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Closing Time: Red Sox 2, Rays 0

05.25.10 at 10:03 pm ET
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Jon Lester allowed just one hit while striking out nine over six innings Tuesday night. (AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Red Sox won their fourth straight game and second in a row against the Rays, beating Tampa Bay, 2-0, behind another standout pitching performance by Jon Lester. The Sox starter, who went six innings, was followed up by three scoreless innings of relief by Manny Delcarmen, Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, respectively. David Ortiz supplied all the offense the Sox would need, launching a two-out, two-run double in the third inning. (Click here for a recap.)

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

- Lester continued a dominating run by Sox starters, allowing just one run over six innings while striking out nine. Over the last 26 innings, Red Sox starting pitchers have given up just a single run. During the Sox’ current four-game win streak the starters are a combined 4-0 with a 0.32 ERA. The game marked just the second time in 12 chances that the Rays had lost a game to left-handed starter (the other being Dallas Braden‘s perfect game).

- David Ortiz (who has seemingly been in the “What Went Right For The Red Sox” category every game). After hitting his two-out, two-run double into the left-center field gap in the third, Ortiz now has 21 RBI in his last 18 games after totaling four for the entire month of April. Making it even more impressive this time around is that Tampa Bay starter James Shields has been a strikeout machine against lefties, fanning more left-handed hitters than any pitcher in baseball.

- Adrian Beltre reminded Joe Maddon why the Tampa Bay manager dubbed him the best defensive player in the history of mankind (or something like that). Here is what Maddon told our man Alex Speier: “[Beltre is] clearly the best [third baseman] I’ve ever seen in person. I think [Evan Longoria] is good, I used to think Scott Brosius was really good. … [Eric] Chavez was good, but Beltre was stupid good. I think Beltre is the best who I’ve ever seen with my two eyes – defender, not just third baseman, but defense.” After making two diving stops of grounders Tuesday night to prevent Tampa Bay rallies, that opinion most likely hasn’t changed.

- Home plate umpire Bob Davidson seemed to do the Red Sox some favors, making some generous strike calls in favor of Lester. One finally pushed the Rays’ patience to the point of no return, with Carl Crawford first disputing a strike well outside the zone before getting into a heated argument in which he made contact with Davidson before being ejected. Upon his leadoff hitter’s ejection, Tampa Bay manager Maddon got tossed after executing a good ol’ fashioned, nose-to-nose exchange with the umpire.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

- Jacoby Ellsbury, who was originally held out of the lineup just for the sake of getting a “breather,” according to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, was struck with a pain in his left side prior to the game. The ailment led the Sox to alter their plans of designating outfielder Darnell McDonald for assignment, instead choosing to DFA reliever Scott Atchison. The execution of designating Atchison, who does have an option left, is purely procedural and he is expected to be optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket Thursday.

- Lester’s only downfall was his control. The lefty starter walked five during his 111-pitch outing, matching a career-high he had accomplished on three separate occasions. Two of the previous five-walk outings were totaled in 2006, with the other coming in Cleveland on April 14, 2008, believed by many to be the last game before Lester went on his current run of excellence. After that game against the Indians (4 1/3 innings, 4 runs), Lester had a heart-to-heart with pitching coach John Farrell, who managed to get the lefty believing exactly how dominant he could be. Since that game in Cleveland, Lester is 34-14 with an ERA of 3.20.

Read More: Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz, Jon Lester, tampa bay rays

Red Sox designate Atchison, not McDonald

05.25.10 at 7:16 pm ET
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Red Sox have designated relief pitcher Scott Atchison for assignment, not outfielder Darnell McDonald as they had originally planned. The reasoning for the move was that outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who wasn’t in the Red Sox lineup Tuesday night against the Rays, experienced soreness in his left side prior to the game. The moves were made in order to activate outfielder Mike Cameron, who started in center field in the second game of the three-game series. The choice to DFA Atchison is strictly procedural, according to the club, and the pitcher is expected to be optioned to Triple A Pawtucket Thursday.

Ellsbury: ‘They told me I would be in center’

05.25.10 at 6:19 pm ET
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Red Sox manager Terry Francona and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury both confirmed that the plan going forward is to play Ellsbury in center field on a regular basis, even with the return of Mike Cameron.

“They told me I would be in center,” Ellsbury said prior to the Red Sox’ Tuesday night game with the Rays. “I don’t know what that means, but I’m assuming I’ll play center for the rest of the year.”

Ellsbury wasn’t in the Sox’ lineup Tuesday, getting what Francona described as a “breather” after having played the last three games following his stint on the 15-day disabled list (ribs). Cameron got the start in center field.

