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Lester pours the gas

06.06.09 at 7:14 pm ET
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Last year, Jon Lester’s fastball velocity was a revelation. By the end of the year, he was hitting 96 mph on the radar gun, a number that had rarely if ever been seen from him before.

Tonight, he is demonstrating that he might have another gear. Lester is featuring an overpowering fastball tonight, having hit 98 mph on a couple of occasions while also regularly blasting 95, 96 and 97 mph heaters in a 1-2-3 first inning. He closed the frame by getting Andruw Jones to swing and miss at an 81 mph curveball.

Interestingly, Rangers starter Derek Holland is throwing nearly as hard. His fastball was 95-97 mph in the bottom of the first, an inning in which he also retired the Sox in order, and so it is scoreless after one.

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Smoltz Has 1-2-3 Fifth Inning, will likely go back out

06.06.09 at 7:12 pm ET
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Bulls third baseman Chris Nowak led off the fifth inning by striking out on three straight sliders from John Smoltz. Chaves then grounded out to second, bringing up DH and leadoff man Jon Weber for a third time. The left-handed hitter flew out to short, ending the inning.

After five innings Smoltz has thrown 68 pitches, 46 of which have gone for strikes.

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Smoltz has 1-2-3 Fourth

06.06.09 at 6:59 pm ET
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John Smoltz had his cleanest inning of the game, retiring Ray Sadler, John Jaso, and Ray Olmedo in order. Sadler struck out on an 87 mph slider. Smoltz then got Jaso and Olmedo to ground out to PawSox second baseman Travis Denker for the 1-2-3 inning.

Smoltz threw nine pitches, seven of which went for strikes. He has now thrown 59 pitches and 38 strikes through four innings. He has still allowed just the one run from the second inning.

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Smoltz’ Third Inning

06.06.09 at 6:52 pm ET
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After Chip Ambres gave the PawSox a 2-0 lead with the team’s second solo-shot of the game, John Smoltz took the mound for the third inning in Pawtucket.

Left-handed shortstop Brandon Chaves drove a Smoltz fastball to deep right that was impressively tracked down by Ambres, bringing up the top of the order. Smoltz hit 92 on the gun while facing Weber for the second time. The Bulls DH grounded out to second. Eldridge reached on an error by first baseman Jeff Bailey in an at-bat that featured Smoltz’ first non-fastball of the inning: an 83 mph splitter. Justin Ruggiano then walked, putting runners on first and second with two men out. Smoltz then got ahead of Chris Richard, 0-2, before inducing an inning-ending groundout to Bailey.

Smoltz threw 17 pitches, 11 for strikes. He has now thrown 50 entering the fourth.

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Smoltz’ Second Inning an Uneasy One

06.06.09 at 6:52 pm ET
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John Smoltz hit 89 mph on the gun in the second inning, but allowed his first walk, hit, and run of the game.

First baseman Chris Richard led off the top of the inning by walking after Smoltz worked the count full from 3-1. Right fielder Ray Sadler then popped up to short right field, with no advance from Richard. The biggest blow came from Catcher John Jaso, who singled to right field, advancing Richard to third. A Ray Almedio sacrfice fly to deep center then scored Richard. Bulls third baseman Chris Nowak ended the inning on a groundout to third on a full count.

Smoltz threw 22 pitches in the inning, 12 of which were strikes. The right-hander has now thrown 32 pitches and 20 strikes through two innings of work.

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Smoltz’ First Inning

06.06.09 at 6:17 pm ET
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After receiving a standing ovation from McCoy Stadium, John Smoltz attacked the strike zone early and often, falling just a Gil Velazquez error short of a 1-2-3 first inning.

Designated hitter John Weber grounded out to first after falling behind 0-2 to Smoltz. Left fielder Rashad  Eldridge followed up Weber by hitting a lazy line drive at Velazquez that was dropped. The error proved harmless, as Eldridge was thrown out at second by PawSox catcher Dusty Brown on a 1-1 strike to Justin Ruggiano, who then struck out swinging on the following pitch.

