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Peter Gammons on M&M: Red Sox catching ‘still a precarious situation’

04.27.11 at 2:02 pm ET
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Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons made his weekly appearance on the Mut & Merloni show Wednesday. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

A recurring theme in the discussion was the financial restraints the Red Sox and other major league teams are dealing with this season. Gammons took a question about Marco Scutaro accepting a utility role (now that he’s been replaced by Jed Lowrie as starting shortstop) and showed how the finances will play a key role in Scutaro’s future in Boston.

“I think he’d accept [the utility role].” Gammons said. “I think the question is going to be: Do the Red Sox feel they need to clear his money to be able to get a catcher or another pitcher in time if they need one. I think that would be a question. I think a lot of teams ‘€” I know the Mets would love to have Scutaro play second base, but they don’t want to pay him. There’s one of the problems that you run into. He’s an ideal utility guy, because he can play second, short and third, and he’s so great around the clubhouse. But the question is, Do you want to pay that kind of money if indeed ownership doesn’t want to go any further until the trading deadline and you need another catcher and it costs 5, 6 million dollars.”

Asked if the Red Sox have extended themselves close to their financial limit, Gammons said: “I think so. And I think that will change in the middle of the season. The Phillies are going through the same thing. [Phillies general manager] Ruben Amaro said last week ‘€” the question was posted actually about Scutaro, because they still don’t know when [injured second baseman] Chase Utley‘s coming back. They can say bravely, ‘He’ll be back at the end of May.’ They don’t know that. The thinking was Scutaro’s the perfect guy. And Ruben said, ‘I have no more money. We can’t make any moves.’

“I think a lot of teams went right to the luxury tax threshold and spent a lot of money and said, ‘OK, we’re not spending any more until we desperately need something. So, figure out what’s wrong.’ I think the Red Sox, the Angels, the Phillies, Texas, the White Sox, I think a lot of them are in that position right now.”

Added Gammons: “I think most teams in baseball this winter, I think most of the big-market teams spent to their limit before the season. I hear that from the Phillies, I hear it from the White Sox, I heard it from the Tigers, I hear it from a lot of people. It’s not unusual, but people don’t want to add money right now. And they’re not sure where the economy’s going, they’re not sure where the labor agreement is going ‘€” although I still don’t believe the labor agreement is going to greatly impact the game. But a lot of teams just are holding. It’s not just the Dodgers and Mets, it’s a lot of teams.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, carl crawford, jarrod saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek

Wednesday’s Red Sox-Orioles matchups: Josh Beckett vs. Jeremy Guthrie

04.27.11 at 9:56 am ET
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The Red Sox should be happy to see Jeremy Guthrie on the mound for the Orioles Wednesday night. The veteran right-hander is just 1-7 in his career against Boston and current Sox hitters are batting .312 against him.

Of the eight Sox who have at least 20 at-bats against Guthrie, seven of them are hitting .296 or better. The only one who isn’€™t is Jason Varitek (.227 in 22 ABs). Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury are both hitting .366 or better, and Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz each have three home runs off Guthrie.

Guthrie is just 1-3 so far this season, but he has a solid 3.12 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. He has gone six or more innings and given up two or fewer runs in three of his four starts. Most recently, he went seven innings and gave up two runs on seven hits in a tough-luck loss to the Twins.

For the Red Sox, Josh Beckett (2-1, 1.93 ERA) looks to continue his string of great starts. In his last three outings, he has given up just three runs on eight hits and five walks while striking out 24 in 23 innings.

Beckett has had success against Baltimore in his career, registering a 6-3 record and 3.53 ERA in 14 starts. Current Orioles, however, are hitting .300 against the righty. Vladimir Guerrero, Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts and Luke Scott all have at least a .298 average, at least one homer and at least four RBIs against Beckett. Derrek Lee has a pair of solo shots in just six career at-bats against him. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Jeremy Guthrie, Josh Beckett, Orioles, Red Sox

Jerry Remy on D&C: Jarrod Saltalamacchia ‘going to have to get involved’

04.27.11 at 9:53 am ET
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NESN Red Sox analyst Jerry Remy made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Wednesday morning, following Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Orioles that snapped the Sox’ five-game winning streak. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Remy remains confident that the Boston bats will soon heat up. “I truly believe that this team’s going to hit. I really do,” he said. “I think it’s going to be one of the top offenses in the league.”