“I think so for now,” said Francona of the plan to put Ellsbury in center field. “The good news is that they can both play. I think that’s probably the right thing to do, at least for the moment, in the near future. I’ve talked to both of them about it. Both of them said, ‘Whatever you need to do.’ I just know we can’t play Cam every day yet. Hopefully we’ll get that point, but we need to be aware of what he’s gone through going forward. Because we have [Jeremy] Hermida it’s kind of a natural back and forth … I do think it might be a little bit easier on him.”

Ellsbury played six games in left field before having to go on the DL with cracked ribs. He makes no mistake about the fact that all things being equal center field remains his preferred position.

“That’s my natural position,” said Ellsbury, who said he did feel comfortable playing left in his short time there earlier this season.. “I’ve had success playing center field. I’ve played there my whole life. It’s definitely my natural position.

“It’s just nice to always have a position. You just know where you’re going to be at. You don’t have to look at the lineup every single day. ‘Hey, I’m going to be at short, I’m going to be at second, I’m going to be at third, I’m going to be at first.’ It’s nice to have one mainstay position.”

For Cameron the experience in left will be somewhat new, not having played there in a major league game since 2000. And while the 37-year-old did man left for Double A Portland in his final rehab appearance, other than a brief stint in the minors his experience left is limited to three big league games.

“I don’t think I’ll have a problem with it,” said Cameron, who said he wasn’t surprised by the move when told because the team had discussed the possibility when he first signed.. “Whatever they decide to do. But I feel pretty good now, so we’ll see. I’m just trying to get a chance to a chance to get out here and run around and try and play the game to the best I can possibly play it. If that’s the case, man, then it is what it is.”

Ortiz’ HR trot sets slow standard

05.25.10 at 5:12 pm ET
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David Ortiz

When David Ortiz hit a home run in the second inning of Monday night’s win over the Rays, he took what appeared to be his usual leisurely stroll around the bases. However, according to a website that tracks home run trots, Ortiz took 30.59 seconds to get around the basepaths, making it the slowest trot in the majors this season.

On the Tater Trot Tracker at wezen-ball.com, Larry Granillo writes:
 “Well, I’ve been saying it all year, and it finally happened tonight: David Ortiz became the first player in the 2010 season to take more than 30 seconds to trot around the bases after a home run. With four of the top five slowest home run trots of the year already — all four of which were clocked in at 28.95 seconds or slower — it seemed inevitable that he would be the first to break the half-minute barrier. With his laser beam down the right field line in the second inning of tonight’s game, he finally did it.”

Here’s a link to the video of Ortiz’ home run trot.

Read More: David Ortiz,

The Factors – Week 7

05.25.10 at 3:06 pm ET
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Thru Sunday’s games. Pssst. Things are looking up!

* – LEADING OFF INNINGS – Boston’s pitchers had a nice week, allowing just a .274 OBP to leadoff batters.  Only 3 leadoff walks tied their best week of the season.  That’s a real good sign because only two AL teams have issued more leadoff walks than Boston this season: Toronto (47) and Cleveland (44).

* – AFTER 0-1 COUNTS – Sox pitchers were fantastic last week after getting ahead, allowing just a .362 OPS, the 3rd best week by any AL team this season.  Among individual pitchers, only Seattle’s Doug Fister (.375) has a lower OPS allowed than Jon Lester’s .389 following 0-1 counts this season (min. 100 such batters faced).  Red Sox hitters slammed 8 HR after falling behind 0-1 last week, tied with Toronto for the most in the majors.  For the season, they lead the majors with 30 such HR.  Only 10 AL players have five or more such HR and three are Red Sox: David Ortiz (6), Dustin Pedroia (5), and Kevin Youkilis (5).

* – AFTER 1-0 COUNTS – The Sox found themselves up 1-0 only 38% of the time last week, the first time that they’ve been below 41% all season.  The pitchers got behind on 107 batters and walked 21 (19.6%) and for the season have walked 16.4% of those hitters.  Meanwhile, Minnesota’s hurlers have walked only 11.9% of the hitters that they fall behind 1-0.  By the way, if the Twins stay below 12% this season, they will have four of the top nine such seasons since they began tracking the stat in 1988.

* – AFTER 3-0 COUNTS – The Sox allowed their 4th HR following a 3-0 count this season, tied with Oakland for the most in the majors.  Of course, they also hit their 3rd such HR and now have a major league leading 15 RBI following 3-0 counts this season.  Their RBI per 2.50 AB in those spots would easily be the best mark by a Sox team since 1988 (3.23).

