|08.28.09 at 1:20 pm ET|
Josh Beckett was enjoying a very productive August (2-0 with an 0.86 ERA in his first three starts) ‘ that is, until he pitched against Toronto on August 18.
In that start, Beckett surrendered seven earned runs in only 5.1 innings pitched, allowing three homers along the way. While the Red Sox managed to hang on and ultimately beat Toronto 10-9, the team wasn’t so lucky in Beckett’s next outing against the Yankees.
Pitching at Fenway against New York in his last start, Beckett allowed eight earned runs off nine hits, five of which were homeruns. The Yankees offense pounded the Sox in the series’ rubber match, and Boston lost its second series in a row to its reviled AL East rival.
Friday night, Beckett will look to rebound as he goes for win number 15 against Toronto. In 11 career starts against the Blue Jays, the Red Sox ace is 3-5 with a bloated 6.44 ERA. These un-Beckett-like numbers can likely attributed to the immense success Toronto centerfielder Vernon Wells enjoys against Beckett: Wells is a career .323 hitter against Beckett with five homers and three walks.
On the other side of the mound, Scott Richmond will be pitching for Toronto Friday night. In only his second season with the team, the 29-year-old righty has struggled going 6-7 with a 4.09 ERA in 19 games (16 of which were starts). Richmond’s only appearance against Boston this year came in late May when he pitched in relief of teammate Ricky Romero. For his career, Richmond is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in seven innings pitched against the Red Sox.
After taking three out of four from the White Sox, the Red Sox are six games behind the Yankees in the AL East standings, and 1.5 games up on Texas in the Wild Card.
BLUE JAYS VS. BECKETT
Lyle Overbay (36 career plate appearances against Beckett): .300 average/ .417 OBP/ .367 slugging, 6 walks, 10 strikeouts
Vernon Wells (35): .323/ .400/ .871, 5 homers, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts
Aaron Hill (28): .370/ .393/ .593, 2 strikeouts
Kevin Millar (20): .263/ .300/ .368, walk, strikeout
Rod Barajas (15): .385/ .467/ 1.000, 2 homers, walk, 2 strikeouts
Marco Scutaro (10): 3-for-10, 2 strikeouts
Adam Lind (8): 5-for-8, homer, strikeout
John McDonald (6): 2-for-4, 2 walks, strikeout
Raul Chavez (5): 0-for-4, walk, 2 strikeouts
Randy Ruiz (3): 1-for-2, homer, walk
Travis Snider (2): 2-for-2, homer
RED SOX VS. RICHMOND
Jacoby Ellsbury (4 career plate appearances against Richmond): 3-for-3, walk
Dustin Pedroia (4): 0-for-3
David Ortiz (3): 1-for-3, homer
Jason Varitek (3): 0-for-3, strikeout
Kevin Youkilis (3): 0-for-2, walk, 2 strikeouts
Jason Bay (2): 0-for-2
Casey Kotchman (2): 0-for-2
Victor Martinez (2): 1-for-2
J.D. Drew (1): 0-for-1
Nick Green (1): 0-for-1
Mike Lowell (1): 1-for-1
|08.28.09 at 11:57 am ET|
By his own admission, Billy Wagner has little business being in Boston — or in any other major-league uniform. There is an element of the improbable to the fact that, at 38, he is throwing with mid-90s velocity and command, let alone that he is doing so roughly 11 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Wagner is certainly one of the oldest pitchers, if not the oldest, ever to come back from the procedure.
“We don’t have a lot of comps at that age,” said Will Carroll, a medical reporter for Baseball Prospectus. “Most guys don’t come back.”
But Wagner did. It would be difficult to imagine a greater validation of Wagner’s rehab efforts than the fact that a contending team was willing to trade for him and spend roughly $3.5 million for his services (roughly $2.5 million in salary and another $1 million for a buyout of his 2010 option after the season) over the duration of the 2009 season. Less than a year after he had been told that his career could well be over, his recovery has been so successful that he is not merely back on a mound, but sought for his potential to boost a club in a playoff race and perhaps the postseason.
