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He’s still John Smoltz

07.26.09 at 6:59 pm ET
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Say this for the young and talented, and recently scuffling, Baltimore Orioles. They respect the game.

And that lesson has been passed down from their manager Dave Trembley and their veteran players like Gregg Zaun.

That came in handy on Sunday when they showed respect, but not fear, when facing one of the best pitchers of the generation.

Red Sox righty John Smoltz came into the game with a 1-3 record and a 6.31 ERA in five starts.

Nick Markakis led the way with two hits, a sacrifice fly, three RBIs and a rope of a home run to right field as the Orioles beat the Red Sox, 6-2, and beat up on Smoltz.

“Just making him get the ball over the plate,” Markakis said of the approach to the 42-year-old veteran. “He doesn’t leave much over the plate. He hits his spots well. He’s one of the better pitchers out there in the game of all time. To come out here and to get on him early and get his pitch count up, we got some big hits.

“We can feed off this and go home.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: john smoltz, Orioles, Red Sox,

No plans to skip Smoltz in rotation

07.26.09 at 5:31 pm ET
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After John Smoltz allowed six runs in five innings in a 6-2 loss to the Orioles that saw the Red Sox starter’s record fall to 1-4 with a 7.04 ERA, the 42-year-old suggested that his stuff is good enough to allow him to perform to expectations. Pitching coach John Farrell said that Smoltz’ problem has just been mislocated pitches, primarily his fastball.

“(The issue is) consistency of location. Today, just evaluating the pure stuff, I thought it was more crisp than at any time he’€™s been here this season,” said Farrell. “Yet against a good fastball hitting team, he made some mistakes out over the plate, particularly away, that resulted in four extra-base hits. But the action to his slider, which was very much a swing-and-miss pitch for him, was later and sharper and more powerful than it has been. But yet the bottom line is what matters”

While much of the solution lies in simple execution, Farrell suggested that there are tweaks to the approach from which Smoltz might benefit. Foremost, Farrell suggested that he needs to employ his fastball more aggressively inside.

“What do we do from here?” Farrell wondered. “I think there’€™s the ability or the need to pitch in a little bit more. While his stuff is improved over the last outing, or the previous outings, hitters one time through the order can start to look in one area. I think that was what was a little bit the case today, and when he wasn’€™t very fine in his location or in very good quality locations, we saw the results.

“While his velocity is good enough to pitch at this level’€”clearly it’€™s good enough ‘€“ it’€™s not the mid-90s where you have that margin of error that he might be accustomed to,” Farrell continued. “To combat that, commanding the baseball on both sides of the plate and not allowing hitters to look in one area solely, is where the improvement or adjustment lies.”

Smoltz believes he has the stuff to compete effectively on a team with postseason aspirations. His manager and pitching coach echoed that assessment. As such, Farrell said that the team has no plans to skip Smoltz in the rotation to allow him to iron out his approach.

“At this point, that’€™s not even being considered,” said Farrell. “If there was a drop-off physically just through either naked eye or what velocities are telling us, that would be a different situation. But that’€™s not the case. You look at the amount of swing-and-miss he’€™s able to generate, yet because of the consistency of command, he’€™s frustrated.”

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Smoltz struggles through five innings

07.26.09 at 3:05 pm ET
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The Orioles pounded nine hits and crossed the plate six times over John Smoltz‘ five innings on Sunday. Smoltz, who did manage to strike out six in his time on the hill, now has a 7.04 ERA on the season. While his slider proved an effective swing-and-miss pitch, his fastball (which featured decent 92-93 mph velocity) was hit all around the park, most prominently by Nick Markakis, who hit a sac fly, double and homer against Smoltz heaters.

Smoltz has yet to deliver a quality start as a member of the Red Sox. Opponents are hitting .321 against him on the season.

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Red Sox vs. Orioles Match-Ups, 7/26

07.26.09 at 1:10 pm ET
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David Hernandez is facing the Red Sox for the first time in his career. So far this season, he is 2-2 with an ERA of 3.55 through six starts. A rookie, Hernandez was called up to pitch in his first major league game back on May 28th. He defeated the Tigers 5-1 and earned his first career win, tossing 5+ innings and only allowing a run on five hits.

Since then he has been inserted into the Baltimore rotation and has done quite nicely on a team that is 41-55. Born in Sacramento, Hernandez went to Cosumnes River College, which is located in his hometown. Other big leaguers who are alumni of Cosumnes include Jermaine Dye and Fernando Vina.

