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Red Sox vs. Royals Match-Up, 9/21/09

09.21.09 at 9:22 am ET
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It wasn’t too long ago when Tim Wakefield (11-4, 4.22) was selected to his first All-Star game after recording eleven first half wins. Yet, to Wakefield’s dismay, leg and lower back problems sidelined him for the majority of the second half of the season. Now, after battling his ailments, Wakefield returns to the mound to make his first start since September 5 to take on the underachieving Kansas City Royals (61-88).

Fresh off sweeping the AL East basement-dwelling Baltimore Orioles this past weekend, the Boston Red Sox (89-59) continue their road trip when they travel to Kauffman Stadium for a four-game set beginning tonight. Having won 11 out of their last 13 contests, including a 9-3 victory yesterday at Camden Yards, the Red Sox have built their AL Wild Card lead to eight games over the Texas Rangers and find themselves closing the division gap as they sit five games behind the New York Yankees in the division.

Wakefield, in only his third start since the All-Star game, squares off against the offensively-challenged Royals as he attempts to regain his early season form with the playoffs looming in the distance. In his two starts since coming off the DL, Wakefield is 0-1 with a 3.46 ERA.

Though he has not pitched in over two weeks, the 43-year-old knuckleballer has enjoyed success against Kansas City especially at Kauffman where he is 7-4 with a 3.30 ERA in 13 appearances. Overall, Wakefield has recorded eleven wins and suffered only six losses in 25 games (18 starts) opposing the Royals.

For Kansas City, the Royal call upon left-handed pitcher Lenny DiNardo (0-1, 5.23 ERA) to try to end the Sox hot streak. DiNardo, a former Red Sox himself, makes only his third start of the season after spending the year in the minors.

A Rule 5 draft pick, DiNardo was part of the Red Sox 2004 World Series run before he was claimed off waivers prior to the 2007 season by the Oakland Athletics. Since being let go, DiNardo has faced the Sox in five appearances where he owns a 1-1 record and a 3.60 ERA.

For the Sox, catcher Victor Martinez enters the game looking to add to his career best 19-game hit streak while outfielder Jason Bay attempts to surpass his career high 35 single-season home runs which he tied in yesterday’s triumph over the Orioles. In the win, the Sox also bumped their road record to 37-37 and hope to climb past the .500 mark with a victory in tonight’s match-up.

Here is how the two pitchers have fared against the opposing team’s batters:

Tim Wakefield vs. Royals’ batters

Miguel Olivo (12 career plate appearances) .273 AVG/.333 OBP/.636 SLG, 1 home run, 5 strikeouts

Mark Teahen (11) .273/.273/.273, 3 strikeouts

Yuniesky Betancourt (10) .400/.400/.800, 1 home run

John Buck (10) .222/.300/.444, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts

David DeJesus (9) 1-for-9, 1 strikeout

Billy Butler (5) 2-for-5, 1 strikeout

Alex Gordon (5) 3-for-5

Willie Bloomquist (3) 2-for-2, 1 walk

Mike Jacobs (3) 1-for-3, 1 strikeout

Mitch Maier (2) 0-for-2

Lenny DiNardo vs. Red Sox batters

Victor Martinez (10 career plate appearances) 2-for10, 2 strikeouts

Dustin Pedroia (8) .200/.429/.200, 2 walks

Jason Varitek (8) .600/.750/.800, 3 walks, 1 strikeout

Kevin Youkilis (7) .167/.286/.667, 1 home run, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Joey Gathright (6) .667/.667/.667

Mike Lowell (6) 0-for-5, 1 walk

David Ortiz (6) .200/.333/.200, 1 walk

J.D. Drew (4) 1-for-3, 1 walk

Jason Bay (3) 0-for-3, 1 strikeout

Jacoby Ellsbury (3) 1-for-2

Nick Green (3) 0-for-3, 1 strikeout

Jed Lowrie (2) 1-for-2

Rocco Baldelli (1) 0-for-1, 1 strikeout

Read More: lenny dinardo, Tim Wakefield,

Ortiz on catching the Yankees: ‘Why not?’

09.20.09 at 6:53 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — With the Red Sox‘ 9-3 win over the Orioles on Sunday, the Sox find themselves eight games ahead of the Texas Rangers in the wild card race and five games (after the Yankees lost to the Mariners) behind New York in the race for first place in the American League East.

So, with four games against the struggling Royals staring the Red Sox in the face, and then a crack at three games with the Yanks in New York over the weekend, could the Sox actually catch NY by regular season’s end? David Ortiz thinks so.

“Why not?” said the Red Sox slugger after his team’s sweep of the Orioles.

