|09.01.09 at 3:40 pm ET|
The Red Sox issued the following press release about a flurry of Sept. 1 activities, which featured four minor-league call-ups (outfielders Brian Anderson and Joey Gathright from Triple-A Pawtucket, infielder Chris Woodward from Pawtucket, and pitcher Junichi Tazawa from the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League) as well as the reactivation of catcher George Kottaras from the 15-day disabled list: Read the rest of this entry »
|09.01.09 at 1:45 pm ET|
As mentioned in today’s feature, Jon Lester stands on the verge of setting the Red Sox record for strikeouts in a single season by a left-handed pitcher. Lester, who is averaging just over 10 strikeouts per nine innings, has fanned 187 batters this year. With four more punchouts, he will surpass the current Sox southpaw record of 190, set by Bruce Hurst in 1987.
Lester’s strikeout rate has spiked significantly this year, to the point where he is one of the foremost power pitchers in the American League. He ranks behind only Justin Verlander of the Tigers in strikeouts per nine innings. Yet for the most part, Lester and other members of the Sox insist that his stuff is almost unchanged from a year ago. A year ago, he already featured his current repertoire of a mid- to high-90s fastball, a low-90s cutter, hammer curve and changeup.
“Not one particular pitch is all of a sudden, ‘Oh, he has a cutter and he never had one.’ He’s had all four, and he’s developed all four more,” said catcher Jason Varitek. “He’s just developed more as a pitcher. I think that’s more than anything.”
Yet Lester’s strikeouts per nine innings have increased by roughly 54 percent, going from 6.5 per nine innings last year to his current double digit tally. While the development of his ability to attack opponents with all four pitches has increased as Lester — widely viewed as an excellent student of the game — has gotten more experience, it is also clear that his increased confidence in his changeup has also changed the looks that the pitcher presents to opposing hitters.
Asked how he is using his changeup differently in 2008 versus 2009, Lester offered an explanation that revealed not only one of the causes for his increased strikeout rates this year, but that also gave fascinating insight into his thought processes on the mound. Read the rest of this entry »
|09.01.09 at 6:00 am ET|
You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone on a more even keel than J.D. Drew.
He’s not one for throwing his helmet in disgust after striking out, nor is he the kind of guy who’ll give a little fist pump after belting a homerun to deep right field.
No, Drew is more composed. He’s the guy who’ll hardly ever flash a smile, let alone celebrate an impressive play. Case in point:
August 7, 2009. The Red Sox and Yankees are each scoreless through 14 innings in the Bronx. It’s the second game of a crucial four-game series for these two AL East foes, and both teams are exhausted after playing over a game and a half’s worth of baseball. In the bottom of the 14th with runners on first and second, Yankees outfielder Eric Hinske crushes a 2-2 pitch to right. Just as it seems like New York is walking off with the victory, Drew sprints to the wall, fully extending every limb on his body, and swiftly snatches the ball from thin air before landing gracefully and tossing it back. Hinske’s out, the dance goes on.
One man single-handedly deflates an entire stadium.
As Hinske skulks backs to the dugout in disbelief, shaking his head and swearing like a sailor along the way, Drew remains in right field just chewing his bubble gum and looking as calm and collected as he did before.
‘On the field he’s almost surgeon-like,’ said Marty Scott, Drew’s coach with the independent Northern League St. Paul Saints in 1997. ‘He’s just meticulous in his play, but again, you’ll never see him upset and you’ll never see him overly happy.’
For Drew, making plays and scoring runs is all part of his job description, which is why he fails to see the need for celebration.
‘As a player it’s your responsibility to do certain things,’ Drew said. ‘So when you do them, it’s just kind of what you expect of yourself. There’s no reason to go crazy.’
But his no-nonsense stoicism has been the subject of much criticism over the years. He’s widely perceived as someone who not only lacks emotion, but someone who as a player doesn’t exert himself to his fullest potential ‘ a guy who does the least with the most.
