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Matsuzaka’s tale of two innings

08.30.09 at 6:49 pm ET
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MANCHESTER– Much has been made about Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s eventual return to the Red Sox. One can only hope that a lot will change between today and September 9.

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.

Read More: Matsuzaka rehab,

There was no guarantee for Byrd

08.30.09 at 6:08 pm ET
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According to Paul Byrd, there were no guarantees from the Red Sox that he was ever going to wear a major league uniform again.

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.”

Matsuzaka makes rehab start in New Hampshire

08.30.09 at 3:46 pm ET
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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.

…FINALLY

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.

1-2-3 SECOND

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.

Read More: Matsuzaka rehab,

Wakefield in a Week? Pitcher Hopes for Speedy Return

08.30.09 at 3:46 pm ET
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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 ‘€œa 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.

‘€œIt 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. ‘€œThere 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.

‘€œI think surgery is inevitable in this situation,’€ he said. ‘€œI 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.’€

Read More: back, rotation, Tim Wakefield,

Wagner Could Have Been a Red Sox Closer

08.30.09 at 3:29 am ET
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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.

Read More: billy wagner, Closer, Jonathan Papelbon,

Byrd in Red Sox Sunday plans?

08.29.09 at 7:47 pm ET
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In a move that could signal a start for the Red Sox on Sunday, righthander Paul Byrd was scratched from a scheduled start tonight for Triple-A Pawtucket. The Red Sox are short a starting pitcher after Tim Wakefield was scratched from his Tuesday start with lower back pain.

Byrd is the likely move to start Sunday’s game against Toronto. Meanwhile, the Red Sox recalled righthander reliever Marcus McBeth to provide depth to the bullpen for Saturday’s game and optioned righthander Junichi Tazawa to the Gulf Coast League Red Sox.

Jon Lester’s start was moved from Sunday to Tuesday at Tampa Bay, leaving a vacancy for the series finale against the Blue Jays.

Read More: Paul Byrd, Tim Wakefield,

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Match-Ups, 8/29

08.29.09 at 2:31 pm ET
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Sure, the Red Sox have been slumping during the second-half of the season.

But finally the team from Boston is on a roll. The Sox are 7-3 in their last 10 games, and Saturday night they’€™ll seek their fifth win in six games. Since August 16 Boston’€™s once-struggling offense has rebounded, averaging 7.7 runs and batting .300 with 24 homeruns.

As the Sox prepare to face Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero Friday night, the prospect of keeping their resurgent offense going looks good.

In three starts against Boston this season, the rookie pitcher is 0-2 with a 10.50 ERA. Not to mention in his last start against the Sox on August 18, Romero lasted only 3.2 innings en route to surrendering five earned runs and three walks. While Romero’€™s season has been fairly impressive for a rookie (11-5, 3.91 ERA), he hasn’€™t been able to silence the Boston bats in 2009.

David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis, specifically, have been a nightmare for Romero: Ortiz is 5-7 with a homerun against Romero, while Youkilis has gone 3-5 with two homeruns and three walks.

Pitching for the Red Sox tonight is young flamethrower Clay Buchholz.

Buchholz pitched against Toronto in his first game of the 2009 season, earning the win as he went 5.2 innings and gave up only one earned run. In fact, his only two wins this season have been at Toronto’€™s expense. But the young pitcher has struggled overall, going 2-3 with a 5.02 ERA in eight starts. In his most recent start against the Chicago White Sox on Monday, Buchholz gave up seven earned runs and lasted only 4.2 innings.

Boston currently trails the Yankees by six games in the AL East standings, but leads Texas by 2.5 games in the Wild Card.

BLUE JAYS VS. BUCHHOLZ

Aaron Hill (10 career plate appearances against Buchholz): 2-for-10, 3 strikeouts

Lyle Overbay (10): 5-for-9, walk, strikeout

Vernon Wells (9): 2-for-7, 2 walks

Adam Lind (8): 3-for-8, strikeout

Marco Scutaro (8): 0-for-5, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts

Kevin Millar (7): 0-for-5, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts

Rod Barajas (5): 1-for-4, walk, strikeout

Randy Ruiz (3): 1-for-3, strikeout

Jose Bautista (2): 0-for-2

Travis Snider (2): 0-for-2, 2 strikeouts

John McDonald (1): 1-for-1

RED SOX VS. ROMERO

J.D. Drew (9 career plate appearances against Romero): 2-for-7, walk, 3 strikeouts

Kevin Youkilis (8): 3-for-5, 2 homers, 3 walks, strikeout

Jason Bay (7): 1-for-4, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts

David Ortiz (7): 5-for-7, homer, strikeout

Nick Green (6): 0-for-5, walk, 4 strikeouts

Mike Lowell (6): 2-for-6, 2 strikeouts

Victor Martinez (6): 2-for-5, walk

Dustin Pedroia (6): 2-for-5, homer, walk

Jacoby Ellsbury (5): 2-for-3, strikeout

Jason Varitek (4): 0-for-1, 3 walks

Rocco Baldelli (2): 0-for-2, strikeout

Alex Gonzalez (2): 1-for-2

Read More: Blue Jays, Buchholz, Match-Ups, Ricky Romero

Matsuzaka pushed back to Sunday

08.28.09 at 6:58 pm ET
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With the pending tropical storm bearing down on New England and the Eastern seaboard, the Red Sox have pushed back Daisuke Matsuzaka’s rehab start from Saturday to Sunday in Manchester, NH.

