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Sunday’s Red Sox-Rays matchups: Josh Beckett vs. Jeff Niemann

07.17.11 at 7:00 am ET
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Josh Beckett will return to the mound for the Red Sox Sunday night in Tampa Bay, making his first start since July 8, when he left the game with a hyperextended knee. He’ll face off against Jeff Niemann, a pitcher who’s handled the Red Sox well in the past, although he’s yet to make a start against Boston this year.

Beckett (8-3, 2.27 ERA) continues to be the rock of the Red Sox rotation, although his ERA has ballooned a bit from its formerly American League leading form. The right-hander has picked up wins in four of his last five starts, although his last outing against the Orioles was a bit shaky. Beckett got the win thanks to eight first-inning runs from the Red Sox, but gave up three runs on seven hits before being removed with the knee injury.

Beckett was at his best the last time he visited Tropicana Field, tossing a one-hit shutout while striking out six and walking none back on June 15. If not for a third-inning infield single by nine-hitter Reid Brignac, Beckett could have been perfect.

The Rays have faced Beckett a total of 185 times, with Johnny Damon, Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton holding the lion’s share of plate appearances. Each of those three players has two home runs off Beckett. Damon leads the way with 56 plate appearances, hitting .269 with a team-high nine RBI and 12 strikeouts. Longoria has had the most success, batting .324 with five doubles and eight RBI. Ben Zobrist has had the most trouble with Beckett, managing just one hit in 15 plate appearances. As a team, the Rays are hitting .247 vs. the Boston starter.

Niemann (4-4, 4.53 ERA) will make his 11th start of the season and look to build on an impressive month of July. In his last two starts, he’s gone 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA, although he’s often had to work out of trouble, surrendering 15 hits and four walks in those two outings. The right-hander’s recent success finally shrunk his ERA below 5.00, where it had been hovering all season.

Niemann had a disastrous start to the year, posting a 1-4 record and a 5.74 ERA in his first six starts before being sent to the DL with a back injury in early May. He’s been solid since then, save for a rocky outing against the Astros (3 innings, 5 runs) on June 26. The Rays starter has struggled at Tropicana Field in five starts this season with a 1-3 record and a 5.53 ERA.

The 28-year-old has spent the entirety of his three-year career with Tampa Bay, and has faced Red Sox hitters a combined 42 times. Boston’s lineup has struggled overall, hitting just .190 with one home run and seven RBI. David Ortiz has the lone long ball to go along with two hits and two RBI in six career plate appearances. Marco Scutaro has a team-high 16 plate appearances vs. Niemann, but he’s only mustered three hits and has struck out three times. J.D. Drew also has three strikeouts in eight plate appearances, although he also has two doubles and two RBI.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: jeff niemann, Josh Beckett, Rays, Red Sox

John Lackey talks wanting to stay in, optimism after win

07.16.11 at 9:04 pm ET
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. ‘€“ John Lackey was going to come out. That was a fact. He wanted to stay in. That was another fact.

But the most important fact for the Red Sox Saturday was that Lackey turned in a solid performance in his team’€™s 9-5 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field.

“A lot to like,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “We’€™d love for him to get hot. That would be one of the best things that could ever happen to us.’€

The starter lasted 5 2/3 innings, giving up four runs (3 earned), on 10 hits, while striking out seven and walking one. He was taken out with runners on first and second in the sixth after Johnny Damon reached via a two-out error, and Ben Zobrist was hit by a pitch.

Lackey was visibly upset when Francona came to take him out of the game, but after the game explained that was just a product of the emotion of the outing.

‘€œYeah, I felt like I could have got that guy out. Looking back on it, we had a two-run lead. That’€™s probably Tito protecting me a little bit, too. I can respect that,’€ said Lackey, who was replaced by lefty reliever Randy Williams. Williams came on and retired Casey Kotchman via a ground out to second.

‘€œYou can’€™t do much about it. I already had a visit (from pitching coach Curt Young). It’€™s not like you can argue your way out of that one.’€

And, as Francona later explained, that’€™s exactly why he always makes the call to the bullpen before arriving on the mound.

‘€œI don’€™t pay much attention,’€ said Francona to pitchers’€™ reactions when being taken out. ‘€œThat’€™s why I always make the move before I go out there. There can’€™t be a discussion. I need to do what I’€™m going to do so I always do it before I go out there.’€

When asked if he enjoyed Lackey’€™s fiery temperament, Francona said, ‘€œI think he is that way a lot of times. Again, the way the game started (giving up three runs in the first inning), the fact that he stayed out there, because those two innings were long. What was it? Fifty (pitches) after two? He only walked one and he hit the batter.”

