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Sunday’s Red Sox-Pirates matchups: Andrew Miller vs. James McDonald

06.26.11 at 1:00 am ET
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The Red Sox and their fans will get a second look at Andrew Miller since his call-up to the big club when the lefty takes the hill Sunday afternoon against the Pirates and their starter James McDonald.

Miller (0-0, 4.76 ERA) looked good but not spectacular in his first start for Boston last Monday in a 14-5 win over San Diego. Through the first five frames of the contest, the 26-year-old didn’€™t allow a single run before offering a meatball that was crushed by Orlando Hudson for a three-run bomb into the Monster seats. When Anthony Rizzo smashed a double to the 420-foot mark in center that would’€™ve been a homer in any other park, Red Sox manager Terry Francona yanked Miller one out before he would have been credited with a quality win. In addition to the three earned runs, Miller also allowed seven hits and three walks while striking out six. The former sixth-overall draft pick posted a 3-3 record for Triple-A Pawtucket to go with a 2.47 ERA and 61 strikeouts over 65 2/3 innings.

The Pirates as a team haven’€™t had much experience against Miller, who has bounced up and down between the majors and minors since being seen as the best pitcher in the 2007 draft. Pittsburgh outfielder Matt Diaz is the only player with more than three plate appearances against the lefty with 15, dating back to the pair’€™s time in the NL East (Diaz with Atlanta, Miller with Florida). Diaz, who has yet to knock one of the park this season, is 4-for-13 with a home run and .938 OPS against Miller.

McDonald (5-4, 4.86 ERA) has had a lot more experience at the major-league level this season than his Sunday counterpart as he will make his 16th start of 2011. The right-hander has performed well as of late with 3-1 record and 3.46 ERA over his last seven starts. That being said, he has proven to be hittable over that time with a .295 batting average-against. Before any Red Sox fan or member of the organization gets too excited about that last stat, consider the 26-year-old’€™s home-away splits. On the road, McDonald has not pitched well at all, going 3-3 with a 6.25 ERA, but at the friendly (and beautiful) confines of PNC Park, he is 2-1 and has seen his ERA nearly cut in half at 3.43.

Most of the Red Sox lineup, including of course Miller himself, will be taking their first cuts against McDonald. Only Adrian Gonzalez (3-for-5, walk) and Mike Cameron (0-for-2) have faced McDonald. Interestingly enough, Darnell McDonald has never faced his cousin ‘€“ Darnell and James’€™s fathers are brothers ‘€“ in the majors but no word as of yet about how any backyard battles played out during family gatherings. Read the rest of this entry »

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Live Blog: Red Sox, Tim Wakefield look to bounce back against Bucs

06.25.11 at 3:28 pm ET
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Red Sox vs. Pirates, Live Blog

Jim Lonborg on Sports Saturday: ‘Not a big fan of DH’

06.25.11 at 1:20 pm ET
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Red Sox pitching legend Jim Lonborg talked with Sports Saturday about the issue that is dominating the radiowaves and TV screens across the country: interleague play in modern baseball. While others talk about their dislike for the practice, Lonborg told WEEI that he actually enjoys seeing the AL and NL battle it out.

“I absolutely love it now. I wasn’t a big fan of it in the beginning. But I think in terms of getting to know some of the other ballplayers that are playing professionally and have great skills, I think it’s a great opportunity for people who love baseball to be able to see the other talent in the other league.”

That being said, Lonborg, who pitched in Boston from 1965-71 before the designated hitter rule came in to effect in 1973, said he’s not particularly enthused about the DH’s role in the modern game.

“I’m not a big fan of the DH,” Lonborg said. “Being able to have played in the American League into the early 70’s then going to the National League and always have pitchers hit, I just thought there was a lot to think about managing a ballgame, managing players. I think there was lot more for fans to watch and figure out the moves you would make over the course of a game. But it’s the way it is. Just try to enjoy the DH.”

Hosts John Ryder and Kirk Minihane also asked the former Cy Young winner to address what is behind the struggles of John Lackey, whose 7.36 ERA is the highest among AL pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched.

