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Francona on Daisuke: ‘We’re not going to pack in the season on March 10′

03.10.11 at 4:56 pm ET
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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — For the second time in as many outings, Daisuke Matsuzaka produced a pitching line filled with crooked numbers. Five days after allowing seven runs (five earned) in three innings to the Marlins, the right-hander permitted five more runs on six hits in 3 2/3 innings against the Rays.

He walked two and struck out a pair, and Matsuzaka struggled with his command out of the gate — most notably in a first inning in which he walked the first two hitters of the game and threw just 10 of 23 pitches for strikes. Though he at times flashed good stuff (in the second and fourth innings), the results were once again poor.

While that is rarely noteworthy in spring training starts, it was slightly harder to dismiss Matsuzaka’s outing, since he’d said after his March 5 clunker that he intended to approach Thursday’s contest against the Rays (which the Sox lost, 8-6, on a walkoff homer) as a game in which results mattered.

He qualified that notion on Thursday, saying that he had indeed concentrated at times on improving the effectiveness of specific pitches (his changeup and cutter), and noting that he has felt mechanically sound in side sessions. Still, he did not shy from the idea that his performance was disappointing, a continuation of a spring in which he has an 11.42 ERA in three starts.

“At this point, I’m not too worried about [the performance] but I feel it’s not great,” Matsuzaka, who threw 62 pitches in the game and then another dozen in the bullpen, said through an interpreter. “At this point, I’m not really satisfied with my pitches. I need to narrow the gap between how I pitch and what others expect. … At this point, games are very important and the result is very important.”

Manager Terry Francona, however, disagreed. While he made clear that the preference is always to see pitchers excel on the mound, he also cautioned that it was premature to sound any alarm bells about the pitcher.

“It was probably one of those outings where he made it harder than it’s supposed to be,” said Francona. “I don’t think we’re going to pack in the season after March [10].”

OTHER POSTGAME NOTES

Carl Crawford got through his first game against the Rays since signing with the Sox, going 1-for-3 with an infield single while also making a diving catch. Though he had been a touch anxious before the game to see if he would be treated as a villain was instead received warmly by the crowd in his former spring training home.

“I just tried to tune [the fans] out. I didn’t really hear too much. I kind of figured there would be some things yelled at me, but it really wasn’t much being said,” said Crawford. “They were better than I expected. It wasn’t bad at all.”

Informed that it sounded like he was mostly cheered, Crawford chuckled.

“That might have been Red Sox fans,” he said.

Mike Cameron, who had been sidelined since March 5 by tendinitis in his knee, went 1-for-4 and played the entire game as the designated hitter.

“It felt good to put the bat on the ball,” he said. “A little bit out of sync, but for the most part I was seeing the ball well and put some good swings on it.”

–The Sox were left muttering by Rays shortstop Reid Brignac, who turned in a couple of tremendous defensive plays to rob Mike Cameron of hits. On one, he dove to his left to glove a grounder into the hole and fired to second to force out former teammate and close friend Carl Crawford.

“I hope he wasn’t mad at me,” said Brignac. “I’m sure he’s taken many hits away in his day.”

Andrew Miller logged another impressive outing, coming in to relieve Matsuzaka in the middle of the fourth inning and tossing 1 1/3 scoreless innings while allowing one hit and striking out a batter. Though he did not issue a walk, he did fall behind in several counts. Even so, Miller, who had allowed three runs in two innings in his prior appearance on March 6, rebounded impressively. Francona raved about the pitcher’s stuff, with his fastball once again popping in the high-90s.

“I hope he understands how tough he can be to face. At times, he looks like a left-handed [Daniel] Bard,” said Francona. “He’s big and tall. When he leverages the ball downhill, there’s some giddy-up on that fastball. He’s got a nice feel for the breaking ball. He’s real interesting.”

Alfredo Aceves pitched a pair of solid innings in the seventh and eighth before faltering in the ninth inning, in which he allowed three runs on three hits, including a walkoff, two-run homer by Robinson Chirinos. The Sox were more concerned about getting the right-hander stretched out than about the fact that he left some pitches up in the strike zone in his final inning of work.

Read More: andrew miller, carl crawford, Daisuke Matsuzaka, mike cameron

Crawford: ‘Hopefully I won’t be considered the villain’

03.10.11 at 2:24 pm ET
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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — It was a homecoming of sorts for Carl Crawford. Yet the circumstances were unique.

