|10.01.09 at 11:14 pm ET|
Jon Lester supplied a heavy dose of optimism for the Red Sox heading into the post-season thanks to his outing in the Red Sox’ 3-0 win over Cleveland, Thursday night at Fenway Park.
The lefty, who was coming off the frightening moment in Yankee Stadium last Friday when Melky Cabrera’s line-drive ricocheted off of Lester’s right knee/quad, threw 6 1/3 shutout innings, allowing just two hits while striking out seven, walking one and throwing 84 pitches.
“There were no issues with the knee,” said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. “We wanted to keep in that pitch range somewhere, and the fact he got into the seventh inning was a plus. Really from the third inning on he was much more consistent in the bottom of the zone. He did a heck of a job.”
Lester struggled with getting the ball down in the zone in the first inning, allowing healthy fly balls to the first three Indians batters of the game. But as the outing progressed the pitcher who had dominated for much of this season emerged, facing the minimum number of batters through the first 5 1/3 innings.
“After my side day, all the questions that were out there about my knee I really didn’t have anymore,” Lester said. “I treated it like a normal start just like any of the 32 I’ve had all season.
“I think I got into a better rhythm, a better flow of the game. Sometimes when you go out there early on you try to do too much to overthrow. You’re not in sync. It took me a couple of innings to find that rhythm and once I did I felt a better consistency as far as all my pitches and being down in the zone and repeating throughout.”
Other than perhaps his previous start, against the Yankees, Lester’s dominance has been definitive. In his last 13 starts the pitcher went 7-1 with a 2.73 ERA, and is 12-3 with a 2.31 ERA in his previous 22 starts dating all the way back to May 31.
He will finish the regular season with a 15-8 mark and a 3.41 ERA, with a 7-3 record and 2.86 ERA at Fenway. By going over 200 innigns (203 1/3), Lester and Josh Beckett become the first lefty/righty tandem of Red Sox teammates to each toss 200 innings since Frank Viola (238 innings) and Roger Clemens (246 2/3) did it in 1992.
Lester also is one of just six left-handers in the last 20 seasons to record at least 15 wins with 200 innings and 200 strikeouts, joining Johan Santana (4 times), Randy Johnson (4), C.C. Sabathia (1), Barry Zito (1), and Chuck Finley (1).
“It really doesn’t mean anything unless we win a World Series,” Lester said. “The season was good. I’m happy with how I came back at the beginning of the season and got on a little bit of a role and threw the ball better. But here, with this organization, our seasons are judged by what we do in the post-season, not what we do in the regular season. Hopefully we can get on a roll and play good baseball. We’ve got a tough opponent coming up and hopefully we can go forward.”
|10.01.09 at 4:19 pm ET|
Red Sox infielder Nick Green took ground balls with first base coach Tim Bogar prior to Thursday night’s game against the Indians, at Fenway Park, and came away still frustrated that his “dead” right leg hadn’t responded like he had hoped.
Green, whose leg problem was thought to be caused by a slipped disc in his back, said his right leg gave out a few times while taking grounders. He followed up the fielding exercises with a round of batting practice, which he also had taken Wednesday.
“It’s not where I want it to be,” Green said. “It’s getting better, but it’s still frustrating because it’s not where I want it to be.
“It doesn’t hurt, but it just doesn’t cooperate. It just doesn’t get up like it should. It wears out and is week. It’s had to describe because it doesn’t hurt. The more stuff I do, the more tired it gets.”
Green’s anxiety is heightened by the fact that time is ticking toward when the team has to make a decision on post-season rosters and there is nothing the infielder can do to quicken the healing process.
“It’s not where I want it to be, by any stretch of the imagination. We’ll see how it is tomorrow. I can’t do anything to speed it up and that’s why it’s so frustrating because I can’t do anything to make it better more than what I’m doing.
“I get disappointed because I want it to be one way and it doesn’t react the way I want it to react. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
In other pre-game news, Tim Wakefield, who gave up five runs on seven hits over three innings Wednesday night, said that he was feeling the physical toll of throwing 76 pitches and if he wasn’t going to make the post-season option the pitcher would most likely immediately have surgery on his herniated disc.
