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A closer look at Matsuzaka’s red flags, and where the Sox rotation goes from here

05.17.11 at 8:24 pm ET
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The evidence took place on multiple fronts. Pitching on seven days of rest, Daisuke Matsuzaka nevertheless showed little life on his pitched on Monday night against the Orioles. His fastball averaged 88 mph and topped out at 89 mph. But perhaps even more startling was his inability to throw strikes, as demonstrated by his seven walks in 4 2/3 innings.

Manager Terry Francona suspected that, even if the pitcher wasn’t feeling pain, an injury was in play. And so, Matsuzaka was sent for an MRI that revealed what the team is describing as a right elbow sprain.

“Does he have pain? I don’€™t think he really did, but I think he was guarded because he thought he might have pain. We figured we better check. I’€™m glad we did,” said Francona. “When you see someone commanding, I know he’€™s had command issues in the past, but that’€™s always something to think about when people aren’€™t commanding. It doesn’€™t just have to be a sudden decrease in velocity. It could be command also.”

Matsuzaka will be shut down for an indefinite period to rest what appears to have been a cumulative injury. A look at Matsuzaka’s progression in five starts over the last four weeks (and excluding his first career relief outing) — with data drawn from the outstanding brooksbaseball.net:

April 18 vs. Blue Jays: 7 shutout innings, 1 hit, 1 walk, Avg fastball 91 mph, Peak fastball 93 mph
April 23 vs. Angels: 8 shutout innings, 1 hit, 3 walks, Avg fastball 91 mph, Peak fastball 92 mph
April 29 vs. Mariners: 4 innings, 3 hits, 4 walks (left with cramping in his elbow), Avg fastball 90 mph, Peak fastball 93 mph
May 8 vs. Twins: 6 innings, 5 hits, 2 walks, Avg fastball 90 mph, Peak fastball 91 mph
May 16 vs. Mariners: 4 1/3 innings, 5 hits, 7 walks, Avg fastball 88 mph, Peak fastball 89 mph Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka,

Sox pitching staff in flux amidst concerns about health of Lackey, Daisuke

05.17.11 at 5:24 pm ET
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The results were nothing short of alarming. When Daisuke Matsuzaka walked seven in 4 1/3 innings, allowing five hits and five runs to the Orioles, the Red Sox felt that it was time to have the right-hander checked out to see if there was a physical problem.

And so, on Tuesday, Matsuzaka was sent for an MRI on his right elbow. The Sox were awaiting the results to determine if a roster move might be made, with the team prepared to move “expeditiously” (in the words of manager Terry Francona) to DL him and call up a reliever (Michael Bowden would be an obvious candidate — he has a 1.59 ERA in 22 2/3 innings for Triple-A Pawtucket) prior to Tuesday’s game.

UPDATE: The Sox intend to place Matsuzaka on the disabled list prior to the next game, at which time Bowden will be added to the roster.

“Talking about [Matsuzaka’s] elbow, whether it’€™s sore or he’€™s afraid to get to a point where it’€™ll get sore, that’€™s what we’€™re trying to figure out. So we got the MRI and hopefully in the next hour or so we’€™ll have something to kind of go by,” Francona said at 4 pm. “There’€™s no reason to really do anything until we get the results back and talk to the medical people. Obviously, if there’€™s a need to do something, we’€™d like to do it expeditiously ‘€“ get that ‘€“ because maybe we could get a reliever in the meantime or somebody to help us through. We’€™re trying to do it in timely fashion.”

With Matsuzaka’s elbow being checked and John Lackey having been placed on the disabled list on Monday for his elbow strain, it is a time when the Sox’ rotation depth will be tested. The team is comfortable that in Tim Wakefield (scheduled to start on Tuesday against the Orioles, in place of Lackey) and Alfredo Aceves, it has viable options.

“I don’€™t know that any team wants to go seven, eight deep, especially in a two-day period, losing two-fifths of your rotation. Wake has done it for a long time. Wake’€™s done it since I was a little kid,” joked Francona. “Actually, Aceves, we sort of maybe wanted to see what he could do as a starter. That’€™s why we signed him. Every time we send him down, we keep telling him to get stretched out because he might be a starter. We don’€™t like the reasons why. But we think we’€™re going to be OK.”

