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Red Sox vs. Angels matchups, 8/18

08.18.10 at 9:03 am ET
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John Lackey

When the 2010 baseball schedule was released last year, you could almost bank on this week’s three-game series between the Red Sox and Angels being a matchup of two teams at the top of the playoff race. However, here we are: Both teams are scratching and clawing to just stay within shouting distance of their respective division rivals so they have at least a shot to make the playoffs as the regular season nears its end. Case in point, the Red Sox needed to win Tuesday just to stay 5 1/2 games behind both the Yankees and the Rays while the Angels’ loss set them back to exactly .500 at 60-60 as they are now in danger of falling back to third place in the AL West behind the Rangers and A’s. Both teams will need to scratch and claw again Wednesday just to maintain their position as a couple of familiar faces take the mound for both sides in John Lackey for Boston and Scott Kazmir for Los Angeles.

Wednesday’s start will be the third for Lackey (10-7, 4.54 ERA) against his former employer this season. In those three starts, Lackey has fared extremely well, going 2-0 with a low, low 1.88 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. In his last start against the Halos, he went 7 1/3 innings and gave up just two earned runs in a 4-2 Sox win on July 27. Since that time, he’s had his fair share of struggles. In the month of August, Lackey is 0-2 with a 6.52 ERA. However, there is some hope after his latest start, in which he went eight-plus innings while allowing just three earned runs against Toronto last Thursday. However, the team as a whole didn’t fare nearly as well in that game; it is better known as the infamous game in which Daniel Bard had to replace an ineffective Jonathan Papelbon with the bases loaded in the ninth before the Sox lost on a sacrifice fly by Fred Lewis.

As familiar as Lackey may be to his ex-teammates on the Los Angeles side, Kazmir (8-10, 6.36 ERA) may be just as familiar to the Boston bats. He’s made 24 career starts against the Red Sox as a member of both the Rays and Angels, going 8-8 with a 3.94 ERA in those starts. However, the lefty’s latest results against Boston haven’t been nearly as promising. His May 6 start against the Sox was his second worst this season after he walked five batters and gave up seven runs over just 4 1/3 innings in an 11-6 loss. You may be able to dismiss that start because it was nearly three months ago, but Kazmir’s latest starts haven’t been much better. He is 1-5 with an astoundingly high 9.39 ERA in his last six starts. That includes a start in which he allowed 13 earned runs over five innings in a 15-1 loss to Oakland on July 10. He was put on the disabled list with “shoulder fatigue” soon after that horrid start. Read the rest of this entry »

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Boxscore breakdown: Sox win Pedroia’s return

08.18.10 at 8:50 am ET
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Just a few notes today from Tuesday’s 6-0 win over the Halos at Fenway:

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* – At 22.39 years old, Ryan Kalish became the youngest Red Sox player to hit a grand slam since Tony Conigliaro hit one on June 3, 1964, at 19.41 years. Here are the youngest Red Sox grand slammers since 1960:

19.41 – Tony Conigliaro (6/3/64)
22.39 – Ryan Kalish (8/17/10)
22.71 – Ellis Burks (5/25/87)
22.86 – Rico Petrocelli (5/8/66)
22.93 – Arquimedez Pozo (7/28/96)
23.35 – Joe Foy (6/26/66)
23.41 – Reggie Smith (8/29/68)

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* – The Red Sox’ first batter of the game has now been retired 14 consecutive times. The last time that a Sox leadoff man reached base in the first inning was back on August 1, when Marco Scutaro singled off Detroit’s Justin Verlander.

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* – Clay Buchholz fell behind 1-0 on 16 batters last night and they went 1-14 with 2 walks. He got ahead 0-1 on just 8 batters and they went 3-8. Two hit the first pitch (0-2). Going into last night, Buchholz had gotten ahead on 46% of batters and they had hit .196. The 40% that he fell behind had hit .246.

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* – The Red Sox tossed a shutout despite allowing double digit baserunners for the first time since last August 30 and just the 11th time since 2000.

