|Smoltz hits Augusta||05.21.09 at 5:15 pm ET|
The latest leg of the John Smoltz rehab tour went through the city with one of the most famous golf courses on the planet.
Smoltz didn’t play Augusta National but rather pitched for Single-A Greenville at Augusta (Giants). He threw three scoreless innings, allowing one hit while striking out two.
“Smoltz will hopefully go three, two-plus, depending on length of innings,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said on Thursday before Smoltz took the mound. “He’s revved up to go. He feels good about himself. That’s exciting for us.”
That’s not to say Smoltz, who was married this week, won’t find time for golf after his rehab appearance is over. It just won’t be at Augusta since it is closed for the summer.
“I think he would go to Augusta every time,” Francona said. “You put a golf course in the same city, he’ll go pitch as much as you want. And knowing Smoltzy, he’ll probably get on it, too.”
Other notes from Thursday’s pregame with Francona: Hitting coach Dave Magadan is not with the team Thursday as he is attending his son’s college graduation. Alex Ochoa will take over most in-game responsibilities while Ino Guerrero will take over some unspecified pre-game responsiblities. “We’re trying to figure out what they are,” Francona joked of the batting practice pitcher who got a couple of plate appearances this past spring training.
|Dice K’s shoulder is strong||05.21.09 at 5:08 pm ET|
Red Sox skipper Terry Francona pronounced Daisuke Matsuzaka ready and able to return to the Red Sox rotation on Friday night against the New York Mets.
“I think the exciting part about Daisuke is the way he tested out. His shoulder is strong,” Francona said. “Regardless of what you see (Friday), and I hope it’s fantastic, if he’s strong, he’s a good pitcher and over the course of a lot starts that should show. That’s what we’re excited about.”
Francona was asked if he were nervous or excited for the return of the right-handed starter who was able to make just two starts in April before landing on the disabled list with a fatigue in his right shoulder.
“Probably a little bit of both,” Francona said prior to Thursday’s game. “We’re always excited. He’s worked hard and he’s done what we’ve asked him. Losing any pitcher is not a lot of fun. You lose those innings, you’ve got to replace them somewhere else. We were very fortunate we had (Justin) Masterson that was able to do that but then it took away some of the bullpen.
“Ramon (Ramirez) has been in a lot of games,” Francona added. “That part excites me too, getting Masty back there where we can ease the burden on some guys.
|Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Match-Ups, 5/21||05.21.09 at 4:54 pm ET|
Another day, another anonymous Blue Jays starter. Today, it is Bobby Ray who does the honors tonight. Ray is right-handed. Aside from that, there’s not a whole lot of information out there. He’s 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in three starts, including his first big-league win in his most recent start against the White Sox.
As Jon Lester looks to correct course in 2009, he faces a Blue Jays team against whom he is 1-2 with a 3.94 ERA in five career starts. Here’s how the Jays have done against him over the years:
Kevin Millar (19 career plate appearances vs. Lester): .231 average / .421 OBP / .308 slugging
Alex Rios (16): .357 / .438 / .500
Vernon Wells (15): .182 / .400 / .455, homer
Lyle Overbay (12): .273 / .333 / .364
Jose Bautista (10): .333 / .300 / .667, homer
Marco Scutaro (10): 2-for-9, double, walk
Scott Rolen (9): 2-for-8, walk
John McDonald (8): 1-for-6, hit by pitch
Aaron Hill (6): 0-for-5, walk
Adam Lind (5): 1-for-4, walk
Rod Barajas (2): 0-for-1, walk
|A Look at Jon Lester’s Early Struggles||05.21.09 at 2:52 pm ET|
It is not health. It is not stuff. Jon Lester is still strong as an ox, still features a mid-90s fastball with life, a curveball that gives left-handers fits and a cutter that eats the hands of right-handers. He’s striking out a remarkable 10.3 batters per nine innings, second in the American League.
“His stuff is still tremendous,” reaffirmed Sox catcher Jason Varitek.
Yet his results to this point have not been. Lester has given up 13 runs and 18 hits in his last 10 innings, spanning two straight losses. He is 2-4 with a 6.51 ERA, and has delivered quality starts in just three of his eight outings. He’s allowed at least five earned runs in five outings, having given up such a total one more time than he did in all of 2008.
So, if his stuff is as good as it was a year ago, what gives?
