May 20, 2022

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5 takeaways from the Red Sox’ first home win of the 2022 season


Red Sox

The Red Sox shut out the Twins, 4-0, to improve to 4-4 on the year.

Xander Bogaerts celebrated after hitting his first home run of the season on Friday. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The Red Sox got their first home win of the 2022 season on Saturday, and they did it by keeping their opponent off the board. They defeated the Twins 4-0, getting back to .500 (4-4) overall in the young season.

Here are five takeaways from the Red Sox’ first Fenway win of the year.

The big picture.

The Red Sox struck early on Saturday when Alex Verdugo hit a 437-foot homer to right center off Twins starter Sonny Gray to give them a 2-0 lead. An inning later, Xander Bogaerts hit a two-run shot of his own, taking Twins reliever Josh Winder deep for his first homer of the year.

That ended up being more than enough runs for the Red Sox on Saturday as starter Tanner Houck threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings. He came out in the sixth after allowing a two-out walk, but Matt Strahm was able to get Jorge Polanco to fly out and end the inning.

The Red Sox found themselves in a similar situation in the seventh when Strahm gave up a double after getting the first two Twins hitters out. Red Sox manager Alex Cora called for Garrett Whitlock to shut the Twins down, and he did just that. He struck out Gio Urshela to end the inning and pitched two more scoreless frames to seal the win for the Red Sox.

Player of the game.

Tanner Houck: 5 2/3 innings pitched, two hits, zero runs, three walks, four strikeouts.

Houck tossed possibly one of his best big league starts ever on Saturday. He was a bit shaky at the beginning though, throwing 10 balls to 10 strikes to the top of the Twins order in the first. But he still faced just six Twins hitters in the first two innings. He faced a little trouble in the third after giving up a leadoff walk and a hit after that. But he induced a double play in the ensuing at-bat and got Luis Arraez to ground out to end the inning.

Houck was steady in the fourth and fifth innings, allowing just a hit over those frames. His walk to Arraez with two outs in the sixth ended his day.

What it means.

The Red Sox got back to .500 with the win and it helps them at least keep up with their AL East rivals (Blue Jays, Rays, and Yankees). As the AL East appears to be loaded once again, beating up on teams outside of the division will be a must for the Red Sox in 2022.

Takeaways

1. Xander Bogaerts’s early-season struggles were still apparent in his first at-bat on Saturday. He looked at three balls from Sonny Gray to start the at-bat, but he kept looking when Gray threw three straight strikes, with the last one being a curve that was chest-level in the zone.

The best way for any hitter to end any concerns is to hit one out of the park. And Bogaerts did that in his next at-bat. After whiffing on a slider low in the zone, Bogaerts connected with Josh Winder’s inside fastball, drilling it 400 feet over the Green Monster for his first homer of the year.

Bogaerts didn’t record a hit or get on base in his next two at-bats, but he seemed to feel well with how his day went.

“I felt good. My first at-bat, I didn’t swing the bat but I felt good. I’m getting there,” Bogaerts said.

“[Rafael] Devers was talking [about the first at-bat] and I was like ‘Ra, I felt excellent. I just didn’t swing.’ He threw me some good pitches. But I mean, I felt good taking them. I probably should’ve swung, but I’ll take it.”

2. On the field, Bogaerts helped make an impressive play, too. After Houck gave up a hit in the fifth, Gio Urshela hit a ground ball to short. Bogaerts made a sliding grab and flipped the ball with his glove hand to Trevor Story at second to get one out there. Story caught the ball with his bare hand and was able to turn and throw to first to complete the 6-4-3 double play.

“That felt good,” Bogaerts said. “He caught it bare-handed and I was like ‘Whoa!’ He’s an athlete, man. He can do it anywhere you put him on the diamond. It was pretty cool having that view of seeing him catch it bare-handed and throwing it there and knowing it was a double play before.”

It marked the second double play for the Red Sox middle infield duo in as many games, a good sign that they’re figuring things out as Story gets settled in at second base.

“It just seems like he’s been there for a while,” Bogaerts said of Story.

3. Speaking of players making the same play on back-to-back days, Alex Verdugo is on pace to hit 81 homers at Fenway Park this season. Of course, that isn’t going to happen but he homered for the second straight day on Saturday. His homer to right center had NESN announcers Dave O’Brien and Tony Massarotti remark that it reminded them of how David Ortiz would hit home runs at Fenway back in the day.

Verdugo has hit really well at Fenway in his two-plus seasons with the Red Sox. He has a .315 batting average with a .845 OPS, hitting 11 homers and knocking in 40 runs in 102 games. He’s also clearly been the Red Sox’ second-best hitter through the first three series, hitting .296 from the plate with a 1.042 OPS and three homers.

4. Garrett Whitlock’s arguably the best pitcher on the Red Sox’ staff right now. He pitched 2 1/3 scoreless inning on Saturday, striking out five Twins hitters in just 30 pitches. He did give up a walk and a hit in the eighth with two outs, but he got out of the inning by striking out Jorge Polanco on four pitches, with the last one being a slider low-and-away that Polanco chased at and whiffed.

Whitlock’s slider was devastating to Minnesota. He used it to strike out Gio Urshela, Ryan Jeffers, and Carlos Correa swinging as well. Whitlock’s sinker did help strike out Nick Gordon, but the Twins recorded two hits off it. Whitlock also had trouble finding the zone with his sinker against Miguel Sano, walking him in five pitches by throwing just sinkers.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora originally thought Whitlock, who last pitched on Tuesday when he tossed four scoreless innings against the Tigers, wouldn’t be available until Sunday. But he was available on Saturday, and if the Red Sox have a lead, why not use Whitlock if he’s good to go? In three appearances, he’s allowed just one run over 8 2/3 innings pitched, looking even more dominant than he did in 2021.

5. Cora liked what he saw from Houck on Saturday, so much so that he gave him a chance to face the Twins’ order for the third time — something he almost never did in 2021. However, Houck walked Luis Arraez, the Twins’ leadoff hitter, and his day ended after that, tossing 89 pitches on the day.

“He gave us enough that we had it set up today with the lineup and where we were bullpen wise to be aggressive that way,” Cora said of how he used his starter and the bullpen on Saturday.

“…That’s a good lineup. That’s a really good lineup. They had a bunch of lefties there. The stuff was really good,” Cora added on Houck’s performance. “We saw it last year with his whole situation, going up and down (between the majors and Triple-A), and I bet that everything he said, that he didn’t mind that or that he didn’t care, he did care. But where we were roster-wise, we did what he did. He did an amazing job last year and we expect him to do an amazing job this year.”





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