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Sox looking to give Lowrie more playing time

04.13.11 at 1:29 am ET
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At a time when the Red Sox are struggling for offensive consistency, infielder Jed Lowrie has been red hot. The infielder was 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles (both off of starter David Price) in the Sox’ 3-2 loss to the Rays, and he is now hitting .438 this season.

In his career, Lowrie owns better numbers as a right-handed hitter (.314 average, .919 OPS) than as a left-hander (.226, .685), though some of the switch-hitter’s struggles as a left-hander can be pinned on the broken bone he suffered in his left wrist and his lengthy rehab from surgery to fix it. This year, Lowrie is 5-for-8 batting left-handed, and 2-for-8 with two doubles and two walks batting right-handed.

“The results are there. That’€™s always nice,” said Lowrie, who also lamented the fact that in his biggest at-bat of the night — a two-on, two-out situation against right-handed reliever Joel Peralta in the bottom of the eighth, he flied out to center. “But I’€™m really, really happy with the way that I’€™m working right now and my approach. I’€™ve always believed that if I keep that approach the results will be there, and they’€™re there right now.”

While Lowrie has been playing the role of a utility infielder who backs up all four Sox infielders, manager Terry Francona acknowledged after the game that he will try to find more playing time for the 26-year-old.

“He’€™s really swinging it,” said Francona. “He’€™s having some pretty professional at-bats. That’€™s what we saw at the end of last year. … When he’€™s swinging like this — and we think he’€™s a good player — but when he’€™s swinging like this, you probably look for ways to get him in there.”

While Lowrie played third on Tuesday (with Kevin Youkilis serving as DH and David Ortiz sitting against Price), the most logical place for him to get more playing time would be in favor of shortstop Marco Scutaro. Not only is short the position where Lowrie suggests he feels most comfortable, but in an infield that features Youkilis, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Scutaro (hitting .172 with a .480 OPS) would appear in the greatest danger of losing playing time.

Read More: Jed Lowrie, marco scutaro,

Game of inches keeps working against the Sox

04.13.11 at 12:27 am ET
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In another dominant performance by Jon Lester Tuesday night, runs were hard to come by for the Sox as they lost their ninth game of the season, 3-2. With a 1-0 lead going into the top of the 5th, Lester had his only hiccup of the game when he allowed three consecutive singles to load the bases. The next play would prove to be the deciding factor as Sam Fuld squibbed the ball up the first base line.

‘€œIt was one of those where we’€™re playing in because we can’€™t double him up, and the play is to go to the plate,” said manager Terry Francona. “We just didn’€™t get it there in time.’€

First baseman Adrian Gonzalez went home with the ball, but the throw wasn’t able to beat lumbering catcher Kelly Shoppach to the plate as he scored the tying run. Gonzalez appeared to hesitate for a moment before releasing the throw.

‘€œI just wanted to make sure I got a good throw in,” said Gonzalez. “From such a short distance, if you throw a little bit low or a little bit high, I know from first base perspective it’€™s tough to make a quick adjustment so I wanted to make sure I gave him a good throw to the chest.’€

After the miscue, Lester allowed a two-run single to Johnny Damon that would end up being the game winner. Though Lester was left without a victory despite an excellent performance for the second straight time, he did not fault his teammate for the game-turning play.

“I’€™m not going to question a guy for being aggressive,” said Lester. “It’€™s what he saw. I think that was the only play. We had Sam Fuld running. He’€™s pretty fast. I think that was really the only play there. It just didn’€™t go our way.’€

While there was the opportunity for a tag play on Fuld and a possible double play, Gonzalez was quick to dismiss notions of that by pointing out that if he had applied the tag then the force would no longer apply at the plate, thus making the play at home impossible.

As Boston continues to struggle there are a lot of mounting questions and few comforting answers. For most of the Sox, the answer is just to wait it out.

“The best thing is that we’€™re still in mid-April,” said Gonzalez. “You can easily get yourself out of this hole at this time of the year. You don’€™t want to be in this position in August. It’€™s still really, really early and we’€™re going to bounce back just fine.”