Report: Ellsbury has another broken rib

08.18.10 at 6:34 am ET
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According to an ESPN report, tests on Jacoby Ellsbury revealed that the Red Sox outfielder has another fractured rib and “probably” will miss the rest of the season. Ellsbury suffered his latest injury on Friday in Texas when he collided with Rangers pitcher Tommy Hunter during the first inning.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona said after Tuesday’s game at Fenway Park that the team would discuss a recovery plan with Ellsbury Wednesday, after the player returned from his visit with Dr. Lewis Yocum in California.

“Nothing official,” Francona said. “I just talked to Dr. Tom Gill a minute ago. He said they’re planning on talking tomorrow morning. I think Ells was grabbing the red-eye home. I think the plan was to meet with him tomorrow and get everybody involved and assess what the plan is. Nothing official tonight.”

Read More: Jacoby Ellsbury, Terry Francona,

Is Clay Buchholz the new No. 1?

08.18.10 at 1:15 am ET
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It’s somewhat similar to when two elite college basketball teams trade turns as the No. 1 team in the nation in the regular season.

The top-ranked team doesn’t really matter until the postseason.

The same could be said of the debate some Red Sox fans will have over Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester. And after Tuesday night, it’s pretty safe to say that Buchholz has taken over the top spot in the Red Sox rotation. As a matter of fact, after lowering his ERA to 2.36 following Tuesday’s 6-0 win over the Angels, Buchholz not only leads the team in ERA, he leads the American League among starters.

Buchholz has not allowed a run in 14 innings since allowing an unearned run in the first inning last Wednesday against Toronto. In fact, he has not allowed an earned run in 17 1/3 innings since giving up a run at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 6.

“Every time Clay goes out there, we have a great chance to win a ball game,” his catcher Victor Martinez said. “He’s been terrific all year long.”

And like basketball, it really won’t matter who starts as the top pitcher until the playoffs arrive – of course if the Red Sox can make up ground on either the Yankes or Rays or both in the next six weeks. But until then, The Sox wouldn’t mind seeing more outings like the one Buchholz authored Tuesday night. He allowed just five hits over the seven shutout innings.

“I felt really good physically,” Buchholz said in a matter-of-fact tone. “The extra day, coming in with the off day. Command was a little off with the fastball for the most part.”

While he wasn’t perfect, he didn’t give up a run over seven innings that showed his mental toughness.

Buchholz has been asked often what has been the biggest change this season for him as he has now posted 14 wins against just five losses. And every single time he has pointed to his ability to pitch with the opposing team threatening as his biggest area of growth.

“I had a chance to watch it for a while on the bench but playing behind him, he’s attacking the zone, ground ball after ground ball,” raved second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who helped Buchholz out with two stellar defensive plays, including a 4-3 double play in the second inning. “He’s one of the best pitchers in the game right now.”

Tuesday night was no different.

He allowed a leadoff double to Bobby Abreu to start the game. But he didn’t panic. Even when he had this right foot stepped on by Maicer Izturis on a play at first, Buchholz showed he was ready to focus on the task at hand. With one out, Alberto Callaspo hit a high bouncer back to Buchholz. Abreu read the play as if the ball would bounce over the pitcher’s head.

But that’s not what happened. Buchholz reached up, gloved it and caught Abreu in no-man’s land down the third base line. Abreu was eventually tagged out and Buchholz got out of trouble. He pitched out of a two-out jam with a runner second in the fifth and a bases load jam in the sixth.

“To hold that team to no runs any day, it’s a pretty big feat, I think, just because of the guys they have and the power they can produce on any given night. They can score a lot of runs,” Buchholz said.

“The biggest thing, he stays within himself,” Martinez said. “He doesn’t get desperate. He stayed pretty calmed down, and just worried about making the next pitch.”

Just three examples of what the pitcher was referring to when talking about pitching under pressure.

“I thought tonight, there was a chance if he made a bad pitch with the bases loaded, the game goes a little different,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “It seemed like he wasn’t searching to let the game get away. He looked like he wasn’t making all his pitches but he didn’t seem like he was out of control. He gathered himself and made a good pitch.”

