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Brad Penny and the magical downhill plane

06.05.09 at 8:04 pm ET
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Before tonight’s game between the Red Sox and Rangers, Boston manager Terry Francona talked about the evident progress of Brad Penny. The pitcher’s breaking ball has been getting sharper, and his split-finger fastball has gained some bite as the season has progressed. But it is Penny’s fastball that has always been his hallmark, a pitch delivered with a Monica Seles-like grunt that comes out of his hand at 95 mph that has always been the key to the pitcher’s success.

Francona remarked that Penny is increasingly generating a downhill plane on his fastball, a development that should result in fewer fly balls and hits and more grounders and perhaps even swings and misses. Such outcomes would be at odds with what Penny has produced thus far this year: Penny entered tonight having allowed three fly balls for every two grounders (the most air-oriented rate of his career), while striking out a relatively modest 5.6 batters per nine innings.

Through the first three innings of tonight’s game against the Rangers, however, Penny has been using a nasty curve and the aforementioned downward plane on his fastball to generate a diet of grounders and strikeouts. Through three shutout frames, he has recorded three outs by punchout, five by grounout and just one by virtue of a pop-up. He has allowed just one hit (an infield smash that took a wicked hop at Kevin Youkilis‘ face) in one of his most impressive stretches of the season.

Through three innings, Rangers starter Kevin Millwood has matched Penny’s zeroes. Though the Sox have had at least one runner in scoring position in each of the first three innings, Millwood has avoided harm, and so the game is scoreless entering the fourth.

Ortiz to get checked out Monday

06.05.09 at 6:11 pm ET
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David Ortiz has scheduled an eye exam for Monday to look into a problem he said he has had for “a few weeks now”. Ortiz said prior to Friday night’s game that his eyes have felt dried out on occasional at-bats which require him to focus on the pitcher for an extended period of time, forcing him to lose focus.

Ortiz said that he does not wear contact lenses and that the glasses he sometimes wears do not have a prescription.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said that Ortiz tested well when the team conducted eye tests in Februrary.

The team has contracted Dr. David Kirschen and Dr. Daniel Laby to conduct extensive tests on the players’ vision in spring training ever since 2004. Included in the exam hand-eye coordination and depth-perception anlysis.

There is a precedent in regards to the doctors helping a player in mid-season. In ’04 Manny Ramirez came to Kirschen and Laby complaining that he was having a difficult time focusing on the baseball. After additional tests, the duo came up with an exercise Ramirez still uses in which he catches a hoop with balls attached, thrown at him from a close distance.

“It wasn’t as though his vision was bad, he was seeing the pitches like he always was,” explained Laby in an interview Friday afternoon. “But come June of ’04 he was not feeling like he was seeing and approaching the ball as well as he had been. That’s when we came up with the rings, and that worked for him.”

Read More: David Ortiz, eyes,

Red Sox vs. Rangers match-ups, 6/5

06.05.09 at 2:39 pm ET
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The Red Sox, who completed a 10-game road-trip on Thursday, finally get to feast on home cooking in the literal (houses, kitchens, etc.) and metaphorical (Fenway Park, friendly and inviting left-field wall) senses starting on Friday night. The Rangers will commence a six-game home-stand that begins a stretch of nine consecutive games against teams currently in first in their divisions (Rangers, Yankees (tied for first with the Sox) and Phillies).

Brad Penny kickstarts the Fenway festivities, though questions about his individual outings have become almost secondary to what will happen to him once John Smoltz is activated from the disabled list later this month. Against that backdrop, here are the matchups for tonight’s contest:


Though the Rangers acquired Andruw Jones with the idea that he would handle left-handed pitchers, it seems a near certainty that he will be in the lineup tonight against right-hander Brad Penny. Jones has gone deep against Penny six times, more than any other player. (No one else has hit more than four homers off Penny.)

Andruw Jones (50 career plate appearances): .333 average / .380 OBP / .800 slugging, 6 homers
Omar Vizquel (35): .303 / .324 / .455, homer
Michael Young (8): 5-for-7, walk
Hank Blalock (7): 3-for-7
Marlon Byrd (7): 1-for-7
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2): 1-for-2


It’€™s hard to imagine that many Red Sox will ask for the night off against Kevin Millwood, a pitcher whom the club has typically hit hard in recent years. Since he came to the American League in the 2005 season, Millwood has gone 2-3 with a 5.04 ERA in seven starts against the Sox. That said, he is 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in three starts at Fenway during that time.

