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UPDATED: First Pitch scheduled for 9:20pm

05.04.09 at 7:32 pm ET
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The tarp has just been pulled off the infield at Yankee Stadium. The game is scheduled to begin at approximately 9:20 p.m.

Ortiz: ‘This game is not always going to be roses and flowers’

05.04.09 at 6:36 pm ET
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Mist is descending on a tarp-covered field at the new Yankee Stadium, a park that aesthetically resembles its across-the-street predecessor, but that occupies a simply enormous, enormous swath of land in the Bronx. The most obvious difference is that the Upper Tier, which sat directly over the lower sections at the old park, now extends much further back than the seats in the lower bowl. This place is BIG…and new.

“This is the big leagues right here. This is a big-league stadium right here,” said Sox shortstop Julio Lugo.

Of course, that raises a relevant question: what was the old Yankee Stadium?

“It was Little League,” chuckled Lugo.

For the low-down on the Yankees‘ pre-game news, including the kind of home theater that A.J. Burnett can buy with an $82.5 million contract, check out Pete Abraham’s superb LoHud Yankees Blog.

As for the Sox, David Ortiz spoke at length for the second straight day about his four-week-old slump. More on that in a bit, but first, it seemed worth mentioning the following:

Julio Lugo is sitting today in favor of shortstop Nick Green, and may end up doing the same tomorrow. Right now, Lugo — who met with manager Terry Francona before today’s game to discuss playing time — said of his part-time schedule, “I think it’s good for me.” The Sox and Lugo are trying to build the shortstop up physically. Francona said that, as of now, Lugo isn’t moving like the team anticipates he will when he is further removed from his March 17 knee surgery. For his part, Lugo suggested that his timing is a work in progress, particularly when he plays defense. He is hopeful that he’ll be ready to play on an everyday basis “pretty soon,” though the fine performance of Green to this point (.304 average, .835 OPS) might make it difficult to sit him in the short term.

–Despite the fact that the Rays stole eight bases against the Sox yesterday, and Carl Crawford swiped six by himself, Francona didn’t seem too bent out of shape. “I’m just not as shook up as maybe the rest of the world is,” he said. Tonight’s Red Sox starter, Jon Lester, does a tremendous job of controlling the running game thanks to one of the best pick-off moves in baseball. He already has picked five runners at first this year. Francona described Lester’s move to first as being in the same category as that of Andy Pettitte. That’s high praise indeed, given that Pettitte owns the major-league record with 95 pickoffs.

–Back to Ortiz: the slugger admits that he is in a monumental slump, describing his current full-season funk (a .208 average, a .600 OPS, no homers) as the worst of his career. He met with Francona before the game to talk at length about his struggles. Francona’s message, as relayed by Ortiz, was one of unqualified support.

“I don’€™t see Terry as my coach anymore. I see him as my dad. He’€™s been so great to me that everytime he talks, I’€™m nothing but ears,” said Ortiz. “(Francona’s message was) ‘relax. You’€™re trying to do too much. We’€™re going to go down together if you go down. I’€™ve been with you for years. I’€™ve got to suck it up if something bad happens. Don’€™t worry ‘€“ just go ahead and play the game and forget about it.'”

Ortiz is treating his slump with candor, rather than pretending that everything is fine. The only solution, he said, is to try to clear his head of anxiety about the slump and to focus on doing the work necessary to return to his typical form.

“This game is not always going to be roses and flowers. There are tough times,” said Ortiz. “I’€™m going to keep fighting. That’€™s me. That’€™s what I’€™ve been doing my whole life. This ain’€™t the end of the world, like Manny said before. There’€™s always good days and bad days. You know what you need to do when bad days show up, right? Smile at it. Show your teeth. (Laugh) Keep fighting, keep working and good things are going to happen.”

For now, Ortiz hasn’t asked for a day off, but he admitted that he might consider doing so as a head-clearing measure if his slump continues. He has come out of slumps before — usually much more quickly — but he recalls stretches in which he couldn’t clear the fences for a week or two at a time.

Still, the slugger could not recall another time like this one, when the search for answers has proven so unrewarding.

