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John Kruk on M&M: Carl Crawford ‘thinks he’s the worst player in baseball’

04.19.11 at 12:59 pm ET
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ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk, in his weekly interview on the Mut & Merloni Show, suggested that the Red Sox‘ three-game winning streak against the Blue Jays gave up glimpse of what he expected from the club.

“Everyone wants to count them out after 10 games, but they’€™re too good,” said Kruk. “They’€™re too good to count them out at any time of the season.”

Even so, Kruk acknowledged that he does have some questions about the club, including the team’s catching situation.

Through the first 15 games of the season, Red Sox pitchers have a 2.40 ERA with Jason Varitek behind the plate and a 7.29 mark with Jarrod Saltalamacchia calling signals. Kruk suggested that he doesn’t think the disparity is a coincidence.

[Josh] Beckett and Daisuke [Matsuzaka], their best starts of the year just happened to be with Varitek behind the plate? I don’€™t think so,” said Kruk. “First of all, the thing with Jarrod Saltalamacchia is this. He’€™s never established himself as an everyday catcher. All we heard about when he was in Atlanta was, ‘€˜Oh, this guy is going to be the second coming of Johnny Bench ‘€“ switch-hitter with power to both sides, he can call a game, he can throw.’€™ He’€™s never proven it. You wonder why a guy who was supposed to be this great has been with his third organization already at such a young age. There has to be something there where two other organizations felt this guy isn’€™t an everyday catcher, we can get by with someone else.

“To me, the thing that Varitek does back there with that pitching staff, they trust him. They know that when he puts a finger down, there’€™s a reason why he wants that pitch and they throw it,” Kruk added. “Saltalmacchia puts a finger down and they’€™re like, ‘€˜Uh-oh, why does he want this?’€™ There’€™s questions. Everything is questioned with a catcher you don’€™t trust. You don’€™t have full faith in him because you haven’€™t spent a lot of time with him. Can he develop into that? I don’€™t know.”

At the same time, Kruk said that manager Terry Francona has a difficult decision about how to manage his catching situation, given that Varitek (at age 39) is at a stage of his career where his playing time needs to be limited.

“Francona has to be really smart with [Varitek],” said Kruk. “If he tries to throw him out there four, five days in a row, that could be devastating to the rest of his career.”

Kruk also expressed surprise that Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez appeared to be trying to pull the ball during the series against the Jays, rather than using his natural swing to drive the ball the other way. Even so, Kruk expected that Gonzalez would make an adjustment to achieve his typical results.

Carl Crawford was another matter. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, carl crawford, jarrod saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek

Nuggetpalooza: Three Straight Wins!

04.19.11 at 12:08 pm ET
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Just a few notes following the Red Sox‘ first three game winning streak of the season:

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* – Over the last three games, Boston hitters forced Toronto starters into high pitch counts in the first inning: 37 on Saturday, 19 on Sunday, and 32 on Monday. Those 88 first inning pitches seen is the most in the majors over a three game stretch since 2006:

91 – Boston (June 27-28-29, 2006)
88 – Boston (April 16-17-18, 2011)
86 – Colorado (April 2-3-4, 2007)
80 – San Diego (April 8-9-10, 2009)
79 – Arizona (July 17-18-19, 2010)

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* – The Red Sox won the final two games of the series by seven and eight runs. The last time the Red Sox won consecutive games by seven or more runs was last June 11-12, against Philadelphia. In August of 2007, Boston beat the White Sox four straight by seven runs or more (11-3, 10-1, 14-2, 11-1).

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* – From 2007 through 2010, Dustin Pedroia had the lowest swing-and-miss percentage in the majors for any player with at least 25 home runs in that span. But he is swinging-and-missing more than ever so far in 2011:

2007 –  8.5% (82-of-969)
2008 –  8.1% (98-of-1207)
2009 –  7.4% (81-of-1097)
2010 – 11.0% (71-of-644)
2011 – 21.6% (25-of-116)

Realizing that his .900 OPS is plenty good, Pedroia has struck out 10 times already, the earliest that he’s ever reached double figures in whiffs:

2011 – April 18
2010 – April 22
2009 – May 4
2008 – April 22
2007 – June 4

June fourth!

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* – Opposing batters have a .108 OPS against Josh Beckett’s breaking stuff this season, the lowest in the majors (min. 100 breaking balls thrown):

.108 – Josh Beckett, BOS (1-for-27 with 10 K, 1 BB)
.135 – Josh Johnson, FLA (1-for-28 with 9 K, 2 BB)
.163 – Jaime Garcia, STL (2-for-30 with 14 K, 1 BB)

Breaking balls include curves, sliders, changeups, splits, and knuckleballs.

