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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,

Red Sox exploring rotation depth alternatives

05.18.11 at 11:47 pm ET
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With both Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey on the disabled list, and the Red Sox having inserted both Alfredo Aceves and Tim Wakefield into the rotation, the team will explore depth options outside the organization, according to a team source.

MLB Network and NESN analyst Peter Gammons said on the Mut & Merloni Show on Wednesday that the Sox were exploring available veterans such as Kevin 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).

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

Nonetheless, the Sox’ search for pitching suggests the challenging position in which the team finds itself. With both Wakefield and Aceves now in the majors, the team’s major league ready depth options are limited. The only starter on the 40-man roster — Felix Doubront — is currently sidelined by a mild left groin strain. While farm director Mike Hazen said that his rehab should proceed quickly once he is cleared to throw off a mound, he is currently unavailable.

The other members of the PawSox rotation — Andrew Miller, Kyle Weiland and Brandon Duckworth — aren’t on the 40-man roster. Moreover, all of them have their limitations. Miller (1-2, 2.80) has been overpowering at times, but he has walked 28 (against 31 strikeouts) in his 35 1/3 innings, even though opponents are hitting just .157 against him. Weiland (3-4, 3.83, 45 strikeouts, 20 walks in 40 innings) is considered an unfinished product given that he is just in his second month in Triple-A. Duckworth (4-2, 3.27) is a viable spot starter, but doesn’t have the track record of major league success to exceed that job description.

And so, the Sox will explore all their options — while hoping that Aceves and Wakefield pitch well enough that the pursuit is simply for minor league depth purposes, rather than representing a desperate need at the major league level.

Read More: alfredo aceves, Daisuke Matsuzaka, john lackey, kevin millwood

Closing Time: Jarrod Saltalamacchia steals spotlight away from Victor Martinez

05.18.11 at 10:41 pm ET
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On a night that at first had many looking at the meaning of former Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez’s return to Fenway Park, it was the current Boston backstop that stole the show.

Following a Carl Crawford walk with two outs in the eighth inning, Jarrod Saltalamacchia smacked a 2-1 sinker from Detroit reliever Daniel Schlereth off the Green Monster in left-center to score Crawford from first.

Boston starter Clay Buchholz lasted seven strong innings, allowing just four hits, one walk and two hit bastmen while striking out seven and not allowing an earned run. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Detroit lefty Phil Coke was just as dominant with a line of seven innings, three hits, one walk and four strikeouts. It wasn’t until the eighth inning until a Boston base runner finally made it to second base.

Jonathan Papelbon nearly spoiled the late-innings drama after allowing a leadoff double to Martinez in the ninth but came back to retire the next three batters, including a strikeout of Alex Avila with one out and a runner on third. The save was his eighth in nine chances.

A rain delay in the top of the eighth threatened to halt the proceedings for some time but lasted only 26 minutes and thus giving Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard just enough time to return safely to the mound after throwing just one pitch before the delay. The delay did, however, chase Coke after he threw just 78 pitches in his time on the mound and seemed set to potentially go the distance.

Here’€™s what went right and went wrong for the Sox Wednesday night.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

–Buchholz put together arguably his best performance of the 2011 season Wednesday night. He allowed just seven baserunners in his seven innings and tied a season-high in strikeouts with seven. All of his pitches (fastball, cutter, curveball, changeup) were effective, especially the speed pitches early when he struck out Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore on all cutters and fastballs. Even though he earned just his second no-decision of the season, the lanky righty slimmed his season ERA to 3.42, the lowest it’€™s been after any game this season. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Clay Buchholz, jarrod saltalamacchia, Phil Coke,

Terry Francona on The Big Show: John Lackey ‘not trying to show anybody up’

05.18.11 at 6:36 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona joined The Big Show Wednesday afternoon to talk about the status of his team. To hear the interview, go to The Big Show audio on demand page.

The Red Sox have heated up and finally pushed their record over .500, but Francona is hesitant to put too much stock in the past week.

“I think you’ve got to be a little careful and use some perspective,” he said. “You can break it down into so many different things. Whether it was the 0-6 start or the 2-11 start. Or you can turn around and go, well, OK, after the 2-11 start, we’ve got the second-best record in baseball.