“Well, I’ve tried to figure out what’s happening with him,” Lonborg said. “I know that personally he has a lot going on in his life. I have a feeling that distracts from any professional. I don’t think anybody can walk away from a situation like his with a clear head. But I think he’s doing the best he can. I just hope he’s healthy. I think that when you get the kind of contract that he got and yet he’s a pitcher – and pitchers are susceptible to all sorts of injuries – that you make that kind of money and you get an injury, it looks worse than if you weren’t making big money and got an injury.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Saturday’s Red Sox-Pirates matchups: Tim Wakefield vs. Jeff Karstens

06.25.11 at 10:04 am ET
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Say what you will about interleague play, but every now and again Bud Selig‘€™s brainchild produces an interesting storyline or two. For the Red Sox alone, those attention-grabbing tidbits have included the Cubs return to Fenway Park for the first time since 1918 and the team’€™s upcoming series with the Phillies in what many are predicting will be a World Series preview. Saturday’€™s matchup will be just the latest in the line of those interleague tales when Red Sox starting pitcher Tim Wakefield takes the mound in Pittsburgh for the first time since 1993 when he was wearing a Pirates uniform. The home team will counter the knuckleballer with righty Jeff Karstens.

To put how long it’€™s been since Wakefield (4-2, 4.26 ERA) was last on the hill in Pittsburgh (Sept. 30, 1993 to be precise), consider this. The 1993 season was the Pirates’€™ first since Barry Bonds left the Steel City for San Francisco; the slugger had won his second MVP award in 1992 with a then-career-high of 34 home runs. It wouldn’€™t be another eight years until the Buccos would leave the now-nonexistent Three Rivers Stadium for the gorgeous PNC Park on the banks of the Allegheny. Bruins first-round draft pick Dougie Hamilton, born June 17, 1993, was only three months old at the time.

The Pirates would send Wakefield to the minors in 1994 and cut him altogether in the spring of 1995, leading the corner-infielder-turned-knuckleballer to consider retirement before inking a contract with the Red Sox. To say the rest is history may be a bit of an understatement. The 44-year-old pitcher, who is the oldest active player in the majors, is now third in team history with 183 wins and second with 1,984 strikeouts.

This season, Wakefield has again had to work back from a demotion and again has flourished despite the adversity. After the starting the season in the bullpen, the knuckleballer is 4-0 in his last five starts with 4.09 ERA and a small .198 batting average-against. With Daisuke Matsuzaka out for the rest of the season, the Sox may need Wakefield to maintain those numbers going forward as he maintains his position as a bottom-of-the-rotation starter.

Because of their position in the NL, most of the Pirates on the active roster have never seen Wakefield’€™s dancing pitches. Former Blue Jay Lyle Overbay is the only player with any significant experience against the Boston starter, going 9-for-27 with a home run, 5 RBI and a .919 OPS.

Although Karstens’€™s (4-4, 2.54) start may seem overshadowed by Wakefield’€™s return to western Pennsylvania, the righty is actually statistically the better pitcher in 2011. His 2.54 ERA is the best on the Pittsburgh staff and is fifth-best in the senior circuit after he too began the year in the bullpen. In four starts in the month of June, Karstens has only allowed two earned runs and hasn’€™t allowed more than three earned runs in any start since April 17.

That being said, the Red Sox have had some success against the Pittsburgh starter with some facing him while he played for Pittsburgh and others while he donned a Yankees uniform for two years in 2006 and 2007. Karstens has failed to retire Kevin Youkilis (3-for-3, walk) thus far and allowed a home run and double to David Ortiz in just three at-bats. Still, eight of Boston’€™s 13 position players on the roster have yet to step into the box against Karstens. Read the rest of this entry »

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Josh Beckett: ‘I’m about 60 percent right now’

06.25.11 at 7:31 am ET
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PITTSBURGH — Josh Beckett said prior the Red Sox‘ series opener against the Pirates at PNC Park Friday night that he felt significantly better after being bed-ridden with flu-like symptoms for much of the week. The starter, who could be seen running the stadium stairs earlier in the afternoon, is planning on throwing his normal side session Saturday in preparation of starting Tuesday in Philadelphia.

“I’m about 60 percent right now. Yesterday I was at 50 percent, and I was down to 10 or 15 percent the day before that. I didn’t brush my teeth until 8 p.m. Wednesday night,” he said. “I couldn’t get out of bed.”

