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Phillies scouting report for May 21-23

05.21.10 at 10:25 am ET
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Red-hot Phillies ace Roy Halladay is scheduled to pitch against the Red Sox on Sunday. (AP)

Interleague play kicks off in Major League Baseball this weekend with American League teams facing off with their geographic rivals in the National League, leading to matchups including Yankees-Mets, Cubs-White Sox, Angels-Dodgers and, for Boston fans, Red Sox-Phillies.

The Sox took two from the eventual NL champion Phillies in a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park last year and will hope to at least repeat that performance in Philly this season. This will be the first of two three-game series the clubs will play this season — the teams play again at Fenway from June 11-13. Because it’s been so long since Sox fans last saw the Fighting Phils, who currently lead the NL East with a 24-15 record, here’s a scouting report broken down by the team’s hitting, starting pitching and bullpen.

Hitting

Take one look at Philadelphia’s starting lineup, and three names should jump out at you immediately: first basemen Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Howard and Rollins both have the title of NL MVP on their resumes, and Utley has played at an All-Star level since entering the league in 2004 and was even picked by President George W. Bush as the player he’d most want if he started a team. For their part, all three have not disappointed in the early going. Howard, who signed a five-year, $125 million contract extension in April, is hitting .309 with seven home runs and 30 RBI while Utley is keeping pace with a line of .304/9/22. Rollins missed 29 games with a right calf strain but just returned to the starting lineup this week, a scary proposition for Sox hitters. He is batting .343 on the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kevin Youkilis’ best stretch ever?

05.21.10 at 4:31 am ET
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Kevin Youkilis

Quietly, Kevin Youkilis is enjoying one of the best stretches of his career.

The 31-year-old blasted a two-out, three-run homer in the bottom of the third that landed behind the camera well in the center field bleachers, and later yanked an RBI double down the left field line. Yet on a night when he went 2-for-4 with four RBI, his on-base percentage for the month actually went down.

Such has been the zone in which the Red Sox cleanup hitter has been operating. Thus far in the month of May, he leads the majors in batting average (.411) and OBP (.585 — a mark that is 100 points better than any other player in the game), slugging (.786) and OPS (1.371). All four of those marks would represent the best one-month totals of his career if he can sustain them.

He is having a month with a Ted Williams-esque approach. He is refusing to expand the strike zone, taking his walks where appropriate (he has 22 in 18 May games), yet he remains ready to unload should a ball be delivered in his wheelhouse.

“Youk never gives an at bat away,” said manager Terry Francona. “He is a smart hitter, he works the count and all of a sudden he gets the first pitch he can handle and drives it. He is a very intelligent hitter.”

“You’ve got to go up there and have the mindset of attacking the ball and going up and trying to hit. You don’t go up there trying to walk. You’re going up there trying to hit,” said Youkilis. “I feel good. Just trying to get good pitches to hit. I was very fortunate today to get a good pitch to hit with runners in scoring position, and I capitalized on it.”

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Ellsbury ready to get back into the mix

05.21.10 at 12:58 am ET
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Missing two-thirds of their starting outfield, the Sox are about ready to get a significant part of their team back on Saturday in Philadelphia. Jacoby Ellsbury, out since April 11 with broken ribs, is ready to pick back up where he left off.

Without Ellsbury or fellow outfielder Mike Cameron, the Red Sox are tied with Philadelphia for third in majors with 219 runs (six behind the Rays and 19 behind the Yankees). With Ellsbury they might be able to bridge that gap in the coming weeks as the swift left fielder brings a new dimension with him to the the Boston lineup.

“It gives us a different element, the kind of game-changing speed that teams have to be aware of … It is certainly a different look than when we don’t have him in here. Besides, I think the guys that have played have done a really good job,” manager Terry Francona said on Thursday.

Francona said that Ellsbury would travel with the team to Philadelphia and be good to go this weekend. The big worry for him has been to not just do baseball activities but also to move around in general. Broken ribs are the type of injury that put immobilizes anybody let alone a guy trying to turn on a Roy Halladay cutter. Ellsbury went 3 for 4 in his last rehab assignment on Thursday afternoon and got all the hurdles out of the way — stealing, diving back to the bag etc.

“Trying to catch every aspect as far as sliding back, stealing and I think I came through it really well,” Ellsbury said. “Diving back, that was kind of the last thing we wanted to do just for confidence sake and see how it held up and it did pretty good.”

