|06.09.09 at 12:29 pm ET|
Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett are both on a short list of the pitchers with the nastiest arsenals in the American League. And so it comes as little surprise that the two are scheduled to face each other as the Red Sox and Yankees begin their third series of the season against each other (the Sox having won each of the first five contests).
It is a realization that every team in the division has made. It is not enough to be a good or a smart pitcher in the American League East. A pitcher needs STUFF ‘ lightning in the arm that permits the ability to dominate, and that on any given day can make the opponent think that a no-hitter could be in the offing ‘ to succeed.
That was on the mind of the Red Sox when they acquired Beckett from the Marlins after the 2005 season, and that was on the minds of both the Sox and the Yankees when they pursued Burnett (Beckett’s former Florida teammate) this past offseason.
Here is a look at how each pitcher has fared in the past against the teams they will face today:
YANKEES VS. JOSH BECKETT
Josh Beckett has given up 20 hits, three homers and 11 runs in 11 innings against the Yankees this year. It qualifies as something of a minor miracle that the Red Sox have won both of his starts against New York.
But, of course, Beckett’s two 10-hit yields against the Yankees ‘ one putrid (five innings, eight runs), one solid (six innings, three runs) ‘ came at a time when he was still looking to improve his execution.
To that point, Beckett was missing up in the strike zone, allowing hitters to either drive the ball or fight off his pitches for hits (aided, it is worth noting, by a porous Sox defense). Beckett’s second start against the Yankees marked the third straight in which he had given up 10 or more hits. Through that start ‘ Beckett’s sixth of the year ‘ opponents were hitting .315 against him.
In five starts since then, Beckett has given up six or fewer hit in each outing, allowing opponents to hit just .160 against him. Beckett is 3-0 with a 1.51 ERA in that span, and the Sox are 4-1 in his starts, including his most recent effort, a 7.2-inning, two-hit dazzler against the Tigers.
Today’s start will offer an interesting point of comparison for Beckett. With the return of Alex Rodriguez and the now-scorching Mark Teixeira having left behind his early-season struggles, the Yankees lineup Beckett faces will be a better offensive unit than the one he saw twice earlier this year. But the Beckett that the New York hitters face will be better as well.
The Yankees have typically been a tough match-up for Beckett, with seven members of the lineup hitting him for an average of .300 or better:
Derek Jeter (44 career plate appearances): .341 average / .372 OBP / .439 slugging, 1 homer
Johnny Damon (42): .316 / .366 / .605, 2 homers
Robinson Cano (40): .333 / .400 / .611, 2 homers
Alex Rodriguez (39): .324 / .410 / .500, 1 homer
Melky Cabrera (37): .364 / .405 / .455
Jorge Posada (28): .346 / .393 / .385
Hideki Matsui (21): .200 / .238 / .300
Nick Swisher (17): .357 / .471 / .571, 1 homer
Mark Teixeira (15): .167 / .333 / .167
Angel Berroa (8): .375 / .375 / .500
Brett Gardner (8): 0-for-8
Ramiro Pena (3): 0-for-3
RED SOX VS. A.J. BURNETT
Through three innings in his first start of the 2009 season against the Red Sox, A.J. Burnett looked overpowering. He was blazing through shutout innings, allowing just one hit and one run, and carried a 6-0 lead into the fourth inning.
And then’¦well, it’s still hard to figure out what exactly happened. Burnett skewered himself later for losing his focus, as he allowed eight runs over the next two innings. The Sox erased that early 6-0 deficit in a shocking 16-11 victory.
Burnett’s meltdown was particularly shocking given his success against the Sox. Entering 2009, he was 5-0 with a 2.56 ERA in eight career starts against Boston. That mark was the third lowest ERA by a starter (minimum 50 innings) in the 25-year period from 1984-2008 against Boston.
The terrible April outing notwithstanding, Burnett has been more or less what the Yankees were hoping for when they signed him to a lucrative five-year deal this offseason. Absent the outing against Sox, he is 4-2 with a 3.95 ERA, and the Yankees are 7-3 in those 10 non-Sox-facing starts.