For the first time in his career, the 29-year-old was sitting in a dugout opposite from the one occupied by the Rays team with whom he spent his first nine big league seasons. Thanks to the seven-year, $142 million deal he signed with the Red Sox this winter, Crawford was left to renew acquaintances with his longtime Tampa Bay teammates, and to hope that the memories of his time with the Rays was remembered by all parties in a positive light.

“I’€™m just trying to let everything sink in a little bit,” said Crawford. “I had a great time in Tampa. Hopefully I won’€™t be considered the villain that some people make me out to be. I had a lot of fun times there, I love the fans here. Those are still my boys in the other clubhouse.”

Crawford’s concerns about being a villain in the eyes of Rays fans soon proved unfounded. When he was introduced prior to his first at-bat, Rays and Sox fans alike cheered him. He also received a warm round of applause when he made a diving catch while coming in on a shallow fly ball to end the fourth inning, and another when he legged out an infield single in the top of the sixth to close out his 1-for-3 day.

Still, while the fans were one thing, his former teammates were another. The idea that the Rays were the team in “the other clubhouse” was something to which Crawford was still trying to acclimate.

“Still trying to feel my way around and still trying to deal with the fact that I am a Red Sox and not a Ray anymore. After time, I’€™m pretty sure things will start to feel a little better,” said Crawford. “Playing against your former team against guys you played with for so long and now you’€™re on the other team, the one they used to hate so much, it’€™s going to feel a little different. But like I said, I’€™ve just got to get used to it.’€

Of course, the Rays and Red Sox feature a form of two ships passing in the night. With Crawford having left the budget-strained Rays for Boston, former Red Sox outfielders Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon are now with the Rays, who signed both on relatively low-cost one-year deals (Damon for a $5.25 million base, Ramirez for $2 million).

While Crawford was batting second and playing left for the Red Sox, Damon was batting second and serving as DH for the Rays. Ramirez, meanwhile, originally was slated to play left, but he was scratched after heavy rains cascaded on the Rays’ facility on Thursday morning. Even so, the convergence of Red Sox and Rays past and present was difficult to overlook.

“It’€™s funny the way that happens. Who would have thought that would happen? It’€™s just one of those things,” said Crawford. “Those guys fit in over there and hopefully I fit in over here and we just continue on our merry way.”

Damon could identify with some of the foreignness of Crawford’s experience. He had made the transition from small-market to the spotlight when he signed with the Sox as a free agent prior to the 2002 season, after having spent his career to that point with the small-market Royals and A’s. He had also moved between rivals, going from the Sox to the Yankees as a free agent following the 2005 season.

Asked how he expected Crawford to adapt to his new environment, Damon said that it was premature to predict — though he does believe that the Sox will achieve baseball’s ultimate goal during Crawford’s seven-year tenure.

“Only time will tell [how Crawford adapts]. We couldn’€™t really define my time in Boston until we won a championship. Same in New York. Championships are what people remember you for,” said Damon. “I was on a pretty good team, pretty stacked team. I’€™m sure there’€™s going to be at least one somewhere in his stay there.”

Read More: carl crawford, Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, tampa bay rays

Johnny Damon expresses second thoughts about vetoing Red Sox deal

03.10.11 at 1:22 pm ET
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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — In retrospect, Johnny Damon admitted, maybe he should have gone back to Boston when the Red Sox were awarded a waiver claim on the outfielder last August.

Damon — now with the Rays, with whom he signed a one-year, $5.25 million deal this winter — suggested that his decision to exercise his no-trade power to block a move to Boston was a result of his expectation that it was a “slam dunk” that the Tigers would want to bring him back beyond the 2010 season. Instead, the 37-year-old said that he found out on the last day of the season that Detroit did not plan to make an effort to retain him, thus leaving Damon — who played for the Sox from 2002-05 — to wonder whether he should have returned to Boston.

“I enjoyed playing in Detroit, and actually was hoping to get back there. That was a big reason for vetoing the trade. If I would have known at the time that they weren’€™t going to bring me back, I would have showcased myself for the upcoming free agent year,” said Damon, who signed a one-year, $5.25 million deal with the Rays this winter. “[The Tigers] didn’€™t give me any indication. The ownership loved me. The fans loved me. So I thought it was close to being a slam dunk [that he would return]. But find out on the last day of the season. Okay, appreciate it…

“My whole thing was I wanted to stay in Detroit. I wanted to try to get another year with them. Things didn’€™t work out that way,” he added. “And now I’€™m here in a place where I’€™ve always wanted to be.”

