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Saito has lived under the radar

09.19.09 at 11:25 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — In his appearance Wednesday against the Angels, Takashi Saito pitched one inning, and for the 12th straight outing didn’t allow an earned run. In the process, the reliever made $500,00o as a bonus for appearing in 50 games this season. Few took note.

Saturday night, Saito completed yet another seemingly innocuous frame, stretching his streak of appearances without an earned run to 13 games, while lowering his ERA to 2.49. In an 11-5 white-washing of the Orioles, at Camden Yards. It seemed of little consequence.

Yet, as his latest inning showcased in the Sox’ 11-5 win over the Angels, Saito has established himself as one of the organization’s best offseason acquisitions.

The entire story of Saito’s emergence into the heart and soul of the Red Sox‘ bullpen — which has included a .179 batting average against left-handers — is made even more intriguing by the fact that back when he inked his deal with the Sox there were doubts whether or not his injured right elbow would survive another major league season.

Saito chose to enact a procedure which injected plasma into his injured elbow to push along the healing the process instead of getting Tommy John Surgery, an option many suggested he take.

“The decision really came down to a choice between literally not being able to throw for a year, and at this point in my career, sacrificing one year and trying to make it back, as opposed to the route I took which was to throw right away, with the rehab, of course,” said Saito through translator Masa Hoshino. “So that was the choice I was faced with at the time and it was really hard to say which was right choice, but looking back at it now, with the fact I have been able to pitch, it wasn’t necessarily a bad decision.

“Even if surgery had gone well and rehab had gone well, I would still be a 39-year-old pitcher who just had Tommy John surgery in the eyes of the teams.”

As the season has progressed Saito has put the Red Sox’ brass mind increasingly at ease, getting to the point where back-to-back appearances (which has happened four times this year) has become a viable option. Saito has also shown the ability to serve in a variety of roles without nary a hiccup, having pitched in the sixth inning (3 times), seventh (10), eighth (21), and ninth and beyond (22) all with fairly comparable success.

“I think I have recovered well,” Saito said. “I think the fact I have been able to pitch healthy throughout this whole season really proves something. It’s hard to say exactly how things will play out, but if I’m able to pitch at this healthy level I’ll be able to make it through to the end of the season.”

Wagner: ‘Stuff-wise, I haven’t played with anybody as good as Jon’

09.19.09 at 9:34 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — In between watching the action unfold in the Virginia Tech-Nebraska football game, Saturday afternoon in the visitors clubhouse at Camden Yards, Billy Wagner took the time to offer some high praise for the Red Sox‘ starter, Jon Lester.

“Stuff-wise I haven’t played with anybody as good as Jon. Just his stuff. Randy had a height advantage, plus he threw really hard and had the fastest slider. But, stuff-wise, I’ll take Jonny,” said Wagner, referencing his former Houston Astros teammate Randy Johnson. “He’s got a plus-fastball, with a nasty two-seamer, he’s got a cutter, a slider, he’s got a changeup. He’s got so many weapons to choose from.”

That’s the BEST stuff. Better than Johnson. Better than the pitcher Wagner just left behind in New York, Johan Santana

“It’s not a not knock on Johan or Randy. [Lester] could go out today and get crushed, but that wouldn’t change my opinion of how he goes out there competes and his stuff,” Wagner said. “His stuff is probably the best I’ve seen in the league. I’ve watched Halladay and other guys… as far as stuff. How does he get hit? How does he give up a run? Josh and Buch are the same way. You just say, ‘How do they ever get hit?'”

Lester didn’t exactly get ‘crushed’, but Saturday night certainly wasn’t the kind of shining example of Wagner’s analysis. The Sox lefty first saw his scoreless streak end at 17 innings thanks to a first-inning run by the O’s, going on to allow single runs in three of his first four innings.

He would finish having allowed three runs on 10 hits over six innings, throwing 103 pitches. It was the first time since May 9 that Lester surrendered that many hits. Still, despite somewhat bumpy start, the outing did nothing to dissuade anybody’s opinion heading into the season’s finale few weeks.

All you have to know is that Lester still hasn’t had a start in which he has allowed as many as four runs since July 30. And that four-run outing remains the most offensive totaled against him dating back to May 31.

“I just think watching his stuff, how well he can locate his stuff, when he has to step on the gas pedal he can,” Wagner said. “He just has a lot of weapons to choose from. If one or two aren’t working he has two others that he can still control a game with. It’s always easy to say when guys are rolling, but even when he hasn’t been he has seemed to make that tough pitch.”

