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Quality, thy name continues to be Wakefield

06.16.09 at 9:15 pm ET
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It was another tidy outing for Tim Wakefield, who continues to dominate opponents at Fenway Park. The knuckleballer flummoxed the Marlins for the better part of his six innings of work, allowing two runs on six hits for his ninth quality start of the season, a number that is tied with Josh Beckett for a team high. Wakefield walked one and struck out four while dropping his ERA to 4.39. Presuming that the bullpen holds down the 8-2 lead that Wakefield left to it, the knuckleballer stands to improve to 6-0 with a 3.23 ERA in six home starts.

The six straight home starts with a victory to start the year would be tied for the second-longest such streak by a Sox pitcher since 1954, tied with Roger Clemens (1986) and Ike Delock (1958), and one behind the standard that Wakefield set by winning seven straight Fenway starts at the beginning of his Red Sox career in 1995.

(For the complete list, click here.)

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David Ortiz: history repeating?

06.16.09 at 8:26 pm ET
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David Ortiz entered the game against the Florida Marlins on June 27, 2003, with just three homers on the year, and his teammates kiddingly called him Juan Pierre for his power drought. But in the Sox’ 25-8 victory in the series opener against the Marlins, and in the Sox’ 78th game of the year, Ortiz crushed a homer to right-center, and simply never stopped. Starting that day, over the final 85 Red Sox games of the year, Ortiz smashed 28 homers, drove in 68, and established himself as one of the biggest offensive stars in the game.

This year, the Sox had just 63 games under their belt when they prepared to welcome the Marlins to Fenway Park for the first time since that series in 2003. Ortiz entered the series with four homers. Once again, Ortiz unloaded on a pitch, this one a Chris Volstad 92 mph fastball, sending it into the bullpen in right-center field.

Ortiz is now hitting .314 with four homers and a 1.086 OPS in June. He is looking much more like the hitter who emerged during those final months of the 2003 season than the player who entered June of 2003 being compared to Pierre, or the one who arrived at this June hitting .185 with one homer and a .570 OPS.

Ortiz’ fourth-inning homer spawned a six-run rally for the Sox against Volstad and the Marlins. Indeed, the rally was punctuated by Ortiz rifling a two-run single through a shifted infield. The Sox now lead, 8-1, and have collected 10 hits through just four innings. Volstad has been chased form the game after just 3.2 innings and 78 pitches.

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Jacoby’s legs give the Sox the lead

06.16.09 at 7:48 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona has complimented Jacoby Ellsbury in the past by noting his knack for scoring runs. Once on base, the Sox centerfielder simply has an ability to find his way home.

In the second inning on Tuesday, in a game against the Marlins, Ellsbury underscored the point. He slashed a single through the right side of the infield against Marlins starter Chris Volstad, stole second (his 26th steal of the year) and then, on a Nick Green infield chopper that glanced off the bare hand of second baseman Dan Uggla and just a few feet from Hanley Ramirez, Ellsbury sprinted home with the game’s first run.

Though now hitting towards the bottom of the order, Ellsbury has scored six runs in his last nine games (including tonight), and with a .447 OPS since May 31, he is very much performing like a leadoff hitter, even if he is no longer in that role.

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Smoltz: This is not a feel-good story

06.16.09 at 6:22 pm ET
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John Smoltz was smiling in front of his locker on Tuesday afternoon as he finally confirmed that he will return to big league pitching on June 25 vs. the Washington Nationals, following a final three-inning rehab stint on Wednesday at McCoy Stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox.

But what he doesn’t want is fans thinking this is just about him.

“When I signed a long time ago with me being the opportunity of me being a bonus, that’s what I look at it as, a bonus,” Smoltz said. “I wouldn’t look at it any other way or I wouldn’t come back if I didn’t think I couldn’t be as good as I need to be. This is not a feel-good story.