J.D. Drew was also getting the night off to rest his sore shoulder. Joey Gathright will start in right field, marking just the third time he has played the position in the major leagues.
|10.01.09 at 2:37 pm ET|
The right-hander had reported to spring training from the World Baseball Classic in poor condition, and his performance on the mound showed it. The velocity and life on his pitches — a signature of his at-times unhittable first two seasons in the majors — was nowhere in evidence.
The Red Sox had already tried putting Daisuke Matsuzaka on the disabled list for five weeks, giving him five weeks to strengthen his shoulder and refuel his tank from mid-April until late-May after he threw just one inning and allowed five runs in his second start of the year. That didn’t work.
He had come back, and still his overall conditioning was getting in the way of sustainable success. He went 1-4 with a 7.22 ERA. With each outing, he was more vulnerable, and it became clear that he would be of little use to the Sox in his current state.
And so, the team banished the pitcher to Fort Myers to work on his conditioning, to build the foundation that he had failed to achieve during the offseason and while training for the World Baseball Classic. The priority was to make the two-time WBC MVP a better, stronger pitcher for the final three years of his contract. In 2009, the Sox realized, the pitcher might or might not be able to offer anything.
“When we sent him down to do that we thought, ‘Well, there’s a chance he can come back and help us in September, but there’s also significant consideration for next year and the future and this was the right thing to do to get back on track,'” said Epstein. “He was issued a unique challenge because he wasn’t where we needed him to be. It’s not usual for a pitcher, let alone one of his caliber, to have to go down to the spring training facility and do sprints at 6 o’clock in the morning and recondition himself and long toss with a bunch of 17-year-olds and get himself back in the position where he can be back with the major-league team.”
But Matsuzaka did just that, in not just adequate but instead impressive fashion. The pitcher, whose body fat percentage had shot up by a good seven percentage points when he showed up for spring training this year, made himself lean and strong. His shoulder gained tremendous strength (as evidenced by some epic long-toss sessions), something that became possible because of the overall foundation that he had built.
And so, the returns from three September starts have exceeded anything that the team could have reasonably expected. In his outings, he is 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 18.1 innings. He is sustaining the velocity and life on his pitches over the course of his outings, and has positioned himself to contribute not just in the regular season but also, likely, the playoffs.
“It’s still early yet. He’s still got some games to pitch, but the early returns are good,” said Epstein. “The fact that he worked so hard and dedicated himself so fully to the endeavor put him in a position to actually impact the club this year and it turns out we really needed him so he deserves a lot of credit there.”
On Friday, Matsuzaka makes his final regular-season start against the Indians. At one point, the notion of a “final regular-season start” also seemed destined to represent the last time that Matsuzaka would pitch for the Sox in 2009. No longer. Improbably, Matsuzaka — a 33-game winner in his first two big-league seasons who seemed unlikely to win as many as three games in ’09 — represents a key member of the Sox’ October hopes.
|10.01.09 at 10:18 am ET|
For Tim Wakefield, the likely end of the 2009 season was almost difficult to watch. The knuckleballer, who was enjoying one of the finest seasons of his career and earned a long-deserved note of national recognition thanks to his All-Star nod, endured a second half endured a tremendously challenging second half.
In his start against the Jays, his weakened left leg ‘ which Wakefield estimated to have roughly 60 percent of the strength of his right ‘ simply didn’t permit him to stay on the mound. Wakefield allowed five runs in just three innings, the latest in a series of starts with progressively worse line scores since the bulging disc in his back started pressing on the sciatic nerve:
Aug. 26: 7IP, 6H, 1R, 1ER, 1 BB, 3K
Sept. 5: 6IP, 6H, 4R, 4ER, 3 BB, 4K
Sept. 21: 5IP, 5H, 5R, 4ER, 7BB, 2K
Sept. 30: 3IP, 7H, 5R, 5ER, 2BB, 2K
At one point, in the second inning, the Jays dropped a sacrifice bunt. Wakefield tried to field it, but pulled up lame. From there, his physical struggles became more acute.