“I’€™m the type of guy who’€™s never been in a slump for too long’€”20, 30 at-bats, maybe 40 at-bats without maybe hitting a home run, then the next thing you know, in the next 20 you hit five, six. That’€™s been me,” he said. “I ain’€™t never been in this kind of funk. I’€™m going to take this as something the baseball gods wanted to teach me. It’€™s not as easy as you made it look before. So I’€™m just going to stay positive, keep working.”

Read More: David Ortiz, Julio Lugo, nick green,

Red Sox at Yankees Match-Ups, 5/4

05.04.09 at 3:16 pm ET
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Three years ago, “Lester or Hughes?” was one of the more common debates among those who monitor baseball prospects. Yankees prospect Philip Hughes, then 20, was in the middle of a 12-6 campaign in which he had a ridiculous 2.16 ERA in High-A and Double-A ball. Red Sox hurler Jon Lester was coming off a 21-year-old season spent dominating Double-A ball.

Both were considered top-of-the-rotation prospects. Actually, the word “prospect” deserves a footnote, since most viewed the development of both pitchers into aces as almost a mortal lock.

Since then, both have endured an up-and-down existence. Lester impressed in his big-league debut in 2006, began to struggle, was diagnosed with cancer, then came back without the same dominant arsenal that he featured pre-illness. Talent evaluators in the game and fans were both left to wonder whether he would ever reclaim his dominant form of the ’05 season. Last year, of course, he did just that.

Hughes, meanwhile, showed alternating brilliance and immaturity in his initial major-league trials. In 2007, he went 5-3 with a 4.46 ERA and was accused by unnamed players of thinking he was the Pope of Chili Town (not in that exact phraseology, mind you, but there were some mutterings about how he seemed a bit too comfortable in a big-league environment). He returned to spring training last year as a more humble pitcher, and yet that humility was only amplified when he went 0-4 with a 6.62 ERA at the big-league level, and spent significant time on the shelf with a broken rib.

Yet Chien Ming Wang‘s stint on the disabled list forced the Yankees to bring Hughes back up to the majors, and he was spectacular in his first start of the year last week, allowing just two hits in six shutout innings against the Tigers. Now, no doubt, there will be many who once again proclaim that Hughes is on the brink of perennial Cy Young status.

The truth is that it is too early to make such claims of either Lester or Hughes. Lester is now 25. Hughes turns 23 this summer. Both are still in the infancy of their major-league careers, which means that both are likely to endure quite a bit more time alternately dominating and puzzling onlookers as they continue their development. How they perform in a single game tonight, despite the scrutiny that attends a Red Sox-Yankees game, has little bearing on what they will ultimately be.

As for what the two pitchers have done to this point as participants in The Rivalry, here are the career numbers of the two pitchers against the lineups they’ll face tonight:

YANKEES VS. JON LESTER

Jon Lester looked overpowering early in his April 24 start against the Yankees, but briefly lost command of the strike zone in getting dinged for a couple runs. Still, he recovered to log six innings, allowing just those two runs while striking out seven. He took a no-decision in a game that the Sox eventually won, 5-4, in extra inning thanks to the late-inning homers by Jason Bay (off of Mariano Rivera) and Kevin Youkilis. In five career starts aganst the Yankees, Lester is 2-0 with a 3.34 ERA. The Yankees will likely squeeze Jose Molina into the starting lineup in order to take advantage of his career success against the left-hander.

Johnny Damon (17 career plate appearances): .400 average / .471 OBP / .600 slugging
Derek Jeter (17): .375 / .412 / .375
Robinson Cano (14): .214 / .214 / .286
Nick Swisher (12): .222 / .333 / .667
Melky Cabrera (11): .600 / .636 / .700
Jose Molina (10): .500 / .600 / .500
Jorge Posada (6): 0-for-6, 4 strikeouts
Mark Teixeira (6): 1-for-6, single, strikeout
Angel Berroa (5): 1-for-5, single, strikeout
Hideki Matsui (3): 0-for-3