John Smoltz is on the bump today for the Sox. Here are his stats vs. the current Orioles, many of which are based on his ill-fated start that was interrupted by a rain delay after four innings, the result of which was Baltimore’€™s epic comeback against the Boston bullpen:

Robert Andino – .200/.200/.200 (0 HR, 0 RBI 6 SO)
Gregg Zaun (9) – .125/.222/.125 (0 HR, 1 RBI 5 SO)
Aubrey Huff (7) – .167/.286/.167 (0 HR, 1 RBI 1 SO)
Cesar Izturis (7) – .429/.429/.571 (0 HR, 0 RBI 1 SO)
Brian Roberts (7) – .286/.286/.286 (0 HR, 0 RBI 0 SO)
Ty Wigginton (7) – .429/.429/.429 (0 HR, 0 RBI 1 SO)
Luke Scott (5) – .000/.400/.000 (0 HR, 0 RBI 0 SO)
Nick Markakis (2) – .000/.000/.000
Melvin Mora (2) – .000/.000/.000 (1 SO)
Nolan Reimold (2) – .500/.500/.500
Rich Hill (1) 1.000/1.000/1.000
Adam Jones (1) .000/.000/.000 (1 SO)
Felix Pie (1) 1.000/1.000/3.000 (1 RBI)
Matt Wieters (1) – .000/.000/.000

Read More: david hernandez, john smoltz,

Bringing the heat

07.26.09 at 12:34 pm ET
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On the day Red Sox Nation takes pride in the ‘most feared hitter’ of his generation taking his place in Cooperstown, Red Sox skipper recalled the most feared pitcher he ever faced in the majors.

“Nolan. Hands down,” Francona said of Nolan Ryan. “Everybody thought it was Dwight Gooden. It wasn’t close. He threw the ball one time in Montreal, with all those shadows. He threw a ball that I thought was going to hit me in the ribs and it didn’t and I kind of whimpered.

“And then I got in the box and actually got back out of the box and remember thinking I’m not ready to do this and I never felt like that before. I thought if that ball had hit me, it would have killed me and I never remember feeling that about anybody else.”

Then there was the time in Cincinnati in 1987 when he met Ryan face-to-face.

“He was in the weight room once in Cincinnati and he didn’t talk a ton and I didn’t know him,” Francona recalled. “But he walked in and he said something to me, and I was even surprised he knew who I was, ‘Hey nice game last night.’ I said, ‘Thank you.’ He said, ‘It’s bowtie time.’ I thought, ‘Oh no.’ My (backside) just slammed shut.’ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Nolan Ryan, Red Sox, Terry Francona,

Youk in an uncomfortable spot

07.25.09 at 7:23 pm ET
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Kevin Youkilis was about as upfront as he could be with reporters when he was asked about how he felt about being given the night off – at least from the starting lineup on Saturday night.

“I just had an off day,” Youkilis said of his day off on Thursday, which he shared with the rest of the team. “I feel good right now. My body feels fine. I usually don’t need an off day.”I don’t get too many off days so I don’t know how to deal with them.

“I watch the game the same way,” he added. “If I’m not playing, I still watch the game. I understand what’s going on and watch what pitchers do and watch what hitters are doing and help out any way I can.”

Indeed, he spoke honestly about just how hard it is for him to watch from the dugout. Even more difficult is thinking about possibly pinch-hitting.

“The key to pinch-hitting is not thinking and just go up there,” Youkilis said. “There’s no key to pinch-hitting. You just go up there and try to have a good at-bat. It’s the worst thing to do in all of baseball – for me. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox, Youk,

Red Sox vs. Orioles Match-Ups, 7/25

07.25.09 at 2:29 pm ET
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After coming off a tough loss to Toronto in which the Red Sox bats were virtually silent throughout most of the game, Jon Lester will certainly be happy to face the Baltimore Orioles tonight.

Lester, who is 8-0 lifetime against the Orioles with a 2.18 ERA, will be looking to keep his perfect streak alive as he faces off against Jeremy Guthrie, who is 1-2 with a 4.01 ERA in nine games against Boston. Guthrie’€™s last start at Fenway came on April 17 when he allowed 8 runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The Red Sox are 7-1 this season against Baltimore, who currently occupy last place in the AL East. Boston, who held a three-game lead over the second-place Yankees before the All-Star break, is now trailing New York by 2.5 games.