Read More: Angels, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, MLB

Closing Time: Red Sox 6, Angels 0

08.17.10 at 9:55 pm ET
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The return of Dustin Pedroia was the headline event heading into Tuesday night at Fenway Park, but that major change in the Red Sox landscape was rendered a footnote by two other players in Boston’s 6-0 shutout win over the Angels.

Clay Buchholz continued his breakout campaign, firing seven shutout innings to drop his ERA to an American League-leading 2.36 mark, an impressive accompaniment to his 14-5 record. And Ryan Kalish continued to make an impact in his first taste of the majors, clubbing his first career grand slam to spearhead the Boston offense.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–Buchholz is asserting himself as a legitimate Cy Young contender. He gave up a double to Bobby Abreu to lead off the game, but then did not allow another extra-base hit from that point on. He has now allowed one or fewer earned runs in nine of his last 14 starts. The Angels mustered just five hits against the right-hander, and opponents are now hitting .224 against him this year. From just about any vantage point, he has been one of the most dominant starters in the American League.

–The Sox lineup did plenty of damage against Angels starter Jered Weaver, who has been one of the top pitchers in the American League this year. The team drove up his pitch count and forced him from the game after just five innings, marking the third time in 26 starts this year that he has failed to log six innings. The Sox also collected five extra-base hits against Weaver, tied for the second most that the right-hander has permitted in an outing this year.

Darnell McDonald continued to be an impact player in limited playing time this month, swatting his second homer in as many games. He is now 6-for-19 (.316) with a 1.223 OPS this month, an important development for the Sox given that Jacoby Ellsbury might be out for the remainder of the year.

–The performance could have fallen into the “what went wrong” category, but for the Sox, the mere fact that Dustin Pedroia was back in the lineup represented a significant development in the right direction.

Certainly, there were signs that he is still working his way back from a broken foot. On a grounder up the middle, he could not range far enough to his right to make his signature diving play to his right. On a grounder that was bobbled by Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, he was a step too slow to beat out the throw at first. Even so, given that he had spent more than seven weeks on the sidelines, his mere presence on the field seemed to offer the Red Sox a lift. He did show reasonable mobility on the field, especially on a slow grounder to second by Aybar in which he chased down Hideki Matsui to tag him out and then fired to first to complete a 4-3 double play.

Pedroia’s timing also remained a work in progress at the plate, where he went 0-for-4. He also committed a throwing error after being wiped out at second base on a potential double play pivot.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Felix Doubront looked shaky in his relief outing, loading the bases on a pair of singles and a walk in the eighth inning. But he prevented the Angels from doing any damage by striking out Aybar with two outs.

Sox shut down prospect Kelly for Double-A season

08.17.10 at 9:40 pm ET
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The Red Sox will shut down prospect Casey Kelly for the duration of the 2010 Portland Sea Dogs season due to a strained right latissimus muscle that the 21-year-old suffered, said farm director Mike Hazen. News of the decision was first reported by the Portland Press-Herald.

Kelly was 3-5 with a 5.31 in 21 starts for the Sea Dogs. The 2008 first-rounder was in the middle of his first full season as a pitcher since turning pro. In his most recent start, on Aug. 6 against Richmond, he touched 96 mph on the radar gun, the best velocity readings that he’s had this year and evidence that his arm is fine and that he’s done an impressive job of maintaining his strength over the course of his first full professional season. But the next day, he experienced stiffness that forced him to miss a side as well as his next start, and when the discomfort continued to linger, the Sox decided to end Kelly’s Double-A season, with an eye toward making up innings later this year.

The decision to shut him down was deemed precautionary, rather than a sign of a major injury. Because the Sea Dogs are nearing the end of the season, the Sox felt that it did not make sense for Kelly to rush through his rehab in order to make just one or two more starts in Double-A, followed by a month of throwing sides before having him complete his innings load for the year in Instructional League.

Following such a course would have meant that Kelly would have seven and a half months (dating to spring training) of pitching more or less continuously. The Sox elected instead to have Kelly stop pitching for the next month and then return to the mound in Instructional League, with the idea that he can get roughly 20-30 additional innings on the mound in games both there and in a winter league (likely the Arizona Fall League).

