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For Carl Crawford, a welcome form of recognition

05.31.11 at 6:45 pm ET
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For all of April, the attention dedicated to Carl Crawford was difficult for the outfielder to stomach. After a seven-year, $142 million contract brought him to Boston in the offseason, he started his Red Sox career in dreadful fashion.

Paid to be one of the elite performers in the majors, Crawford was arguably the worst, at least in the batter’s box. By the end of the season’s first month, he ranked second-to-last in the majors in average (.155), last in on-base percentage (.204) and last in OPS (.431).

The climb back from that point has been long, but for his first time as a Red Sox, Crawford was able to show last week what one of his hot streaks looks like. And when the outfielder is locked in, he offered a hint that he can be as dynamic as nearly anyone in the game, a notion that was ratified when he was named the American League Player of the Week for May 23-29.

Over seven games, he hit .423 with two doubles, two triples, three homers and eight runs batted in. He had back-to-back four-hit games last Wednesday (against the Indians) and Thursday (in Detroit), the first time in his career that he has accomplished that trick. Though Crawford’s numbers for the season remain modest — a .232 average, .267 OBP and .630 OPS, along with four homers and seven steals — the offensive surge offered a hint that Crawford has now moved on from his early-season woes.

“I’€™m feeling a lot better. I’€™m feeling a lot more comfortable at the plate. Things are slowing down for me a lot. I feel like it’€™s definitely gotten better for me from the way I started off,” said Crawford. “Lately I’€™ve been playing more relaxed. First month or so, like you said, a lot of pressure on myself. Probably was pressing. Now it seems like things are easing up a little bit. Just hope I can continue to play well.”

Crawford dismissed the notion that his turnaround was as simple as a matter of the weather warming up. That may have been a factor in his slow start (after he spent the first eight seasons of his career roaming the indoors with Tampa Bay), but it would be too easy to use that as the sole explanation for his slow start.

“Playing in warm weather is definitely better than playing in the cold weather. It feels better to have the weather heat up a little bit,” said Crawford. “Weather was tough. [But] everything was tough. It wasn’€™t just the weather. It was a bunch of things. But you know, I never played in the weather for like months in. it was a little different. But just had to find a way to make adjustments because obviously I’€™ll be here for six more years.”

That being the case, the Sox can hope that the award — the fourth time that Crawford has been named AL Player of the Week — is a hint of what is to come, and that April will soon be viewed as an aberration.

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Terry Francona on the Big Show: Not a tough call to keep Jon Lester in game

05.31.11 at 4:14 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona joined The Big Show for his weekly chat and talked about giving Jon Lester a few days off, John Lackey‘s return to the rotation and whether Jonathan Papelbon has matured this year.

There was also some roster moves to discuss as the Sox planned to activate Bobby Jenks from the disabled list in advance of Tuesday’s game with the White Sox. Michael Bowden was sent to Triple-A. Francona also said that Darnell McDonald was in the Pawtucket lineup on Tuesday.

Here’s highlights from the rest of the conversation:

What went into the decision to keep Lester on the mound going into the sixth inning on Monday?

This was not as difficult one as maybe was perceived after the game. He can go into the start of the inning, I think he was at 97 [pitches], he’s given up three runs. He can go into the next inning. We’ve got [Dan] Wheeler up to protect him, but we wanted Lester to get through the inning. As the inning unfolded we have a leadoff hitter, then a left-handed [batter], we certainly going to let him face him.

[Alexei] Ramirez is the next hitter who [was] going into the game 1-for-10 off Lester and hitting .203 off left-handers to boot. He ends hitting a ball about 110 feet down the right field line that falls inside the chalk, it’s two runs. We bring in Wheeler and it’s two more [runs] and it opens everything up to second-guessing which I understand. But for me that was not a tough inning. As long as Lester hadn’t given up a run that was his inning at least through Ramirez. Plus the fact going into the game that we knew he wasn’t pitching until next Tuesday so that gives him an extra three days.