ORIOLES VS. JON LESTER

Nick Markakis (29 career plate appearances against Lester): .250 average/ .276 OBP/ .393 slugging, walk, 7 strikeouts

Brian Roberts (28): .240/ .321/ .480, homer, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts

Aubrey Huff (27): .320/ .370/ .560, homer, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts

Melvin Mora (21): 3-for-20, walk, 4 strikeouts

Adam Jones (18): 5-for-15, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts

Gregg Zaun (9): 1-for-7, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts

Luke Scott (8): 0-for-8, 3 strikeouts

Ty Wigginton (8): 4-for-8, strikeout

Robert Andino (4): 3-for-4

Nolan Reimold (3): 1-for-3, strikeout

Matt Wieters (3): 1-for-3, strikeout

Felix Pie (2): 0-for-2, strikeout

RED SOX VS. JEREMY GUTHRIE

Kevin Youkilis (26 career plate appearances against Guthrie): .182 average/ .308 OBP/ .227 slugging, 4 walks, 7 strikeouts

Dustin Pedroia (21): .389/ .476/ .500, 3 walks, strikeout

Mike Lowell (19): 3-for-17, homer, 2 walks, strikeout

David Ortiz (19): 5-for-17, walk, 4 strikeouts

J.D. Drew (17): 5-for-14, homer, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts

Jacoby Ellsbury (17): 4-for-16, walk, strikeout

Jason Varitek (15): 4-for-14, homer, walk, 4 strikeouts

Jason Bay (6): 3-for-5, 2 homers, walk, strikeout

Rocco Baldelli (4): 0-for-4

Nick Green (3): 1-for-3

Jed Lowrie (3): 0-for-3, strikeout

Read More: Jeremy Guthrie, Jon Lester, Orioles,

Mickey Wiswall Brings Star Power to Fenway

07.25.09 at 12:15 pm ET
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Who says you can’t go home?

For Stoneham, Mass., native Mickey Wiswall, Thurday’s Cape Cod League All-Star game held at Fenway Park was a homecoming of sorts.

“I played in the Valley League in Virginia last summer and I didn’t get to have the family support there that I have here tonight,” Wiswall said of playing in front of family and friends on Thursday night. “Having the game at Fenway Park and to have all of my friends and family here has been great.”

Wiswall started at first base for the East Division All-Stars, a position that he just started playing this summer. The Belmont Hill alum made the Kevin Youkilis-like transition from his natural position at third base to the other corner infield spot.

Wiswall has been a force this summer for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, leading the team and Cape Cod League as a whole with 19 RBI. All-Star assistant coach Scott Pickler loves what he’s seen from Wiswall each and every night

“He comes in and plays hard every night,” Pickler said of Wiswall’s effort this summer. “He’s handled his role very, very well.”

In addition to spending his summer playing on the sun- (and, at least this summer, rain-) soaked diamonds of Cape Cod, Wiswall will return to The Heights as a junior member of Boston College’s baseball team. Wiswall was an offensive standout for the Eagles as a sophomore clubbing a team-high 14 home runs and 63 RBI all while hitting .320 for the team.

Boston College’s stock as a national collegiate baseball powerhouse has certainly risen in recent months after Eagles catcher Tony Sanchez was selected fourth overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Mike Belfiore went in the sandwich round. Wiswall attributes the seemingly new attention to coach Mike Aoki’s desire to keep local ballplayers in the area.

“When coach started recruiting my class he said he wanted to keep some of the better New England players in New England,” Wiswall said of the very New England feel that the team has. “Being a New England kid and helping them get to the regionals hopefully was a big step in that direction.”

Wiswall and his Eagle cohorts soared to a 34-26 record during the 2009 season. The Eagles also grabbed headlines by playing in a 25-inning thriller against Texas during College World Series Regional play.

New England kids with a feverish passion for baseball like Wiswall consider 4 Yawkey Way their baseball cathedral. Growing up and playing baseball in the heart of Red Sox Nation, Wiswall’s experiences at Fenway Park have ranged from his own playing to seeing his beloved Red Sox come back from historic playoff deficits.

Wiswall was a spectator in the Fenway Park stands on October 19, 2004. That night speedster Dave Roberts and David Ortiz helped turn the tide of Red Sox Nation’s hopes for a championship.