Of course, if both Wakefield and Aceves end up in the rotation, it would have a cascading effect on the bullpen. Wakefield has been a long man, while Aceves has emerged as something of a setup man to pitch either in the sixth or seventh inning (as he did on Sunday night in the win over the Yankees) or when the team is trailing in a close game (as he did in earning the victory on Monday night with three innings against Baltimore).

“He’€™s kind of taken that sixth, seventh type inning where he can face lefties and righties. That’€™s something to think about,” said Francona. “We have to figure out a way to get around that.”

Of course, the Sox appear close to getting at least one option back. Dan Wheeler, who had an 11.32 ERA in eight games before landing on the DL with a calf strain, is eligible to come off the DL on Friday. He has thrown 2 2/3 shutout innings in Pawtucket on a rehab assignment, and Francona said that there is no reason to expect that he won’t come off the DL when he is eligible to do so.

Bobby Jenks remains a bit further away from returning, though he threw on Tuesday from 60 feet on flat ground. He’ll increase that distance on Wednesday, though given that he went 11 days without throwing, he will almost surely require a rehab assignment before he’s ready to return to the majors.

“When you’€™ve got a no-throw for a while, I don’€™t know how fair that would be not to [have him take a minor league assignment],” said Francona.

As for Lackey, he will spend the next few days “down,” in Francona’s words. It is not known precisely when he will begin throwing again. Francona said that the starter had an MRI that had revealed the strain, but that it was unclear whether he was dealing with the condition during his mot recent outings, which featured particularly poor results.

“There’€™s a lot of gray area there. If you talk to a starting pitcher, if they make 35 starts, I bet they’€™ll tell you they feel good physically for about six or seven,” said Francona. “So, you know, I actually, what I told you guys yesterday was about as honest as I can be. We didn’€™t feel a rush to do anything because we knew that we could cover the spot today [with Wakefield]. If he was OK, we were going to let him pitch. We know he’€™s been having a rough time, but we also know that he’€™s a pretty good professional pitcher and we feel like he’€™s going to turn it around. Now, all of a sudden, you start about someone being tender or sore or hurt, that makes it a little bit tougher. Then you’€™ve got a guy who wants to pitch through it. We respect that. So we put our heads together, talked with the medical people, talked with Lack and took it out of his hands.

“That would be terrific if this little shut-down really helps him, he feels good and he starts throwing, is ready to come back right when it’€™s time to come off. I don’€™t know if that’€™s the case. I hope it is.”

Read More: alfredo aceves, bobby jenks, Daisuke Matsuzaka, dan wheeler

Tuesday’s Red Sox-Orioles matchups: Tim Wakefield vs. Zach Britton

05.17.11 at 2:59 pm ET
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With John Lackey scratched from Tuesday night’€™s scheduled start and placed on the 15-day disabled list with an elbow strain, the second game of the Red Sox-Orioles short two-game series will turn into the latest example of age-old battle between youth and experience. Boston starter Tim Wakefield, who at 44 years young is the oldest active player in Major League Baseball, will try to best Baltimore rookie hurler Zach Britton to give the Sox their fifth win in a row.

This will be the third start of the season for Wakefield (0-1, 5.40 ERA), all of which will have come in the month of May. His first start on May 1 against the Mariners saw the knuckleballer pitch more than admirably as he held Seattle to just four base runners and one run over 5-2/3 innings. However, his next start on May 6 did not nearly go as well. Wakefield, who was pitching on one just day of rest, couldn’€™t survive the fifth inning and allowed eight runs (six earned) on nine hits and four walks in a 9-2 loss to the Twins. For what it’€™s worth, Wakefield will be pitching on five-days rest when he takes the mound Tuesday.