‘It was tough. I think we all saw on the bunt, trying to reverse direction, you can see how much it’s hurting him or limiting him,’ said Francona. ‘I thought after that play he was dragging a little bit in his delivery. He’d thrown a lot of pitches. He wanted to stay in and pitch, which I respect a lot. I didn’t think that was in his best interest.’
Wakefield said afterwards that because of the weakness in his leg, he fatigues quickly. He refused to use that as an excuse, however, insisting that no matter his physical state, he is responsible for executing pitches. Moreover, the pitcher made no apologies for his presence on a mound.
‘I don’t want to give up on the team. Regardless of if I’m 60 percent or whatever, I feel like I’m needed. The staff has made it clear that I’m needed,’ Wakefield said. ‘I’m going to go out there at 40 percent if I have to. That’s just the type of player that I am.’
Indeed, that has been one of the significant lessons of Wakefield’s 2009 season. The pitcher has spent more than two months doing everything in his power to pitch through immense pain. He was a key contributor in the first half ‘ and indeed, without his 11-3 start at a time when the rest of the rotation was in shambles, the Sox might not be enjoying their postseason berth ‘ and a study in grit.
‘You can tell he’s just not right,’ said catcher George Kottaras, who worked with Wakefield in all of his first-half starts. ‘If his delivery is not right, then the action on the ball is not going to be there. When he’s healthy, he can throw against his front side. His leg isn’t strong enough.
‘He’s putting out a great effort to try to compete. It’s not easy to go out there. He’s trying to do his best,’ he continued. ‘At the same time, you’re trying to compare him to when he’s healthy. He’s not 100 percent right now. He’s battling and he’s trying to do his best for the team to win.’
Because he cannot field his position, it is difficult to imagine Wakefield pitching against the havoc-wreaking Angels. Moreover, the questions about his leg strength make it difficult to envision him in a postseason role. He may not be able to take the innings load of a starter. Yet given that he has needed at least eight days between starts, it would be nearly impossible to imagine him either warming up on short notice or bouncing back to become available as a reliever multiple times in a series.
Given that he was arguably the team’s steadiest presence for the first few months of the season, the development is no doubt disappointing to all around the Sox. Nonetheless, the 43-year-old insists that he will accept any role in the postseason ‘ whether on or off the roster ‘ without bitterness.
‘I don’t make those decisions. Those decisions will come down in the next couple days,’ said Wakefield. ‘If I’m on the team, great, I’ll give them everything that I have whether it’s in relief or in a start. If I’m not, then I’ll be the biggest cheerleader in the dugout.’
The mere fact that Wakefield is pushing to make himself available to his team is observed with universal admiration in the Sox clubhouse.
‘As a teammate, you look back and say, ‘If it weren’t for a guy like him, we wouldn’t be in a situation like we are today,’’ said reliever Billy Wagner. ‘A guy like him, I think you respect him more for what he’s trying to do.’
|10.01.09 at 10:18 am ET|
The most recent pitch Jon Lester threw was turned around by Yankee Melky Cabrera and lined directly into the left-hander’s right knee. Now, six losses and an AL wild card berth later, the Red Sox welcome the return of Lester to the mound to square off in the first of a four-game set against the Cleveland Indians.
After being swept for a second straight series, culminating with a three-hit shutout by Toronto’s Roy Halladay in a 12-0 pounding, the Red Sox (91-67) look to end the regular season on a high note as they open their final series tonight at Fenway against the Indians (65-93).
David Ortiz and Alex Gonzalez were the only regulars manager Terry Francona inserted into the lineup last night, as the Sox lost for the eighth time in 10 games. Sox starting pitchers have not earned a win since Clay Buchholz won last Thursday in Kansas City.
Nearly unbeatable since the All-Star break, Lester (14-8, 3.52) was batted around last Friday in the Bronx for his first loss since July 19. Before limping off the field in the third inning against the Yankees, Lester was shelled. His final line: five runs on eight hits and three walks in the 9-5 defeat.