Beckett already had seen his scheduled start last Tuesday pushed to Saturday due to the illness. But when the symptoms didn’t improve as the week progressed, another adjustment needed to be made.

“I knew I had to have a really good day yesterday, but I didn’t have a really good day,” Beckett explained. “When you’re talking about muscle fatigue and stuff you’re taking a chance of really setting yourself back. I could kind of see the writing on the wall when I tried to long loss. It was like gravity ball.”

Beckett leads the major leagues with an 1.86 ERA, while holding opponents to a big league-low .174 batting average.

For more Red Sox news, go to the team page at weei.com/redsox.

Bruised nerve the culprit in Jed Lowrie’s shoulder woes

06.25.11 at 7:27 am ET
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PITTSBURGH — Both Jed Lowrie and Red Sox manager Terry Francona said prior to their teams’ series opener against the Pirates at PNC Park Friday that it had been determined that a nerve in Lowrie’s left shoulder had shut down the muscles in the area, leading to the injury that landed him on the 15-day disabled list.

Lowrie, who has been suffering with soreness in the area since colliding left fielder Carl Crawford May 27,  had sought a second opinion with Dr. Lewis Yocum earlier this week after an initial diagnosis had shown no structural damage to the shoulder.

“The nerve shut down the whole area,” Lowrie said. “We knew the [scapula] wasn’t moving properly and the shoulder had some weakness. I was never told anything about the nerve.

“It’s going to be hard work to move properly and get that strength back, but I think we have a heading at this point and know exactly what is going on.”

Francona said there is no timetable for the return of Lowrie, who was placed on the disabled list June 17.

“There’s no getting around he bruised that nerve so it shut down the muscles a little bit, which is what happens. That happens you lose strength, you take a swing, it probably felt like it popped out, and maybe it did a little bit. We’ve got to get that thing to calm down and get his strength back so he can be the player we want,” Francona said. “The good news is structurally he’s in good shape. Some of the worst case scenarios were eliminated. But he’s sore and I think the doctors recognize that so we just have to get it better.”

Lowrie had been in a 1-for-18 slump prior to hitting the DL, and is batting .270 with a .723 OPS with three home runs for the season.

For more Red Sox news, go to the team page at weei.com/redsox.

Jon Lester wasn’t the problem for the Red Sox Friday night

06.24.11 at 11:47 pm ET
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PITTSBURGH — It wasn’t vintage Jon Lester, but it was certainly good enough to win on most nights. Just not this one.

Lester suffered his first loss on the road this season, taking the defeat in the Pirates’ 3-1 win over the Red Sox Friday night at PNC Park. The lefty succumbed to two runs in the third inning (one of which came on a bases-loaded double play), and another in the sixth before exiting for pinch-hitter Josh Reddick to lead off the seventh.

When it was all said and done Lester had surrendered two earned runs on eight hits, striking out five and walking one in six innings and 107 pitches. It was ample ammunition to keep the starter moving in an optimistic direction.

“I kept the ball down. Other than two hits tonight, everything else was not squared up,” he said. “I’€™ll take my chances with that every time.”

In his last three outings, Lester has allowed six earned runs over 22 innings, striking out 21 and walking five. His ERA stands at 3.66, and his health appears to be solid.

It’s not mind-blowing, but it is good enough.

“I worry about getting outs. I don’€™t want to give up any runs, let alone three,” he said. “It was a battle tonight, but I thought I threw the ball pretty well.”

Closing Time: Red Sox can’t find offense in losing series opener to Pirates

06.24.11 at 10:15 pm ET
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PITTSBURGH — David Ortiz didn’t start, but he did find his moment to shine. Unfortunately for the Red Sox and their designated hitter, the clouds never truly lifted at PNC Park Friday night, resulting in a 3-1 win for the Pirates in their series-opener against the Sox.

With the tying runs at second and third with two outs in the eighth inning, Ortiz was called upon to pinch-hit for reliever Tommy Hottovy. But the DH, who had been forced to sit with the pitcher hitting in the National League park, could only rifle a hard grounder up the middle, which was grabbed by shortstop Ronny Cedeno and turned into the inning’s final out.