“Daisuke will now pitch Sunday in New Hampshire,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “There was some cooperation from their club and our organization. They obviously were going to have a big crowd tomorrow. The forecast is horrible. It was supposed to be a doubleheader and what they’re doing is playing a single game.”

Matsuzaka, who has been with the team in Boston all week, will pitch for Boston’s Double-A affiliate in Portland against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the first game on Sunday at 4 p.m. Red Sox manager Terry Francona made the announcement before Friday’s game, adding that the team is still hopeful to have Matsuzaka back for a Sept. 9 start against Baltimore at Fenway Park.

“When I stated that Daisuke could come back and pitch on the eighth, what we really wanted is for him to pitch on the ninth,” Francona added. “So, that actually works out perfect.”

Read More: Matsuzaka, Red Sox,

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Match-Ups, 8/28

08.28.09 at 1:20 pm ET
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Josh Beckett was enjoying a very productive August (2-0 with an 0.86 ERA in his first three starts) ‘€“ that is, until he pitched against Toronto on August 18.

In that start, Beckett surrendered seven earned runs in only 5.1 innings pitched, allowing three homers along the way. While the Red Sox managed to hang on and ultimately beat Toronto 10-9, the team wasn’€™t so lucky in Beckett’€™s next outing against the Yankees.

Pitching at Fenway against New York in his last start, Beckett allowed eight earned runs off nine hits, five of which were homeruns. The Yankees offense pounded the Sox in the series’€™ rubber match, and Boston lost its second series in a row to its reviled AL East rival.

Friday night, Beckett will look to rebound as he goes for win number 15 against Toronto. In 11 career starts against the Blue Jays, the Red Sox ace is 3-5 with a bloated 6.44 ERA. These un-Beckett-like numbers can likely attributed to the immense success Toronto centerfielder Vernon Wells enjoys against Beckett: Wells is a career .323 hitter against Beckett with five homers and three walks.

On the other side of the mound, Scott Richmond will be pitching for Toronto Friday night. In only his second season with the team, the 29-year-old righty has struggled going 6-7 with a 4.09 ERA in 19 games (16 of which were starts). Richmond’€™s only appearance against Boston this year came in late May when he pitched in relief of teammate Ricky Romero. For his career, Richmond is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in seven innings pitched against the Red Sox.

After taking three out of four from the White Sox, the Red Sox are six games behind the Yankees in the AL East standings, and 1.5 games up on Texas in the Wild Card.

BLUE JAYS VS. BECKETT

Lyle Overbay (36 career plate appearances against Beckett): .300 average/ .417 OBP/ .367 slugging, 6 walks, 10 strikeouts

Vernon Wells (35): .323/ .400/ .871, 5 homers, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts

Aaron Hill (28): .370/ .393/ .593, 2 strikeouts

Kevin Millar (20): .263/ .300/ .368, walk, strikeout

Rod Barajas (15): .385/ .467/ 1.000, 2 homers, walk, 2 strikeouts

Marco Scutaro (10): 3-for-10, 2 strikeouts

Adam Lind (8): 5-for-8, homer, strikeout

John McDonald (6): 2-for-4, 2 walks, strikeout

Raul Chavez (5): 0-for-4, walk, 2 strikeouts

Randy Ruiz (3): 1-for-2, homer, walk

Travis Snider (2): 2-for-2, homer

RED SOX VS. RICHMOND

Jacoby Ellsbury (4 career plate appearances against Richmond): 3-for-3, walk

Dustin Pedroia (4): 0-for-3

David Ortiz (3): 1-for-3, homer

Jason Varitek (3): 0-for-3, strikeout

Kevin Youkilis (3): 0-for-2, walk, 2 strikeouts

Jason Bay (2): 0-for-2

Casey Kotchman (2): 0-for-2

Victor Martinez (2): 1-for-2

J.D. Drew (1): 0-for-1

Nick Green (1): 0-for-1

Mike Lowell (1): 1-for-1

Read More: Beckett, Match-Ups, toronto,

Wagner’s Remarkable Comeback Route

08.28.09 at 11:57 am ET
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By his own admission, Billy Wagner has little business being in Boston — or in any other major-league uniform. There is an element of the improbable to the fact that, at 38, he is throwing with mid-90s velocity and command, let alone that he is doing so roughly 11 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Wagner is certainly one of the oldest pitchers, if not the oldest, ever to come back from the procedure.

“We don’t have a lot of comps at that age,” said Will Carroll, a medical reporter for Baseball Prospectus. “Most guys don’t come back.”

But Wagner did. It would be difficult to imagine a greater validation of Wagner’s rehab efforts than the fact that a contending team was willing to trade for him and spend roughly $3.5 million for his services (roughly $2.5 million in salary and another $1 million for a buyout of his 2010 option after the season) over the duration of the 2009 season. Less than a year after he had been told that his career could well be over, his recovery has been so successful that he is not merely back on a mound, but sought for his potential to boost a club in a playoff race and perhaps the postseason.

