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How Jonathan Papelbon’s slider could have changed Red Sox history

04.17.11 at 12:39 pm ET
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In 2007, Jonathan Papelbon was being groomed for the rotation during spring training. He’d suffered an almost-catastrophic injury at the end of his spectacular first season as a closer, enduring a shoulder subluxation at the end of the 2006 campaign, and the Sox thought that his long-term health might be better served while working on a five-day routine.

Moreover, Papelbon had made three solid starts to begin his big league career in 2005, allowing just four runs in 16 innings (2.25 ERA) while striking out 15 (and walking 10). The Sox thought that he could be a valuable asset as a member of the rotation.

There was only one problem. Papelbon couldn’t spin a decent breaking ball. He’d tried a slider in the minors, with poor reviews. He was throwing a curveball in big league camp in 2007; the pitch was flat, lifeless and eminently hittable.

Sox manager Terry Francona thought that Papelbon could be a solid starter based on his explosive mid-90s fastball and diving splitter, but the lack of a legitimate third pitch would limit his value in the rotation. He would see too many pitches fouled back, see his pitch counts run too high, to get deep into the game.

“I think that was the concern I had,” acknowledged Francona. “I looked at him more as a two-pitch pitcher and maybe a guy who would have to work so hard to get through five. I never thought he wouldn’€™t be successful or get people out, but he’€™d have to work so hard to get through five that all of a sudden he’€™s not going deep in games. He’€™s too good a pitcher. I always thought he could impact us better in the bullpen.”

It was a role, of course, that has suited Papelbon well. He has become one of the game’s elite closers, having made four All-Star teams, mostly on the strength of that fastball and splitter. Read the rest of this entry »

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What a difference a year makes for Jed Lowrie

04.16.11 at 10:54 pm ET
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It was April 17, 2010 and  Jed Lowrie found himself in Ft. Myers, recovering from an intense bout of mononucleosis that left him wondering about his baseball future. It’s not exactly the ideal way to spend your 26th birthday.

‘€œThe way I felt physically was one of my worst birthdays,’€ said Lowrie. ‘€œIt was definitely a trying time.’€

Snap to one year later and life has done an about-face for the shortstop.

Saturday Lowrie hit from the leadoff spot, going 3-5 with a home run and two RBI as he willed the team to its third victory of the season.

‘€œWe needed that little spark today and he was able to do that right off the top of the lineup,’€ said teammate Mike Cameron. ‘€œThat’€™s how you set the tone for your team. You get the kind of pitching that we got today and Lowrie was the guy who’€™s swinging the bat real well for us in some key situations. He’€™s been doing it all year long.’€

Hitting an impressive .500 on the year, Lowrie has been crucial to the Sox’€™ stagnant offense when he’€™s been inserted into the lineup. Batting leadoff in place of the struggling Carl Crawford paid off toda,y but according to Lowrie its not about his placement in the lineup, but that he remains consistent.

‘€œI understand the situation that we’€™re in, but I think it would have been a mistake for me to try to do anything more than what I’€™m capable of doing,’€ said Lowrie. ‘€œFor me it was just about staying within myself and getting on base because I think that’€™s what I do best.’€

His efforts have not gone unnoticed by his teammates as Lowrie has been one of few Red Sox to come through with runners in scoring position this season.

‘€œHe’€™s been great,” said Adrian Gonzalez about Lowrie’s performance. “Him and Pedey are the two guys that are really feeling good at the plate and swinging the bat great and we have to build off of them. The rest will come but right now you got to play your hot hand and he’€™s been great for us.”

While the Sox may be underperforming, Lowrie is doing his best to take advantage of the opportunities he’€™s being given on this team and this year he only wants one thing for his birthday: A Red Sox win.

John Farrell reacts to Josh Beckett’s dominance

04.16.11 at 6:30 pm ET
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It was supposed to be the continuation of a nice homecoming for John Farrell. Instead, he saw his former ace tear apart his new lineup batter by batter on Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park.

After his spectacular start six days ago against the Yankees, Josh Beckett picked right up where he left off against the Jays, throwing a strong seven innings and striking out nine batters. Beckett’€™s three-hit, one-run performance had his former pitching coach singing his praises after the game.

