Minor League notebook

Portice taking to the bullpen

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / May 14, 2010

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Eammon Portice will turn 25 next month, a little old for a prospect, and the Red Sox are trying to determine where the righthander best fits into their plans. The answer appears to be the bullpen.

Portice was used almost exclusively as a starter for three seasons after the Sox took him in the 12th round of the 2007 draft out of High Point University in North Carolina.

He led the Carolina League and all Sox minor leaguers with 141 strikeouts last season. That led the Sox to believe that perhaps his mix of pitches would prove most effective in relief. Portice throws a split-finger fastball, a slider, and a two-seam sinking fastball.

“We thought shorter stints would help his velocity with his fastball and help make him more aggressive,’’ said player development director Mike Hazen. “His split seemed to play a little better out of the bullpen, too.’’

Through eight appearances for Double A Portland, the Sox appear to have made the right decision. Portice has struck out 22 over 23 2/3 innings and walked only three.

His ERA is 4.18, thanks to a poor outing against Reading May 3. But beyond that, Portice has impressed and is putting himself in line for a promotion.

“There has been little deviation,’’ Hazen said. “He has interesting stuff. The transition to the bullpen has been positive for him, and Eammon has been all for it. He’s somebody we’re keeping a close eye on.’’

Bullpen options
When the Sox broke spring camp, manager Terry Francona made it a point to say that several of the relief pitchers who were assigned to Pawtucket would almost certainly pitch for Boston this season.

That depth is starting to present itself, and the Sox have some good choices should they choose to bolster their bullpen.

Robert Manuel, a 26-year-old righthander, has a 1.89 ERA in 13 appearances. Righthanders are hitting only .128 against him and he has 18 strikeouts over 19 innings.

Veteran righthander Joe Nelson, the man with the “Vulcan’’ changeup, has a 1.86 ERA and has not allowed a run in his last 10 appearances, a stretch of 13 2/3 innings. He allowed eight hits and struck out 14 in those games.

Nelson has a clause in his contract allowing him to become a free agent in June if he is not in the major leagues.

Lefty Dustin Richardson is performing better against righthanded hitters (4 for 34) than he is against lefties (5 for 21). He has looked good lately, striking out 17 in his last 12 innings while allowing one run.

Strong showing
Anthony Rizzo knocked out a panel of the video board at Hadlock Field in Portland during his first round of batting practice with the Sea Dogs. The 20-year-old first baseman was promoted from Single A Salem Monday. The 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound Rizzo hit his first home run for Portland Wednesday, helping the Sea Dogs to a 7-2 victory against Binghamton. Rizzo played only 21 games in 2008 after being diagnosed with limited stage classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After beating the disease, he returned to baseball last season and hit .297 for Single A Greenville and Salem with 12 home runs and 66 RBIs over 119 games. His .368 on-base percentage led the organization’s minor leaguers. “He has an advanced approach at the plate,’’ general manager Theo Epstein said earlier this month. “There’s a lot to like.’’ Rizzo started this season with Salem and was promoted to take the place of Lars Anderson in Portland. Rizzo was 2 for 5 with four RBIs in his first two games for Portland. Anderson was hitting .268 with one homer and eight RBIs in his first 13 games for Pawtucket. How Anderson and Rizzo develop will influence how Epstein shapes the major league roster moving forward. The ability of Kevin Youkilis to play third base allows the Sox to consider the prospects as candidates to play first base in 2011 or beyond.

Warming trend
Portland shortstop Jose Iglesias didn’t much like the April weather in the Northeast and struggled a bit at the start of the season. But as the weather is warming up, so is Iglesias. Through Wednesday, the 20-year-old was 10 for 21 over a five-game stretch with five RBIs. The hot streak raised his batting average to .310 and Iglesias has a solid .352 on-base percentage . . . Salem catcher Tim Federowicz has 16 doubles, the most in the minor leagues. Seven of them have come with two outs. Thanks to Salem broadcaster Evan Lepler for that nugget . . . The Sox have shifted hard-hitting Oscar Tejada from shortstop to second base in deference to Iglesias. Tejada has had 13 multi-hit games for Salem, including seven with three hits. He is hitting .339 with six homers and 22 RBIs.

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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