“This is not something where the Boston Red Sox are not letting accomplish me something because somebody else didn’t. This is about having the stuff to get big league hitters out and to be able to pitch in big games and gain from the experience of having gone through that what seems like 100 times.’€œI’€™m going to pitching tomorrow. Another weather front coming in on Thursday. So, I’€™m going to have an abbreviated game tomorrow and then next week, looks like Thursday against the Nationals will be my first start.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox vs. Marlins Match-Ups, 6/16

06.16.09 at 3:29 pm ET
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Tim Wakefield has pitched in 11 career games against the Marlins, going 3-3 with a 5.65 ERA, but of course, he’s very seldom faced these Marlins. Because players in Florida have the shelf-life of fruit flies, he’s faced most of the current Fish in no more than a handful of plate appearances.He carries an 8-3 record and 4.50 ERA into tonight’s start against the Marlins. Wakefield has been particularly tough at home this year, going 5-0 with a 3.27 ERA.

Here’s how the Marlins have fared against him in the past:

Jorge Cantu (25 career plate appearances against Wakefield): .333 average/ .440 OBP/ .476 slugging, homer, 4 walks, 1 strikeout
Ross Gload (5): 1-for-5
Jeremy Hermida (3): 1-for-3, strikeout
Hanley Ramirez (3): 1-for-3, strikeout
Dan Uggla (3): 0-for-3
Wes Helms (2): 1-for-2, homer, strikeout


Just one Red Sox hitter has ever faced Chris Volstad in a regular-season game. As a member of the Braves, Mark Kotsay went 1-for-3 with an RBI single against the tall young right-hander (a member of the fabled draft class of 2005). During a March 6, 2009 exhibition game against the Red Sox, Volstad pitched three innings giving up 2 earned runs off 5 hits, including a homer ‘€“ also struck out 2.

Many around the Marlins seem convinced that Volstad could be the second coming of Josh Beckett in their organization. In 28 career games, he’s been extremely impressive, going 10-10 with a 3.46 ERA and emerging as one of the top young pitching talents in the National League as a 22-year-old.

Alex Katz contributed to the compilation of this entry.

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Smoltz to return next Tuesday or Wednesday

06.16.09 at 11:30 am ET
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John Smoltz, appearing on the Dan Patrick Show on Tuesday morning, said that he will make one more rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket on either Wednesday or Thursday before making his return to the majors with a start against the Washington Nationals next Tuesday or Wednesday.

“There’s no pinpoint, hard date,” said Smoltz. “It looks like sometime next week, either Tuesday or Wednesday.”

Smoltz said that with that timetable, he would could be in line to pitch against the Atlanta Braves, who the Sox will visit for a three-game series from June 26-28. If he starts against the Nats on Tuesday, then Smoltz could pitch in the Sunday series finale against the Braves on four days of rest. He was asked whether Daisuke Matsuzaka might end up moving to the bullpen or Brad Penny might get traded as a result of his return.

“When I go the rotation,” Smoltz joked with Patrick, “(Jon) Lester and (Josh) Beckett are going to the bullpen.”

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Sox farm director Hazen: ‘Clay Buchholz wants to pitch for the Boston Red Sox’

06.15.09 at 3:19 pm ET
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Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen addressed Clay Buchholz‘ admission that he is frustrated about being stuck in the minors despite a performance that suggests that the pitcher is major-league ready. Hazen said that the pitcher was entitled to feel as if he is ready to graduate from the minors, and that in some respects, it is encouraging to hear Buchholz suggest as much, particularly given how his confidence sank last season.

“There should be an expectation of the player to feel like he’€™s ready to go to the big leagues…It’€™s a positive thing when somebody feels like they’€™ve put a lot of hard work in and they’€™re ready to make that leap,” said Hazen. “I think we’€™re reading into it more that he has that confidence, that swagger, to seize the opportunity when it comes. Ultimately, he’€™s just got to go out and continue to perform every five days. He’€™s held up his end of the bargain. He’€™s worked hard. We’€™ve seen nothing affect his five-day routine outside the white lines.”

