walk in his first outing. He finished 0-2 with a 7.08 ERA in 16 appearances.

Still, the Sox saw enough in Springs to keep him on the 40-man roster until February. His statistics, ugly as they were, did not reflect how well Springs pitched and that his changeup was excellent.

But Springs was dropped off the roster to accommodate the signing of Hirokazu Sawamura, then traded to the Rays a day later.

The four-player deal was initially seen as a win for the Sox because they obtained catcher Ronaldo Hernandez, a somewhat notable prospect at the time.


But the Rays had done their homework.

“We were very much excited about the fastball/changeup combo that he had,” manager Kevin Cash said. “And we had a few tweaks we wanted to make.”

Springs was all in.

“I was excited at having a new opportunity, especially going to an organization that is known for taking guys that maybe their career wasn’t going perfectly and turning them around,” he said.

Springs had come up through the Rangers organization with reliever Pete Fairbanks, a tall righthander who struggled until he was traded to Tampa Bay in 2019.

The Rays just seem to keep turning little-known pitching prospects — like Pete Fairbanks — into elite arms.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Fairbanks helped explain how things worked with the Rays.

“I wanted to make the most of it,” Springs said.

Pitching coach Kyle Snyder wanted Springs to recommit to throwing his slider and feature it more than his fastball. The Rays also changed the shape of his slider, giving it a bigger break.

It’s a pitch commonly called a “sweeper” because of how it cuts across the plate with a big horizontal break.

“It’s the big thing now,” Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck said. “For me, it’s just a slider I throw a little softer. But Springs has a really good one.”

To help Springs and their other pitchers adjust their deliveries on the fly, the Rays have an auxiliary scoreboard at Tropicana Field show the horizontal and vertical break of every pitch.

“I’m trying to shoot for certain numbers metrically and I understand that when I get there, I’m in a good spot,” Springs said.


The changes worked better than envisioned. Springs had a 3.43 ERA as a reliever in 2021. He moved into the rotation a month into the 2022 season and was 8-5 with a 2.66 ERA in 25 starts. The Rays rewarded him with a four-year, $31 million contract.

When he became a starter, Springs turned to then-teammate Corey Kluber for advice.

“I picked Kluber’s brain a lot about what to do in the four days in between starts,” Springs said. “I wanted to learn as much as I could from a guy like that. Kluber has obviously had a lot of success.”

Kluber, now with the Red Sox, was happy to be a mentor.

“Every starter needs a routine that will work for them,” he said. “You can’t do something just because somebody else does it. I talked to him about being consistent with what he was doing.

“It’s fun to watch a guy like [Springs] take off like that.”

Springs has made three starts this season and allowed one run over 16 innings. He retired nine of the 10 Red Sox he faced on Thursday before leaving the game with a tingling in his hand because of ulnar neuritis.

The Rays hope Springs will be back by the All-Star break.

“To be where I am now and what has happened, it’s truly a blessing,” Springs said. “You look at all the ups and downs in your career and I really appreciate where I am today.”



Winckowski starting to pay off for Sox

Dealing Andrew Benintendi to the Royals seems like a big Red Sox error in hindsight.Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

The Red Sox received five players in the three-team trade that sent Andrew Benintendi to the Royals in 2021.

The deal has been a bust.

Benintendi, who’s now with the White Sox, has a 5.8 bWAR since the trade, won a Gold Glove, and been an All-Star.

The return for the Sox has been underwhelming.

Franchy Cordero was released in November and is clubbing homers for the Yankees. Righthanders Luis De La Rosa and Grant Gambrell have not emerged as noteworthy prospects and light-hitting outfielder Freddy Valdez is being tried as a pitcher.

That leaves 24-year-old righthander Josh Winckowski. The Sox may have something there.

Winckowski allowed two runs on nine hits and struck out eight over 12 innings in his first six appearances this season after adding 1.1 miles per hour to his sinker, bringing it up to 95.1. He’s also increased his extension, releasing the ball four inches closer to the plate than he did last season.