Could Martinez catch Beckett in the postseason?

09.19.09 at 9:15 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — The question was posed to Red Sox manager Terry Francona prior to his team’s game with the Orioles, Saturday night at Camden Yards: Will Josh Beckett throw to Victor Martinez at some point before the end of the regular season in preparation for a potential connection during the postseason?

“You know, I don’t know. It’s not a bad question,” Francona said. “I don’t know.  That’s the answer. I just don’t know. It’s a legitimate question. To be honest with you, I know the numbers with ‘Tek are phenomenal and I believe in that. I also think that the night that Victor caught Beckett [in Toronto] was a crazy night.”

“I just, again, I’m very aware that when Victor catches, our lineup is more potent. Also, our goal is to win that game. That’s where we probably have to sit down at some point and think about … I just don’t know the answer. I certainly don’t think it’s a bad question. I just don’t know the answer.”

Beckett (who had the day off from throwing and will execute his bullpen session Sunday thanks to an extra day of rest) had a similar response when addressing the subject.

“It it will work itself out,” he noted.

The entire subject — and subsequent reaction — surfaced the possibility that Martinez might be linked up with Beckett in a postseason game, after all. For some time it was believed that Varitek was cemented as the ace’s battery-mate, yet with the Red Sox success using the lineup with Martinez at catcher, a different approach may now be considered.

Martinez and Beckett have worked together just one time this season, the seven-run outing, Aug. 18 in Toronto in which the Sox’ starter didn’t find out Varitek was forced to the bench with a bad neck until two hours before first pitch. He has also thrown to Kottaras three times this year, allowing an opponents batting average of .400.

Speaking on the subject a few weeks ago, Beckett didn’t downplay the importance of Varitek, but also didn’t sound like a pitcher who would flounder if the connection was broken up.

‘€œI’€™ll throw to whomever they put back there,’€ said the Red Sox starter. ‘€œWe’€™ve just got to figure things out. We’€™re adults. We’€™re grown-ups. We have to figure (expletive) like that out. You can’€™t just go about your life hoping things work out because if you’€™re going about your life hoping things are going to turn out they’€™re (expletive) not.”

Beckett continued…

‘€œIt matters. Don’€™t get me wrong. It matters,’€ he said of working with a new catcher. ‘€œJason Varitek is very special to me because we end up getting in a rhythm very, very quickly. But the bottom line is that it’€™s your fault. If you can’€™t execute a pitch and you give up a hard hit ball it’€™s your fault. Anybody who tells you different is probably a (wimp).

‘€œFor me the thing is that I throw so many pitches. For somebody new it’€™s very difficult to remember everything I throw because I throw everything to both sides of the plate. I might want that pitch, but they might set up to the wrong spot, which, like I said, is still my fault. I need to shake until I get what I want.’€

Beckett fully understands the challenges that come with truly developing the kind of relationship he has grown into with Varitek. When the two first started working together in 2006, it took three months into the season before the pitcher finally broached the subject of wanting to throw his change-up more, as he done while with the Florida Marlins.

‘€œIt’€™s weird because they’€™re trying to figure you out and you’€™re trying to figure them out,” he said. “Neither of you want to step on each other’€™s toes. It takes time.’€

The secret to Gonzo’s success

09.19.09 at 3:22 am ET
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BALTIMORE — Did you know that since Sept. 1 Alex Gonzalez (.280) has a better batting average than such offensive shortstops as Ben Zobrist, Jimmy Rollins, Marco Scutaro, Jhonny Peralta, and Stephen Drew? He is also just one batting average point and one slugging percentage point behind Miguel Tejada during the span.

Better yet, starting at Aug. 24, Gonzalez has the best batting average of any American League shortstop (.329).

Friday night, there was just the one hit from Gonzalez — an opposite field single which saw the No. 9 hitter line a slider sharply into left-center field. But what even that one hit did was continue to offer a reminder as to how much the Red Sox‘ shortstop has exceeded expectations.

With the Red Sox Gonzalez is now hitting .290. So how does a player who came with so few offensive expectations find his way so suddenly? Just a little patience, that’s all.

“We talked when he got over here that obviously breaking balls had been an issue at times,” said Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan. “Good breaking ball hitters let the ball come to them. So we just tried to instill in him to let the ball travel. Let it get to you. As soon as you go out and get it, you’re going to have issues. Just back the ball up a little bit. You don’t have to be out in front. If you’re late on a heater you can line it to right. 

