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Lowrie and ‘the clock’

07.06.09 at 6:36 pm ET
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Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie’s minor-league rehab assignment is nearing its conclusion, but it is unlikely that he will be ready to return by Friday, when the 20-day assignment will be at an end. Lowrie, who went 3-for-5 for Double-A Portland on Monday in just his seventh minor-league game, might well need more time in the minors beyond the window afforded by a minor-league rehab assignment. He missed several games after getting drilled by a pitch on the knee, and then missed more while Triple-A Pawtucket endured a succession of rainouts.

Even so, the Red Sox can extend Lowrie’s minor-league assignment beyond Friday if they so choose. Because Lowrie still has options remaining, if the team deems him unready to rejoin the club before the All-Star break, it could simply option him to Triple-A so that he could continue to play regularly prior to his activation from the disabled list. Lowrie has two options remaining, meaning that he can be shuttled between the major- and minor-league rosters for two more seasons without his consent and without being subjected to waivers.

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Nomar returns to Fenway

07.06.09 at 6:02 pm ET
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With his voice weakening several times and nearing the cracking point, a soft-spoken and smiling Nomar Garciaparra spoke on Monday afternoon just hours prior to taking the Fenway Park field for the first time since a blockbuster trade sent him to the Chicago Cubs in 2004.

“My thoughts are excited, anxious, nervous,” Garciaparra said in anticipation of the reception from Fenway fans as he returns with the Oakland A’s. “For me, that’s what’s going go through me.”

Even Red Sox manager Terry Francona admitted Monday that he didn’t recognize the magnitude of the deal when Garciparra was sent to the Cubs and Orlando Cabrera came to Boston from Montreal.

“I didn’t realize at the time and I didn’t understand Boston well enough,” Francona said, before adding, “Sometimes I think he was Bostoned out”

Garciaparra will bat sixth and DH for the opener.

He was asked a wide range of questions, from his thoughts about the fans, to his thoughts on steroids to being traded before the 2004 deadline and missing out on a chance to play in the World Series.

He said he didn’t know what to expect when he steps to the plate for the first time.

“I don’t know what to expect. I hope it’s great,” he said.

As for his time in Boston, he said he had no regrets about the way he played.

“I can look in mirror that I did everything I could,” Garciaparra said.

But he admitted that toward the end he probably could have been more media friendly as the pressure began to build playing in a city like Boston.

“I would’ve handled this (media) a little different,” he said. “If I didn’t learn from that, then shame on me.”

Asked if he had any regrets about not being apart of the 2004 team when they finally made it to and won the World Series, Garciaparra handled himself graciously.

“I felt so much apart of it,” he said. “Getting the ring. I felt so much apart of it because it was a championship season.”

Garciaparra spoke about being diagnosed last year with a genetic condition that led to the numerous injuries he’s sustained since leaving Boston in 2004.

“I have a genetic condition that caused (injuries),” he explained. “It’s something I’ll have to deal with rest of my life. More of a relief when I found out.”

Those injuries led to the realization coming into this season that he has been reduced to a DH and utility player.

“I was on the verge of retiring last year,” he said. “I always believed baseball could be over in an instant.”

Then there was the question about steroids, and how he felt about teammates like Manny Ramirez who have been suspended for testing positive for PEDs.

“I don’t know their whole story behind it (steroids). I think it’s disappointing,” he said. “This game doesn’t deserve that.”

But his most heartfelt emotion came when asked about playing before the fans of Boston again.

“I love them,” he said. “I don’t know how else to put it.I’m a little emotional. Cant believe the wonderful experience here and it’s all because of them.”

He said he missed talking to the Fenway game day staff he saw everyday since beginning his career in 1997, when he was American League Rookie of the Year.

“[It was] emotional, coming here, seeing people at the gate,” he said. “That’s what makes this place so special.”

He was also asked about the shortstop turnover since his departure, which began with Orlando Cabrera, ironically the starting Oakland shortstop. That leads to the debate as to whether Garciaparra is the best shortstop to ever don a Red Sox uniform.

“If I’m looked at that way thanks (to fans),” said Garciaparra. “If that’s the case, I must have done alright.”

Read More: A's, Fenway Park, Nomar Garciaparra, Red Sox

Aaron Bates gets called up

07.06.09 at 3:34 pm ET
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It seems as though Paw Sox first baseman Aaron Bates has finally figured it out. An all-but-forgotten Sox prospect entering the year, Bates burst out of the games in Portland after a mediocre Double A season last year, got called up to Pawtucket two months into the season and has now been called up by the Red Sox for his first taste of the majors on Monday.