“I was told my career was over, so I just stuck with (Mets and former Red Sox physical therapist) Chris Correnti and he was there day in and day out with me motivating me and pushing me to keep working. He believed that I had something left, my family thought that I had something left and that I should pursue it and see how far this thing will take me and I’m here in 11 months where it’s normally 14 months,” said Wagner. “Eleven months after Tommy John, somebody wants somebody like me to help them maybe get in the playoffs. I’m pretty excited.”
The left-hander pushed the normal time line for a return from Tommy John surgery, even though, when he went under the knife, the doctors did more than just replace the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow last September. Wagner identified additional procedures that were done at the time of his Tommy John surgery and that made his rapid recovery — especially at this age and stage of his career — all the more noteworthy.
“They did a scope in the back (of the elbow), moved the ulnar nerve, fixed the flexor (tendon) ‘ they did it all,” Wagner said. “They didn’t even tell me that they had done the scope or anything else until after.”
But Wagner followed a rigorous rehab program at an aggressive pace. Had it been a younger pitcher, the course of the rehab process might well have been more deliberate. But Wagner and Correnti — who oversaw the dominating return of Pedro Martinez from a damaged rotator cuff in time for the 2002 season — decided to push the pace almost immediately following the surgery, since the long-time closer is involved in a race against time.
Wagner has targeted both 400 saves and 425 saves as goals, the former because it is a round number, the latter because it would allow him to pass John Franco as the all-time leader for saves by a left-handed pitcher. Such milestones could bolster the pitcher’s Hall of Fame candidacy. If he can demonstrate an ability to pitch at a high level and with health over the final five weeks of this season, Wagner can position himself where clubs in need of a closer this offseason will be far more willing to target him.
At the beginning of the rehab process, there were no guarantees. While it is taken almost for granted that pitchers can return at full strength from Tommy John, and despite numerous success stories, it is by no means a given that a pitcher can regain his velocity after the procedure.
Former Blue Jays closer B.J. Ryan, for instance, never regained the life on his fastball after he underwent the procedure in 2007 (even though he was effective in 2008), and then his shoulder blew out. Carroll cited Francisco Liriano of the Twins and Chris Capuano of the Brewers as examples of other players who did not see their stuff fully return after Tommy John, and Frankie Francisco (the current Rangers closer) as an instance of a pitcher who took an immense amount of time to recover from flexor tendon surgery.
But Wagner, at least to date, has not been a cautionary tale. Instead, he is back in the majors as fast — indeed, likely faster — as anyone could have expected.
Even so, multiple major-league sources suggest that medical risks persist for a pitcher until he is at least 14 months removed from such a procedure. There are still risks of setbacks, and it would be vastly premature to suggest that the pitcher is out of the woods.
Indeed, the remaining risks in Wagner’s recovery explain in large part why the Mets were willing to part with Wagner in a deal that, despite the inclusion of a couple of players to be named, represented primarily a desire to save $3.5 million in a year when they have fallen far short of expectations despite a payroll pushing $150 million.
While Wagner can contribute in meaningful situations for the Red Sox, he was not going to have that opportunity in 2009 for a Mets team that is buried in the standings. If there were a guarantee that Wagner, a likely Type A free agent following this year, would be healthy enough to ensure a free-agent market for his services as a closer, New York might have been more inclined to suffer the financial hit of keeping the reliever for the rest of the year so that they could collect a pair of draft picks after he left.
But because the team was mindful of the possibility of a setback that could make it impossible to offer Wagner arbitration (or that would prevent any team from signing him and sacrificing a top draft pick), it could not stomach the idea of paying him with potentially zero return. A cold, hard financial reality was in play for a team that has the second highest payroll in baseball but that has endured a disastrous number of injuries that have crushed any of its hopes in the pennant race.
The Sox, on the other hand, might receive benefit from the pitcher down the stretch this year. And so, for them, the $3.5 million investment (an amount that Boston G.M. Theo Epstein noted represents a reinvestment of savings in unpaid incentives for pitchers John Smoltz and Brad Penny) harbors immediate potential return. Given that, Boston can focus more on the potential payoff of having a pair of compensation picks rather than the potential risk that it would get none.