The player most below expectations is newcomer Carl Crawford. “This couldn’t have been his worst dream to come out and play like this the first month of the season,” Remy said. “It’s almost like a year ago with David Ortiz, with the kind of month he had in April, and everybody was ready to bury him, and bench him, and play Mike Lowell, and get rid of him, release him ‘€” it’s that kind of month that he’s having. It is one month out of the season. I mean, the guy’s got a track record. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen it over and over again against us. He’s going to do it. You’re waiting for that day for it to click in.”

With the team’s struggles against left-handers, Remy predicts changes to the lineup when southpaws start against the Sox. “There’ll be adjustments in time,” he said. “There’s going to have to be, because this formula’s not working right now.”

Adrian Gonzalez also hasn’t live up to the preseason hype, with just one home run and a .281 average heading into Wednesday’s action. Part of the problem is his failure to use the opposite field. “Once he gets that inside-out swing going, I think that you’re going to see the home run totals go,” Remy said, although he noted: “[Opposing pitchers are] smart, too. They’re also pitching him in. He hasn’t seen many pitches out over the plate. A lot of these pitchers have been pitching him in in the early part of the season, so it’s been almost impossible for him to take that ball the other way.

“But it will all even out. He’s too good a hitter. I don’t think the shoulder’s an issue at all. He’s been out there every day, he’s been diving for ground balls. I think he’s just fine. I haven’t heard a word about the shoulder. I think it’s just a matter of time. When that swing comes, look out, because he’s going to put up some big numbers.”

Touching on the pitching staff, Remy said Clay Buchholz isn’t that far away from finding his winning form. “He has not had his real good stuff yet,” Remy said. “He hasn’t had a game, in my opinion, where all of his pitches are working for him. ‘€¦ I think that’s going to come for him.”

Backup catcher Jason Varitek has earned some additional starts with Jarrod Saltalamacchia having some early season issues. “I just think they feel more comfortable with [Varitek] behind the plate right now defensively,” Remy said, adding: “I don’t think it’s burying [Saltalamacchia]. I think it’s just more of trying to let him observe, watch, and see what the correct way to do things are. I think he’s just really happy to be here. I don’t see any problem with that.

“Now, we’ll see what happens as time goes on. Because like I said, you can’t catch Varitek every day. This guy’s going to have to get involved, and he’s going to have to play good. And what they want him to do is just catch good. They don’t really care about the offense.”

As for the Bruins, Remy predicts a 5-2 victory over the Canadiens in Game 7.

Read More: adrian gonzalez, carl crawford, Clay Buchholz, David Ortiz

Adrian Gonzalez: ‘Right now, I’m searching’

04.26.11 at 10:53 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — On the surface, it would hardly seem to be a crisis for Adrian Gonzalez. The first baseman hasn’t exactly been tearing the cover off the ball, but he’s hitting a respectable .281 with a .354 OBP and .416 slugging mark.

Even so, those are not the numbers that the Sox signed him to produce, and they are not the numbers that Gonzalez expects from himself. Nor, for that matter, is Gonzalez producing the kind of at-bats that he expects of himself.

Gonzalez’ frustration with his own performance became acute in Tuesday night’s 4-1 Red Sox loss to the Orioles, in a situation when he had an opportunity to position his team for a potential win. The Sox trailed, 2-1, in the top of the fifth inning, and impressive young O’s starter Zach Britton was emitting his first hint of vulnerability.

The Sox amassed a two-out rally, as Jason Varitek singled and advanced to third on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s double to right. Britton walked Dustin Pedroia to load the bases for Gonzalez with two outs.

Britton got ahead, 1-2, but then threw exactly the pitch that Gonzalez was expecting the rookie to throw: A fastball away. But rather than drive that pitch, Gonzalez rolled over it feebly, bouncing it harmlessly to second base for an inning- and rally-ending fielder’s choice.

“I should have put it in play better than that. It’€™s one of those things where if I’€™m feeling really comfortable at the plate, normally I’€™d hit it to left field. I can’€™t say it would have been a hit or anything. But I don’€™t pull off or top it,” said Gonzalez, on a night when he went 1-for-4 with the hit being a double to left in his fourth and final at-bat, after the game had been essentially decided. “I’€™m pulling off of everything. My last at-bat is one of the few at-bats where I stayed on the pitch. It’€™s one of those things for me where, right now, I’€™m searching. I feel good. I’€™m getting my hits. But it’€™s not exactly where I’€™d like to be.”