He’s been pushed back three days. What’s the reason for that?

We have two days off coming up which is kind of rare. You don’t see too often and we want to get Lack into the rotation. He’s pitching tonight in Pawtucket. We’ll bring Lester back against the Yankees. It just seems like a good fit and it gives him a little bit of a blow, something I think he could actually use.

Is Lester relying on the cutter too much?

He even said last night that he didn’t command anything last night and it was pretty obvious to everyone. He was scattering balls all over the place and he thought the cutter was the one place he could go to get out of it, which he probably can. I think you run the risk when you throw that many. He’s too good, in my opinion. He’s got a fastball that’s 94, 95 with some sink. He’s got one of the best changeups in the game and a good curveball. Sometimes you’ve got to remind guys how good they are and not lose sight of their other pitches. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: carl crawford, john lackey, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon

Tuesday’s Red Sox-White Sox matchups: Alfredo Aceves vs. Philip Humber

05.31.11 at 8:24 am ET
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The Red Sox will take to the field Tuesday night as they take on the White Sox at Fenway Park in the second game of a three-game series. Alfredo Aceves (2-0, 2.22) will take to the mound for the Red Sox and be opposed by right-hander Philip Humber (3-3, 2.85). This will be Aceves’€™ eighth career major league start.

Aceves was working out of the bullpen to start the season, but with the recent injuries to John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka he has been inserted into the starting rotation. He has started two games, the first coming on May 21 vs. the Cubs, where had a no decision. Most recently he earned the win on May 26 over the Tigers. In that game he went six innings, allowing just one run and struck out six in a 14-1 Sox victory.

Combined between his work as a starter and a reliever Aceves has pitched 28 1/3 innings this year and has allowed eight runs and struck out 17. He has appeared in 11 games out of the bullpen.

Aceves has not had much experience against any of the White Sox hitters, as no one has faced him more than five times. He has fared well against the current White Sox hitters in the few matchups they have had, as they only have five hits in 27 total plate appearances.

Like Aceves, Humber hasn’€™t had that much experience as a starter at the big-league level. The former third overall pick has had  nine starts in 2011, already a career high after earning just two starts over parts of the previous five seasons. But that lack of experience does not necessarily mean a subsequent lack of success. Humber has tossed quality starts in each of his six starts, going 2-1 with a 2.16 ERA over that time.

A vast majority of the Red Sox roster has never stepped into the box against Humber. Utility man Drew Sutton (0-for-1 with a strikeout) is indeed the only Boston hitter to face the right-hander. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jon Lester: ‘I stunk, there’s no other way to put it’

05.30.11 at 11:31 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona announced following his team’s 7-3 loss to the White Sox Monday night at Fenway Park that Jon Lester wouldn’t pitch again until June 7, allowing the lefty seven days of rest.

The announcement comes after Lester turned in one of his worst outings of the season, a 5 2/3-inning appearance in which he was charged with seven runs and allowed a total of 14 baserunners.

(To see what went wrong, and right, in the Red Sox’ loss, click here.)

“I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I don’t need to go out there and figure things out,” said Lester, who saw his ERA go to 3.94 after the loss. “I just think it was one of those deals I got a little ahead of myself working east to west instead of north to south. I threw the ball up in the zone and that’s what’s going to happen when you do that. I don’t need to throw an extended bullpen, or anything like that. It will be nice to get an extra day, we’ve been going pretty hard at it these past couple of go-rounds. It will be nice. Hopefully it’s not going to go the other way and be too much. Give the body a break, come back on Tuesday and just try and go after it again and see what happens.”

Frnacona talked about perhaps an over-reliance on the cutter by Lester, who was driven from the game by an two-run bloop single from Alexei Ramirez on the starter’s 127th pitch. It was the second-most pitches the lefty has thrown in his career. According to MLB.com, the starter threw the pitch 43 times.

