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Kevin Millar: Knuckleball Killer

05.19.09 at 8:24 pm ET
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One can make a case that there is no active player in Major League Baseball who owns as much success against Tim Wakefield as Kevin Millar. The former Sox entered tonight with a .444 average against Wakefield, is the second highest by any opponent who has faced the pitcher at least 25 times, behind only Dave Nilsson’€™s incredible .640 average. (Perhaps one should train to face the knuckleball by growing up in Australia and playing cricket?) Of his 12 hits entering tonight, Millar had three homers off of the Sox starter.

That number just inflated to four: Millar, leading off the fifth, crushed a hanging knuckler into the back row of the Monster Seats for a solo homer. But Wakefield retired the next three Jays in order, and so the Sox still possess a 2-1 lead entering the bottom of the fifth.

Read More: Kevin Millar, Tim Wakefield,

A Word About Tim Wakefield

05.19.09 at 8:19 pm ET
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In Tim Wakefield’s last outing prior to tonight, he had, unquestionably, his worst outing of the year. He gave up 11 hits and seven runs in just 4.2 innings. The man who had been the glue for the Red Sox rotation, submitting quality starts in five of his first six outings, failed to do so at a time when the bullepn was getting battered.

Tonight, Wakefield’s knuckler has again presented a quandary for the Blue Jays. Through four innings, he has been everything the Sox could have hoped, permitting three meager singles and a walk. He entered tonight having held opposing batters to a .224 average this year, sixth lowest in the American League, and since the start of 2008, opponents are hitting .227 against him, the second lowest mark in the A.L. in that span, behind only teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka. Tonight, the Jays are 3-for-16 (.188) off of him through four innings.

Ortiz’ Second At-Bat

05.19.09 at 8:08 pm ET
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In his much scrutinized return to the Red Sox lineup, David Ortiz just had his first poor at-bat. Jays starter Brian Tallet got a called strike on a first-pitch fastball, got a bad swing-and-miss on an 82 mph slider that was down and away, tossed a ball, then got another swing-and-miss on a slider. Ortiz is now 0-for-1 with a walk tonight.

Noteworthy: Ortiz is just the eighth left-handed hitter to strike out against Tallet this year. Lefties entered tonight hitting .306 with an astonishing 1.084 OPS against Tallet entering tonight.

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The Jeff Bailey Era Does Not End Quietly

05.19.09 at 7:54 pm ET
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Kevin Youkilis is eligible to come off the disabled list on Wednesday, and so barring something unexpected, he will resume life as the team’s everyday first baseman on Wednesday…this despite the fact that the third-place finisher in last year’s MVP race went 0-for-6 in his two-game rehab assignment for Triple-A Pawtucket.

“I asked him if he wanted to go to Double-A,” joked Sox manager Terry Francona. “He said no.”

Jeff Bailey has been Youkilis’ replacement for these past two weeks. He hasn’t exactly distinguished himself during that time, hitting .182 with a .318 OBP and .364 slugging mark entering tonight. But Bailey has had his moments, most memorably a homer on Saturday in front of about 75-80 friends and family members from the state of Washington who made the trip to Seattle.

Tonight, Bailey stepped to the plate with runners on first and second, and lined a hit-and-run single to left-center that scored a run and put the Sox in position to score another when George Kottaras followed with a sac fly. The Sox are 8-6 entering tonight in games started by Bailey at first, including a 6-6 mark during this stint on the D.L.

After two, the Red Sox are up, 2-0.

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Ortiz receives ovation

05.19.09 at 7:27 pm ET
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David Ortiz received a warm and welcoming round of applause as he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first for his first plate appearance since Friday. Ortiz fouled off one meaty pitch on a 2-0 count, but otherwise, Brian Tallet wasn’t close to the strike zone, and Ortiz ended up accepting a five-pitch walk. For all of his struggles, Ortiz has been walking: he drew at least one free pass n 10 straight games from April 30-May 19, the longest streak by a member of the Sox since 2005. He was not charge with an official at-bat, and so his homerless streak remains at 144 at-bats, still one shy of his career-long run of 145 that ran from Sept. 1998 through June 2000.

The Sox and Jays are underway, wth both sides going scoreless in the first.

Worthwhile audio: Ken Rosenthal was on Dale & Holley this morning discussing how the Sox might proceed with Ortiz, and the team’s preliminary conversations with the Indians about Victor Martinez. CLICK HERE for the interview. An interesting excerpt:

I just don’€™t know that his problems were as mental as much as they were physical. I don’€™t know if this isn’€™t simply age-related decline.
My suspicion is that it is to at least some degree bad…What happens next is really going to be interesting, because they’€™ve played this card now. They haven’€™t played the ‘€˜dropping him in the lineup’€™ card but Francona doesn’€™t want to do that because that would be disruptive to others. So really, this is it.
If he’€™s going to hit, it’€™s going to have to start happening soon, because at some point you have to make a decision on where your club is and what you need going forward. If in the interval he doesn’€™t start producing, that becomes a need.

