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Hideki Okajima trying to work his way back to Boston

04.11.11 at 12:24 pm ET
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Reliever Hideki Okajima knew when he signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox this offseason that he was not guaranteed a roster spot. That didn’€™t make getting sent to Pawtucket to start the season any easier, though. When asked Thursday night how he felt upon being told of the decision, Okajima responded through a translator with a simple ‘€œdisappointed.’€

That said, Okajima recognizes that a call-up to Boston could be right around the corner if he pitches well in Pawtucket, which he has so far. He tossed a perfect inning in the season opener Thursday and followed that up with a one-hit scoreless inning Saturday.

‘€œIt’€™s all about results over here,’€ Okajima said. ‘€œSo I’€™ll do whatever I’€™m needed to and I’€™ll do everything that I’€™m told to do.’€

Okajima didn’€™t produce those results last season, when the former All-Star posted a 4.50 ERA and 1.72 WHIP in 56 appearances. Both of those were easily career worsts. In his first three seasons, he never had an ERA higher than 3.39 or a WHIP higher than 1.26. A poor spring training (5.14 ERA, 1.57 WHIP) didn’€™t help his cause.

‘€œI just felt that I had lost the battle at that point when I was told,’€ said the 35-year-old Okajima. ‘€œI had been preparing, of course, to start the season up in the majors. So I had been preparing that way, getting my body ready. But since I’€™ve been told, I’€™ve had to regroup myself, get myself ready again and start back from [square] one.’€

One of the things Okajima said he had been working on was ways to get right-handed batters out. Righties hit an eye-popping .340 off him last season. Okajima said part of the reason for his struggles could be that major league hitters are getting used to his stuff, meaning he needs to make some adjustments.

‘€œI’€™m sure the opposition has been studying me and the more they see me, the more they get used to me,’€ Okajima said. ‘€œSo my plan in preparing for this season, I was studying and developing pitches to attack right-handed batters. I was really looking forward to using that up in the big leagues, but since this happened, I’€™ll just have to try those out here and hopefully everything goes well and I can make it back up.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Arnie Beyeler, Hideki Okajima, Michael Bowden,

Red Sox-Rays matchups: Matsuzaka vs. Hellickson

04.11.11 at 10:47 am ET
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It’€™s safe to say no one was expecting the Red Sox and Rays to be a combined 3-15 entering Monday night’€™s series opener at Fenway Park. But after both teams started 0-6, they have found themselves looking up at the rest of the AL East in the early going. The Sox took a step in the right direction over the weekend, taking two of three from the Yankees, while the Rays dropped three of four to the White Sox.

Monday night’€™s pitching matchup pits Daisuke Matsuzaka against Jeremy Hellickson. They both enter the game 0-1 after similar first starts. Matsuzaka gave up three earned runs over five innings against the Indians and Hellickson gave up three earned over 5 2/3 against the Angels.

The 24-year-old Hellickson appeared in 10 games last year in his first season in the bigs, posting a 4-0 record and 3.47 ERA in 36 1/3 innings. One of those games came against Boston on Sept. 7. The right-hander came out of the bullpen and gave up three earned runs in 1 2/3 innings, but the Rays still won the game 14-5. Four current Red Sox had an at bat against Hellickson in that game, with Jed Lowrie, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Darnell McDonald all getting a hit and an RBI — McDonald’€™s of the home run variety.

Matsuzaka has much more experience against the Rays, but it’€™s rarely been a pleasant experience for the right-hander. He’€™s just 2-6 with a 5.09 ERA in 12 career starts against Tampa. Last year was even worse, as Matsuzaka struggled with the Rays more than any other team, going 0-2 with an 8.62 ERA in three starts.

Johnny Damon, Ben Zobrist and Casey Kotchman are all hitting .278 or better with a home run off Matsuzaka. John Jaso, Kelly Shoppach and Sean Rodriguez are all hitting .333 or better against Matsuzaka as well. B.J. Upton and Matt Joyce have also homered off Matsuzaka — Upton twice — but they’€™re both hitting below .240.