For the most part, the difference has simply been precision. Last year, Lester lived in the bottom of the strike zone, getting grounders in droves while also keeping the ball in the park (0.6 homers per nine innings). He had three different streaks of four games without permitting a homer. This year, his mistakes have been up in the strike zone, allowing opponents to hit a somewhat startling 10 homers against him (1.9 per nine innings) through the first quarter of the season.
“There’s no physical issues. It’s a matter of consistent command to quality locations of the zone,” said pitching coach John Farrell. “He’s given more opportunities up in the zone for balls to travel. Where he was dominant in the bottom of the zone last year, with a little more consistent strikes to his arm side of the plate, those are two areas that we continue to stress.”
It has been also noteworthy that Lester has been victimized for several big innings this year. In nine different innings, he’s allowed two or more runs:
Game 1: 4 runs – 5th inning
Game 2: 5 runs – 2nd inning
Game 4: 2 runs – 4th inning
Game 5: 2 runs – 1st inning
Game 5: 2 runs – 4th inning
Game 6: 3 runs – 5th inning
Game 7: 2 runs – 1st inning
Game 7: 6 runs – 5th inning
Game 8: 4 runs – 6th inning
The difference between an ability to limit damage to a single run, versus permitting a bunch of crooked numbers, typically represents the fine line between a quality and even dominating outing and one in which a pitcher is left to shake his head. In Lester’s case, it would appear that there is quite a bit of head-shaking at work, to the point where certain innings have seemed to snowball as the 25-year-old has grown frustrated.
“Because the results haven’t been there, sometime the frustration within the game gets compounded. Yet that can begin to blind game awareness between the line,” said Farrell. “Getting back to his core beliefs and what he trusts most about his physical abilities then executing those. If a pitch isn’t called or a play isn’t made, don’t make more with it. Maintain a relentless approach going forward.”
Because Lester’s abilities are still evident in the quality of his stuff, the Sox are confident that he has a good chance to rediscover the formula that permitted him immense success a year ago. All the same, his unexpected early-season run of difficulty offers a reminder, in some respects, of the fact that Lester is not yet a finished product. Despite his emergence in 2008, Varitek has cautioned since spring training that Lester is still a developing pitcher who must endure some of the inconsistencies of being in just his second full major-league season.
“I think everybody forgets every once in a while that he’s still pretty youthful. I believe he’ll be better in September than he is on April 1,” said Varitek. “The stuff is there. It’s just a matter of consistent execution. That’s still part of him, at this point in his career, learning Jon…He’s just one good start from putting it all together.”
|Ortiz: ‘I got that big old monkey off my back’||05.20.09 at 11:24 pm ET|
How did it feel to go deep?
I got that big old monkey off my back, you know? You have to understand, sometimes, that’s all it takes, to have a good at-bat and get a big hit and start clicking.
What did you think of the fan support?
Great, great. That’s the same thing I’ve seen since I’ve been here. The fans, they’ve always been so supportive since I’ve been here. That’s unbelievable. There’s not too much I can say about it. I try to come every day and get it done for them.
Was the subsequent double a good indication that you’re on the right path?
Oh yeah, it’s a good swing. That’s what I’m looking for. To take a good swing every at-bat. Coming out, I put a good swing on the ball, hit a homer, took another good swi ng and struck out and then coming out and taking a good swing for the double, it’s a great feeling.
How much were you pressing while waiting for that homer?
I wasn’t really worried about homers as much as I was worried about getting my swing back because I know when my swing is right there, homers are going to come, regardless. My pressing was from missing pitches that I normally hit or sometimes putting a good swing on it and still missing it. That’s crazy. It gets you thinking and puts you in a situation where you’ll be like, what do I have to do? I’ve tried it all. I was about to hit right-handed.
Did you enjoy your teammates’ reaction?
Oh great. They gave me a minute of silence. I don’t know who thought that up, but I know Pedroia had a lot to do with it. Little (expletive).
How do you feel now?
I’m feeling good, dog. I’m feeling good. Like I said before, that’s the kind of game that gets you going. The biggest thing about the whole situa tion was the fans, man. They’ve been cheering for me every at-bat even when you don’t get it done and next time you come in, it’s the same thing. That means a lot.
Off the bat, what were you thinking?
I hit it good, dog. I always hit it to the wrong place.
Were you worried after you started with a couple of rough at-bats?