* – AFTER 0-2 COUNTS – Over the last two weeks, opponents have gone 7-83 (.084) against Red Sox pitchers after falling behind 0-2.  Their OPS in that span has been an anemic .190.  Boston’s hitters continue to do relatively well after falling in an 0-2 hole (their .507 OPS ranks 5th this season), but the fact that they’re did it in 23% of their plate appearances last week is a concern.  Only Cleveland (62) in the AL had more PA’s go through 0-2 counts last week than Boston (61).

* – FULL COUNTS – Boston pitchers have walked 34.4% of batters on full counts this season, which would be the highest by a Red Sox club since 1997 (34.7%).  They didn’t help themselves at all in Week 7, walking 15 (42%) while only fanning 5 on full counts.

* – GROUNDBALLS – .158 average allowed on grounders ranked 5th last week as the Sox allowed only 12 groundball hits over 7 games.  Compare that to the Orioles, who allowed 30.

* – LINE DRIVES – Sox pitchers have been quite “line drive lucky” this season (or is it the defense?), allowing a .695 average on line drives.  In the AL, only the Yankees (.670) have been luckier.  The worm just might be turning on the Yanks, though, as they allowed an MLB -high .893 average on liners last week (25-28).

* – RUNNERS IN SCORING POSITION – This was just a great week for Sox pitchers, and their .107 average allowed with RISP and 2 outs led the majors last week as well.  Oh, the Yankees fell apart here last week, too, allowing a .438 average with RISP and 2 outs (14-32), with 6 of those hits going for extra bases.

Red Sox vs. Rays matchups, 5/25

05.25.10 at 1:11 pm ET
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Jon Lester

The Red Sox will look to continue their climb up the AL East ladder Tuesday night as they take on the division-leading Rays for the middle game of a three-game series. The Sox took the first game, 6-1, the team’s first win over Tampa Bay this season, thanks to stellar pitching by Clay Buchholz and two clutch home runs from David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis. Sox ace Jon Lester will look to continue the current streak of solid pitching performances while Rays starter James Shields will try to cool the hot Boston bats.

Lester (4-2, 3.47 ERA) was excellent in his last start on May 20 against the Twins. In that game, he held the Twins to just one run and struck out nine in a complete-game effort, the first and only complete game tossed by a Sox starter so far in 2010. That performance against Minnesota was just the latest in Lester’s resurgence as the ace of the Boston staff. After giving up 15 total earned runs in his first three starts, including a season-high seven to the Rays on April 18, he has returned back to his old form, surrendering just eight runs in his last six starts.

Shields (5-1, 3.08), on the other hand, has been just as stellar as his Boston counterpart while being much more consistent. He has given up more than three runs on just one occasion. Luckily for Sox fans, that one time came against the local nine in a game where he surrendered four earned runs over 6 2/3 on April 17. However, the Rays still managed to pull out the 6-5 victory en route to their early-season sweep of the Sox at Fenway.

No matter how many runs these two pitchers allow, fans can still expect the two to rack up the strikeouts when they each take the hill Tuesday. Shields ranks second in the AL in K’s with 66 while Lester is not too far behind in fourth with 63. However, despite Shields’ slight advantage in this category, it would not be surprising to see Lester come out on top in the strikeout column by the game’s end. The Rays as a team strike out the second-most in the AL with 357 total K’s. Carlos Peña (47), B.J. Upton (46) and Evan Longoria (44) all rank in the top-10 of the junior circuit, meaning Lester could have a punchout field day.

One matchup to look out for will be between Shields and Youkilis. Youkilis has been one of the hottest hitters in all of baseball in May. In his last eight starts, he’s gone 12-for-30 (.400) with five home runs, 12 RBI and 10 runs scored. As good as he’s been lately, he has been just as bad against Shields, hitting far below the Mendoza Line at .115 with nine strikeouts in 29 career plate appearances. It will be interesting to see if Youkilis can continue his excellent May against a pitcher with whom he has struggled so mightily in the past.

If Youkilis and the Sox can overcome Shields and the Rays, they will move to within 6½ games of first place. They are currently just 1½ games behind the Blue Jays and 2 games back of the Yankees in the AL East standings.

Red Sox vs. James Shields

Marco Scutaro (43 career plate appearances against Shields): .250 average/.279 OBP/.350 slugging, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 double, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts

J.D. Drew (30): .370/.433/.741, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 4 doubles, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts

David Ortiz (30): .385/.467/.846, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 6 doubles, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts

Kevin Youkilis (29): .115/.207/.154, 1 double, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts

Mike Lowell (28): .357/.357/.464, 3 RBI, 3 doubles, 2 strikeouts

Dustin Pedroia (28): .462/.500/.769, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 doubles, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Jacoby Ellsbury (25): .167/.200/.167, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts

Jeremy Hermida (22): .250/.318/.300, 2 RBI, 1 double, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts

Jason Varitek (22): .190/.227/.333, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts

Adrian Beltre (19): .167/.211/.389, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 double, 11 strikeouts

Victor Martinez (16): .375/.375/.438, 3 RBI, 1 double, 5 strikeouts

Mike Cameron is 1-for-3 with a double and a strikeout against Shields. Bill Hall has never faced the Tampa Bay starter.