Hazen applauded Buchholz’ professionalism throughout 2009. In a season in which he is caught in an organization that has tremendous pitching depth that can lead to even an elite pitching prospect remain in the minors, the pitcher has continued to do everything in his power to prepare between starts and to perform when it is his turn on the mound.

“He’€™s handled every situation that’€™s been thrown at him like a pro,” said Hazen. “He’€™s worked his butt off down in Triple-A. Those things are facts. And his performance has been unbelievable. He has taken care of every ounce of what he can. He needs to continue to do it. We’€™re proud of him.”

Buchholz, of course, is not the first player to be a victim of minor-league options. Sometimes, players who are major-league ready must simply endure a prolonged apprenticeship in the minors while they wait for an opening, simply because they have options remaining. (For the record, the Sox can option Buchholz throughout both this season and next before they would have to subject him to waivers while doing so.) In 2005, Kevin Youkilis was an example of just such a roster victim when he shuttled between Pawtucket and Boston.

While Buchholz is clearly chomping at the bit to reach the majors, Hazen suggested that the pitcher remains driven to do so in Boston, while suggesting that the right-hander will eventually do just that.

“I believe wholeheartedly that Clay Buchholz wants to pitch for the Boston Red Sox,” said Hazen. “I believe wholeheartedly that both (Buchholz and Michael Bowden) want to be Boston Red Sox and that both of them will be, and that they’€™ll help us win another World Series. It’€™s just a matter of the timing of the situation.”

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Buchholz and Bowden: A Tale of Two Pitchers

06.15.09 at 2:08 pm ET
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Mike Giardi of NECN conducted a pair of fascinating interviews with the top two Red Sox pitching prospects, Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden. In the interviews, the two pitchers — who have been close friends since they were both selected by the Red Sox as sandwich picks in the 2005 draft — analyzed their predicament as pitchers who have done virtually everything they need to do to prove that they are ready for the majors, but who are in an organization whose remarkable pitching depth has both of them stuck in Triple-A.

Buchholz and Bowden offered a difference of opinions about the implications of their current minor-league status. Buchholz, who is 4-0 with a 1.75 ERA entering his Monday night start, craves an opportunity to start in the majors, regardless of whether it is in Boston or elsewhere.

“There’s nowhere to go. There’€™s sort of a logjam up there (on the Boston pitching staff),” Buchholz said in the interview. “They’€™re doing what they feel is right up there for the team to win. Whenever they come to a problem, they seem to find a way to fix it without me being in the picture. It is what it is. It’€™s frustrating at times. I’€™m going out and every fifth day here, helping this team, trying to help this team win and trying to get better every time out.

“I feel like I’€™m more equipped with everything that I have right now as far as the pitches and the mental aspect. I’€™m physically healthy to be up there and be able to help that team,” the 24-year-old added. “If not that team, then I want be in the big leagues and I do want to go where I’€™ll be able to play and go and pitch every fifth day.”

(WEEI.com’s D.J. Bean also recently touched base with Buchholz, a pitcher who was described by PawSox manager Ron Johnson as perhaps “overdue” in his path to the majors. It is worth mentioning that while Buchholz suggested that being in the majors right now is more important than being a member of the Red Sox, he said in the interview that, all things being equal, he would refer to remain in Boston. Moreover, Buchholz has accepted his position in the Sox organization completely in dozens of interviews since the beginning of spring training, suggesting that he is willing to bide behind a group whose abilities are obvious.)

Bowden, 22, is two years younger than Buchholz, and so perhaps that explains part of the reason why he seems to be in less of a hurry to get to the majors. The right-hander, who is 3-3 with a 2.48 ERA, suggested that his priority is to pitch in Boston, even if he will need another year or more to break into the Sox pitching staff on a full-time basis.

