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Hideki Okajima: Signing with Red Sox ‘not a mistake’

05.20.11 at 12:07 am ET
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It has been a challenging year for left-hander Hideki Okajima. The 35-year-old, an All-Star in 2007, was non-tendered by the Red Sox in December, making him a free agent so that the team would not have to give him a raise over the $2.75 million he earned in 2010. But Okajima ended up returning to the Sox, signing a one-year, $1.75 million deal.

But the left-hander has been subjected to some confounding firsts in 2011. The club optioned him to Triple-A Pawtucket to open the year. He remained in Pawtucket until mid-April, when the team recalled him after optioning Felix Doubront.

But Okajima was seldom used by the Sox since his return to the majors. He appeared in seven games over roughly a month in the majors, and had not seen game action since May 9 against the Twins (a game, incidentally, in which Okajima claimed the victory after tossing two scoreless innings). He has a 4.32 ERA, six strikeouts and five walks in 8 1/3 innings, and had seemingly been passed by Rich Hill as the go-to left-hander for the Sox.

And so, when the Sox made a deal for another left-hander, Franklin Morales, on Thursday night, they cleared a spot on the major league and 40-man rosters by designating Okajima for assignment. GM Theo Epstein said that the Sox would explore the trade market for Okajima; if none materializes, then the club will return him to Pawtucket.

For Okajima, this latest turn of his season represents uncharted territory.

‘€œI started the season down in the Minor Leagues, so I know I had to regain the team’€™s confidence in my pitching,” Okajima told reporters through an interpreter. “It is my first time in this situation so I’€™m not sure of what happens next.’€

That said, Okajima did not begrudge the Sox’ decisions, and suggested that he did not regret re-signing this winter with the only club for whom he’s pitched since coming to the U.S. in 2007.

‘€œHaving re-signed with Boston during the offseason, it is disappointing that this is happening but signing here was not a mistake,” said Okajima. “I am very grateful to the opportunity the Red Sox have given me over five years.’€

Read More: franklin morales, Hideki Okajima,

Beckett: Neck ‘would never loosen up’

05.19.11 at 11:54 pm ET
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When Josh Beckett took the mound Thursday night against the Tigers, everyone thought it would be a battle. The thing is everyone thought the battle would be against Detroit ace Justin Verlander, he of the fiery fastball and two no-hitters. Instead as it turned out, Beckett’s biggest battle would be with his own neck.

The right-hander took the hill and lasted six strong innings, during which he allowed just one hit on five hits and two walks, before telling his manager about some stiffness in his neck that had persisted throughout the game. At that point, it seemed like the best move for both Beckett and Red Sox manager Terry Francona was to remove him from the game before the malady got any worse.

“Yeah, it was pretty tough to get loose,” Beckett said. “Battled through the first few innings. I actually went down in the third and the fifth and was throwing between innings because I was just trying to get loose. It just would never loosen up.”

With John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka on the disabled list already, any other potential injury to a Sox starting pitcher is enough to startle any member of the organization, including Beckett, who downplayed the injury but understood its place in the grand scheme of Boston’s season.

“I think it’€™s just a little muscle spasm in there,” he said “I don’€™t think it’€™s anything serious at all. But it’€™s better to be cautious especially with the situation we’€™re in with starters.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox make ‘upside’ trade for Franklin Morales, designate Hideki Okajima

05.19.11 at 11:14 pm ET
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After the Red Sox‘ 4-3 walkoff victory over the Tigers, Sox GM Theo Epstein said that the team had acquired left-hander Franklin Morales from the Rockies in exchange for a player to be named or cash. In order to clear a roster spot for Morales, the team designated left-hander Hideki Okajima for assignment.