The obstacles keep on coming for the Yankees, who leave Seattle to play the Angels in Anaheim for three games before returning home for the showdown with the Red Sox. Following the series with Boston, New York gets its crack at Kansas City, for three in the Bronx, before closing out the regular season with a three-game set in St. Petersburg against the Rays.

The Red Sox, who have now won 11 of 13, close out their regular season with three games against Toronto and four vs. the Indians, all at Fenway Park.

Asked if he thought the Sox were playing their best baseball of the season, Ortiz simply said, “Look at the numbers, they will tell you.”

In the last two weeks, the Red Sox have scored more runs than any other team in baseball other than the Royals (Who knew?), with the second-best team batting average (.315, behind the Yankees’ .325), and the top slugging percentage (.502) and on-base percentage (.384).

During that span, Red Sox pitchers have compiled a 2.53 ERA (second-best in the majors).

Oh, and by the way, after Sunday’s rout, the Red Sox finish this season 16-2 against the Orioles, having scored 130 runs to Baltimore’s 68.

Green headed back to Boston for tests

09.20.09 at 6:14 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — Nick Green tried it again Sunday. It still didn’t take.

Much like many of the pregames over the last week, Green picked up a bat, attempted to get down in his stance, and almost fell over. The “dead” right leg he has experienced since waking up last Monday still isn’t well enough to play, and because of it Green is heading back to Boston Monday to have it checked out.

“It’s tough because I have no idea,” the infielder told WEEI.com. “I feel better every day, but I still don’t know why it’s doing what it’s doing. Hopefully I’ll know more tomorrow.”

The initial diagnosis of Green’s ailment was simply fatigue, but with the improvement still not significant to actually participate in a game, both the player and the team thought it was time to attempt to find a solution to the problem.

“It feels better every game, but baseball activities are different than just walking around,” he said. “But it’s been better walking. I don’t know what they’re going to say is wrong with it, but it shouldn’t be anything serious because otherwise I would be hurting.”

Green looks back at his at-bat on Sept. 16, in which he drew a bases-loaded walk on a 3-2 pitch to tie the game with two outs in the ninth inning, with amazement. Considering the leg has improved since that moment against the Angels ‘€” yet he still can’t stay in a stance for more than a few seconds ‘€” the fact that he could stand up, never mind swing (and even foul balls off) is eye-opening.

“Everybody thought I had twisted my ankle when I got to first, but I just couldn’t even stand up because of my leg,” Green said. “There was no way I could have gotten a hit.”

With the Red Sox‘ magic number now at 6 after Sunday’s 9-3 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards, Green knows it’s a race against the clock to get his health back, both because there will most likely at-bats to be had with the regulars garnering rest, and there will decisions regarding playoff rosters looming.

“I don’t want to miss any games, but if I could play I would play,” Green said. “I can’t squat down without falling down. Hopefully it won’t be too long. I want get back.”

Start kept Daisuke going in the right direction

09.20.09 at 6:07 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — It wasn’t as good as last time, but it was good enough.

Daisuke Matsuzaka went 5-1/3 innings, giving up three runs on eight hits while striking out five, walking one, and throwing 110 pitches. He did allow a two-run homer to Luke Scott in the fourth inning, but, all in all, the performance was not only good enough to help the Red Sox to a 9-3 win, at Camden Yards, but keep some optimism in the pitcher’s corner.

“I thought he did a pretty good job of attacking the zone. His slider, I think he threw some good ones, some that were a little bit inconsistent. I think that’s coming with the arm strength the repetition in games and the feel,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “I thought he had pretty good life. Getting the lead early certainly doesn’t hurt. He ran his pitch count up pretty good, but it also got him up to a point … he’s out there pitching, not with fatigue, but pitching not just on two innings and it’s a rehab stint, but he’s competing and he’s making pitches when he’s out there for a while, which is also good.”

Matsuzaka also shared Francona’s “some good, some bad” analysis of the hurler’s second outing since coming off the 60-day disabled list.

“There were some hits there that I wasn’€™t too happy to see, but more than anything I’€™m glad that we got the win today,” Matsuzaka said through translator Masa Hoshino. “Today was not as good as my last start, but I also feel that gradually, my stuff is getting better. I also think that the other good sign today is that I was able to get over 100 pitches.”

Matsuzaka threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of his 24 batters, including nine of the initial 11 hitters he faced.

“It was fairly easy to get ahead, but I also feel that after I got ahead in the count maybe my pitches weren’€™t as tight as they needed to be,” said Matsuzaka, who will next pitch at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. “I’€™m a fly ball pitcher to begin with, but I think the fact that there were a lot of foul balls was actually a good sign; if my stuff wasn’€™t there, a lot of those balls would have kept fair [instead of being fouled off].”