‘€œHe was difficult to get anything started against,’€ Farrell said after Saturday’€™s game. ‘€œWe’€™re all in the same division, we’€™re all competing every time we walk on the field, and to his credit he pitched a very good game.’€

Read the rest of this entry »

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Josh Beckett doesn’t want to hear about last season anymore

04.16.11 at 5:49 pm ET
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Josh Beckett’s message after his second straight standout start? He’s not here to talk about the past.

Following his seven-inning, one-run outing in the Red Sox‘ 4-1 win over the Blue Jays Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park, Beckett was fairly matter-of-fact regarding the performance. He explained his change-up wasn’t quite as sharp as it had been, but he felt good enough physically to execute all of his pitches (as the nine strikeouts might suggest).

“I think execution-wise and health-wise and everything, I definitely think my last two starts were a notch above what I was most of the year last year,” Beckett explained.

Then came one more question regarding the difference between the 2010 Josh Beckett and the 2011 Josh Beckett, more specifically how the power to his fastball matched up.

“I can’t remember. Are we going to just keep asking questions about last year? How many starts do we have to go before we forget last year?” the starter said. “I know I stunk last year. Maybe we can move forward a little bit.”

What Beckett has through three starts this time around is a 1.80 ERA thanks in large part to holding opponents to three hits or less with at least nine strikeouts in back-to-back outings for the first time in his career. Couple the appearance against the Jays with his masterpiece vs. the Yankees and you have 15 innings pitched, one run allowed, 19 strikeouts and just three walks.

It’s a two-game run that has seen Beckett allow just five hits in 49 at-bats, limiting opponents to a .102 batting average.

‘€œI definitely pushed myself a little bit more. I definitely felt good today,” he said. “And that was one of the things where on a day game like today where maybe the energy is down a little bit. That’€™s a way of picking myself up.’€

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Closing Time: Red Sox 4, Blue Jays 1

04.16.11 at 4:23 pm ET
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Josh Beckett‘s second consecutive strong outing gave the Red Sox a much-needed victory over the Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Beckett pitched seven strong innings, fanning nine batters and allowing just three hits. The win was a confidence booster after falling to a 2-10 start. The final game between the division rivals will decide who wins the series. An absent Carl Crawford turned out to be for the best in the Sox first win since the Yankees series.

Here are a few things that went right and wrong in Saturday’s game:


Jed Lowrie filling in for Carl Crawford at the top of the batting lineup proved to be a genius move by the coaching staff. Lowrie singled to start the game, hit a two-run home run (his first of the season) in the second inning, and continued to make solid contact all day long, even when he was making outs. He continues to have the hottest bat on the team, and in terms of productivity was an upgrade from Crawford’€™s slumping numbers.

Josh Beckett had his second straight dominant outing, throwing seven complete innings and only giving up one earned run on three hits. Beckett commanded his pitches with ease and kept his fastball up in the mid-90s for the duration. In his last start, Beckett threw eight innings, allowing just two hits and no runs against the Yankees. We saw that same Beckett on the mound again today. Maybe there is something to be said about the starter’€™s performance when Jason Varitek is behind the plate. In any case, with a productive offense and a pitching performance like Beckett’€™s, the formula adds up to a win.

Defensive awareness was prevalent in the victory. Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez anchored the right side of the infield with sliding stops and hustle plays that kept the Blue Jays offense at bay, and Beckett on the mound for more innings.

The Red Sox stranded yet again a large number of players on base. Through just four innings, the Sox left eight men stranded, and were 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position, but still held a 4-1 lead. Although there was no need for a sense of urgency, it has to be a little concerning that this isn’€™t the only game in which the Sox have left plenty of runners in position to score.

Through seven complete innings, the Blue Jays had struck out five Red Sox batters, most of them on swings and misses. Though the Sox had eight hits, many pitches within the strike zone were swung on and no contact was made.

The cold weather and gusty winds didn’€™t help anybody out on the field, but the Sox seemed to shake it off well for the victory.

Read More: Boston Red Sox, carl crawford, Jed Lowrie, Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett has a message: Jason Varitek is great, but stop with the personal catcher talk

04.16.11 at 11:40 am ET
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Besides Josh Beckett’s utter dominance of the Yankees a week ago, another story-line emanating from the eight innings of shutout ball was the question regarding Jason Varitek’s importance in the equation.

With Beckett pitching at another level from what he showed in his first start of the season, which was caught by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, some were jumping to the conclusion that Varitek’s presence was a big reason for the pitcher’s success.

