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Red Sox-Royals matchups, 5/30

05.30.10 at 10:50 am ET
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The Red Sox go for the split of their four-game weekend series with the Royals Sunday afternoon. The Sox suffered from poor starting pitching performances by Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield, both of whom failed to make it past the fifth inning, in their losses in the first two games of the series, but Clay Buchholz single-handedly reversed that trend Saturday with his seven-inning performance in the 1-0 Sox win. Ace Jon Lester will look to make it two solid starts by Sox pitchers Sunday as he takes the mound against fellow lefty Bruce Chen of the Royals.

Lester (5-2, 3.15 ERA) will cap an absolutely spectacular month of May during which he has gone 4-0 with a miniscule 1.95 ERA and 40 strikeouts over 37 innings. Over his last three starts alone, he has struck out 28 batters. If history is any indicator, he has a very good shot at continuing his dominance when he faces the Royals Sunday. Lester is 3-1 all-time against Kansas City and with just a 1.20 ERA in his four starts. In fact, Lester pitched 17 scoreless innings between his last two appearances against the Royals with nine of those innings coming in his famed 2008 no-hitter.

That no-hitter is just one of the reasons explaining David DeJesus’€™s poor performance against Lester. The left-handed outfielder is just 1-for-12 against Boston’€™s lefty ace all-time. But Lester may need all he’€™s got to retire DeJesus as the KC outfielder comes into Sunday’€™s matchup on an 11-game hitting streak. In the three games he’€™s played in Boston this weekend, DeJesus is a combined 7-for-12 with four RBI, including a 4-for-6, two-RBI performance in the Royals’€™ 12-5 win Friday night.

At the other end of the lineup card will be Bruce Chen (1-0, 2.89), who is making his first start of the season Sunday. Chen has been solid in relief for the Royals with nine strikeouts over 9 1/3 innings and even racked up a save in his second appearance of the season. However, he hasn’€™t pitched for more than 1 2/3 innings in any of his outings and has been wild at times with eight walks this season. He made nine starts for KC last season, going 1-6 with a 5.81 ERA.

With Saturday’€™s win, the Red Sox stayed an even six games back of the AL East leading Rays and closed the gap between them and the second-place Yankees to just two games after New York’€™s 13-11 loss to Cleveland. The Sox remain a game behind third-place Toronto.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Red Sox, Bruce Chen, Jon Lester, kansas city royals

Slumping Pedroia saves the day for Sox

05.29.10 at 11:39 pm ET
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Dustin Pedroia was taking early batting practice at 3 p.m. on Saturday, one day after he guaranteed that he would find a way out of one of the worst offensive stretches of his career. It didn’t work.

On Saturday, against the Kansas City Royals, Pedroia went 0-for-3 (with a walk). He is now hitless in his last 13 at-bats, and he’s amidst a 5-for-40 (.125) rut that is 10 games deep. His season numbers are sinking like an anchor. His line is now .255/.333/.446/.779, marks that are ill-suited to the All-Star and former AL Most Valuable Player.

Yet none of his teammates were focused on that aspect of his night. Instead, Pedroia was receiving raves for having made a spectacular, game-saving play in the top of the eighth inning of Boston’s 1-0 victory. With two outs and a runner on third, Royals outfielder David DeJesus turned on a 99 mph fastball from Sox reliever Daniel Bard and sent a rocket up the middle. Pedroia ranged to his right and dove, managing somehow to glove the ball even as it hopped up on him. The second baseman then popped up from the dirt and fired to first to preserve his team’s one-run lead and end the inning.

“That’€™s your job. I don’€™t get paid to just hit. I’€™ve got to be a force out there playing defense, especially in the middle of the field,” said Pedroia. “It’€™s fun making plays like that with the game on the line. I didn’€™t know I was going to be able to get to it and it kind of hopped up on me. I was just lucky I made that play.”