RED SOX VS. PHIL HUGHES

Hughes has made just one prior appearance against the Sox, and it wasn’t a fun one for the young pitcher. He lasted just two innings and four batters, getting tagged for seven runs (six earned) and six hits while taking the loss last April 13. Surprisingly, the current members of the Sox who took part in that game were responsible for few of those knocks, though a few members of the current Sox squad did collect walks:

J.D. Drew (2 plate appearances): 2 walks
Jacoby Ellsbury (2): 0-for-1, walk
Dustin Pedroia (2): 0-for-2
Kevin Youkilis (2): 1-for-1, single, walk
Julio Lugo (1): 0-for-1
Jason Varitek (1): 0-for-1

Read More: Jon Lester, philip hughes,

Minor-league notes: Reddick, Navarro sidelined

05.04.09 at 9:59 am ET
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A number of top Red Sox prospects have either been sidelined with or are returning from injuries. Josh Reddick, who had gotten off to a tremendous start in which he had been demonstrating both power and patience as the leadoff hitter for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, suffered a strained oblique on Thursday. The injury occurred in his fifth and final at-bat of a game in which he also hit his sixth homer of the young season.

The injury was a Grade 1 strain, meaning that it was the mildest possible oblique strain. Nonetheless, the Sox plan to proceed conservatively as they do with all oblique injuries, particularly for a player such as Reddick who has an extremely aggressive swing. The Sox have yet to create a timetable for the return of the outfielder (he is currently on the seven-day disabled list, but as of Sunday, his injury was still in the acute phase, and so the team could not evaluate how he responded to activity), but it would seem a safe bet that he will be out for at least two weeks.

“Those things are obviously tricky. We’€™re going to be extremely cautious here because we don’€™t want any reaggravation of the injury,” said farm director Mike Hazen. “Being that he’€™s an aggressive swinger, you somewhat have to be mindful of that. He’€™s doing better in the first couple of days, which is good. We’€™ll see how it goes from here.”

Reddick is generally regarded as the second-best position playing prospect in the Sox system, behind only Lars Anderson. Though he struggled after a mid-year call-up to Portland last year, he has been off to a strong start in Double-A this year, hitting .288 with a .358 OBP and .644 slugging mark. He homered in each of the first four games of the year. …

Another top Red Sox prospect will be out for an even longer stretch. Shortstop Yamaico Navarro, who excelled at two levels of A-ball in 2008, underwent surgery to repair a broken hamate bone about a week ago. The injury was an old one, and neither Navarro nor the club knows when he initially suffered the fracture.

Initially, after Navarro played in one game this year, the organization attempted a conservative course with his rehabilitation. He was placed on the seven-day disabled list in hopes that rest might permit him to heal to the point where he could stay on the field. But as he worked towards a return, he re-fractured the bone, with the recurrence worse than the original injury. As a result, Hazen said, surgery became unavoidable.

The team is hopeful that Navarro will follow a similar timetable to that of catcher Ty Weeden. Weeden, who underwent surgery in March during spring training, has already reported to Single-A Salem of the Carolina League. If Navarro can follow a similar timetable, the Sox are hopeful that he could be joining Weeden in Salem by mid-June…

The Sox have also received some good news on their medical reports of late, as 2007 top draft selection Nick Hagadone is now impressing while pitching in extended spring training games. Hagadone, who underwent Tommy John surgery last June, has now pitched in two games, and all indicators for his return have been good.

He reached 96 mph in a one-inning outing, and touched 94 while throwing two innings on Saturday. In that two-inning outing, the left-hander struck out three batters, two on changeups (the pitch on which Hagadone suffered the tear of his ulnar collateral ligament).

