Detroit Tigers: Neftali Feliz has a Chance to Solidify Himself as the Tigers’ Closer for 2016

With news coming out of Detroit that Brad Ausmus will continue to manage the team next season, and thus keep his job, it’s now a time of evaluation for the Tigers as the team decides which non-core players to keep around next season.

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With a number of starting players set in stone (Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander, James McCann, etc.) the likely focus of the evaluation process will be positions where there is uncertainty. Naturally, the most uncertain area of the Tigers’ roster will be under close examination. That uncertain area? The bullpen. More specifically, the back end of the bullpen.

Alex Wilson has performed admirably for Detroit, pitching wherever he’s needed. The former Red Sox pitcher owns a 2.19 ERA in 70 innings and is one of the few relievers with job security heading into next season. However, Wilson’s ERA is nearly a run higher in save situations then it is in non-save situations. He’ll pitch effectively wherever the Tigers pitch him, but ideally the team would probably have Wilson throwing in the seventh or eighth inning in front of a lockdown closer.

Where that closer emerges from (free agency, trade, the minor league system, etc.) remains to be seen, but the Tigers have one building block in Wilson.

With so little certainty in the bullpen heading into next year, especially with Bruce Rondon being sent home early, now is the time for relievers not named Wilson to make their respective marks.

One reliever who could benefit greatly from Rondon’s absence is Neftali Feliz.

The former Texas Ranger still owns an unsightly 7.33 ERA for the Tigers, but a closer look at his numbers reveals a much better product. Feliz’ FIP, or of fielding independent pitching, is 3.78. Additionally, over his last 12 appearances (12.2 innings), the ex-Ranger has a 2.13 ERA and is holding batters to a .178 batting average. Over those innings, Feliz has struck out 11 batters while only walking one. Opposing hitters have managed a .457 OPS against the reliever.

Looking at those stats, Feliz clearly has the talent to be a significant contributor to the Detroit bullpen. He may even end up as closer. As of now, he has three saves in a Tigers’ uniform, two of which have come in the last two wins for the team. With Rondon no longer with the team for the duration of this season, Neftali Feliz has a chance to cement himself as a late-inning option for the Ausmus heading into next season.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Detroit Tigers Lineup vs the Houston Astros 8/14/15

Miguel Cabrera is back. Rejoice! Here’s the lineup as the Detroit Tigers take on the Houston Astros and starter Dallas Keuchel.

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Detroit Tigers Lineup vs the Kansas City Royals 8/12/15

Here’s the Detroit Tigers’ lineup as Daniel Norris takes the mound in Kansas City against the Royals. 

(RELATED: Tigers must stop being patient with the bullpen).

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Recently DFA’d Players the Detroit Tigers Should Take Fliers On

With the Tigers opening up a number of roster spots thanks to the trades of David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenis Cespedes, the team will be auditioning players for next year to see who fits on the team moving forward. Granted all three roster spots have been filled, but other roster spots aren’t set in stone.

Their rare a number of bullpen pieces struggling that could be demoted if not cut out-right, while Buck Farmer could be optioned if Detroit feels another one of its young arms is better suited for the current rotation.

If anything, the second half of this season is a chance for Detroit to examine players with an eye towards next year. The new additions could also propel the Tigers towards the playoffs. The American League wild card is wide open, and Miguel Cabrera returns from the disabled list in only a few short weeks.

  • Vance Worley

2015 Stats: 4-5, 3.78 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 20 games (8 starts)

Worley was solid/effective during his time in Pittsburgh. He posted a 3.21 ERA and a 3.56 FIP as Pirate, working in the rotation and out of the bullpen. Worley’s ERA as a starter was 4.81, but he posted a much more acceptable 2.08 ERA when entering games as a reliever. Never a big strikeout pitcher, the former Minnesota Twin has had a fairly successful career and is only 27.

If the Tigers acquire him, he can be a controllable and reliable swing-man. Worley could also serve as a rotation place-holder for some of the young arms acquired at the deadline. At the same time, he would also provide the Tigers opportunity to win some games down the stretch.

