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A Bard’s lament

09.21.10 at 12:46 am ET
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Daniel Bard

It is a commentary on how good Daniel Bard has been that his failure to escape nearly impossible circumstances inspired questions about whether anything was wrong.

Bard was entrusted with a formidable task in his team’s eventual 4-2 loss to the Orioles on Monday. Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka carried a 2-2 tie game into the seventh inning but then faltered, issuing a one-out walk to Brian Roberts followed by a double to the opposite field by Nick Markakis.

That put runners on second and third with one out. With the Sox needing a strikeout to keep the game in check, the call went out for Bard, the flame thrower who has punched out 68 in 69 1/3 innings this year. Bard jumped ahead of Ty Wigginton, getting him to foul off a pair of sliders that created an 0-2 count. But Bard could not put Wigginton away, as the Orioles first baseman battled back to 3-2 before delivering a sac fly on a slider that gave the Orioles a 3-2 lead.

The development was somewhat startling, as Bard borders on unhittable when jumping ahead to an 0-2 count. Prior to Monday, he had reached 0-2 counts on 50 occasions, with opponents hitting .063/.080/.063/.143 with 31 strikeouts. He admitted that, yes, in that situation, he was looking to punch out the right-handed Wigginton on a slider, and so his inability to do so was disappointing.

Bard then got ahead of Luke Scott, working his way to a 1-2 count, but he again left a slider up — this time on a 2-2 count — that Scott yanked through the right side of the infield for another run.

“If you get to 0-2, 1-2, I don’t want to settle for anything less than a strikeout there,” said Bard. “Striking people out is kind of an art. It’s all about executing pitches when it matters. I’ve been able to do it at times, a lot of times this year, but lately it’s been tougher putting guys away. It’s all about executing off-speed pitches.”

Bard has been having some difficulties with inherited runners in recent weeks. Since Aug. 13, he has inherited a total of five runners. He has now let all five of them cross the plate. Even though he has a 1.59 ERA in 15 appearances in that time, the right-hander — who had not pitched since Sept. 14 — Bard was asked whether he was “running on empty.”

The question elicited a chuckle from the reliever, whose fastball was clocked at its usual 98-99 mph on Monday.

“Does it look like it?” Bard mused. “No. I feel good. I really do. Physically I felt great. If anything, I had maybe about a five-day layoff. Wasn’t as sharp with the off-speed stuff as far as location. Just wasn’t able to bury the breaking ball or the changeup for a strikeout. That was the only difference. I felt great out there.”

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Closing Time: Orioles 4, Red Sox 2

09.20.10 at 8:37 pm ET
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Daisuke Matsuzaka did not pitch badly. Aided in part by favorable wind conditions that kept a few long fly balls in the park, the Red Sox starter kept his team very much in the game, and was still on the mound in the seventh, negotiating a 2-2 lead against the Orioles.

But he left after putting runners on second and third with one out, and when both inherited runners crossed the plate, Matsuzaka added another page to an increasingly dismal stretch. He has now allowed four or more earned runs in seven straight starts, the longest such streak by a Sox starter since Dick Newsome went nine straight starts in 1942 and ’43, and the longest by a Sox starter in a single season since both Danny MacFayden (9) and Jack Russell (7) did the deed in 1930.

That yield was enough to confer a defeat upon Matsuzaka and the Red Sox, who lost, 4-2, to the Orioles.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–Matsuzaka allowed just six hits in his 6 1/3 innings, but he also allowed five walks. It was the third straight outing in which he’s issues at least four free passes. He is now tied for third in the majors for the most games of four or more walks this year.

Daniel Bard has now allowed five straight inherited runners to score after he entered in the seventh inning on Monday and permitted the two Orioles who were on base to cross the plate. For the year, he has allowed 32.6 percent of inherited runners to score, slightly worse than the league average of 31 percent.

Mike Lowell continued his struggle through the final weeks of his career. He went 0-for-3 (with a walk) and stranded four baserunners. He is now hitting .189 with a .466 OPS in September.

–Orioles starter Brian Matusz added to his credentials as a Red Sox nemesis. Though the Sox elevated his pitch count to knock him out of the game after five innings, he allowed just one run on three hits in that time. In five starts against the Sox this year, the Baltimore rookie was 2-0 with a 2.43 ERA, including 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in three starts at Fenway.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–The Sox received excellent defense in the two corner outfield positions. Bill Hall showed off a rocket arm in left field, gunning down Brian Roberts at home to end the third inning, and then cutting down Felix Pie at third in the fourth. Darnell McDonald also helped the Sox to avoid significant damage by running down a pair of deep drives in the right field corner.