MATSUZAKA VS. RAYS

PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP missG
B.J. Upton 24 21 5 0 0 2 4 2 6 .238 .304 .524 .828 1 0 0 0 0
Johnny Damon 23 18 5 0 0 1 5 4 3 .278 .391 .444 .836 0 1 0 0 0
Ben Zobrist 16 12 4 0 0 1 4 4 4 .333 .500 .583 1.083 0 0 0 0 0
Matthew Joyce 15 8 1 0 0 1 1 5 0 .125 .533 .500 1.033 0 0 0 2 0
Casey Kotchman 14 10 3 0 0 1 2 4 0 .300 .500 .600 1.100 0 0 0 0 1
John Jaso 9 9 3 1 0 0 2 0 1 .333 .333 .444 .778 0 0 0 0 0
Kelly Shoppach 9 8 3 1 0 0 2 1 3 .375 .444 .500 .944 0 0 0 0 0
Dan Johnson 7 6 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 .000 .143 .000 .143 0 0 0 0 0
Sean Rodriguez 6 6 2 1 0 0 0 0 2 .333 .333 .500 .833 0 0 0 0 0
Total 123 98 26 3 0 6 20 21 21 .265 .402 .480 .881 1 1 0 2 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/11/2011.

HELLICKSON VS. RED SOX

PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP missG
Jed Lowrie 1 1 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 1.000 1.000 2.000 3.000 0 0 0 0 0
Darnell McDonald 1 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 1.000 1.000 4.000 5.000 0 0 0 0 0
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 1 1 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 1.000 1.000 2.000 3.000 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Varitek 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 4 4 3 2 0 1 3 0 0 .750 .750 2.000 2.750 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/11/2011.
Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, darnell mcdonald, Jeremy Hellickson, Johnny Damon

Orel Hershiser on D&C: Manny Ramirez ‘such a frustrating character’

04.11.11 at 10:14 am ET
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ESPN baseball analyst Orel Hershiser joined the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning to talk about the Red Sox following Sunday night’s 4-0 shutout of the Yankees. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Josh Beckett had his most impressive outing a long time in Sunday’s victory. Hershiser, the former Dodgers star who himself battled injuries during his career, said he thinks Beckett is learning how to become a different pitcher.

“Back problems, arm problems, they can get into your mechanics,” Hershiser said. “They can also get into your confidence. They can also get into your aggressiveness. ‘€¦ That creeps into where you are as a person and competing. And I think the fact that he was home, that the Red Sox needed a win, that they were playing the Yankees, that the adrenaline was so great, that you forget that you are hurt. You get to that fight-or-flight mentality, and he decided to fight.

“And his mechanics were much better. He wasn’t tilting back toward first base on his leg kick. He was driving toward home plate. He was confident out over his front leg and having the finish on his pitches. And you could see that, especially on his curveball. The depth on his curveball ‘€” even when he hung it ‘€” it was sharp.”

Added Hershiser: “For Josh, he’s not going to reinvent himself, but he’s smart enough to know how to adapt. And if he’s not going to throw 96, 97 [mph] and he’s not going to be able to pitch up in the strike zone because he’s going to be more around 92-94, I think he’s going to be fine. I think he’s going to learn.”

Hershiser picked the Red Sox to win the World Series and insisted he still has confidence in them. “I think it’s a great team,” he said. “I think they have holes. Of course, they have question marks. But you know what? Everybody has holes and question marks. On paper, when you look at them, the resume tells you this team is going to score a ton of runs. This team is going to pitch well over the long term. This team has a great 7-8-9 bullpen. And this team has kind of the intangibles with Terry Francona at the helm and some of the things that [Dustin] Pedroia and [Kevin] Youkilis bring to the table. This team could have chemistry. I still think they’re going to turn it around.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Alex Rodriguez, Josh Beckett, Manny Ramirez, Orel Hershiser

Junichi Tazawa starts the road back

04.11.11 at 9:51 am ET
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Red Sox right-hander Junichi Tazawa, who missed all of 2010 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, pitched in a game setting for the first time since undergoing the procedure. In an intrasquad game in Fort Myers, the right-hander threw 27 pitches while facing eight batters, striking out three and not allowing a base runner. His fastball velocity registered as high as 89 mph — still below his low-90s velocity of 2009, but close to his pre-surgery form as he continues to build arm strength in his comeback.

The 24-year-old is currently on the 60-day disabled list. While he is likely to spend much of the year in the minors, he could end up providing the Sox with either bullpen or rotation depth later in the year. In his first (and only) professional season in 2009, he went 9-7 with a 2.55 ERA in 20 minor league starts at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, then went 2-3 with a 7.46 ERA in six big league appearances for the Sox.