Matsuzaka’s day was made somewhat more comfortable by the fact his team jumped all over Baltimore with three runs in the first inning, one in the second, two in the third, and one more in the fourth for an early 7-0 lead.

“Often when we get an early lead I’€™m told to really go after their hitters,” the Red Sox starter said. ‘€œWith the lead that we had today, I wanted to go deeper into the game. But I think for me, I can pitch better when the score is a little bit tighter.’€

“For me, my team getting me a lot of runs doesn’€™t necessarily allow me to relax.”

There was also one thing Matsuzaka wanted to make clear about what awaits: He isn’t settling for just what has been delivered in the past two starts.

Saito has lived under the radar

09.19.09 at 11:25 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — In his appearance Wednesday against the Angels, Takashi Saito pitched one inning, and for the 12th straight outing didn’t allow an earned run. In the process, the reliever made $500,00o as a bonus for appearing in 50 games this season. Few took note.

Saturday night, Saito completed yet another seemingly innocuous frame, stretching his streak of appearances without an earned run to 13 games, while lowering his ERA to 2.49. In an 11-5 white-washing of the Orioles, at Camden Yards. It seemed of little consequence.

Yet, as his latest inning showcased in the Sox’ 11-5 win over the Angels, Saito has established himself as one of the organization’s best offseason acquisitions.

The entire story of Saito’s emergence into the heart and soul of the Red Sox‘ bullpen — which has included a .179 batting average against left-handers — is made even more intriguing by the fact that back when he inked his deal with the Sox there were doubts whether or not his injured right elbow would survive another major league season.

Saito chose to enact a procedure which injected plasma into his injured elbow to push along the healing the process instead of getting Tommy John Surgery, an option many suggested he take.

“The decision really came down to a choice between literally not being able to throw for a year, and at this point in my career, sacrificing one year and trying to make it back, as opposed to the route I took which was to throw right away, with the rehab, of course,” said Saito through translator Masa Hoshino. “So that was the choice I was faced with at the time and it was really hard to say which was right choice, but looking back at it now, with the fact I have been able to pitch, it wasn’t necessarily a bad decision.

“Even if surgery had gone well and rehab had gone well, I would still be a 39-year-old pitcher who just had Tommy John surgery in the eyes of the teams.”

As the season has progressed Saito has put the Red Sox’ brass mind increasingly at ease, getting to the point where back-to-back appearances (which has happened four times this year) has become a viable option. Saito has also shown the ability to serve in a variety of roles without nary a hiccup, having pitched in the sixth inning (3 times), seventh (10), eighth (21), and ninth and beyond (22) all with fairly comparable success.

“I think I have recovered well,” Saito said. “I think the fact I have been able to pitch healthy throughout this whole season really proves something. It’s hard to say exactly how things will play out, but if I’m able to pitch at this healthy level I’ll be able to make it through to the end of the season.”

Wagner: ‘Stuff-wise, I haven’t played with anybody as good as Jon’

09.19.09 at 9:34 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — In between watching the action unfold in the Virginia Tech-Nebraska football game, Saturday afternoon in the visitors clubhouse at Camden Yards, Billy Wagner took the time to offer some high praise for the Red Sox‘ starter, Jon Lester.

“Stuff-wise I haven’t played with anybody as good as Jon. Just his stuff. Randy had a height advantage, plus he threw really hard and had the fastest slider. But, stuff-wise, I’ll take Jonny,” said Wagner, referencing his former Houston Astros teammate Randy Johnson. “He’s got a plus-fastball, with a nasty two-seamer, he’s got a cutter, a slider, he’s got a changeup. He’s got so many weapons to choose from.”

That’s the BEST stuff. Better than Johnson. Better than the pitcher Wagner just left behind in New York, Johan Santana

“It’s not a not knock on Johan or Randy. [Lester] could go out today and get crushed, but that wouldn’t change my opinion of how he goes out there competes and his stuff,” Wagner said. “His stuff is probably the best I’ve seen in the league. I’ve watched Halladay and other guys… as far as stuff. How does he get hit? How does he give up a run? Josh and Buch are the same way. You just say, ‘How do they ever get hit?'”

Lester didn’t exactly get ‘crushed’, but Saturday night certainly wasn’t the kind of shining example of Wagner’s analysis. The Sox lefty first saw his scoreless streak end at 17 innings thanks to a first-inning run by the O’s, going on to allow single runs in three of his first four innings.