Gonzalez said that even when he got off to a good start this year, he wasn’t comfortable at the plate, and that he has struggled with his pitch recognition, helping to explain why he has a relatively modest nine walks (compared to 15 strikeouts) thus far this year. He did say that the issue was purely mechanical, rather than physical. In particular, he ruled out the idea that his limited production (one homer, 12 RBI) or his 17-game stretch without a homer (the sixth longest of his career) was related to his surgically repaired right shoulder.

“No, no. It’€™s definitely not that. It’€™s just mechanical,” insisted Gonzalez. “Things happen. Aprils are usually like this for me. But for me it’€™s a good thing that I’€™m right around .280 feeling this way. … It’€™s something that I’€™ve got to work through it. If I’€™m feeling really good in that situation, I hit the ball better than that. But it’€™s one of those things where he made a good pitch, I guess.”

Closing Time: Orioles 4, Red Sox 1

04.26.11 at 9:58 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — The Red Sox and Orioles had been on divergent paths. The Sox arrived in Baltimore on a tear, winning eight of nine on the shoulders of dominant starting pitcher performances. The O’s, meanwhile, were in a 2-11 tailspin.

But something happened on the way to Baltimore. Clay Buchholz once again struggled, allowing 12 hits (the most he’s ever permitted in his career) and giving up four runs to an Orioles team that had scored three or fewer runs in seven of its prior nine games.

On a night when the Sox could muster few threats and did little with the baserunners that they had, the Orioles were able to claim a 4-1 victory that snapped Boston’s five-game winning streak.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–It wasn’t so much that anything was dramatically wrong with the outing of Clay Buchholz. But he continued to fall well short of the lofty standards he set last year in a dominating All-Star campaign.

Buchholz didn’t allow a ton of hard contact over his 6 1/3 innings, but the Orioles collected 12 hits against the right-hander, the most Buchholz has ever given up in a game. A year after he held opponents to a .226 average, Buchholz is being hit at a .312 clip this season. In his five starts, he has yet to turn in a single quality start, having failed to meet the stat’s standard of at least six innings pitched while permitting three or fewer earned runs. His ERA for the year now sits at 5.33.

Adrian Gonzalez continued to offer little run production in the third spot in the order against the Orioles. He went 1-for-4 and stranded four runners, most notably when he stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth, at a time when O’s starter Zach Britton appeared to be on the ropes. But Britton jumped ahead, 1-2, then got Gonzalez to dribble a 93 mph fastball to second for an inning-ending force out. Though Gonzalez lined a leadoff double to left in the eighth, he faltered in the pivotal at-bat of the game.

The Sox have just 7 RBI from their third spot in the lineup this season, tied for their fewest from any spot in the lineup. Gonzalez’ 17 games without a homer (16 of which have come from the third spot in the order) represent the sixth longest drought of his career.

–Too much of Orioles starter Zach Britton, whose nasty low-90s sinker had the Sox chasing pitches below the strike zone for much of the night. The Sox managed few baserunners in his six innings, collecting just five hits (four singles and a double) and walking twice. Boston did little with its few chances against him, as Gonzalez left the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth and Carl Crawford flew out to deep center with two on and two outs in the sixth.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Dustin Pedroia continued to play with an abandon and impact that would suggest his broken left foot of last season is firmly in the past. After the Sox had been no-hit through three innings, Pedroia took it upon himself to put his team on the board against Orioles starter Zach Britton in the fourth. He singled up the middle, advanced to second on an Adrian Gonzalez grounder, stole third with one out and then scored on a Kevin Youkilis sac fly, winning a challenge against the strong right arm of Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones.

Pedroia also helped to stifle an Orioles rally in the bottom of the fourth, making a terrific diving stop of a Nick Markakis grounder to his left.

Jacoby Ellsbury sustained a recent run of modest success. He rifled a bullet that was caught by O’s third baseman Mark Reynolds to end the third, then ripped a two-out double to right field on a Zach Britton fastball, an impressive sign against the talented lefty. He later lined out to first baseman Derek Lee when facing reliever Jim Johnson.

On a day when he went just 1-for-4, the center fielder continued to make solid contact from the leadoff spot. Ellsbury now has hit .318 (7-for-22) over his recent five-game hitting streak. That said, it is worth noting that he saw just nine pitches in his four at-bats.