  • Danny Valencia

2015 Stats: .296 batting average, 7 home runs, 29 RBI, 20 XBH (extra-base hits), .838 OPS

A surprising DFA victim by the Blue Jays after Toronto’s trade deadline-dealing bonanza, Valencia hits the waiver system with plenty of upside. At 29, the versatile player can fill in at first base, third base and left field while providing an above-average bat. Valencia is hitting .316 against left-handed pitching this season while posting a .279 clip against righties. Not only would the former Twin provide another option in left field, he would also give Brad Ausmus another option at first base while the Tigers wait for Cabrera to return.

  • Brandon Beachy

2015 Stats: 0-1, 7.88 ERA, 10 hits and seven runs allowed, 2 starts, 10 innings pitched.

Brandon Beachy’s numbers this year are bad, real bad. But if you consider he’s just returned from an injury and that he hasn’t pitched in two years, the numbers aren’t so awful. While the right-hander’s showing this year isn’t that appealing, his track record is. The 28-year-old posted a 3.23 ERA and a 3.34 FIP in 267.2 innings for the Braves. Beachy is still young and could still regain the effectiveness he displayed in Atlanta. Like Worley, he could be a place-holder or long-term piece at the back end of the Tigers rotation. Once he works things out, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him post 10-12 wins on a contending team with strong run support.

  • Roberto Hernandez

2015 Stats: 20 appearances, 11 starts, 4.36 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 4.5 strikeouts-per-nine-innings

Roberto Hernandez is not a long-term piece, not even close. His ERA is passable (not to mention the definition of a back-of-the-rotation arm) and his strikeouts-per-nine numbers aren’t pretty. However, as low-risk a placeholder this year for a Tigers team looking to win some games? Well, in that case he just might work. Hernandez isn’t the world-beater that he was as a member of the Indians, but he could give the Tigers some innings down the stretch. Think of the Tigers signing him similar to the team’s signing of Freddy Garcia. It would be in no way anything long-term, but it would be a mutually beneficial move. Hernandez would serve as a placeholder for pitchers like Luis Cessa and Michael Fulmer.

  • Bud Norris

2015 Stats: 2-9, 7.06 ERA, 5.58 FIP, 18 games, 11 starts

Somewhere in between Worley/Beachy and Hernandez is Bud Norris. Norris won 15 (!) games for the Orioles last season, posting a 3.65 ERA in 165.1 innings pitched. At 30, he doesn’t have the youth of Worley or Beachy, but he’s proven that he can win games. Like Worley and Beachy, he’s a solid bet for double-digit wins and a solid-but-not spectacular ERA on a winning team that comes with good run support. If the Tigers think they can get 2014-like stats from Norris, then the team should sign him. At worst he’s a meh signing that can be discarded at any time (or in the offseason). In other words, he’s worth a shot.

  • Caleb Thielbar

2015 Stats: 5.40 ERA, 6 appearances, 5 Strikeouts, 1.08 FIP

Finally, a potential long-term piece. Thielbar has struggled in a small sample-size this season, but has a strong track record over the past two seasons. The former Brewers farmhand entered 2015 with a career 2.59 ERA in 93.2 innings pitched accumulated over two seasons. His FIP over that span spits out to a slightly-less favorable 3.48, but when a player like Thielbar hits the open market, they generally tend not to last long. Thielbar is only 27-years-old, is controllable/cheap and has shown that he can be a productive reliever. Detroit should take a flier on him to see if he’s a potential piece for next year. The team’s tried just about everything, and Thielbar might be a solution.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Detroit Tigers: Regardless of Buying or Selling, Bullpen Must be Fixed

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, the Detroit Tigers bullpen imploded, costing them the game—against the offensively anemic Seattle Mariners no less.

Detroit lost the contest Tuesday by a score of 11-9 in a game that sums up the bullpen problems in Detroit.