My father, flew in yesterday. He’s the kind of guy, since I was a kid, he always keeps me positive. It was a loose day at my house today. He was playing with my son and all that kind of stuff. One thing he told me that I kept in mind today was he told me, hey, son, you’re not going to get worse then this. Go out there and have fun and forget about what h appened in the past. Just go out there and do what you have to do.
What were you thinking when you crossed home plate?
I always thank God for everything, all the good gifts that he has given me in my whole life. Every time I hit a homer, I think about him putting myself together to get it done. I believe that tonight he deserved more time than what I normally do, just because I always believe that he always puts you in a kind of situation to see how fast you give up on him. When he don’t see you giving up, that means you believe in him no matter what, no matter how bad you struggle. That’s all I was thinking about.
Did you feel different in your next trips to the plate?
Oh yeah. I feel like I got all my confidence back. Let me tell you. I look out there like a real hitter, not like the punch and judy I have been for the first 40 games.
What did you think of the silent treatment you received in the dugout and then the celebration?
I deserved it. I deserved it.
Some of them were like, ‘What take you so long?’ I told them, though, if you guys are going to start bombing everyone like you did after me, you guys should have let me know early. I would have got it done earlier.
How much have your teammates meant during the struggle?
My teammates are the best, man. It’s something that we have built up around here, man.
I look at their faces when I’m not doing good, and they look at me like, ‘Hey—hang in there. We’re right behind you.’ I’ve got so much support from everyone here that I can’t even break it down for you. That’s how it is here. I’m the kind of guy that I never forget my teammates. I always try to help them one way or another, and everybody is the same way. That chemistry has been going around here for so long. You see guys struggling and you know they’ll bounce back.
What did you do differently today?
Swing like a man, not like a little (expletive). (Laugh)
Was that the biggest relief you ever felt?
It feel good. It feel good. I’m just going to maintain it that way. I figured something out tonight that I’m going to keep on trying to do. It was just from one at-bat to another.
Might sleep well tonight.
|Red Sox Beat the Blue Jays, 8-3||05.20.09 at 10:09 pm ET|
David Ortiz added an eighth-inning double off the base of the Wall (near the junction of the left and centerfield walls) in left-center to his fifth inning homer, highlighting a night when Ortiz (individually) and the Sox (collectively) escaped a prevailing funk. The Sox hit five homers, with Ortiz, Jason Varitek (twice), Jason Bay and Mike Lowell all taking the same route around the bases. Brad Penny held the Jays to two runs in 6.2 innings and Kevin Youkilis added three hits in his return from the disabled list as the Sox took their second straight from the Jays. Boston has now won 14 of its last 16 games at Fenway.
Jacoby Ellsbury, who extended his hitting streak to 15 games, caught the final fly ball of the game, his 12th catch of the game. In the process, he tied a major-league record for most put-outs in a game by an outfielder, done 10 times previously (and just twice in nine-inning contests, last in 1977 by Lyman Bostock).
|Bard’s not-so-special Fenway debut||05.20.09 at 9:57 pm ET|
The unveiling of rookie Daniel Bard at Fenway Park prompted plenty of oohs and aahs thanks to his high-90s velocity readings on the scoreboard. But the right-hander with a fastball that registered from 97-99 mph on the scoreboard also got touched for his first big-league run, and the Jays took a number of healthy cuts at his fastball dominant approach.
Vernon Wells jumped on Bard’s first pitch of the eighth (a 97 mph fastball) and lined it off the Wall in left for a hard, hard, single. Adam Lind then caught up with a sinking fastball (98 mph) below his knees, lining another single into center. Two more fastballs resulted in a first out, a soft liner to second by Scott Rolen. But Lyle Overbay followed by driving a full-count, 99 mph fastball off the base of the Wall in left-center for a run-scoring double.
Following a visit by pitching coach John Farrell, Bard threw a first-pitch slider for a called strike (one of just two sliders he threw, and the only one for a strike), then came back with a pair of fastballs that resulted in a Rod Barajas foul out. That was the end of Bard’s night: 2/3 of an inning, 14 pitches, 12 fastballs, three hits, one run, no swings and misses.
Still, the way he came back against Barajas was noteworthy, suggesting an ability to settle down under adverse circumstances. One gets the sense that there will be more impressive outings from Bard in his new home ballpark going forward.
Hideki Okajima came on to retire pinch-hitter Kevin Millar on a fly to third, and the Sox lead, 8-3, entering the ninth.
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