“I’€™ve been in this organization five years. That’€™s what I’€™m working towards…That’€™s my goal and that’€™s where I want to be,” Bowden told Giardi. “(Being traded is) out of my control. If it’€™s out of my control, why worry about it. If it happens, it happens. I understand it’€™s  a business, and that there are opportunities elsewhere. But like I said, I love this organization and I’€™d hate to leave…I’€™d rather stay in the minors an extra year or so to play with Boston, and to play in Boston at Fenway, with that group of guys.”

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Smoltz talks about beyond this year

06.15.09 at 1:17 pm ET
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John Smoltz has executed his plan.

The 42-year-old is on the precipice of doing something some believed wasn’t a reality, coming all the way back to the major leagues after torn labrum surgery. And it is for this reason there was an excitement in Smoltz’ voice every time he spoke in Philadelphia over the weekend.

Thursday, he will either be returning to the majors as a member of the Red Sox, or will be pitching one more time for Triple A Pawtucket, residing just days away form his momentous return to the bigs.

“I’m in a total new place in my life and my career,” he said. “And you know what? The unknown is so intriguing. It’s vast.”

Evidently, it’s vastness could be growing exponentially thanks to the success of Smoltz’ comeback.

While the pitcher says he won’t allow himself to think too hard and long about life after this season with the Red Sox, clearly the road map he set out prior to having his surgery a year ago is continued to be followed. And, according to Smoltz, that path doesn’t stop at the end of  the 2009 season.

“The reason I had surgery was not to just come back for one year,” he said before Sunday’s game at Citizens Bank Park. “Having surgery certainly quality of life was part of it, but I could have waited to have that. To have surgery at this point, when I did, and not try to milk anymore of the rest of that  season, the reason I did that was to pitch well beyond. I figured if I was going to have surgery and I can pitch one year, what prevents me from pitching two years. Something will have to really go wrong to say, ‘OK I did everything I could and it wasn’t working,’ Hey, I can totally sleep with that. If I was going to resign to the feeling everybody had that this was it, as an athlete it’s not even so much to prove  people wrong but saying, ‘Hey I’ve done this before.’ You know how many things I wasn’t supposed to come back from? People take it for granted now that it’s old hat. Oh, he did it again. People underestimated my ability to think beyond what conceptionatl opinion was. I’m just not one of those guys. I would never do anything I didn’t think I could do beyond a reasonable doubt.”

While Smoltz knows how the plan is trending, he also emphasizes that the here and the now remain the priority.

“Sometimes I sit there and go, at this current moment there isn’t going to be a next year, and then the next week there might be a next year and a year after. I just stop right there,” he explained. “I stop thinking about things like that because I used to do that all the time. I used to have things planned out three or four years in advance. There’s just no good in it anymore.”

Smoltz is bracing himself for both the praise and the criticism that will come with his return. It would be inevitable for anyone having the kind of career success as the 20-year veteran. But throw in the fact that the Red Sox have starters at the ready to replace anyone in the rotation who may falter, and it the magnifying glass becomes even more prevalent.

“If you’re looking at things, you can find whatever fault you want, and I’m sure that will exist with me,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a lot of nitpicking stuff. They wanted me to go away so it was just a magical end and surgery ended my career. I wasn’t prepared for that.”

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Why didn’t Ortiz bunt?

06.15.09 at 12:31 pm ET
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David Ortiz only started one game in Philly, going 1-for-4, but did get into Sunday’s Sox’ loss as a pinch-hitter in the eighth and walked. It capped a week that saw the DH hit .308 with two homers, four walks, and just two strikeouts.

Bottom line: Ortiz has entered the second-half of June looking like a much more confident hitter.

So, now that Ortiz has seemingly figured some things out, one question could be asked — with the shift still applied (albeit with slightly diminished frequency) by opponents, why didn’t he try to bunt his way on during his horrific hitting spell?

“I stink at bunting,” Ortiz said. “I have thought about it, but when I get to the plate, then I get thinking about how I don’t want to lose an at-bat. Sometimes I’ll bunt and I miss a pitch right down the middle and I get mad. I feel like I could have hit that ball out of the park. It happens all the time. But I’m not going to say I won’t do it.”

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