Beckett’s take …

“It’€™s not a big deal. Who wouldn’€™t want Jason Varitek catching? But it doesn’€™t mean I don’€™t want Salty, and I don’€™t ever want it to seem like that,” Beckett said. “When Salty is back there I have the same drive and I still feel the same way.

“If you go around the league there isn’€™t a [expletive] out there that wouldn’€™t want Jason Varitek catching. That doesn’€™t mean they wouldn’€™t want Jarrod Saltalamacchia catching. When there are questions like there always asked of me, it’€™s almost like they’€™re trying to stir something up, but there’€™s nothing to stir up.”

Beckett has thrown 112regular season games to Varitek, 76 more than any other catcher (with Paul Lo Duca coming in No. 2). Conversely, he has had Saltamacchia as a battery-mate just two occasions, once last season (7 IP, 3 R) and the game in Cleveland.

And while Beckett’s career ERA with Varitek behind the plate (3.95) is hard to ignore, he is adamant that the same sort of success can be had with Saltalamacchia catching.

“I don’€™t want to take credit away from Jason either. There are bunch of papers in that newspaper, and that has to say something in it,” Beckett said. “But you go around the league and there isn’€™t anybody who would say, ‘€˜No’€™ to Jason Varitek catching. That doesn’€™t mean they don’€™t want Jarrod Saltalamacchia catching, but nobody is going to say no to Jason Varitek catching. The guy is a Hall of Famer. It’€™s all good.

“It’€™s always asked, ‘€˜Do you like it when Jason Varitek catches?’€™ [Expletive] yeah I like it. He’€™s an [expletive] Hall of Famer. Then they write, ‘€˜He would rather have Jason Varitek catching.’€™ I never said that. It’€™s crazy.”

For Beckett, who pitches Saturday against the Blue Jays, the bottom line isn’t difficult to decipher.

“We make the decisions,” he said. “They throw down suggestions and then we throw what we want to throw.”

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Bobby Jenks: ‘All I can say is I stunk’

04.16.11 at 12:56 am ET
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On Friday, Bobby Jenks served as the latest goat in a nightmarish two-week opening to the 2011 season for the Red Sox.

Coming into Friday’s game with the Blue Jays, Jenks had been a bright spot for the Red Sox this season – more like brilliant.

He faced 14 batters in four previous outings, retiring 12 of the 14 and walking the other two. He struck out five and hadn’t allowed a hit. In four innings, his ERA was a perfect Blutarsky-esque 0.00.

Then he faced Jayson Nix to open the seventh. He walked him. Then Yunel Escobar singled to left. Then the wheels came off. He struck out Corey Patterson for his only out, allowing four singles and threw a wild pitch as the Jays scored four times to break a 3-3 tie and held on for a 7-6 win.

Jenks was brutally honest.

“I’m not going to make any excuses. It wasn’t there. All I can say is I stunk,” he said. “Going out there I’ve got to do a better job – if I do give up a run – of being able to hold it to a one or two-run inning. I can’t go out there and leave guys on with four guys already in. That’s unacceptable for me.”

Then, sounding an urgent tone following a 7-6 loss that dropped the Red Sox to 2-10 on the season, Jenks said it is time to start worrying about the way the team is playing two weeks into the season. Asked if it was too soon to consider the team in “real trouble,” Jenks answered honestly and without hesitation.

“I think we’re there now,” Jenks said. “We’re in a tough division. To come back right now, it’s going to take all year long. We need to get on it now if we’re going to turn this thing around.”

Jenks said he doesn’t understand why the team with so many expectations is off to such a bad start.

“I can’t,” Jenks said. “I wish I could. It just seems right now, nothing can go our way. It’s not like anybody is not trying out there. Everybody is busting their butt, doing everything they can to win these ball games but it seems like every night, one way or another, we’re coming up short.”

Read More: bobby jenks, Boston Red Sox, MLB, Toronto Blue Jays

Closing Time: Blue Jays 7, Red Sox 6

04.15.11 at 11:00 pm ET
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The Red Sox insist that they are better than a two-win team. They just have yet to play like one.

The team’s woeful start to 2011 continued, as the Sox dropped a 7-6 decision to the Blue Jays. Strike-throwing (or lack thereof) played a major roll in Friday night’s struggle, as both Clay Buchholz (94 pitches, 46 strikes) and Bobby Jenks (26 pitches, 14 strikes) could not command the baseball. Those two pitchers permitted seven runs, and the 7-3 hole that Jenks left behind him proved too deep for the Sox to escape, as a three-run rally in the eighth inning fell short.

