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Wakefield and the Pop-Up As Weapon

05.20.09 at 6:42 pm ET
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After Tim Wakefield elicited an astonishing 16 flyball outs on Tuesday, positioning himself with the second highest number of air outs (80) in the majors this year, Gary From Chapel Hill mined his usual statistical gold to come up with this gem about the rarity of the outing:

Most Air Outs (Flyouts/Popouts/Foulouts) In One Appearance Since 2004 (includes sacrifice flies):

19 – Greg Smith, OAK –  6/30/08
17 – Brad Radke, MIN – 7/15/05
17 – Javier Vazquez, NYY – 4/30/04
16 – 15 times including Wakefield twice (8/26/05 and last night), Lester (7/28/07), Schilling (7/28/04)
15 – 18 times

Read More: Tim Wakefield,

Youk: Get off Papi’s back

05.20.09 at 5:22 pm ET
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Kevin Youkilis came off the disabled list on Wednesday and immediately showed why the Red Sox think he could be a leader.

Asked to comment on the struggles of David Ortiz and whether his return could help, Youkilis took a mighty swing.

‘€œWell, I think if everyone stopped asking questions about David Ortiz and left him alone and maybe he’€™ll start hitting again if everyone just leaves him alone. Maybe talk about the weather outside or something. Maybe get off the baseball convo (conversation) and maybe talk about something else. Maybe that’€™ll help him out.

‘€œAs baseball players and as athletes, there’€™s nothing more frustrating than when you’€™re going through a slump,” Youkilis continued. “You have to deal with it yourself. Then when you have added pressures on you, with people writing stuff, people talking around town. David Ortiz wants to get out of a slump as much as you guys want to get him out of the slump and the fans do. I think there’€™s a lot of added pressures all around that you don’€™t want.’€

As of Wednesday, Ortiz was batting .203 with just 15 RBIs and no home runs. Youkilis returns, trying to pick up where he left off, batting .393 with six homers and 20 RBIs.

Read More: David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox,

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Match-Ups, 5/20

05.20.09 at 3:25 pm ET
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There’s just not a lot of history between tonight’s starting pitchers and the teams they will face. Blue Jays lefty Brett Cecil is, well, a rookie, and has never before faced any current members of the Sox at the major-league level. Brad Penny has four career starts against the Blue Jays in interleague play, and has gone 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA, but aside from former National Leaguers Scott Rolen, Rod Barajas and Jose Bautista, no members of Toronto’s club have faced the right-hander more than six times.

There is one wild card in play: Penny’s former Florida Marlins pitching coach, Brad Arnsberg, now holds the same position with the Blue Jays. It’s tough to say whether that matters, but it is at least intriguing that Josh Beckett, who also pitched under Arnsberg in Florida, has his a worse ERA (5.95) against Toronto than any other club that he’s faced more than five times.

Here’s how the Jays have done against Penny:

Scott Rolen (34 career plate appearances): .281 average, .324 OBP, .406 slugging, 4 doubles
Rod Barajas (12): 3-for-12, double
Jose Bautista (9): 1-for-8, walk, double
Adam Lind (6): 0-for-6
Alex Rios (6): 3-for-5, double, walk
Vernon Wells (6): 0-for-6
Aaron Hill (5): 0-for-5
Kevin Millar (3): 0-for-2, walk
Lyle Overbay (3): 0-for-2, walk

Read More: Brad Penny, brett cecil,

Minor-League Notes: Ortiz Isn’t the Only Slumping Sox Slugger

05.20.09 at 10:31 am ET
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A year ago, Lars Anderson seemed bulletproof. He put up tremendous numbers in the hitter’€™s haven of Single-A Lancaster, and then produced at an even higher level following a promotion to Double-A Portland.

Suddenly there was curiosity about how soon he might land in the majors. Anderson was mentioned as part of the reason why the Sox could comfortably walk away from signing Mark Teixeira this offseason.

In so many ways, those conversations were unfair. Anderson, after all, is still just 21, and had he attended Berkeley, he would be draft eligible for the first time this season. And so the notion that he would not struggle on what has been, to date, a meteoric progression through the Red Sox system seemed flawed.

Back in Double-A, Anderson is confronting his most severe professional struggle. He is hitting .229 with a .315 OBP and .697 OPS for the Sea Dogs. He has struck out 32 times, roughly once in every four plate appearances.

‘€œHe’€™s been getting a little bit passive at the plate, getting a little overly passive,’€ said Sox farm director Mike Hazen.

The Sox were hopeful that he might be on the cusp of breaking out when he hit a pair of homers ‘€“ one on a changeup, one on a fastball, both described as bombs that he pulled ‘€“ on Saturday. Since then, however, he is 0-for-8 (albeit with four walks) in his last three games.