In 50 appearances (35 starts) against Baltimore, the knuckleballer is 16-13 with a 4.13 ERA. But against these current set of O’€™s, he has been quite hit-or-miss. For every Brian Roberts (.170 average in 48 career plate appearances) or Nick Markakis (.185 in 29), there is a Vladimir Guerrero (.480, 5 HR, 9 RBI) or Derrek Lee (.571).

At the other end of the age spectrum, Britton (5-2, 2.42) is an early-season favorite for the American League Rookie of the Year award. The 23-year-old lefty has allowed three earned runs or fewer in seven of his eight starts, including a six-inning, one-run effort against Boston back on April 26 and a complete-game, three-hit performance in his last start against Seattle. Leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury was the only Sox hitter to lace an extra-base hit off Britton in the latter’€™s only career start against the team. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Tim Wakefield, Zach Britton,

Saturday’s Red Sox-Cubs matchups: Alfredo Aceves vs. Carlos Zambrano

05.17.11 at 12:37 pm ET
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Riding a six-game win streak heading into this weekend’s interleague series against the Chicago Cubs, it’s safe to say the Red Sox have started firing on all cylinders. Still, looming doubts about the back of the rotation only intensified with Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s recent elbow injury. The right-hander was sent to the disabled list with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament.

Matsuzaka had struggled mightily in his last two starts, giving up a combined nine earned runs in just over ten 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 career, and four of those starts came as a rookie back in 2008. Aceves (1-0, 2.60 ERA) has a solid lifetime ERA of 2.10 in 26.1 innings as a starter, but he’s been a full-time reliever since 2009 and has never gone deeper than seven innings. Aceves did get the win in his last appearance, a strong three-inning relief performance on May 16th 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 Adrian Gonzalez‘ walk-off double.

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 appearance against Chicago.

On the other hand, several Red Sox hitters have had a decent look at Zambrano (4-2, 4.89 ERA), including Gonzalez (3-15), J.D. Drew (3-15) and Mike Cameron (2-19). Still, the Venezuelan righty has held Boston to a combined .175 batting average in 75 total plate appearances. Believe it or not, Josh Beckett has the team’s second-highest batting average off the Cubs starter. Although he almost certainly won’t be hitting at Fenway, Beckett has two hits in seven plate appearances (.286) against Zambrano, to go along with three strikeouts.

Zambrano has been a bit shaky in his last two starts, which were both losses for Chicago. He gave up six runs on six hits and three walks against Cincinnati on Monday, and surrendered four runs on eight hits to St. Louis a week earlier. The 29-year-old has gotten off to some slow starts in the past few years; from 2009-2011, his combined ERA in April and May is 4.90. Still, Zambrano has managed to finish with an ERA under 4.00 in each of the last nine years, and with his success (however limited) against Boston, he could be poised for a turnaround on Saturday.

CUBS VS. ACEVES

Marlon Byrd has a walk, a strikeout and a double in three career plate appearances against Aceves. Carlos Pena has gone 0-3 with two strikeouts against Aceves in three plate appearances.

Jeff Baker, Darwin Barney, Welington Castillo, Starlin Castro, Blake DeWitt, Kosuke Fukudome, Koyie Hill, Reed Johnson, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano have never faced the right-hander.

RED SOX VS. ZAMBRANO

Mike Cameron (20 career plate appearances): .105 BA/.150 OBP/.105 SLG, 2 RBI,1 walk, 7 strikeouts

J.D. Drew (20): .200/.400/.533, 2 RBI, 5 walks, 6 strikeouts

Adrian Gonzalez (19): .200/.368/.200, 1 RBI, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts

Josh Beckett (7): .286/.286/.286, 3 strikeouts

Carlos Crawford (4): .333/.500/.667, 1 double, 1 walk

David Ortiz has gone hitless with a strikeout in three career plate appearances vs. Zambrano, but he does have one walk.

Jason Varitek has faced the Cubs starter twice, going 0-2 with a strikeout.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Darnell McDonald, Dustin Pedroia, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kevin Youkilis have never faced Zambrano.