“He was shading a little bit towards the hole and had to cover some ground to get it. It was an unbelievable play,” added Bard. “That was pretty special. I don’€™t know if it will make the highlight reel, but given the situation, that was about as big a play as you can make for your team.”

There were shades of the play that Pedroia made to preserve starter Clay Buchholz‘ no-hitter in 2007. He also provided another pair of huge defensive plays, catching a short-hop throw from catcher Victor Martinez and slapping a tag on Scott Podsednik to allow the Sox to record a key caught stealing and delivering an excellent pivot despite being wiped out at second base on a double play ball in the fourth inning.

Those sorts of plays ensure that even when he isn’t producing at the plate, Pedroia remains a valuable part of a winning ballclub. While that reality makes it difficult for the Sox not to have Pedroia in the lineup, manager Terry Francona said after Saturday’s game that he would give his second baseman the day off in hopes that — in combination with Monday’s off-day — he could catch his breath and perhaps recover from his slump.

“I think he needs a day off [Sunday]. But it’€™s not easy to give days off because he’€™s such a good player. We’€™ve talked about how good he is defensively, but when the game is on the line, he’€™s even better,” said Francona. “[But] I think with a day game after a night game and the next day off, I think it will be great for him. I think that’€™s what he needs.’€

Pedroia, who took early batting practice on Saturday, agreed that the day off might give him a chance to “put everything back together.” But his teammates, while laying praise on his pivotal play, insisted that a player who has been an offensive catalyst for them since 2007 is almost certain to reclaim his status as a complete player.

“I heard people worry about him not hitting right now. That’€™s the last guy I’€™m worried about,” said David Ortiz. “You know when he comes out, he comes out like a monster. The laser show is about to pop up.’€

Read More: defense, Dustin Pedroia, kansas city royals,

Buchholz’ growth continues in win over Greinke

05.29.10 at 11:14 pm ET
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It used to be that runners on base engendered panic for Clay Buchholz. He would become jittery, throwing to first almost constantly, often focusing more on the runner than the pitch. As recently as 2008, the result was frequent meltdowns.

No longer. Buchholz has matured to the point where he expects his dominant stuff to render baserunners irrelevant.

A perfect glimpse of Buchholz’€™ maturation came into view in the fourth inning of a pitcher’€™s duel on Saturday against the Royals. Though he was operating with little margin for error against reigning Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, Buchholz (7-3, 2.73) did not blink, leading the Sox to a 1-0 victory.

In the top of the fourth, with the Sox holding a 1-0 edge, Buchholz allowed a leadoff single to Mike Aviles and then walked David DeJesus. Runners on first and second, no outs ‘€“ on average, a major league team has scored 1.5 runs in an inning this year when such an opportunity arises.

But Buchholz proved imperturbable. He went after first baseman Billy Butler — who entered the game ranked third in the AL in average (.349) and eighth in OBP (.402) — in an impressive seven-pitch at-bat, in which the best Royals hitter saw just one ball.

Buchholz jumped ahead, 0-2, on a pair of changeups, then mixed in everything: a fastball (foul), curve (ball), fastball (foul), cutter (foul) and then, finally, a 95 mph two-seam fastball that Butler topped to Adrian Beltre for a 5-4-3 double play.

‘€œWe just went for what we needed. We needed a groundball to get a double play. He really threw a great two-seamer in and we got him,’€ said catcher Victor Martinez. ‘€œHe has all his pitches: slider, two-seam fastball, four-seam. That makes him even tougher.

‘€œAs a hitter, sometimes you’€™re looking for a two-seamer and here he comes with a four-seamer. It’€™s pretty tough. The way he’€™s been pitching, it’€™s pretty tough to face him. It’€™s more fun being behind the plate calling the game for him than facing him.’€

Then, with two outs and a runner on third, Buchholz put something extra on a 97 mph, full-count offering to Jose Guillen, who hit a hard grounder to first. Those were critical moments in a night when Buchholz was at his best with runners on base.