A recent Sports Illustrated Players Poll surveyed 380 MLB players on this very question: ‘Who gets the least out of the most talent?’ Drew tied Elijah Dukes for third place with six percent of the vote.
‘He has the Eddie Murray curse,’ said former Red Sox teammate Curt Schilling. ‘He’s so gifted and such a great athlete that at times he looks like he’s moving at a slower pace, when he isn’t.
‘Quiet country boy who never gets too high or too low. It’s a blessing and a curse in a town that cherishes players that wear their hearts on their sleeves, and is reviled by players that don’t shout and scream and show emotion.’ Read the rest of this entry »
|08.31.09 at 8:38 am ET|
A few thoughts from the weekend:
Are you concerned about Josh Beckett? I’m not. I know that he has been getting beat by the long ball (12 in his last 4 starts), but to me it doesn’t look like he’s hurt, the velocity is still there. His two-seam fastball has just flattened out and doesn’t have that good sink that we’ve been accustomed to. There are a few universal truths to pitching:
1. Strike One. Getting ahead of the hitter can change the entire at bat and how you approach it.
2. Leadoff walks. They usually cause stressful innings and more times then not, end up scoring
3. Two-out walks. They almost always come back to bite you.
I’m sure you saying, “What the hell do you know about pitching?” But the reality is is that as a hitter you are well aware of what a pitcher is trying to do and what causes them to get out of their game. Josh, in his last outing, had a little problem with No. 3. On two different occasions, he not only walked one hitter, but two with two outs. It cost him in the second inning as Aaron Hill then stepped up hit a three-run shot. But I don’t think that there should be a concern when it comes to “stuff’. It just goes to show you how fine you have to be to be a great pitcher in this league. Make no mistakes about it, Josh Beckett is a great pitcher in this league.
JD is hot. For most of the year, JD has been silent. We’ve been waiting for him to get hot and carry this team for a month like he’s done in the past. He may not be carrying this team but he’s definitely doing his part. Drew hit .333 with 6 HR’s and 13 RBI’s in the month of August to go along with an OBP of .459. Since being moved down to the eight-hole JD in eight games has hit .333 with three HR’s. Imagine being an opposing pitcher and having to face this lineup with that kind of production from your number No. 8 hitter?
Let me introduce you to the Sox’ No. 3 starter. He has been outstanding in four of his last five starts. He held his own going up against three “aces” in a row. Then he got lit up against a pretty good White Sox lineup, but that’s what happens with a young pitcher in this league. In his last outing, he was as close to unhittable as you can get without throwing a no-hitter.
I can’t say enough about the development of his two-seamer. Last year we saw him struggle locating his four-seamer. When he did throw it for strikes, it got hit hard. Because of that, he started nibbling and missing with it falling behind hitters and getting himself in trouble. Now he looks confident with his fastball and is willing to throw it and rely on its movement to get easy outs. It also opens the outside part of the plate for his slider, which is another pitch we didn’t see much from him last year. Overall, he looks like a more confident pitcher who is starting to catch his stride.
Now this is the way it should have been when this team acquired Victor Martinez. It hasn’t been easy for Tito to rotate everyone around and keep players happy with their roles. But I must say, it has gone smoother than I thought it was going to go. I know that Mike Lowell, David Ortiz, and Jason Varitek get frustrated at times, but it has been working and the offense has woken up from its season long slumber. When you look at the numbers from the month of August, you have a pretty good idea why this team feels pretty good about themselves:
Jacoby Ellsbury: .297-0-11
Dustin Pedroia:. 307-5-13
Victor Martinez: .308-5-19
Kevin Youkilis: .325-4-13
Jason Bay: .289-9-18
JD Drew: .333-6-13
Mike Lowell: .319-5-19
I left David Ortiz out because he struggled early in August dealing with “the list” issues, but recently, he has been on fire, also batting .308 with 7 HR and 16 RBI’s in his last 14 games. Even Alex Gonzalez who was brought here to catch the ball not hit it is batting .296 since coming over to Boston from Cincinnati. When you have a team hitting the way the Sox are, you can make up for the occasional bad outing from any of your starters and still go out and win.