Read More: junichi tazawa,

Nuggetpalooza: Sunday Night Nuggets!

04.11.11 at 9:39 am ET
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Lots of interesting stuff happened last night at a raucous Fenway Park, but most of it was Josh Beckett related:

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* – Some quick notes on Josh Beckett’s specific pitches last night (via Brooks Baseball): Beckett ended 13 atbats with his curveball last night, all against left handed batters, resulting in 0-for-13 with five strikeouts. He got one or two outs via his curve in all eight innings that he pitched… Beckett also threw 18 changeups, all to lefties, and found the strike zone on 11, resulting in 0-for-4 with one strikeout… In two starts, opponents are now 0-for-17 against Beckett’s curve, 0-for-11 against his changeup, and 7-for-31 (.226) with five of his six walks against his fastball… Overall, 81 of  Beckett’s 102 pitches last night were to left handed hitters.

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* – The YankeesCC Sabathia allowed 14 Red Sox to reach base last night, but allowed only one run. It was the first time in the majors since 2007 that a pitcher had allowed 14 or more baserunners and fewer than two runs.

Note this: The last time that a Yankee pitcher had such a start? Ron Guidry in 1982. The last time that an opposing pitcher had such a start against Boston? Baltimore’s Mike Mussina in 1993.

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* – Before taking the loss last night, Sabathia was 23-0 as a member of the Yankees when allowing one or zero earned runs.

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* – Last night, Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon combined to retire the first Yankees batter in all nine innings. It was the first time in 2011 that Sox pitchers have done it after it happened six times last year, four times in 2009, six times in 2008, and 10 times in 2007.

Note this: Not included above is last September 26, where Red Sox pitchers retired the Yankees first batter in each of the first nine innings, but allowed him to reach in the 10th inning. If you include that game, then it means that Red Sox pitchers have done it to the Yankees in three of the last nine games played between the two teams (and gone 2-1 in those games).

And this: The Red Sox have won three in a row and 14 of their last 19 when they’ve not allowed any leadoff batters to reach base.

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* – Beckett fanned 10 Yankees last night, the 11th time in his career (and sixth time as a Red Sox) that he’s struck out 10 or more in a game. Red Sox career leaders in double digit strikeout games:

72 – Pedro Martinez
68 – Roger Clemens
14 – John Lester

Note this: Beckett had not struck out 10 or more in any of his last 35 starts prior to last night.

And this: Beckett had fanned six through the first four innings last night. Prior to that, he had struck out six or more in just 10 of his last 22 starts.

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* – Boston now has seven RBI with the bases loaded in 2011, and Marco Scutaro has four of them. Since the start of last season, Scutaro is 9-for-16 with the bases loaded (.563), the third highest average in the majors in that span (min. 15 bases loaded AB):

.647 – Vladimir Guerrero (11-for-17)
.611 – Robinson Cano (11-for-18)
.563 – Marco Scutaro (9-for-16)

Hmmmm. All three in the AL East.

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* – Last night was just the fourth time since coming to Boston that Josh Beckett has recorded an eighth inning out in April. What’s more, he went more than seven innings last season only once.

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* – Beckett’s “game score” last night was 87, his second best mark since coming to Boston. The only better score (88) came in 2009 when he fired a three-hit shutout at Kansas City.

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* – What a change from Beckett’s recent history: Over last year plus this year’s first start, Beckett’s ERA in the first three innings was 3.74. His ERA from the fourth inning on: 7.49.

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* – After hitting just 24 line drives (the fewest in the AL) in their first eight games, averaging  just 3.0 per game, the Red Sox had nine liners last night. It was just the second time in their last 47 games that they’ve had nine or more line drives.

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* – The Red Sox used their eighth different batting order in nine games this season, which is on pace for their most ever in a season, set last year:

143 – 2010 (no batting order was used more than five times)
141 – 2004 (no order was used more than four times)
140 – 2000
136 – 2001

In 1984, the Red Sox used only 42 different lineups and the exact same one was used in 66 different games that season!

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Dustin Pedroia ‘wills’ Red Sox to important win

04.11.11 at 1:13 am ET
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With the Red Sox offense spinning its wheels, Dustin Pedroia and Marco Scutaro were the two who jumpstarted the engine Sunday night in a 4-0 blanking of the Yankees at Fenway Park.