This coming week, the Sox will continue his progression, asking him to pitch into a third inning as the next step in his five-day pitching cycle. Hazen anticipates an assignment to Single-A Greenville of the South Atlantic League by the end of May, barring any setbacks…

Given that the Red Sox allowed eight steals to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, it seems worth noting the exceptional job that catcher Mark Wagner has done controlling the running game for Double-A Portland. Wagner — who is expected to return from a hamstring injury this week — has gunned down eight of 11 opponents who tried to steal on him, a 27.3 percent success rate. (As mentioned in today’s Five Things, opponents are stealing against Sox catcher Jason Varitek at an 89.7 percent clip.) …

Ryan Westmoreland, the highly regarded outfielder out of Rhode Island whom the Sox drafted in the fifth round of last year’s draft and then signed to a $2 million bonus, has returned to game action for the first time since undergoing surgery on a torn labrum in his shoulder during the offseason. He played in extended spring training games in both Saturday and Sunday. He will play exclusively as a designated hitter for about a month before he returns to the outfield. As for a minor-league assignment, Hazen said the Sox do not yet have a timetable, noting that Westmoreland will need to get at least 30-40 at-bats in extended spring training before an assignment is discussed.

“He’€™s got a ways to go,” said Hazen.

Red Sox vs. Rays Match-Ups, 5/2

05.02.09 at 1:55 pm ET
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Rays starter Jeff Niemann, who will take the mound tonight against the Red Sox, was the fourth overall pick of the 2004 draft out of Rice. The appeal was obvious. He was a monster of a pitcher, a 6-foot-9 hulk whose mid-90s velocity inspired visions of a right-handed Randy Johnson.

Five years later, Niemann is trying to establish himself as a big-leaguer (he won the Rays’ fifth starter job on the last day of spring training, though David Price looms in Triple-A), and the most of the first round of that draft class currently looks like a bit of a stinker.

Shortstop Matt Bush was the top overall selection. He had numerous off-the-field issues, failed as a shortstop, and continued to flop as a pitcher, resulting in his release by the Padres (the team that drafted him) and the Blue Jays this spring. He’s currently out of baseball. Justin Verlander, who has displayed elite potential, was the second pick – no shame there. Philip Humber was taken third. He was a piece of the Mets’ deal for Johan Santana, but has a 6.48 ERA in the majors, and has generally been a disappointment, his stuff as a professional not matching what was considered an elite arsenal in college.

On and on the list goes. The first-rounders that year have been mediocre to disappointing, with only a handful (Verlander, Jered Weaver, Glen Perkins, Stephen Drew, Huston Street) emerging as big-league regulars.

The Sox did not have a first-round pick that year. In fact, their top pick wasn’t until the No. 65 overall choice in the second round. Whereas the Rays got the tantalizing prospect, the 6-foot-9 guy who allowed them to dream big, the Sox were left to select a 5-foot-7 second baseman who many scouts considered nothing more than a utility player.

One Rookie of the Year and MVP season later, that seems to have worked out pretty well for both the Sox and Dustin Pedroia.

Niemann will have his first opportunity as a big-leaguer to face off with Pedroia and the Red Sox tonight. Niemann will appear in just his 10th big-league game tonight, and oppose Tim Wakefield, possessor of 545 games of big-league experience.

RAYS VS. TIM WAKEFIELD

With a pair of defeats to open their four-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Red Sox turn to their unlikely ace to stem their brief skid. Tim Wakefield, at 42, has been dazzling, going 2-1 with a 1.86 ERA while providing an average of just over seven innings an outing.

Wakefield is on the short list of the most effective pitchers of all time against the Tampa Bay Rays. He owns a lifetime 19-5 record and 3.32 ERA against them. His wins total is tied for the highest of all time against the Rays, and he owns a 9-3 record and 2.86 ERA in Tampa Bay.

Yet while the knuckleballer’s mastery of the Rays had been complete entering last year, there was a bit of a reversal in 2008. Last season, Wakefield went 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA against the Rays, with all three of his starts coming in Tropicana Field.

Obviously, some of that struggle was a reflection of the fact that last year’s Rays team was the first to finish with more than 70 wins in a season.