David Ortiz continued to put together good at-bats against left-handers, going 1-for-2 with a walk against Britton. Ortiz is now hitting .360 (9-for-25) against southpaws this year.

Red Sox at Orioles Live Blog, April 26

04.26.11 at 7:16 pm ET
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Red Sox at Orioles Live Blog

Red Sox Pre-Game Notes: Why Jason Varitek is getting more playing time

04.26.11 at 6:00 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — In the end, the results were too glaring to ignore. Red Sox pitchers have a 2.07 ERA in 10 games with Jason Varitek behind the plate, and a 6-2 record entering Tuesday when he is in the starting lineup. When Jarrod Saltalamacchia is behind the plate, the team’s pitchers have a 6.14 ERA and a 4-9 record when he gets the start.

And so, even though the Sox have won the last couple games started by Saltalmacchia, it has been hard for manager Terry Francona to ignore how the pitchers have done with his 39-year-old captain behind the plate. And so, with Clay Buchholz pitching for the Sox, Francona decided that he would have Varitek start, something that he plans to repeat on Wednesday with Josh Beckett on the mound.

“I said [Varitek would] catch more than the average backup catcher and some of it will be determined on production and how guys are going. He’€™s been catching so well,” said Francona. “Right-handed [the side from which Varitek will bat against Orioles left-handed starter Zach Britton] is where he should play. I know he’€™s not swung the bat yet. I just think it made some sense. We’€™re playing pretty well with both of them. Sort of have a hole to dig ourselves out of and I think sometimes, just trying to play guys to help us win. Right now it’€™s important.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, jarrod saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek

Nuggetpalooza: “The Book” On O’s Starter Zach Britton

04.26.11 at 2:55 pm ET
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Here’s the (admittedly thin) book on Zach Britton, the starting pitcher for the Orioles tonight. Keep in mind that the “points per pitch” (ppp) figures are from a simple pitch result scoring system that I developed where pitches that help the pitcher’s team (strikes, strikeouts, and batted ball outs) receive positive points, while negative results (balls, walks, HBP, hits) receive negative points.

Warning: If too many numbers make your head hurt, either stop here or get the headache remedy ready!

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ZACH BRITTON – BALTIMORE ORIOLES – Throws: Left

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* – Vs Left Handed Batters – +0.17 ppp; 24.1 percent of swings taken missed; 80 percent fastballs;

 2-Seam Fastball: 49%; +0.20 ppp; 16% of swings missed; Opponents are 6-for-18 (.333) with a HR and .868 OPS;
 4-Seam Fastball: 31%; +0.19 ppp; 23% of swings missed; Opponents are 0-for-3 with 2 walks;
 Change: 8%; +0.90 ppp; Opps are 1-for-3 with 2 strikeouts; 3-of-5 swings missed;
 Slider: 7%; -0.75 ppp; Opps are 1-for-1;
 Curve: 5%; -0.29 ppp; Only 2-of-7 curves to lefties thrown for strikes.

Other notes vs. LHB: Britton has been much more effective when even or behind on the count vs. lefties (+0.34 ppp; 99 pitches) than when he’s ahead (-0.63 ppp; 22 pitches)… He’s gone to his non-fastball stuff more often when ahead (36% of pitches) and has scuffled with it (-1.50 ppp vs MLB avg +0.45)… It’s a ridiculously small sample (8 non-fastballs to LHB when ahead), but that -1.50 ppp is currently the worst in MLB.

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* – Vs Right Handed Batters – +0.43 ppp; 25.7 percent of swings have missed; 81 percent fastballs;
 
 2-Seam Fastball: 62%; +0.33 ppp; 21% of swings missed; Opponents are 7-for-37 (.189) with .566 OPS;
 4-Seam Fastball: 19%; +0.21 ppp; 25% of swings missed; Opponents are 5-for-16 (.313) with 2 walks;
 Change: 12%; +1.15 ppp; Opps are 0-for-6; 35% of swings missed; 72% thrown for strikes;
 Curve: 5%; +1.00 ppp;
 Slider: 2%; -0.50 ppp; Only 1-of-4 thrown for strikes;

Other notes vs. RHB: Although he’s thrown 82% fastballs when ahead of RHB, his non-fastball stuff (+1.21 ppp) has been deadly to the tune of 0-for-6 with 2 strikeouts… In looking to determine if there was a dropoff in effectiveness from the stretch (i.e. with runners on base), I found that he’s been better against RHB from the stretch (+0.78 ppp) than from the windup with the bases empty (+0.19).