“Morales is going to come in and be the second lefty in our bullpen,” Epstein told reporters. “He’s somebody we think has some upside, throwing strikes consistently. He’s a really hard thrower, a former top prospect. Think he’s got some upside there as the second left-hander position. We needed a 40-man spot for him so Oki’s going to be designated. We’ll see if there’s a fit for him with a trade somewhere. If not, we’ll get him through waivers and he’ll end up back at Pawtucket.

“We weren’t using Oki all that much, the way things have evolved lately,” Epstein added. “Morales is somebody with significant upside. If we can get him to repeat his delivery and throw strikes, he could be tough to hit. He’s going to take that second lefty in the bullpen spot, and we’ll see if we can capture some of his upside.”

Morales, 25, was 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in 14 games (spanning 14 innings) for the Rockies this year, striking out 11 and walking eight. In parts of five seasons, he is 7-11 with a 4.83 ERA, 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings and 5.3 walks per nine. He has been far more effective this year against right-handed hitters (.172 average, .595 OPS) than lefties (.250, .935), but in his career, he has enjoyed significantly greater success against southpaws (.185, .624) than right-handed hitters (.272, .788).

He is a hard thrower (according to Fangraphs.com, his fastball this year was averaging 93.9 mph) who also features a curveball and changeup. He was ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects in both 2007 (No. 30) and 2008 (No. 8), but his command difficulties had resulted in his move to the bullpen and his move down Colorado’s depth chart. Still, the Sox saw a risk worth taking.

“When he throws strikes, he’s really effective. He’s a guy who was one of the top prospects in all of baseball a few years ago,” said Epstein. “He’s been a little bit erratic with his strike-throwing, but there still is plenty of upside there. We feel, at a very reasonable acquisition cost, we get somebody who, if things go right, can be a real effective weapon for us from the left side.”

Okajima was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA, six strikeouts and five walks in seven games (8 1/3 innings). But the Sox had seldom used the 35-year-old, having last put him in a game on May 9, with Rich Hill (four scoreless appearances) having surpassed him on the depth chart. Indeed, because Hill had been effective, it permitted the Sox to acquire a pitcher who is a low-risk, high-reward lottery ticket.

“Rich’s emergence made us more comfortable making this deal,” Epstein said. “Rich has been throwing the ball well all year down at Pawtucket and has gotten off to a nice start up here, so he’s certainly somebody who matches up well against lefthanded hitters. That second spot, it’s not that we’re experimenting with it, but the chance to capture some upside there makes some sense for us, given what Hill is done for us.”

Read More: colorado rockies, franklin morales, Hideki Okajima,

Francona on Beckett: ‘He’ll be OK’

05.19.11 at 10:50 pm ET
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Red Sox starter Josh Beckett was lifted from his start against the Tigers after just six innings and 83 pitches due to neck stiffness. But manager Terry Francona suggested that the move was largely precautionary, and did not seem to think the problem was a long-term one.

“I’€™m never going to talk to most pitchers [during the game], especially Beckett, but he gave us a head’€™s up after that [sixth] inning, so we got [reliever Matt Albers] up in a hurry,” manager Terry Francona said after the game. “Neck got stiff, and that’€™s not something to play around with, especially on his side with his throwing shoulder. He pitched a whale of a game, but he got stiff and he was getting stiffer. That’€™s not something to mess around with. He’€™ll be OK.”

Beckett had pitched six strong innings, allowing just one earned run on five hits and two walks while striking out three to drop his ERA to 1.73 on the year.

Read More: Josh Beckett, neck,

Closing Time: Red Sox take right turn at Alburquerque

05.19.11 at 10:18 pm ET
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For the second straight evening, the Red Sox got the best of the Tigers bullpen. Detroit reliever Al Alburquerque allowed a walk-off single to Carl Crawford in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded to give Boston a 4-3 win. It was Crawford’s third walk-off hit in the month of May. The Red Sox have now won six straight.

The night was supposed to be an old-time pitchers duel between Josh Beckett and Justin Verlander, and indeed it was for six innings. Over that span, Beckett allowed just one earned run on five hits and two walks while striking out three.