Read More: David Ortiz,

Ortiz remains anchored in his familiar spot

05.19.09 at 5:11 pm ET
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Following his three-game hiatus, David Ortiz gave off the appearance today in the clubhouse of a man from whom a burden had been lifted. Though he is, for now, maintaining relative silence with the media, at one point putting his finger to his mouth and offering a friendly “Shhhhh…” in response to an inquiry about his return, the slugger seemed upbeat in all of his interactions, pronouncing that he felt good about life and his return home.

He returned home not just to Boston following a West Coast swing that took an unquestionable toll in Anaheim, where he concluded a three-game series by going 0-for-7 and stranding a dozen runners, but also to his customary third spot in the batting order. Red Sox manager Terry Francona suggested that he had no real desire to remove Ortiz from the lineup position where he has remained since 2005.

“I think our best lineup is with him hitting third. Saying that, if you look at the production, I told him if I ever decide to change that, I’€™ll tell you first. He understood that. The one thing I don’€™t want to do is start bouncing the lineup all over the place,” said Francona. “I still believe our best lineup is the one we have, or similar to it. So I’€™d like to give it a chance.

“When things aren’€™t going perfect, I want to make sure he understands that we’€™re here for him,” Francona added. “It’€™s too easy to run from players or run from problems. I don’€™t know that cures what you’€™re trying to do. We think we have good players. Sometimes when it’€™s not going the way you want it to, running away isn’€™t the answer.”

Francona was pleased with the apparent improvement in Ortiz’ demeanor during his time out of the lineup, praising the slugger’s behind-the-scenes work to restore his stroke and stating that Ortiz would have been used as a pinch-hitter for Rocco Baldelli in the waning innings of Sunday’s game. (The Sox did not get that chance, as Baldelli’s turn never came up in the ninth, and the Mariners had a walk-off win in the bottom of the inning.)

Now, with Ortiz back in the lineup, the Sox can start examining whether the first part of the season has been a wild aberration or something more serious. Ortiz is hitting .208 with no homers, 15 RBIs, and a higher on-base (.318) than slugging (.300) mark. He has gone 144 straight at-bats without a homer, one shy of his career-long drought (set in 1998-2000, and which included a full year in the minors).

The Sox are hopeful, of course, for a rebound to performance levels that would suggest a player who deserves to be back in the third spot in the lineup. If that happens, the team is confident that Ortiz can still salvage an impressive campaign.

“We’re expecting him to do some good things,” said Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. “He can put together a really good year in four and a half months. We’€™re going to need him if we’€™re going to be a team that competes for a championship.”

The Sox hope that they do not have to explore what might take place if such a turnaround does not occur.

Read More: David Ortiz,

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Match-Ups, 5/19

05.19.09 at 3:29 pm ET
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RED SOX VS. BRIAN TALLET

If David Ortiz is back in the lineup for tonight’€™s game against the Blue Jays, he can take some measure of hope from his previous success against Toronto starter Brian Tallet. Ortiz has two hits ‘€“ a homer and a double ‘€“ in eight career plate appearances against the left-hander.

David Ortiz (8 career plate appearances): 2-for-5, homer, double, three walks
Jason Varitek (8): 2-for-6, homer, two walks
J.D.Drew (4): 0-for-3, walk
Julio Lugo (4): 2-for-3, walk
Mike Lowell (3): 0-for-2, sac fly
Dustin Pedroia (3): 2-for-3
Rocco Baldelli (2): 0-for-2
Jason Bay (2): 1-for-1, walk
Jacoby Ellsbury (2): 0-for-2
Nick Green (2): 1-for-2
George Kottaras (1): 0-for-1

BLUE JAYS VS. TIM WAKEFIELD

The Blue Jays feature a couple of formidable foes for Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield. Foremost, former Boston teammate Kevin Millar has been an absolute force against the knuckleballer. His .444 average against Wakefield is the second highest by any opponent who has faced the pitcher at least 25 times, behind only Dave Nilsson’€™s incredible .640 average. (Perhaps one should train to face the knuckleball by growing up in Australia and playing cricket?)