In an effort to assure Wagner’s health down the stretch, his usage will be carefully regulated. He will not throw on back to back days, his pitch counts will likely be limited, and the Sox will certainly try to avoid putting the pitcher in a situation where he warms up multiple times before entering games.
Still, while there will be limits to how Wagner can be used, the fact that the 38-year-old can be used at all and has been thrust back into a pennant race is, in its own right, noteworthy.
“I was told, ‘You’ve had a good career.’ And that kind of motivates you because I feel like I’m in control of my career,” said Wagner. “My fastball has got a lot more life right now. My slider is probably a little harder and sharper than in the past, and I’ve developed somewhat of a changeup. So this whole Tommy John thing isn’t looking too bad right now.”
|08.28.09 at 12:30 am ET|
One would think a position player getting the chance to pitch in a major league regular season game would be a super chance to show off some hidden skills.
“At first, I didn’t want to pitch but we didn’t really have a choice,” Green said.
The reason the Red Sox and manager Terry Francona didn’t have a choice was because Takashi Saito had a stiff neck and Francona was trying to preserve Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima for the weekend. If either or both had been used on Thursday, at least one of them would have been unavailable on Friday.
Additionally, new reliever Billy Wagner was deemed unavailable because he had thrown a side session in the bullpen earlier in the day as the Red Sox wanted to check him out before putting him into a game. Brad Penny, who was supposed to be in long relief for the Red Sox on Thursday, asked for and was given his release and he was no longer on the roster.
“If I had to go out there and pitch because our pitchers couldn’t go, that’s the only I reason I’d go out there,” Green said. “I don’t really want to do it. But after I understood the situation today, that’s why I said, ‘Okay, I’ll try to go out there and try to have fun.'” Read the rest of this entry »
|08.27.09 at 7:08 pm ET|
Red Sox first baseman/outfielder Chris Carter, currently playing for Triple A Pawtucket, was claimed on waivers as a means of delaying his transfer from the Red Sox to the Mets as one of the two players to be named in the deal that sent reliever Billy Wagner to Boston, according to a major league source. Despite the claim, however, the only effect of the maneuver will be to leave Carter in limbo for the rest of the season, since the Red Sox are expected to pull him back from waivers and then send him to New York after the end of the season, at which point players on the 40-man roster no longer need to clear waivers to be traded.
Carter, 26, is hitting .279 with a .340 OBP and .779 OPS for the PawSox. He was acquired — as a player to be named later — as part of a three-way deal that sent former Red Sox outfielder Wily Mo Pena to the Nationals in 2007.
|08.27.09 at 6:31 pm ET|
The Red Sox just may have better catching than we thought.
Since acquiring Victor Martinez on July 31, the Sox now have two All-Star catchers who figure to be under Boston’s control through the 2010 season. In addition, the team will have some decisions to make regarding George Kottaras, who was placed on the DL on August 1 with with a lower back sprain and has played his last nine games in Pawtucket. Amongst all the bodies in the system, who is the team’s catcher of the future?
‘Mark Wagner,’ says a source within the organization with what can only be perceived as the utmost confidence.
Of course, that source within the organization happens to be one Mark Wagner himself, and unfortunately for the 25-year-old, it’s not that simple. Looking at the system as a whole, Wagner isn’t the only minor-league catcher jumping off the page. In fact, he may not even be Boston’s catching prospect. With both Double A Portland’s Luis Exposito and High A Salem’s Tim Federowicz also making great strides, the spot’s future is uncertain to say the least.
In short, Wagner brings to the table great game-calling ability, a plus pop time, a streaky bat, and outstanding confidence. Exposito brings size, outstanding defensive abilities, and a bat that has hit for average (.290 over the last two seasons). Additionally, Exposito brings a level of professionalism uncharacteristic of someone who was suspended for nearly all of the ‘07 season for attitude problems. Federowicz, like Wagner, calls an excellent game, has a gun for an arm and has surprised Boston with offensive growth. Read the rest of this entry »
|08.27.09 at 6:14 pm ET|
“What’s my reaction? I’m excited,” Wagner said after finally working out an agreement with the Red Sox to approve a trade with the Mets. “Eleven months after Tommy John, somebody wants somebody like me to help them maybe get in the playoffs, I’m pretty excited.”