An unfortunate incident in Saturday’€™s game against the Mariner’€™s in which Seattle shortstop Ronny Cedeno collided with Sox first baseman Jeff Bailey may land Bailey on the disabled list and Bates in the Red Sox clubhouse. One man’€™s loss is another man’€™s gain.

Bates has often been noticed for his offensive numbers but it is his defense that Paw Sox skipper Ron Johnson has noticed and something the Red Sox will be looking for with Mark Kotsay as their next option at first.

‘€œI’ve see a couple of things from Aaron,” the Paw Sox skipper said recently. “He’s phenomenal defensively. He’s a really, really good defensive first baseman — the size, the stretch, the pick, the split — it’s been impressive that’s hard to disagree. I’ve been really impressed with his make up and composure — the way he’s gone about his play.”

With Bailey presumably out at least until the All-Star break and Mike Lowell on the DL with his sore hip, the Sox are short on corner infield options. Kevin Youkilis has shifted across the diamond from his customary spot at first to cover third with Bailey and Kotsay platooning at first.
Kotsay has only played 46 games at first over the span of six seasons and will likely start most games but Bates offers a solid glove with only one error in 184 chances in Pawtucket in addition to experience in the outfield and the potential for power at the plate.

“I’m very impressed with Aaron Bates,” Johnson said. “We’ve talked about this before with some other guys that have come up, the Pedroias, Lowrie, Youkilis. The ones that come up to this level and have a good grasp of the strike z0ne, what to swing at and what not to, they seem to be able to succeed earlier than the guys that come up and have a rougher time managing the zone.”

Bates’ slow but steady progression through the Sox minor leagues was given a boost when he was called up to Pawtucket after a torrid May in Portland.
He was named Eastern Player of the Month in May after batting .370 (40-for-108) with six home runs, 28 RBIs recording a .456 OBP and a .602 SLG in 28 games. He reached base in all but two games and had 14 multi-hit games.

Originally drafted out of NC State in the third round of the 2006 draft, Bates ‘€“ who was selected that high due to impressive power potential ‘€“ had become lost in the minor leagues until this recent surge of progress.

At 25, Bates took it upon himself to get his path to the majors back on track. After a mediocre season with Portland in 2008 in which he batted .276 with 11 home runs, 68 RBIs and a .366 OBP, Bates decided to play winter ball to eliminate an errant leg kick that was slowing him down at the plate.

He played eight games with the Scotsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League before winter ball in Puerto Rico with Leones de Ponce. He then appeared in 18 games in Puerto Rico and batted .271 (16-for-59) with 6 RBIs and .358 OBP in preparation for the 2009 season with Portland.

“I worked on some mechanical things in Arizona and Puerto Rico so that definitely helped a lot because I wanted to go play and work things out,” Bates said. “It definitely helps coming into Spring Training as far as having an idea of what I wanted to do.”

So far in Pawtucket he is only batting .182 with 7 RBIs and 2 home runs in 24 games but has reached base in six of his last 10 games. Coming off a torrid streak in Portland, Bates credits his cool bat to inexperience with Triple A pitching. Still, he has maintained the same pre-game workout despite the results. His routine of 20 swings in the cage before every game keeps him consistent which he says is the key to overcoming his problems at the plate.

While he may not have to get adjusted to Triple A pitching too much longer with opportunity looming in Boston, he still promises he is not focusing on anything out of his control.

“I’m just focusing on playing baseball,” he said before the call-up. “I think that’s what has gotten me here this year, not worrying about that kind of stuff and things you can’t control. You go out and play hard. You go up there and try to put in your four at bats and see where you end up. You can’t really worry about call ups.”

But if Bates is not focusing on a call up then Johnson will do it for him.

“He’s a very interesting guy,” Johnson said. “Plus the fact he got here the right way. He was down in Double-A, hit .340, drove in 40 runs. His promotion was well deserved. It wasn’t a case where we’re always seeing the guy. He paid his dues, he learned, he developed and he’s doing a pretty good job.”

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Red Sox vs. Athletics Match-Ups, 7/6

07.06.09 at 3:22 pm ET
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It will likely be a night of ovations and returns at Fenway Park. John Smoltz will make his Fenway Park debut as a member of the Boston Red Sox tonight against the Oakland Athletics.

Smoltz looks to keep the positive momentum going into tonight from last week’€™s start against the Baltimore Orioles. Smoltz gave the Red Sox four solid innings before Mother Nature intervened. Red Sox fans have to be pleased with that June 30 outing as 34 of Smoltz’€™s 52 pitches were for strikes.

