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Ellsbury’s error

06.17.09 at 7:24 pm ET
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For the first time in his major-league career, Jacoby Ellsbury committed an error.

In the top of the first inning, with Hanley Ramirez on first and two outs, Jorge Cantu lined a Brad Penny pitch towards the gap in left-center. Ellsbury got a great read on the ball and was positioned to track it down, but it skidded off the edge of his glove for a two-base error that scored Ramirez from first. Prior to that, Ellsbury had played 232 games and had 554 chances without an error, the longest gaffe-free streak by an outfielder in Red Sox history, and the longest errorless stretch in the majors since Endy Chavez went 253 games without an error from 2005-2008.

As a result of Ellsbury’s error, the Sox trail the Marlins, 1-0, after the first inning.

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Smoltz has 1-2-3 First

06.17.09 at 7:11 pm ET
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That was quick.

John Smoltz needed only six pitches to retire the side in order in his first inning of work against Charlotte. Leadoff hitter Eider Torres flew out to left on Smoltz’€™ second pitch before Bubba Bell made a great diving catch to rob Brent Lillibridge of a base hit. Knights first baseman Josh Kroeger then ended the inning by lining out to his counterpart in Aaron Bates on the first pitch of his at-bat, Smoltz’€™ first changeup of the night. One of the main purposes of this start is for Smoltz to make sure his changeup is ready for his Red Sox debut next Thursday against the Nationals.

In total Smoltz threw six pitches, four of which went for strikes.

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Red Sox vs. Marlins Match-Ups, 6/17

06.17.09 at 2:42 pm ET
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MARLINS VS. BRAD PENNY

Though Brad Penny emerged as one of the top pitchers in the National League as a 16-game winner for the Dodgers in both 2006 and 2007, it was with the Marlins that he first truly made his mark on baseball. In the 2003 World Series, he was

Penny is 1-1 with a 5.00 ERA in three career starts against the Marlins, though he’€™s faced few of the current Fish. Here is how he’€™s fared against the current representatives of Florida. The quirkiest element of the history: in 22 combined plate appearances against Penny, the current Marlins have not drawn a single walk:

Ronny Paulino (7 career plate appearances vs. Penny): 1-for-7
Wes Helms (5): 1-for-5
Emilio Bonifacio (3): 2-for-3
Hanley Ramirez (3): 1-for-3
Dan Uggla (3): 0-for-3
Ricky Nolasco (1): 0-for-1

TIGERS VS. ANDREW MILLER

The Red Sox have faced Andrew Miller just once, but the outing likely left an impression. In 2007, when he was still with the Tigers, he pitched seven innings and allowed just one run on three hits.

The 6-foot-6 left-hander, the sixth overall pick in the 2006 draft, was in the same college rotation as current Sox reliever Daniel Bard at UNC. But whereas Bard has been cementing his prospect status in the majors this year, Miller ‘€“ occasional outings such as the one in 2007 against the Sox notwithstanding ‘€“ has yet to achieve consistency in the majors.

He is 2-2 with a 4.30 ERA for the Marlins this year, but just 13-18 with a 5.49 ERA in parts of four big-league seasons. It would not be a stretch to suggest that he was rushed to the majors (in part because he signed a major-league contract out of college), and his development may have paid a price.

Still, he will face a Sox lineup that is a combined 1-for-15 against him:

J.D. Drew (3 career plate appearances): 0-for-2, walk
Mark Kotsay (3): 1-for-3
Mike Lowell (3): 0-for-2, walk
Julio Lugo (3): 0-for-2, walk
Dustin Pedroia (3): 0-for-3
Jason Varitek (3): 0-for-3

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Francona Discusses Daisuke, Six-man Rotation on Dale & Holley

06.17.09 at 2:19 pm ET
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Here is the transcript Terry Francona’s Wednesday apperance on Dale & Holley (with Mike Felger filling in for Dale Arnold). Some popular topics included Daisuke Matsuzaka, the six-man rotation, and David Ortiz.