If Kevin Youkilis is out due to the calf stiffness that forced him from Thursday’€™s game, it will be of consequence to the Sox, as Youkilis is hitting .667 with a .727 career OBP against Millwood:

Mike Lowell (62): .315 / .403 / .537, 2 homers
Mark Kotsay (56): .269 / .321 / .423, 2 homers
J.D. Drew (28): .292 / .393 / .458, homer
Jason Varitek (26): .417 / .462 / .542
David Ortiz (22): .389 / .455 / .889, 3 homers
Julio Lugo (21): .278 / .381 / .278
Kevin Youkilis (11): 6-for-9, 2 walks
Jacoby Ellsbury (8): 2-for-7, walk
Dustin Pedroia (7): 1-for-6, walk
Jason Bay (6): 2-for-6
Nick Green (5): 1-for-4, sacrifice
Rocco Baldelli (4): 3-for-4

Read More: Brad Penny, kevin millwood,

Red Sox-Tigers Live Blog

06.04.09 at 1:25 pm ET
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Bullpen Cleans Up Another, Sox Win 6-3 and Sweep Series

During the three game set with the Tigers which the Sox have now swept, Boston outscored Detroit 21-11. Also during the series, the Red Sox bullpen proved that it is up there with any other in the league.

Just take today for instance: Wakefield gets through 6 and two-thirds innings and allows only three runs in the third inning. Then Masterson comes into the game, only faces two hitters, and strikes out both of them. Okajima then finishes up the 8th inning with ease and Papelbon gets out of trouble in the 9th.

Not many other teams have this deep of a bullpen. This is the kind of job that the relief has done all year and the pen is quickly becoming the trademark of the 2009 Red Sox.

Papelbon Struggling

It looked like the Sox would cruise to victory in this one, however that is not the case as Jonathan Papelbon has put two men on with one out in the ninth. Ever since he let that home run to Omir Santos and blew his first save of the season against the Mets, Papelbon has not been the same.

As he gets Ryan Raburn to pop out for the second out of the inning, let’s see if Paps can finish the job.

How To Hit a 100 mph Fastball

Now pitching for the Tigers is Joel Zumaya, the man that owns the record for the fastest pitch ever recorded.

On October 10, 2006 Zumaya threw a pitch that was clocked at 104.8 mph at the McAfee Coliseum in Oakland. That’s actually 1.8 mph faster than the next fastest pitch which was thrown by Mark Wohlers in 1995.

Now Zumaya has to figure out how to harness that speed of his. He is currently trying to work out of a bases loaded jam in the 8th inning.

Wakefield Through the 6th

Double play balls have bailed out Tim Wakefield for two consecutive innings and the score remains 6-3 as we head to the 7th inning.

Aside from allowing three runs in the second inning, the knuckleballer has had a relatively calm day. He has only thrown 73 pitches but 53 of them have been strikes.

Check out what the knuckleball really is with New York’s Mike Silva.

Walking In Runs

Thanks to Gary from Chapel Hill, we have these notes to pass along from D-Train’s debacle in the 3rd.

The two bases loaded walks in the 3rd inning were Boston’s 6th and 7th this season and the first time that they’ve received two such walks in an inning since August 25, 2007 at Chicago, when two RBI walks in the 8th inning made it 11-0 and 12-0.

They were also the 6th and 7th RBI walks allowed by Tiger pitching this season and it’s the second time that they’ve allowed two in an inning this season (Edwin Jackson in the 4th inning on April 23 at LA).

Youkilis Leaves The Game With Injury

Mark Kotsay has replaced Kevin Youkilis who has left the game with what is being called an injured leg.

It will be interesting to see how serious the injury is, and how it will impact the team over the next couple days. The Sox will return home tomorrow to start a series with the Texas Rangers at Fenway.

Kotsay has only had a few at bats so far this season so this will give him a good chance to get into a game for awhile. He seems comfortable at first and if he can get back in to the swing of things, it will only help the Sox bench.

Sox Break Through For 6 Runs In Third

How great of a season is Jason Bay really having? Well unlike some other players with similar numbers, Bay seems to always come through when the Red Sox need him most. After plating two runs already in the third inning, Bay broke the inning open with a double down the left field line that scored two more.

With the season about a third of the way over, the statistics don’t lie. Since coming to the Sox, Bay has played in 101 regular season games. In those games, he has an average of .289, 25 home runs, 88 RBI, and 107 hits.

In the postseason last year he batted .341 with 3 home runs and 9 RBI. Coming to Boston has really allowed Bay to showcase his true star power for a big name team.

This is all without even bringing up how Manny is doing right now in Los Angeles.

Control Problems For Willis

In the top of the third inning, Dontrelle Willis lost all control, walking four batters and hitting another. He was pulled in favor of Zach Minor but not before Tigers manager Jim Leyland was ejected from the game for arguing balls and strikes.

Since 2005 when he won 22 games, Willis has struggled with his control. In 2007 he went 10-15 with an ERA of 5.17 but walked 87 batters, the most in a single season of his career. Then in 2008 he had an 9.38 ERA through only 7 starts.