–Hall drove in his second run in the month of September, lining a game-tying single to right in the sixth inning. However, he did also strike out a pair of times, giving him 32 multi-strikeout games this year, second most on the Red Sox, bringing his total to 97 strikeouts for the year.

Victor Martinez continued his assault on left-handed pitchers, going 2-for-3 while Matusz was on the hill. He is now hitting .399 with a 1.180 OPS against southpaws, and he has 36 RBI (in 143 at-bats) against lefties, compared to 37 (in 312 at-bats) against right-handers.

Hideki Okajima blazed through a 1-2-3 eighth inning. He’s now thrown 9 1/3 scoreless innings over his last 11 outings.

Michael Bowden sruck out three batters in an inning of work.

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Orioles, victor martinez,

Nuggetpalooza Looks At Ryan Kalish

09.20.10 at 1:37 pm ET
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Here we are in mid-September and the Red Sox find themselves in the unfamiliar position of just playing out the schedule.

But I’m not here to dwell on that. This week, let’s look at the trio of outfielders that the Red Sox have broken into their lineup during the second half of the year. Today, we’ll rev up the Nuggetpalooza microscope to examine Ryan Kalish:

So far, Kalish has appeared in 42 games since his promotion on July 31 and has put up a slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS) of 238/275/608/483 in 139 plate appearances.

Kalish had one stretch of four games in mid-August in which he went 0-11, otherwise, he has not gone more than two appearances without a hit. He does have a 32-7 strikeout to walk ratio, which is a concern, including a 6-0 ratio over his last 10 games, spanning 37 plate appearances.

Let’s look a little deeper into his splits:

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* – Kalish has 14 RBI in September, which ranks him in a tie for 3rd in the AL in that span:

19 – Shin-Soo Choo, CLE
18 – Victor Martinez, BOS
14 – Ryan Kalish, BOS
14 – Alex Rodriguez, NYY
13 – David Ortiz, BOS

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* – Kalish has a quite strong .907 OPS with runners in scoring position, so he’s been, let’s just say, “clutchy” so far.

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* – Looking at different pitch counts, Kalish has either gotten ahead 1-0 or put the first pitch in play 51% of the time, which is not great but not terrible (J.D. Drew’s career percentage is 59%; Jacoby Ellsbury’s is 51%).

However, when Kalish has fallen behind 0-1, he’s eventually struck out in 24 of 68 plate appearances (35%), the 25th highest percentage in the AL (min. 60 such PA).

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* – Kalish has put 99 balls in play (not including 1 bunt), and 18% have been line drives. That would be a nice carryover from his 2010 minor league line drive rate of 19.7% (after a poor 14.8% in 2009).

One more note about his minor league LD%: In 2010, those rates were similar versus lefties and righties. But in 2009, he was much BETTER against lefties (17%) than against righties (13%).

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* – It’s a small sample, but Kalish is already showing signs of improvement in his plate discipline. In August, Kalish swung at 24% of pitches recorded as outside the strike zone. In September, just 20%.

What’s more, his contact rate on those “outside the zone” swings was just 49% in August (awful), but is 70% in September (about the same as the full season rates for Derek Jeter, Hanley Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero).

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* – As far as how he’s handled different pitches (per Fangraphs’ runs created above or below average), he’s actually gotten slightly worse against the fastball (-0.4 per 100 pitches in August and -1.1 in September), which he saw 63% of the time in August vs 61% in September.

He hasn’t seen as many changeups in September (7.7% vs 11.3% in August) because he’s been much better against them (-0.6 in August and +4.2 in September).

When Kalish has seen breaking balls (25% in August and 31% in September) he’s been -1.3 in August and and much better +0.8 in September.

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* – One other thing I wanted to examine is how Kalish is faring against high quality pitchers. Let’s see what Kalish’s slash line is against these groups of pitchers:

“Good Pitchers” – ERA Under 3.50 in 2010: 310/355/483/838 in 32 plate appearances (1 HR).