‘€œWe matched up against a guy who was on top of his game and is one of the best pitchers in the American League, and he was on his game. He didn’€™t make many mistakes,’€ said Royals manager Ned Yost. ‘€œWe scalded some balls with runners in scoring position but we scalded right at them, and that’€™s the game sometimes.’€

The Royals went 0-for-6 with two walks with runners on base against the Sox starter. While Kansas City did indeed have some hard-hit balls against Buchholz, it was noteworthy that all of the hard-hit balls were on the ground, thus giving his fielders a chance to convert plays into outs.

That has been a central part of the pitcher’€™s M.O. this year. In 2010, he is holding opponents to a line of .253/.345/.305/.650 with runners on base, and he has yet to give up a homer with a man aboard. That, in turn, helps to explain Buchholz’€™ recent run of excellence, as he has won each of his last four starts while compiling a 1.32 ERA, allowing two or fewer outings and pitching at least 6 1/3 innings each time, the longest such streak by a Sox pitcher since Jon Lester went on such a four-game run in 2008.

“Unbelievable. Unbelievable,” David Ortiz said of Buchholz. “He’€™s been pitching his butt off for a while. I’€™m not surprised. Buchholz has the stuff, man. When he’€™s on, he’€™s on.”

Read More: Clay Buchholz, kansas city royals, zack greinke,

Closing Time: Red Sox 1, Royals 0

05.29.10 at 9:57 pm ET
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The Red Sox finally broke through against Kansas City at Fenway Park in a 1-0 pitcher’s duel. Clay Buchholz improved to 7-3 and allowed just four hits and struck out four while Mike Lowell drove in the game’s only run with a ground out to second in the second inning. The Sox improved their record to 28-23. (For a look at the box score, click here.)

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–Clay Buchholz continues to show he can pitch, and that he is more than just a thrower. He showed the poise and guile of a veteran pitcher, using his full array of pitches, particularly his curve and change-up, to get a couple of key double plays in the first and fourth innings.

–The infield defense looks like it’s finding it’s rhythm – especially on the left side. Adrian Beltre handled a hot smash off the bat of Billy Butler with runners on first and second and none out in the fourth and turned a double play with the help of an outstanding turn at second by Dustin Pedroia. That was followed up by a nice job of fielding at first by Mike Lowell on a sharp grounder by Jose Guillen. Lowell was filling in at first for Kevin Youkilis, who was getting the night off since Lowell was 4-for-7 entering the game against Kansas City starter Zack Greinke.

–Maybe it’s simply out of necessity, but the Red Sox showed they can manufacture a run in the bottom of the second. Adrian Beltre opened the inning by continue to tear up right-handed pitching. He lined an outside fastball to right field for a clean single to raise his average to .370 against righties this season. Pretty remarkable considering he was brought to Boston for his glove. J.D. Drew followed with a double to left to put runners on second and third with none out. Lowell followed with a good job of driving a Greinke pitch up the middle, field by Aviles at second for the out, to score Beltre.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–The Red Sox continue to struggle to break games open. In the second inning, when they had runners at second and third and none out, they could manage only one run, and it came on a groundout.

Dustin Pedroia, despite a great game in the field and a game-saving play in the eighth inning, continues to struggle at the plate. He was 0-for-3 and is 0-for-Kansas City this weekend to fall to 5-for-40 (.125) in his last 10 games. Pedroia is now hitting .255 on the season.

–The Red Sox could only manage five hits and continue to be a team offensive funk against the Royals.


Read More: Clay Buchholz, Red Sox, royals,

Prospect Iglesias hit on hand by pitch

05.29.10 at 7:16 pm ET
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Red Sox prospect Jose Iglesias left in the second inning of Saturday’s game with Double-A Portland after getting hit in the right hand by a pitch. According to Sox farm director Mike Hazen, X-rays were negative, and the 20-year-old has been diagnosed instead with a bruise.

The injury occurred on a pitch at which Iglesias swung, and so he was replaced in the middle of his at-bat by Portland teammate Yamaico Navarro. Though Navarro went down on strikes, the strikeout was credited to Iglesias.