‘€œHe’€™s going to break out of this soon. (The two-homer game) was a good indication,’€ said Hazen. ‘€œHe’€™ll get it. He always has. He’€™s too good of a player not to. We’€™re getting ready, hopefully, for one of his epic runs.

‘€œHe went through a little bit of one of these periods last year at Lancaster. He was hitting about .260 at one point in May, then turned on the jets and never looked back.’€

KALISH MOVIN’€™ ON UP

Ryan Kalish was promoted from Single-A Salem to join Anderson in Double-A Portland. Kalish, like Anderson, was a prep star who was considered to be unlikely to turn pro, barring a sizable signing bonus. The Sox drafted him in the ninth round and dropped the necessary coin to convince him to begin his professional career.

Kalish was spectacular for Single-A Lowell in ‘€™07, hitting .368 with a .471 OBP, .540 slugging and 18 steals before a broken hamate ended his season after 23 games. In his return last year, his numbers were down significantly in both Greenville and Lancaster, but the Sox believed that was largely the result of his inability to follow a normal offseason strength and conditioning program due to the surgery on his hamate.

This year, he demonstrated as much by hitting .304 with a .434 OBP and .504 slugging mark, along with five homers in 115 at-bats with Salem (matching his homer total in 433 at-bats in 2008). That led to the conclusion that his player development track has returned from the injury detour.

‘€œHe’€™s doing everything that we ask a hitter to do to earn a promotion,’€ said Hazen. ‘€œHe’€™s been in High-A now for almost a full year. We just felt like he needed to be challenged a little more.’€

Kalish has started with a struggle in Double-A, going 1-for-17 with a pair of walks.

HAGADONE, FIFE PREPARE FOR RETURNS

Nick Hagadone has been little short of dazzling in his extended spring training appearances as he comes close to concluding his return from Tommy John surgery last June. His fastball has registered as high as 98 mph, he has shown what’€™s been described as a ‘€œwipeout slider,’€ and he’€™s been getting swings and misses with his changeup.

He has made three appearances in extended spring training games (of 2, 3 and 3 innings). The Sox are skipping his current turn, but then plan to have him return to make another three-inning appearance and then, perhaps, a four-inning appearance.

If all goes well in those outings, the organization’€™s current plan is for Hagadone to follow those outings with an assignment to Single-A Greenville in early June. In Greenville, Hagadone will be restricted, in all likelihood, to three- and four-inning outings in an effort to avoid any setbacks in what has been, so far, a very promising recovery.

‘€œHe’€™s not going to be probably more than a three- to four-inning pitcher this year,’€ said Hazen. ‘€œWe’€™re just not going to push the envelope. It’€™s not worth it. Everything’€™s gone so well, the stuff has come back so well, and he’€™s not going to pitch for us in the big leagues this year. We want to get him into a competitive environment, but we need to do it on his timeframe, physically.’€ ‘€¦

Right-hander Stephen Fife will throw two innings today (Wednesday) in extended spring training, his first appearance since the team shut him down due to shoulder soreness and weakness in spring training. Barring any setbacks, the Sox’€™ third-round selection in the 2008 draft (who went 1-1 with a 2.33 ERA in Lowell last year) would be ready to report to Single-A Salem in 15-20 days.

Fife’€™s issue was similar to the one faced by Daisuke Matsuzaka, requiring a strengthening program.

‘€œIt wasn’€™t necessarily an injury. It was weakness, soreness,’€ said Hazen. ‘€œWhenever we get that with a young pitcher, we obviously threw the brakes on and decided to push back his season’€¦We can make those innings up on the back side if we lost them on the front side. We just want to make sure that the innings we get from him this year will be quality.’€’€¦

Josh Reddick is likely to start swinging again in roughly the next week. He has been out since straining his oblique at the end of April. At the time of his injury, he was hitting .288 with six homers and a 1.008 OPS for Double-A Portland.

Read More: josh reddick, lars anderson, minor league, Nick Hagadone

Papelbon finishes Wakefield’s gem

05.19.09 at 9:26 pm ET
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The Red Sox took their first game against the Blue Jays, with Jonathan Papelbon finishing Tim Wakefield’s excellent outing by pitching a scoreless ninth for his 11th save. The Sox are now 7-7 in one-run games following their 2-1 win.

Papelbon started the inning with seven straight fastballs that resulted in a three-pitch strikeout of Adam Lind, a three-pitch groundout to second by Scott Rolen, and a first-pitch strike to Lyle Overbay. He finally missed the zone with his eighth pitch, a splitter. Overbay worked the count to 3-2, before grounding out to first to conclude the frame.

