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Closing Time: Rangers 3, Red Sox 0

04.22.10 at 10:13 pm ET
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The two-game winning streak is history for the Red Sox, as they could only manage a mere six hits in a 3-0 loss to the Rangers. The Sox wasted perhaps their best performance by a starting pitcher to date in 2010, as Clay Buchholz overpowered the Rangers for six innings before losing steam in the seventh.

Key Play Of The Game

Old friend David Murphy doubled in Nelson Cruz (who reached second on a stolen base) in the top of the seventh inning to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead and a little breathing room. Murphy would later advance to third and score on a throwing error by Clay Buchholz. The Rangers added a third run in the frame for a lead that would turn out to be the final score.

What Went Right For The Red Sox

Clay Buchholz was Bob Gibson for six innings: The 25-year-old entered the game with a 1.80 ERA, but hadn’t pitched as well as that number would indicate. He had walked 10 batters in just 16 innings, and his 1.60 WHIP was nearly identical to Tim Wakefield’s (1.64), who has an ERA of 6.38. And his lack of control showed in his pitch count totals, as Buchholz had averaged 101 pitches per game despite only lasting five innings in both starts.

But for six innings on Thursday night Buchholz looked every bit the ace that many had hoped (and some still hope) he would turn out to be, striking out nine batters (he would finish with 10, a new career high.) But perhaps more importantly, he walked only a single batter which, despite the high K totals, allowed him to pitch into the seventh inning for the first time this season. For those six frames, an absolutely dominating performance (the Rangers had 22 swing-and-misses in total against Buchholz) on a night when the Red Sox decided to stick with Buchholz in the rotation and move Tim Wakefield to the bullpen.

The bullpen pitched out of trouble: Ramon Ramirez relieved Buchholz with two outs in the seventh and Andres Blanco on third. He was able to to induce a lineout to first from Julio Borbon to prevent more damage in an inning that would prove to be the difference in the game. After Ramirez allowed a leadoff double to Elvis Andrus in the eighth (Andrus would advance to third on a ground out), Scott Schoeneweis would come in and retire Josh Hamilton and Murphy without allowing a run. Schoeneweis would turn in a one-two-three inning in the ninth to complete a solid night of work from the ‘pen.

What went wrong for the Red Sox

Clay Buchholz was not Bob Gibson in the seventh inning: Perhaps the pitch count caught up to Buchholz in the seventh inning, as he allowed three runs on three hits. All in all, though, the Red Sox should be thrilled with the overall effort.

Victor Martinez is a GIDP machine: Another rough night for Martinez, who grounded into his league-leading seventh double play of the season following a leadoff single by Kevin Youkilis in the second inning. Right now he’s on pace to break Jim Rice’s single-season GIDP record of 36 before the end of the NBA playoffs.

C.J. Wilson: Wilson, who entered the game with just eight career starts out of his 260 appearances, pitched 6.2 scoreless innings, allowing just four hits. It was a relatively stress-free night for Wilson, as the Red Sox could only  get a single runner into scoring position against the left-hander.

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Sources: Wakefield headed to the bullpen

04.22.10 at 7:16 pm ET
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According to sources familiar with the situation, the Red Sox enter Thursday night’s game against planning to send Tim Wakefield to the bullpen when Daisuke Matsuzaka returns to the Red Sox’ starting rotation.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona said before his team’s series finale against the Rangers that Matsuzaka would be making his next start for the Red Sox after pitching for the Pawtucket Red Sox in his last three appearances while on a rehab assignment. Francona, however, would not disclose when Matsuzaka would be making his first start this season with the Sox, saying the team still had to speak to all the parties involved.

Wakefield last pitched out of the bullpen in the 2004 American League Championship Series, earning the win in Game 5 against the Yankees after pitching three scoreless innings. For his career the 43-year-old has made 141 regular season appearances, going 10-13 with a 3.75 ERA and 22 saves. The knuckleballer served as the Red Sox’ closer 1999 season, saving 15 games.

Wakefield is currently 0-1 with a 6.38 ERA in three starts this season. Barring any unforseen circumstances Clay Buchholz, who got the start for the Red Sox Thursday night, will remain in the starting rotation. He enters the game against the Rangers with a 1-1 mark and a 1.80 ERA.

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Is Buchholz pitching for a rotation spot tonight?

04.22.10 at 5:48 pm ET
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With the impending return of Daisuke Matsuzaka to the rotation, and Terry Francona’s insistence that the Red Sox will not use a six-man starting staff, someone will be moving to the bullpen.

And it doesn’t take a baseball IQ of 180 to know that Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey are going nowhere.

So the question is: Will it be Tim Wakefield or Clay Buchholz?