Damon remains a dear figure to his former manager, Terry Francona, who found his ability to stay on the field for 149 games a year while throwing his body all over the field to be somewhat remarkable.

“[Damon is] one of my all-time favorites. One of the best guys you could ever have play as a manager. You can’€™t appreciate him too much,” said Francona. “There were days where he just got beat to [smithereens] and he’€™d call in the morning and go, ‘€˜Don’€™t not play me. Let me have a chance to show up.’€™ He understood his obligation. He’€™d go out and play center field, even if he went 0-for-4, he’€™d lead off and play. I was impressed with him. He’€™s very dear to me. We loved him. And I know he went to the Yankees and he got booed when he came. Everybody that’€™s been around him appreciates what he’€™s done.”

“I wish he’€™d go somewhere else,” Francona added. “But that doesn’€™t mean he’€™s not dear to us. We love him. I just don’€™t want him to help these guys too much. Same with [Manny Ramirez].”

Damon is serving as the designated hitter and batting second for the Rays. Ramirez was slated to play left field for Tampa Bay, but was a late scratch out of concern about the wet outfield following heavy rains earlier today in Southwest Florida.

Read More: Johnny Damon, Rays, tigers,

Remembering Babe Ruth through the genius of Batting Stance Guy

03.10.11 at 8:05 am ET
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Postgame notes: In praise of Scott Atchison

03.09.11 at 10:19 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“  Strange ending to the game here on Wednesday night, as Yamaico Navarro was hit in wrist by a Wynn Pelzer 0-2 pitch with the bases loaded in the ninth inning to score Josh Reddick and give the Sox a 2-1 win over the Orioles. Not quite a walk-off, more a-slump-to-the-ground-in-pain-off.

Navarro is fine, just a contusion to the left wrist.

Terry Francona was pleased by the effort of Clay Buchholz, who didn’t allow a run in his four innings. Buchholz had to pitch out of several jams, which was also fine with his manager.

“He gave up some hits, had to throw out of the stretch, got a runner on third,” said Francona. “He got a nice grounder, it was nice to see him pitch well and pitch out of the stretch with runners on base and continue to make quality pitches. I thought he was terrific.”

Scott Atchison still has plenty of work to do to lock up a spot on the Opening Day roster, but Francona was hugely impressed with the six-up and six-down effort from the reliever on Wednesday.

“He had two beautiful innings,” said Francona of Atchison. “He just throws strikes, he uses all his pitches, takes all the sting out of the bat, he just goes out and pounds the strike zone, works quick, lets the defense catch the ball and gets off the field. Young pitchers should watch him.”

Francona said that the Red Sox were of the belief that Bobby Jenks‘ velocity would be “the last thing to come” for the right-hander in the spring, but that hasn’t been the case this year. Jenks struck out two more batters in his inning on the mound Wednesday.

“And his breaking ball — from the day he got on the mound — has been sharp,” said Francona. “I don’t know if being with a new team is different or not, maybe he just feels good. But I agree he’s throwing the ball very well.”

Daniel Bard has it figured out

03.09.11 at 9:22 pm ET
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In spring training, there are small sample sizes and then there are small sample sizes.

Daniel Bard’s first two appearances this spring were ugly. We’re talking critical reaction to “Transformers 2″ level of ugly here. Tom Brady dancing in Brazil ugly: Five hits, four runs and three walks in two innings. No way to spin those results.

Except this, of course: It’s spring training. It’s not like Bard needs to prove himself, or he’s battling for a spot on the roster. Nope, Bard is secure. In fact, Terry Francona has referred to Bard as “the most important guy in our bullpen.” This isn’t Kyle Weiland or Tony Pena.

In other words, who cares if he stinks it up in the beginning of March?

Well, Bard does.

“It wasn’t getting to me, but it was getting on my mind,” Bard said when asked Wednesday about his recent struggles. “The problem I think with me, when I don’t have timing, my mechanics aren’t …  you spend the whole time during the outing trying to find it. And that distracts you from getting the hitters out and the results aren’t good. The second you can put all the mechanical stuff behind you and kind of go on auto-pilot and just focus on executing pitchers and getting hitters out.”