Wakefield improves to 5-2. The Sox are now 2.5 games behind the Jays in the A.L. East.

Ellsbury, Ortiz and the bottom of the 8th

05.19.09 at 9:18 pm ET
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Jacoby Ellsbury apparently wanted to avoid the infamy of being less powerful than Willy Taveras during a 14-game hitting streak. He lined a double down the right-field line to open the inning, though he was thrown out trying to steal third (with no outs!), a gaffe that proved costly when Dustin Pedroia lined the next pitch to center for what would have been a run-scoring base hit.

David Ortiz followed Pedroia to the plate, and his fourth plate appearance was not good. Against Toronto lefty B.J. Ryan (a very, very tough at-bat for lefties, even now with a diminished arsenal), Ortiz struck out on four pitches, including a swing-and-miss on an 86 mph fastball on his fists and another at a slider that bit the dirt, down and away.

Barring a Jays comeback in the ninth, Ortiz finishes the night 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts and a walk. All of his at-bats were against left-handers, against whom he his now hitting .208 this year.

Read More: David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury,

That’s it for Wakefield

05.19.09 at 9:13 pm ET
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Tim Wakefield just accepted a congratulatory handshake after working his way out of a first-and-second jam (partly the byproduct of some poor defense) by getting a pair of lazy fly-outs to shallow left-center. Wakefield completes his night having done his part to get the Sox a victory, pitching eight innings and allowing just one run on five hits to a Blue Jays lineup that entered today leading the majors in runs (234) and batting average (.289).

Wakefield needed just 97 pitches (61 strikes) to navigate a lead to closer Jonathan Papelbon, who is currently warming. Wakefield’s success tonight was of a very odd sort: he got 16 fly-ball outs, an absurdly high total. Yet the Jays, aside from Kevin Millar on his homer, could not make firm contact on anything that Wakefield threw. Aside from a warning-track flyball to left-center by Adam Lind, most of the outs Wakefield recorded were by harmless flies that traveled no more than 200 feet.

The Blue Jays have something to prove

05.19.09 at 8:55 pm ET
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Toronto’s 27-14 record entering tonight was little short of a marvel. The team has been without its Nos. 2-4 starters (Dustin McGowan, Shawn Marcum, Jesse Litsch), without its closer (B.J. Ryan) for a few weeks, and without one of its youn hurlers (Ricky Romer) who was supposed to be the depth option of first resort. The succession of woes should have been devastating.

But the Jays have been nothing if not resilient. Their starters entered tonight with a 4.00 ERA that ranked third in the A.L., and the team has permitted just 4.2 runs per game, second fewest in the A.L.

Even so, there has been some skepticism, or at least curiosity, about whether the Jays could sustain that position. Their outstanding start, after all, has been forged not only with a patchwork rotation, but also without having faced the cream of the A.L. East.

Of the Jays 41 games, just six were against their divisional opponents: three (all wins) against the Orioles, and three (one win, two losses) against the Yankees. Toronto will soon make up for lost time.

Including tonight’s game, the Jays will play the Sox in six of the next 12 games, a span in which they will also play the Orioles three more times. Then, interleague will give the team another four-week reprieve.

But, starting on June 29, when the Jays will return to division play against the Rays, Toronto will play more than two-thirds (57) of its final 84 games against members of its division.

That is not to discount what Toronto has done thus far. By all accounts, their early-season run has been extremely impressive. But it is fair to suggest that it won’t be until July that the Blue Jays will truly have the opportunity to prove how well they stack up in the best division in baseball.

Jacoby Ellsbury Keeps Streaking

05.19.09 at 8:37 pm ET
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Jacoby Ellsbury hit a soft liner up the middle for a single in the bottom of the fifth, extending his hitting streak to 14 games. The streak is the longest active run in the majors, and the second longest of the centerfielder’s career, behind only an 18-game run that he had last September. Ellsbury is 1-for-3 tonight, and is hitting .348 during his streak, though he has just four extra-base knocks during the run. Ellsbury is the 10th major leaguer to hit in at least 14 straight this year. His extra-base hit total is the lowest during such a streak of that group, one behind Willy Taveras, who had five extra-base hits in his 14-game streak.

Ortiz’ third at-bat

05.19.09 at 8:34 pm ET
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With Jacoby Ellsbury on first and two outs in the bottom of the fifth, David Ortiz grounded harmlessly to second on a 1-1 pitch. Tallet has been living down and away against the Sox’ No. 3 hitter, who is now 0-for-2 with a walk tonight.

Read More: David Ortiz,
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