“As young as he is, we’re not going to risk anything. He definitely gets it, which is good,” said Hazen. “The choice was fairly simple. Shut him down and shoot to make up the innings when we can give him a month off right now. … If he’s doing well, progress him out and then make up those innings in instructional league and the beginning part of the Fall League so we can shut him down as soon as possible.”

Kelly is generally viewed as the top prospect in the Red Sox system, and so his numbers have struck some as disappointing. His walks total more than doubled, from 16 in 95 innings in 2009 to 35 in the same number of innings in 2010.

Yet the fact that he has been competing at a high level (Kelly is one of the youngest handful of pitchers in the Double-A Eastern League), along with a dramatic improvement in stuff, have convinced the Sox that he has made major strides forward this year. The fact that Kelly has struggled at times with his command (both in and out of the strike zone), the Sox suggest, could be attributable to the adjustment to a new, stronger pitcher’s build, as he’s added more than 20 pounds of muscle and an inch or two of height since turning pro. His fastball velocity has gone from the 89-91 range to consistently 92-94 this year, and his curveball has become a more powerful pitch as well.

“I know a lot of people look at the numbers and sort of scratch their heads,” said Hazen. “We’ve seen some of the best stuff we’ve ever seen out of this guy. Last year, he was a pretty good pitcher with average stuff. That’s the way I’d probably describe it. He was carving up younger kids with average stuff. Guys can do that. This year, we’re seeing plus stuff across the board. We’re seeing plus-plus fastball velocity, we’re seeing a plus breaking ball and we’re seeing a plus changeup.

“I know all the pieces haven’t been put together yet to where we’re looking at six scoreless with 10 punchouts every game. But that’s a pipe dream. That’s not going to happen right away. It’s just not going to come together that quickly. It’s going to take time for him to log innings. He has 200 professional innings under his belt. That’s nothing. It’s hard to keep saying that when people constantly look at the numbers. It’s not just about the age. It’s about the stuff that we’re seeing. As smart and intelligent as he is, with the stuff, the repeatability of his delivery, this guy, we know is going to be pretty good.”

Read More: casey kelly, Portland Sea Dogs,

Youkilis hoping for October surprise

08.17.10 at 6:03 pm ET
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Kevin Youkilis is holding out hope that he migh be able to return if his team reaches the playoffs. (AP)

Injured Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who underwent surgery to repair a detached adductor muscle on Aug. 6, suggested that he is holding out hope that he might be able to return to the club in the playoffs should Boston still be playing in October. The first baseman said that there is not yet a detailed timetable for his recovery, and that he has not been told definitively by doctors that coming back for the playoffs would or would not be possible, but he is holding out hope.

“[The injury] stinks but it’s one of those things where it happens. You hope you don’t get hurt when you play baseball but it’s not a career-threatening injury, I don’t think. The doctors are pretty excited that I can come back and play,” said Youkilis. “Hopefully, we don’t know the timetable, we have to see when the stitches come out and all that, hopefully I can play in the playoffs. … I might not be able to play at all, but I’m going to try to give myself the best chance to play in the playoffs if we make it.”

Youkilis said that a plan for his recovery will be forged once the stiches are removed from the base of his right thumb on the hand, which he expects to happen 14 days after the surgery. (Youkilis is currently wearing a cast on his right hand.) Once that happens, he’ll have his current cast replaced by a soft cast that will permit him some mobility of his fingers and hand.

While doctors have seen adductor muscles that have torn away from the bone in the hand before, Youkilis said that his case — in which the thumb ligament remained intact — had not been seen.

“I guess I’m special,” he joked.

As difficult as it is for Youkilis (who was hitting .307 with a .411 OBP, .564 slugging mark and .975 OPS) to watch the Sox without being able to help, he still believes that the club is well positioned to make a run at the postseason.

“People keep coming up to me and saying, ‘These guys have no chance anymore.’ I tell them they’re wrong,” said Youkilis. “We’ve got a great team here. The best part of this whole team is the fact that where we’re at, through this whole thing, is remarkable. It’s not an ideal thing to the fans out there that we’re five and a half games out, but to be five and a half games out with all that’s gone on … [i]t’s a great thing to watch.”

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