The Tigers essentially have three reliable relievers bridging the gap to the equally reliable Joakim Soria. However, Al Alburquerque, Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy can’t pitch every game. Heck, every other game for all three is probably too much. The word “burnout” is going to make its way into the headlines eventually if that happens.

Outside of those three, the Tigers don’t have much. The team’s hope is that Neftali Feliz and Bruce Rondon join the “reliable” fraternity. But at this point, it’s just that– a hope. Feliz served up the grand slam to Franklin Gutierrez that gave the M’s the win on Tuesday, while Rondon’s ERA has hovered around nine as of late.

The reality is simple for the Tigers, their bullpen isn’t working—and must be fixed. The Tigers have tried almost everything. It’s gotten to the point where the players who aren’t performing have to be shuffled on. Whether it be optioned to Triple-A Toledo, or designated for assignment, Detroit has to try different options.

Regardless of if they’re “buyers” or “sellers” at the trade deadline, the Tigers’ brass must fix the bullpen.

Soria, Alburquerque, Wilson and Hardy are keepers, but the rest is in serious question. Feliz was solid up until he surrendered the grand slam to Gutierrez, and may be worth keeping around given his track record. Rondon has tremendous potential, but might benefit from a stint in the minors. Ian Krol has been better of late, but still owns a rather ugly ERA (5.87).

There are a number of low-buy relievers on the market, an area in which Detroit should be actively searching for a replacement—searching to the point that the team is throwing any reliever they can acquire at the wall and seeing what sticks.

Krol and Rondon should be optioned to the minors in order to make room for the new additions. It seems drastic, but the team needs all the help it can get.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Detroit Tigers: Low-Buy Trade Targets to Improve the Bullpen

The Detroit Tigers have whittled their bullpen (in terms of reliability) down to four pitchers setting up closer Joakim SoriaAlex Wilson, Blaine Hardy,  Al Alburquerque and Neftali Feliz.

The rest have been maddeningly inconsistent. Bruce Rondon and Ian Krol seem like long-term pieces, however both have abnormally high ERAs (in albeit small sample sizes). Rondon’s is 9.35 in 8.2 innings while Krol’s is 6.14 in 14.2 innings.

If the Feliz’ arrival has shown the Tigers anything, it’s that quality relief options are available—and they may just need a change of scenery to thrive. Here are some low-buy trade targets the Tigers could look into in order to bolster the team’s bullpen.

(RELATED: Neftali Feliz Signing a Smart Move by the Tigers)

Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins

Per the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, the Tigers have been watching Steve Cishek. This makes sense.

Cishek struggled mightily to start the year, so much so that he was sent down to Double-A to work things out. The former closer is back with the big league club, and seems to have figured things out. As a setup reliever since June 14th, Cishek has a 0.93 ERA and nine strikeouts in 9.2 innings.

The most unnecessary luxury on a losing team is a good reliever, so if Miami sells off pieces, Cishek may be out the door. He’s even more expandable considering how well A.J. Ramos has fared as a closer (1.55 ERA, 14 saves). This isn’t even to mention the presences of Sam Dyson (3.48 ERA), Bryan Morris (3.31) and Carter Capps (1.55).

It seems that the Tigers like to acquire relievers with closing experience to serve in a non-closer role. This has happened with everyone from Jim Johnson and Joel Hanrahan to Joakim Soria and Feliz. Cishek (94 careers saves) would fit the mold.

Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks

Yet another former closer who’s had troubles, former White Sox reliever Addison Reed would be the ultimate low-buy for the Tigers.

Reed has a career 4.39 ERA, including a 5.92 number this year, but when you look at the numbers more closely, he comes off as a much better pitcher. The former closer’s FIP is a much-more-acceptable 3.84 this year. In other words, the Diamondbacks aren’t doing him any favors defensively.

Over the course of a year-and-a-half in the desert, Reed has nine losses and 35 saves (only three this season). His ERA in Arizona is 4.73. Going purely on those numbers alone, the D-Backs may be inclined to move him, especially considering the team’s depth chart.