Francona was asked on Thursday afternoon if the return of Matzuaka to the rotation will help the bullpen depth. The manager evaded the question, but it wouldn’t be hard to conclude that a power arm like Buchholz could be a nice option in the sixth and seventh innings for the Sox. With Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez struggling there is clearly a need for another quality pitcher in the bullpen.

But has Buchholz done anything to lose his spot on the staff? Through two starts he has battled control issues (six walks in 10 innings pitched,) but his ERA is just 1.80. Wakefield has an ERA of 6.38, and his knuckeball only makes things more difficult for Victor Martinez (witness the nine steals by the Rangers on Tuesday night.)

It’s hard to image Wakefield playing a key role in the bullpen, but perhaps Francona sees an advantage to keeping Buchholz in the rotation and moving the 18-year veteran to a long-relief spot.

One would assume that a good start from Buchholz tonight makes Francona’s decision an easy one, but a stinker from the 25-year-old could mean the odd man out is anyone’s guess.

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Francona: Dice-K ‘in the rotation’

04.22.10 at 5:10 pm ET
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Terry Francona confirmed Thursday afternoon that Daisuke Matsuzaka will join the starting rotation when he is activated from the disabled list.

“Dice will pitch for us. We will insert him in the rotation,” Francona said.  ”Johnny [Farrell] and I have not got with him yet. When he pitches and how we get there, we’ll sit and talk to Dice. We’ll get to it. There’s a little bit of time before he pitches. So we want to just make our rotation work with the off day coming up. We want to make it work. I do want to talk to him first.”

Matsuzaka has made three rehab starts, inluding a start Wednesday for Triple-A Pawtucket. He allowed three earned runs in 5.2 innings on the mound against Leigh Valley.

Francona ruled out the possibility of a six-man rotation for the Red Sox.

“Doing too many starters an injustice,” Francona said. “In the summer months when you are running into a long stretch, you might be able to do something like that. But I don’t think that’s something that will work right now.”

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Red Sox vs. Rangers matchups, 4/22

04.22.10 at 12:06 pm ET
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Clay Buchholz has two career starts vs. the Rangers in his career — one good, one not so good. In 2008, Buchholz pitched six innings of five-hit shutout ball in a 8-3 win on Apr. 21. In 2009, he gave up three earned runs in four innings in a 3-1 loss on July 22.

Other than those two outings, Buchholz is a fresh new face to this Ranger lineup. Buchholz will need to make this third outing vs. Texas a good one, especially with a decision on Daisuke Matsuzaka’s future coming up fairly soon.

Ranger’s starter C.J. Wilson has made 12 appearances against Boston, but he has never made a start. That will change with tonight’s start. In his 10.2 innings of work against the Sox he has a 2.53 ERA, striking out 12 in the process.

Wilson is pitching well this year, despite being winless. The lefty sports a 2.08 ERA this season, but only has received two runs in two games from the offense.

The Red Sox have now won two games in a row, and sit at 6-9 on the season.

This is a very important start for Clay Buchholz with Daisuke Matsuzaka breathing down his neck. (AP)

RANGERS VS. CLAY BUCHHOLZ

Vladimir Guerrero (9 plate appearances): .444 average/ .444 OBP/ .444 slugging percentage, 0 homers, 0 walks, 0 strikeouts

Josh Hamilton (6): .000/ .000/ .000, 2 strikeouts

Ian Kinsler (6): .200/ .333/ .800, 1 homer, 1 strikeout

Michael Young (6): .500/ .667/ .750, 2 walks, 1 strikeout

David Murphy: 3-for-4

Elvis Andrus: 1-for-2

Nelson Cruz: 1-for-1, 1 walk

Taylor Teagarden: 0-for-2, 1 strikeout

Never faced: Joaquin Arias, Andres Blanco, Julio Borbon, Chris Davis, Ryan Garko

C.J. Wilson has pitched well, but his offense hasn't helped him out. (AP)

RED SOX VS. C.J. WILSON

Victor Martinez (13 plate appearances): .182 average/ .231 OBP/ .273 slugging percentage, 0 homers, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts

Adrian Beltre (12): .400/ .500/ .800, 1 homer, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts

Marco Scutaro (8): .143/ .250/ .143, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts

David Ortiz (7): .143/ .143/ .143, 2 strikeouts

Mike Lowell (6): .333/ .333/ .333, 2 strikeouts

J.D. Drew (5): .000/ .400/ .000, 2 walks, 1 strikeout

Kevin Youkilis: 0-for-2, 1 walk

Dustin Pedroia: 2-for-2

Jason Varitek: 0-for-1

Never faced: Bill Hall, Jeremy Hermida, Josh Reddick, Darnell McDonald

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So, is Daisuke ready for the majors?