Lackey also talked about the benefit of recharging over the All-Star break, trying to build off his last start which saw him hold Baltimore scoreless over 6 2/3 innings.

‘€œIt was definitely nice to shut it down for a few days, for sure,’€ said Lackey, who lowered his ERA from 6.84 to 6.70. ‘€œWhat happened, happened. You can’€™t do anything about that. I’€™m gonna go out there and compete my butt off and try to win every time I go out there.’€

The explanation for Marco Scutaro’s rough first inning

07.16.11 at 8:36 pm ET
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It was one of roughest defensive innings Marco Scutaro has had since arriving with the Red Sox.

First came Johnny Damon’s grounder to lead off the home half of the first inning, which Scutaro ranged over, grabbed and threw wide to Adrian Gonzalez at first base for an error. And it was that play that led to the uncertainty which followed.

“Damon hit the ball, it hit my finger and I couldn’t find the grip on the ball,” Scutaro explained following the Red Sox’ 9-5 win at Tropicana Field Saturday. “I just kind of threw it and after that my finger was a little numb. I couldn’t feel it. I hate when that happens. I just had my hand too close to the ball when it hit the glove.”

With his right index finger throbbing, Scutaro was forced into action two more occasions. The next one coming when Evan Longoria grounded to him, resulting in a wide throw to second which Dustin Pedroia ranged just enough for to get a force out. The shortstop then rallied to finish off the inning with a 4-6-3 double play, although the damage had already been done via a three-run frame for the Rays.

“It was frustrating,” said Scutaro, who explained that the numbness subsided as the game progressed. “I don’t mind making errors, but when they cost runs, that really pisses me off.”

Trade Deadline: Yankees are front-runners to land Ubaldo Jimenez

07.16.11 at 8:18 pm ET
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Add this to the rising count of trade rumors surrounding Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez.

According to Brian Costello of the New York Post, the Yankees have “a better than average chance” to acquire Jimenez because they have the elite prospect package the Rockies are seeking.

While the Rockies were not originally planning on actively shopping Jimenez, Costello’s source said the team is “annoyed at [the right-hander” because he complained about not getting a contract extension along the lines of the ones signed by teammates Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.

The Rockies are interested in Yankees prospects Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, although Costello reports those three are “untouchable” in the Yankees’ eyes.

Read More: 2011 Trade Deadline, jesus montero, Rockies, ubaldo jimenez

Closing Time: John Lackey, home runs lift Red Sox past Rays

07.16.11 at 7:44 pm ET
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — No matter who the pitcher, the Red Sox offense seems intent on not slowing down.

This time the Sox offense jumped all over Rays All-Star James Shields, touching him up for six runs over six innings on the way to a 9-5 win Saturday at Tropicana Field.

Shields came into the game carrying a 2.33 ERA, and having shut out the Sox the last time he faced them. But he could not repeat those strong results.

The attack was led by home runs from Josh Reddick, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, who all built on the Sox’ major league-best HR road total (now 62).

Earning the win was Red Sox starter John Lackey, who rebounded from a shaky first inning in which he allowed three runs while throwing 35 pitches. The righty finished his outing by allowing four runs (3 earned) on 10 hits, striking out seven and walking one over 5 2/3 innings.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– After giving up three runs in the first inning, Lackey settled down. The Sox starter wouldn’t give up another run until the fifth inning, thanks in part to a bevy of ground balls. The righty induced two double plays, with seven of his nine non-strikeout outs coming on the ground.

– Pedroia remained red-hot, this time hitting a solo homer in the seventh inning. It marked the first time in his career that he has homered in three straight games. With two hits, the second baseman is now over .290 (sitting at .291).

David Ortiz, who was robbed by the shift in his first at-bat, came up big with a two-run double to right field in the third. It was the designated hitter’s first hit of the series and gave the Sox a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

– Ellsbury continued his power surge, hitting his 13th homer of the season with a leadoff shot in the fourth. Ellsbury came into the game riding a six-game hitting streak, during which he was 11-for-25 with three homers. Another outfielder helping out via the long ball was Reddick, who helped the Sox respond to Tampa Bay’s three-run first by hitting a two-run job in the second. Eleven of Reddick’s 25 hits this season have been of the extra-base variety.

– With the potential tying run on first, newcomer Randy Williams came on for Lackey in the sixth to face Casey Kotchman. With one pitch, the lefty got Kotchman to ground out and end the threat. He would go on to get Evan Longoria on a pop up and Matt Joyce via a punch-out in the seventh before giving way to Daniel Bard.

– Bard extended his scoreless streak to 20 2/3 innings by not allowing a run in 1 1/3 frames.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Marco Scutaro suffered through a horrific first inning, starting with an error on Johnny Damon‘s grounder to lead off the Rays’ half of the opening frame. Two batters later, Scutaro failed to make an accurate throw to second base, allowing Kotchman to reach. The shortstop made one more shaky throw to second to leave an unappetizing image for what turned into a three-run frame for the hosts.