“Fireballers” – Strikeouts of 23% of batters faced: 240/296/440/736 in 28 plate appearances (1 HR; 8 K).

“Good Junkballers” – Value of Non-Fastballs is 8+ runs above average (per Fangraphs): 206/270/353/623 in 38 PA (1 HR; 10 K).

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Next time, we’ll take a similar peek at Daniel Nava.

Beltre’s (meaningless) option could hinge on wrist

09.20.10 at 2:18 am ET
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Adrian Beltre

Under other circumstances, the results of the exam on Adrian Beltre‘s sore left wrist could have had significant implications for the Red Sox.

That possibility would have had less to do with the impact that the third baseman has had on his club this year — and make no mistake, Beltre has been a force, leading his club in games played (144), batting average (.329), slugging (.571) and RBI (98) while ranking second in OBP (.374) and homers (28) — and more to do with his 2011 cost.

Beltre, after all, could see the value of his player option for the 2011 season increase from $5 million to $10 million with 640 plate appearances this year. He currently sits at 599 plate appearances, and so, if he misses anything more than a few of his club’s 13 remaining games, it would jeopardize the value of his 2011 option.

Of course, such a possibility appears to have nothing more than theoretical significance. First and foremost, manager Terry Francona declared that the third baseman received “a clean bill of health” after a series of tests at Mass General. So, Beltre should get enough plate appearances to double the value of his player option.

That said, in the process of accumulating all those at-bats — and performing as one of the top players in the American League — Beltre has virtually assured that he has no reason to exercise his player option. Coming off the worst season of his career in 2009, the third baseman received a one-year, $9 million deal. He is now going to be heading back into free agency after the second-best season of his career; he is certain to receive multi-year offers in excess of $10 million a year.

Thus, the only real question becomes whether or not the increased value of the player option would have luxury tax implications for the Red Sox in either 2010 or 2011. Answer: No.

The Sox structured their deal with Beltre and agent Scott Boras – a one-year, $9 million guarantee that included a $1 million buyout that was triggered when the All-Star reached 575 plate appearances on Sept. 12 and a $5 million player option for 2011 — so that it would be calculated as a $7 million deal for luxury tax purposes. (The deal is viewed as a two-year, $14 million guarantee for CBT purposes.)

If (and, almost certainly, when) Beltre declines his player option, the difference between what the Sox actually have paid him and what they were charged for CBT purposes will be assessed against their 2011 luxury tax payroll. So, assuming that he declines his option, the Sox will have $3 million — the difference between the $7 million CBT assessment for this season and the additional $2 million in salary he received this year, along with the $1 million conditional buyout that was triggered — assessed on their 2011 payroll for luxury tax purposes.

Assuming that Beltre declines his player option — whether for $5 million or $10 million — that $3 million assessment for 2011 won’t change. Nor will it alter the $7 million CBT calculation for 2010.

If Beltre were to exercise a $10 million player option for 2011, however, then the Sox would be on the hook for a $13 million luxury tax calculation for his contract next year, as the final amount charged must equal the actual amount paid. So, if he exercises a $10 million player option, the Sox would have paid a total of $20 million (the $9 million 2010 salary, the $1 million buyout, and the $10 million player option) over the two years, resulting in the $13 million assessment.

But, that hypothetical scenario will be rendered moot if/when Beltre declines the player option. And so, the state of his wrist over the final two weeks of the season will have no actual implications for his deal with the Sox.

Read More: Adrian Beltre, cbt, Contract,

Beltre should be back Monday

09.19.10 at 6:48 pm ET
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The Red Sox and Adrian Beltre got some good news before Sunday’s game.

The left wrist injury to the star third baseman and likely 2010 Red Sox team MVP is not that serious.

As a result, Beltre will likely return to the Red Sox lineup on Monday night in the opener of a three-game series against the Orioles after getting a clean bill of health on his left wrist, injured in Saturday night’s loss to the Blue Jays.

“He was checked out over at Mass General,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said following Sunday’s 6-0 win. “He got an MRI, a CT scan, x-rays. He got a clean bill of health and he’ll probably play [Monday].”

Francona didn’t make out the lineup card until an hour before Sunday’s game to keep open the possibility of playing the third baseman who entered Sunday with 28 homers and 98 RBIs and a team-leading .329 average. Beltre was eventually held out in favor of rookie Yamaico Navarro, who made his first career big league start at third base.