04.22.10 at 11:59 am ET
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Daisuke Matsuzaka made it through his third minor league rehab outing, Tuesday, and for the most part the vibe remained encouraging in regards to Red Sox righty.

Through three starts for the Pawtucket Red Sox this is what Matsuzaka has accomplished: 16.2 innings, 11 hits, four runs (3 earned), 13 strikeouts an just one walk.

But for perhaps the most insightful analysis regarding Matsuzaka’s most recent start for the PawSox we turn to the excellent blog of Pawtucket Red Sox radio broadcaster Dan Hoard, ‘Heard It From Hoard.’ He writes:

Perhaps the most encouraging sign was his control.  For the second straight start, Matsuzaka did not allow a walk and he’s gone 12.2 innings since issuing his only free pass of the season.

“I thought he threw the ball very well,” PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur told me after the game.  ”I saw decent command of the fastball for the third straight outing.  He commanded the cutter very well and stayed down in the zone.  The curveball was a very good pitch for him today.  He could get ahead of hitters when it looked like they were looking for the fastball and he also used it to some of the lefties today – backdooring the curveball for strike three.  I was just impressed with his ability to go out there and throw strikes.  They’ve got good hitters on this team and that’s what they’re going to need up there in Boston.  He’s got all the talent in the world and I think it’s coming back.”

In all, Daisuke threw 66 of his 99 pitches for strikes.  Here’s a closer look at how well he commanded all four of his pitches:

70 fastballs/cutters (45 strikes)

13 curveballs (10 strikes)

11 changeups (8 strikes)

5 sliders (3 strikes)

His fastball velocity was typically in the 89 to 91 mph range.

“Velocity does not make a pitcher – it does help – but it does not make a pitcher,” Sauveur said.  ”What we saw was a guy out there pitching.  I’m very, very happy with what we’re seeing right now.  I don’t know if he’s going to get another start down here, but everything is going forward right now.”

In three Triple-A starts, Daisuke was utterly dominant as he posted a 1.62 ERA, an opponent batting average of .186, and a 0.72 WHIP.

So is he ready to win in the AL East?

“That’s a tough question,” Sauveur said.  ”I can give you my opinion.  He’s got three games under his belt in Triple-A.  Is that definitive enough to say, ‘Yes, he’s ready.’  I don’t know, but I can tell you he looks very good, and compared to what he showed me last year when he came down, a lot has improved.”

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McDonald glad to make overdue impact

04.22.10 at 12:16 am ET
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Maybe it’s the two-syllable name that makes certain players far more conducive to having a chant accompany their appearances, whether hometown heroes or rival villains. Roger. Darryl.  Nomar. Manny. Papi.

Darnell?

Surprising as it is, that was the case in the at-bats following Darnell’s fourth-inning homer that both extended a Sox lead and made him the first player since Sam Horn in 1987 to homer in each of his first two games with the Red Sox.

“I definitely didn’t expect that,” Red Sox outfielder and former first-round pick Darnell McDonald said after the second day of his trip from career minor-leaguer to Fenway favorite. “It’s unbelievable. I’m honored and I definitely appreciate it. These are the best fans in the world.”

McDonald also had a crucial assist on a play that kept Julio Borbon from crossing the plate on a Michael Young sacrifice fly. All of this a night after homering and providing the walkoff double for Tuesday night’s 7-6 victory. The 1997 first-rounder that never stuck in the bigs is finally in the spotlight and he’s soaking up every second, as difficult as it may be in these conditions.

“I don’t think anything can prepare you [for Fenway Park],” McDonald said. “I’ve played Winter Ball in Venzuela. It’s similar, but these are the best fans in the world and I appreciate the applause and stuff. It definitely doesn’t go unnoticed.”

As for the personal accomplishments and etching his name in the record books with Horn, the enthusiastic McDonald is both flattered and humble, excited and focused.

“When you mention Sam Horn, man, to be honest with you I’m just going up there and trying to put a good swing on the ball,” McDonald said. “I’ve been fortunate to get some good pitches, like the ball today. I didn’t know if it was going to get out, but I knew I hit it good. My approach is just going up there and seeing how many times I can put a good swing on the ball.”

The 26th overall pick in ’97 by the Orioles, McDonald never quite panned out, as he didn’t reach the Majors until 2004, in which he played 17 games with Baltimore and hit just .156 with no homers. He finally hit two in Cincinnati last season, but what took him 47 games a year ago has taken him just two in Boston. Even so, the personal accomplishments aren’t a priority for McDonald. With the Red Sox struggling to keep up in the AL East early on, McDonald will continue to feed off the positive energy at Fenway, but more importantly the back-to-back walkoff wins.

“It sure beats losing,” McDonald said. “I’m happy that I’ve been here two days and we’ve won two games.”

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