Read More: adrian gonzalez, Jon Lester, sam fuld,

Jon Lester says ‘it can’t be like this all season’

04.13.11 at 12:10 am ET
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The Red Sox season through 11 games could very easily be summed up by the fifth inning of Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Rays at Fenway Park to drop Boston to the AL East cellar at 2-9.

Top ace Jon Lester was overpowering the Rays with a nasty combination of a 94 mph fastball, a 87 mph cutter and a sharp upper 70s curve. Just one inning prior, Lester struck out the side, using all three pitches to make the heart of the Rays order look helpless.

But then came the fifth. With the Red Sox leading 1-0 on a Darnell McDonald homer to left, Lester allowed one-out singles to Kelly Shoppach, Dan Johnson and Elliot Johnson, the 7-8-9 hitters in the lineup. A slow-motion Sam Fuld chopper to Adrian Gonzalez was fielded by the Sox first baseman but a throw home for a force play was too late. Johnny Damon followed with a two-run single to center. Three runs in five batters and Lester could only hope for his dormant offense to make up the 3-1 deficit.

“Four singles beat me,” Lester said. “But you know what, I’ll take that every start. If you’re going to beat me with singles, then I’ll tip my cap. Probably the only pitch in that inning that I want back is the ball I threw Damon, just the right side of the plate, up a little bit and he was able to put a good swing on it.”

During the fifth, it looked certain that his outing was drawing to a close with his pitch count nearing 90. But then he got the second of three double play grounders to end the fifth. His third came to end the seventh and finish his night at 109 pitches.

“It’s kind of hard not to notice [the pitch count],” Lester said. “It’s on three screens in the ballpark. You know what’s going on. You try not to let it get into your head. Obviously, it’s there but you try to worry about executing one pitch at a time. For the most part, I was in that mindset tonight. A couple of times I got away from it, it didn’t hurt me. I got some foul balls or some balls.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Red Sox, David Price, Jon Lester, MLB

Closing Time: Rays 3, Red Sox 2

04.12.11 at 10:07 pm ET
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The margin for error was incredibly slim against David Price and the Rays. But for a while, it appeared it might be enough for Jon Lester.

On the strength of a spectacular cutter that headlined a full array of swing-and-miss pitches, Lester struck out seven Rays through four shutout innings, navigating a 1-0 lead into the fifth. But at a time when the little things have not gone well for the Sox, that trend continued, leading to the unraveling of the evening for both the pitcher and his team.

A mist started falling in the top of the fifth inning, and the Rays started rallying. The Rays amassed three straight one-out singles, and then, unstoppable Granite Stater Sam Fuld hit a slow chopper to first. Adrian Gonzalez charged and gloved it cleanly, but then (perhaps due to the rain?) struggled with his grip. The extra fraction of a second was the difference between the runner at the plate (lumbering Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach) being safe and out on the fielder’s choice grounder. Johnny Damon then followed with a two-run single to give the Rays all the runs they would need en route to a 3-2 victory.

The Sox now sit alone in last place in the AL East at 2-9.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–The Red Sox couldn’t muster any offense against Rays starter David Price. Perhaps more importantly, they could do nothing to drive up his pitch count, in no small part due to Price’s ruthless efficiency. The left-hander threw first pitch strikes to each of the first 13 Red Sox batters he faced. He relied primarily on a mid-90s four-seam fastball, low-90s two-seamer and an effectively unbalancing changeup en route to his first victory of the year. He allowed just five hits in 7 2/3 innings.

–Once again, the Sox were terrible with runners in scoring position. They were 1-for-7 in such moments, and are now 7-for-52 (.135) with runners in scoring position dating to Saturday. For the year, the team is hitting .192 (20-for-104) in such scoring opportunities.

Carl Crawford‘s challenging start to his Red Sox career continued. He reached base in his first plate appearance after getting hit by a pitch, but was promptly erased when Price picked him off. He then went hitless in his remaining three at-bats, and is now hitting .152.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–Aside from the brief hiccup in the fifth, Lester was tremendous. Though he permitted seven hits in his seven innings of work, all were singles. Lester struck out eight, and now has punched out 15 in his last 14 innings while permitting just 10 hits in that span. The first game of the season — in which Lester did not strike out a single member of the Rangers lineup — is now a distant memory.