A few Rays have had success against Wakefield, notably including former Sox teammate Gabe Kapler. That being the case, the Rays will have an interesting decision about whether to start Kapler or B.J. Upton (who has poor numbers against Wakefield):

Carl Crawford (85 career plate appearances): .305 average, .329 OBP, .500 slugging, .829 OPS, 2 homers
Carlos Pena (37): .133 / .270 / .267 / .537, 1 homer
Akinori Iwamura (29): .417 / .517 / .542 / 1.059
B.J. Upton (26): .227 / .308 / .227 / .535
Jason Bartlett (22): .286 / .318 / .571 / .889, 1 homer
Gabe Kapler (21): .412 / .476 / .588 / 1.064
Dioner Navarro (16): .333 / .375 / .400 / .775
Gabe Gross (13): .250 / .308 / .500 / .808, 1 homer
Evan Longoria (8): .500 / .625 / .667 / 1.292
Pat Burrell (6): .200 / .333 / .200 / .533
Willie Aybar (1): 1.000 / 1.000 / 4.000 / 5.000, homer

RED SOX VS. JEFF NIEMANN

Jeff Niemann has never faced the Red Sox before, so here’s a thumbnail sketch of what they’re in for:

–Niemann is huge, listed at 6-foot-9, 280 pounds. He may or may not be the tallest member of the Rays to face the Sox…It would be interesting to line him up against left-hander Mark Hendrickson, the former NBA player who is alternately listed at 6-foot-9 or 6-foot-10.

–Niemann was described as a 95-96 mph power pitcher while coming up in the minors, but thus far this year, he’s more typically worked in the low-90s (90-93 mph, flashing up to 94-95 a few times a game) with his fastball, while featuring a curve, slider and an occasional change-up.

–Though one would expect such a huge right-hander to have a decided advantage against right-handers, he’s actually been better against lefties (.253 average / .353 OBP / .302 slugging) than righties (.262 / .340 / .548). All four of his homers this year have been by right-handers.

Read More: Dustin Pedroia, jeff niemann, Tim Wakefield,

Why this bullpen is so stressed

05.01.09 at 3:14 pm ET
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It isn’t a great news flash that the Red Sox bullpen has been taxed beyond the norm, as the image of Jonathan Van Every would suggest. And that, of course, starts with the inability of the starting rotation to find its way to late in the game, but also has to do with the reliever’s inability to close out at-bats.

The Sox bullpen has thrown 1,417 pitches, second in the majors only to Baltimore (1,438), while totaling the most pitches per game (70.9). But, as Gary from Chapel Hill points out in his latest Nuggetpalooza entry, the pitch count is not only due to innings …

As a team, Red Sox relievers have needed 4.35 pitches per batter faced this season, by far the highest in the majors:

4.35 – Red Sox
4.14 – Cubs
4.11 – Phillies, Braves

To give you some perspective, here are the three highest full-season marks:

4.09 – Yankees, 1996
4.03 – Angels, 1998
4.02 – Red Sox, 1996

As Gary goes on to point out, it isn’t hard to figure out why the Sox have such numbers when looking at individual performances.

Jonathan Papelbon has averaged 4.61 pitches per batter faced this season, the 2nd highest figure among AL relievers on a leaderboard dominated by Red Sox arms (min. 40 batters faced):

Despite all the pitches, the Red Sox’ bullpen is fifth in batters faced and sixth in innings pitched. 

4.88 – Russ Springer, OAK
4.61 – Jonathan Papelbon, BOS
4.53 – Ramon Ramirez, BOS
4.46 – Manny Delcarmen, BOS

Then there is the starters’ contribution to the problem. That group is middle of the road when it comes to innings pitched (18th) but is still fourth in the majors in the total number of pitches thrown (2,160), making the Sox’ starters second in baseball in average number of pitches per inning pitched (17.7).

Add it all up and the Red Sox’ pitchers have thrown more pitches than any other group in baseball, averaging 162.6 per game. A far cry from the 149.1 they had averaged by May 1 last year. 

Put at the top of the ‘To Do List’ heading into May (even before David Ortiz hitting a home run).

Read More: bullpen, Red Sox,

Red Sox at Rays, 5/1

05.01.09 at 3:09 pm ET
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The Red Sox could not lose in April…except to the Rays. The Rays could not win in the first month of the season…except against the Red Sox.