“It wasn’t anything I intended to do,” Winckowski said. “It just happened.”

That’s not entirely true. Winckowski lives a short distance from Fenway South and spent the winter working with assistant strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dolan and minor league rehab pitching coach Dan DeLucia on cleaning up aspects of his delivery and getting stronger.

Winckowski described himself as a “toe tapper” when he went into his delivery. Now he has a firmer base and powers up from his lower half.

“He did a great job in the offseason. He’s a different guy,” Dolan said. “We matched up some things we were doing in the weight room with the things he was doing on the mound and got that to transfer. How you interact with the ground affects how the ball comes out.”


Josh Winckowski has shown some promise for the Sox.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Sox pitching coach Dave Bush said Winckowski is generating more force with a smoother and more athletic delivery. The extra extension and velocity are a product of that.

The Sox have used Winckowski as a multi-inning reliever, a key role given how often starters only pitch five or six innings. After posting a 5.89 ERA in 15 games last season, 14 of them starts, Winckowski looks like a useful piece.

“I feel like I’m just getting started as a pitcher,” he said. “The changes we made have worked out really well.”

A few other observations on the Red Sox:

▪ The Sox spent a lot of time in spring training over the last two seasons doing fast-paced drills with infielders to improve their individual skills. They have proven beneficial to several players, Rafael Devers in particular.

But the coaches may need to add more group drills.

There have been several occasions this season where the Sox made fundamental mistakes on the infield, something manager Alex Cora acknowledged needs to be cleaned up.

From defending bunts to executing on ground balls between the mound and first base, there has been more tentativeness than you’d expect and at times some sloppy play.

▪ Managers typically meet with reporters twice a day, a longer session about 2½ hours before the game and a shorter one afterward.

To facilitate their development, the Sox are experimenting this season with having bench coach Ramón Vázquez, Bush, and hitting coach Pete Fatse give occasional pregame briefings.

Public communication is a crucial skill for managers, who represent the team to the public hundreds of times over the course of the season.

▪ That Triple A righthander Durbin Feltman was released on Tuesday didn’t come as much of a surprise. The 25-year-old had a 5.97 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 59 appearances for Worcester.

It was a little unusual for the Sox to take a college closer in the third round of the 2018 draft, but Feltman was dominant for TCU. So much so that some media people predicted he’d be on the major league roster within a few months.

It wasn’t Feltman’s fault he was overhyped. But he stands as the latest example of why it’s never a good idea to rush to judgment with prospects.

▪ Good luck to Mike Myers. The former Sox submariner and one of the 2004 champions is running the Boston Marathon for The Angel Fund for ALS Research at the UMass Medical School.


Christian Vázquez shining for the Twins

Former Sox catcher Christian Vazquez is finding his groove in Minnesota.Adam Hunger/Associated Press

The Twins arrive at Fenway Park on Tuesday to start a three-game series and it’s sure the savvy fans will give Christian Vázquez a standing ovation.

Vázquez caught 651 games for the Red Sox from 2014-22, the fourth-most in team history. He also caught 30 playoff games. Only Jason Varitek (62) has more.

That’s a proud legacy.

Vázquez had an unceremonious departure last August, getting traded to Houston for two prospects. As the Red Sox collapsed, he went on to win the World Series with the Astros, then signed a three-year contract worth $30 million with the Twins.

At 32, Vázquez has financial security for his wife and two sons and plays for a team that appreciates his talents.

“He’s excellent at what he does,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We knew coming in what we were getting on the catching side, but it’s the intensity, it’s the way he kind of forms the relationship with the pitcher — both pregame, middle of the inning — on the field. All these things he does, he does at such a high level.

“It’s actually really great to watch. The staff watches him, and you nod your head a lot when you see him do his thing. He’s had some big at-bats for us, too. He’s had some good swings on the offensive side, but the work he’s done with our pitchers, it’s been phenomenal.”