Jed Lowrie enjoyed a tremendous night against Price, collecting a pair of doubles and lining out hard to third. In part-time duty, he is now hitting .438 (7-for-16). However, in his most meaningful at-bat of the game — batting left-handed against reliever Joel Peralta with runners on first and second and the Sox down, 3-2, in the eighth — Lowrie flied out to center.

Darnell McDonald offered exactly the sort of thump the Sox were hoping for when they stacked their lineup with right-handers against Price. McDonald slammed a hanging curve into the Monster Seats in the bottom of the third to give them a 1-0 lead. That, however, was the team’s only offense against the Rays.

Read More: carl crawford, darnell mcdonald, David Price, Jed Lowrie

Red Sox vs. Rays — Live from Fenway

04.12.11 at 7:11 pm ET
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Red Sox/Rays Live Blog

Francona: Red Sox’ view of Daisuke remains unchanged

04.12.11 at 6:09 pm ET
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Just about nothing went right for Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Red Sox Monday night against the Rays. Lasting just two innings, Matsuzaka allowed seven runs on eight hits as he watched his ERA climb to 12.86 on the season.  But while manager Terry Francona acknowledged that the pitcher struggled through a “horrendous second inning,” he also made clear that the Red Sox haven’t altered their view of Matsuzaka as a pitcher.

“I think if we do things like that then we set ourselves up for some really bad mistakes,” Francona said when asked if the poor outing had changed his view of the starter. “It was tough to watch, but if you make decisions based on emotions after a bad start, we wouldn’t have a team left. You can’t do that.”

Francona indicated that the pitching rotation will remain the same through the next turn, unless rainouts alter the schedule. The manager had not talked to the pitcher about Monday’s struggles as of his meeting with the media at 4 p.m.

“The hard thing for me is that I can’t have a casual conversation with Dice,” said Francona. “It’s easy to have one with anybody, like [John] Lackey, [Jon] Lester or whoever and that’s frustrating. It doesn’t mean he can’t pitch, it’s just hard to have that casual conversation.”

While language barriers remain for casual conversation, however, Francona said that miscommunication is not a factor in his performances during games. Regarding Monday’s struggles, Francona said that the location and life of the pitcher’s offerings were entirely responsible for the outcome.

“I thought [his fastball] was flat’€¦.but it was flat in the middle,” said Francona. “There was some pretty solid contact on it and it hurt us.”

Other Notes:

–Tonight’s Red Sox lineup against the Rays’ southpaw David Price is not surprisingly heavily right-handed. Righties Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald will play center and right field as Francona opted to go with Kevin Youkilis at DH and Jed Lowrie at third base to give the Sox some versatility around the infield. Jason Varitek will also be behind the plate tonight catching Jon Lester. Price has held lefties to a .218 average and .579 OPS in his career; righties have hit .232/.688 against him.

Jacoby Ellsbury showed some signs of life Monday night as he went 2-4 with a home run. Though the showing of power was a good sign, Francona suggested that he was more concerned with getting his speedy  centerfielder on the bases.

“He’s a strong kid. The ball comes off his bat good, so that’s gonna happen,” said Francona. “But the consistent swings and the ability to stay on top of the ball when he’s stuggling and going to left field. Things like that are probably more important.”

–Francona was pleased with what he saw out of Youkilis Monday night even though the one hit in three at-bats might not reflect it. In fact, Francona thought that one of Youkilis’ most promising at-bats was a line-drive double play to the second baseman that he hit into in the 7th inning. “I know it was a lineout, double play to second, but when he does that something’s going right,” said Francona. “You can’t, as a hitter, hit the ball that way and have your mechanics not be good. And it’s probably not a coincidence that he rifles a ball into left field a couple at-bats later.”

Youkilis is making his first career start as a DH on Tuesday.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be out of tonight’s lineup. The Sox had planned to have Varitek start against Price, but there was another reason that made for a solid reason to give Saltalamacchia an off-day: His wife gave birth to the couple’s third daughter late last night. The couple remains undecided on the daughter’s name.