It’s not that the Red Sox ripped the cover off the ball. After all, they left an amazing 16 runners on base. But when it mattered this weekend, with the Red Sox desperately needing to take at least 2-of-3 to regain some momentum after an 0-6 start, it was Pedroia who really produced.

The 2008 AL MVP had three hits in each game, finishing 9-for-13 with four runs scored. The Red Sox improved to 2-7, four back of Baltimore in the AL East.

“The way I think about it, we’€™re four games out of first place with 153 to go,” Pedroia said. “That’€™s a long-ass way away. I’€™m not very smart, but it looks doable. What do you think? Arizona State education, it paid off.

“We’€™re just going to come out and play. In like the sixth inning, I was looking up at the [standings] board out there. We’€™re four games out now with 153 to go. That’€™s the reality of everything. Everybody knows what type of team we have. The expectations, everyone told us how good we were and we went to Texas and they punched us right in the mouth. We’€™ve go to respond to it. The best we can do is go out there and play.”

Scutaro reached base all four times and had the game’s biggest hit after his teammates failed time after time with runners in scoring position. Scutaro, who drove in two with a bases-loaded double in the seventh, couldn’t agree more with Pedroia’s read of the situation.

“It’s contagious,” Scutaro said. “When you hit, it gets contagious. When you get in a slump, it’s contagious, too. There’s too much talent on this team not to win a lot of games. Losing streaks, we’re going to have it sooner or later, maybe in the middle of the season. It’s 162 games. Unfortunately, we got it in the beginning so that kind of makes it look a little worse. We just got to pray to stay healthy. If we stay healthy, we’ll be fine.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Red Sox, carl crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Varitek

Closing Time: Red Sox 4, Yankees 0

04.10.11 at 11:08 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona often talks about how he wants “Beckett to be Beckett.” On Sunday night against the Yankees, that wish was granted.

Josh Beckett was as good as he has ever been as a member of the Red Sox. Against a stacked Yankees lineup, he was simply overpowering. He tossed eight shutout innings, allowing just two harmless singles while striking out 10 (the 11th double-digit strikeout game of his career, and first since July 27, 2009).

It marked the first time as a member of the Red Sox that Beckett had ever punched out at least 10 while not giving up a run. But even that failed to encapsulate his overpowering performance.

He recorded 24 outs. Of those, 10 came via punchout, and another 11 were via groundball. The Yankees could barely touch him, and when they did, they could produce nothing but the weakest of contact.

With Beckett at his best, he gave the Sox not only a 4-0 victory, but also their first series win of the year — against the Yankees, no less. The performance was as encouraging a sign as the Sox have seen all year.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–For a starting rotation that desperately needed some cause for optimism, Beckett delivered in spades. The right-hander was overpowering while working primarily with a variety of four- and two-seam fastballs (the pitch that starts at a left-hander’s belt buckle and sweeps back over the plate, a signature of Beckett’s 2009 success) as well as a hammer curve and mixing in enough changeups and cutters to unbalance the Yankees.

The contest marked just the fifth time in Beckett’s Red Sox career that he has thrown eight or more shutout innings, and just his sixth game since joining the Sox in 2006 with 10 or more strikeouts.

Dustin Pedroia remained red hot on the Sox homestand. He collected three hits in all three contests against the Yankees, going 9-for-13. He became the first Red Sox since Kevin Youkilis in 2009 to collect at least three hits in three straight games. The record such streak for the Sox is four straight games of 3+ hits, achieved six times since 1919 — most recently by Edgar Renteria in 2005.

Marco Scutaro, who had a day off on Saturday, enjoyed a terrific game, reaching in all four of his plate appearances, including three against CC Sabathia. Scutaro had a single and two walks, but his biggest hit came in the bottom of the seventh, when he ripped a bases-loaded, two-run double into the left-field corner against Joba Chamberlain.

Scutaro is now 9-for-16 with the bases loaded as a member of the Sox. On Sunday, he bumped up his OBP from .182 to .308.

–Though it happened before the game, the Sox and pitcher Clay Buchholz described a four-year contract extension (which includes a pair of option years and could keep the right-hander in Boston through 2017) as a win-win. For more on why and how the deal was consummated, click here. For complete details of the deal, click here.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–The Red Sox continued their dismal performance with runners in scoring position. One day after they went 1-for-17 in such situations, the Sox were a meager 3-for-13 with such opportunities. While that was enough for them to win, they will find it hard to sustain success on nights when they strand 16 (!) runners.

