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The day Johan Santana made Dustin Pedroia

05.22.09 at 7:30 pm ET
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It was more than two years ago — May 5, 2007 — but Dustin Pedroia not only distinctly remembers the at-bats, but even the pitches within them.

“Fastballs,” said the Red Sox second baseman, “both of them.”

The ‘them’ is perhaps two of the most important hits of Pedroia’s career, each coming against the pitcher he hadn’t faced until Friday night at Fenway Park, Mets’ starter Johan Santana. One was a single to right field, the other coming on a ground-rule double down the left-field line. But what made the moments so memorable was the timing.

It marked the beginning of a run of success that still hasn’t been derailed.

“There’s obviously important times in season where you remember certain swings and how you felt when you did it,” Pedroia said. “Those are kind of turning points. And looking forward you take that one swing, you feel great, and you try to get that muscle memory.”

Setting the scene, Pedroia entered that game in Minnesota hitting just .180 after toiling through his first full month in the major leagues. The then-rookie had been given the day off the night before to work on an adjustment that included holding his head more upright within his batting stance.

“I was just thinking about trying to make my adjustments and make everything right,” he remembered. “I was working hard in the game on things and was hoping it would translate into games fast. I didn’t know if it was going to happen against (Santana). I got a couple of hits and walked a couple of times, then the next day I got like three hits and I just kept on going.”

In the following three games Pedroia would go 3 for 4, and then 2 for 4 on back to back occasions, boosting his average 87 points in a matter of four days. And to think, it all just happened to start against one of the best pitcher in baseball.

“Not at that time,” said Pedroia when asked if he was thinking about who he was going up against that day. “When you’re scuffling it doesn’t matter who you’re facing. You’re trying to find a way out  of it. It doesn’t matter if you’re facing a guy who has won five straight Cy Youngs or a guy with a 20 ERA. You’ve got to find a way to figure out what you need to do to get out of it.”

Read More: Dustin Pedroia, Johan Santana,

Red Sox vs. Mets Match-Ups, 5/22

05.22.09 at 3:27 pm ET
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For the first time since the Twins traded him to the Mets, Johan Santana will pitch in Fenway Park against the Red Sox.

Santana remains on the short list of the best handful of pitchers in baseball. He’s been otherworldly this year with the Mets, going 5-2 with a ridiculous 1.36 ERA. All the same, the Red Sox have had few reasons over the last couple of seasons to regret their decision to pull the trigger on a deal for the two-time Cy guy. Jon Lester offered a reminder of that notion last night, and, of course, the Sox might not have made the playoffs last year if they’d had Santana rather than Lester, Justin Masterson, Jed Lowrie and Coco Crisp.

In the bigger picture, that’s all well and good. But that will be little consolation for the Red Sox batters who will step to the plate against Santana tonight, some with a blindfold and a cigarette.

RED SOX VS. JOHAN SANTANA

In his career, Santana is 4-4 with a 3.40 ERA in 12 games (9 starts) against the Sox — excellent numbers, to be sure, but not quite as devastating as some of his performances against other clubs.

Jason Varitek has been quite impressive against the left-hander, with eight hits in 18 at-bats — somewhat surprising, given that Santana’s change is toxic to right-handed hitters. Right-handed hitters have worse numbers against Santana this year than lefties, so it will be interesting to see whether the Sox decide to use Rocco Baldelli (who has performed poorly against Santana in his career) or J.D. Drew (who has never faced the southpaw).

Julio Lugo (23 career plate appearances vs. Santana): .182 average / .217 OBP / .273 slugging
Jason Varitek (20): .444 / .500 / .611, homer
Rocco Baldelli (17): .125 / .176 / .125
David Ortiz (12): .182 / .250 / .455, homer
Mike Lowell (11): 1-for-10, walk
Jason Bay (6): 2-for-5, homer, walk
Nick Green (6): 0-for-5, walk
Dustin Pedroa (5): 2-for-5, double
J.D. Drew (3): 0-for-2, walk

METS VS. DAISUKE MATSUZAKA

Santana will oppose Daisuke Matsuzaka, in his first start since coming off the disabled list. Matsuzaka (0-1, 12.79) made just two starts this year before being shut down with arm fatigue. The Sox claim that he is strong, but the team said the same thing last year in his first appearance off the D.L. The result? The worst outing of Matsuzaka’s career, a one-inning, seven-run stinker against the Cardinals.