Guaranteeing that he would not miss his turn in the rotation, Lester prepares for his final regular-season outing tonight. In his five previous starts vs. the Indians, the left-hander has yet to lose a decision, going 2-0 with a 4.76 ERA. In his lone start this year opposing Cleveland, Lester scattered five runs in six innings on seven hits and three walks, ultimately winding up with a no-decision.
One day after firing manger Eric Wedge, the Indians send rookie Carlos Carrasco to make only the fifth start of his career. Still searching for his first major league win, Carrasco has struggled in his time in the majors with an 0-3 record and a hefty 9.00 ERA.
Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Phillies in 2003, Carrasco was part of the deal that sent 2008 AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee to Philadelphia on July 29. After compiling a 5-1 record with a 3.19 ERA in Triple A this year, Carrasco was recalled from Columbus on Sept. 1 to make his major league debut against the Tigers. Lasting only three innings, the 22-year-old yielded six runs on nine hits, three of which were home runs.
Looking to audition for a spot as a starter next season, Carrasco takes on the Red Sox for the first time in his career, in only his second road start. Just a half-game ahead of the Royals in the AL Central, the Indians will try to avoid finishing their disappointing season in the basement as they hand the ball over to the rookie.
Jon Lester vs. Indians batters
Jhonny Peralta (15 career plate appearances) .154 AVG, .267 OBP, .152 SLG, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts
Grady Sizemore (15) .182, .400, .636, 1 home run, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts
Travis Hafner (11) .300, .273, .300, 1 strikeout
Kelly Shoppach (9) .429, .556, 1.000, 1 home run, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts
Asdrubal Cabrera (6) .333, .500, .333, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts
Jamey Carroll (3) 1-for-3
Shin-Soo Choo (3) 0-for-2, 1 strikeout
Andy Marte (2) 0-for-2
|10.01.09 at 3:57 am ET|
One day later, the Blue Jays made little effort to mask their displeasure with the fact that Jonathan Papelbon drilled Adam Lind in the elbow in the ninth inning of a game in which the Toronto slugger had smoked three homers. With two outs in the top of the ninth on Tuesday, Papelbon ‘ pitching for the first time in six days ‘ zinged Lind on the elbow with a 94 mph fastball.
Papelbon recognized that the circumstances made the incident look bad, which is why he approached Lind to say in no uncertain terms on Tuesday that it wasn’t a purpose pitch. Clearly, Toronto wasn’t buying the reliever’s claim.
Jays skipper Cito Gaston said before Wednesday’s game that he felt that home-plate ump Ron Kulpa should have ejected Papelbon immediately. But since the umpires didn’t police the inside pitch, which left Lind’s elbow swollen and prevented him from playing on Wednesday, the Jays seemingly took it upon themselves to do so.
Toronto starter Roy Halladay drilled Sox D.H. David Ortiz in the right elbow with a 91 mph fastball on the first pitch of the second inning. Home-plate ump Mike DiMuro warned both benches, but ejected no one. Halladay said the pitch simply got away from him, but his teammates suggested that the 17-game winner was offering a statement that opponents couldn’t members of the Blue Jays lineup.
‘You never want to see anybody get hurt on the field but you appreciate that you’re protected,’ said Jays shortstop John MacDonald. ‘It’s the way the game’s been played for a long time and if that’s the way it’s played, then it’s over and done with.’
None of the Sox suggested otherwise. Ortiz, for one, shrugged off the incident.
‘It’s over. I don’t care. You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, right? That’s how the games go,’ he said of getting drilled. ‘I don’t care.’
Though Papelbon had made the effort to tell the Jays that there was nothing intentional about his plunking of Lind, the Sox closer recognized that his words might not hold weight in the Toronto clubhouse.
‘Here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks,’ said Papelbon. ‘It’s what their team thinks and what Halladay or Cito thinks.’
Yet at least one member of the Red Sox made no secret of his dismay with seeing Halladay hit Ortiz with what seemed like a purpose pitch. Reliever Billy Wagner noted the circumstances of the game — the Sox trailing by a run in a contest in which a victory meant a trip to the postseason, a hitter who is teeing off on pitches away, a closer who had not pitched in almost a week — to suggest that the Jays were misguided if they considered the Lind incident an intentional one.