Arizona is stocked with quality relievers, from closer Brad Ziegler to setup relievers Andrew Chafin (2.90 ERA), to Randall Delgado (2.93 ERA) and the duo of Daniel Hudson and Oliver Perez (3.32 and 3.46 respectively).

Reed isn’t even on the team’s big league roster. They’d probably be more than open to moving him, especially given his salary. Nonetheless, he’d be a good low-buy option for the Tigers, especially with his closing expertise (104 career saves).

Joe Thatcher, (Formerly of the) Houston Astros

Finally! A non-closer. Joe Thatcher was just designated for assignment by the Astros and is available. Not only is Thatcher wildly non-expensive, relative to his value, he’s also been consistent for Houston.

Thatcher has a respectable 3.79 ERA and an even more attractive 3.17 FIP. The former Angel has struggled of late (27.00 ERA in last five appearances, spanning 1.1 innings), but was dynamite before that. In 31 appearances prior to the struggles, Thatcher posted a sparkling 2.04 ERA.

Given his relative inexpensiveness and success, the Tigers should take a flier on Thatcher. His arrival would be another step towards having a strong bullpen.

Jean Machi, (Formerly of the) San Francisco Giants

It seems that the piece has now moved from struggling former closers to relievers that were recently designated for assignment. Joining Thatcher in the DFA category is now former Giants’ reliever Jean Machi.

Machi excelled in 2014 and 2014 for the Giants, posting a spectacular 2.49 ERA and a 2.93 FIP in 119.1 innings. He struck out 102 batters over that span while accumulating 10 wins. The four-year veteran would likely pitch earlier in games, a la Hardy, and would provide yet another dependable reliever in the Tigers’ bullpen.

Machi does have a 5.14 ERA this year, but his 4.20 FIP suggests he’s better than his high ERA. Despite those “struggles,” the right-handed pitcher has been filthy against lefties this year. Left-handed hitters have produced a miniscule .120 batting average against Machi. Other nasty numbers? Left-handed batters have posted a .241 OBP and a .160 slugging percentage. That’s good for a .401 OPS against. Those are p-r-e-t-t-y good numbers for someone on the waiver wire.

Since he’s been designated for assignment, the Tigers won’t have to pay much to acquire him. Which is nice when you don’t have a boatload of assets to trade.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Why The Tigers Should Sign Edwin Jackson

In an attempt to give their bullpen a different look, the Chicago Cubs have designated pitcher Edwin Jackson for assignment to make way for fellow reliever Rafael Soriano.

Jackson, who is a former Tiger, is on the open market after posting a 3.19 ERA (his FIP is an even more impressive 2.84) in 23 appearances. Over those 23 appearances, he’s tallied 31 innings and struck out 23 batters.

The Tigers should actively pursue a reunion.

Jackson, who pitched in his only All-Star Game as a member of the Tigers in 2009, was highly successful as a member of Detroit’s rotation, posting 13 wins.

Given Jackson’s track record as a reliever this season, and the Tigers struggles in both the rotation and the bullpen, he would make a lot of sense back in a Tigers uniform.

Whatever role Jackson takes up in Detroit—should he sign—he’d fill a need. He could slot in as part of the bullpen, suddenly giving the Tigers a shiny-new pair of dependable relievers in himself and Neftali Feliz.

(RELATED: Neftali Feliz Signing a Smart Move by the Tigers)

Or, if Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon’s struggles prove too much, Jackson could slot into the rotation. That, in addition to the eventual return of Kyle Lobstein, would give Detroit a full rotation without Greene or Simon. This would allow Simon to move to the bullpen, a place where he found considerable success. Simon worked to a 2.78 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 148.2 innings pitched out of the ‘pen for Cincinnati from 2012 to 2013.

Either way, the Tigers bullpen would benefit from a move while the rotation could also stand to benefit as well.