Ellsbury was not particularly surprised that it took a solid month-and-a-half to come back considering that his ribs were broken. The initial surprise was that the bones were actually cracked. He said that after it happened he tried to play before the medical staff figured out the the bones were actually broken.

“If they would have told me it was broke right away, then yeah,” Ellsbury said when asked if he was surprised at the length of his disabled list stay. “But in the beginning we just thought it was just bruised ribs. Laid off for a few days, I was trying to play with it. But when we went to see what it was. Anybody who has broke one rib know how hard it is to move around let alone try to play pro baseball you know or any type of physical activity.”

Ellsbury said that his legs are still a little sore from his last rehab game and ultimately the decision to get back into the game lays with Francona and the medical staff. He has little doubt he can be a productive player once he does get back on the field because broken ribs are not the type of injury that lingers after the healing process is complete. At the same time, it might take the outfielder a couple of games to get back into the swing of things considering all the time off he has had since the beginning of the season.

“It was one of those injuries that once I feel good it is not going to linger. So, once I am back on the field I should be 100 percent,” Ellsbury said. “I have to talk the Tito and the training staff. I was scheduled to play a couple more games but depending on how I felt, I felt pretty good the first game in Pawtucket but still wanted to see me diving and do normal baseball activities that I would on the field and stuff. I think I can do everything I can in the games.”

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Lester remains red hot

05.20.10 at 11:59 pm ET
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There are quality starts. Then there are exceptional starts.

Jon Lester was exceptional on Thursday.

Two years and a day from the anniversary of his no-hitter against the Royals on May 19, 2008, Lester was once again unstoppable for the Sox in the back end of May, taking care of the Twins with a complete game, nine-strikeout effort as the Sox romped 6-2 to sweep the two-game series with Minnesota.

Why did he win? Basically it came down to the simplest factors that give pitchers success — he threw strikes and worked quickly.

“I think his high pitch count for an inning was 12, 10, 11, 12. Pounding the strike zone,” manager Terry Francona said. “Throwing everything to the two dangerous lefties, front-door cutter, he used all his pitches. When he did give up a hit like to [Denard] Span he bore down on the count, he came back. Same thing after [Justin] Morneau. There are a lot of ways for him to go right now and still attack the strike zone even against some of those hitters.”

Lester started hitters off with strikes, getting to an 0-1 count on 27 of 31 hitters he faced on the night. That made for an extremely efficient night against the Twins lineup. Entering the ninth inning, he only had 84 total pitches and ended the night with an economic 103, or 11.44 per inning. He used his four-seam fastball, cut fastball, curveball, sinker and change at any time in the count and used his defense to bail him out of any jams. The performance continued a trend.

After a rocky April, Lester has been simply dominant. In his last five games, he has pitched 38 innings, allowed eight earned runs and struck out 42 while picking up wins in three out of the five and going at least seven innings in each.

“I got some good pitch outs and I was able to establish that we were throwing strikes tonight,” Lester said. “With that lineup they are not going to strikeout or walk a lot, they are going to swing the bats and I got some good pitches and some double plays when we needed them and that is a big night as far as a team thing. Following what [Clay Buchholz] did last night and able to go out there and do it again.

The start was the 100th of Lester’s career and and he is officially the winningest pitcher through 100 starts to start a career, with a 46-18 mark for a .719 winning percentage. Since 2006, Lester’s winning percentage is second only to the incomparable Tim Lincecum (45-17), a player with two consecutive Cy Young Awards on this mantel.

Lester is on the sort of roll that can anchor a rotation for weeks or even months. He said after the game on Thursday that he feels like he is in the type of groove where the five days between starts feels like one. Gone are the rough outings to start the season. Hello, summer heat.

“There are still some things that I am working on that followed me from April,” Lester said. “But, you know, that past month-and-a-half, almost two months have gone by pretty quick. It is a lot nicer when you get on that roll early on and the five days seem like it is tomorrow. It is a good feeling.”

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Closing Time: Red Sox 6, Twins 2

05.20.10 at 9:42 pm ET
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The contest had all the makings of an outstanding pitcher’s duel. Both Red Sox starter Jon Lester and Twins counterpart Francisco Liriano feature the sort of ridiculous arsenals that are more often seen in videogames than among their pitching peers.