On the idea of putting Matsuzaka in the bullpen:

‘€œMy first thought was that if we tell him that we’re putting him in long relief that’s probably not going to build his confidence a whole lot. You know, there’s a lot of things to think about. When you put a guy in the bullpen, who comes out of the bullpen? When you send a guy to the bullpen, how does he react to the bullpen? Daisuke is typically our guy who take the longest to warm up, that’s a given. He goes out there a good 45-50 minutes before the game and throws a lot, so is that going to work? If you put a guy in the bullpen and he hasn’t pitched a lot in three weeks and you need a starter is he capable of throwing a lot of pitches? I think a lot of things to look at besides just the obvious which has been performance which we can’t allow ourselves to look past. We’ve got an obligation to try to keep this team going and there’s a lot of variables. We can’t just get caught up in what the fans and [media] are caught up in because we’ll make some poor decisions.’€

On fans giving up on Daisuke too soon:

‘€œI remember a couple of weeks ago everybody wanted David Ortiz to not be here anymore. We can’t just put guys on the shelf when they run into a tough time. We’ve got this guy signed for a long time, we want him to help us win games.”

On the six-man rotation:

‘€œWhat we’re trying to do is make good decisions not only based on today or tomorrow but on the rest of the year. We talked to Smoltz in Philadelphia and had a really good conversation. I think we all thought he was ready to start this week. We probably could have done it, I think he would have been just fine. In talking to him, the more we talked we were like, ‘€˜Wait a minute, because we have enough pitching, could this be in your best interest to maybe make a start, go a little short, have a little bit of time off to get yourself ready for the long haul?’€™ and he [said] ‘€˜absolutely.’€™ So we were like, ‘€˜Wait a minute, then why don’€™t we do this?’€™ and it just seemed kind of easy. I didn’€™t want to start announcing stuff before we got through the weekend because or pitching was a little beat up and we actually had wake out in the bullpen so that could have changed too but it didn’€™t so we just waited until the off-day.

‘€œWe’€™re going to back everybody up a day this week and give them an extra day. The only guy that doesn’€™t get an extra day is Wake and that’€™s why we took him out of the game last night early, because he could have easily gone another inning. The idea is to keep these guys fresh so they can be good all year and we’€™re trying to keep an eye on that. It’€™s not an easy thing to do.’€

On placing Smoltz between Lester and Beckett in the rotation and how it impacts the bullpen:

‘€œWhat we’€™re trying to do is not ruin one of our strengths. We’€™re trying to bring guys back in the middle of the year. I don’€™t think it’€™s realistic that Smoltz is going to throw 130 pitches in his first outing. We’€™re certainly going got keep an eye on him and try to build as opposed to have one outing and then have him go backwards, so we’€™re trying to keep our bullpen consistent also, not maybe go to them early two nights in a row. The guys that have been getting us the deepest are Lester and Beckett so if we have guys in between them it makes it a little bit easier to manage the guys who haven’€™t  been going as long. The idea is to not ruin our starters and also not to ruin our bullpen.’€

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Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Ortiz, Smoltz, Terry Francona

Six Men For the Rotation: How Smoltz Affects Each

06.17.09 at 11:40 am ET
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For a time, at least, the Red Sox are prepared to slot John Smoltz into the rotation on June 25, likely adding him to the mix of the current group of five starters, and slotting him between staff horses Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. Here is a quick glimpse at how a six-man configuration might affect each of the Sox starters:

JOHN SMOLTZ

It stands to reason that the 42-year-old Smoltz would benefit from a greater period of time between starts as he works to come back from surgery on his right shoulder a year ago. By his own admission, Smoltz is still trying to work his way back to his top form. He is trying to get from what he described as “three and a half” pitches to four — a fastball, slider, split and change — and he acknowledged the possibility that the best thing to have him in peak form down the stretch may end up being something other than a strict regimen of taking the ball every fifth game.

“This is about having the stuff to get big league hitters out and to be able to pitch in big games down the stretch and gain from the experience having gone through that what seems like 100 times,” said Smoltz. “Whether it’€™s making five starts in a row or making four-out-of-five or whatever it may be that’€™s going to make this run work. That’€™s what it’€™s all about because the goal here is not to win a division. The goal here is to win a championship and that’€™s what they’€™ve armed themselves with, no pun intended. They’€™ve got a few arms.”