Iglesias, who signed with the Sox out of Cuba last summer, is hitting .306 with a .340 OBP, .408 slugging mark and .748 OPS in Double-A, excellent numbers for one of the youngest players in the Eastern League.

“He’€™s been really good ‘€“ really good,” Hazen said recently. “He’€™s going through a period of adjustment. As we said in spring training, I think that’€™s sort of expected. I think he’€™s outperformed what we’€™ve expected from a raw performance standpoint, which is a credit to him and his ability. … But we’€™re still talking about a kid who needs to just play and get more experience.”

Read More: jose iglesias, Portland Sea Dogs,

Red Sox vs. Royal Matchups, 5/29

05.29.10 at 5:04 pm ET
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All of New England’€™s focus may be on how the Celtics clinched a spot to their 21st NBA Finals on Friday night, but the Red Sox continue the grind as per usual as they take on the Royals for the third game of their four-game series. The series is not going as well as planned for the Sox, as they’€™ve lost the first two games; a tight 4-3 loss on Thursday before getting pounded, 12-5, on Friday. They look to turn things around Saturday night at Fenway, but first they must get through the Royals ace, Zack Greinke.

The defending Cy Young Award winner has had a rough go of it for the 2010 season. In his first nine starts, he lasted an average of 6 2/3 innings with an ERA of 2.72, but he could not get adequate run support as he either lost or received a no-decision for his first seven starts. During that stretch, Greinke (1-5, 3.57 ERA) faced the Red Sox on April 10, a game in which he picked up his first loss of the season. He gave up four runs on eight hits and struck out five over 6 2/3 innings as the Royals lost, 8-3. In his last start, Greinke got shelled by the Rockies, only lasting 3 1/3 innings while allowing seven runs on nine hits.

Facing him in Saturday’€™s game is another young, powerful right-handed pitcher, Clay Buchholz. He’€™s been Boston’€™s best pitcher, statistically speaking. He leads the team in wins with his 6-3 record and his 3.07 ERA is the lowest on the team. His first game of the season was in Kansas City on April 11, a game that he won despite giving up three runs (two earned) on seven hits over only five innings. In his last start, Buchholz was strong against the Rays as he only gave up one run over 6 innings on six hits, while striking out eight.

Despite being the reining Cy Young winner, Greinke isn’t frightening too many of the Red Sox hitters. Of the 12 current Red Sox players who have previously faced Greinke, five have a batting average of .300 or better: Víctor Martínez, Marco Scutaro, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell and Mike Cameron. Keep an eye out for Lowell’€™s at bats, as he’€™s 4-for-7 off Greinke. Lowell will be getting the nod ahead of Kevin Youkilis at first since Youkilis is 1-for-10 off the 26-year-old right-hander. Also, former Indians catcher Víctor Martínez is 14-for-44 against Greinke with eight RBI.

For the Royals, none of the batters have significant experience off Buchholz, but look for Scott Podsednik‘€™s at bats. The left fielder is 4-for-5 off Buchholz, all singles, with one walk. Read the rest of this entry »

Putting the brakes on Beckett

05.29.10 at 4:50 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona says the team is slowing Josh Beckett down in his rehab from lower back strain.

Francona said pitching coach John Farrell noticed inconsistencies in Beckett’s side session on Friday and the inability to repeat his delivery, which caused the team to be concerned about him injuring himself by over-compensating in an effort to rush back to the rotation.

“We’re going to slow him down a little bit,” Francona said before Saturday’s game. “He’s not able to repeat his delivery consistently enough, and that worries us.”

Beckett landed on the disabled list on May 19 with lower back strain after slipping on the Yankee Stadium mound while throwing a splitter to Alex Rodriguez in the rain on May 18. Before Saturday, Francona said the team was hopeful that Beckett would miss just one start and be able to return to the rotation. That possibility seemed to be ruled out by the Red Sox manager on Saturday.

[Click here to hear Francona explain the team’s decision to slow Beckett down.]