He would finish having allowed three runs on 10 hits over six innings, throwing 103 pitches. It was the first time since May 9 that Lester surrendered that many hits. Still, despite somewhat bumpy start, the outing did nothing to dissuade anybody’s opinion heading into the season’s finale few weeks.

All you have to know is that Lester still hasn’t had a start in which he has allowed as many as four runs since July 30. And that four-run outing remains the most offensive totaled against him dating back to May 31.

“I just think watching his stuff, how well he can locate his stuff, when he has to step on the gas pedal he can,” Wagner said. “He just has a lot of weapons to choose from. If one or two aren’t working he has two others that he can still control a game with. It’s always easy to say when guys are rolling, but even when he hasn’t been he has seemed to make that tough pitch.”

Could Martinez catch Beckett in the postseason?

09.19.09 at 9:15 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — The question was posed to Red Sox manager Terry Francona prior to his team’s game with the Orioles, Saturday night at Camden Yards: Will Josh Beckett throw to Victor Martinez at some point before the end of the regular season in preparation for a potential connection during the postseason?

“You know, I don’t know. It’s not a bad question,” Francona said. “I don’t know.  That’s the answer. I just don’t know. It’s a legitimate question. To be honest with you, I know the numbers with ‘Tek are phenomenal and I believe in that. I also think that the night that Victor caught Beckett [in Toronto] was a crazy night.”

“I just, again, I’m very aware that when Victor catches, our lineup is more potent. Also, our goal is to win that game. That’s where we probably have to sit down at some point and think about … I just don’t know the answer. I certainly don’t think it’s a bad question. I just don’t know the answer.”

Beckett (who had the day off from throwing and will execute his bullpen session Sunday thanks to an extra day of rest) had a similar response when addressing the subject.

“It it will work itself out,” he noted.

The entire subject — and subsequent reaction — surfaced the possibility that Martinez might be linked up with Beckett in a postseason game, after all. For some time it was believed that Varitek was cemented as the ace’s battery-mate, yet with the Red Sox success using the lineup with Martinez at catcher, a different approach may now be considered.

Martinez and Beckett have worked together just one time this season, the seven-run outing, Aug. 18 in Toronto in which the Sox’ starter didn’t find out Varitek was forced to the bench with a bad neck until two hours before first pitch. He has also thrown to Kottaras three times this year, allowing an opponents batting average of .400.

Speaking on the subject a few weeks ago, Beckett didn’t downplay the importance of Varitek, but also didn’t sound like a pitcher who would flounder if the connection was broken up.

‘€œI’€™ll throw to whomever they put back there,’€ said the Red Sox starter. ‘€œWe’€™ve just got to figure things out. We’€™re adults. We’€™re grown-ups. We have to figure (expletive) like that out. You can’€™t just go about your life hoping things work out because if you’€™re going about your life hoping things are going to turn out they’€™re (expletive) not.”

Beckett continued…

‘€œIt matters. Don’€™t get me wrong. It matters,’€ he said of working with a new catcher. ‘€œJason Varitek is very special to me because we end up getting in a rhythm very, very quickly. But the bottom line is that it’€™s your fault. If you can’€™t execute a pitch and you give up a hard hit ball it’€™s your fault. Anybody who tells you different is probably a (wimp).

‘€œFor me the thing is that I throw so many pitches. For somebody new it’€™s very difficult to remember everything I throw because I throw everything to both sides of the plate. I might want that pitch, but they might set up to the wrong spot, which, like I said, is still my fault. I need to shake until I get what I want.’€

Beckett fully understands the challenges that come with truly developing the kind of relationship he has grown into with Varitek. When the two first started working together in 2006, it took three months into the season before the pitcher finally broached the subject of wanting to throw his change-up more, as he done while with the Florida Marlins.

‘€œIt’€™s weird because they’€™re trying to figure you out and you’€™re trying to figure them out,” he said. “Neither of you want to step on each other’€™s toes. It takes time.’€

The secret to Gonzo’s success

09.19.09 at 3:22 am ET
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BALTIMORE — Did you know that since Sept. 1 Alex Gonzalez (.280) has a better batting average than such offensive shortstops as Ben Zobrist, Jimmy Rollins, Marco Scutaro, Jhonny Peralta, and Stephen Drew? He is also just one batting average point and one slugging percentage point behind Miguel Tejada during the span.

Better yet, starting at Aug. 24, Gonzalez has the best batting average of any American League shortstop (.329).

Friday night, there was just the one hit from Gonzalez — an opposite field single which saw the No. 9 hitter line a slider sharply into left-center field. But what even that one hit did was continue to offer a reminder as to how much the Red Sox‘ shortstop has exceeded expectations.