          Time for Daisuke to go? For now, the answer should be no

          04.12.11 at 2:38 pm ET
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          It was one terrible start.

          There is no way to sugar coat what happened to Daisuke Matsuzaka on Monday night against the Rays. He was battered early and often, allowing seven runs on eight innings in just two-plus brutal innings of work.

          The reaction has been swift. Calls for Matsuzaka to be taken out of the rotation, or traded, or banished to the island of Elba have torn across New England. Matsuzaka — ever a lightning rod — has once again inflamed the passions of Red Sox fans as few others can.

          Even Sox manager Terry Francona could do little to mask his frustrations with the 30-year-old’s outing, particularly the horrific second inning in which the pitcher permitted six runs.

          “We got into the second and everything went to the middle of the plate,” said Francona. “There was seven balls hit right on the barrel. We love when guys throw strikes but there was some balls that were middle-middle for the first seven hitters.

          “The best way to be a good player is to be consistent,” added Francona. “You’€™re going to have some good nights. There’€™s a lot of nights where you don’€™t know quite what’€™s going to happen. We’€™ve seen a lot of nights where there’€™s a lot of inconsistency in the strike zone, in and out, tonight he was right down the middle. They squared up a lot of balls in a hurry.”

          Matsuzaka, of course, has been anything but consistent over the course of his Red Sox career. His talent has often been something of a tease, with the pitcher alternately having outings that verge on dominance and then getting lit up like a firecracker. As colleague Rob Bradford points out, four-plus years and 100 starts into his Red Sox career, no one has made sense of the pitcher.

          So does that mean he should be demoted or sent packing?

          Nope. Not now. Not after one passable start (5 innings, 3 earned runs) against the Indians and one dreadful one against the Rays. If his struggles continue for additional weeks, then perhaps the Sox would be in position to reconsider. But for now, the Sox should — and likely will have to — stick with him.

          The team felt his performance was appalling, but they are mindful that he has bounced back from bad outings before, and feel that — based on what he did in spring training — he has shown the ability to do so once again to be a useful member of the rotation. There appear to be no plans to take him out of the rotation, a move that would represent an overreaction to a bad start.

          There are many reasons to keep him in the rotation, rather than banishing him to a lonely island. A closer look: Read the rest of this entry »

          Read More: alfredo aceves, Daisuke Matsuzaka, felix doubront, Tim Wakefield

          Tuesday’s Red Sox-Rays matchups: Jon Lester vs. David Price

          04.12.11 at 1:41 pm ET
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          After a promising showing against the Yankees over the weekend, the Red Sox fell back into old habits Monday night with an embarrassing 16-5 loss to the Rays. Daisuke Matsuzaka was less than impressive, allowing seven runs in just two-plus innings in earning his second loss of the season. The Sox look to bounce back in the second game of the series as Jon Lester takes on the Rays’ David Price.

          Price is off to an 0-2 start for Tampa Bay due to a lack of run support, as the Rays scored only one run in each of his starts. He gave up only three runs and nine hits in six innings in his last start against Chicago but picked up the loss as the White Sox won 5-1.

          Coming off a near Cy Young season in 2010 in which he went 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA, Price will need to return to his dominant form to carry this rebuilding Rays team. Boston’s only reliable offensive mainstay this year has been Dustin Pedroia, as he’s hitting .368. However, Price has held Pedroia hitless in six plate appearances.

          Lester is coming off a dominant performance in Cleveland, where he went seven innings, holding the Indians scoreless and only allowing three hits. However, no run support left Lester with a no-decision as the Sox lost their sixth in a row.

          Throughout his career Lester has matched up well against the Rays, posting a 9-3 record with a 3.80 ERA in 16 starts. Lester’s dominance over lefties should weigh in his favor against the many left-handed hitters in Tampa Bay’s lineup. However, one lefty who has fared well against Lester ‘€” .292 with two home runs and four RBIs ‘€” is Johnny Damon. After breaking out of his early season slump Monday night with three hits and three RBI, Damon will attempt to continue his success against his old team.