As for his performance against the Sox, it seems safe to say that few of the players on the club ‘ except, perhaps, for Dustin Pedroia (2 career homers) and Jason Varitek (who hit a grand-slam off a 96 mph fastball from Burnett earlier this year) are running to the bat rack to face him:
David Ortiz (26 career plate appearances): .240 average / .269 OBP / .480 slugging, homer
Dustin Pedroia (26): .300 / .462 / .600, 2 homers
Kevin Youkilis (24): .227 / .292 / .227
J.D. Drew (23): .278 / .435 / .333
Mike Lowell (21): .200 / .238 / .250
Julio Lugo (19): .176 / .263 / .353, homer
Jason Varitek (19): .294 / .368 / .588, homer
Jason Bay (18): .375 / .444 / .625, homer
Jacoby Ellsbury (18): .278 / .278 / .444, homer
Rocco Baldelli (13): .154 / .154 / .154
Mark Kotsay (11): 3-for-10, walk
Nick Green (8): 2-for-8
George Kottaras (1): 0-for-1
|06.08.09 at 10:44 am ET|
Clay Buchholz belongs in the majors right now. He knows it, his manager knows it, and just about everyone who has seen him dominate this year knows it. The only question about the young right-hander is when his chance will come.
Buchholz is 4-0 with a 1.74 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 62 innings of work in Pawtucket. He is throwing the ball better than he has in his professional career. Yet a promotion to the Red Sox anytime soon seems unlikely. With John Smoltz set to leapfrog him on the Sox’ already-long list of starters, Buchholz is stuck in the proverbial waiting room of Triple-A for the foreseeable future.
‘It’s hard to sit here and try to do more than what I’ve been doing,’ said Buchholz prior to Friday night’s rainout against Louisville. ‘I don’t think I need to do any more. It’s just a matter of, when the time comes, for me to be ready whenever they do give me that call.’
The call to which he refers is one that almost certainly will not come in the near future, but Buchholz is trying to let the big picture take priority over his personal achievements.
‘It’s not always about the single person,’ said Buchholz. ‘It’s about what the team wants and what they need’¦Obviously it’s not me right now.”
Buchholz admits that there have been times when it’s been difficult to swallow the fact that even his best pitching has not been enough to earn him the reward of a promotion. Even so, the ‘05 sandwich pick understands that it wouldn’t make sense for the Sox to try to force him into the mix at the expense of a current starter.
‘I think anybody in the situation [of being stuck in the minors] would have the same types of thoughts,’ said Buchholz. ‘Sometimes it’s hard to go out there knowing that I wasn’t even pitching this well when I got called up last year and the year before. Now, given the circumstances, it’s sort of hard to go by and say, ‘Wow, I’m pitching a lot better than I was a couple years ago and haven’t gotten called up yet.’
‘It is what it is,’ he added. ‘They’ve got their guys up there who are winning games. It’s hard to take a guy out of a spot just because you want to go another route with somebody else.’
Meanwhile, with speculation growing regarding a possible trade of Brad Penny, Buchholz admitted that he has paid attention to the rumors. After all, should Penny be removed from the equation, Buchholz would be that much closer to returning to Boston.
If a spot in the rotation isn’t about to materialize, Buchholz said he would be open to being used as a reliever. Yet the Sox ‘ armed with a bullpen that features remarkable depth ‘ do not have a need in that area either, barring either an injury or a trade.
‘Anything that would get me in the big leagues [to] stay I wouldn’t mind doing,’ said Buchholz. ‘I know [the Red Sox] told me they didn’t want me coming out of the pen but if something arose and that’s where they [wanted me], I’d be all for it.’
Perhaps the biggest positive in a seemingly frustrating circumstance has been that Buchholz has been able to forget a dismal 2008 season in which he went 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA. In fact, Buchholz notes that success in Triple-A has proven far more beneficial to his confidence than any of his major-league experience last year.
‘It’s not nearly as bad as it was last year [when I was] thinking, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that,’’ said Buchholz. ‘Now I’m thinking, my confidence is up, [I'm] throwing pitches with conviction and throwing the pitches I want to throw regardless of the result.’
Even if he isn’t promoted soon, Buchholz is confident that, stuff-wise, he is ready for the majors right now.
‘I feel more ready now than I was at any point last year,’ said Buchholz. ‘If anything, I think given the spring training I had [in '08 (1-2, 8.2 IP, 11 H, 9 ER)], starting in the minor leagues might have been the right thing for me at that point, but the success from  kind of [prevented] that.’
PawSox manager Ron Johnson has been able to observe Buchholz’ demeanor throughout the season. While saying that he guesses Buchholz is ‘overdue,’ he notes that the situation is just a part of the game.
‘This is professional baseball. We do have levels but it’s not like college where it’s, ‘OK I did my four years, now I’m ready to go to the big leagues,’’ said Johnson. ‘Take nothing away from what he’s done. He’s earning every opportunity that will be created for him down the road.
‘He wants to go back to the big leagues, sure he does, but he’s still going out and doing exactly what he needs to do on the mound,’ Johnson added. ‘I think that has something to do with maturity.’