“So, that’s why I guess I always come back to our record is what it is, and that’s what we go by. You get too caught up in how things have gone the last four or five days, and that’s no good. It’s a long grind.”

On the negative side, John Lackey was placed on the disabled list after struggling on the mound and then making a comment to the media about how things in his life have not been going well. Asked if Lackey was given time off in part for off-field reasons, Francona insisted that’s not the case.

“Obviously, I was aware of that [comment],” Francona said. “And obviously, I was aware of it before. But when someone says something publicly, then you have to deal with it more publicly, I guess is the way to answer that. But no, this was completely elbow-related.

“I think the one thing that Lack felt like was when he got to the mound, it was sort of a refuge for him. Maybe not always the best refuge, because it wasn’t going as well as he wanted. As the week progressed, we knew we were going to get him checked out. It was a pretty big gray area. So, we kept him on his schedule. And then when we got all the facts, then we sat down. and we knew we had a plan in place if we weren’t going to pitch him, but once we started talking, and we talked more, and then we talked to Lack, we decided to take it out of his hands.

“I think if it was in September, we would have let him pitch through it. But because it’s May, and again, after talking to the medical people, I don’t think letting him pitch through it was going to help him get better and get to the point where we want him to get. So, we kind of took it out of his hands. That’s just the way it is.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Adrian Gonzalaez, Boston Red Sox, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Dustin Pedroia

Red Sox vs. Tigers Live Blog — May 18

05.18.11 at 6:32 pm ET
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It’s reunion day at Fenway Park, with old friend Victor Martinez back in uniform as a member of the Detroit Tigers against the Red Sox teammates with whom he played in 2009-10. Martinez’ son, Victor Jose, now in full Tigers regalia, was back at the ballpark as well.

For the latest from the game, join the WEEI.com live blog below.

Red Sox vs. Tigers

Victor Martinez: Boston was ‘best time of my career’

05.18.11 at 6:21 pm ET
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If the Tigers’€™ May 18-19 spots on the Red Sox schedule weren’€™t enough of a sign that former Boston catcher Victor Martinez was making his return as an opponent, the scene on the Fenway Park field before Wednesday’€™s game certainly was enough. Martinez’€™s son Victor Jose, who was an institution in or around the Red Sox clubhouse during his father’€™s year-and-a-half with the team, was playing catch with D’€™Angelo Ortiz, the son of David Ortiz, just outside the infield tarp. Both were clad in miniature versions of their respective fathers’€™ uniforms: a gray Detroit 41 for Victor and a white Boston 34 for D’€™Angelo.

If both members of the Martinez clan had it their way, perhaps that game of toss would be played much more frequently and with similar attire between the two young hurlers. But for now, all the senior Martinez has are the memories of his time in the Hub.

‘€œI don’€™t have any words to describe it,’€ he said from the Detroit dugout. ‘€œBy far, it’€™s been the best time of my career.

“My wife, my kids, my family and myself, we did everything we could to come back. But that’€™s just part of the game. It is what it is. We’€™ve got to move on.”

Part of that moving on process was signing a four-year/$50 million contract with the Tigers in the offseason. (By comparison, the Red Sox were offering three years/$36 million or four years/$42 million.) Martinez, who hit .313 and had 28 home runs in 183 games over the length of his time in Boston, has to adjust to more than just a change of location in Detroit. His switch also calls for the player who has always considered himself a catcher to get more starts at designated hitter than ever before in his career. As has been well-documented by the Jorge Posada situation in New York, the transition from catcher to designated hitter can be difficult on a player.

‘€œIt’€™s definitely a different scenario,’€ Martinez said. ‘€œIt’€™s a challenge. It’€™s not easy. It looks easy to just go out there and have four at-bats, five at-bats. But you have to do a lot of stuff to keep yourself warm. That’€™s the hard part of being a DH.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

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Daisuke: Injury is worse than expected, but surgery not a ‘concern’

05.18.11 at 6:09 pm ET
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Daisuke Matsuzaka said that he started to feel the discomfort in his right elbow against the Mariners on April 29, a start that he had to leave due to cramping in his forearm. But, the pitcher added, it “was not a big enough deal to stop from pitching.”