He will be a great addition to an already great bullpen. Remember Saturday night when Oki came in the game to face Adam Lind and Lyle Overbay only to give up a double to Lind and a single to Overbay? In about a week or so, those hitters will be Wagner’s. It’s the perfect scenario to bring in a lefty with power stuff to face two left-handed hitters back to back. I know that the Sox don’t pick guys up with the Yankees in mind, but its a good fit. If and when the Sox play the Yanks in the ALCS, they will have two lefties in the pen to switch Teixeira, Posada, and Cabrera around to hit right-handed, a strategy that will be utilized when playing New York with that short porch in right. The luxury that you have is that both lefties are just as effective against right-handed hitters. Oki has his change up and Wagner has that power slider.
As good as I feel about this team, they still have to go out on the road and play good baseball. Jason Bay said it best while in Texas, “Until we play better on the road, nobody is going to take us serious”. No better place to start than in Tampa where the Sox have lost 13 of their last 15 going back to last year. They have their rotation set up with Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz going in the three games. Winning two out of three will put the Rays even further in the rear view mirror. I’m not sure about you, but I will breath allot easier once the Rays are out of the picture
|08.31.09 at 3:32 am ET|
When Paul Byrd signed with the Red Sox in early August, he signed a split contract that compensated him modestly while in the minors, but that paid him a pro-rated annual salary of $1.25 million for whatever portion of the 2009 season he would spend in the majors. After being called up on Sunday and delivering six shutout innings, and assuming that he remains in the big leagues for the rest of the year, Byrd would seem set to earn roughly 20 percent of that total, or roughly $246,000 in base salary.
On top of that, the 38-year-old also will receive the following incentives for his starts down the stretch:
$25,000 each for his first, second and third big-league starts
$50,000 each for his fourth through seventh starts
$75,000 each for his eighth through tenth starts
Also, as Rob Bradford reported on Sunday, Byrd said that he did not have any guarantee of a September call-up when he decided to sign with the Red Sox.
|08.30.09 at 6:49 pm ET|
Matsuzaka, rehabbing from a right shoulder strain, took the hill today in Manchester, NH for the first game of a double-header between the Double A Portland Sea Dogs and New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Expected to throw 55 pitches on the day, Matsuzaka nearly filled his quota with a five-run first inning. It took the Japanese right-hander 49 pitches to get his first three outs and was told after the inning that he was done for the day. After telling Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler that he would still like to “get [his] work in,” Matsuzaka was told he could throw the first 10 pitches of the second inning. As it happened, he needed only nine.
Matsuzaka adjusted his release point a bit and retired Scott Campbell, Brad Emaus, and David Cooper in order in the nine-pitch, eight-strike second. He said after the start through an interpreter that, though he expected to improve throughout the game, he didn’t expect the beating that came in the first.
“In the first inning, I think I got into the game sort of at about 60-70 percent of maximum output for me,” Matsuzaka said. “That’s how I was approaching it. There were a few things that I wanted to work on, and that’s why I wanted to get into the game gradually. Mind you, I didn’t think that I would get hit up quite that badly, but I think in the second inning, I just applied a few of those things that I was working on in the first.”
From the very beginning (literally) it was clear that there was plenty that needed work. After getting a standing ovation from the MerchantsAuto.com Stadium crowd, Matsuzaka sailed his first warmup pitch high and wide of Sea Dogs catcher Juan Apodaca. The crowd laughed, Matsuzaka laughed, and he received a half-hearted Bronx cheer on his next attempt, a strike. End of story? Hardly.