But the righty was lifted for precautionary reasons with neck tightness after having thrown just 83 pitches over those six innings. In the eighth inning with a 3-1 lead, set-up man Daniel Bard allowed back-to-back home runs to Brennan Boesch and Miguel Cabrera to open the frame and tie the ballgame, thus spoiling the terrific Beckett start.

Verlander lasted eight innings of his own, allowing three earned on six hits with nine strikeouts and no walks before being replace by Alburquerque in the ninth.

J.D. Drew and David Ortiz added home runs of their own in the fourth and seventh innings respectively. Drew had another RBI on a sacrifice fly in the second inning.


–Beckett was at his best when he had to work out of his own self-made jams. In the second with the bases load and one out, he got Brandon Inge to fly out to left ‘€“ the not-so speedy Victor Martinez chose to stay at third instead of trying to tag up and score ‘€“ and then forced Austin Jackson to foul out to short right. In the fifth inning with a 2-1 lead, he got Detroit two and three hitters, Scott Sizemore and Boesch respectively, to fly out and ground out while runners stood at first and second. Add those big outs in big situations to the long list of reasons why Beckett should be considered the Sox’€™ best starting pitcher at this point in the season. Read the rest of this entry »

Red Sox agree to terms with Kevin Millwood

05.19.11 at 9:48 pm ET
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The Red Sox have agreed to terms with veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood on a minor league contract, pending a physical. If he reaches the majors, the deal would be for a prorated base salary of $500,000, with performance bonuses built into the deal.

Millwood, who opted out of a minor-league deal with the Yankees in early May after going 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts in their minor league system (including an 8.00 ERA with 14 hits allowed in nine innings in Triple-A), has a career 159-137 record with a 4.11 ERA in 14 seasons with the Braves, Phillies, Indians, Rangers and Orioles.

Though a workhorse, Millwood has suffered diminished effectiveness in recent years, and last year he went 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA in 190 2/3 innings while striking out 132 for the Orioles. His 16 losses were the most in the AL, while his 1.51 WHIP was the fourth worst in the majors. According to Fangraphs.com, Millwood’s fastball velocity in 2010 of 89.0 mph was the lowest he’s had since at least 2002 (the first year charted by the website); his swing-and-miss rate of 5.9 percent (meaning the percentage of his strikes that were swings and misses) also represented a career low.

The 36-year-old went unsigned until reaching his minor league deal with the Yankees late in spring training.

The Sox were left to search for rotation depth reinforcements after John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka landed on the disabled list this week due to elbow injuries. With Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves moving from the bullpen into the rotation and Triple-A left-hander Felix Doubront currently sidelined by a mild left groin injury, the Sox’ rotation depth was dramatically depleted in a short period of time, leaving the team to look outside the organization for reinforcements.

“Every club goes through injuries over the course of the season. So that’s why you have Tim Wakefield ready to step into the rotation and that’s why we signed Alfredo Aceves. That’s why we have some more depth at Triple-A and hopefully we built some more depth today by signing Millwood to a minor-league deal, pending a physical,” Sox GM Theo Epstein told reporters. “So every club has to get through this type of thing. You don’t want it to happen at the same time, but they usually do so we just have to weather it.”

Epstein said that Millwood will report to the Sox’ extended spring training facility in Fort Myers, where he will throw side sessions, then get in some games in extended spring training before being assigned to Triple-A Pawtucket.

News of the signing was first reported by Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports (via twitter).

Read More: alfredo aceves, Daisuke Matsuzaka, felix doubront, john lackey

Pregame notes: Matsuzaka yet to seek second opinion

05.19.11 at 5:28 pm ET
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Daisuke Matsuzaka had yet to receive a second opinion on his elbow injuries as of Thursday afternoon after an MRI revealed that he has a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strain to his common flexor mass, according to Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

The Japanese right-hander acknowledged before Wednesday’€™s game that the original MRI results were worse than he had imagined they would be and that a second opinion may be an option just to be safe.

