|04.20.11 at 3:35 pm ET|
It’s afternoon baseball for the Red Sox today, and WEEI.com’s cast of characters (and friends) will be giving updates from the contest between the A’s and Red Sox. Click below for updates and on-the-spot analysis as the game unfolds and as the Sox look to salvage a split of the two-game series in Oakland.
|04.20.11 at 11:00 am ET|
After dropping their first game of the Series to Oakland Tuesday night, the Red Sox fell to 0-7 on the road this season, making them the only winless team on the road in the majors. They’ll look to rebound quickly with a mid-week afternoon game that pits Clay Buchholz against Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez.
After a bad start agains the Yankees in which Buchholz gave up four earned runs and only lasted 3.2 innings, his last start was certainly an improvement. He lasted five innings in his third start, allowing only three runs against the Blue Jays.
This Oakland lineup has had limited at-bats against Buchholz, but most hold above .300 batting averages against him. The most impressive of which is former Yankee Hideki Matsui, who is hitting .429 off Buchholz with a double and three walks.
Gonzalez has done very well for the A’s thus far this season with a 2-0 record and a 0.47 ERA. He has allowed only one run all season, and in his last outing pitched an impressive six innings of work against the Tigers on Thursday, striking out six and not allowing a run.
|04.19.11 at 3:15 pm ET|
Red Sox manager Terry Francona, in his weekly interview on The Big Show, acknowledged that he has been trying to increase Jason Varitek’s playing time in recent games because of his strengths in working with a pitching staff. Francona said that he talked with starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia about the idea that it would take time for members of the pitching staff to become as comfortable with him as they are with the longtime Sox catcher.
“I don’t think that is a knock on Salty. I told Salty last week, ‘Right now, you’re trying to earn those stripes,’” said Francona. “I think sometimes a catcher can put down the same signs, but depending on who it is, the pitcher throws with a little more commitment. I think Tek has earned that. It’s always going to be hard for the next guy to come in to compare themselves, the way the game’s being run, with Tek. That’s been Tek’s strength for so long. He certainly didn’t get dumber. … You’re talking about one of the very best who’s probably ever played this game. They don’t come along very often.”
Francona noted that Varitek’s workload needs to be managed at this stage of his career, but noted that he has been increasing his recent usage of him. Saltalamacchia started eight of the Sox’ first nine games, but Varitek has been in the lineup for four of the last seven games. Entering Tuesday, Sox pitchers had a 2.40 ERA throwing to Varitek, and a 7.29 ERA with Saltalamacchia.
Asked to what degree he was trying to balance Varitek’s age with the desire to have him work with pitchers, Francona responded, “I’d be lying about that if I didn’t say I was thinking about it right now. We’ve obviously tried to get him in there a little bit more just because of some of the strengths you guys were talking about. I’ve got to be a little bit careful about running him out there too much. He has gotten a lot of wear and tear. We don’t want to reach for too much and get him hurt. Then we’re really in a bind. We’ve tried to not have him go back to back days so we can keep him fresh and do the things he can do.”
Saltalamacchia will be behind the place for John Lackey’s start on Tuesday in Oakland.
Francona also addressed several other topics. Among them: Read the rest of this entry »
|04.19.11 at 1:52 pm ET|
Heading into a week-long West Coast swing, the Red Sox finally seem to have put some of the puzzle pieces together after taking three of four games from the Blue Jays over the weekend. After an impressive start by Daisuke Matsuzaka on Marathon Monday, John Lackey will look to prove his worth to this rotation as well, as he takes on Brett Anderson and the Oakland Athletics.
After a rain-out during the Rays series last week, manager Terry Francona chose to skip Lackey’s third start in an effort to keep the rest of the pitching rotation intact. This start will be an important one for Lackey, who has suffered lackluster results thus far this year. Going 1-1 so far and being hit hard in both of his starts has garnered him an unimpressive 15.58 ERA on the young season.
However, Lackey has fared well in Oakland throughout his career. With a record of 8-4 and a 2.92 ERA, he has more road wins in the Oakland Coliseum than any other park. Overall, he’s 17-5 with a 2.90 ERA in 202 innings (31 starts) against the A’s, his most wins and innings against any club.
Of the current Oakland roster, Mark Ellis has the most experience against Lackey with 69 plate appearances. Ellis is hitting .254 against him with seven doubles but has also struck out 10 times against the Sox right-hander.