Looks like he is just another player that the Marlins got rid of at the right time. The Tigers have not been able to get anything out of him since his acquisition in December of 2007.

Tigers Strike First

As the Tigers take an 3-0 lead on the Sox through two innings, it remains to be seen if Tim Wakefield can settle in.

Wakefield has had trouble getting ahead of the count and that is the key to getting some of the tough Tigers hitters out. He let up three straight hits but then after a couple ground ball outs, he was able to get out of the jam.

Tigers catcher Brandon Inge, who doubled in Curtis Granderson and Miguel Cabrera, started off the year on a tear but has recently been slumping. His average, which was over .300 for much of the first two months of the season, is down to .274. If the Tigers can keep his production level up, their lineup is that more dangerous.

Scoreless Start

Dontrelle Willis, who has recently come off of the disabled list, is making his fifth start of the season for the Tigers. through his first two innings, he has held the Sox at bay.

His resurgence for the first place Tigers has definitely helped out their starting staff.

If the Sox can see the ball as clearly as they did last night in their 10-5 victory, expect this new lineup to expose any flaws that Willis has.

Sox Prospect Hagadone Set to Return

06.04.09 at 12:56 pm ET
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Red Sox pitching prospect Nick Hagadone, the team’s top overall selection in the 2007 draft who entered this year rated the No. 3 prospect in the Red Sox system, will make his 2009 debut with the Single-A Greenville on Saturday, Sox farm director Mike Hazen confirmed. The news was first reported on SoxProspects.com.

Hagadone, who underwent Tommy John surgery last June, has been in Fort Myers thus far this year. The left-hander’s velocity, which peaked in 2008 at 98 mph, has reached as high as 96 mph in his extended spring training assignment, and both his slider and changeup have been sharp in his return.

Hazen said that Hagadone will likely throw two innings and roughly 30-35 pitches for the Drive on Saturday. His innings will be limited going forward this summer, as the Sox want to focus on keeping Hagadone healthy after a year-long rehab process that has gone as well as the Sox could have hoped.

“We just want to keep him healthy, keep him strong. He’s done really well to this point. His stuff has been really good,” said Hazen. “He crushed his rehab. He’s worked as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen…We’re really excited to see him go and pitch. I know he’s excited.”

Read More: Nick Hagadone,

Red Sox vs. Tigers Match-Ups, 6/4

06.04.09 at 11:14 am ET
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Tim Wakefield has been a dominant pitcher in day games throughout his career. For reasons that he has never fathomed (Wakefield, asked about his day-time success earlier this year, suggested that he never even realized that he was a more successful pitcher for lunch-time crowds), the knuckleballer has been worthy of Cy Young consideration. He is 58-42 (.580 winning percentage) with a 3.56 ERA in day games, compared to a 126-118 (.516) record and 4.65 ERA at night.

Of course, that history was tested severely in one particularly memorable — and particularly disastrous — outing in Comerica Park. On August 8, 2004, Wakefield got hammered for six homers at Comerica, more than any other pitcher has given up in the park’s nine-season history. Indeed, no one else has given up more than four homers in a game there. Of course, Wakefield emerged from that day with a win, so it’s doubtful that the memory haunts him. Even so, it is noteworthy that nearly every member of the current Tigers has homered at least once against the knuckleballer.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, have a limited history against Dontrelle Willis. Of course, Willis was a figure of some intrigue this offseason, when the notion of a swap of dead salary — Willis for Julio Lugo — was rumored. Willis is currently 1-2 with a 5.56 ERA, while Lugo is hitting .276 with a .714 OPS in a part-time role.

Thanks to intern D.J. Bean for his help in compiling the following:

Red Sox vs. Willis

Jason Bay: 19 AB, 5 H, .263 BA, 2 RBI, 7 SO, 4 BB
JD Drew: 11 AB, 3 H, .273 BA, 3 RBI, 5 SO, 4 BB
Julio Lugo: 10 AB, 4 H, .400 BA, SO
Nick Green: 9 AB, 3 H, .333 BA, 2 RBI, SO
Rocco Baldelli: 4 AB, H, .250 BA, 2 RBI
Jason Varitek: 3 AB, .000, SO
Mike Lowell: 3 AB, H, .333 BA
Kevin Youkilis: 2 AB, H, .500 BA