Rays vs. Jon Lester

Carl Crawford (34 career plate appearances against Lester): .258 average/.303 OBP/.290 slugging, 1 RBI, 1 double, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts

Carlos Pena (34): .310/.353/.862, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 1 double, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts

B.J. Upton (34): .188/.235/.375, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts

Jason Bartlett (28): .346/.393/.346, 1 RBI, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts

Dioner Navarro (25): .250/.375/.250, 4 walks, 5 strikeouts

Evan Longoria (24): .304/.333/.565, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 walk, 6 RBI

Ben Zobrist (16): .333/.500/.333, 2 RBI, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts

Willy Aybar (15): .200/.200/.400, 3 doubles, 7 strikeouts

Gabe Kapler (12): .333/.500/.333, 1 RBI, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts

Hank Blalock (10): .333/.400/.333, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts

John Jaso, Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez have never faced Lester.

Read More: james shields, Jon Lester,

It’s Lester’s turn to be reunited with Varitek

05.25.10 at 12:07 pm ET
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Jason Varitek will get the start behind the plate on Tuesday as Victor Martinez recovers from his toe injury. (AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Through all the particulars that surrounded Clay Buchholz’ outing Monday night against the Rays, one thing that almost went unnoticed was the reunion that occurred in the third inning.

Not since Victor Martinez came to the Red Sox at last season’s trade deadline had Buchholz thrown in a game to Jason Varitek, who came on to serve as the pitcher’s batterymate after Martinez was forced to leave with a contusion of his left big toe.

“It had been a long time,” said Buchholz on the way out of the Tropicana Field visitors clubhouse.

Now it’s Jon Lester’s turn.

With Martinez’ toe expected to keep him out of the starting lineup, Varitek figures to get the start Tuesday night. And while the pairing is nothing new — with Lester having thrown to the Red Sox captain 80 times throughout his career — there is an adjustment.

First, Lester hasn’t thrown to Varitek since April 28 in Toronto, when he allowed just one hit over seven innings. But, as the starter explained following his complete game victory over Minnesota in his last start, each catcher does present different approaches when it comes to game-plans and such.

“Vic likes a lot more changeup, speaking for myself. Tek will sometimes rely on my cutter,” Lester explained. “Then again, Vic will do the same thing, and Tek will do the same thing. They have different feels for the game, not that one is right or one is wrong. I like throwing to both of them. They both have their positives.”

Lester has thrown to Martinez seven times this season, compared to just twice with Varitek. And while the pitcher clearly has a comfort level with Varitek after teaming up these last few years, there did appear to be a growing familiarity when it came to Martinez’ approach.

“He’s done a good job. He came in last year, having obviously seen us, but he had to learn a new staff. Not that it’s taken him a while, but it’s taken everybody a while to feel comfortable in those big situations,” Lester said of Martinez. “He’s done a good job. You build confidence, that’s the name of the game. He just needs to get better with each pitcher because each pitcher is different in their own way. He’s done good. With our whole staff he’s gotten a whole lot better.”

It is no secret that Martinez and Varitek have slightly different approaches. As Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell put it, “They are two different people and have two different ways in the way they rely on pitch selections. That’s not to condemn in any way, but that’s the difference in two players.”

In spring training Farrell also touched on the catchers’ differences.

“They have two different approaches to the game,” he said. “Not to say Victor doesn’t pay attention to the scouting report, because that’s not true. But he wants to get the feel and the reaction from the hitter on a given pitch to get the information to make the next selection. There’s a foundation there with the report, but how that’s executed and played out in a game is a little bit different.”

Thus far this season the Red Sox pitchers’ ERA with Martinez behind the plate is 4.78, while the ERA with Varitek present is 4.08. But, as Lester pointed out, the progression of Martinez is the most encouraging aspect of the evolution, including his increased “pop time” throwing to second base, which has now bettered that of Varitek.

The bottom line is that with the improvement of Martinez behind the plate and Varitek at the plate, the Red Sox’ catching equation has offered strength. No team in baseball has a better slugging percentage out of the catching position or as many home runs. The combination of Varitek and Martinez is also hitting a combined .291.

It’s a dynamic that, in times like these, the Red Sox should feel fortunate to have — no matter the subtle differences.

Read More: Jason Varitek, victor martinez,
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