– After fouling a ball off his kneecap with two outs in the fifth inning, and subsequently crumpling the ground, Tampa Bay’s Joyce got up to immediately take Lackey over the right field wall to cut the Sox’ lead to two runs. Up until that point, it was one of the few hard-hit balls off the Sox starter.

Adrian Gonzalez made his third error of the season on a two-out grounder by Damon in the sixth, ironically in the same inning Kotchman committed his first of the year

Jarrod Saltamacchia had a rough day at the plate, striking out three times.

Red Sox at Rays Live Blog, July 16

07.16.11 at 3:58 pm ET
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For all the latest news, updates and analysis from the Tropicana Dome, join the WEEI.com live blog below:

Red Sox at Rays Live Blog, July 16

Saturday’s Red Sox matchups: John Lackey vs. James Shields

07.16.11 at 3:56 pm ET
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John Lackey had one of the worst first-half performances of any player in Major League Baseball. The 32-year-old right-hander earned a result in all 14 of his starts, going 6-8 with a 6.84 ERA in only 79 innings.

Lackey did offer reason for some optimism in his last start before the All-Star break. Pitching 6.2 innings against the Orioles one week ago, the 6-foot-6 hurler held the Baltimore bats scoreless, leading the Sox to a 4-0 victory. He allowed just three hits and one walk while striking out seven.

Lackey will look to build off that performance Saturday, facing James Shields and the Rays. Shields (8-7, 2.33) is also coming off an impressive performance, his Major League-leading seventh complete game of 2011. The 29-year-old right-hander allowed just one unearned run and four hits against the Yankees, picking up a tough loss.  Though he is 3-4 pitching at Tropicana Field this season, he boasts a 2.05 ERA in his home park.

The Boston bats have seen a lot of Shields — 326 plate appearances to be exact. J.D. Drew and David Ortiz have combined for five home runs, 13 doubles and 17 RBIs and are two of Red Sox batters with batting averages of at least .310 against Shields. Jason Varitek and Dustin Pedroia also have two longballs apiece against the Tamps Bay starter. Overall, current Red Sox hitters enter the game with a .263 batting average, .325 on-base percentage and .448 slugging percentage against Shields.

The Rays, on the other hand, arguably hit the former Angel harder than any other team in the big leagues. Six of seven batters are hitting over .270 against Lackey (minimum of 10 plate appearances), led by former Red Sox centerfielder Johnny Damon who enters the game with a .368 batting average. Overall, current Rays hitters enter the game with a .293 batting average, .348 on-base percentage and .367 slugging percentage against the Sox starter. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Red Sox, james shields, john lackey, tampa bay rays

Trade Deadline: Cubs won’t deal Jeff Baker

07.16.11 at 1:34 pm ET
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Cubs utility man Jeff Baker can hit, play multiple positions and is affordable at just $1.75 million this season. That sounds like the perfect trade deadline pickup for a contending team looking to add a bat for the stretch run. The only problem is that he’s not available, according to a Fox Sports report.

Ken Rosenthal notes the Red Sox and Indians were among the teams that were interested in the 30-year-old Baker. Peter Gammons also raised the possibility on WEEI.

Indeed, the right-handed hitting Baker would be an affordable, yet experienced hitter to compliment the lefty-heavy Sox’ lineup. Baker has hammered left-handed pitching to the tune of .318/.367/.543 during his career and he is batting .375 with two home runs in 72 at bats this season. It could be posturing on the Cubs part, but Baker is still a year away from becoming arbitration eligible and Rosenthal notes that Cubs GM Jim Hendry sees him as part of next year’s club.

Read More: 2011 Trade Deadline, cubs, Indians, Jeff baker

Closing Time: Andrew Miller, Red Sox can’t keep good times rolling against Rays

07.15.11 at 10:46 pm ET
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Red Sox‘ starting pitching situation got a bit off-kilter on the way to a 9-6 loss to Tampa Bay Friday night.

Andrew Miller, who had entered his start against the Rays with a 3-0 mark and 3.57 ERA, turned in his roughest outing since joining the Red Sox, allowing seven runs on five hits while walking five. The lefty left with two outs in the third inning and the Sox trailing by five runs.

The loss snapped a six-game win streak for the Red Sox, who have lost just two of their 10 games in July.

Here is what went wrong (and right) in the Sox’ series-opening defeat at the hands of the third-place Rays …

WHAT WENT WRONG

– Miller went his second straight start without striking out a batter. His velocity was similar to his previous two starts, with the fastball sitting around 91 mph and maxing out at 94 mph. The biggest blow against the lefty was Ben Zobrist‘s grand slam with one out in the second inning, making it 5-1 at the time.