With the Red Sox Gonzalez is now hitting .290. So how does a player who came with so few offensive expectations find his way so suddenly? Just a little patience, that’s all.

“We talked when he got over here that obviously breaking balls had been an issue at times,” said Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan. “Good breaking ball hitters let the ball come to them. So we just tried to instill in him to let the ball travel. Let it get to you. As soon as you go out and get it, you’re going to have issues. Just back the ball up a little bit. You don’t have to be out in front. If you’re late on a heater you can line it to right. 

“When he gets in trouble is when he wants to go out and get the ball. Nobody is going to hit a breaking ball if you’re way out in front. So rather than cheating on the fastball have confidence that you’re going to be able to stay short to that pitch. Now he works on it. We just talk about letting the ball travel just a little more. That’s the difference between hitting a line-drive to right -center on a breaking ball, or rolling over and hitting a grounder to third.”

Injury updates after Sox’ win

09.18.09 at 11:09 pm ET
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Jason Bay could see it coming.

“My daughter has been sick for five days at home so it was just a matter of time,” Bay said.

The flu which had lingered with his daughter finally caught up to Bay, forcing the Sox’ left fielder from the game in the fourth inning of the Red Sox‘ 3-1 win over the Orioles, at Camden Yards. 

“I didn’t get a really good sleep last night and I woke up and it was kind of touch and go the rest of the way,” said Bay, who was replaced by Josh Reddick. “I just tried to ride it out. I haven’t been able to eat much. If I can just get something to eat I’ll be alright. Today I came in feeling like I was getting sick for a bit, I didn’t take (batting practice) and went out into the game. It was kind of like, ‘Hey, let me know how you’re feeling and halfway through I just kind of ran out of steam.”

Another casualty for the Sox was center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who tweaked his groin muscle while stealing his 62nd base of the season, in the first inning. (As a quick aside, Ellsbury has identified the Camden Yards infield as perhaps the best natural playing surface to run on, as his 17 stolen bases — his most in any park other than Fenway — would suggest.)

Red Sox manager Terry Francona said that it will depend on how Ellsbury feels when he wakes up Saturday morning as to whether the leadoff hitter will play or not, but talking after the game the player didn’t seem overly concerned.

“Hopefully it’s nothing that keeps me out,” said Ellsbury, who had two more hits to raise his average to .302. “I think it should be fine, but, yeah, I just tweaked it in that first inning stealing… I’m pretty sure I’ll play but it’s one of those things that you never know if it’s going to tighten up tonight. But I’m pretty confident I’ll play tomorrow.”

Ellsbury has been remarkably consistent since the end of July, with Friday night offering another example. On Aug. 1 he was hitting .303, and since then the outfielder hasn’t seen his average drop below .294, with it hanging at .299 or higher throughout his last 10 games.

Ellsbury has also become a proficient two-strike hitter, totaling more two-strike hits than any player in the major leagues (73). Last year he had just 43 two-strike hits in 251 at-bats, while this time around he has managed his total in 265.

One player who seemed to make progress in fight back from injury was Kevin Youkilis, who went 0-for-4 but show no signs of the back spasms that sidelined him throughout the Angels series causing any sort of problems. His improved health was evidenced in the seventh inning when he beat out a potential 4-6-3 double play with inspired hustle down the line.

“I feel pretty good, just little things here and there,” Youkilis said. “I felt good out there and I’m glad to be back playing. I felt good. I felt probably good enough where I could have played yesterday but they wanted to hold me back another day so I was playing at a higher level today.”

Wakefield still on target for Monday

09.18.09 at 6:27 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — Tim Wakefield’s path to another start, scheduled for Monday in Kansas City, remained on target after the pitcher threw 40 pitches without incident in a bullpen session prior to Friday night’s Red Sox game against the Orioles, at Camden Yards. 

When asked if he was still all set for a Monday start, Wakefield simply said, “In my mind, yes.”

“He did pretty well,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Wakefield’s side sesson. “I think he felt some improvement. We’ll check him tomorrow and do some strength testing with the idea that he’ll pitch on Monday.”

If for some reason Wakefield isn’t ready to go against the Royals, one option to replace him in that start won’t be Josh Beckett, who will get an extra day of rest this week and will pitch on Wednesday with Paul Byrd slated to appear on Tuesday.

“We wanted to give Beckett an extra day,” Francona said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations, especially with he and Lester because they’ve carried a big load. When we all feel like it’s in their best interest we try and do it.”

Beckett and Lester are sixth and seventh, respectively, in the American League for total number of pitches thrown. Beckett has thrown 3,166, while Lester stand at 3,136.

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