“He’s gotten in a little bit of a mode where his cutter is so good, but he’s throwing a lot of them. We’ve got to get him back to where he’s establishing his fastball, changeup, breaking ball, and using the cutter to put people away,” Francona said. “It’s getting to the point where it’s more and more ‘€¦ it is a great pitch, but he’s throwing a lot of them. We’ll go back to the drawing board a little bit and have a good side with [pitching coach] Curt [Young].”

Lester pointed out that one of the reasons he used his cutter so much was due to a lack of feeling for any of his other pitches.

“It was the only pitch I could throw for strikes,” he said. “I had to throw it. I had no command of my fastball. I threw a couple of decent changeups and I think I threw one curveball for a strike just because I got a checked swing at it. It was really the only pitch I could command so we had to use it.”

Asked if this outing compared with some of his other May starts in which he struggled, Lester said, “No. It’s completely different. Those games guys just got away from me, or I threw a dumb pitch at not the right time. Tonight I didn’t have a feel for anything. I stunk. There’s no other way to put it ‘€¦ Three runs, I need to do a better job of at least keeping us in that ballgame. I just flat-out didn’t get it done tonight.

For more Red Sox news, go to the team page at weei.com/redsox.

Closing Time: Jon Lester, Red Sox stumble against White Sox

05.30.11 at 10:35 pm ET
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All of a sudden, Jon Lester looks mortal.

The lefty surrendered seven runs in just 5 2/3 innings, paving the way for a 7-3 win for the White Sox over the Red Sox in the teams’ series-opener at Fenway Park Monday night. The outing pushed Lester’s ERA to 3.94, the highest its been this late in the season since July 5, 2009.

Lester was coming off an encouraging, six-inning outing in which he didn’t allow a run. But, with this performance, the Opening Day starter has now totaled four starts in which he has allowed five runs or more, having managed the feat a total of six times last season.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– Lester had to work harder than normal to get through 5 2/3 innings, throwing 127 pitches, the second-most in his career. The lefty came into the game having tossed 201 in his previous two starts, giving him 328, two shy of the threshold put in place by the Red Sox for their starters over three starts. The lefty was ultimately driving from the game on a bloop, opposite field single by Chicago’s Alexei Ramirez. He finished giving up his seven runs on eight hits, four walks and two hit-batsmen. It marked the seventh time in Lester’s career he has given up at least seven runs.

– Dan Wheeler continued his struggles, coming on for Lester with two outs in the sixth inning and promptly giving up a two-run single to Carlos Quentin. The righty had gone two straight outings since coming off the 15-day disabled list without allowing a run, but with the Quentin hit has now let five of his seven inherited runners to score.

– According to WEEI.com stat man Gary Marbry, the Red Sox have now lost their last 10 games when their starter has allowed 14 or more runners. Lester allowed 14. Marbry pointed out that the last two times a Sox starter has hit the 14-runner mark in less than six innings came in 1992 with Joe Hesketh, and an Oil Can Boyd outing in 1984.

– The final four batters in the Red Sox’ lineup — Carl Crawford, Drew Sutton, J.D. Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia — went hitless. Crawford’s average against left-handers fell to .108 after striking out vs. Matt Thornton with two runners on in the eighth.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Adrian Gonzalez launched his 10th homer of the season in the first inning against White Sox starter Jake Peavy, marking the first time the first baseman had gone deep since May 14. Gonzalez also flashed his glove, saving multiple runs when he dove and snagged a two-out sharp grounder off the bat of Paul Konkero with the bases loaded in the eighth.

Dustin Pedroia, who had at least one RBI in four of his last six games after not totaling one in 17 straight games, helped the Red Sox draw even with a two-run single back up the middle, tying the game at 3-3 in the third inning.

Live Blog: Red Sox take on White Sox in series opener at Fenway Park

05.30.11 at 5:57 pm ET
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Red Sox/White Sox Live Blog

A look at just how good these Red Sox might be

05.30.11 at 9:57 am ET
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Nobody has more wins this month than the Red Sox (19).