Jackson has been here before as well, in terms of being a midseason boost to a new team. As a starting pitcher, he provided both Chicago and St. Louis with a shot in the arm in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

During his first half-season in Chicago, Jackson went 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 75 innings. The next year, after moving to St. Louis at the deadline, Jackson went 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA in helping the Cardinals claim the World Series title.

In addition, Jackson would also be cheap. Provided the Tigers don’t claim him on waivers, he’ll only cost the veteran’s minimum.

Regardless of what role he would fill, Edwin Jackson would be a shot in the arm to a Tigers’ pitching staff desperately in need of one.

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All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Players the Tigers Should Target at the Trade Deadline: Tyler Clippard and Scott Kazmir

With the baseball season reaching its annual All-Star break, things aren’t exactly ginger-peachy in the Motor City. The win-now Detroit Tigers own a .500 record at 44-44 and are nine games out of first place. Given the Tigers’ recent track record and desire to win, you’d expect them to be major buyers at the trade deadline. Here are some of the players Detroit and general manager Dave Dombrowski should target at the trade deadline.

Tyler Clippard

Since leaving the New York Yankees in an ill-fated trade for Jonathan Albaladejo, Clippard has long since established himself as one of the premier relievers in the league. Since 2009, his accomplishments include two All-Star appearances, a 32 save season (2012) and another season in which he won 11 contests without starting a game.

Clippard’s ERA since ’09 is a sparkling 2.62 over a whopping 490.2 innings. Over that span, he’s struck out 557 batters. The reliever is now in Oakland following an offseason trade, and has predictably thrived in the cavernous confines of the O.co Coliseum. He’s solidified himself as the team’s closer with 17 saves on the campaign.

Adding the reliever would do a number of things for Detroit’s bullpen. Not only would the addition of Clippard improve the group, it would also ease pressure on the other pitchers. Clippard set-up Joakim Soria in the eighth, therefore allowing Alex Wilson, Blaine Hardy, Al Alburquerque, Neftali Feliz and Bruce Rondon to pitch the seventh inning or earlier in situations with more margin for error and less pressure.

(RELATED: Neftali Feliz Signing a Smart Move by the Tigers)

Scott Kazmir

While Clippard would help stabilize the bullpen, Scott Kazmir would bring much needed help to a rotation that is practically begging for it.

David Price has been everything and more in terms of being the team’s ace, while Anibal Sanchez has rebound as of late (5-0 record, .182 batting average against and a 2.84 ERA over his last six starts). Outside of those two and a seemingly rebounding Justin Verlander, there are major question marks in the Detroit rotation. Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene both started out pitching superbly. The key words there are “started out”. Both have been horrible lately, and Kyle Ryan and Buck Farmer haven’t been much better.

If healthy, Kazmir would fix some of those issues. He can’t clone himself, but he’d be a massive upgrade.

The former Tampa Bay ace hasn’t been racking up the wins like last season when he posted 15. Still, Kazmir has lowered his ERA by nearly an entire run, going from 3.55 last season to 2.49 this year. His walks are up slightly (2.4 last season, 3.0 per nine innings this season), but so are his strikeouts— 7.8 in 2014, 8.5 in 2015.

With only five wins on the season, Kazmir could follow a similar route to Doug Fister in terms of winning significantly more games in Detroit thanks to much-improved run support. He may not be an ace, but he’d fit in well in Motown as the Tigers’ second or third starter.

Cost:

The A’s farm system is not what it once was, specifically in the pitching department. Six of Oakland’s top eight prospects (including their top four overall, according to MLB.com) are position players. Going on that, a number of Tigers pitching prospects could interest Billy Beane and company. Angel Nesbitt showed flashes of potential, as well as a blazing fastball, during his stint in Detroit earlier this season. He may benefit a stint pitching in the O.co Coliseum. Tigers’ Futures Game representative Joe Jimenez could also interest Oakland.

(RELATED: Players the Tigers Could Move at the Trade Deadline)

The Tigers’ rotation struggles have been well documented, but one thing they have brought to light is the number of starters who are near big-league ready. Any one of Farmer, Ryan or Drew VerHagen could thrive in spacious Oakland. Detroit could also dangle infield prospect Dixon Machado.