Francona said Tuesday that Bard was “fighting it” on the mound to that point in the spring. The manager mentioned that he was fine while warming up in the bullpen, but that Bard was having a hard time bringing that stuff to game action. So instead of just throwing in the bullpen — as was scheduled — Bard requested that he pitch an inning on Tuesday against the Astros.

Francona agreed, and it proved to be the right move.

Bard struck out two batters in a perfect inning of work, getting swing-and-misses on his final five pitches.

Problem solved.

“I’ll take that every time,” Bard said of his performance. “I was just having trouble [in the previous two outings], my timing was kind of off out there. I was kind of landing at a different time, my arm was at a different angle, and that makes it hard to consistently throw strikes. I think it’s just something that comes with throwing more every spring. Sometimes you get it in the first week, sometimes you get it in three weeks like it took me this spring. It felt good, finally felt like myself again.”

Ironically (you be the judge if this is actually ironic, it probably isn’t), Bard had solved the cause of his struggles before he even took the mound on Tuesday for his requested inning.

“I figured something out when I was playing catch yesterday [Tuesday] morning,” Bard said. “It’s really hard to put into words, it’s just a feel thing, something with my arm stroke in the back. Just a little timing device I have that helps everything be on time, which results in throwing more strikes. I knew what I was looking for.”

Know this about Bard: He never got the Crash Davis cliche speech in the minor leagues, or at least he didn’t pay attention to it. The guy actually listens to the question and then answers it honestly (though he’s smart enough to know not to answer the questions that could get him in trouble). So when you ask him if a good warm-up session in the bullpen has any correlation to a good outing you get a little more than “I just do my best each and every time.”

“I’ve gotten pretty good — throwing 70-plus outings last year — you get to the point when you have a bad warm-up and you know,” said Bard, who actually appeared in 73 games last year, fifth-most in the American League. “You can throw 10-15 pitches, warming up, and you’re in the game. And sometimes you didn’t throw a strike in the warm-up. You get to the point where ‘€¦ I had warm-ups like that, you get in the game, you take your eight warm-ups on the mound and by the time the game hits you’re fine. And you come to just trust, it’ll work out OK.

“And the opposite can be true. You had a great warm-up, plenty of time, feel loose, spotting both sides of the plate with all of your pitches, get in the game and nothing goes right. You just tell yourself — no matter what you did in warm-up it does not dictate what you’re going to do in the game. And the faster you can realize that, you’re ahead. Even if I have just one pitch working for me on a given night, I say ‘screw it, I’m going to figure out how to get guys out.’ Even if it’s a slider, I’ll show my fastball, but I won’t get beat on it. I’ll make him hit the slider.”

And while Bard has done nothing but praise Jonathan Papelbon all spring — on Wednesday he said Papelbon is “as good as it gets out there” — he has also made it clear that he wouldn’t turn down the role of closer should it be offered. But for right now (at least) he’ll have to live with the title of Most Important Guy in the Bullpen.

“It means a lot. It’s an honor,” said Bard. “Means a lot coming from [Francona]. But that’s, if you can’t be the closer, you want to be the swing guy, the guy they look to in those game-changing situations, with guys on base, tie game. When the game’s on the line I want to be in there. And to hear that from him? I think that means I probably will be in the game for as many of those situations as I can be. It’s an honor, it really is.”

Read More: Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox, Terry Francona

Clay Buchholz: Spring training success ‘not a big deal’

03.09.11 at 9:10 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ Clay Buchholz met with the media following his start vs. the Orioles on Wednesday. Buchholz tossed four scoreless innings for the Sox, and has not allowed a run in three spring training starts.

“It’s spring training,” said Buchholz when asked about his early success. “Everyone is working on stuff, the hitters are working on trying to get their timing down. Not a big deal right now.”

It wasn’t an easy night for Buchholz, who pitched out of a couple of jams. He allowed a leadoff double to Jake Fox in the second inning, but Fox was thrown out at home on a Brendan Harris fielder’s choice two hitters later. In the fourth inning, Buchholz surrendered a leadoff single to Felix Pie and a one-out double to Josh Bell. But he was able to force a pop-out to Harris and get Brandon Snyder to ground out to Marco Scutaro, stranding two runners in scoring position.

“You don’t ever want to get in trouble, but when you do, you want to know how out of it or know what to do to get out of it,” said Buchholz. “It’s always good to work on situations like that [in spring training].”

Snyder would be the final batter faced for Buchholz, who gave up four hits in his four innings, striking out three with no walks. He threw 56 pitches, 35 for strikes.

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