–The Sox, in fact, proved innovative in their efforts to squander. The Sox very nearly wasted their best scoring opportunity of the day on a base runner’s interference call. In the bottom of the third inning, with the bases loaded and no outs, David Ortiz hit into a tailor made double play. Rather than concede the two outs, Kevin Youkilis slid into Derek Jeter without making any effort to touch second. Youkilis was called for interference, which meant that both he and Ortiz were called out, and the remaining base runners were ordered to return to second and third. The Sox did manage to salvage a single run when Mike Cameron followed with an infield single, but in the absence of Youkilis’ play, the Sox might have been in position to score more than one run in the inning.

Carl Crawford continued his struggles. Though he hit two balls authoritatively — flying out to the warning track in left-center, and smashing a grounder into the glove of Robinson Cano with the Yankees infield drawn in — Crawford went 0-for-5 to conclude a three-game set against the Yanks in which he went 1-for-15 out of the leadoff spot. He still has yet to collect his first extra-base hit since coming to Boston.

Read More: carl crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Josh Beckett, marco scutaro

Terry Francona on Carl Crawford: ‘I don’t see any panic’

04.10.11 at 10:42 pm ET
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The struggles of Carl Crawford continued Sunday night in front of a national TV audience as he failed to get a hit in his five at-bats to lower his average to .132 on the season, including 1-for-15 in his first series against the Yankees as a member of the Red Sox.

“When he gets on base a bunch and starts creating havoc, he’s going to feel fine,” Sox skipper Terry Francona said. “Until that happens with a lot of guys, they’re searching a little bit. We had extra hitting [Sunday], that’s the best way I know how to remedy things like that. He went out there and hit. That’s what you do. It’ll fall into place.”

Will Francona say anything?

“I don’t think we pull him aside and tell him anything,” Francona said before Sunday night’s game. “I think in the normal course of a day’s events, you have your conversations and try to stay consistent. I think players smell when you’re telling them something you don’t normally tell them.

“It’s human nature but everybody is a little bit different. Everybody talked when Jason Bay came, how well he did and how he handled it. The fact that in his first game, he hit a ball off the wall, helps. You can’t just press a button and get hits or we all would. I think everybody is different.”

Between Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, it was Crawford whom many figured would have a more difficult time early on in Boston trying to adjust to the attention of signing a seven-year, $142 million deal in the winter.

“I think he is very conscientious but I don’t see any panic or anything like that,” Francona said. “This guy’s been playing a long time and he’s been playing in this division.”

Read More: adrian gonzalez, Boston Red Sox, carl crawford, jason bay

Terry Francona: Mike Cameron shows again why ‘he’s as professional as you can be’

04.10.11 at 9:39 pm ET
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Once again Sunday night, Mike Cameron showed that while he may not be the spectacular player he was a decade ago he can still deliver when Terry Francona needs him.

Following a what looked like a devastating 4-6-3 double play on an interference call on Kevin Youkilis at second base – keeping Dustin Pedroia at third – Cameron chopped a grounder into the new Fenway dirt and beat out Eric Chavez‘s throw to first, scoring Pedroia and giving Josh Beckett and the Red Sox a 1-0 lead.

The reason Cameron was even in the lineup to begin with was Francona’s decision to sit the struggling Jacoby Ellsbury against Yankees lefty ace C.C. Sabathia. Cameron was 8-for-16 lifetime against Sabathia while Ellsbury had just one hit in 13 ABs.

“I wanted to get Cam in there and Ells hasn’t had a lot of success,” Francona said before the game. “One through nine, against a guy like Sabathia, you’re not going to have nine guys who’ve really had their way with him. He’s one of the better pitchers in the game but I wanted to get Cam’s bat in there.

I know he’s trying to. He’s doing it as professionally as possible. I don’t want him to sit very often because he’s a big part of what we’re doing. Cam’s about as professional as you can be.”

Read More: Boston Red Sox, C.C. Sabathia, Eric Chavez, Jacoby Ellsbury

Red Sox live blog: Marco Scutaro bases-loaded double breaks it open for Sox

04.10.11 at 8:13 pm ET
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Join Rob Bradford, Alex Speier, Mike Petraglia and others in following the Red Sox‘ series finale against the Yankees from Fenway Park.

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