Matsuzaka has never faced the Mets. Indeed, only two current members of New York’s National League team have faced him. That said, the Mets might have a secret weapon in the form of Alex Cora. Though on the D.L., the former Sox infielder spent a lot of time on the field behind the right-hander (as well as watching him from the dugout). Cora is considered something of a genius when it comes to reading a pitcher’s tips. If Matsuzaka has any tells, there’s little doubt the Mets have been made aware of them.

Gary Sheffield (13 career plate appearances vs. Matsuzaka): .545 average, .615 OBP, 1.000 slugging, homer
Jeremy Reed (3): 0-for-3

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D Drew, Johan Santana,

Hunter on his first experience: It’s pretty cool

05.21.09 at 11:49 pm ET
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He arrived in the Red Sox clubhouse in Oakland on April 15 as the smiling lefty known for his “ugly” goggles on the mound.

And as he left Thursday night, headed back for life at Triple-A Pawtucket, Hunter Jones felt like he had made the most of his first major league experience with the Red Sox.

“Just the way everyone treated me was awesome.” Jones said. “There’s no experience like it and I couldn’t have asked for a better month-and-a-half. It’s pretty cool.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hunter Jones, Red Sox,

No big innings, one big burger

05.21.09 at 9:41 pm ET
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Jon Lester was charged with a run when Aaron Hill greeted reliever Ramon Ramirez with a run-scoring single immediately after the Sox starter was pulled with one out in the seventh inning — preventing Lester from getting his first scoreless outing since April 19 against Baltimore — but it was certainly encouraging enough.

As was so expertly referenced by Alex Speier earlier today, Lester’s bugaboo has been the big inning this season. Wrote Alex: 

It has been also noteworthy that Lester has been victimized for several big innings this year. In nine different innings, he’€™s allowed two or more runs:

Game 1: 4 runs – 5th inning
Game 2: 5 runs – 2nd inning
Game 4: 2 runs – 4th inning
Game 5: 2 runs – 1st inning
Game 5: 2 runs – 4th inning
Game 6: 3 runs – 5th inning
Game 7: 2 runs – 1st inning
Game 7: 6 runs – 5th inning
Game 8: 4 runs – 6th inning

Lester worked out of some jams this time around, working with runners on in six of the seven innings in which he pitched. The only frame he didn’t deal with a baserunner was the sixth. Hitters had come into the game totaling a .318 batting average with runners on base against the lefty.

As for Ramirez, it was just the fifth time in 21 chances that the righty didn’t retire his first batter. The Hill RBI also was only the second inherited runner allowed to score out of 13 opportunties.

In other Red Sox starting rotation news, Josh Beckett helped McGreevey’s unveil their newest hamburger, The Beckett Burger, which tilts the scale at 1.9 pounds. The burger costs $30, seven of which goes to Beckett’s foundation. Here is the release:

‘The McGreevy’€™s Beckett Burger is approximately the size of home plate, weighing a total 1 pound 9 ounces and features lettuce, tomatoes, pickles & cheddar cheese atop 25 ounces of 100% beef.   This monster of a meal retails for $30 with a portion of the proceeds going to the Josh Beckett Foundation.  Every McGreevy’€™s Beckett Burger order comes with a complimentary t-shirt; those who finish the burger receive a t-shirt announcing that they beat the burger; patrons who strike out and need a to-go container are given a t-shirt announcing that the burger beat them.’

Read More: Jon Lester, Josh Beckett,

Would Red, not White, made a difference to Peavy?

05.21.09 at 9:10 pm ET
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At the Red Sox continue to pull away from the Blue Jays (5-0 after five innings), let us turn our attention to happenings elsewhere in the world of baseball. In case you didn’t hear, Padres pitcher Jake Peavy has refused to be traded to the Chicago White Sox in a deal that would have sent four pitchers to San Diego. 

In a statement to reporters today, Peavy said, “”San Diego is the place for us. We’ve made that decision for the time being.”

Penny is 3-5 with a 3.82 ERA turns 28 this month and has three sons, all under the age of 8 years-old. His contract is such that after making $8 million this season, he hauls in $15 in ’10, $16 in ’11, $17 in ’12, while carrying a $22 million team option for ’13.

So, just for arguments sake, if it was the Red Sox making the deal would it have made a difference? Back in March, we caught up with Peavy regarding reports that Boston wasn’t on his list of acceptable destinations (originally reported as New York and Anaheim being the only American League clubs). But Peavy clarified his stance.