After serving up a leadoff homer to New Hampshire left fielder Todd Donovan, Matsuzaka repeated the laughable toss to Campbell en route to walking the No. 11 Blue Jays prospect (according to Baseball America). Matsuzaka said after the game that he was using Major League balls in the start and that he didn’t necesserily feel uncomfortable with his grip or release despite letting some pitches fly.
“Physically, I have no problems,” Matsuzaka said. “I think, within the game, there are probably some adjustments that I need to make to my delivery, but nothing that I am too worked up about.”
Also present in the unpleasant first was a very noticeable leg kick that that previously had not been a part of the pitcher’s delivery. Matsuzaka explained the kick after, saying it was done in an “attempt to prevent myself from diving too far forward and getting in front of myself.”
Matsuzaka eventually took the loss in the 5-3 New Hampshire victory. He threw 58 total pitches (32 for strikes), gave up four hits, five earned runs, and walked three while striking out too. Though he didn’t admitedly wasn’t at full capacity in the first inning, Matsuzaka did add that his effort in the second was “pretty much at 100 percent.”
“Right now I’m not too worried about the results of facing each individual hitter,” Matsuzaka said. “I think what’s more important right now is that I’m able to really feel and grasp those gradual steps in each game and feel like I’m making progress in each start. Compared to my previous start, I definitely feel that I took some positive steps. I certainly was able to get my arm around a lot better today, so I think today was a good outing overall, especially in the second inning.”
No. 18 used his fastball, slider, and changuep in the start. After reaching 92 only once in the long first frame, Matsuzaka hit 96 in the second. While he credited the solid contact made by Fisher Cats (among them a bases-loaded two-run double by Fisher Cats catcher Brian Jeroloman) to their tendency to be “very aggressive to the fastball,” it was his slider that may have disappointed the most. Time and time again he missed badly with the pitch the right-handers, often times going very far outside and making Apocada’s day just a little more difficult.
Matsuzaka, was 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA with the Sox before being shut down on June 20, also confirmed that his next start (September 4 for Pawtucket) is expected to be his last rehab start. He noted that when he is officially activated (again, the ninth is the date said by Sox Manager Terry Francona) will be decided by the “managers and coaches.”
Two completely different pitchers were present in the first two innings. Which one shows up next month for the Sox is anybody’s guess.
|08.30.09 at 6:08 pm ET|
Byrd confirmed after his return to the Sox, Sunday afternoon — in which he pitched six shutout innings without giving up a run in his team’s 7-0 win over the Blue Jays — that he had no guarantee from the Red Sox, formal or informal, that he would be added to the big league club by the time rosters expanded on Sept. 1.
“I wanted to make sure I deserved it,” Byrd said. “If I wasn’t going to be good enough I have them have to bring me up here.”
There had been a report out of New York that suggested Byrd had turned down the Yankees‘ offer when New York wouldn’t assure a Sept. 1 promotion. The blog post in the New York Post linked the Yankees’ reported claiming of minor league first baseman Chris Carter — one of the players thought to be sent to the Mets in the Billy Wagner trade — with the Yanks’ assumption that the Red Sox had agreed the reported request by Byrd.
In the Friday post, The Post’s Joel Sherman wrote: “When the Yanks learned that Carter was one of the players that was going to the Mets in the Billy Wagner deal, they claimed Carter him on waivers and forced Boston to pull the outfielder/first baseman back. One reason was they assumed Boston had to make the same deal with Byrd — to bring him up on Sept. 1 — that the Yanks refused. So that meant Byrd has to be put on the 40-man roster. So the Yanks figured they could cause some 40-man roster havoc for their main nemesis by forcing Carter back on the 40-man, as well, at a time when Wagner, too, had to be added and Daisuke Matsuzaka is close to coming back from the 60-day DL.”
Because the Red Sox 40-man roster stood at 38 prior to the activation of Byrd, Sunday, no move was necessary. It is assumed that the final roster spot will be taken by Daisuke Matsuzaka — who is currently on the 60-day disabled list — upon his return from a rehab assignment.