“When he gets in trouble is when he wants to go out and get the ball. Nobody is going to hit a breaking ball if you’re way out in front. So rather than cheating on the fastball have confidence that you’re going to be able to stay short to that pitch. Now he works on it. We just talk about letting the ball travel just a little more. That’s the difference between hitting a line-drive to right -center on a breaking ball, or rolling over and hitting a grounder to third.”

Injury updates after Sox’ win

09.18.09 at 11:09 pm ET
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Jason Bay could see it coming.

“My daughter has been sick for five days at home so it was just a matter of time,” Bay said.

The flu which had lingered with his daughter finally caught up to Bay, forcing the Sox’ left fielder from the game in the fourth inning of the Red Sox‘ 3-1 win over the Orioles, at Camden Yards. 

“I didn’t get a really good sleep last night and I woke up and it was kind of touch and go the rest of the way,” said Bay, who was replaced by Josh Reddick. “I just tried to ride it out. I haven’t been able to eat much. If I can just get something to eat I’ll be alright. Today I came in feeling like I was getting sick for a bit, I didn’t take (batting practice) and went out into the game. It was kind of like, ‘Hey, let me know how you’re feeling and halfway through I just kind of ran out of steam.”

Another casualty for the Sox was center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who tweaked his groin muscle while stealing his 62nd base of the season, in the first inning. (As a quick aside, Ellsbury has identified the Camden Yards infield as perhaps the best natural playing surface to run on, as his 17 stolen bases — his most in any park other than Fenway — would suggest.)

Red Sox manager Terry Francona said that it will depend on how Ellsbury feels when he wakes up Saturday morning as to whether the leadoff hitter will play or not, but talking after the game the player didn’t seem overly concerned.

“Hopefully it’s nothing that keeps me out,” said Ellsbury, who had two more hits to raise his average to .302. “I think it should be fine, but, yeah, I just tweaked it in that first inning stealing… I’m pretty sure I’ll play but it’s one of those things that you never know if it’s going to tighten up tonight. But I’m pretty confident I’ll play tomorrow.”

Ellsbury has been remarkably consistent since the end of July, with Friday night offering another example. On Aug. 1 he was hitting .303, and since then the outfielder hasn’t seen his average drop below .294, with it hanging at .299 or higher throughout his last 10 games.

Ellsbury has also become a proficient two-strike hitter, totaling more two-strike hits than any player in the major leagues (73). Last year he had just 43 two-strike hits in 251 at-bats, while this time around he has managed his total in 265.

One player who seemed to make progress in fight back from injury was Kevin Youkilis, who went 0-for-4 but show no signs of the back spasms that sidelined him throughout the Angels series causing any sort of problems. His improved health was evidenced in the seventh inning when he beat out a potential 4-6-3 double play with inspired hustle down the line.

“I feel pretty good, just little things here and there,” Youkilis said. “I felt good out there and I’m glad to be back playing. I felt good. I felt probably good enough where I could have played yesterday but they wanted to hold me back another day so I was playing at a higher level today.”

Wakefield still on target for Monday

09.18.09 at 6:27 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — Tim Wakefield’s path to another start, scheduled for Monday in Kansas City, remained on target after the pitcher threw 40 pitches without incident in a bullpen session prior to Friday night’s Red Sox game against the Orioles, at Camden Yards. 

When asked if he was still all set for a Monday start, Wakefield simply said, “In my mind, yes.”

“He did pretty well,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Wakefield’s side sesson. “I think he felt some improvement. We’ll check him tomorrow and do some strength testing with the idea that he’ll pitch on Monday.”

If for some reason Wakefield isn’t ready to go against the Royals, one option to replace him in that start won’t be Josh Beckett, who will get an extra day of rest this week and will pitch on Wednesday with Paul Byrd slated to appear on Tuesday.

“We wanted to give Beckett an extra day,” Francona said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations, especially with he and Lester because they’ve carried a big load. When we all feel like it’s in their best interest we try and do it.”

Beckett and Lester are sixth and seventh, respectively, in the American League for total number of pitches thrown. Beckett has thrown 3,166, while Lester stand at 3,136.

Buchholz: ‘I thought I was gone’

09.18.09 at 12:49 pm ET
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If the playoffs started today — which we can officially utter without the ‘If’ starting in 18 days — Clay Buchholz would be the Red Sox‘ No. 3 starter. After starts in Anaheim by Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, Buchholz would be the one summoned to pitch the Sox’ first home game of the 2009 post-season.