Brett Anderson has been impressive in his five career starts against the Red Sox, going 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA and 28 strikeouts against Boston — his second-highest strikeout total against any major league team. With an 0-1 record so far this season, Anderson has been the victim of poor run support as his ERA on the year is an outstanding 2.29 over 19 2/3 innings. In no game has he allowed more than two runs. Read the rest of this entry »
|04.19.11 at 12:59 pm ET|
ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk, in his weekly interview on the Mut & Merloni Show, suggested that the Red Sox‘ three-game winning streak against the Blue Jays gave up glimpse of what he expected from the club.
“Everyone wants to count them out after 10 games, but they’re too good,” said Kruk. “They’re too good to count them out at any time of the season.”
Even so, Kruk acknowledged that he does have some questions about the club, including the team’s catching situation.
Through the first 15 games of the season, Red Sox pitchers have a 2.40 ERA with Jason Varitek behind the plate and a 7.29 mark with Jarrod Saltalamacchia calling signals. Kruk suggested that he doesn’t think the disparity is a coincidence.
“[Josh] Beckett and Daisuke [Matsuzaka], their best starts of the year just happened to be with Varitek behind the plate? I don’t think so,” said Kruk. “First of all, the thing with Jarrod Saltalamacchia is this. He’s never established himself as an everyday catcher. All we heard about when he was in Atlanta was, ‘Oh, this guy is going to be the second coming of Johnny Bench ‘ switch-hitter with power to both sides, he can call a game, he can throw.’ He’s never proven it. You wonder why a guy who was supposed to be this great has been with his third organization already at such a young age. There has to be something there where two other organizations felt this guy isn’t an everyday catcher, we can get by with someone else.
“To me, the thing that Varitek does back there with that pitching staff, they trust him. They know that when he puts a finger down, there’s a reason why he wants that pitch and they throw it,” Kruk added. “Saltalmacchia puts a finger down and they’re like, ‘Uh-oh, why does he want this?’ There’s questions. Everything is questioned with a catcher you don’t trust. You don’t have full faith in him because you haven’t spent a lot of time with him. Can he develop into that? I don’t know.”
At the same time, Kruk said that manager Terry Francona has a difficult decision about how to manage his catching situation, given that Varitek (at age 39) is at a stage of his career where his playing time needs to be limited.
“Francona has to be really smart with [Varitek],” said Kruk. “If he tries to throw him out there four, five days in a row, that could be devastating to the rest of his career.”
Kruk also expressed surprise that Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez appeared to be trying to pull the ball during the series against the Jays, rather than using his natural swing to drive the ball the other way. Even so, Kruk expected that Gonzalez would make an adjustment to achieve his typical results.
Carl Crawford was another matter. Read the rest of this entry »
|04.19.11 at 12:08 pm ET|
Just a few notes following the Red Sox‘ first three game winning streak of the season:
* – Over the last three games, Boston hitters forced Toronto starters into high pitch counts in the first inning: 37 on Saturday, 19 on Sunday, and 32 on Monday. Those 88 first inning pitches seen is the most in the majors over a three game stretch since 2006:
91 – Boston (June 27-28-29, 2006)
88 – Boston (April 16-17-18, 2011)
86 – Colorado (April 2-3-4, 2007)
80 – San Diego (April 8-9-10, 2009)
79 – Arizona (July 17-18-19, 2010)
* – The Red Sox won the final two games of the series by seven and eight runs. The last time the Red Sox won consecutive games by seven or more runs was last June 11-12, against Philadelphia. In August of 2007, Boston beat the White Sox four straight by seven runs or more (11-3, 10-1, 14-2, 11-1).
* – From 2007 through 2010, Dustin Pedroia had the lowest swing-and-miss percentage in the majors for any player with at least 25 home runs in that span. But he is swinging-and-missing more than ever so far in 2011:
2007 – 8.5% (82-of-969)
2008 – 8.1% (98-of-1207)
2009 – 7.4% (81-of-1097)
2010 – 11.0% (71-of-644)
2011 – 21.6% (25-of-116)
Realizing that his .900 OPS is plenty good, Pedroia has struck out 10 times already, the earliest that he’s ever reached double figures in whiffs:
2011 – April 18
2010 – April 22
2009 – May 4
2008 – April 22
2007 – June 4
* – Opposing batters have a .108 OPS against Josh Beckett’s breaking stuff this season, the lowest in the majors (min. 100 breaking balls thrown):
.108 – Josh Beckett, BOS (1-for-27 with 10 K, 1 BB)
.135 – Josh Johnson, FLA (1-for-28 with 9 K, 2 BB)
.163 – Jaime Garcia, STL (2-for-30 with 14 K, 1 BB)
Breaking balls include curves, sliders, changeups, splits, and knuckleballs.