All in all, Smoltz threw an efficient 10 pitches, eight of which went for strikes.

The PawSox have taken a 1-0 lead on a Jeff Bailey leadoff homer.

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Smoltz Takes the Hill for Pawtucket

06.06.09 at 6:05 pm ET
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With the sun thankfully shining in Pawtucket, John Smoltz, wearing his customary No. 29,  has taken the mound in his fourth minor league rehab start. Smoltz is facing the Durham Bulls tonight after his scheduled Friday start against the Louisville Bats was rained out. The Bulls will send Jason Cromer to the mound.

PawSox manager Ron Johnson said the plan is for Smoltz to go five innings and 85 pitches, with the pitch count taking priority. Should Smoltz have thrown less than 85 through five, Johnson said the team plans to send him out for the sixth inning. Check in with Full Count for inning-by-inning updates and Smoltz’ comments following his start.

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Lugo: I can take it

06.06.09 at 4:40 pm ET
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Julio Lugo admitted that he doesn’t like being on the bench like he is for tonight’s game against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park.

But before the game, the embattled Red Sox shortstop said what bothers him more is the booing and public criticism that he or popular players like David Ortiz get when they struggle.

“It’s tough,” Lugo said. “Nobody wants to be booed. Not me, not anybody. Sometimes, the only person who knows what’s going on or why you miss a ball is you because you’re the only one out there. You know what happened.

“Those fans, they just want you to make the play. They don’t understand sometimes that you make an effort. But you know what? At the same time, I’m not making excuses. Not at all,” he said.

Lugo didn’t get to two balls while playing shortstop on Friday night in Boston’s 5-1 loss to the Rangers. He heard loud boos from the Fenway faithful. Nick Green is getting the start at short for Saturday’s game.

Lugo told reporters that he does keep his lines of communication open with Red Sox manager Terry Francona. And Francona acknowledged that those conversations are important to his shortstop.

“It’s important to him,” Francona said. “I don’t think he always likes what I tell him.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox vs. Rangers, 6/6

06.06.09 at 3:08 pm ET
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Back in the day, Jon Lester nearly became a member of the Rangers.

The left-hander was a spare part that the Sox included, along with Manny Ramirez, when agreeing to a deal that would have brought Alex Rodriguez to Boston for the 2004 season. The Players’€™ Association ultimately vetoed the deal, Lester stayed in Boston, and now he is doing things that no other southpaw has accomplished in at least two decades.

Lester actually made his major-league debut against the Rangers in 2006, demonstrating largely the same repertoire that he now possess: a popping fastball (then in the low-90s, now in the mid-90s), a paralyzing curve and a sick cutter. He waited througha roughly five-hour rain delay for the start of that game before allowing three runs in 4.1 innings.

Lester will try to carry the momentum of his last start ‘€“ when he compiled a career-high 12 strikeouts ‘€“ into Saturday. He will oppose rookie Derek Holland, who is making his first career start against the Sox.

RANGERS VS. JON LESTER

Michael Young (11 career plate appearances): 5-for-10, walk
Ian Kinsler (10): 1-for-8, homer, 2 walks
Hank Blalock (7): 3-for-6, walk
Brandon Boggs (3): 1-for-3
Marlon Byrd (3): 0-for-3
Chris Davis (3): 0-for-3
Andruw Jones (3): 0-for-2, walk
David Murphy (3): 1-for-3
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (3): 0-for-3

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Red Sox Fall to Rangers, 5-1

06.05.09 at 10:11 pm ET
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The Red Sox offense proved unable to master either Rangers starter Kevin Millwood or the Texas bullpen, leading to Boston’s 5-1 loss in the first game of a six-game homestand. Millwood limited the Sox to an unearned run in seven innings, and Eddie Guardado and Darren O’Day followed with a scoreless inning each to snap Boston’s four-game winning streak. The loss dropped the Sox a half-game behind the Yankees (whose game against the Rays was postponed due to rain) in the American League East.

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