“I was at Fenway Park until 3:00 in the morning,” Wiswall said as he recounted his favorite Fenway Park memory. “I was at the age where I could really appreciate the game and see how dedicated the fans are to it.”

Wiswall has memories playing and spectating in America’s most beloved ballpark. The Boston College junior left on Thursday night with new ones of him playing on the All-Star stage.

Read More: Boston College, cape cod, cape league, Eagles

Introducing Chris Duncan

07.25.09 at 12:04 am ET
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Prior to Friday’€™s game against Columbus, Pawtucket Red Sox pitcher Michael Bowden sits at his locker, facing away from the rest of the clubhouse, in a deep focus as he prepares for his start. Manager Ron Johnson gets some things done around his office while watching TV. A group of players sit in the middle of the room with a deck of cards. It’€™s the same old McCoy clubhouse, except for the big guy in the corner wearing the wrong team’€™s gear and frantically filling out papers for a physical: meet Chris Duncan.

The first baseman/outfielder who was acquired in Wednesday’€™s Julio Lugo trade, Duncan came to Pawtucket Friday straight from the airport. He had been demoted by St. Louis to Triple-A Memphis earlier Wednesday, hours before being traded.

‘€œIt would have been cooler if I was actually going to Boston, but I’€™m still excited to come here, get a chance to play, and hopefully get back on track,’€ Duncan said. The 28-year-old left-handed hitter was hitting .227 with five homers this season for the Cardinals after hitting at least 20 dingers in both 2006 and 2007.

Duncan’€™s career in St. Louis was definitely a bumpy one. He was able to be named the team’€™s Rookie of the Year in 2006, win a World Series title, and play under both Tony La Russa and his father, Cards’€™ pitching coach Dave Duncan. However, when the struggles came, so did the hounding from the fans and media.

‘€œI learned a lot,’€ Duncan said, still wearing a sleeveless shirt with a cardinal perched on a baseball bat. ‘€œI had the chance to play for the greatest manager ever and play a lot of winning baseball. It was just time to move on.

‘€œI was just getting a lot of criticism and booing,’€ Duncan added. ‘€œIt just wasn’€™t easy, but that’€™s part of the game and hopefully I can start fresh here.’€

Duncan also acknowledged the depth at the positions that he would try to play for the Red Sox. With news coming the same day of Mark Kotsay being designated for assignment, Duncan understood that he may be in the minors potentially until September call-ups. Be that as it may, he’€™ll be willing and able if and when he does get the call.

‘€œI’€™m just trying to get settled in here,’€ Duncan said. ‘€œ[I’€™ll] get some at-bats and let that stuff take care of itself.’€

His father Dave isn’€™t Duncan’€™s only relative in baseball. Chris is the brother of Yankee Shelley Duncan (currently playing for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre), who made more news with a pen than his bat on September 14, 2007, when he signed ‘€œRed Sox suck!’€ on a young fan’€™s ball at Fenway Park. Given the opportunity, Chris, still practicing his penmanship on the forms necessary to clear him to play, said he just may settle the score between the rivals and siblings.

‘€œMaybe I’€™ll put ‘€˜Yankees suck!’€™’€ Duncan joked.

That won’t be necessary, but then again neither will much of an offensive output from Duncan, given Adam LaRoche‘s stranglehold on his ideal job in Boston. Considering the Red Sox were able to get him for a guy they were planning on giving up for free, anything the former first-rounder can bring is gravy.

Read More: Chris Duncan, Julio Lugo, mark kotsay, Shelley Duncan

Big Brother was watching

07.24.09 at 8:20 pm ET
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Adam LaRoche, like any player going from a cellar-dwellar to a perennial championship contender, couldn’t be happier to be wearing a Red Sox uniform.

He met with the media prior to his first official game with his new team following Wednesday’s trade that sent him from Pittsburgh to Boston for minor leaguers Argenis Diaz and Hunter Strickland.

After acknowledging his appreciation to Red Sox management for bringing him to Boston, he said there’s only one really tough adjustment.

“The hardest part this year is leaving my little brother,” the 29-year-old LaRoche said of his 25-year-old brother Andy with the Pirates.

LaRoche got his chance to play with baby bro when the Dodgers traded Andy to the Pirates last season.

But quickly, both LaRoches learned that all the brotherly love in the world won’t turn them into the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

“I got a chance to play with him for a year,” Adam said. “It’s something that I can never replace. Obviously, we would have love to have done that for the next 10 years but not on a losing club.” Read the rest of this entry »

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