Francona noted on Thursday that although the team has its own method for administering such tests, a player will never be discouraged from getting another opinion from an outside doctor.

‘€œThat’€™s certainly something that is always open to a player,’€ said the Sox skipper. ‘€œWe actually – I don’€™t know if recommend is the right word – but certainly agree. We always want a player to feel confident in what’€™s going on moving forward. We will help him with that if that’€™s what he wants to do. Everything’€™s been sent to his representatives and all that type of stuff.’€

If the injury is as bad as the original MRI showed, Matsuzaka could miss at least four weeks until he would be able to make any rehab starts.

Here’€™s more pregame notes from Thursday’€™s game between the Red Sox and Tigers:

-A night after watching his offense struggle against Detroit lefty Phil Coke in a 1-0 win, Francona knew that it’€™s not going to any easier against Thursday’€™s starter Justin Verlander. In fact, matters will probably get even harder.

Verlander (4-3, 2.91 ERA) has been nothing short of masterful in 2011 with quality starts in seven of his nine times on the mound this season. The hard-throwing righty, who Francona noted even has the ability to hit close to 100 mph late in games, famously threw a no-hitter, the second of his career, against the Blue Jays in his start before last on May 7. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jonathan Papelbon, justin verlander, Terry Francona

Thursday’s Red Sox-Tigers matchups: Josh Beckett vs. Justin Verlander

05.19.11 at 11:35 am ET
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Josh Beckett looks to continue his dominating 2011 campaign Thursday night as the Red Sox take on the Tigers in the finale of this two-game series. Beckett (3-1, 1.75) — who will take the mound for the ninth time this year — leads the American League in both ERA and hits per nine innings. Ranking in the top 10 in four other categories, Beckett has reminded Sox fans that he can still be the ace he was his first two years in Boston.

Detroit will pitch Justin Verlander (4-3, 2.91), who is second in the AL with 62 strikeouts. After no-hitting the Blue Jays two starts ago, Verlander pitched eight innings of two-hit ball against the Royals, allowing only one run.

Beckett and Verlander have undoubtedly been two of baseball’s best hurlers thus far this season. Beckett has been nearly unhittable at home. He enters Thursday’s game 2-0 with a 0.34 ERA pitching in front of the Fenway faithful this year. Another strong performance could secure a pair of milestones for the hard-throwing righty. Beckett currently sits five strikeouts away from 1,500, a feat only 179 pitchers have accomplished in baseball history. Additionally, Beckett is just one win away from tying Ted Lilly for 20th in active wins (116).

As if Beckett needs anything else going for him, no team has a lower batting average against him than the Tigers (.170). Over the course of his career, Beckett posts a 2.60 ERA starting against Detroit. The current group of Tigers batters has not seen much of Beckett. Former Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez is the only batter Beckett will face who has homered off of him.

The Boston bats have had much more success against Verlander. Six Red Sox have averages above .300 against the 2006 American League Rookie of the Year.  Look for sluggers Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz to swing for the fences as they have a combined four home runs and six RBIs in just 32 at-bats against Verlander. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Red Sox, Detroi Tigers, Josh Beckett, justin verlander

Buchholz continues Sox’ march to history

05.19.11 at 11:01 am ET
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Records on the subject go back 93 years, to the 1919 season that was best remembered for having culminated in the Black Sox Scandal that pulled the lid off of game-fixing in the World Series and for having represented the last campaign in which Babe Ruth was in the employ of the Red Sox.

In almost half (41) of those four-score and 13 years, the Red Sox have had no more than 10 games in a season in which a starter exited the game without having allowed a run. That puts in sharp relief just how striking a run the Sox rotation is currently experiencing.