Not only that, but fans of the team would feel pretty confident that the Red Sox would have the edge on the mound that day.

And that, considering where Buchholz found himself a month and a half ago, is fairly remarkable.

“This year feels like it’s going fast,” said the Red Sox’ starter in their series opener against Baltimore, Friday night, at Camden Yards, “but all of what happened seems so long ago.”

The chunk of “what happened” that is still fresh in Buchholz’ mind was the notion that, by this time of the season, he would not be a member of the Red Sox. When the trade deadline came, and the pitcher was forced to see his name on every hotel or clubhouse television set thanks to rumors of his inclusion in various deals, his mind was made up — he thought he was moving on.

“Oh, I thought I was gone,” Buchholz said. “Just a couple of things that were happening just as far as being in the clubhouse and the hotel the night before, seeing your name running on the bottom of the screen. It was crazy.”

The thoughts of potentially being dealt started in the offseason, but were resurfaced when he was called up to start a July 17 game against Toronto. For some, including Buchholz, the timing seemed too coincidental.

“It did right when it happened and then I got here,” said Buchholz regarding if it crossed his mind the Red Sox were calling him up to showcase him for a potential trade. “But then they brought me into the office and told me that wasn’€™t the reason. I just took what they said, threw everything else out and ran with it. Then a couple of weeks later at the deadline it felt a little bit different again. But it didn’€™t happen and I’€™m here.”

Considering his proficiency of late, the Red Sox are glad there was no parting of the ways. In his last four starts, he is 3-0 (with the team going 4-0) with a 1.59 ERA and opposing hitters managing just an .172 batting average against him. He also hasn’t allowed a single home run. 

During that stretch, Buchholz has thrown the sixth-most innings of any pitcher in the big leagues (28 1/3) while allowing the second-fewest hits (17) among the group to have thrown that many frames. 

“In the end, as of right now, it turned out the way I wanted to,” he said, “just not on my timeline.”

Red Sox still petitioning to start ’10 on road

09.18.09 at 9:50 am ET
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Due the challenges that figure to be presented thanks to hockey being played at Fenway Park in January, and the subsequent construction on the park that is scheduled to follow, WEEI.com has learned that the Red Sox are still petitioning Major League Baseball to begin the 2010 season on the road. The MLB-released schedule for the ’10 season has the Red Sox beginning their regular season at Fenway on April 5 against the New York Yankees, although there was a provision within the announcement that said the schedule is “subject to change”.

“We continue to ask about the possibility of opening on the road,” said Jonathan Gilula, the team’s senior vice president of business affairs. “I think there still is (a chance of starting on the road). As the schedule is released it is subject to change, it is the type of change Major League Baseball is still looking at.” 

Red Sox versus Orioles 9/18 Preview

09.18.09 at 9:18 am ET
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Tim Wakefield was an all-star pitcher for the first half of this season. Daisuke Matsuzaka was fresh off an 18-win year in 2008. Brad Penny and John Smoltz were low-cost, high-reward (or so we hoped) signings that were suppose to generate more upside and promise in their return from injury. And Justin Masterson, a second-year sinkerballer, was a valuable and flexible option to fill in if a spot start was needed or a long relief outing was called for.

 Add aces Josh Beckett and Jon Lester to forefront that rotation and it is no wonder why Clay Buchholz (5-3, 3.66) had not the slightest idea when he would eventually be summoned from Pawtucket and promoted back to the majors.

Now, one of those five still has his back acting up, another just picked up his first win since June, and three find themselves sporting new uniforms. Yet, in that time, the Boston Red Sox (89-59) gave Buchholz the opportunity to prove he has what it takes to be part of their dominant rotation.

 And so far, he has done just that.

 After surrendering only two runs (one earned) in seven innings in a 2-0 defeat to Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers on August 13, Buchholz has yet to lose a game winning four of his last six outings and turning in quality starts in six of his last seven.

 Now, coming off a 7-1 homestand, the Sox travel to Camden Yards to take on the Baltimore Orioles (60-86) in the series finale against the Birds. Despite dropping last night’€™s game 4-3 to the Los Angeles Angels with Billy Wagner being tagged with the loss in the 9th, the Sox look to continue their hot streak handing the ball over to the hard-throwing Buchholz.