* – David Ortiz versus lefty fastballs so far: 7-for-11 (.636) with one double, one home run, no strikeouts, and two walks. Versus lefty non-fastballs: 0-for-8 with 2 strikeouts.
Overall, Papi’s 1.079 OPS against lefties this season leads all left-handed hitters in the majors (min. 20 PA vs. LHP):
Last season, his .599 OPS against LHP was the second worst in the majors among left-handed hitters (min. 160 PA vs LHP):
* – JD Drew tripled as the first batter of the game for the Red Sox yesterday. Drew was also the last Red Sox player to open up the game with a triple (2009). Since 1950, the Red Sox have had their first batter hit a triple 63 times, with Jerry Remy and Billy Goodman leading the way with five each, followed by Johnny Damon and Rick Burleson with four.
Of course, Drew has done it twice in just 38 plate appearances as the team’s first batter of the game. Remy led off 541 games for the Sox.
The all-time leader in triples when leading off the first inning is Tim Raines, who tripled 26 times out of 1,398 plate appearances as his team’s first batter.
Oakland has not allowed a leadoff triple in the first inning since July, 2007, the longest such streak in the league.
|04.18.11 at 4:01 pm ET|
The striking emergence of Jed Lowrie has come at the expense of playing time for Marco Scutaro. With Lowrie amidst a seven-game hitting streak in which he is hitting .625 (15-for-24), he has cemented himself — at least for now — as an everyday player for the Sox. As a result, Scutaro (hitting .188 with a .547 OPS) has been left to sit for three of the last four games.
But despite the fact that Lowrie has effectively supplanted him for now, Scutaro is not complaining.
“It’s all about winning here,” said Scutaro. “I’m fine. It’s special being on a winning team. Being on a losing team is no fun at all. Right now, [manager Terry Francona] is just trying to put the best guys out there to win games.”
Scutaro said that it wasn’t necessary for Francona to explain the playing time division to him.
“You don’t have to [talk to the manager] to understand what’s going on,” said Scutaro.
He made clear that he was not upset about his current role. Though it took him years to become an everyday shortstop as a 32-year-old with the Blue Jays in 2008, Scutaro suggested that he is not concerned about playing time at this point.
“There’s still a long way to go,” said Scutaro.
In many respects, Scutaro and Lowrie complement each other very well, and in some respects are interchangeable depending on their performance. Lowrie is capable of playing all four infield positions; but should the Sox continue to use him as an everyday shortstop, Scutaro could be used as a player capable of giving the Sox depth at shortstop, second and third.
|04.18.11 at 3:59 pm ET|
As Daisuke Matsuzaka was being booed as he took the mound for the start of Monday’s game, Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis couldn’t believe his ears. Seven innings of one-hit, shutout pitching later, those boos turned to cheers as he left the mound. The pitcher who gave up seven runs and eight hits over two-plus innings seven days earlier turned in a great outing to lead the Red Sox to a 9-1 win over the Blue Jays.
Youkilis couldn’t help but find the irony in the situation.
[Click here to hear Kevin Youkilis ask for a little patience and understanding from the fans.]
“One thing that was a little shocking was before the game he got booed,” Youkilis said. “It’s funny how he came off the field, everyone was cheering. It’s kind of foot-in-the-mouth right there but it’s good how he responded to that, too.”
Youkilis went on to explain that he and the team understand the frustration of the bad start but that it’s still early in the season.
“That’s one of the things that’s tough right now,” he said. “We’re starting to play a little bit better and we know it’s frustating for all the fans out there and we’re just as much frustrated, too. Be positive and good things will happen and that’s just the message about everyone. We just got to stay positive in here, outside the clubhouse, and good things will happen.”
|04.18.11 at 1:56 pm ET|
“We’ve got everything you possibly need. We’ve got speed, we’ve got power, we’ve got pitching. Once it all goes together, it’s scary,” he said. “Every single day, we’ve got to go out there and do the same thing. We haven’t proven anything. We can’t go out there and have one good game, one bad. We’ve got to be consistent, and that’s what we’re working on.”