Read More: alfredo aceves, Carlos Zambrano, cubs, Daisuke Matsuzaka

Release of Kris Johnson highlights strange case of 2006 draft for Red Sox

05.17.11 at 12:02 pm ET
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In some respects, the 2006 draft was a major success for the Red Sox. At the time, it was considered a thin talent class. In retrospect, it has largely borne out that projection.

There have been a few superstars who were taken with early picks — Evan Longoria (No. 3 overall, Rays), Clayton Kershaw (No. 7, Dodgers) and Tim Lincecum (No. 10, Giants) stand out most prominently — yet even a number of the top 10 picks in that draft (No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar, Royals; No. 2 pick Greg Reynolds of the Rockies, No. 4 pick Brad Lincoln of the Pirates, No. 6 selection Andrew Miller with the Tigers, No. 9 pick Billy Rowell of the Orioles) have done little in the five years since they were picked.

As such, the Red Sox have been, by and large, quite pleased with the returns they had from that year’s class of draftees. They acquired several players who have already either become major league contributors — first-rounder Daniel Bard, second-rounder Justin Masterson — or who still have a chance to carve out such roles — ninth-rounder Ryan Kalish, 17th-round pick Josh Reddick, 18th-round selection Lars Anderson.

‘€œI know a lot of us who were involved with it will always be proud of that ‘€™06 draft,’€ former Sox director of amateur scouting Jason McLeod (now the Padres Assistant GM) said last year.

But it was a draft that was also filled with several notable misses for the Sox. In spring training, the team released first-rounder Jason Place, a player who could not translate his considerable tools into performance, (or more on him, click here) and third-rounders Bryce Cox, whom the team once imagined as a closer-in-the-making but who never passed Double-A and Aaron Bates, a first baseman who got a five-game taste of the majors in 2009 but who never showed enough of a bat to establish himself as a big league contributor at a position that demands offense.

And on Tuesday, the strange case of the 2006 draft continued with the news (via the Triple-A PawSox) that left-hander Kris Johnson had been released. Johnson was a sandwich-round pick whom the Sox took in ’06 as the No. 40 overall selection. For a time, the pick was subject to particular scrutiny, since the Sox took Johnson one pick in front of Joba Chamberlain (whom the Sox had removed from their draft board due to medical concerns). Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2006 draft, Daniel Bard, joba chamberlain, justin masterson

Nuggetpalooza: Wild walkoff win!

05.17.11 at 11:32 am ET
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Here and there from a soggy, cold, and eventually happy Fenway:

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* – Boston has now won 50 of their last 53 times when they put 22 or more runners on base in a regulation game (i.e. no extra innings), dating back to 2003. Two of the three losses (the two most recent) came at the hands of the Orioles.

Note this: Oakland has won their last 53 such games in a row over the last 11+ seasons, the longest current streak in the majors.

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* – Entering last night, the Red Sox had scored only five runs in the 9th inning this season, the fewest in the AL. The Colorado Rockies have scored only one run in the 9th this year.

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* – Monday night was the eighth time this season that the Red Sox have allowed 18 or more baserunners in a regulation game. That’s tied with the Astros for the most such games in the majors. The Red Sox haven’t finished a season with the most such games since they tied the A’s with 38 in 1997. The last time they had the most outright in a season was 1969 (31).

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* – Baltimore used seven pitchers in a regulation game for just the second time since the start of the 2010 season. They have now lost their last 12 such games, dating back to 2006.

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* – Jason Varitek had had a hit, RBI, and run scored in each of his last two games. It’s his first such two game streak since April, 2010. He hasn’t had such a three game streak since 2008.

I would have still run for him when he reached in the 7th inning. It would have led to the tying run scoring as ANYBODY else gets to third on Ellsbury’s hit and then Pedroia’s shot to left would have been a sacrifice fly.

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* – Four of the eight runs scored by the Red Sox last night were unearned. That means the Orioles have allowed six unearned runs over the last two days. Prior to Sunday, they had allowed only three all season.