Even so, the right-hander ended up making concessions to the injury. He received extra rest following the Mariners start. He ended up making an appearance out of the Sox bullpen in a 13-inning loss on May 4 against the Angels, and then made his first start in nine days on May 8. He pitched well enough to earn the victory, allowing four runs in six innings, but even so, his stuff wasn’t anything like the overpowering arsenal that he’d featured in his final two starts before the Mariners game, when he allowed a combined two hits in 15 innings.

Matsuzaka, through a team translator, acknowledged that his feel on the mound had changed, and that he’d changed his pitching style to accommodate his injury. (That might help to explain the steady decline in velocity that he experienced over the last three weeks, as well as the dramatic loss of command he experienced on Monday, when he allowed seven walks in 4 1/3 innings against the Orioles. Details on those red flags are here.) Even so, he was surprised when an MRI revealed a sprained ulnar collateral ligament (the so-called Tommy John ligament) as well as a strain to his common flexor mass.

‘€œWhen I heard the result of the MRI, the condition was worse than I expected,” said Matsuzaka. “If I continued this pitching, I wouldn’€™t help the team. That’€™s how it turned out.

‘€œIn general, I could [withstand] the pain and still continue to throw before. At this point, it’€™s difficult to throw with this pain,” he went on to acknowledge. “I usually have a high tolerance, but this time it’€™s hard for me to keep throwing.”

Matsuzaka said that he is not “[concerned] about” the possibility of surgery. A team source confirmed that, while one can never say with 100 percent certainty that any pitcher will avoid surgery, in this instance, the club and pitcher are both confident that rest and rehab will suffice to allow Matsuzaka to avoid going under the knife.

So, Matsuzaka and the club remain hopeful that he will be back and able to help the club at some point. It simply remains to be seen when that will be. The pitcher won’t be allowed to throw before his re-examination in two weeks, and he will require as much time to rebuild arm strength as he spends not throwing, according to manager Terry Francona. That means at least four weeks until he is able to pitch again in a rehab setting, and quite possibly longer.

Because it will be two weeks before he is re-examined — during which time Matsuzaka cannot even pick up a ball — he may seek a second opinion of his condition. Even so, the pitcher expressed his disappointment that, for the sixth time in four years, he will land on the disabled list.

‘€œAfter this injury, I can’€™t really help the team winning, so I feel regret,” said Matsuzaka. “But I can’€™t really do anything for now, so all I can do is focus on this treatment and rehabilitation and do what I can do for now.”

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka,

Jim Leyland’s comments draw similarities to Red Sox plights

05.18.11 at 5:02 pm ET
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The Red Sox and Tigers are supposed to be two different teams, each with their own set of problems, right? Well if you listen to Detroit veteran skipper Jim Leyland, you may find the two teams, who find themselves as opponents for a two-game set on Wednesday and Thursday, have more in common than their nearly similarly mediocre 22-19 (Detroit) and 21-20 (Boston) early-season records.

Take bullpen problems.

Both the Sox and the Tigers signed relievers Bobby Jenks and Joaquin Benoit respectively to similar multiyear contracts in the offseason to serve as the potential set-up man in the eighth inning. Jenks got two years/$12 million while Benoit received a deal for three years/$16.5 million.

But after early-season struggles for both hurlers, the exact role for each appears to be much more in the air than either team could have hoped. Jenks is currently on the disabled list with right bicep problems, but the injury came after he had allowed four earned runs in his last three outings to balloon his season ERA to 9.35.

Benoit, who posted a 1.34 ERA in a one-year deal with Tampa Bay last season, similarly saw his ERA jump to 7.98 after his last appearance in which he allowed three earned in just one inning of work.

Luckily for Boston manager Terry Francona, he has Daniel Bard to fall back on as another set-up man. Leyland does not have that luxury.

When talking about his eighth-inning options before Wednesday’€™s game, the 20-year manager says he can only decide on a case-by-case basis after demoting Benoit.

‘€œI don’€™t know,’€ he said. ‘€œI can’€™t really tell you anything. We’€™ll go by feel.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

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