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* – David Ortiz versus lefty fastballs so far: 7-for-11 (.636) with one double, one home run, no strikeouts, and two walks. Versus lefty non-fastballs: 0-for-8 with 2 strikeouts.

Overall, Papi’s 1.079 OPS against lefties this season leads all left-handed hitters in the majors (min. 20 PA vs. LHP):

1.079 – David Ortiz, BOS
1.046 – Juan Pierre, CHW
1.023 – Alex Gordon, KC

Last season, his .599 OPS against LHP was the second worst in the majors among left-handed hitters (min. 160 PA vs LHP):

.575 – James Loney, LAD
.599 – David Ortiz, BOS
.611 – JD Drew, BOS

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* – JD Drew tripled as the first batter of the game for the Red Sox yesterday. Drew was also the last Red Sox player to open up the game with a triple (2009). Since 1950, the Red Sox have had their first batter hit a triple 63 times, with Jerry Remy and Billy Goodman leading the way with five each, followed by Johnny Damon and Rick Burleson with four.

Of course, Drew has done it twice in just 38 plate appearances as the team’s first batter of the game. Remy led off 541 games for the Sox.

The all-time leader in triples when leading off the first inning is Tim Raines, who tripled 26 times out of 1,398 plate appearances as his team’s first batter.

Oakland has not allowed a leadoff triple in the first inning since July, 2007, the longest such streak in the league.

For Scutaro, playing time takes a back seat to winning

04.18.11 at 4:01 pm ET
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The striking emergence of Jed Lowrie has come at the expense of playing time for Marco Scutaro. With Lowrie amidst a seven-game hitting streak in which he is hitting .625 (15-for-24), he has cemented himself — at least for now — as an everyday player for the Sox. As a result, Scutaro (hitting .188 with a .547 OPS) has been left to sit for three of the last four games.

But despite the fact that Lowrie has effectively supplanted him for now, Scutaro is not complaining.

“It’s all about winning here,” said Scutaro. “I’m fine. It’€™s special being on a winning team. Being on a losing team is no fun at all. Right now, [manager Terry Francona] is just trying to put the best guys out there to win games.”

Scutaro said that it wasn’t necessary for Francona to explain the playing time division to him.

“You don’€™t have to [talk to the manager] to understand what’€™s going on,” said Scutaro.

He made clear that he was not upset about his current role. Though it took him years to become an everyday shortstop as a 32-year-old with the Blue Jays in 2008, Scutaro suggested that he is not concerned about playing time at this point.

“There’€™s still a long way to go,” said Scutaro.

In many respects, Scutaro and Lowrie complement each other very well, and in some respects are interchangeable depending on their performance. Lowrie is capable of playing all four infield positions; but should the Sox continue to use him as an everyday shortstop, Scutaro could be used as a player capable of giving the Sox depth at shortstop, second and third.

For complete Red Sox coverage, visit weei.com/redsox.

Read More: Jed Lowrie, marco scutaro,

Kevin Youkilis found the booing of Daisuke Matsuzaka ‘a little shocking’

04.18.11 at 3:59 pm ET
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As Daisuke Matsuzaka was being booed as he took the mound for the start of Monday’s game, Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis couldn’t believe his ears. Seven innings of one-hit, shutout pitching later, those boos turned to cheers as he left the mound. The pitcher who gave up seven runs and eight hits over two-plus innings seven days earlier turned in a great outing to lead the Red Sox to a 9-1 win over the Blue Jays.

Youkilis couldn’t help but find the irony in the situation.

[Click here to hear Kevin Youkilis ask for a little patience and understanding from the fans.]

“One thing that was a little shocking was before the game he got booed,” Youkilis said. “It’s funny how he came off the field, everyone was cheering. It’s kind of foot-in-the-mouth right there but it’s good how he responded to that, too.”

Youkilis went on to explain that he and the team understand the frustration of the bad start but that it’s still early in the season.

“That’s one of the things that’s tough right now,” he said. “We’re starting to play a little bit better and we know it’s frustating for all the fans out there and we’re just as much frustrated, too. Be positive and good things will happen and that’s just the message about everyone. We just got to stay positive in here, outside the clubhouse, and good things will happen.”

Read More: Boston Red Sox, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kevin Youkilis, MLB

Closing Time: Red Sox 9, Blue Jays 1

04.18.11 at 1:56 pm ET
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On Sunday, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia offered quite a boast for a Red Sox team that had just managed to win its fourth game (out of 14) in 2011.

“We’€™ve got everything you possibly need. We’€™ve got speed, we’€™ve got power, we’€™ve got pitching. Once it all goes together, it’€™s scary,” he said. “Every single day, we’€™ve got to go out there and do the same thing. We haven’€™t proven anything. We can’€™t go out there and have one good game, one bad. We’€™ve got to be consistent, and that’€™s what we’€™re working on.”

