|05.22.11 at 2:14 am ET|
On Saturday night, he added to his long resume as one of the franchise greats. In the bottom of the fourth inning, with a 2-2 count and a runner on first, Ortiz stayed back on a 93 mph fastball that was elevated on the outer half of the plate. With a swing that would make teammate Adrian Gonzalez proud, he launched the ball just over the Green Monster for his ninth homer of the year, and his 300th as a member of the Red Sox.
“I heard people talking about it yesterday for the first time,” said Ortiz. “It’s an honor for me to be mentioned in that category with those guys that played here for a long time. Through the years, they were putting up great numbers.”
Ortiz, of course, has been doing the same thing. That is true not just of his career in Boston, but also of a 2011 season that has seen him get off to his best start since 2007.
The Sox DH now has five homers in his last 10 games, giving him nine on the year — tied with Adrian Gonzalez for the most by a member of the Sox. He is hitting .294 with a .370 OBP, .525 slugging mark and .894 OPS, ranking in the top 10 in the AL in slugging, OPS and homers.
Of particular note, however, has been the fact that Ortiz has been crushing the ball to left and left-center, and that he has cut down his strikeouts considerably. In fact, Ortiz has walked as many times (20) as he’s struck out. In fact, his strikeout rate (once every eight plate appearances) is at its lowest since he came to the Sox in 2003, something that Ortiz believes is at the heart of his early-season success.
“Just trying to stay in the strike zone, try to not get out of it,” said Ortiz. “When I get out of it, I get in trouble.”
That hasn’t happened often in his Red Sox career, and it hasn’t happened often in 2011. As a result, while Ortiz passed one milestone, it didn’t seem like a gold-watch accomplishment that he might ride off into the sunset. Instead, the DH is on pace once again to clear 30 homers, meaning that he reached his milestone on Saturday night in a fashion that does justice to the way that he reached it.
“Pretty amazing, isn’t it?” marveled teammate Jason Varitek. “He’s done a lot and he’s continuing to do what he does and swinging the bat real well.”
|05.22.11 at 12:17 am ET|
Anything that could’ve gone wrong for Matt Albers did. The 28-year-old righty, who had been stellar all season for the Red Sox, was called upon in the eighth inning of Saturday’s game against the Cubs to bridge the gap to Jonathan Papelbon with usual setup man Daniel Bard scheduled for a day off.
But the only thing Albers set up was a Cubs win. He surrendered singles to Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro to start the inning and followed that with walks to Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena and a double to Reed Johnson that turned a 3-1 lead into a 4-3 deficit. To top it all off, Pena trotted home when Jed Lowrie dropped Alfonso Soriano‘s pop-up.
Albers would ultimately be charged with six runs, five of them earned. He threw 31 pitches without recording an out, setting a dubious Red Sox record in the process. That was also the most pitches thrown by an American League pitcher without getting an out in recorded history.
‘It’s definitely frustrating,’ Albers said. ‘We get the lead, and coming into the game, I want to shut the door and get that win. ‘¦ I had a few guys two strikes and just wasn’t able to put them away. They had a couple tough at-bats and then a couple back-to-back walks hurt me.’
Catcher Jason Varitek said Albers’ biggest problem in the inning was his location.
‘Matty was just missing,’ Varitek said. ‘Matty’s done such a good job for us, but it was one of those things where guys took some good swings on some good pitches and got those first two hits. Then on the walks, he wasn’t overly wild, but he was just missing.’ Read the rest of this entry »
|05.21.11 at 11:08 pm ET|
With a 3-1 lead after seven, you would expect Daniel Bard to take the mound for the Red Sox in the eighth inning. That didn’t happen Saturday night, however, even though Bard was expected to be available after not pitching Friday night. The reason for Bard not being used is unclear as of now, but there should be some sort of answer during postgame interviews.
Instead, Terry Francona called upon Matt Albers for setup duty. Simply put, that proved disastrous. Albers gave up six runs (five earned) on three hits and two walks all while failing to record an out.
Francona didn’t get anyone else warming up in the bullpen until after Albers (0-2) had already walked in a run. By the time Franklin Morales was ready for his Sox debut, it was too late. Alfonso Soriano had driven in two with a double off the Monster and Carlos Pena had scored on a Jed Lowrie error to make it 5-3 Cubs.
The meltdown continued, as Morales gave up two hits and a walk to go along with two more errors by the guys behind him. When it was all said and done, the Cubs scored eight runs in the eighth to blow the game open en route to a 9-3 win.
The loss was the Sox’ first in eight games, and it cost them a chance to move into a first-place tie with the Rays in the division.
Alfredo Aceves did his part in his first start of the season, as he held the Cubs to one run on three hits over five innings and left the game in line for the win.
|05.21.11 at 7:02 pm ET|
The prospects are starting to move up the ladder. Three Red Sox outfield prospects all advanced by a level on Saturday.