The Twins went into the weekend 10-4 with a 2.50 team ERA. Vázquez and backup Ryan Jeffers have worked well with the staff and the Twins look like a team that can contend after several seasons marred by injuries.

Vazquez also hit .367 with a .924 OPS in his first 10 games.

Extra bases

Scouts are spending a lot of time in New England checking out four high school pitchers: senior lefthander Alex Clemmey (Bishop Hendricken, R.I.), junior righthander Mavrick Rizy (Worcester Academy), senior righthander Tommy Turner (Coventry, R.I.), and senior lefthander Thomas White (Phillips Andover). Rizy and Turner have committed to UConn, with Clemmey and White picking Vanderbilt. Baseball America has White (20) and Clemmey (65) among its top 100 draft prospects. Clemmey’s fastball has hit 97 m.p.h., but White is considered more polished because of his cleaner delivery … The Blue Jays were the last team to play at home, hosting the Tigers on Tuesday. The Jays asked MLB for a long road trip to start the season to ensure the renovations at the Rogers Centre would be completed. The league obliged with a 10-game, 11-day trip to St. Louis, Kansas City, and Anaheim. Toronto went 6-4 and averaged 5.4 runs … White Sox reliever and T-shirt salesman Joe Kelly is on the injured list with a strained groin suffered while he was running in from the bullpen last Sunday when the benches cleared during a game against the Pirates … Fernando Tatis Jr. is eligible to return to the Padres on Thursday, having served his 80-game suspension for PED use. San Diego plans to use him in the outfield now that Xander Bogaerts is its shortstop … Cardinals rookie Jordan Walker hit safely in his first 12 games. It was the longest streak by a 20-year-old since Ted Williams started his career with 11 in a row in 1939. Williams finished that season with 145 RBIs and a 1.045 OPS. Let’s see Walker do that … Randy Arozarena has hit .333 with a 1.122 OPS over 31 career playoff games for the Cardinals and Rays. His regular-season statistics were a comparatively modest .269 with an .807 OPS from 2019-22. But Playoff Randy has shown up this season. He hit .315 with a .924 OPS and 16 RBIs in Tampa Bay’s first 14 games. Manager Kevin Cash believes Arozarena’s dominant performance for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic led to his hot start. “I like to think so,” Cash said. “We’ve seen Randy be pretty special in the biggest moments of the season [and] playoff baseball. It seems like when we need to win a game, he’s right in the middle of it.” … The worst contract in baseball may be the six years and $140 million the Tigers gave Javy Báez. He has a .643 OPS over two seasons and on Thursday was pulled from the game after losing track of how many outs there were and running into a double play. Báez also has slipped defensively … Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds is following the Aaron Judge blueprint of turning down a lucrative offer before the season and betting on himself to get even more down the road. Reynolds, 28, turned down an eight-year, $106.75 million extension because he wanted opt-out rights. He then hit .333 with a 1.030 OPS and 14 RBIs in his first 14 games. Pirates general manager Ben Cherington has kept the door open to a deal … Dusty Baker, 73, attended a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in Minneapolis this past week, scoring tickets from Bronson Arroyo. “I needed it. My spirit needed it,” Baker said … Happy birthday to Gentleman Jim Lonborg, who is 81. He was 68-65 with a 3.94 ERA for the Red Sox from 1965-71. Lonborg was the Cy Young Award winner in 1967, going 22-9 with a 3.16 ERA. He beat the Twins in Game 162, and went 2 for 4 with a run scored, to send the Sox to the World Series. Lonborg then won two games in the Fall Classic, allowing one run over 18 innings before losing Game 7 against Bob Gibson. Lonborg was traded to Milwaukee after the 1971 season, then to Philadelphia a year later. After finishing his career in 1979, Lonborg attended dental school at Tufts and worked as a dentist in eastern Massachusetts until 2017.

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him @PeteAbe.