 In his last start opposing Baltimore, Buchholz hurled one of his best games since pitching a no-hitter against the Orioles two years ago. In the contest, Buchholz breezed through Baltimore’€™s lineup tossing seven shutout innings in a swapping 10-0 massacre.

 In his career, Buchholz owns a 3-2 record with a 4.75 ERA in six appearances against the O’€™s squad, but sports a skyrocketed 11.57 ERA in three games at Camden Yards.

 Though the Orioles watched their playoff dreams diminish before they started, the team sends righty Jeremy Guthrie (10-14, 5.06) to the mound as they attempt to play the role of spoilers in the Sox hunt for the wild-card.

 Leading the league in home runs allowed (30), Guthrie has since began to turn his disappointing season around by winning three of his last five decisions.

 The Red Sox, however, have had plenty of success against Guthrie with designated hitter David Ortiz hitting .333 with two home runs in 25 plate appearances and centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury batting .375 with one home run in 25 appearances as well. In eleven career appearances (10 starts), Guthrie has gone 1-4 with a 4.74 ERA when facing the Sox.

Holding a six game lead in the AL Wild Card over the Texas Rangers, the Sox are poised to clinch the playoff berth in the fastest way possible as the magic number sits at 12. Although he has all but secured the third start in the playoff rotation, Buchholz looks to keep his momentum and end the season on a hot note.

Here is how the two pitchers have fared in their respective careers against each team:


Clay Buchholz vs. Orioles’€™ batters

Brian Roberts (17 career plate appearances) .429 AVG/.529 OBP/.643 SLG, 3 walks, 1 strikeout

Nick Markakis (15) .100/.400/.100, 4 walks, 3 strikeouts

Luke Scott (9) 0-for-7, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts

Melvin Mora (8) 1-for-6, 1 walk, 1 hit-by-pitch, 2 strikeouts

Felix Pie (6) .200/.333/.200, 1 walk

Ty Wigginton (4) 2-for-4, 1 home run, 2 strikeouts

Nolan Reimold (3) 0-for-3

Matt Weiters (3) 2-for-3

Robert Andino (2) 0-for-1, 1 walk

Cesar Izturis (2) 0-for-2

Chad Moeller (2) 2-for-2

Jeff Florentino (1) 0-for-1

Justin Turner (1) 0-for-1, 1 strikeout

Jeremy Guthrie vs. Red Sox batters

Kevin Youkilis (30 plate appearances) .269 AVG/.367 OBP/.423 SLG, 1 home run, 4 walks, 7 strikeouts

Dustin Pedroia (29) .320/.414/.400, 4 walks, 3 strikeouts

Jacoby Ellsbury (25) .375/.400/.583, 1 home run, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Mike Lowell (25) .174/.240/.304, 1 home run, 2 walks, 1 strikeout

David Ortiz (25) .333/.400/.810, 2 home runs, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts

J.D. Drew (21) .333/.429/.722, 1 home run, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts

Jason Varitek (21) .263/.333/.474, 1 home run, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts

Jason Bay (13) .500/.615/1.200, 2 home runs, 3 walks, 1 strikeout

Nick Green (9) .250/.222/.375, 1 strikeout

Casey Kotchman (7) .429/.429/1.000, 1 home run, 2 strikeouts

Rocco Baldelli (7) 0-for-7, 1 strikeout

Brian Anderson (6) 1-for-6, 1 strikeout

Joey Gathright (5) 4-for-4, 1 walk

Jed Lowrie (3) 0-for-3, 1 strikeout

Victor Martinez (1) 0-for-1

Red Sox pregame Thursday 9/17

09.17.09 at 5:51 pm ET
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Here are some of the highlights from Terry Francona’s pregame talk with reporters. Papelbon says he’s ready to go tonight after being unavailable Wednesday.

Francona on Youkilis:

“Actually a lot better. But he’s much improved. He’s doing a lot better, which is terrific.”

Francona on expanded rosters:

“I actually don’t like it. I think there’s needs to be some amendments in the rules. I understand where you want to call up players. I think that’s great. You play all year under one set of rules and then September 1, it’s vastly different.”

Francona on visitors playing LF at Fenway after last night:

“Every team has a different mentality. Some teams play deep and some teams decide we’re going to play shallow and take something away. When Manny (Ramirez) was here, we didn’t know what our philosophy was.

“I do think we’re built for this ball park and we’ve got some guys like Mike Lowell and some of our things we do well show up more here and sometimes some of our deficiencies show up on the road. I think our record should be better than it is on the road.” Read the rest of this entry »

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