Note this: The Orioles have scored only five unearned runs in 2011, the fewest in the league:

5 – Orioles
8 – Indians
9 – Yankees

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* – A few notes on Dice-K: Matsuzaka threw a first pitch ball to 13 batters last night. On seven of those 13, he went directly from 1-and-0 to 2-and-0… Also, Dice-K has now averaged 23.0 pitches in the first inning of his starts this year (29+ in his last three), highest in the AL (min. 5 starts):

23.0 – Daisuke Matsuzaka, BOS
22.3 – Chris Tillman, BAL
22.2 – Kyle Davies, KC

With Dice-K and Tillman ranked at the top of that list, is it a surprise that last night’s game ended up lasting 3:53?

Fastballs (two-seam, four-seam, cutter) – Dice-K threw 46 fastballs and averaged -0.36 points on them, snapping a streak of five straight starts averaging above zero. Baltimore went 5-for-10 with four walks off his fastball, which averaged 87.8 MPH, his slowest of the season.

Note this: In all five April starts, his four-seam fastball averaged over 90. In all three May appearances, it’s been below 90. Last season, he averaged 90+ on his four-seamer in all 25 starts.

Curveball – Matsuzaka threw 43 curveballs last night, a whopping 41 percent of his pitches, and he averaged +0.49 points per pitch on his curves as the Orioles went 0-for-7 with one strikeout. The 41% curveball usage was easily his highest since the start of last season as he had topped 30% only once (30.4% last August). He started off 17 batters with a curve, getting one out, eight strikes, and eight balls.

Changeup – Dice-K threw 14 changeups (-1.36 average), including three on three-ball counts (all led to walks). 10 of his 14 changeups were balls. Entering last night, he had thrown 59% strikes with his changeup.

Closing Time: Adrian Gonzalez completes comeback for Red Sox

05.16.11 at 11:16 pm ET
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Adrian Gonzalez‘ double off the left field wall in the ninth inning plated both Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, completing a remarkable comeback for the Red Sox in what turned out to be an 8-7 victory over the Orioles Monday night at Fenway Park.

The pivotal ninth got cooking when Ellsbury drew a one-out walk, stole second, and was followed by another free pass to Pedroia. Gonzalez, who now has five career walk-off hits to his credit, then rifled the first pitch he saw from Baltimore closer Kevin Gregg off the left field wall.

The walk-off win, the team’s third of the season, completed a comeback from a 6-0 deficit, and overcame the Sox going 6-for-23 with runners in scoring position.

Here is what went right on a night the Red Sox went over .500 for the first time this season. …

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– The Red Sox showed some gumption with their comeback, which was paced primarily by the bats of Jed Lowrie, Jason Varitek and Kevin Youkilis. Lowrie notched an RBI in the six-run sixth, and then started another rally in the seventh with a leadoff triple. Varitek came away with RBI singles in both frames, while Youkilis scored a run with a double in the sixth, and kicked things off in the eighth with his leadoff double off the left field wall.

– The Sox came away with six players — Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Youkilis, J.D. Drew, Lowrie and Varitek — who finished with multiple-hit nights. They finished with 14 hits for the night. Gonzalez finished with three hits.

Alfredo Aceves came up big in relief, allowing just one run over three innings while allowing the Red Sox to crawl back into it.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Daisuke Matsuzaka, who entered the game with a 10.50 ERA in the first inning, added to his early-game troubles by giving up two runs in the first. He allowed one more in the third before being chased from the game with two in the fifth. His seven walks marked the third time in Matsuzaka’s career that he issued seven or more free passes. The starter threw 106 pitches, just 57 of which were for strikes.

– Aceves, one day after pitching 2/3 scoreless innings against the Yankees, ran into trouble when coming on in the seventh inning. The righty gave up his third home run of the season, a solo shot to Mark Reynolds, leading off the frame. Making the homer even tougher to swallow was that the Sox had just scored five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to claw within a run of the O’s.

– The Red Sox squandered some golden opportunities in the sixth and seventh innings. With the bases loaded, the Red Sox trailing by a run, and two outs in the sixth, Drew grounded out to second to end the inning. The following frame, with runners on first and second and one out with the O’s clinging to a one-run lead, Pedroia lined out to left field and Gonzalez struck out, leaving the Sox trailing.