After Matt Garza once again dominated the Sox, allowing one hit in 7.2 innings in Tampa Bay’s 13-0 bashing of Boston, the Rays have now won three of four against the Sox this year. Boston turns to Justin Masterson in hopes of bucking the trend, while the Rays will ask Andy Sonnanstine to continue it.

RAYS VS. JUSTIN MASTERSON

After watching Josh Beckett get beaten like a piñata, the Red Sox turn to the unflappable Justin Masterson in hopes of providing them with a chance to bounce back from Thursday’€™s 13-0 trashing in Tampa Bay.

Masterson has pitched at least five innings but less than seven innings in each of his 11 starts. He has never allowed more than seven hits or four runs in any outing. He has made between 84 and 105 pitches every time he’€™s been on the hill. He has been, in a word, reliable.

That said, the Rays have been perhaps his most difficult foe during his still-brief major-league tenure. In six appearances (two starts), he has gone 1-2 with a 5.28 ERA against Tampa Bay, and four of the 10 homers he’€™s allowed have been to members of the Rays.

All of that damage, however, came last year. Masterson made a pair of relief appearances during the season-opening series against the Rays and recorded 1.2 shutout innings.

Willie Aybar (4 career plate appearances): 1-for-2, walk
Jason Bartlett (8): 2-for-7, .286 / .375 / .286 / .661
Pat Burrell (3): 0-for-3
Carl Crawford (3): 0-for-3
Gabe Gross (7): 2-for-5, homer, .400 / .571 / 1.000 / 1.571
Akinori Iwamura (4): 1-for-3, homer, walk
Gabe Kapler (1): 0-for-1
Evan Longoria (8): 1-for-8, .125 / .125 / .125 / .250
Dioner Navarro (8): 1-for-7, .143 / .250 / .143 / .393
Carlos Pena (8): 3-for-6, homer, .500 / .625 / 1.333 / 1.958
B.J. Upton (7): 3-for-7, homer, .429 / .429 / 1.000 / 1.429

RED SOX VS. ANDY SONNANSTINE

Andy Sonnanstine‘s hold on a starting role for the Rays has to be continued tenuous. He is 0-3 with a 7.78 ERA in four starts this year. He is allowing almost two baserunners an inning, and has permitted an average of 12.8 hits per nine innings. He lacks the dominating pitches of his Rays colleagues, and certainly doesn’t have the raw stuff of David Price or Wade Davis, both of whom are expected to make their way to the Rays rotation at some point in the near future.

But Sonnanstine has spent the better part of two years defying expectations that the axe was about to fall on him. He succeeded on guile while spending all of last year in the Rays’ rotation, going 13-9 with a 4.38 ERA and then turning in an unexpectedly outstanding outing against the Sox in Game 4 of the ALCS, allowing three runs in 7.1 innings for a win.

Sonnanstine is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA against the Sox in six career starts, and has an excellent 24/7 strikeout to walk ratio in 33.1 innings of work. The performance of members of the Sox against him defies expectation: both David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis have done nothing against the big right-hander, while Jason Varitek has owned him:

Jason Bay (6 career plate appearances): 1-for-5 with a double and walk
J.D. Drew (11): 4-for-11 with a homer, .364 / .364 / .727 / 1.091
Jacoby Ellsbury (12): 3-for-12 with a homer, .250 / .250 / .500 / .750
Mike Lowell (17): 6-for-14, .429 / .529 / .500 / 1.029
Julio Lugo (7): 2-for-7 with a double, .286 / .286 / .429 / .715
David Ortiz (17): 3-for-16 with a double, .188 / .235 / .375 / .610
Dustin Pedroia (17): 3-for-15, double, .200 / .294 / .267 / .561
Jason Varitek (12): 5-for-10, homer, .500 / .583 / .800 / 1.383
Kevin Youkilis (14): 1-for-12, .083 / .143 / .167 / .310

Read More: Andy Sonnanstine, justin masterson,

How Van Every ended up with the Red Sox

04.30.09 at 3:24 pm ET
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The irony was welcome, but the lack of sports bars wasn’t.

Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen joined special assistant to the general manager David Howard in driving the streets of Kinston, N.C., Wednesday night searching high and low for a place that might have the Sox game against Cleveland on one of its television sets. One of the players Hazen had watched play in Kinston while serving as a member of the Indians’ front office, Jonathan Van Every, was starting in right field for Boston, adding a bit of motivation in terms of tracking the big league team’s goings-ons.

After failing to find a North Carolina hot spot, Hazen adjourned back to his hotel to try and track the game via the internet. Thanks to a spotty connection, that wasn’t working either. So, as it turned out, the way Hazen learned about the first career homer — a game-winner, no less — of a player whose career he had followed since Single-A Lake City in 2003 was via text messages from Howard.

No matter. It wasn’t how the message was delivered, but that it was just finally delivered.

“Everybody is so happy for this kid,” Hazen said. “He doesn’t say a word and just goes out and plays hard every day. You talk to (Pawtucket manager) Ron Johnson about him and he talks as highly of this guy as any guy I’ve talked to with him about in the last four years. He’s been saying for the last two years that this guy can really play. Who knows where this is going to take him, but it’s good for the kid.”

When Van Every hit the 10th-inning home run off his former minor-league roommate, Jensen Lewis, it sent folks scrambling to find out more about who exactly this 29-year-old was. The logical connection to the Red Sox staff was pitching coach John Farrell, who was Cleveland’s farm director ever since the outfielder began his pro career in 2001. And then there was the relationship Van Every had with Hazen, who had come to the Red Sox from Cleveland in ’06.

But the Sox farm director acknowledged the familiarity he and Farrell had with Van Every, it was actually pro scouting, led by Allard Baird and Jared Porter, coupled with Red Sox’ general manager Theo Epstein‘s ability to close the deal with the then-minor league free agent, that brought the former 29th-round pick to the Boston organization.

“We knew of him, don’t get me wrong. But Allard and the pro scouts were pounding the table pretty strong for this guy,” said Hazen, who remembers Van Every being close to signing with another team before the Red Sox came in with an opportunity to be a member of the organization’s 40-man roster. “They pushed really hard to sign him and Theo basically did the deal.”

The reason for the optimism surrounding Van Every was obvious. He was a power-hitting outfielder (27 home runs at Double-A Akron in ’05) who also had a keen batting eye. And it was that skill set that was put on display last season with Triple-A Pawtucket where Van Every 26 homers to go with 56 walks.

Besides consistency, the problem for Van Every in his time in the Cleveland organization was that he was in a minor-league system that also boasted well-respected outfielders Franklin Gutierrez, Trevor Crowe, Jason Cooper and Brad Snyder.

“The report that came back said, ‘Look at this guy. He’s an above-average athlete, a plus-defending outfielder who can play all three outfield positions, and has ridiculous power. If the power ever translates on a consistent basis look what you’ve got,” said Hazen. “But it was definitely the pro scouts pounding the table for this guy. Look at this guy’s statistical track. He has power and he has walks. He does two things we like a lot. There were a lot of different things that lit up about this guy that made the scouts so excited about him.”

Van Every has seemingly taken his game to yet another level since coming to the Sox organization, displaying a much healthier wave of consistency. But much of the improvement, said Hazen, has more to do with the player simply “working his (butt) off” rather than any major adjustments.

“What you see now when you watch him run around — you see the body, the swing — it’s very close to the same,” said Hazen of his first encounter with Van Every in ’03. “He was hitting balls off the top of the scoreboard at Lake City way back then. That power has been there as long as I’ve seen him play. I just think he’s gotten a lot more consistent with his approach. That has allowed that power and athleticism to translate on the field.”

Read More: Jonathan Van Every,

Red Sox vs. Rays Match-Ups, 4/30

04.30.09 at 2:36 pm ET
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The last two ALCS MVPs take the mound tonight in the Tropicana Dome, where the Rays and Red Sox will renew the southern leg of their budding rivalry in the American League East. In terms of pure stuff, Josh Beckett (the 2007 ALCS MVP) and Matt Garza (who claimed the honor in 2008) are as impressive as any pitchers in the American League East, a notion that is reflected to a large degree by the types of numbers that they have against their opponents tonight.