Verdict:

While both players are rentals, but they might be the difference in the Tigers making or missing the playoffs. Beane will likely sell high on two of his better assets, but Detroit should at the very least kick the tires on both, if not acquire them outright.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Neftali Feliz Signing a Smart Move by the Tigers

Detroit’s bullpen hasn’t always been the best, and while the rotation has had its struggles this year, the bullpen has been much improved. The team has a reliable closer in Joakim Soria and dependable relievers in Alex Wilson, Al Alburquerque and Blaine Hardy. With Bruce Rondon still searching for consistency, the team made a move to bolster the ‘pen, signing former Texas closer Neftali Feliz. Feliz should successfully fill the role Soria struggled in last season. That role would essentially be back-up closer/eighth inning setup man.  

All three of Wilson, Alburquerque and Hardy are having better seasons, but none have the extensive closing experience that Feliz does. Additionally, Feliz has much more experience serving as set-up reliever than Soria did, which will help him succeed.

Disregarding this season’s numbers with Texas (which may be an outlier), Feliz has been nothing but outstanding as a Major League reliever. The ex-Ranger’s numbers from ’09 to ’14 are as follows—

198 Games, 142 Games Finished

241.2 Innings Pitched.

226 Strikeouts

2.53 ERA

87 Saves

If he continues to pitch like he did in Texas and in his Detroit debut (one shutout innings, minimum of three batters faced, one strikeout, good usage of his off-speed offerings in addition to his fastball), then the Tigers’ bullpen will be in good hands, not just for the rest of the season, but for the foreseeable future.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Detroit Tigers Have Officially Won the Yoenis Cespedes/Rick Porcello Trade

It’s official folks. Dave Dombrowski has won yet another trade. While not the as one-sided as the Miguel Cabrera fleecing, the Tigers general manager has made another team look foolish. That team would be the Boston Red Sox.

The Tigers acquired Yoenis Cespedes (#VoteCespedes!) from the Red Sox along with reliever Alex Wilson and prospect Gabe Speier. At first, the trade left the Tigers lacking in the starting pitching department. And while this is still somewhat of an issue, you can’t argue with the return Detroit has received.

Cespedes has provided the Tigers with a more than satisfactory replacement for Torii Hunter. Since arriving in Motown, all Cespedes has done is mash. He has 10 home runs to go along with 42 RBI and a stellar .294 batting average that is well above his usual displays. He’s certainly playing at an All-Star level and can always be counted on to make an outstanding/jaw dropping/awe inducing defensive play in the outfield, whether it be robbing a home run or throwing a baserunner out at the plate.

In addition to his defensive heroics, Cespedes also helped the Tigers offense when Victor Martinez went down for an extended amount of time. The outfielder moved up in the batting order to hit behind Miguel Cabrera and made sure there was no shortage of power in the middle of the Detroit order.

While Cespedes is the name that stands out in the transaction, the most import player in the transaction may be Wilson. Most probably viewed the reliever as a throw in not likely to amount to much, but Wilson has impressed. Over 26 appearances, he has a miniscule ERA of 1.26. The former Red Sox pitcher has worked his way into manager Brad Ausmus’ preferred grouping of relievers when the Tigers have the lead and are looking to bridge the gap to Joakim Soria. Moving forward, Wilson and Bruce Rondon will likely be the front runners for pitching the eighth inning.

At worst, the Tigers have found in Wilson a pitcher who is a shutdown reliever in the seventh or eighth inning. Thanks Boston!

Throw in a prospect who could be a contributor at some point down the road and the Tigers got a pretty screaming deal for trading Porcello. What did the Red Sox receive for an All-Star outfielder, a shutdown reliever and a prospect? Rick Porcello, the proud owner of a 5.54 ERA, eight losses (in 15 starts) and a hefty new contract.

Dave Dombrowski 1, Red Sox 0.

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