“I’ll take it a day at a time,” Byrd said. “I work hard , I feel like I’m in shape, I feel really good. My arm has appreciated the rest. My arm feels very strong. I just want to stay sharp and whatever happens with me happens with me. I want a World Series ring and any way I can help this team get that. If they need me to clean toilets I’ll go do that. I’m excited and whatever they need me to do I’ll do. I told that to Tito. I said I’ll help you out any way I can. I’ll get ready and whatever you need me to do I’ll do.”
Byrd had fielded offers from teams during the offseason, but chose to spend time with his family instead of signing. But the plan went astray when May and June came and went without any interest. Yet as the season further progressed, the 38-year-old began to get some phone calls from major league clubs, which ultimately led him to signing a minor league deal with the Red Sox on Aug. 5.
“I had some nice offers, which is hard,” said Byrd of the interest in his services prior to the season. “It’s hard because I love to compete, I love to get out. But I’ve drug my kids all over the country and they’ve never been able to play on a baseball team. Their school’s getting a little more serious. My family had just reached that point. My wife looked at me and I just knew I needed to take some time off that first part of the year and then I couldn’t get back in it. That was tough because I felt like I could still bring something to the table.”
|08.30.09 at 3:46 pm ET|
MANCHESTER– Rehabbing Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka is set to take the hill today when the Portland Sea Dogs take on the New Hampshire Fisher Cats at MerchantsAuto.com Stadium at 4:05. Matsuzaka, who was shut down on June 20 with a right shoulder strain, is expected to throw roughly 55 pitches. WEEI.com will have regular updates throughout his start as well as his post-start comments, which he is expected to give roughly 30 minutes following his outing.
WARMUP NOT SO HOT
Something about the fact that the crowd here at New Hampshire gave Matsuzaka a standing ovation after celebrating a Lars Anderson strikeout has to confuse the common man. Know what else has to confuse the common man? The fact that Matsuzaka sailed his first warmup pitch far wide and over the head of catcher Juan Apodoca.
TOODLES, THIRD PITCH
New Hampshire leadoff man Todd Donovan just jacked a 91-mph fastball from Matsuzaka way over the left field wall for a home run on Daisuke’s third offering of the game. The next batter, Scott Campbell, crushed one that had the distance but was just foul down the right field line. Matsuzaka walked Campbell on the very next pitch, sailing one wide again of Apodeca.
PROBLEMS A PLENTY EARLY ON
After falling behind Brad Emaus, 3-0, Matsuzaka surrendered a single down the left field line to the New Hampshire second baseman. The next hitter, first baseman David Cooper, then crushed a ball deep to left field that plated Campbell. With runners on second and third with one down, Nick Gorneault walked after working the count full. This has prompted pitching coach Mike Catcher to trot to the mound for a word with Matsuzaka.
MORE OF THE SAME
After Matsuzaka struck out Darin Mastroianni, Brian Jeroloman hit a bases-loaded double to center that scored two. Still with just one down, shortstop Jonathan Diaz walked. Kevin Berman then flew out to right, scoring Gorneault. Five runs, two outs.
New Hampshire leadoff man Todd Donovan, after homering to begin the inning, grounded to third on Matsuzaka’s 49th pitch of the game. First inning analysis: Totally off the mark. After laughing off his wild warmup pitch, Matsuzaka barely showed more control, often missing down and away to right-handed hitters. He threw a great deal of breaking balls and topped out at 92-mph with his fastball. Don’t buy your September 9 tickets just yet.
49 ISN’T 55
Matsuzaka is out there to begin the bottom of the second inning. Perhaps he can save face with a quick out or two.