Smoltz is certainly excited to take to the mound tonight at Fenway. ‘€œI’€™m looking forward to it from the standpoint of I’€™ve been waiting a long time to pitch at home,’€ Smoltz said. ‘€œIt won’€™t be like my first start in Washington where so many other things contributed to the feeling of accomplishment.’€

That said, Smoltz continues to regard himself as a work in progress. The 42-year-old cautions that he continues to be in the build-up stage to what he anticipates will be a second half in which he can be judged more by his results than on the incremental improvements of each start.

‘€œNot many people thought I’€™d even get to this point,’€ said Smoltz. ‘€œI’€™m sure people had a clouded view of what they thought they were going to see, and I think they see the light at the end of the tunnel is going to be pretty good if I keep progressing and get to the point I think I can.

‘€œI’€™ve always said five to seven, one fifth of your starts that you typically make, but I think three to five is fair (for the time he anticipates to get to that point),’€ he continued. ‘€œGet three, four (starts) in, then hit a gap at the All-Star break, then kick it right back in. The second half surge is something I’€™ll be looking forward to making.’€

Smoltz will be on the bump tonight against a lineup that doesn’€™t seem to strike fear in the hearts of Major League opposition. The Athletics are second-to-last in the majors with a team .240 batting average.

Here’€™s how the 2009 A’€™s roster has fared against Smoltz:

Orlando Cabrera (23 plate appearances) .174 BA/.174 OBP/.174 SLG
Matt Holliday (16) .375/.375/.375 (1 HR, 4 RBI)
Nomar Garciaparra (14) .286/.286/.286
Adam Kennedy (7) .333/.286/.333
Mark Ellis (3) .333/.333/.333
Jason Giambi (3) .500/.667/.500

Jack Cust has one plate appearance against Smoltz in his career. He has walked in the only time facing Smoltz for a 1.000 OBP.

Smoltz has yet to face Oakland’€™s Travis Buck, Rajai Davis, Bobby Crosby, Kurt Suzuki, Ryan Sweeney, and Landon Powell.

Oakland starter Brett Anderson will make his second start of the season against the Sox tonight. Anderson’€™s first start was overshadowed by a brilliant near no-hitter by newly-minted All-Star Tim Wakefield on April 15.

Anderson gave up a second inning two-run home run to Mike Lowell, for his only runs surrendered in 7 solid innings of work for the A’€™s back in April.

Here’€™s how the Red Sox bats fared that afternoon against Anderson:

Jason Bay (3) .667/.667/1.000 (1 2B)
J.D. Drew (3) .000/.000/.000
Jacoby Ellsbury (3) .000/.000/.000
Nick Green (3) .000/.333/.000 (1 BB)
George Kottaras (3) .333/.333/.667 (1 2B)
David Ortiz (3) .000/.000/.000 (1 K)
Dustin Pedroia (3) .000/.000/.000
Kevin Youkilis (3) .333/.333/.333

Anderson has yet to face Jeff Bailey, Rocco Baldelli, Mark Kotsay and Jason Varitek.

Alex Speier contributed.

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No joke: Wakefield headed to St. Louis

07.05.09 at 7:21 pm ET
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Terry Francona will never be mistaken for an actor. He tried to pull one off on Tim Wakefield on Sunday before the game with the Mariners.

While five Red Sox players were being called into Francona’s office to get the official word they were headed to St. Louis for the Midsummer Classic on July 14, Wakefield was upstairs working out.

Then he got the call from John Farrell to go downstairs.

‘€œIt was pretty funny,” Wakefield recalled. “I was actually in the weight room doing my work and (John) Farrell had come in and said Tito wants to see you after he talks to the other (All-Stars). I didn’€™t know what he was talking about at first. Then I got down to his office and the office was closed. When it opened he called me into his office and I saw all the other guys walking out with their All-Star packages. He sat me down and tried to play it off like it wasn’€™t good news. He couldn’€™t hold his laughter in any longer and finally told me that I had made the team, too.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox beat Seattle, 8-4

07.05.09 at 4:32 pm ET
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The Red Sox enjoyed some sterling relief from both Justin Masterson (1.1 innings, three strikeouts) and Hideki Okajima (perfect ninth) to close out their victory in the series finale against the Mariners, 8-4. The Sox entered the bottom of the seventh trailed, 4-3, but rallied for five runs, keyed by David Ortiz‘ game-tying single to right and followed by a bases-loaded walk by Jacoby Ellsbury, a two-run single by Mark Kotsay and a run-scoring passed ball. It was the Sox’ fifth win of the year in games when trailing after six innings.