The Sox took another very impressive step towards that goal on Patriots’ Day. With a game that commenced at a time of day when a team could almost be expected to look sloppy, the Sox were sterling in their 9-1 victory over the Blue Jays. And the person most responsible for one of the cleanest Sox wins of the year was unexpected: Daisuke Matsuzaka.

After one of his worst starts as a member of the Red Sox, Matsuzaka turned in one of his best. On the strength of a 91-93 mph fastball, a cutter with good late life and a slider that he could throw for strikes at will, Matsuzaka had a remarkably efficient outing, churning through seven shutout innings and allowing just one hit and one walk.

And so, the Sox head west for the start of a nine-game roadtrip armed with the confidence of three straight victories and three straight outstanding starts from Matsuzaka, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. The trio combined to allow the Blue Jays just two runs in 20 innings, a sterling 0.90 ERA. The offense, meanwhile, enjoyed an eruption, giving the Sox their most comprehensive win of the year.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: carl crawford, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie

Red Sox bring back Okajima, send down Doubront

04.18.11 at 12:27 pm ET
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When he was told at the end of spring training that he would open the year in Triple-A Pawtucket, the disappointment for Hideki Okajima was undeniable. In the span of four years, he had gone from Hero in the Shadows to All-Star, then key bullpen contributor, then struggling left-hander, then minor leaguer. Even though he knew that opening the year in the minors was a possibility after he signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Red Sox during the offseason, that made the reality he faced — coming off a 2010 season in which his struggles against right-handers deepened, and he had a 4.50 ERA — any easier to accept.

Nonetheless, Okajima took the news professionally.

“Instead of going and pouting or feeling sorry for himself, he threw the ball pretty well and got a lot of people out,” said Sox manager Terry Francona.

Okajima tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings in Pawtucket, allowing just two hits, walking none and striking out five. With the Sox having gone through early struggles with a pair of left-handed relievers — first with Dennys Reyes, who was designated for assignment one week into the season, then with Felix Doubront, whose spring training was limited by elbow stiffness and who looked unready to compete at the game’s highest level — the Sox made the move on Monday to bring back a known quantity.

Even Okajima confessed that he was surprised at how soon his return to the majors came. Okajima is rarely a demonstrative person in the clubhouse, but after arriving at Fenway Park around 8:30 a.m., he was beaming upon being reunited with his big league teammates.

“I knew that if I pitched the way I can and believed in myself, I would eventually get the call up. That’€™s how I spent my time down there,” said Okajima, who was pleased with a cutter that he was using with positive results against right-handers. “[But] I didn’€™t expect to be up this early, so I’€™m very happy, very grateful to Tito and the rest of the club.’€

The opportunity arose because the Sox felt that Doubront, 23, was better served to resume his build-up for the season in the minors while also providing the team depth in the starting rotation. Doubront’s results were spotty — he looked good in moments, as when he struck out Robinson Cano of the Yankees, but his command was inconsistent as he worked to build his velocity. On Sunday, Doubront (who pitched 2 2/3 innings in three games, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks) walked both of the left-handers he faced, never a positive indicator for a team’s only southpaw in the bullpen.

“The thinking was, when we called Doubront back up, we fully well knew he wasn’€™t in midseason form. Saying that, we love this kid,” said Francona. “[But] we’€™re carrying one lefty. [Doubront’s] not a guy we want to get up and down a lot. That’€™s not going to work. The other side of that is that we can go get him stretched out as a starter, obviously for some depth reasons. So, Oki was throwing the ball really well in Triple-A, so it seemed like the logical move to make.”

The rotation depth consideration was not to be overlooked. With Doubront, Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves all in the major leagues, the Sox ran the risk of getting caught in a situation where their three primary starting depth options were all either unavailable or not sufficiently stretched out to step into the rotation, leaving the Sox at risk, in Francona’s words, of “not being prepared if something happened.”

If Doubront is built up to log a starter’s innings, that concern could diminish. Meanwhile, Okajima offers the Sox a reassuring presence in the bullpen. The team hopes that he might bring stability to a role that has represented an early-season vulnerability for the club.

“We know when Oki’€™s going well,” said Francona, “he can be a solid, reliable major league pitcher.”

Read More: felix doubront, Hideki Okajima,

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Patriots’ Day Live Blog

04.18.11 at 11:11 am ET
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Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Live Blog

Patriots’ Day notes: J.D. Drew is atop the order

04.18.11 at 11:03 am ET
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Gut morgen! (Nothing says Patriots’ Day like a hearty German greeting.)