“[If] he starts changing arm angles, you could run into problems that we don’t need to run into so until we’re a little bit more comfortable and he’s more comfortable, we’re just going to slow it down a little bit. How much that is, I really don’t know. That’s kind of where we are right now. There’s just a little bit there that concerns us.”

Farrell was key to the team’s decision to back off after closely monitoring Beckett on Friday.

“Johnny saw some inconsistencies in his delivery and he talked to Beckett and he would say he same thing and when you talk it through it just seemed to make sense,” Francona said.

Also prominent in the decision is the fact the team just invested $68 million in the pitcher over a four-year extension in April.

“We have this guy for a long time and we know him so well, when he’s trying to compete and there’s a little bit of uncertainty, it’s just not going to work as well as it should,” Francona said. “We sat down and talked to him at length about it and we’re trying to use good judgement.

“We know him so well that when he tries to pitch and he doesn’t feel like he has his legs under him, that’s going to lead to other problems. We don’t need that. We don’t want this to turn into something it shouldn’t.”

Read More: back strain, Josh Beckett, Red Sox, Terry Francona

Gammons on The Big Show: Ellsbury ‘very hurt’

05.29.10 at 10:13 am ET
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MLB insider and NESN analyst Peter Gammons joined The Big Show on Friday afternoon to talk about Daisuke Matzusaka‘€™s inconsistency, Jason Varitek handling his role as a backup catcher, Joe West and the recent umpire controversies and Jacoby Ellsbury‘€™s return to the D.L.

‘€œIt’€™s easy to say, ‘€˜This guy should go out there,’€™ but it’€™s like a hand or a wrist injury in baseball; those things could take a year to come back from,’€ Gammons said of Ellsbury. ‘€œA friend of mine who’€™s a doctor suffered one of these injuries. [He] had predicted it would be eight weeks before he was [alright] and I think that’€™s where it’€™s going to end up at.’€

Below is a transcript of the interview. To listen to the interview, click here.

Was it fun last night with Daisuke Matzusaka?

I’€™m sorry, but Daisuke [didn’€™t] do well. It’€™s either Victor Martinez‘€™s fault or a lower body injury. He does well, everybody’€™s great, but I guess we all have to have a safety net.

It’€™s frustrating when Daisuke can be so great one start and miserable the next. What can the Red Sox do when something like this happens?

As a fifth starter, he’€™s still going to be pretty good. He’€™s going to win the majority of his games; I think you look at it that way. [Josh Beckett] threw today and he’€™s going to probably be another couple of weeks because they’€™re remaining very cautious with him. You [have] two virtual number ones in [Jon] Lester and [Clay] Buchholz, you got [John] Lackey and Beckett, and if Daisuke’€™s your fifth guy, that’€™s fine.

His stuff is so much better than it’€™s been since early 2007’€¦ he’€™ll probably end up a whole lot better than last year. I mean, there’€™s no comparison in his stuff; his fastball, his slider, his changeup. He’€™s completely healthy and he’€™s in great shape for the first time. I think that’€™s the way you look at it, try to channel that stuff, because early in 2007, he did look like he was going to be really, really good, and then he had a couple long games. I don’€™t know, he is a mystery. He’€™s like the human gyro-ball.

How hurt is Jacoby Ellsbury?

I think he’€™s very hurt. The thing that is so unfair here, this is his first big arbitration year. He’€™s got Scott Boras in his ear, telling him what he’€™s going to make. If he were jaking it, that makes no sense. It’€™s just the opposite, in fact. This is really important for him to play. I think what he did was that he altered his swing so much that he ended up doing other stuff. [The Red Sox] just have to ride it out because they are a much different team with him in the lineup.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Adrian Beltre, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury

Hall reacts to pitching a perfect ninth

05.28.10 at 11:43 pm ET
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When Bill Hall took the mound Friday night in what at the time was an all-but-assured Royals 12-5 win over the Red Sox, very few Fenway Park spectators expected much from the Sox utility man in his first-ever pitching appearance. Then, Hall threw his warmup pitches with some unexpectedly hitting as high as 88 mph on the stadium radar gun.