Outfielder Chip Ambres, who has been in five organizations throughout his 11-year career, says he has seen plenty of instances in which a player is blocked. To Ambres, concentration is what separates the successful from the derailed.
‘I think [for] the ones that are headstrong and focused on what they have to, things will eventually work out whether it be via trade, an injury or just a regular promotion,’ said Ambres. ‘I think for [Buchholz], if he can stay focused and not really worry about what [people] are saying, I think he has a pretty good shot of getting to the big leagues.’
The situation for Buchholz is ironic to say the least. A year after being expected to anchor the rotation with Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Jon Lester, Buchholz faces the possibility of not getting an opportunity to throw a major-league pitch this season.
‘It’s gone through my head a couple times, but it’s hard to go out and be good on the mound [while] thinking about stuff that’s off the field that you don’t have any control over,’ said Buchholz. ‘It doesn’t really matter how good or how bad I do right now. There are guys ahead of me and I’ve just got to take it for what it’s worth.’
One of the guys ahead of him is Smoltz, who had an impressive six-inning start Saturday in Pawtucket against the Durham Bulls. Asked how he felt about being passed on the depth chart by the future Hall of Famer, Buchholz didn’t hold back his admiration for the 1996 NL Cy Young Award winner.
‘That guy’s accomplished more than 99.9 percent of guys do in their whole career, so he’s earned everything he’s got,’ said Buchholz. ‘It would be stupid of me to sit here and fault him for that and fault the Red Sox for getting a guy like that off the market.’
Buchholz knows that his chance will come. Until it does, he will continue to put a priority on executing and staying healthy.
‘I think everything will take care of itself,’ said Buchholz. ‘It’s a weird game sometimes. Things happen for a reason and I believe that.’
|06.07.09 at 3:32 pm ET|
Daisuke Matsuzaka gave way to reliever Justin Masterson after throwing 102 pitches (71 strikes) over 5 2/3 innings. Matsuzaka, who left the game with Omar Vizquel at first and two outs, allowed five runs on 10 hits, while striking out eight and not walking a batter.
Ian Kinsler would greet Masterson with a double into the left field corner, but a laser of a throw from relay man Nick Green nailed Vizquel at home to end the inning and finish off Matsuzaka’s line, keeping the Red Sox deficit at 5-3.
It was the first time this season Matsuzaka hadn’t walked a batter. It was also the first time since a four-inning outing, May 27, 2008, that he hadn’t issued a free pass.
|06.07.09 at 3:29 pm ET|
Jacoby Ellsbury has left the game with a right shoulder strain suffered when making a spectacular diving catch in the fourth inning on an Ian Kinsler fly ball into the triangle in center field. Ellsbury, who had to dive onto the warning track to make the grab, was replaced in center by Mark Kotsay, who moved over from right with Rocco Baldelli coming on.
|06.07.09 at 2:37 pm ET|
Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay was thrown out stealing to end the second inning, by Texas catcher Taylor Teagarden (remember him?). It was not only the first time this season that Bay has been gunned down — having gone 5 for 5 before today — but hadn’t been thrown out since April 22, 2007.
Since 2005 Bay has the second-best stolen base percentage of any player with at least 50 attempts (only behind former teammate Nate McLouth), now going 5 for his last 52.
As for the rest of the Red Sox, starter Daisuke Matsuzaka has given up four runs in the first three innings (one in the first, one in the second, two in the third).
|06.07.09 at 1:27 pm ET|
John Smoltz knows that he’s getting close. Following his six-inning, 74-pitch outing for Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday, the 42-year-old is now scheduled to start on Thursday in Syracuse. From there, there’s a chance — and seemingly a strong one at that — that Smoltz could be ready for a return to the majors. Smoltz, however, is trying to avoid thinking too much about what comes after Thursday.
“I don’t have a plan after that,” he grinned. “I’m plan-less.”
Because Smoltz’ outing on Thursday will be in a seven-inning game (part of a double-header for the PawSox), he wants to pitch a complete game. He still has some work to do building his pitch count, as Smoltz professes a goal of getting to 90 or 95 pitches in his next outing in order to get a read on his stamina and stuff. Indeed, Smoltz admits that he “begged” the PawSox to let him pitch beyond his six innings, but that the team refused to relent.)
“They just want me to achieve certain things,” said Smoltz. “No sense in pushing it, which I understand.”
In terms of stuff, Smoltz suggests that he is neither where he was when he was last healthy in 2007, nor is he where he believes he will ultimately be in 2009. Nonetheless, he is heartened by where he is, feeling that his arsenal is good enough to allow him to compete.