Vernon Wells (60 career plate appearances vs. Wakefield): .255 average / .350 OBP / .294 slugging
Alex Rios (40): .231 / .250 / .538, 3 homers
Kevin Millar (29): .444 / .483 / .889, 3 homers
Aaron Hill (26): .292 / .346 / .333
John McDonald (26): .240 / .321 / .320
Rod Barajas (23): .227 / .261 / .364, homer
Lyle Overbay (17): .313 / .353 / .313
Marco Scutaro (17): .313 / .353 / .438
Scott Rolen (13): .182 / .308 / .273
Adam Lind (6): 1-for-6

Read More: brian tallet, Tim Wakefield,

Red Sox trade minor-leaguer to the Pirates

05.18.09 at 3:38 pm ET
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The Red Sox traded minor-league outfielder Jeff Corsaletti to the Pirates for cash considerations. Corsaletti, a sixth-round pick in 2005, seemed stalled in the Sox system, where he was hitting .128 with a .319 OPS in Triple-A Pawtucket this year. He had put up far more impressive numbers earlier in his Sox minor-league career, particularly for Double-A Portland in 2008, when he hit .312 with a .417 OBP and .946 OPS. But with the inability to translate those numbers to Triple-A following a mid-year promotion last season, and given his ongoing defensive shortcomings, the outfielder’s window of opportunity with the Sox appeared to be closing.

That being the case, he was dealt to Pittsburgh, where he will enjoy a better opportunity to reach the majors. The 26-year-old was assigned by the Pirates to Double-A Altoona.

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Red Sox at Mariners Match-Ups, 5/15

05.15.09 at 4:47 pm ET
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MARINERS VS. JON LESTER

Jon Lester (2-3, 6.31 ERA in 2009; 1-0, 4.67 in three career starts against the Mariners) has endured a puzzling start to his 2009 season. He is coming off of a start in which his line score (4.1 innings, 10 hits, 8 runs) was as bad as just about any in his career. Yet in that Saturday game against Tampa Bay, he was largely a victim of terrible luck (and Evan Longoria), as he allowed five hits that were grounded through the left side of the infield.

Lester has been a victim of the longball this year, having allowed eight in 41.1 innings (1.7 per nine innings), the second highest total in the A.L. and up significantly from the 14 he allowed in 210.1 frames (0.6 per nine innings last year). But his stuff appears as good as ever: he’€™s striking out 10.7 batters per nine innings, the second highest rate in the American League. Read the rest of this entry »

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Are radar gun readings bad for Daniel Bard?

05.15.09 at 2:40 pm ET
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Wednesday night all eyes were on the box behind home plate at Angel Stadium, the one flashing the radar gun readings. Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard was pitching and with his outing came the expectation that an 100 mph fastball would be making at least one appearance.

The pitch came, Angels slugger Mike Napoli swung about an hour late, and all the attention immediately transferred to that box.

’94’.

Doubts were passed from person to person in the press box, until finally somebody confirmed that the radar gun readings on the television had it at ’97’. It made no difference. Two more fastballs later and Napoli had struck out and those who weren’t familiar with Bard’s fastball had been introduced to what had instantly become of baseball’s most dynamic heaters.

But it raised the question: Could such chicanery with the radar gun readings get in the head of a young pitcher to the point where they try and become someting their not?

“If you’re smart enough and mentally prepared enough, that shouldn’t bother you,” said Bard, who has been clocked as high as 102 mph. “You should look at how hitters do against you.”

Bard could see Napoli’s reaction and that was good enough for him. He has gone through the ups and downs of radar gun readings in the minors, understanding the fun fans derive from seeing an 100 mph fastball. It started when he got his first ‘100’ mph reading on a stadium gun at Hadlock Field in Portland on a 3-0 pitch (“You get the courtesy applaud on a 3-0 strike, but then it kind of got louder and louder,” he remembered. “Then I turned and it showed 100 mph.”

And Bard has already heard the stories of how Tampa Bay lowers their Tropicana Field gun, or even how the Cardinals supposedly turned Joel Zumaya’s 100 mph heat into 92 mph during the 2006 World Series. In short, he is prepared for what awaits him.

Still, there are some pitchers who view the practice of displaying the readings in a negative light, with Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon leading the charge.

“You know what the radar gun is for? The fans,” Papelbon said. “I personally don’t even think we should have them in the ballpark because it’s a tool that benefits only the hitter, not a pitcher at all.”

Ironically, it is Papelbon who witnessed perhaps one of the greatest shock and awe moments when it came to the reading on a radar gun. While in the Florida State League, he had to man a gun himself with Zumaya pitching, charting the throws of his own pitchers. But when the then-Tigers minor leaguer started throwing, Papelbon couldn’t help himself.

The Sox hurler turned on his ‘Stacker’ radar gun, pointed it at Zumaya, and proceeded to do a double-take. ‘104’.

“That was legit, too,” he said. “That was the fastest I’ve seen, by far.”

Nobody is going to deny the entertainment value of the stadium readings, which promise to be a focal point each and every time Bard enters a game this season. Yet it will also test a pitcher’s discipline, as Sox reliever Manny Delcarmen found out this year when he came one mph away from hitting 100 mph for the first time in his career.

“I was just one away,” lamented Delcarmen. “I like looking at it just to see where I’m at. Some parks will take some speed off for the opposing team and that will make you feel like, ‘I don’t have my fastball today’. But I like looking at it. You just have to be careful.”

Read More: Daniel Bard, radar gun,
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