Then he was asked what role he thought he would serve with his new team.
“Whatever role they want me to — waterboy, towel guy, lefty specialist. I don’t care,” he quipped.
“My biggest concern was: Can I fulfill what they’re asking for? Can I go out there, pitch, and be like I was? Coming off 11 months after Tommy John, a major surgery, the last thing you want to do is go out there and not be able to perform the way you have in the past, not help and not contribute, so that was one of the major factors.”
Naturally, he was asked if he had spoken to Jonathan Papelbon about their verbal volleyball back and forth that occurred when word of a deal was rumored over the weekend. Read the rest of this entry »
|08.27.09 at 2:37 pm ET|
WHITE SOX VS. JUNICHI TAZAWA
Considering he started the season at Double A Portland, it’s doubtful the Red Sox could have expected much more out of Junichi Tazawa than they’ve received. In his first three starts in the majors, the 23-year-old Tazawa has gone at least five innings each time and has allowed just five earned runs in 16 innings as a starter.
Though he began his Boston career by serving up a walkoff homer to Alex Rodriguez in New York, Tazawa’s best performance came Saturday against the Yankees. In the 14-1 Red Sox victory, Tazawa threw six innings of shutout ball to lower his season ERA (again, inflated by the 1.2 inning, 2 earned-run inning appearance on August 7) to 3.57.
|08.27.09 at 6:32 am ET|
Brad Penny confirmed via text message to WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford that he had requested and was granted his release following Wednesday’s game against the White Sox. The news of the pitcher’s release was first reported by the Boston Herald. Penny, signed to a one-year, $5 million deal this offseason, told the Herald that he was hoping to be released so that he would have time to sign with a contending club before Aug. 31, thereby making him eligible to pitch in the postseason.
As WEEI.com reported Tuesday, Penny was not eligible to be traded after he was claimed on trade waivers earlier this month and subsequently pulled back by the Red Sox.
Penny was available in the bullpen on Wednesday, but his clear preference has always been to remain a starter, and the Red Sox said that they did not view it as being in either the pitcher’s or the team’s best interests to make him a reliever. Penny told the Herald that he was grateful for his time with the Red Sox, and he has frequently credited the team’s shoulder program with having restored his career. While the results fell short of what he would have liked, the pitcher sounded a note of gratitude as he cut ties with the team.
“I enjoyed playing with all of the guys,” Penny told the Herald. “I played for a great manager on a great team. I had a great time. I enjoyed it. I wish things had worked out better, but that happens.”
|08.27.09 at 12:27 am ET|
Instead, Big Papi will gladly settle for making up for lost time by hitting more dramatic homers like he did on Wednesday night. His club-record ninth walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth against Tony Pena gave the Red Sox a crucial 3-2 win over the White Sox at Fenway Park
“Victor, he just pushed me,” Ortiz said afterward. “Just about every at-bat, he gets in my face and starts screaming at me and everything. I like it, I really like it. It gets me in the mood.”
The drive just inside the Pesky Pole in right off Tony Pena was Ortiz’s 10th career home run to end a game but first since he beat Tampa Bay on Sept. 12, 2007.
For his part, Martinez said watching Ortiz do his walkoff thing makes being traded to Boston all the more worthwhile.
“I was excited,” Martinez said. “It was the first time for me to see the ‘Big Daddy’ hit a walkoff homer.”
|08.26.09 at 11:49 pm ET|
All it took was a handshake and a promise for one of New England’s most storied partnerships to get its start.
That handshake was between the Lou Perini and Tom Yawkey. In March 1953, both men were the owners of the Braves and Red Sox, Boston’s two baseball franchises.
The promise struck between the two owners forged America’s longest running relationship between a professional sports team and a charity. Since the day the Braves left town 56 years ago, the Jimmy Fund and the Boston Red Sox teamed up for over half-a-century to put an end to cancer.
Today marks the eighth annual WEEI/NESN Radio-Telethon. Throughout the next two days, many heartbreaking and heartwarming stories will be told about some remarkable experiences with the tireless work at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund.
After what has boiled down to a 56-year marriage between a baseball team and a charity, there is bound to be a story or two woven into the fabric of Red Sox Nation.
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