“I would say (the stuff is a) B. Grade B, which is good,” said Smoltz. “There’s room to get up to A-level. And then I know that certain things from there will be better.”
Of course, those who know Smoltz believe that he is fully capable of succeeding with that caliber of stuff. A pitcher who spent more than a decade with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine is capable of succeeding on guile as much as stuff. Towards that end, the Sox believe that Smoltz is now in the phase of his recovery when he is preparing for the specific circumstances of at-bats and outings, rather than simply trying to regain health following his shoulder surgery last June.
“He’s excited and he’s getting closer and closer, you can see it,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “He’s not rehabbing so much anymore. He’s trying to attack hitters and make pitches and talk about how he gets reaction to his split and things like that, which is good to hear.”
|06.07.09 at 12:42 pm ET|
RANGERS VS. DAISUKE MATSUZAKA
Here’s how the Rangers have fared in three career games against Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is 3-0 with a 4.15 ERA against Texas:
Ian Kinsler (9 career plate appearances): 2-for-7, two walks
Michael Young (9): 5-for-8, walk
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (4): 2-for-3, walk
Hank Blalock (3): 1-for-3, homer
Brandon Boggs (3): 0-for-1, 2 walks
Marlon Byrd (3): 0-for-3
Chris Davis (3): 1-for-3
Andruw Jones (3): 0-for-3
Omar Vizquel (3): 0-for-3
Nelson Cruz (2): 0-for-2
David Murphy (2): 0-for-2
The absence of J.D. Drew from the Sox lineup may be felt more acutely today than it was yesterday, given Drew’s outstanding career numbers against Rangers starter Vicente Padilla. That said, Drew’s replacement-du-jour — Mark Kotsay — has put up numbers that are almost as good against the right-hander. Kotsay is a career .348 hitter with a .407 OBP and .565 slugging mark against Padilla.
Mike Lowell (40): .211 average / .250 OBP / .289 slugging
Mark Kotsay (27): .348 / .407 / .565
J.D. Drew (23): .368 / .478 / .632
David Ortiz (15): .333 / .467 / 1.000, 2 homers
Kevin Youkilis (11): 4-for-10, walk
Julio Lugo (10): 2-for-8, walk
Jason Bay (6): 0-for-5, walk
Jason Varitek (5): 1-for-4, walk
Rocco Baldelli (4): 2-for-3
Nick Green (4): 3-for-4
|06.07.09 at 12:18 am ET|
‘He’s good, he’s still good,” said Lugo, someone not unfamiliar to struggles of his own. “He’s just in a slump and you know, he’s going to find it. All those people talking bad about him, they’re going to keep clapping. 2004 World Series, wouldn’t be here without Big Papi. 2007 World Series, wouldn’t be without Big Papi.
“Now, everybody is killing him, it’s not fair, man. All those people on TV talking bad about him, that’s bull-beep.’ Read the rest of this entry »
|06.06.09 at 9:35 pm ET|
Jon Lester lost his shutout bid in the ninth inning, permitting a walk, a hit and a sac fly to give up his first run of the game, but he still finished strong against the Rangers, closing out his first complete-game victory of the season. The Sox claimed an 8-1 win on a night when Lester allowed just four baserunners, all in the final three innings: two on hits, two on walks. Lester improves to 5-5, and the Sox reclaim first place by a half-game in the A.L. East.
|06.06.09 at 9:19 pm ET|
John Smoltz had what he described as his best rehab start thus far, allowing just one hit over six innings in front of 10,064 at McCoy Stadium en route to a 2-1 PawSox victory over the Durham Bulls.
Smoltz seemed generally pleased with what he was able to accomplish, from both a physical and experimental standpoint. In all he threw 74 pitches, struck out three and walked two while giving up one earned run. He plans to make one last rehab start on Thursday in a double-header against Syracuse. Because it’s a double-header, the most he would be able to pitch would be seven innings.
On whether he’s making a final rehab start:
‘I think I am [making another rehab start Thursday]. I don’t know total process of what’s going to go on, but more than likely I’m going to start there. It’s a double-header so the most I can go is seven innings and hopefully that will be the last of what’s been a pretty good tune-up. Then they’ve got decisions to make, I’m going to leave it up to them and how they make those decisions. Certainly I couldn’t ask for a better four-game stretch to be able to get to this point.’
On thinking about Boston:
“I’m trying not to, to be honest. The danger of what you could be doing in this position is forecasting too far out and I’m really not. In this process, however long it takes, was the prepared approach I have to take. The goal for them is to get me at my best and to progress that way. I have to be prepared for whatever steps they take. I know I can probably only make one rehab start and we’ll just see what happens after that.”