“I was told my career was over, so I just stuck with (Mets and former Red Sox physical therapist) Chris Correnti and he was there day in and day out with me motivating me and pushing me to keep working. He believed that I had something left, my family thought that I had something left and that I should pursue it and see how far this thing will take me and I’€™m here in 11 months where it’€™s normally 14 months,” said Wagner. “Eleven months after Tommy John, somebody wants somebody like me to help them maybe get in the playoffs. I’€™m pretty excited.”

The left-hander pushed the normal time line for a return from Tommy John surgery, even though, when he went under the knife, the doctors did more than just replace the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow last September. Wagner identified additional procedures that were done at the time of his Tommy John surgery and that made his rapid recovery — especially at this age and stage of his career — all the more noteworthy.

“They did a scope in the back (of the elbow), moved the ulnar nerve, fixed the flexor (tendon) ‘€“ they did it all,” Wagner said. “They didn’€™t even tell me that they had done the scope or anything else until after.”

But Wagner followed a rigorous rehab program at an aggressive pace. Had it been a younger pitcher, the course of the rehab process might well have been more deliberate. But Wagner and Correnti — who oversaw the dominating return of Pedro Martinez from a damaged rotator cuff in time for the 2002 season — decided to push the pace almost immediately following the surgery, since the long-time closer is involved in a race against time.

Wagner has targeted both 400 saves and 425 saves as goals, the former because it is a round number, the latter because it would allow him to pass John Franco as the all-time leader for saves by a left-handed pitcher. Such milestones could bolster the pitcher’s Hall of Fame candidacy. If he can demonstrate an ability to pitch at a high level and with health over the final five weeks of this season, Wagner can position himself where clubs in need of a closer this offseason will be far more willing to target him.

At the beginning of the rehab process, there were no guarantees. While it is taken almost for granted that pitchers can return at full strength from Tommy John, and despite numerous success stories, it is by no means a given that a pitcher can regain his velocity after the procedure.

Former Blue Jays closer B.J. Ryan, for instance, never regained the life on his fastball after he underwent the procedure in 2007 (even though he was effective in 2008), and then his shoulder blew out. Carroll cited Francisco Liriano of the Twins and Chris Capuano of the Brewers as examples of other players who did not see their stuff fully return after Tommy John, and Frankie Francisco (the current Rangers closer) as an instance of a pitcher who took an immense amount of time to recover from flexor tendon surgery.

But Wagner, at least to date, has not been a cautionary tale. Instead, he is back in the majors as fast — indeed, likely faster — as anyone could have expected.

Even so, multiple major-league sources suggest that medical risks persist for a pitcher until he is at least 14 months removed from such a procedure. There are still risks of setbacks, and it would be vastly premature to suggest that the pitcher is out of the woods.

Indeed, the remaining risks in Wagner’s recovery explain in large part why the Mets were willing to part with Wagner in a deal that, despite the inclusion of a couple of players to be named, represented primarily a desire to save $3.5 million in a year when they have fallen far short of expectations despite a payroll pushing $150 million.

While Wagner can contribute in meaningful situations for the Red Sox, he was not going to have that opportunity in 2009 for a Mets team that is buried in the standings. If there were a guarantee that Wagner, a likely Type A free agent following this year, would be healthy enough to ensure a free-agent market for his services as a closer, New York might have been more inclined to suffer the financial hit of keeping the reliever for the rest of the year so that they could collect a pair of draft picks after he left.

But because the team was mindful of the possibility of a setback that could make it impossible to offer Wagner arbitration (or that would prevent any team from signing him and sacrificing a top draft pick), it could not stomach the idea of paying him with potentially zero return. A cold, hard financial reality was in play for a team that has the second highest payroll in baseball but that has endured a disastrous number of injuries that have crushed any of its hopes in the pennant race.

The Sox, on the other hand, might receive benefit from the pitcher down the stretch this year. And so, for them, the $3.5 million investment (an amount that Boston G.M. Theo Epstein noted represents a reinvestment of savings in unpaid incentives for pitchers John Smoltz and Brad Penny) harbors immediate potential return. Given that, Boston can focus more on the potential payoff of having a pair of compensation picks rather than the potential risk that it would get none.

In an effort to assure Wagner’s health down the stretch, his usage will be carefully regulated. He will not throw on back to back days, his pitch counts will likely be limited, and the Sox will certainly try to avoid putting the pitcher in a situation where he warms up multiple times before entering games.

Still, while there will be limits to how Wagner can be used, the fact that the 38-year-old can be used at all and has been thrust back into a pennant race is, in its own right, noteworthy.

“I was told, ‘€˜You’€™ve had a good career.’€™ And that kind of motivates you because I feel like I’€™m in control of my career,” said Wagner. “My fastball has got a lot more life right now. My slider is probably a little harder and sharper than in the past, and I’€™ve developed somewhat of a changeup. So this whole Tommy John thing isn’€™t looking too bad right now.”

Read More: billy wagner, chris correnti, Mets, tommy john
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