          Read the rest of this entry »

          Read More: David Price, Jon Lester,

          John Kruk on M&M: Give Daisuke Matsuzaka ‘the opportunity to fail on his own’

          04.12.11 at 12:54 pm ET
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          ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk made his weekly appearance on the Mut & Merloni show Tuesday to talk about the Red Sox. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

          Daisuke Matsuzaka gave up seven runs in two-plus innings Monday night vs. the Rays. “To me, it was a poorly put-together game plan, in my opinion,” Kruk said. “You saw the first inning. What Josh Beckett did to the Yankees on Sunday night, he was throwing the fastball early and then getting outs later with his breaking ball. But the first inning, he was just throwing fastballs ‘€” [Derek] Jeter, [Mark] Texeira ‘€” two-seamer and a four-seamer, just throwing fastballs by those guys. And it looked like they took that same game plan in there with Daisuke. The problem was Beckett was throwing 94, 95, and Daisuke was throwing 89, 90. And Beckett was locating, and Daisuke it was just: ‘Here, hit it.’

          “It was awful. It just looked like, ‘I know I’m getting behind hitters so I’m just going to throw strikes.’ Strikes are strikes. Bad strikes are getting hit hard.”

          Kruk said putting Matsuzaka in the bullpen is not a long-term option. “How can he pitch out of the bullpen?” Kruk said. “Unless the only way you’re going to use him is in blowout games. But if you’re going to do that then why have him? Why have him on the roster?”

          As for the possibility of a trade, Kruk said Matsuzaka’s value is too low. “Who’s going to trade for him? And what are you going to get for him if you trade?” he said. “The problem with trading him is it’s going to be like Josh Beckett. You’re going to have to throw in someone like Mike Lowell in order to trade Daisuke. You’re going to have to throw in maybe someone like [Jacoby] Ellsbury or someone really good, [a] major league-ready player just so someone would take Daisuke. And that to me is a risky proposition for the Red Sox right now.”

          Kruk said Matsuzaka should adapt to the way pitchers are coached in the United States, but at this stage he’s ready to throw in the towel and let the Japanese legend prepare as he likes.

          Said Kruk: “That’s what I would do. I would say: ‘Look, here’s the deal. We don’t know what to do with you. We tried it our way for four years, five years, whatever it’s been. Go do what you want. Here, you go do it. You figure it out. You have your way of doing it, you go do it your way. And then if it doesn’t work, then we’re going to call you in and say bye-bye, we don’t need you anymore. Go find somewhere else to play.’ That’s what I would do. I would give him the opportunity to fail on his own.”

          Carl Crawford continues to struggle at the plate, and Kruk wonders why he’s changed his approach from last year with the Rays. “What Carl has to do is go back to basics,” Kruk said. “I watched tape on him yesterday. He is so different than he was last year when he was going good with Tampa, and his approach at the plate, the way he’s setting up at the plate. His hands are over his head. Last year they were about even with his chin. His front foot is almost out of the batter’s box. ‘€¦ Last year it was inside the line. That’s how much farther his hands are up and how much more farther he’s spread out.”

          Kruk said he’ll look at Manny Ramirez “as a guy that didn’t get it,” and said the former Red Sox slugger won’t get into the Hall of Fame. “My opinion of him is he would have been a great hitter regardless, he just probably wouldn’t have been as great for as long,” Kruk said. “And he was very ‘€” I don’t want to say ignorant, but defiant of the system.”

          Read More: carl crawford, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Kruk, Josh Beckett

          Poll: What should Red Sox do with Daisuke Matsuzaka?

          04.12.11 at 11:52 am ET
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          Daisuke Matsuzaka gave up seven runs in two-plus innings Monday night in the Red Sox' 16-5 loss to the Rays. How should the team handle the enigmatic starter?

          • Trade or release him (57%, 416 Votes)
          • Leave him alone and let him work it out (20%, 148 Votes)
          • Have him skip a start or two but then get him back in the rotation (14%, 103 Votes)
          • Banish him to the bullpen (9%, 67 Votes)

          57

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