Tigers vs. Wakefield

Magglio Ordonez: 38 AB, 15 H, .395 BA, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 4 SO, 3 BB
Brandon Inge: 27 AB, 6 H, .222 BA, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 6 SO
Carlos Guillen: 24 AB, 5 H, .208 BA, HR, 2 RBI, 7 SO, 2 BB
Marcus Thames: 18 AB, 4 H, .222 BA, HR, RBI, 9 SO, BB
Placido Polanco: 15 AB, H, .067 BA, RBI, SO, 2 BB
Gerald Laird: 12 AB, 3 H, .250, 4 RBI, SO
Miguel Cabrera: 11 AB, 2 H, .182 BA, 3 SO, BB
Curtis Granderson: 11 AB, 4 H, .364 BA, HR, 2 RBI, SO, 2 BB
Ramon Santiago: 8 AB, 4 H, .500 BA, HR, 6 RBI, BB
Adam Everett: AB, H, 1.000 BA, HR, 2 RBI

Read More: dontrelle willis, Tim Wakefield,

Red Sox/Tigers match-ups

06.03.09 at 2:26 pm ET
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Here are how the Red Sox and Tigers match-up against each team’s opposing pitchers Wednesday night:

Tigers vs. Josh Beckett

Polanco: 18 AB, 2 RBI, .222

Everett: 9 AB, HR, .333

Granderson: 8 AB, 6 K, .125

Inge: 6 AB, .333

Guillen: 5 AB, RBI, .200

Ordonez: 5 AB, .200

Laird: 4 AB, 2 K, .250

Cabrera: 3 AB, K, .000

Santiago: 3 AB, RBI, .333

Thames: 3 AB, K, .333

Red Sox vs. Armando Galarraga

Ellsbury: 3 AB, K, .333

Lowell: 3 AB, .333

Ortiz: 3 AB, RBI, .667

Youkilis: 3 AB, 2 HR, .667

Drew: 2 AB, K, .000

Lugo: AB, 2B, 1-1

Varitek: AB, BB, K, .000

Francona on Dale and Holley

06.03.09 at 1:33 pm ET
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Terry Francona noted on his weekly appearance on Dale and Holley that he will be using the same lineup for the third straight game, Wednesday night in Detroit. Here are the highlights from the appearance (with transcript courtesy Greg Cameron):

On 500 wins as Red Sox manager: ‘€œAny night we win I’€™m happy. This just means that in the grand scheme of things I’€™ve been fortunate.’€

On pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka‘€™s performance last night: ‘€œDice-K gets himself in trouble and seems to wiggle his way out of it.’€

After Michael Holley theorized that there is a method to Dice-K’€™s madness: ‘€œThat’€™s one way of saying it. He creates trouble and then gets out of it. Wins are wins.’€

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Francona after Sox’ win over Jays

05.31.09 at 5:59 pm ET
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Here is  Red Sox manager Terry Francona following his team’s 8-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre:

‘€œIt started with Lester. He was powerful. Shoot, the three hits were two bouncers to short and the ball to mikey Lowell that would have been a great play at third. He threw strikes, he missed bats. They fouled off a lot of pitches ,drove his pitch count up. He was good. He used all his pitches and there was power behind them.’€

Improve confidence from Lester: ‘€œTrying to always move forward. It should. He pitched great. It’€™s a lot easier to walk away and field good about yourself when you have something to show for it. I understand that.’€

‘€œWe scored early and then we added on and that’€™s always a good way. We spread it out. It’€™s a good way to play. We haven’€™t done that very much lately but it was a very good day today.’€

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Papi’s new stance pays off

05.31.09 at 3:27 pm ET
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When David Ortiz assumed his position at the plate Saturday, there was something different. Nothing dramatic, but it was there nonetheless.

While awaiting each pitch Ortiz was bouncing his bat on his back shoulder until the pitcher’s approach was in full swing. It was something he had never done, and wasn’t sure would continue.

But then came Sunday — a day after taking an 0 for 4 but hitting the ball hard twice — and Ortiz was back at it. This time it paid off. In his second at-bat, the Sox DH rocketed one of his hardest hit balls of the season off the center field wall for a double. It was the reward both Ortiz and hitting coach Dave Magadan were looking after what has been a wave of adjustments.

“It’s something I brought up to him about four or five days ago and then all of a sudden (Saturday) he showed up doing it in his pre-game stuff,” said Magadan, who suggested the same approach to Sean Burroughs in San Diego, but the then-Padres’ third baseman didn’t take to it. “We started talking about it and I just told him, ‘Yeah, give it a shot.'”

The impetus for the shoulder tapping with the bat is so that Ortiz’ swing can start on more of a flat plane, instead of looping around too much, which has been a problem.

“We wanted to flatten his bat a little bit. It was getting a little too erect and he he loads it’s almost too late, so we wanted to flatten it a little bit,” Magadan explained. “I know people are sick and tired of hearing it, but his batting practices have been unbelievable.

“I just don’t want him to get to a point where he’s thinking about his stance and mechanics and all of that instead of focusing in on the baseball. It’s just a reminder for him.”

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