‘We’re trying to have clean innings. I don’t know what they’re thinking there. If it had been any other pitcher besides Doc, they’d get tossed. I think it’s a little bush league, but it’s the way it is,’ said Sox reliever Billy Wagner. ‘When you’ve got as much experience as Cito and those guys do over there, you can read between the lines and say it was 8-7, we’re not going to hit a guy when we’re trying to win the game. I think it’s pretty cut and dried.
‘They handle their business their way. But you bring in your closer to try to get work in. He hasn’t pitched in five or six days. He’s trying to pitch him in because the guy’s been wearing you out away, and then the ball gets inside and hits him,’ Wagner continued. ‘It’s just not knowing the game [to think that Papelbon threw at Lind intentionally].’
While Lind is unlikely to play until Friday at earliest with his swollen elbow, Ortiz pronounced himself fine. He stayed in the game, going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts against the Jays ace.
|09.30.09 at 11:56 pm ET|
Late in July, Roy Halladay almost landed right in the middle of a late-summer pennant race in Boston. Instead, the nasty Doctor threw his last 100 filthy pitches of the season on Wednesday at Fenway Park in a 12-0 blanking of the Red Sox.
One of those 100 drilled David Ortiz in what seemed a fairly obvious retaliation for Jonathan Papelbon hitting Adam Lind the night before. While Lind was out of the lineup on Wednesday, if Ortiz went down for any time, it could drastically change the complexion of the Red Sox batting order heading into next week’s Division Series against the Angels.
But Ortiz came out of it okay, much to the relief of the Red Sox and their fans.
How and where Halladay will come out of this winter are questions that are far more uncertain. Based on various reports, Halladay was close to being shipped to either Boston or Philadelphia but both deals never materialized at the deadline. Still, with a year and $15 million remaining on his contract, does Toronto decide to re-visit that issue this winter.
‘I think there’s going to be a little bit of that just because of some of the events that happened during the year but I think for the most part a lot of it is kind of going to be out of my hands,” Halladay said after his three-hitter. “You never want to have that uncertainty but sometimes that’s part of it. You do what you can to make the best of any situation and move on at that point. I don’t really know what the winter’s going to hold but I’m going to do the best to try to make the right decisions, if that’s presented to me, and go from there.’ Read the rest of this entry »
|09.30.09 at 9:33 pm ET|
But he also has a great deal of respect for the opponent the Red Sox will be facing in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight postseason and the fourth time in six years.
Ortiz says he’s not banking on any confidence from Boston’s dominance over the Halos dating back to the 1986 ALCS.
“I don’t pay attention to any of that,” Ortiz said of the 4-0 mark in playoff series lifetime. “When you play Anaheim, you better bring your ‘A’ game. Those guys can wear you out anytime. They run, they hit, they play good defense and they have good pitching. Don’t let yourself get caught in the situation where you played well in the regular season or you played well 20 years ago before in the playoffs. This is a whole totally different situation.”
The Red Sox won the ’86 ALCS, 4 games to 3, while taking care of the Angels in the ALDS in 2004, ’07 and last year.
|09.30.09 at 6:13 pm ET|
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein has been through long enough and often enough in the last seven years to know that while the intensity of October baseball is quickly approaching, it’s still a good idea to take a moment or two to look back on another season that resulted in the playoffs.
And so he did just that prior to Wednesday’s game with the Blue Jays at Fenway Park, less than 24 hours after his club clinched their sixth postseason berth in seven years when Texas lost at Anaheim on Tuesday night.
“It’s something the organization is very proud of and our ultimate goal is still ahead of us and hasn’t been accomplished yet but I think you have to take time, even a small amount of time, when you qualify for the playoffs to look back at the path and how difficult it was and recognize it was an accomplishment,” he said.