Che-Hsuan Lin, 22, is considered the best defensive outfielder in the Red Sox system, and he also has a patient approach that has made him a consistently high on-base guy. However, despite having earned MVP honors at the All-Star Futures Game in 2008 when he hit a home run, Lin has shown little pop in games in his career (though it is worth noting that he is still young enough that there is time for that skill to develop). He had a .268 average, .373 OBP, .333 slugging mark and .706 OPS along with 12 steals in 15 attempts in Double-A Portland this year. His bat at the higher levels of competition will determine what kind of big league future he has.
With Lin moving up, Jeremy Hazelbaker followed suit, moving up from Hi-A Salem to Portland. Hazelbaker features a speed and power combination that is arguably unlike any other prospect in the system.
“He shows impact power and speed. He probably has some of the best raw power in the system,” Sox VP of Player Personnel Mike Hazen said recently.
A year ago, he had 12 homers, 50 extra-base hits and 63 steals in Greenville, the most stolen bases by a Sox prospect in more than three decades. This year in Salem, the 23-year-old was hitting .279 with a .389 OBP, .475 slugging mark and .864 OPS with five homers and 12 steals in 18 attempts over 34 games in Hi-A. Hazelbaker does strike out with some frequency (135 times in 2010), but he had shown a slight decline in his strikeout rate and an increase in his walk rate at a higher level this year, drawing 20 free passes while punching out 34 times.
Outfielder Bryce Brentz, taken with the No. 36 pick of the 2010 draft, was promoted from Single-A Greenville of the South Atlantic League to Hi-A Salem of the Carolina League after a dominant month and a half. He was leading the league in homers (11) and RBI (36), and ranked among Sally League leaders in average (.359, 5th), OBP (.414, 9th), slugging (.647, 3rd) and OPS (1.061, 4th). He showed power to all fields, convincing the Sox that the 22-year-old right fielder was thus deemed ready for more advanced competition.
Brentz may have benefited from improved vision. His vision is roughly 20/20, but the Sox wanted to improve it closer to the major league average of 20/12 after he signed. He tried the contacts, but couldn’t get acclimated to them in the middle of the year, so he ended up abandoning them during the season. After having the offseason to acclimate to contacts, however, he enjoyed tremendous success — though it’s impossible to say whether that represents a coincidence or if it was a key part in his development.
Either way, his struggles in Short-Season Lowell after being drafted (.198/.259/.340/.599) are now an afterthought.
|05.21.11 at 6:39 pm ET|
In celebration of the Cubs’ last visit to Fenway Park in 1918, the Red Sox and Cubs will wear throwback uniforms on Saturday night. The Red Sox have expressed near-universal dismay about their off-white uniforms, which feature no distinguishing features aside from the players’ numbers on the back. All the same, it qualifies as a distinctive look that should alter the aesthetic complexion of the game.
Fashion aside, the Sox will hope to maintain the roll that has now led them to seven straight victories and brought them one-half game out of the lead in the AL East entering Saturday. For all the latest news, analysis and details of the Sox-Cubs throwback throw-down at Fenway Park, click below to enter the WEEI.com live blog.
|05.21.11 at 5:32 pm ET|
“It would be great to get him in maybe not such a high-leverage situation his first outing, but that may not be possible,” Francona said Saturday. “The biggest thing is just get to know him, see what’s going on there and let [pitching coach Curt Young] kind of have his two cents.”
Morales, who was acquired from the Rockies on Thursday, arrived in Boston Friday night and warmed up in the bullpen in the eighth inning of Boston’s 15-5 trouncing of the Cubs. Francona said he never planned to use him in the game, though.
“That was just to let him get his legs under him and get that flight out of his system,” Francona said. “We didn’t want to do it earlier in the game just in case we needed him.”
Morales comes to the Sox with an arsenal of pitches that includes a mid-90s fastball, a curve, a slider and a changeup. His stuff was good enough to make him one of the top prospects in Colorado’s system, but the 25-year-old lefty’s control has been inconsistent at the big-league level.
“He’s got all the pitches. He just needs to pound the zone,” Francona said. “If we can get to that point, this is going to be good.”
|05.21.11 at 5:06 pm ET|
John Lackey threw Saturday for the second time since receiving a cortisone shot on Monday. He threw 50 times from 120 feet on flat ground while being watched by both pitching coach Curt Young and trainer Mike Reinold.
The Sox were extremely pleased not just that Lackey (2-5, 8.01 ERA) showed good arm strength but also that he is expressing some relief about how good he feels physically.
“His arm’s feeling good. … He’s feeling pain-free,” said Young. “As a pitcher, when there’s something going on with your arm, it’s going to affect you both physically and mentally. Your arm’s never perfect, but you don’t want to feel any pain that is affecting how you whip your arm. I think that might have been the case with him.”