‘€œBoston was a place that I told the Padres I would certainly be interested in playing,’€ Peavy said. ‘€œI don’€™t know if there were any talks. I gave the Padres a list and Boston was on that list. Boston was a place I told the Padres I would be interested in playing at. Set that straight for sure.’€

So there you go …
Read More: jake peavy,

Rios foiled again

05.21.09 at 8:02 pm ET
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Nobody has chronicled Jason Bay’s opposite field power better than our own Alex Speier, but unfortunate Alex isn’t here at Fenway Park tonight to chronicle Bay’s latest blast the other way. You’ll have to settle for me. This time the HR didn’t come close to the 413-foot, May 7 monstrosity over the Red Sox‘ bullpen, instead bouncing off the top of the wall just in front of the Sox’ relievers. Truth be told, Blue Jays’ right fielder Alex Rios should have caught.

The home run made it 3-0 and marked the 11th straight time Bay’s home run has come with runners on base (as first referenced by our own Gary from Chapel Hill) breaking the single-season Red Sox record and bringing him within one of the all-time mark shared by Ken Griffey Jr. and Hank Aaron. David Ortiz had originally gotten the Sox on the board earlier in the first inning with a ground out that scored Jacoby Ellsbury, who led off the Sox’ half of the frame with a double down the first base line.

In case you forgot, Rios’ misadventures at Fenway previously included swatting an Alex Cora fly ball into the right field stands back on Aug. 31, 2006. It was Cora’s lone Fenway Park home run in 400 regular season plate appearances.

Read More: Alex Cora, Alex Rios, jason bay,

Smoltz hits Augusta

05.21.09 at 5:15 pm ET
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The latest leg of the John Smoltz rehab tour went through the city with one of the most famous golf courses on the planet.

Smoltz didn’t play Augusta National but rather pitched for Single-A Greenville at Augusta (Giants). He threw three scoreless innings, allowing one hit while striking out two.

“Smoltz will hopefully go three, two-plus, depending on length of innings,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said on Thursday before Smoltz took the mound. “He’s revved up to go. He feels good about himself. That’s exciting for us.”

That’s not to say Smoltz, who was married this week, won’t find time for golf after his rehab appearance is over. It just won’t be at Augusta since it is closed for the summer.

“I think he would go to Augusta every time,” Francona said. “You put a golf course in the same city, he’ll go pitch as much as you want. And knowing Smoltzy, he’ll probably get on it, too.”

Other notes from Thursday’s pregame with Francona: Hitting coach Dave Magadan is not with the team Thursday as he is attending his son’s college graduation. Alex Ochoa will take over most in-game responsibilities while Ino Guerrero will take over some unspecified pre-game responsiblities. “We’re trying to figure out what they are,” Francona joked of the batting practice pitcher who got a couple of plate appearances this past spring training.

Read More: Dave Magadan, Ino Guerrero, john smoltz, Red Sox

Dice K’s shoulder is strong

05.21.09 at 5:08 pm ET
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Red Sox skipper Terry Francona pronounced Daisuke Matsuzaka ready and able to return to the Red Sox rotation on Friday night against the New York Mets.

“I think the exciting part about Daisuke is the way he tested out. His shoulder is strong,” Francona said. “Regardless of what you see (Friday), and I hope it’s fantastic, if he’s strong, he’s a good pitcher and over the course of a lot starts that should show. That’s what we’re excited about.”

Francona was asked if he were nervous or excited for the return of the right-handed starter who was able to make just two starts in April before landing on the disabled list with a fatigue in his right shoulder.

“Probably a little bit of both,” Francona said prior to Thursday’s game. “We’re always excited. He’s worked hard and he’s done what we’ve asked him. Losing any pitcher is not a lot of fun. You lose those innings, you’ve got to replace them somewhere else. We were very fortunate we had (Justin) Masterson that was able to do that but then it took away some of the bullpen.

Ramon (Ramirez) has been in a lot of games,” Francona added. “That part excites me too, getting Masty back there where we can ease the burden on some guys.

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox,

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Match-Ups, 5/21

05.21.09 at 4:54 pm ET
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Another day, another anonymous Blue Jays starter. Today, it is Bobby Ray who does the honors tonight. Ray is right-handed. Aside from that, there’s not a whole lot of information out there. He’s 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in three starts, including his first big-league win in his most recent start against the White Sox.