Sometimes it takes 49 pitches to get out of an inning. Sometimes it takes nine. After getting crushed in the first, Matsuzaka came out and fired seven straight strikes, eight of nine total, en route to a perfect second. After two, Matsuzaka has thrown 58 pitches (he was expected to throw 55), 32 of which were strikes.
|08.30.09 at 3:46 pm ET|
Pitcher Tim Wakefield appeared to be walking much more freely through the Red Sox clubhouse on Sunday than had been the case one day earlier, when he was hunched over while limping through Fenway Park. The 43-year-old confirmed that he was feeling better, and that with a cortisone injection in his lower back scheduled for Monday, he is hopeful that he might be able to return to the rotation within ‘a week or so’ if he responds well.
Wakefield was both puzzled and disappointed by the recurrence of a back problem that had wiped out the first five weeks of his second half. He found it particularly frustrating given his hope that, after allowing one run in seven excellent innings on Wednesday, he seemed primed to stabilize the Sox rotation down the stretch. Now, he is hopeful that an injection can return him to that point.
‘It stinks, because in two rehab starts, I felt fine. I don’t think there was anything I did during the game that would provoke this injury to come back or the feeling that I had to come back,’ said Wakefield. ‘There is a fragmented piece that’s floating in there, it’s like a bone spur basically that’s irritating the nerve. It’s just a matter of getting it to the right position where it’s not going to bother me and hopefully the cortisone shot will do that.’
As things currently stand, Wakefield anticipates that he will require offseason surgery to remove the bone fragment. That could change if the symptoms disappear, but in all likelihood, he will undergo what the pitcher believes and hopes will be a relatively minor procedure this winter.
‘I think surgery is inevitable in this situation,’ he said. ‘I think it’s a situation where they’re just going to have to go in there and pull that spur out or that piece out. I think that in itself will relieve a lot of the symptoms and it’s not a huge deal where I’m going to be on the shelf rehabbing for two months. It’s more of a two-week type of thing. Let the wound of the surgery heal up and then be ready to go.’
|08.30.09 at 3:29 am ET|
Billy Wagner was not brought to Boston to be a closer’¦this time.
Since joining the Sox on Thursday, the left-hander has sat idly in the bullpen while watching Jonathan Papelbon put the finishing touches on a pair of victories. Wagner, in his ongoing recovery from Tommy John surgery, is expected to serve as part of the setup crew in front of Papelbon, rather than the man to whom the middle relief innings flow.
But that doesn’t mean that the idea of having Wagner as a game-ending presence hasn’t occurred to the Sox. Wagner was last a free agent following the 2005 season, following three years with the Phillies. The Sox’ ninth-inning was somewhat unsettled, since Keith Foulke was coming off of a season that had been mostly lost to injuries, and Mike Timlin ‘ despite a serviceable couple of months as a fill-in closer ‘ was not viewed as ideally suited for the role.
And so the Sox talked with Wagner’s representatives in general terms about the possibility of bringing the left-hander to Boston to stabilize the ninth. Wagner was intrigued by the Red Sox, but the conversations never advanced beyond the preliminary stages, since the Mets blew away not only any other potential offer, but also Wagner’s expectations.
Wagner said that he was hunting for a three-year, $30 million deal following the 2005 season, and that he imagined that at the end of that deal, he would be ready to retire. But the Mets, according to the pitcher, blew him away by saying they were willing to go as many to as five years.
The deal ended up being a guaranteed four-year, $43 million agreement with an option that could increase its value to as much as $50 million over five years. Such an offer was beyond what the Sox ‘ or any other team ‘ was willing to contemplate, and so Wagner ended up with the Mets.
The Sox emerged from spring training with Keith Foulke as their closer, but in the season’s third game, they summoned Papelbon to blow away the Rangers in the ninth inning for his first career save.
Papelbon has since added 144 more saves for the Sox, and is now the unquestioned ninth-inning force for the Sox. Wagner, who saved 101 games for the Mets before blowing out his elbow towards the end of last year, now joins him in Boston in a role that is quite different from the one that he and the Sox discussed nearly four years earlier.
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