Lackey is currently on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right elbow. Manager Terry Francona said the plan moving forward is for Lackey to join the team on its upcoming seven-game road trip and continue to throw. He said there hasn’t been any decision made about a possible minor-league rehab stint.
“We’ll see. He really wasn’t down very long, which is good,” Francona said. “When there’s a shutdown of a guy not throwing for a couple weeks, that kind of interrupts what you’ve done. He really didn’t miss a whole lot of time. Saying that, there’s a reason he was shut down. If a guy goes from the two-week DL to seven innings, I don’t know if that’s in anybody’s best interest. So we have to figure that out.”
As for Scutaro, Francona said he could start swinging a bat sometime this week, but that Scutaro has yet to indicate that he is pain-free. Francona said once a player is pain-free, the team’s rule of thumb is to have him wait a couple days before doing anything.
|05.21.11 at 3:04 pm ET|
With their winning streak now at seven games, it’s safe to say the Red Sox have started firing on all cylinders. Sill, looming doubts about the back of the rotation only intensified with Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s recent elbow injury. The right-handed was sent to the disabled list with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and strained flexor mass.
Matsuzaka had struggled mightily in his last two starts, giving up a combined nine earned runs in just over 10 innings. To fill the open spot in the rotation, Terry Francona will turn to Alfredo Aceves to pitch in a rare start opposite Carlos Zambrano.
The former Yankee has started only five games in his three-year major league career, and four of those came as a rookie in 2008. Aceves (1-0, 2.60 ERA) has a solid lifetime ERA of 2.10 in 26 1/3 innings as a starter, but he’s worked only in relief since 2009 and has never gone deeper than seven innings. Aceves did get the win in his last appearance, a solid three-inning effort on May 16 in which he gave up one run on two hits. With the Sox trailing Baltimore, 6-0, Aceves pitched well enough to keep his team in the game, and Boston eventually came back to win, 8-7, on a walk-off double by Adrian Gonzalez.
As is often the case in interleague play, the Cubs have had very limited experience against Aceves. Only Carlos Pena (0-3) and Marlon Byrd (1-2) have ever faced the Mexican right-hander, who will be making his first career appearance against the Cubs. Read the rest of this entry »
|05.21.11 at 12:16 am ET|
The Red Sox faced some bleak odds on April 15. Their record was 2-10. They had been outscored, 79-46. They were facing the reality that few teams in big league history had ever come back from such a start to reach the playoffs. The season was just two weeks old, and yet some forecasting systems (such as the fascinating coolstandings.com) had pegged the team’s odds of reaching the postseason at less than 10 percent based on a very, very bad start to the season.
That time now seems remote. The Sox are 22-10 since that point, playing at a .688 clip, and have now zoomed back near the top of the AL East. The team leapfrogged the Yankees with its seventh straight win on Friday, and moved within a half-game of the Tampa Bay Rays for first place. And suddenly, the Sox are playing very much like the team that most people anticipated they would be entering the year, a team that has three top starters (Jon Lester‘s recent struggles aside) and a thunderous middle of the order.
The Sox insist that they are not surprised by their current standing.
“We know what we’re capable of doing. We know we should be in first,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “We’ve got a great team, a great pitching staff, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be in first place right now. Those other teams are playing great baseball, no doubt about it, but that’s their goal. Our goal is to be in first and stay in first all year.’ Read the rest of this entry »
|05.20.11 at 11:52 pm ET|
Jon Lester got the win Friday night to improve to 6-1, but it was far from pretty. He gave up five runs on a career-high 12 hits and didn’t record a single 1-2-3 inning in six frames.
The outing continued a troubling stretch for Lester, who has now given up four or more runs in each of his last three starts. This marks just the fourth such streak of his career and the first since April 2010.
“I’m just not executing pitches,” Lester said. “Pitches that I felt like I did throw pretty well, they got some hits on. That’s just the way it’s going right now.”
The string of bad starts certainly raises questions about whether Lester is 100-percent healthy or whether something’s wrong with his delivery, but the left-hander insisted there aren’t any physical or mechanical problems.
“Execute pitches, that’s all it is,” Lester said. “It sounds easy, but sometimes it’s not. I didn’t do that tonight and they made me pay for it.”
When asked to elaborate on his execution, Lester said there are a number of factors that go into that.
“It’s location, ball’s not down,” he said. “I had chances to put guys away and didn’t do it. You can go down the list. There’s a lot of things. I’m not doing my job right now.”
Lester said he hasn’t changed anything in terms of preparation before or during this rough patch, and that he doesn’t plan on doing so now.
“Nope, same stuff,” he said. “Just go out there and continue to work on the stuff that’s gotten me to this point. I’m not going to change anything. I’m not going to the drawing board.
“Come back tomorrow, get back to work and go get ’em in five days.”
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