On tonight’s start:
‘Not bad. More progress and more confidence in pitches that, the first couple of innings I had too much feel for. Then I let them go for the third through sixth innings. I’m very pleased with the progress. Certainly the results are nice, too.’
On whether he felt this was his best rehab start yet:
“Yeah, and especially as Triple-A hitters and this league is just a click away from the major leagues. These guys are close and I felt like the command — I messed with some pitches early and walked guys that in normal situations I would never do. But that’s the only thing that I’m still working on: to try to get a pitch going and it paid off as the innings went on.”
On early-inning discomfort:
‘In each outing the first inning or two has been — I’m not as loose as I’d like to be and I’m trying in ways to get loose because once the third inning kicks in I’m more where I want to be. I struggled a little bit with command in the first couple of innings and then I didn’t struggle after that.’
On attacking Triple-A hitters like MLB hitters
“Absolutely [I did]. With the exception of a couple of hitters early. I’m not a guy that’s going to throw three changeups in a row just to work on it, but when I get in the groove, that’s what a pitcher wants to do. He feels his pitches, can throw for strikes any time.”
“I felt like I kept [hitters] off balance and that’s the one thing that you have to do [in the majors]. The big thing I’ve learned is keep making progress, working at it with my eyes towards pitching in the major leagues.”
On the food bill and returning from his shoulder injury:
‘That’s the beauty of this whole ordeal, you get a chance to treat some guys. I’ve gone through this a lot now and everything’s a mindset. If your mindset is you’re geared to do the things you have to do to persevere and overcome, maybe there’s days you don’t feel very good. I’m 42 years old and certainly there are going to be some days where I’m not going to feel real good. Fortunately I’ve been able to pitch a ton of games where I didn’t feel good. You can’t measure that and I think that’s the one thing that gets lost in a comeback. It’s one thing to have your shoulder on right, it’s another thing to pitch through certain situations that aren’t prototypically the way you would like them. As a pitcher I gear myself ready to not feel great, and when I do, that’s a bonus. When you log this many innings you just learn how to do that and how to get through the tough spots in a game and try to keep the innings to a minimum and I just don’t like crooked numbers. If I can keep them to one, one run every inning ain’t such a bad thing even though you’ve got to put some zeroes up there.’
On economizing (9 pitches or less in each of his last three innings):
‘I’m going to be a little bit of a different pitcher than I was in the past, I’m going to be a guy that pounds fastballs for strikes. Maybe not blow it by them, but accompanies it with a good split, slider, and curveball and a change that’s coming along so there’s still a lot of things a hitter has to look for and that’s the weapons you want to have when you’re out there and you get in a jam and you feel like you can get out of it. All in all, I’ll ride out of here very happy and hopeful that the recovery continues to go in a positive way so that [for] my side session, I pick it up where I left off.’
On fine-tuning in his final rehab outings:
‘Well I feel great. I’m not happy with two walks but to give up one hit, that’s a scenario for me that’s going to breed success if I can continue to limit how many times guys get on base. I felt comfortable on the mound, some plays at first. It’s all a matter of timing right now and my timing is almost where I want it to be from a mechanics standpoint. There are still some things I want to work on.’
On the crowd:
‘It was fun and I know it’s going to be even more fun as time goes on. The biggest thing I’ve had to learn in this process is that with all the traveling I’ve done and places I’ve gone is that I’ve got to have patience. That patience is going to play off if I allow myself to get in the right position when we’re facing the teams that I’m going to face. One thing I’ve learned is that I’m not getting too far ahead of myself.’
On refining his repertoire:
‘I still want to work on that changeup. I know it’s not a pitch that I absolutely have to have but it’s a nice pitch to have if the other ones aren’t where they need to be. That’s a great pitch to slow the hitter down. In the big leagues you’ve got to be able to slow the hitter down at times. Speed them up, slow them down, in and out. I feel that in the past people thought that I could rely on stuff to get hitters out. Now I’m going to have to rely on pitching. I’ve been pitching for a while so coming back from this surgery would be no different for me. I’ll go out, hit my spots, move it around, and try to take the sting out of the bat. That’s the goal of every pitcher: just take the sting out of the bat. So far, so good in four starts. Maybe one ball was squared up real good, but I’ve just got to keep it out of the barrel.’
On the minor league tour:
‘It’s been fun, it’s been expensive. It’s part of the deal. It’s a whole new organization and I don’t remember as many names as I would like, but just to get to talk to some of the guys and see them hopefully learn from some of the things I’ve done or said in past experiences. In baseball, you can’t speed the game up for the guys but you can give them certain things that they can avoid and maybe in that essence it will speed it up for them.’
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