The out stranded both Darnell McDonald and J.D. Drew, and made the Sox 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position for the night. The Red Sox stranded 11 runners in total.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– With two outs and the bases loaded in the third inning, McDonald ‘€“ the Red Sox’€™ No. 5 hitter for the night ‘€“ stepped to the plate against Pittsburgh starter Paul Maholm. The outfielder promptly grounded out to third, ending the threat, while David Ortiz ‘€“ the Sox’€™ usual five-hole hitter — was forced to watch from the bench.

– Up until his eighth-inning, leadoff single, McDonald had a tough game all around. The outfielder left six runners on base in his first three at-bats, and then was slow getting to a Chase D’€™Arnaud drive to left in the fifth, resulting in two-out triple.

– With Ronny Cedeno having led off the third with a bunt single, former Red Sox farmhand Mike McKenry lined a shot to shallow right field. After getting a poor jump, Mike Cameron attempted to make up the ground only to come up short and allow the ball to sneak behind him for a double. Both players would ultimately score.

– For just the second time in Lester’€™s career, the lefty walked the opposing pitcher. This time free pass proved costly, with Maholm taking first to load the bases with nobody out in what turned into a two-run inning. The last instance of Lester walking a pitcher came in 2006.

Kevin Youkilis had a tough sixth inning, first watching Neil Walker’€™s grounder down the third base line glance off his glove, and then misplaying what should have been a double play ground ball off the bat of Matt Diaz. The immediate result was another run for the Pirates thanks to Lyle Overbay‘€™s single. It was Youkilis’€™ fifth error of the season.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– In a good move by Youkilis at the time, the third baseman allowed a slow roller from Cedeno to go past him at the last minute. The play — which came with nobody out, and runners on first and third in the fourth inning, — resulted in a foul ball instead of a run-scoring infield single. Cedeno ultimately popped out to second for the inning’€™s first out. Mike McKenry would follow with an inning-ending double play.

Jason Varitek continued to quietly establish himself as one of the league’€™s better offensive catchers over the past few months, notching two more hits. He now has hits in 15 of his last 18 starts and has hit safely in nine straight games. His .869 OPS since May 1 was sixth-best among big league catchers coming into Friday. He also executed a perfect sacrifice bunt in the eighth inning, moving runners to second and third.

– Lester pitched well enough to win despite allowing eight hits over six innings. The lefty struck out five and walked one, surrendering two earned runs while throwing 107 pitches. He also had two decent at-bats, lining sharply to left field in his first plate appearance of the season, and almost dropping in a hit over shortstop in his second time up.

Live Blog: Follow all the action from PNC Park as Red Sox take on Pirates

06.24.11 at 5:49 pm ET
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Red Sox-Pirates Live Blog

Red Sox sign three more college right-handed pitchers

06.24.11 at 3:33 pm ET
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The Red Sox announced the signings of three more draft picks on Friday, adding three college right-handers: Matty Ott of Louisiana State and Braden Kapteyn of Kentucky and Joe Holtmeyer of the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

13th round (No. 412): Matty Ott, RHP, Louisiana State University

The 6-foot-2 right-hander looked like a coming star as a freshman in 2009, when he struck out 69 and walked six as a teammate of Sox prospect Anthony Ranaudo on LSU’€™s national champion squad. Ott was the closer, setting an LSU record with 16 saves, mostly on the strength of a wipeout slider. But his performance moved backwards from that point, as he had a 6.38 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 21 walks in 42 1/3 innings as a sophomore. He threw just 27 2/3 innings this year, with improved strikeout-to-walk numbers (27:7), a 2.60 ERA and six saves, but nothing akin to what he did as a freshman.

Still, he was a Cape League All-Star last summer while forging a 0.44 ERA, striking out 19 and walking four in 20 1/3 innings last summer, and he looked sharp at times this year, with a swing-and-miss secondary offering to complement his high-80s to low-90s fastball. He will be developed by the Sox as a reliever, a seemingly natural fit for a pitcher with a low three-quarters arm angle.

Ott’s signing was delayed slightly when he became ill just before flying to Boston to sign and report to the Spinners. And so, the right-hander required a bit of extra time to get healthy before taking his physical, but he is now set to join the Lowell Spinners after signing a five-figure bonus.

15th round (No. 472): Braden Kapteyn, 1B/RHP, University of Kentucky Read the rest of this entry »

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