No team has a better batting average (.288), OPS (.824) or slugging percentage (.472) in May than this team.

Their starting pitchers have combined for a 3.69 ERA in the last 29 days.

And, most importantly, the Red Sox find themselves in first-place on May 30 for the first time since 2007 (when they were 10 ½ games ahead of second-place Baltimore).

So, the question is: How good is this team?

The answer will largely depend on injuries, the ability to some surprises to sustain their performances (see Tim Wakefield, Alfredo Aceves, Rich Hill), and ‘€¦ did we say injuries?

But, as we sit here, perhaps one of the most telling aspects of this club is that you could make an argument that the Red Sox have five players who are the best in the American League at their respective positions.

This list could be extended to Rich Hill, who is one of two relievers with at least eight appearances to not have allowed a run, joining Jose Contreras.

But for now, let’€™s focus on the regulars:

STARTING PITCHER: JOSH BECKETT

Yes, his ERA jumped up to a whopping 1.80 after giving up two runs in six innings Sunday night (1.00 for the month of May), but that is still best in the AL. He also has the league’€™s best batting average against (.189).

In the conversation: Trevor Cahill, Jered Weaver, James Shields, Justin Verlander, Alexi Ogando. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz.

FIRST BASEMAN: ADRIAN GONZALEZ

He has the most RBI among AL first baseman (45), but doesn’€™t lead in any other major offensive category. Gonzalez has the third-most homers (9), the second-best OPS (.911), and trails Casey Kotchman in batting average (although the Rays’€™ first baseman has 108 fewer plate appearances). Still, consider the overall production, along with the fact he hasn’€™t made a single error, and the first-year Red Sox makes a strong case.

In the conversation: Miguel Cabrera, Mark Teixeira, Paul Konerko.

THIRD BASEMAN: KEVIN YOUKILIS

Sure, Youkilis might have a subpar batting average (.252), but no AL third baseman has a better OPS (.876), with Adrian Beltre the only member of the group totaling more extra-base hits (23 to Youklis’€™ 22).

In the conversation: Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, Wilson Betemit.

CENTER FIELD: JACOBY ELLSBURY

As a leadoff hitter, Ellsbury joins Minnesota’€™s Denard Span in scoring the most runs in the AL (29), while totaling the best batting average (.318) and second-best OPS (.848). When comparing him to centerfielders, Ellsbury’€™s OPS is second only to Curtis Granderson. The Sox’€™ outfielder also has more stolen bases (19) than any other AL player at his position.

In the conversation: Curtis Granderson, Denard Span, Melky Cabrera, Adam Jones

DESIGNATED HITTER: DAVID ORTIZ

No DH has more home runs (10), and only Travis Hafter ‘€“ who comes in at 85 less plate appearances than Ortiz ‘€“ claims a higher OPS than the Sox’€™ slugger’€™s .902. Ortiz has more total bases than any other designated hitter (100), while having reached base above and beyond any of his counterparts (78).

In the conversation: Billy Butler, Vlad Guerrero, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, Johnny Damon.

Monday’s Red Sox-White Sox matchups: Jon Lester vs. Jake Peavy

05.30.11 at 7:09 am ET
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One of only three pitchers in the majors to record seven wins, Jon Lester (7-1, 3.36) takes the hill Monday night as the Red Sox return home after a successful seven-game road trip (5-2). Since being charged with a loss on Opening Day, the hard-throwing lefty has reeled off wins in his last seven decisions, most recently in a 14-2 victory over Cleveland. In that win, Lester held the Indians scoreless in six frames.

Lester looks to continue his dominance Monday, pitching the first game of a six-game homestand against White Sox righty Jake Peavy. Peavy (1-0, 3.00) has walked just one batter in 18 innings this season and had his last start cut short after three innings due to a lengthy rain delay. Peavy has made just three starts this season, 10 months after having surgery to repair a detached latissimus dorsi muscle in his back. One of those starts was a 111-pitch, three-hit shutout against the Indians.