Because he will be slotted between workhorses Lester and Beckett, the Sox are confident that they can avoid pushing Smoltz too hard, thanks to the knowledge that the pitchers around him will be able to offer the bullpen a reprieve should he not be able to pitch deep into contests in his initial couple of outings.

BRAD PENNY

Penny, who starts tonight, has shown his best stuff of the season in his last two starts. A move from the first-base side to the third-base side of the rubber, the pitcher said, has allowed him to get a better angle on his pitches, making his curve in particular a more effective pitch against right-handers. Moreover, Penny has looked stronger than at any other time this season, touching 98 mph in his six shutout innings against the Yankees last week.

Penny’s shown plenty of recent promise. Still, rival talent evaluators look at his 5+ ERA for the season as something of a blinking yellow. If Penny can cement his recent progress with continued dominant lines — an outcome that is particularly promising, given the fact that the Sox are in the midst of interleague play — Penny’s value (whether in a potential trade or as a member of the Sox rotation) would go up. A pitcher who was described as a No. 4 starter after his Yankees outing by a team monitoring the pitching market could end up pushing that description to a 2-3. If he does so, he will either become a highly useful trade chip or a valuable member of the Sox rotation, especially should another pitcher either get injured or, in one case, continue to falter.

DAISUKE MATSUZAKA

Matsuzaka is now 1-4 with an atrocious 7.55 ERA. His last start — in which he endured a 100-minute rain delay after the first inning — cannot be properly included in the evaluation of his performance, but even then, he is 1-4 with a 7.33 ERA.

By going with six pitchers, the Sox can get a better read on Matsuzaka, and make some kind of determination about whether progress is near at hand. If not, then eventually the team might get to the point where it might have to consider keeping Penny and moving Matsuzaka to the bullpen or sending him to the disabled list if there’s a physical reason for his poor performance.

Speaking to Japanese reporters last night, Matsuzaka acknowledged how important his coming outings are in restoring the faith of his club in his ability and worthiness of a spot in the rotation.

“It has been hard, but I know I can not be in this situation,” Matsuzaka said. “I have to bring my (stuff) back as quickly as I can. I really want to pitch for the team to win, with focusing on my details (of pitching).” (Translation courtesy of reporter Hiroki Tohda.)

Matsuzaka will have that opportunity, at least for the coming couple of weeks. Yet even if he slides into a six-man rotation — the same format in which he pitched in Japan — if he fails to pitch deep into games, he could remain a challenge for the pitching staff. Given the likelihood that the Sox will pare a reliever from the pitching staff, a failure to pitch deep into games by starters will assume more ominous tones for the Sox than it has to this point this year.

‘€œ(The bullpen) has been a strength of ours since day one,’€ said pitching coach John Farrell. “We have to be careful not to overload or tax that even further. That can be the downside of (a six-man rotation).’€

And that downside could become particularly pronounced if Matsuzaka, or any other pitcher, fails to provide innings.

TIM WAKEFIELD

Tim Wakefield has been great this year, and the Sox are winning with metronomic frequency when he’s on the mound. He’s 9-3 with a 4.39 ERA, and the Sox are 10-3 in his 13 starts.

Yet it’s easy to forget that he’s been nearly as good at this stage of the season in recent years. Through 13 starts in 2008, he was 4-4 (a byproduct of poor run support) but with a 4.33 ERA. In 2007, he was 6-7 (again, lousy run support) with a sterling 3.92 ERA.

Both years, he struggled with shoulder injuries down the stretch. Wakefield has a partial tear of his labrum that seems to be exacerbated as the season wears on. The pitcher has altered his between-starts and post-start routine in an effort to do more to ensure his health for the long haul, and said after last night’s win that he feels great.

All the same, if he gets extra rest between starts — or if the Sox have the luxury of skipping him for an occasion start if they have five other capable starters — Wakefield would seem one of the pitchers who might benefit the most. Indeed, the team has said that it wanted to find a time to give him a breather in the middle of the past two summers, but that Wakefield was too valuable and pitching too well to permit such an outcome. If this year is different, and the team can allow Wakefield extra rest, it would seem a good way to keep him strong down the stretch.