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* – Britton’s +1.15 ppp on changeups to right-handed batters ranks third among lefty pitchers (min. 30 such pitches thrown):

+1.31 – Cliff Lee, PHI
+1.27 – Tim Collins, KC
+1.15 – Zach Britton, BAL

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* – 82 percent of Britton’s pitches to left-handed batters have come while even or behind in the count (99-of-121), the highest/worst percentage by a LHP in the majors so far (min. 60 pitches to LHB):

81.9% – Zach Britton, BAL
80.5% – Jorge De La Rosa, COL
79.8% – Mark Buehrle, CHW

—————————————————————————————————————————– Read the rest of this entry »

Tuesday’s Red Sox-Orioles matchups: Clay Buchholz vs. Zach Britton

04.26.11 at 12:29 pm ET
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After sweeping the Angels, the Red Sox look to reach .500 for the first time this season when they take on Zach Britton and the Orioles Tuesday night. Britton, who has never faced Boston, enters the game with a 3-1 record and 3.16 ERA in his rookie campaign.

The 23-year-old lefty came storming out of the gates, allowing just seven hits and one run over 13 2/3 innings in his first two starts against the Rays and Rangers, both wins. Britton has come down to earth a bit in his last two starts, though. He has given up 13 hits and eight runs over 12 innings in a loss to the Indians and a win against the Twins.

Opposing Britton will be Clay Buchholz, who is 1-2 with a 5.31 ERA. After struggling his way to an 0-2 record and 6.60 ERA in his first three starts, Buchholz finally broke into the win column with a 5 1/3 inning, one-run effort against the Athletics on Wednesday. Despite getting the win, Buchholz still struggled to keep guys off base. He gave up six hits and four walks and now has a bloated 1.77 WHIP on the season. He has yet to turn in a single quality start in his four outings.

Buchholz, however, has had plenty of success against the Orioles in his career. He is 5-2 with a 2.98 ERA in nine games and both of his complete-game shutouts have come at the expense of Baltimore, including his no-hitter in 2007.

Current Orioles are hitting .230 against Buchholz. Nick Markakis is hitting just .100 in 20 at-bats and Luke Scott is hitting a measly .063 in 16 at-bats. Mark Reynolds has struck out all three times he has faced Buchholz. Vladimir Guerrero (.417 in 12 ABs) and Brian Roberts (.389 with a 1.078 OPS in 23 plate appearances) have had the most success against the righty. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Clay Buchholz, Orioles, Red Sox, Zach Britton

Zero for Three: Sox amidst home run drought in third spot

04.26.11 at 12:10 pm ET
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That the Red Sox have been carried by pitching through their recent run is indisputable. The team has won eight of its last nine contests at a time when its starting five has a combined 0.88 ERA, something that has allowed the team to enjoy a wildly successful stretch even at a time when the offense has been modest.

In fact, the rotation has been good enough to mask some of the lineup’€™s early season shortcomings (though not all, as the highly scrutinized Carl Crawford and catchers can attest). Nonetheless, there are some interesting puzzles to the performance of the team’€™s offense through the first 25 days of the season, and few are greater than the team’€™s dreadful performance in the third spot in the lineup.

The Sox are one of two American League teams without a homer from the spot, joining the Rangers. The hitters in the third spot in the lineup have combined to hit .233 (10th among the AL’€™s 14 teams) with a .320 OBP (T-10th), .302 slugging mark (11th) and .622 OPS (12th).

A position that characteristically yields run production has instead seen the Sox drive in just seven runs, tied for the fewest by any spot in the batting order. That relates in part to the struggles from the leadoff spot (.198/.263/.363/.625), but even so, with Dustin Pedroia getting on base in more than 40 percent of his at-bats, there have been plenty of opportunities to drive in runs with an extra-base hit.

The third spot in the lineup simply hasn’€™t delivered. That suggests a deficiency, given that the third spot of the lineup is, on average, the second-most prolific RBI spot in the lineup (behind only the cleanup spot) in the AL this year, just as has been the case for each of the last five seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, carl crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie
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