What came next was even more surprising.

Hall proceeded to force Jose Guillen, Alberto Callaspo and Mitch Maier each into ground outs for a perfect ninth inning with fastballs hitting as high as 89 on the gun. Ironically, that 1-2-3 ninth was the only perfect inning from any Sox pitcher on the night.

That perfect frame left those select few who hadn’€™t left the laugher at Fenway wondering where in the world that kind of pitching prowess came from. Apparently, Hall has a bit of a history with the position.

“I pitched in high school so it was always something that if I ever got the chance, I always wanted to do just to see if I still had it since high school,’€ Hall said.

In high school, he claims that he was able to hit 95 mph on the gun along with a curveball and changeup. Hall even stated that he was nearly drafted into the majors as a pitcher in his younger days. However, no one was able to see Hall’€™s full potential because Jason Varitek, who came on in the ninth to catch his new battery-mate, wanted a nice-and-easy approach.

‘€œBefore we left the bullpen, I said, ‘€˜I’€™ve got a curveball too and a good changeup.’€™ He said, ‘€œI’€™m sticking down one so just don’€™t shake.’€

The fastballs obviously worked in Hall’€™s favor though as he forced each batter into soft and safe groundouts. It begs the question, though: can we expect more of this type of appearance from him when the Sox are in a pinch and need an arm? Not as much as one might hope according to Hall.

‘€œI’€™m not that good,’€ he said. ‘€œI’€™ll keep leaving it up to those guys over there, the pitching staff, but when it comes to down to it, you’€™re going to have to help your team out and save the bullpen a little bit. Hopefully, we can come out with the same bullpen tomorrow.’€

Pitcher was the sixth defensive position for Hall this season in a Red Sox uniform. He very well could have made it seven down in Tampa Bay when he was called upon to be the emergency catcher after Victor Martinez went down with a toe injury. For now though, Hall, who was in danger of seeing his playing time cut before Jacoby Ellsbury went on the 15-day disabled list Friday, is just happy to be out on the field, no matter the position.

‘€œI’€™ve been blessed with enough athletic ability to be able to move around,’€ said Hall, who still hasn’t played either catcher or first base in the majors. ‘€œI just like being on the field. This is a game that I’€™ve loved since I was born so whenever I’€™m out there, it doesn’€™t matter where I’€™m at, I ‘€˜m having fun and I’€™m giving it my all. It doesn’€™t [matter] where I am. As long as I’€™m on the field, it’€™s where I want to be, and it makes me happy.’€

Pedroia fires back regarding questions about knee

05.28.10 at 11:32 pm ET
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Following the Red Sox‘ 12-5 loss to the Royals, Dustin Pedroia insisted that the knee he injured on a slide in Detroit on May 15 wasn’t the cause for his recent hitting slump.

“There’s nothing. There’s nothing wrong with my knee,” he said after going 0-for-5 Friday night. “I don’t make excuses for my play. I play hard every day. I don’t make excuses if I get injured or something. I go out there every day and try to hit a thousand. I’m tring to get a hit every time up. It’s really not working out right now. I can guarantee you that I won’t end the year hitting .260 or whatever the [expletive] I’m hitting now. I can guarantee you that. I don’t guarantee a lot, but that’s for damn sure.

“I’m just not getting any hits. That’s it. I hit a couple of balls hard.”

Pedroia is 0-for-9 since the Red Sox returned home, having gone 5-for-12 in the three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays. In all, since the injury, the second baseman is hitting .163 (8-for-49). The second baseman is currently hitting .259.

Asked if he has been watching video to uncover any problems with his swing, Pedroia said, “Oh yeah, I work more than anybody in baseball, that’€™s a fact too. I’€™ll definitely put the time in and make sure I have a great year, so, ‘Laser Show.’ Relax again.’€
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