‘€œWe are trying to learn from history to keep him going longer like he can pitch. In the last couple years, we have gotten towards the end and he’€™s worn down and his shoulder’€™s bothered him,’€ said manager Terry Francona. ‘€œI don’€™t see that happening right now. And if we can be cognizant of that we won’€™t get to that point.’€

JON LESTER AND JOSH BECKETT

The Sox worked Beckett hard early this season, having him go past 110 pitches in seven of his first 11 outings. The team has been mindful of giving him a bit of a breather of late, most notably when pulling him after six shutout innings and 93 pitches against the Yankees last week, but even so, his 1,421 pitches are the eighth most in the majors. Lester, meanwhile, is on pace for over 200 innings, a year after he totaled roughly 240 frames between the regular season and playoffs.

Both pitchers look incredibly strong at this stage of the year, and their stuff looks exceptional. But for the Sox, the focus is on making sure that remains the case over a full year, rather than merely riding the hot hand. Towards that end, making sure that both pitchers can have five days of rest between starts would seem to be an optimal outcome for the Sox, and something that they will be able to do, between next Tuesday and the All-Star break, only by having a sixth starter for at least a couple of turns through the rotation.

One caveat: Matsuzaka or Smoltz, in particular, prove unable to navigate deep into their outings, then the Sox will likely need to rely on these two pitchers to pick up the slack for a six-man rotation, particularly if the bullpen is down an arm. Even so, in each of the last two years, the Sox have used the All-Star break to give Beckett (2007) and Lester (2008) extended breathers. The presence of an extra rotation arm could make it easier for the team to do that once again.

Read More: Brad Penny, Daisuke Matsuzaka, john smoltz, Jon Lester

What does Smoltz’ return mean for the Red Sox roster?

06.17.09 at 3:11 am ET
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John Smoltz will make his final rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket on Wednesday. The 30-day clock on his rehab assignment will expire two days later, on June 19th. Yet Smoltz will not make his return to the majors until June 25th, when he comes back against the Nationals.

All of that being the case, it seems fair to ask: what happens to the Red Sox roster between the 19th and 25th? Will the Sox be left, for all intents and purposes, with a 24-man roster?

In short, the answer is no. Until Smoltz pitches in Washington next Thursday, the Sox will not have to make a roster move that undercuts their depth while waiting for Smoltz to make his first start.

At the conclusion of the 30-day rehab assignment, Smoltz does not have to be added to the major-league roster. Unless he incurs a new injury (which would make him eligible for another 30-day rehab assignment), he simply won’t be allowed to pitch in any more minor-league games prior to his return to the majors.

Hypothetically, Smoltz could remain on the disabled list all season after his rehab clock expires. In practice, if a healthy player remained on the D.L. for an excessive period after completing a rehab assignment, another team could complain to Major League Baseball, and the Commissioner’s Office could force the Sox to either activate or release Smoltz.

In this case, however, the Sox will not be abusing the D.L. system, and so no such punitive measures will be required. Instead, Smoltz will officially “return from rehab” on June 19th, and then, presuming that he is healthy and ready, he will be “reinstated from the disabled list” next Thursday against the Nationals. Until he is reinstated from the D.L., Smoltz will not be a member of the 25-man active roster, and so will have some time before their potential move from a seven- to a six-man bullpen.

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Bard can forget the past, but what about his future?

06.17.09 at 2:13 am ET
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On Sunday, Daniel Bard endured the worst professional outing of his career: he lasted just two outs, allowing four runs on three walks and two hits. His ERA, which stood at a svelte 0.75 entering the contest against the Phillies, ballooned to 3.55.

The event was noteworthy. Though Bard demonstrated last year that he had the capacity to dominate as a minor-league reliever, there were some talent evaluators around the game who wondered whether he would be able to rebound from adversity. And so, his first outing following Sunday’€™s struggle in Philadelphia represented something of a test to some.

Though it wasn’€™t exactly the final game of the World Series, Bard passed any such test on Tuesday with flying colors.