A bleary-eyed group of Red Sox players made their way into the clubhouse very, very early this morning. J.D. Drew might have had to rub his eyes a couple of times to verify that he was indeed the leadoff hitter against the Blue Jays and Ricky Romero. Drew has enjoyed tremendous success in his career against Romero (.450 average, .560 OBP in 26 plate appearances), and the Sox felt that his general approach at the plate — see a lot of pitches, don’t expand the strike zone — made him a good candidate to helm the top of the batting order, at least against Romero.

Carl Crawford, meanwhile, moves down to the seventh spot in the lineup. His average is now down to .127 for the season (second-worst in the majors), and he’s 2-for-14 (.143) in his career against Romero. Manager Terry Francona reiterated his sense that the Sox “are going to like Carl wherever he hits,” but that right now, in the interests of balancing matchups and structuring the lineup in a way that didn’t fill the entire bottom of the order with left-handed hitters. Francona also considered other alternatives, including Jed Lowrie, but felt that Drew was the most sensible option.

Drew has not put up good numbers in the leadoff spot in his career (.229 with a .336 OBP and .727 OPS), but Francona suggested that in some respects, those numbers miss the point about Drew, who has averaged 4.01 pitches per plate appearance in 346 career plate appearances from the leadoff spot. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: carl crawford, J.D Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie

For a day, he was worth his Salt

04.17.11 at 10:33 pm ET
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The Red Sox organization made their dedication to Jarrod Saltalamacchia as their catcher very clear this past offseason. By not re-signing free agent Victor Martinez and making clear that Jason Varitek was returning in a backup capacity, the team showed its willingness to bet on Saltalamacchia behind the plate.

The payoff had been limited to date. But in Sunday’s matinee against the Blue Jays, Saltalamacchia shined offensively as he produced his second multi-hit game of the year while driving in multiple runs for the first time this season.

After sitting on Saturday, the catcher capitalized on his return to the lineup going 2-for-4 with 3 RBI against the Blue Jays. He plated the first Sox run to tie the game, 1-1, in the second inning, and then with the Sox up 4-1 in the sixth, he delivered the key hit to blow the game open. With the bases loaded and two outs, Saltalamacchia jumped on a 2-2 slider from Jays starter Jesse Litsch and laced it into right field.

“Spread the game out,” Francona said of the hit. “That’€™s exactly what we needed to do. Instead of warming up [Jonathan Papelbon] for a third straight day, we go to [Dan Wheeler]. The game was a lot closer than that an inning before.

While he is saddled with a .182 average and .462 OPS, Saltalamacchia suggested that Sunday gave him a performance upon which he could build.

“I tried to slow it down a little bit today,” Saltalamacchia said his approach. “Not jumping too much, not trying to crush the ball every time, just staying within myself.” Read the rest of this entry »

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No April Fool’s start: Lester pleased with strong first month

04.17.11 at 6:39 pm ET
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Jon Lester‘s history of April blahs was well documented. He entered this season with a 3-6 record and 4.76 ERA in 20 career starts in March and April. His slow starts out of the gate both undermined potential Cy Young candidacies and left the pitcher befuddled.

This year, he has not had to puzzle through such concerns. Since somewhat puzzling first start of the year (a 5 1/3 inning outing against the Rangers in which Lester failed to get a single strikeout), Lester has been true to form as one of the elite pitchers in the game.

On Sunday, that continued in Lester’s first victory of the year, on a day when the Red Sox beat the Blue Jays, 8-1, to achieve their first two-game winning streak of the season. He logged six-plus innings and allowed just one run on six hits, punching out five. In his last three starts, Lester now has a 1.80 ERA in 20 innings, during which he’s allowed 16 hits and struck out 22 in 20 innings.

This was not, however, vintage Lester. The 27-year-old had to work for his results, on a day when his command was slightly off, and when his feel for different pitches came and went at different times.

But in that respect, it was a marker of what a good pitcher Lester is. Because he has so many weapons on the mound — fastball, two-seamer, cutter, curve, changeup — he can shut down opposing lineups even on days when he doesn’t have his best stuff.

There were stretches of the game when he could rely on a four-seam fastball that produced not only four swings and misses but also multiple shattered bats (one of which came perilously close to Lester’s face). There were other stretches later in the outing when his cutter became a tremendous weapon, eliciting four swings and misses as well. And, he stunned Adam Lind into a strikeout at one point by dropping a rare left-on-left changeup to Toronto’s first baseman.

“I don’€™t think he commanded like he can, but he’€™s got all his pitches. He’€™s always got somewhere to go,” said manager Terry Francona. “It was probably at times a little hard. … [But] he’€™s got a lot of ways to get you out.” Read the rest of this entry »

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