“I’m in a unique position where I can see the hundreds of different people who played a part in making it happen, from the players, management, coaching staff to ownership to our player development people and scouts and I’m proud of all of them. You take a small, brief amount of time to appreciate that and you move on and work hard to advance scout for the postseason, where we hope we can do something that is truly noteworthy.” Read the rest of this entry »
|09.30.09 at 11:43 am ET|
The Blue Jays slammed Clay Buchholz for seven runs (matching a season high) in five innings to deal the pitcher his first loss since Aug. 13, an eight-start run in which the right-hander was 6-0 with a 2.44 ERA. After yielding just one homer in his prior six starts, Buchholz allowed a stunning five longballs on Tuesday. The run-down on those blasts:
–Jays leadoff man Jose Bautista set the tone by blasting the first pitch of the game, a 92 mph fastball, over the Wall.
–Adam Lind, with a runner on first and no outs in the first, crushed a 1-2 changeup for a two-run homer to center.
–In the top of the second, Aaron Hill fell behind 0-2, then worked back to a full count before going deep to left on a changeup.
–In the top of the third, Kevin Millar fell behind 0-2, but sat on a 1-2 changeup that he drove out to left field.
–Finally, in the top of the fifth, Lind (who ended the game with a career-high three homers, the first such game a Fenway Park visitor since Frank Thomas accomplished the feat as a member of the White Sox on Sept. 15, 1996) smashed a 94 mph fastball on a 1-1 count.
So: two homers on early-count fastballs, and three on late-count changeups. The Blue Jays appeared to follow a blueprint in their fourth game against Buchholz, and they unloaded on his off-speed offerings with two strikes.
‘They’ve faced him quite a few times this year. I thought they were sitting soft, especially late in the count. They got some change-ups up,’ said Sox manager Terry Francona. ‘I thought they did a good job of picking out one speed with Buc and he was elevating a little bit and they hit it a long way.’
Buchholz threw 20 pitches with two strikes. Of those:
–Six were changeups (all in the first three innings). The Blue Jays blasted three homers on the pitch, took one for a ball, grounded out on one and lined out on one. They did not swing-and-miss at a two-strike changeup.
–One was a curveball, resulting in a single.
–Seven were fastballs: four balls, two groundouts, one strikeout looking
–Six sliders: two swings and misses, one called third strike, two balls, one foul
In other words, when Buchholz threw hard stuff (fastballs and sliders) in two-strike counts, the Jays primarily took the pitches. When they swung, they either missed or made poor contact.
When he threw off-speed pitches, namely his Bugs Bunny changeup and curve, Toronto swung at all but one pitch, and typically made hard contact.
‘I felt like I did a pretty good job with the majority of the guys getting ahead in the count and two-strike counts. The execution of the two-strike pitches weren’t near as sharp as they needed to be,’ said Buchholz. ‘Obviously, they had a game plan and they stuck to it and they beat me tonight.
‘The home runs, or a couple at least, they were sitting soft with two strikes. All year I’ve been throwing my changeups with two strikes to get outs with. Even though a couple of them were in decent locations, they sat back on it. They did a good job of following their game plan and sticking to it.’
Of course, such a claim represents a potential danger with the playoffs soon at hand. Postseason opponents zero in on such vulnerabilities, and typically do a tremendous job focusing on a pitcher’s weaknesses. Scouts for the Yankees, Angels, Tigers and Twins were all in attendance at Tuesday’s game; no doubt, all of them noted the success of looking for changeups on two-strike counts and making him use his fastball.
That being the case, with Buchholz representing an almost-certain member of the postseason rotation, he will have to counteract the tactic. He has the tools to do so, namely the ability to change his pitching patterns by leaving opponents guessing as to what pitch will be thrown in what count, and by executing his breaking stuff so it disappears on two-strike counts, rather than staying thigh-high.
‘When you throw up in the zone and pretty much in the middle, I think anybody can hit those kind of pitches, even with the stuff Clay has,’ said catcher Victor Martinez. ‘I think it was one of those days he didn’t have his best stuff and they really made him pay.’
‘There are other teams who have sat on [Buchholz’ slow stuff], too,’ Francona added. ‘His changeup’s so good they don’t hit it. It’s just the ball was elevated a little bit [on Tuesday].’
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