‘€œI think we’€™ve all been impressed with how he’€™s handled this environment,’€ said Sox pitching coach John Farrell. ‘€œOne of the traits of a good late-inning reliever is his ability to forget about his most recent outing, to have a short-term memory. If tonight is any indication, it was certainly all positive.’€

Bard was summoned for the ninth inning, and delivered a scoreless frame that was highlighted by a 98 mph fastball that he used to overpower Marlins superstar Hanley Ramirez, who swung and missed three times at Bard’€™s heater. Bard maintained a confident air on the mound, and showed no signs that he’€™d been humbled by his biggest struggle to date as a major leaguer.

‘€œI went into today’€™s (outing) thinking about slamming the door,’€ said Bard. ‘€œIf you dwell on it and start worrying about it, it’€™s going to turn into two or three or four bad ones in a row. You learn from it and you move on from the last one.’€

By and large, Bard has been dominant in his first taste of the majors. Even so, with Smoltz set to return to the Sox, Bard is aware that there might be questions about whether he becomes a victim of his options. He chooses to focus less on that fact than on his ability to make the Sox think long and hard about any potential return to Pawtucket.

‘€œI’€™m not going to worry about it. I’€™m not working in the front office,’€ said Bard. ‘€œWhat I’€™m going to do is try to make the decision as tough for them as possible. That’€™s all I can do. Obviously, I want to be here.

‘€œI want to be helping this team. But whatever happens, if that is the case where I get moved down, I’€™m sure that something will happen along the way, whether it’€™s soon or it’€™s September. I’€™m not worried about that right now.’€

Bard does have one potential draft card. His little brother, Luke, was recently drafted by the Sox, who would love to sign the young pitcher.

Could Bard use that fact to issue an ultimatum?

‘€œHe won’€™t sign if you move me down,’€ a grinning Bard contemplated telling the Sox. ‘€œNo chance.’€

Read More: Daniel Bard, john smoltz,

Red Sox are bottoming up

06.16.09 at 11:51 pm ET
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Neither Nick Green nor George Kottaras were considered candidates to even make the 25-man roster coming out of Fort Myers in early April.

But as the Red Sox stand two games ahead of the Yankees in mid-June, their presence in the bottom third of the batting order has been no small reason why the offense has suddenly picked up the pace.

In the last week, the Red Sox knocked out A.J. Burnett and Chien-Ming Wang after 2 2/3 innings. They got to Philadelphia’s Antonio Bastardo and ushered him out after just one inning. And Tuesday night, they showed Florida starter Chris Volstad the showers after 3 2/3 innings.

On Tuesday, the trio of Jacoby Ellsbury, Green and Kottaras went 6-for-12 with 3 RBIs and four runs scored as the Red Sox won the opener with the Marlins, 8-2, at Fenway Park. Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox Win, 8-2

06.16.09 at 9:40 pm ET
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On the strength of a six-run explosion in the fourth inning that was marked by a solo homer and two-run single from David Ortiz, the Red Sox forged a comfortable 8-2 win in the opener of a three-game series against the Marlins. Tim Wakefield pitched six innings of two-run ball to improve to 9-3, while a trio of Sox relievers (Manny Delcarmen, Takashi Saito, Daniel Bard) allowed one hit over the final three frames.

Quality, thy name continues to be Wakefield

06.16.09 at 9:15 pm ET
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It was another tidy outing for Tim Wakefield, who continues to dominate opponents at Fenway Park. The knuckleballer flummoxed the Marlins for the better part of his six innings of work, allowing two runs on six hits for his ninth quality start of the season, a number that is tied with Josh Beckett for a team high. Wakefield walked one and struck out four while dropping his ERA to 4.39. Presuming that the bullpen holds down the 8-2 lead that Wakefield left to it, the knuckleballer stands to improve to 6-0 with a 3.23 ERA in six home starts.

The six straight home starts with a victory to start the year would be tied for the second-longest such streak by a Sox pitcher since 1954, tied with Roger Clemens (1986) and Ike Delock (1958), and one behind the standard that Wakefield set by winning seven straight Fenway starts at the beginning of his Red Sox career in 1995.

(For the complete list, click here.)

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