Ortiz does his clutch thing

07.05.09 at 4:14 pm ET
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It has been a long time since David Ortiz was El Hombre in the late innings.

The Red Sox designated hitter had been fairly Ortiz-ish since the beginning of June, but he had done little in the most critical moments of games. He entered today with just a .125 average, .419 OPS and two runs batted in when hitting in late-and-close situations (defined as a situation in the seventh inning or later when his team is leading by one run, tied, or has the tying run at the plate, on the bases, or on deck).

Ortiz was the man at the dish in perhaps the most important moment of the game. With the Sox trailing in the bottom of the seventh, 4-3, and runners on first and second and two outs, Ortiz came to the plate against Mariners reliever Miguel Batista. Ortiz went ahead, 3-0, and then ripped a 94 mph fastball through the shift and into right field for a game-tying single.

The wheels quickly came off of the Mariners bullpen. Reliever Mark Lowe came in and walked both Jason Bay and Jacoby Ellsbury to force in the go-ahead run, and then Lowe allowed a two-run single to right by Mark Kotsay to give the Sox a 7-4 lead and force Lowe’s exit. Catcher Kenji Johjima then whiffed on a pitch from reliever Sean White, with the passed ball permitting the fifth Red Sox run of the seventh.

The Sox now lead, 8-4, but had Ortiz not delivered in a key situation, the game could be in very different shape.

Ortiz is now 1-for-2 in 3-0 counts this year, and .529 (18-for-34) in his career. The Sox had been hitless on the two occasions when they put 3-0 pitches in play this year, one of five teams without a 3-0 hit.

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Lester’s labors done

07.05.09 at 3:40 pm ET
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It was an odd sort of game for Jon Lester. The left-hander featured sometimes dazzling stuff, his fastball regularly popping the mitt at 97 mph, and he struck out nine batters. But the Mariners hit his mistakes, as Lester gave up eight hits in his seven innings, and he allowed four runs (though just one earned, since three followed a Dustin Pedroia error). Lester logged a whopping 122 pitches, his most this year and the second most in his career, behind only the 130 pitches he threw in his no-hitter against the Royals last year.

Lester finished his day by walking Ken Griffey, Jr., with two outs in the top of the seventh. He leaves behind an inherited runner and a 4-3 deficit to Justin Masterson and the Red Sox.

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Jacoby Ellsbury’s emergence continues

07.05.09 at 3:30 pm ET
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Jacoby Ellsbury just crushed a Brandon Morrow changeup over the Mariners bullpen for his fifth homer of the year. The solo shot brought the Red Sox to within a run, as Boston now trails Seattle, 4-3, after six innings. Ellsbury continues to scorch the ball. He is now hitting .312 in July, after having hit .300 or better in each of the prior two months. His extra-base power has also been more frequently in evidence since the beginning of June.

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A bizarre turn of events for Pedroia, Cedeno

07.05.09 at 2:44 pm ET
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Ronny Cedeno entered this three-game series against the Red Sox with a .130 batting average that was, by far, the worst in the majors. But he’s gone 4-for-11 in this series, including a huge two-run homer on Friday and a three-run triple down the right-field line against Jon Lester and the Sox today that just put the Mariners ahead, 3-2, heading into the bottom of the fourth. With the bases loaded and two outs, Cedeno sliced a pop-up down the right-field line, a bit short of the Pesky Pole. Right-fielder J.D. Drew’s sliding attempt failed, and the ball hit the warning track and bounded down the low fence, Drew scrambling to prevent an inside-the-park grand slam.

Cedeno’s triple would not have happened but for a rare error by second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who undid the good deed of his first-inning homer. With one out and two on, M’s catcher Kenji Johjima grounded to third. Kevin Youkilis‘ relay to second was slightly wide of the bag, but though Pedroia had to reach to his right to backhand the throw, it was catchable. Pedroia, however, failed to corral it, and so rather than being the second out of the inning, the Mariners had three runners on and one out. Lester nearly escaped, striking out Chris Woodward, but Cedeno’s hit-‘em-where-they-ain’t triple left the Sox facing a one-run hole.

So, Lester is trailing, despite not having given up a run (all three fourth-inning runs were unearned due to the Pedroia error) and despite the fact that his stuff is electric. Despite a mid- to high-90s fastball, and a cutter and curve that have both been swing-and-miss offerings, he has given up seven hits through his first four innings.

Read More: Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, ronny cedeno,
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