RAYS VS. JOSH BECKETT

Josh Beckett (2-1, 6.00 in 2009), of course, was a force in the 2007 ALCS against the Indians, a form that he appeared ready to resume when he dominated the Rays (7 innings, 2 hits, 1 run, 10 strikeouts) in the season opener. Yet while many concluded that Beckett was ready to use that Opening Day outing as a point of departure for a return to his 2007 levels of dominance, to date, that form has not held. In three subsequent starts, he’s allowed 15 earned runs in 17 innings, allowing 24 hits and an uncharacteristic 10 walks in that time.

Though a couple of Rays – most notably Akinori Iwamura – have solid numbers against Beckett, several key members of their lineup (Pat Burrell, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena) have abysmal regular-season histories against him:

Pat Burrell (43 career plate appearances): .158 average / .256 OBP / .158 slugging / .414 OPS
Akinori Iwamura (27): .333 / .407 / .500 / .907
Carl Crawford (26): .280 / .269 / .320 / .589
Dioner Navarro (23): .136 / .174 / .136 / .310
Carlos Pena (22): .150 / .227 / .350 / .577
Jason Bartlett (20): .316 / .350 / .421 / .771
Gabe Gross (17): .067 / .176 / .267 / .443
Evan Longoria (15): .267 / .267 / .533 / .800
B.J. Upton (12): .250 / .250 / .333 / .583
Willie Aybar (3): 2-for-3, triple

RED SOX VS. MATT GARZA

Like Beckett, Matt Garza (1-2, 4.97) looked ready to build upon the momentum of his playoff excellence to forge a monster season when he shut down the Sox (7 innings, 1 run) in his first start of the season, then did the same (7 innings, 2 runs) against the Yankees in his second outing. But he’s gotten hit hard in his last two outings, allowing 11 runs in 11.1 innings against the White Sox and A’s.

Of course, a return to A.L. East competition offers Garza something of a comfort zone (surprisingly enough). Against Tampa’s four A.L. East foes, he has a career 13-6 record and 3.01 ERA, including a 4-1 record and 3.40 regular-season mark against the Sox. Most of the right-handed members of the Sox lineup have fared poorly against Garza, while left-handers Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew and David Ortiz (who has homered twice against Garza) have enjoyed varying degrees of success against the Rays pitcher:

Dustin Pedroia (19 career plate appearances):. .167 average / .211 OBP / .222 slugging / .433 OPS
Jacoby Ellsbury (18): .438 / .500 / .438 / .938
Kevin Youkilis (17): .214 / .353 / .286 / .639
Mike Lowell (15): .133 / .133 / .333 / .466
David Ortiz (14): .167 / .286 / .667 / .953
J.D. Drew (11): .250 / .364 / .750 / 1.114
Jason Varitek (8): .143 / .250 / .143 / .393
Julio Lugo (6): .200 / .333 / .200 / .533
Jason Bay (3): .333 / .333 / 1.000 / 1.333

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Smoltz slowed by a week

04.29.09 at 7:15 pm ET
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Right-handed pitcher John Smoltz has had his rehab course backed off by a week, Red Sox manager Terry Francona told Joe Castiglione on the Red Sox Pre-Game Radio Show. Smoltz had been scheduled to throw live batting practice on Thursday as part of his progression to pitching in rehab games. However, the Sox have decided to delay that process slightly to allow the pitcher to continue to build arm strength.

“We’ve actually been going back and forth with Smoltzie. We’ve actually slowed it down about a week,” Francona said. “I don’t want to say it was built in, but I don’t think this was unrealistic to think that was going to happen.”

Smoltz’ status, of course, has become all the more intriguing given that starter Brad Penny has had a couple of poor starts…

Francona also said that Daisuke Matsuzaka threw a 45-pitch side session prior to Wednesday’s game, and is scheduled to throw another on Saturday. … Mark Kotsay continues to work out at Fenway Park, and Francona expects that he might commence a rehab assignment on Friday.

To listen to the complete interview, click here.

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