The Sox took another very impressive step towards that goal on Patriots’ Day. With a game that commenced at a time of day when a team could almost be expected to look sloppy, the Sox were sterling in their 9-1 victory over the Blue Jays. And the person most responsible for one of the cleanest Sox wins of the year was unexpected: Daisuke Matsuzaka.
After one of his worst starts as a member of the Red Sox, Matsuzaka turned in one of his best. On the strength of a 91-93 mph fastball, a cutter with good late life and a slider that he could throw for strikes at will, Matsuzaka had a remarkably efficient outing, churning through seven shutout innings and allowing just one hit and one walk.
And so, the Sox head west for the start of a nine-game roadtrip armed with the confidence of three straight victories and three straight outstanding starts from Matsuzaka, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. The trio combined to allow the Blue Jays just two runs in 20 innings, a sterling 0.90 ERA. The offense, meanwhile, enjoyed an eruption, giving the Sox their most comprehensive win of the year.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX Read the rest of this entry »
|04.18.11 at 12:27 pm ET|
When he was told at the end of spring training that he would open the year in Triple-A Pawtucket, the disappointment for Hideki Okajima was undeniable. In the span of four years, he had gone from Hero in the Shadows to All-Star, then key bullpen contributor, then struggling left-hander, then minor leaguer. Even though he knew that opening the year in the minors was a possibility after he signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Red Sox during the offseason, that made the reality he faced — coming off a 2010 season in which his struggles against right-handers deepened, and he had a 4.50 ERA — any easier to accept.
Nonetheless, Okajima took the news professionally.
“Instead of going and pouting or feeling sorry for himself, he threw the ball pretty well and got a lot of people out,” said Sox manager Terry Francona.
Okajima tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings in Pawtucket, allowing just two hits, walking none and striking out five. With the Sox having gone through early struggles with a pair of left-handed relievers — first with Dennys Reyes, who was designated for assignment one week into the season, then with Felix Doubront, whose spring training was limited by elbow stiffness and who looked unready to compete at the game’s highest level — the Sox made the move on Monday to bring back a known quantity.
Even Okajima confessed that he was surprised at how soon his return to the majors came. Okajima is rarely a demonstrative person in the clubhouse, but after arriving at Fenway Park around 8:30 a.m., he was beaming upon being reunited with his big league teammates.
“I knew that if I pitched the way I can and believed in myself, I would eventually get the call up. That’s how I spent my time down there,” said Okajima, who was pleased with a cutter that he was using with positive results against right-handers. “[But] I didn’t expect to be up this early, so I’m very happy, very grateful to Tito and the rest of the club.’
The opportunity arose because the Sox felt that Doubront, 23, was better served to resume his build-up for the season in the minors while also providing the team depth in the starting rotation. Doubront’s results were spotty — he looked good in moments, as when he struck out Robinson Cano of the Yankees, but his command was inconsistent as he worked to build his velocity. On Sunday, Doubront (who pitched 2 2/3 innings in three games, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks) walked both of the left-handers he faced, never a positive indicator for a team’s only southpaw in the bullpen.
“The thinking was, when we called Doubront back up, we fully well knew he wasn’t in midseason form. Saying that, we love this kid,” said Francona. “[But] we’re carrying one lefty. [Doubront’s] not a guy we want to get up and down a lot. That’s not going to work. The other side of that is that we can go get him stretched out as a starter, obviously for some depth reasons. So, Oki was throwing the ball really well in Triple-A, so it seemed like the logical move to make.”
The rotation depth consideration was not to be overlooked. With Doubront, Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves all in the major leagues, the Sox ran the risk of getting caught in a situation where their three primary starting depth options were all either unavailable or not sufficiently stretched out to step into the rotation, leaving the Sox at risk, in Francona’s words, of “not being prepared if something happened.”
If Doubront is built up to log a starter’s innings, that concern could diminish. Meanwhile, Okajima offers the Sox a reassuring presence in the bullpen. The team hopes that he might bring stability to a role that has represented an early-season vulnerability for the club.
“We know when Oki’s going well,” said Francona, “he can be a solid, reliable major league pitcher.”
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