As Jon Lester looks to correct course in 2009, he faces a Blue Jays team against whom he is 1-2 with a 3.94 ERA in five career starts. Here’s how the Jays have done against him over the years:

Kevin Millar (19 career plate appearances vs. Lester): .231 average / .421 OBP / .308 slugging
Alex Rios (16): .357 / .438 / .500
Vernon Wells (15): .182 / .400 / .455, homer
Lyle Overbay (12): .273 / .333 / .364
Jose Bautista (10): .333 / .300 / .667, homer
Marco Scutaro (10): 2-for-9, double, walk
Scott Rolen (9): 2-for-8, walk
John McDonald (8): 1-for-6, hit by pitch
Aaron Hill (6): 0-for-5, walk
Adam Lind (5): 1-for-4, walk
Rod Barajas (2): 0-for-1, walk

Read More: bobby ray, Jon Lester,

A Look at Jon Lester’s Early Struggles

05.21.09 at 2:52 pm ET
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It is not health. It is not stuff. Jon Lester is still strong as an ox, still features a mid-90s fastball with life, a curveball that gives left-handers fits and a cutter that eats the hands of right-handers. He’s striking out a remarkable 10.3 batters per nine innings, second in the American League.

“His stuff is still tremendous,” reaffirmed Sox catcher Jason Varitek.

Yet his results to this point have not been. Lester has given up 13 runs and 18 hits in his last 10 innings, spanning two straight losses. He is 2-4 with a 6.51 ERA, and has delivered quality starts in just three of his eight outings. He’s allowed at least five earned runs in five outings, having given up such a total one more time than he did in all of 2008.

So, if his stuff is as good as it was a year ago, what gives?

For the most part, the difference has simply been precision. Last year, Lester lived in the bottom of the strike zone, getting grounders in droves while also keeping the ball in the park (0.6 homers per nine innings). He had three different streaks of four games without permitting a homer. This year, his mistakes have been up in the strike zone, allowing opponents to hit a somewhat startling 10 homers against him (1.9 per nine innings) through the first quarter of the season.

“There’€™s no physical issues. It’€™s a matter of consistent command to quality locations of the zone,” said pitching coach John Farrell. “He’€™s given more opportunities up in the zone for balls to travel. Where he was dominant in the bottom of the zone last year, with a little more consistent strikes to his arm side of the plate, those are two areas that we continue to stress.”

It has been also noteworthy that Lester has been victimized for several big innings this year. In nine different innings, he’s allowed two or more runs:

Game 1: 4 runs – 5th inning
Game 2: 5 runs – 2nd inning
Game 4: 2 runs – 4th inning
Game 5: 2 runs – 1st inning
Game 5: 2 runs – 4th inning
Game 6: 3 runs – 5th inning
Game 7: 2 runs – 1st inning
Game 7: 6 runs – 5th inning
Game 8: 4 runs – 6th inning

The difference between an ability to limit damage to a single run, versus permitting a bunch of crooked numbers, typically represents the fine line between a quality and even dominating outing and one in which a pitcher is left to shake his head. In Lester’s case, it would appear that there is quite a bit of head-shaking at work, to the point where certain innings have seemed to snowball as the 25-year-old has grown frustrated.

“Because the results haven’€™t been there, sometime the frustration within the game gets compounded. Yet that can begin to blind game awareness between the line,” said Farrell. “Getting back to his core beliefs and what he trusts most about his physical abilities then executing those. If a pitch isn’€™t called or a play isn’€™t made, don’€™t make more with it. Maintain a relentless approach going forward.”

Because Lester’s abilities are still evident in the quality of his stuff, the Sox are confident that he has a good chance to rediscover the formula that permitted him immense success a year ago. All the same, his unexpected early-season run of difficulty offers a reminder, in some respects, of the fact that Lester is not yet a finished product. Despite his emergence in 2008, Varitek has cautioned since spring training that Lester is still a developing pitcher who must endure some of the inconsistencies of being in just his second full major-league season.

“I think everybody forgets every once in a while that he’€™s still pretty youthful. I believe he’€™ll be better in September than he is on April 1,” said Varitek. “The stuff is there. It’€™s just a matter of consistent execution. That’€™s still part of him, at this point in his career, learning Jon…He’€™s just one good start from putting it all together.”

Read More: Jason Varitek, jon farrell, Jon Lester,
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