Clearly, the natives are restless. The Sox earned plenty of boos from their home crowd as their record dropped to 2-10.


Bobby Jenks endured one of the worst games of his career. He allowed a career-high four runs and matched a career high by allowing four hits while retiring just one batter in the seventh inning. The reliever appeared to have little life or command of his fastball, which mostly remained in the low-90s. Jenks absorbed his first loss as a member of the Sox.

–Clay Buchholz didn’t give up a homer for the first time this season (thanks in part to having an Adam Lind liner down the right-field line that was initially ruled a homer overturned by replay), but he was still ultimately ineffective. Though he gave up just three hits, he matched a career high by walking five batters. He allowed three runs in his five frames, falling short of the six-inning, three-run standard for quality starts. The Sox have just three quality starts in their 12 games this year.

Carl Crawford‘s brutal start in Boston continued. He went 0-for-5 while making terrible contact (though he was victimized by a missed call at first base on what would have been an infield single), and he also appeared to pull up on what might have been a playable ball in the gap in left-center that became a game-tying double. His average now sits at .137.

–It was a bad game for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, both behind the plate and at the dish. He went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts (both looking) on fastballs, dropping his average for the year to .138. Eventually, he was lifted in the eighth inning for pinch-hitter Jed Lowrie (who delivered a bases-loaded infield single). As for Saltalamacchia’s defensive work, not only was he the signal caller for the Sox’ brutal pitching outing, but he also had poor technical execution on a wild pitch by Jenks, coming out of his stance too early and letting the ball scoot under his glove, and the Jays ran wild against him, swiping four bags.


Kevin Youkilis hit his first homer of the season, pounding a Brett Cecil pitch into the center field bleachers. He pushed his average up to .200, and he also collected a pair of walks (his 14th and 15th of the year, among the major league leaders). Overall, he has shown signs in recent games that he is starting to emerge from the funk in which he started the year.

Dustin Pedroia also went deep, giving the Sox their second multi-homer game of the year (and first since April 2). The Sox had entered the game tied for the fewest multi-homer games in the majors.

Jed Lowrie continued his noteworthy contributions despite his inconsistent presence in the starting lineup. He had a tremendous at-bat as a pinch-hitter in the eighth, which ended with a run-scoring infield single. He is now hitting .471 in the young season.

The Yankees lost, so the Sox remained “just” five games back in the division.

Read More: Blue Jays, bobby jenks, carl crawford, Clay Buchholz

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Live Blog

04.15.11 at 7:27 pm ET
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Red Sox/Blue Jays Live Blog

Adrian Gonzalez praised as a Red Sox leader

04.15.11 at 5:48 pm ET
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There were several known quantities about Adrian Gonzalez at the time that the Red Sox made the decision to trade for the first baseman. Certainly, the Sox knew that they were acquiring one of the top hitters in the game, someone whom GM Theo Epstein described as being “among the handful of very best hitters in the game.” And the Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base was also apparent.

But there has been more in Gonzalez’ first 11 games as a member of the Red Sox, something that isn’t seen in the statistics (which revealed a .268 average, .362 OBP, .439 slugging mark and .801 OPS entering Friday). Gonzalez has immediately emerged as a meaningful voice inside the Sox clubhouse, both among his teammates and in offering analysis and perspective about the club to the media. At a time when the Sox have struggled out of the gates to a 2-9 start, Gonzalez has been steadfast in his insistence that the Sox are a better club than what they’ve shown and that their results will soon start matching their talent.

Gonzalez’ introductory press conference on Friday offered insight into his presence on the club. Asked about the team’s start, the 28-year-old was direct.

“We are disappointed,” Gonzalez said. “It’€™s something that you never want to start this way but we know we have faith in ourselves. We know we’€™re a better team than the 2-9 start. And we’€™re going to turn this around. The one good thing about starting 2-9, it means we’€™re going to win a lot more games than we’€™re going to lose going forward. You know, I know, and I’€™m fully confident that come September, we’€™re going to be in the middle of a pennant race and in position that we’€™re going to make the playoffs. I’€™m very confident about that and how do we do that? We play better baseball. We play the baseball that we know we can play and that’€™s going to turn around, and it’€™s going to turn around quickly.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

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