In addition to leading the American League in wins, Lester is sixth in both strikeouts (70) and walks allowed (27). He is also third in the league in run support at 9.56 per game. Though the Boston bats have been on fire, the offense may look different as the Red Sox played a doubleheader against the Tigers on Sunday. It is likely manager Terry Francona will give a couple of his starters the night off. Francona won’t feel pressured to start any single starter as no Red Sox players have had consistent success against Peavy. In fact, at least five members of Boston’s starting lineup have never faced the Chicago starter before.

Lester has the number of a few White Sox batters, including Alexei Ramirez, who is just 1-for-10 against the 2010 All-Star. Paul Konerko is the lone Chicago hitter who has hit Lester well in the past. In 15 plate appearances, Konerko has one home run, four RBIs and a .333 average.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, jake peavy, Jon Lester

Closing Time: Justin Verlander too much for Red Sox, Josh Beckett

05.29.11 at 10:54 pm ET
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The Red Sox ended an otherwise positive road trip on a sour note, dropping the night-cap of a day-night doubleheader against the Tigers, 3-0, Sunday night at Comerica Park.

The main culprit in handing the Sox just their second loss of the seven-game road swing was Detroit starter Justin Verlander, who out-dueled Sox starter Josh Beckett halting the Red Sox’ five-game win streak.

The Sox, who claimed a 4-3 victory in the day’s first game, still return home to Fenway Park residing in first-place in the American League East, carrying a 30-23 mark.

Here is what went wrong (and right) in the loss …

WHAT WENT WRONG

– Beckett didn’t have great command, particularly of a curveball he threw just 13 times out of his 107 pitches. The Sox righty walked a season-high five batters, including his second batter of the game, Andy Dirks, who came home with the Tigers’ first run in what would be a two-run first inning for the Tigers.

– The only offense against Verlander were two hits from J.D. Drew and one each by Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Varitek. The Detroit ace went 7 2/3 innings, stranding three runners in scoring position.

– The Red Sox not only couldn’t get to Verlander with any runs, but also failed to drive the starter from the game prior to the eighth inning. The hard-throwing righty threw 132 pitches, surpassing his previous season-high of 127. The pitch total was the second-most thrown by a pitcher this season, coming up just one short of Tim Lincecum’s 133. Verlander’s final pitch, a walk to Ellsbury, was clocked at 100 mph.

– The Red Sox squandered their best chance to rally, in the eighth inning, when finally drove Verlander from the game while putting runners on first and second (thanks to a Drew double and Ellsbury walk). But against Tigers’ reliever Joaquin Benoit — who had allowed three of his five inherited runners to score this season — Dustin Pedroia flew out to left field to end the threat.

– The Tigers were able to add an insurance run in the eighth inning against Red Sox reliever Scott Atchison, when Don Kelly rifled a single into center field, scoring Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera had reached second after Ellsbury came up short in his diving attempt at a sinking liner, which ultimately got behind the centerfielder, allowing the slow-footed first baseman to get into scoring position.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Following the two-run first inning, Beckett settled down. The Sox starter didn’t allow a run in his final five innings while keeping the Sox in it against Verlander. Beckett’s ERA still stands at 1.80, best in the American League.

Kevin Youkilis executed a head’s up play in the seventh inning after beating a potential force play at second base on a one-out grounder from David Ortiz. After beating what would have been the beginning of a double play ball, if not for the steal attempt, Youkilis saw the Tigers hadn’t called timeout and raced to an uncovered third base. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Carl Crawford grounded out to end the inning, stranding Youkilis.

– Reliever Rich Hill did it again, pitching another scoreless inning, this time striking out two of his three batters. The lefty has now pitched eight times, giving up no runs and just three hits while striking out 12 and walking two.

Live Blog: Red Sox finish off road trip with Josh Beckett taking on Tigers

05.29.11 at 6:38 pm ET
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