Lester (4-2, 3.53) lived up to his part of the bargain. One day after Clay Buchholz needed just 104 pitches to reach the ninth inning against the Twins, Lester one-upped his teammate. He overpowered Minnesota in Boston’s first complete game of the season, allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits while striking out nine and walking none.

Lester carved up the strike zone with an explosive fastball that touched 97, a devastating cutter and a very effective changeup. Those weapons allowed him to go the distance in just 103 pitches (76 strikes).

But the Sox managed to ambush Liriano (4-3, 3.25) en route to a one-sided 6-2 victory.

Liriano had fired seven shutout innings against the Sox on April 15, but the team wasted little time in ensuring that it would not be zeroed out by the pitcher again. Liriano, who had entered the contest not having permitted a single homer in the 2010 season, permitted two to the Sox. The first was a solo shot delivered by Adrian Beltre into the Sox bullpen in right-center in the second inning. Then, one inning later, Kevin Youkilis added to his team’s 1-0 lead, jumping on a 96 mph fastball for a three-run homer with two outs.

Given Lester’s dominance, the outcome of the game was never again in question.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Jon Lester delivered the Sox’ first complete game since last Sept. 12 in a night when he was able to dominate the strike zone with a complete mix of pitches. As such, he has put his early-season struggles completely behind him. After starting the year with an 0-2 record and 8.44 ERA in his first three starts, he is 4-0 with a 1.65 mark in his last seven starts. He has now gone at least seven innings in each of his last five starts, the second longest such streak of his career.

Kevin Youkilis is enjoying quite possibly the single best stretch of his career to date. His May numbers have been, quite simply, outrageous. He entered Thursday hitting .404/.590/.731/1.321 this month, marks that would be the best of his career in each category. He continued piling on, blasting a three-run homer (his eighth of the year and fifth of May) and ripping an RBI double down the left-field line against Liriano.

Adrian Beltre delivered one of his finest offensive performances with the Sox. He put the Sox on the board in the second with an impressive opposite-field wallop into the Sox bullpen for his third homer of the year, and added to that a walk, a double down the left field line and a run, going 2-for-3.

Victor Martinez continued to show signs that he is breaking out of his yearlong slump. He entered this week with just nine extra-base hits on the year. He has since collected five (two homers in New York on Monday, three doubles against the Twins on Thursday), and he now appears to be impacting the ball in a consistent fashion not seen since last season.

Dustin Pedroia delivered a pair of highlight-reel defensive plays. In the top of the fifth, the Twins put their only runner in scoring position of the night against Lester when Justin Morneau hit his 200th career double to lead off the frame. But Lester rebounded to get a groundout to third and fly to shallow right, bringing up Delmon Young with two outs. Young fisted a ball to shallow right field. Pedroia raced back several steps and extended his diminutive frame to its fullest to catch the ball in the webbing of his glove and keep Lester’s shutout intact.

One inning later, Pedroia made a diving stop of an up-the-middle smash off the bat of Nick Punto, hopped up and threw out the Twins’ third baseman by a couple steps.

Pedroia did, however, commit his first error of the season in the ninth inning, closing his glove too quickly on the pivot of a potential double play ball in the ninth inning. Prior to Pedroia’s two-base error, Pedroia and Youkilis had created an airtight seal on the right side of their infield, as the Sox entered the night as the only team in baseball with zero combined errors from their first and second basemen.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

J.D. Drew continued his struggles against left-handers, going 0-for-2 against Liriano. In fairness, Liriano is one of the toughest left-on-left matchups in the game. Even so, Drew is now hitting .212/.263/.288 against southpaws this season.

Dustin Pedroia continued his modest slump. He went 0-for-3 with a walk, and over the last seven games, he is now hitting 4-for-26 for an average of .154 with an OBP of .313 and a slugging mark of .308.

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David Ortiz on The Big Show: ‘I’m not paying attention to any of [the media's] crap anymore’

05.20.10 at 6:50 pm ET
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David Ortiz

David Ortiz stopped by the Fenway Park studio Thursday afternoon to talk to The Big Show about Mike Lowell’s recent comments, Hanley Ramirez’s situation in Florida and the fans’ and the media’s perception of him during his early slumps of the last two seasons.