The season is barely one-quarter complete. Yet with the seven shutout innings from Clay Buchholz on Wednesday, the Sox have now had 11 starts this year that ended without a single run allowed — most in the majors this year. That is one more scoreless start than the team had in the entire 2006 campaign, and nearly as many as the 13 zero-run starts that the team had in a playoff campaign in 2005.

More than one in four Red Sox games this year have ended with the starter having held the opponent scoreless. That, in turn, has the Sox on a pace that could prove historic.

Since 1919 (the earliest recorded year in baseball-reference.com), the team has never had more than 30 scoreless starts in a season. This year, the team is on pace for a starting 42 such outings. If the Sox stay on such a pace, it would represent the most not just in Sox annals but in all of the majors since 1919. The current high of 34 shutout starts was achieved by the 1964 Angels.

The contributors for the Sox have been of an across-the-board variety. Buchholz turned in his second scoreless outing of 2011 on Wednesday. Josh Beckett hasn’t given up a run in four of his eight outings to date (most in the majors). Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka have each held the opponent scoreless in two of their starts this season, while John Lackey had one scoreless start.

No one else in the majors right now is particularly close. Three teams (the Orioles, Dodgers and Brewers) have each had eight starts without a run allowed. The Sox — despite a 4.11 ERA from their starters that ranks 19th in the majors and 11th in the AL — have separated themselves from the pack in terms of starts that have not yielded a single run. The Sox are 9-2 in those games, with the only losses being a 1-0 loss to the Indians in the first week of the season (when Lester tossed seven shutout innings) and the 5-3, 13-inning loss to the Angels earlier this month (when Beckett’s night was ended by a lengthy rain delay after 4 1/3 innings).

It remains to be seen whether the Sox can continue such an ambitious pace, particularly as the weather gets warmer and the ball starts to carry. Nonetheless, to this point in 2011, while there have been some inconsistencies, the Sox have received a cluster of dominant starts through one-fourth of the season that has little precedent in franchise history.

Saltalamacchia starts to make his presence felt for Red Sox

05.19.11 at 12:43 am ET
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The return of former Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez to Fenway Park after an offseason departure to the Tigers had many playing the ‘€œWhat if?’€ game heading into Wednesday night’€™s matchup between the two clubs.

After all, Boston management had chosen to divert free-agent funds away from a potential Martinez signing ‘€“ they offered him either three years/$36 million or four years/$42 million if he wanted to re-sign, far short of the four years, $50 million the Tigers paid ‘€“ in favor of signing big fish Carl Crawford, trading and signing Adrian Gonzalez and making captain Jason Varitek and relative newcomer Jarrod Saltalamacchia their catching tandem for the 2011 season.

That decision has come under plenty of scrutiny in the early stages of 2011. Saltalamacchia went through a period of defensive struggles, especially with his throwing from behind the plate. Meanwhile, while Martinez entered the night hitting .317, the Sox’ backstop duo was hitting just .204 entering Wednesday’s game, bad enough to be 11th among AL teams for catchers’€™ batting average. What’€™s more, their one home run combined would be last in the AL if it weren’€™t for the Joe Mauer-less Twins.

But on Wednesday, the Sox were left with no reason to lament the absence of Martinez. With two outs in the eighth inning of a scoreless tie, Saltalamacchia drove a pitch from Detroit reliever Daniel Schlereth to deep left-center to score Crawford from first for the game’€™s only run.

The RBI was Saltalamacchia’€™s first game-winner as a member of the Red Sox, and all of a sudden the story went from the prowess of catchers past to the potential of catchers present.

Saltalamacchia’€™s RBI double has only been the latest in what has been a notable turnaround for both him and Varitek at the plate. Since April 28, the tandem is hitting a much more solid .276 (19-for-69), beating out the averages of the Red Sox players at second base, shortstop, left field and right field over that time. By comparison, their .145 combined average from April 1-27 ranked dead last by position on the team. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: jarrod saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek, victor martinez,
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