– Then there was the opportunity lost in the eighth. After a leadoff double by Youkilis, David Ortiz moved the baserunner to third with a ground out to second. After an intentional walk to Drew, Lowrie struck out and Carl Crawford popped out to shallow right field to keep the O’s in the lead.

Live Blog: Red Sox vs. Orioles from Fenway Park

05.16.11 at 6:07 pm ET
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Red Sox/Orioles Live Blog

Nuggetpalooza: Sweep, sweep, sweep!

05.16.11 at 12:10 pm ET
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Recapping the weekend sweep with a few nuggets followed by an analysis of Jon Lester‘s outing, pitch-by-pitch:

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* – The Red Sox stole a base in each game this weekend and were never caught. Say what you want about Boston’s difficulties at controlling opponents’ running games, but note this: Over their last 27 games against the Yankees, the Red Sox have picked up 24 steals without being caught.

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* – David Ortiz has now had three, three-hit games since May 5, going 13-for-37 (.351) in that stretch. He had only three games with three hits or more in his previous 63 games.

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* – On Saturday, Red Sox pitchers teamed up to shut out the Yankees, striking out 13 in the process. It was just the second time (since at least 1950) that a Red Sox staff had struck out 13 or more and shut out the Yankees in New York. The other coming on September 30, 1987 on a Roger Clemens complete game when the Red Sox were 20 games out. It was just the SIXTH time that ANY team had done that to the Yankees in the last 60 seasons.

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* – We’re halfway through the month of May, and Adrian Gonzalez has eight home runs and 19 RBI this month. Since 1950, the Red Sox record for homers in May is 13, by Jim Rice in 1978. The May RBI record by a Red Sox player is 33, which has been done three times: Walt Dropo in 1950, Rice in 1978, and Nomar Garciaparra in 1999.

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* – Daniel Bard‘s first pitch has been out of the strike zone to eight of the last 12 batters he’s faced. When the first pitch has been a fastball from Bard, 11 out of the last 19 have been balls (dating back to May 4).

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* – Jonathan Papelbon‘s average fastball last night was 95.02 mph, his second fastest average this season (95.53 on May 7).

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* – During the ESPN broadcast last night, the announcers quoted Terry Francona as saying, “We’ll blink, and [Dustin Pedroia] will be hitting .280.” Well, Pedroia is hitting .247 at this point (37-for-150). He would need to hit .330 over his next 100 at-bats to reach .280.

Read the rest of this entry »

Valentine on D&C: Lackey, Posada may need new roles

05.16.11 at 9:35 am ET
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ESPN Sunday Night Baseball analyst and former MLB manager Bobby Valentine talked to the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning and started off by discussing the opposite directions of the Red Sox and Yankees following Boston’€™s sweep of New York on the road over the weekend.

“You have one team coming together after a very difficult start, and Terry Francona‘s done a wonderful job keeping them together,” Valentine said. “A lot of question marks early on, a lot of things could have fallen apart. Instead, they’ve come together. The Yankees, five [losses] in a row now, nine of their last 12, they’re not sinking, but they’re definitely slipping down the side of the road and Joe Girardi‘s got to get that stuff together.”

See below for more highlights from that interview, including what Valentine would do with the struggling Jorge Posada and John Lackey as well as his thoughts on Red Sox offseason acquisitions Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.

What do you do with Jorge Posada if you’€™re the Yankees?

If he doesn’t hit, there’s going to have to be a new roster spot. He’s been a great Yankee. He’s a great guy. He made a mistake obviously, apologized for that. I think that’s over with. Even though the act itself was an inexcusable act. I think he had some problems. I think he had something on his mind more than his batting ninth. That should have been communicated at the time, and if it would have, it wouldn’t have been a problem.

As far as the .170 batting average, if that continues and has come the middle of the season, their roster is just so immobile right now ‘€“ they’€™re heavy on the pitching side and weak on the utility and extra-man side ‘€“ they need to do something with his swing or with his roster spot, probably sooner or later. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bobby Valentine, john lackey, Jorge Posada,
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