“It’s not the fans,” Ortiz said. “It’s the media. It’s the media that’s the one that thinks they’ve got everything figured out. You’ve got guys sitting down out there that have never played the game ever before, talking about how they think I’m supposed to leave, that you are done, that you can’t hit any more, that you can do this or you can do that. You never hit before in your life ever. You know nothing about that. … I’m right here, working hard, doing my thing. I’m not paying attention to any of their crap anymore.”

Ortiz also discussed his upcoming charity event, an “Eat n’ Greet” to benefit the David Ortiz Children’s Fund on May 27 at Big Papi’s Grille in Framingham. Click here for more information.

A transcript of that interview follows. To hear the interview, click on The Big Show audio on demand page.

Now you have eight home runs, but today’s the anniversary of the day that you hit your first one last year. Is it kind of crazy to think that last year at this time you were coming to the ballpark and hadn’t hit one yet?

Well, that’s a hitter thing. There are things that you work on, get better and it makes a difference.

Were you aware that it was the one-year anniversary?

No.

So last year is last year? It’s in the past. It’s not something you ever want to revisit again?

Of course not. Turn the page. I already got paid for last year [laughs].

The Red Sox are near the top of the league in power numbers, even after losing Jason Bay. Does that surprise you?

Not really. We’ve got guys, they know how to swing the bat. They played the game for a long time and are big run producers. The fact that people always have questions about our team and what we are capable to do, and the season is the only way to recover.

Is there any chance Dustin Pedroia will have more home runs than you at the end of the year? Do you guys talk about that?

Pedroia? Pedey’s swinging good. Pedey’s a great hitter. Pedey’s the heart and soul of this ballclub, and whenever you get down to Pedey, it’s good. Read the rest of this entry »

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Notes: Scutaro sits, Sanchez starts at short

05.20.10 at 4:58 pm ET
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Marco Scutaro

Shortstop Marco Scutaro will sit out Thursday night’s game against the Twins after having a cortisone shot in his elbow after Wendesday night’s 3-2 at Fenway Park. The Sox have recalled Angel Sanchez from Pawtucket to start against Minnesota left-hander Francisco Liriano.

“I think he is doing OK. He was a little tender last night, which happens,” manager Terry Francona said. “That is part of the reason we have Angel [Sanchez] here. He will be ready to go tomorrow and be feeling good about being ready to go, that is the idea. If not we will give him another day but I don’t think that will happen.”

Sanchez will be making his Red Sox debut. He was eight games of major league service time, all with the Royals. At Pawtucket he was batting .313/.375/.359 with nine RBI in 144 plate appearances. Sanchez was told that he was getting the promotion to Boston after the PawSox game Wednesday night.

“He can move around the infield. He is a guy who can accumulate a ton of at-bats because of his versatility. He had a good year in Vegas last year, he was playing very well in triple-A and he is playing tonight,” Francona said.

How does Sanchez feel about the chance to play in Fenway?

“Pretty happy. No explanation for how happy I am right now,” Sanchez said.

• Both Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury had strong days in the rehab assignments in Portland. Cameron played center field and went 1-for-4 with a double, RBI and a run while Ellsbury was 3-for-4 with a double, infield hit and a stolen base.

“Just talked to [Cameron]. He was 1-for-4, played the whole game, played pretty well. He will come back tomorrow and play center field. Maybe not the whole game tomorrow, we will see and go forward from there,” Francona said. “Ellsbury had a really good day, 3-for-4, stole a base. Slid a couple times, dove back into first a couple of times. A lot of good things happened and I think he felt good about himself. We have been playing phone tag because his game was just over and hour ago or something. Hopefully we will be able to talk in about an hour or so but it sounded really good.”

• Mike Lowell will get the start at the designated hitter spot Thursday against Liriano as Francona tries to stack his lineup against a pitcher who is tough on left-handed hitters. Lefties are batting .154/.154/.179 against Liriano in 39 plate appearances this year while righties are hitting .277/.346./.340. The southpaw has yet to walk a left-handed hitter on the year and has not served up a home run to any batter in 2010.

“I think that David is swinging the bat just as well as he can which is great. This is a normal, take your blow, be ready to pinch hit against righties. This is a guy who is really tough on lefties. This to me is a perfect night to send some righties up there and see if we can do some damage,” Francona said.

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