Speaking of Navarro, he looked very, very comfortable at third on Sunday, especially when the pressure was on. In the fifth inning, with the bases loaded and one out, he fielded a grounder from Yunel Escobar and fired to Victor Martinez at the plate to force the runner for the second out. Then with the majors leading home run hitter at the plate, he fielded a grounder off Jose Bautista‘s bat and stepped on the third base bag to end the threat as the Red Sox and Jon Lester cruised to victory.

Read More: Adrian Beltre, Boston Red Sox, Jose Bautista, MLB

Closing Time: Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 0

09.19.10 at 4:17 pm ET
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In what was likely his final home start this season, Jon Lester allowed just four hits and struck out four while Victor Martinez and J.D. Drew homered to lead the Red Sox over the Blue Jays, 6-0, Sunday at Fenway Park.

Lester [18-8] also walked four but pitched out of several jams to lower his ERA to 3.07 on the season. He needs two wins in his final two starts to become the first Red Sox lefty 20-game winner since Mel Parnell in 1953.

Martinez broke a scoreless tie in the fourth when he homered to right on an 0-2 pitch from starter and loser Shaun Marcum [12-8]. The Red Sox broke the game open in the next inning when they scored five times to chase Marcum and race out to a 6-0 lead. J.D. Drew led the explosion with a two-run homer to deep right, his 19th of the season.

Lester threw 112 pitches, 68 strikes, over his seven innings and lowered his ERA to 3.06. He is scheduled to start this Saturday at Yankee Stadium and the following Thursday at Chicago and will need wins in both to reach the 20-win plateau.

The Red Sox won the game without Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro. Prior to the game, Beltre had his sore left wrist examined on Sunday morning at Massachusetts General Hospital and the decision was made to rest the player who leads the Red Sox in games played [144] this season. Scutaro, second on the list with 142, also got the day off.

Tito: Beltre has ‘a little bit of Damon in him’

09.19.10 at 1:57 pm ET
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Certainly everyone at Fenway Sunday would’ve loved to have seen Adrian Beltre in Sunday’s lineup as he pursues Butch Hobson‘s team record of 30 homers by a third baseman set in 1977.

But Red Sox manager Terry Francona admitted that they have to keep the long-term interests Beltre in mind, even if he is a free agent at the end of this season.

“We love when he’s in the lineup because he’s really good but we don’t want to do anything silly,” Francona said. “He obviously swings very aggressively. I thought I kind of saw him let go [of bat] a little bit but he still rapped a double. If you’re able to be productive, it’s one thing to play hurt and a lot of guys do, but when you can maintain your production.”

There was another Red Sox great of the past that also came to mind on Sunday in talking Beltre – Johnny Damon.

“He’s an impressive guy,” Francona said of Beltre, who entered Sunday with a .329 average, 28 homers and 98 RBIs. “He’s a pretty tough kid. He’s got a little bit of Damon in him.”

Beltre had his ‘Damon’ moment on Saturday night when he injured his left wrist diving for a John McDonald grounder in the fourth inning of Boston’s 4-3 loss, only to stay in the game and double, nearly leading the Red Sox to a come-from-behind win.

“When he laid there, for a second, [I thought] a lot of things, dirt in the eye, who knows? Then when he didn’t get up, I was like, Oh [shoot] and saw [Scutaro wave], and then we get out there, it took a little while,” Francona said. “Then as he shook the cobwebs out, he said, ‘I’ll be alright.’ He wasn’t coming up to hit for a while. He wasn’t coming up first. He had nine hitters to go so he came up and had a flouroscan.

“We sent him over to MGH to get some further testing this morning,” Francona said Sunday. “That’s why we [held] off on the lineup. He’s sore but not bad and his grip strength is down a little bit but not horrible. So we told him if you want to play go get checked and he obviously wants to play.”

Francona made Beltre make him a promise – tell the truth if you’re hurting.

“I said, ‘If you hit and something doesn’t feel good, you have to tell me.’ He said, ‘Okay, I will.” He’s a tough kid but he doesn’t want to do anything stupid.”

When the lineup did come out just about 45 minutes before Sunday’s game, it did not include Beltre or Marco Scutaro. Instead, Yamaico Navarro started at third with Bill Hall getting the start at second base.

Read More: Adrian Beltre, bill Hall, Boston Red Sox, Butch Hobson
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