– For the first time in the last six games, the Red Sox weren’t able to get the opposing starting pitcher out before the fifth inning. While they did make David Price throw 121 pitches, he still left with a 7-3 lead after completing six innings. It snaps the longest such streak by a Red Sox team in 28 years. Price finished his outing striking out seven, walking one and allowing five hits.

Dan Wheeler ran into some trouble against his old team, in large part because Casey Kotchman hit a bomb against his old team. Wheeler, who had only allowed one run in his last six outings, gave up a two-run homer to Kotchman in the sixth inning. It was the first homer allowed by the righty since May 4.

Dustin Pedroia made a rare baserunning miscue in the first inning after building on his major league-best batting average against lefties (.394) with a single to left. The second baseman tried to stretch the liner into a double, but was easily gunned down by Sam Fuld for the game’s second out.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Alfredo Aceves turned in another outstanding relief appearance, coming in for Miller and throwing 2 1/3 innings of scoreless ball (allowing just two hits). The righty hasn’t allowed a run in any of his last three relief outings, stretching 7 1/3 innings.

– Pedroia continued his dominance against left-handed pitching, not only notching the first-inning single against Price, but taking the Rays’ ace deep with a solo shot in the sixth inning. He now has a homer in five of his last seven games, and a total of six since June 30. He added a double in the eighth inning, boosting his batting average to a season-high .289.

Darnell McDonald made a positive impression in his first at-bat, taking Price over the left field wall for a solo shot in the second inning. He now has at least one hit in each of his last four games, all against left-handers.

Jacoby Ellsbury kept his power surge going, launching a solo home run off Price in the third inning. It was just the third homer allowed by Price to a left-handed batter in the pitcher’s career.

Marco Scutaro also continued a mild hot streak when it comes to hitting home runs, claiming his third of the month via a two-run shot in the seventh. It was his second homer in as many games.

Carl Crawford gets some work in and gets his legs back under him

07.15.11 at 8:47 pm ET
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PAWTUCKET, R.I. ‘€” The offensive aspect of Carl Crawford‘€˜s game was answered Friday night as he went 1-for-2 with a walk in three plate appearances in his first of two minor league rehab assignments with the PawSox. Crawford also scored and drove in a run in Pawtucket’s 3-2 win over Durham at McCoy, helping Kevin Millwood improved to 5-0 in his minor league assignment with the Red Sox.

Crawford drove in Che-Hsuan Lin from third on a broken bat single to center, hanging in on a changeup from Durham starter Alex Torres in the first inning.

The biggest and best test of his left hamstring came in the third when he took ball 4 on a full count. After showing his batting eye hasn’t been affected in his month off, he took off for second on a hit-and-run on a single by Ryan Lavarnway. As important as his explosion from first was, his ability to put on the breaks around second was just as significant. He did both cleanly.

“The most important thing was being able to take out of the [batter’s] box like I normally can, being able to move quick without worrying about my hamstring and I had a few moments today where I was able to test it,” Crawford said after his 20-minute treatment in the whirlpool.

“That felt good, that was a time I had to test it and it felt good. When you stop like that, something can happen. So when you stop real quick and nothing happens, that’s a good sign.”

Crawford advanced to third on a single to left but was held up around third. He faced the hard-throwing lefty Torres in the first and righty Lance Cormier in the third and fifth.

“Getting back out here and seeing live pitching definitely helped me,” Crawford said. “It’s all about the timing. You’ve got a lefty throwing pretty hard so I tried to see a few and make the adjustments I need to make from there. It was a little challenging but I was able to make a few adjustments.”

Crawford grounded a ball into the hole at short after Daniel Nava singled to open the fifth. Nava appeared safe at second but was ruled out, costing Crawford his second single.

There would be no hard running on the bases this time as Lavarnway blasted a long homer to left, allowing Crawford to easily jog the bases on the round-tripper that made it 3-1 PawSox.

Crawford’s only defensive chance came in the fourth when caught a fly ball off the bat of J.J. Furmaniak.

Crawford will play again Saturday night for Pawtucket before taking Sunday off. If his left hamstring responds, he will be activated for Monday’s game in Baltimore.

“We’re just trying to get my legs back under me right now so we didn’t see the need to play nine innings,” Crawford said of playing just five innings Friday. “As long as I was able to the things that I can do when I’m in the big leagues, that’s all I need to do. Just see if I can do it two days in a row. Just want to do everything two days in a row, make sure there’s no pain and nothing like that. After that happens, I’ll be ready to go.”

Read More: Boston Red Sox, carl crawford, daniel nava, PawSox
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