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Wednesday’s Red Sox-Rays matchups: Josh Beckett vs. Jeremy Hellickson

06.15.11 at 2:33 pm ET
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The fans at Tampa’s Tropicana Field will be treated to a pitching battle between a rookie phenom and a dominant veteran Wednesday night at 7:10 p.m. The Red Sox will give the ball to 31-year-old Josh Beckett, as the right-hander looks for his sixth win in his last seven decisions. The Rays will counter with Jeremy Hellickson, a 24-year-old hurler with the fourth-highest win total in the American League.

Beckett (5-2, 2.06 ERA) will look to build on another stellar start after holding the Yankees to two runs in seven innings on June 9. The Red Sox ace fanned six and walked two, while keeping his AL-leading ERA under 2.10 (Atlanta’s Jair Jurrjens leads the majors at 1.82).

Beckett has yet to face the Rays in 13 starts this season, and hasn’t started against Tampa Bay since April 2010. The Rays have made some serious roster changes since then, but three hitters have seen their fair share of Beckett, and have performed quite well.

Former Red Sox speedster Johnny Damon has a team-high 52 plate appearances against Beckett, hitting .292 with two homers, five doubles and nine RBI. On the other hand, Damon also leads the Rays with 11 strikeouts against the Boston starter. Evan Longoria has led the charge against Beckett, hitting .353 with two homers, five doubles and eight RBI in 35 plate appearances. B.J. Upton is hitting .308 in 29 plate appearances to go along with three doubles and two homers.

Beckett has shown pristine control against Tampa Bay, striking out 41 hitters and walking just seven in 160 total plate appearances.

After a spectacular month of May, Hellickson (7-4, 3.03 ERA) is slowly emerging as the AL Rookie of the Year candidate many expected him to be at the beginning of the season. The 24-year-old went 4-1 in five starts last month, and allowed just five runs for a 1.36 ERA.

Hellickson’s only start against Boston came earlier this season on April 11. The right-hander got his first win of the year at Fenway Park, tossing 5.1 innings of two-run ball in a 16-5 win. Hellickson gave up just one run in 7 1/3 innings against Seattle on June 4, but had his worst outing of the season in his last start. On June 10 vs. the Orioles, he surrendered five runs in 5 2/3 innings, including two homers.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the only Red Sox player to face Hellickson more than three times, drawing a walk and hitting an RBI double in four career plate appearances. Seven other hitters have seen the rookie exactly three times, and five of those players have base hits. As a whole, the Red Sox are hitting .292 in 29 plate appearances against Hellickson. No player has a home run or more than one hit against the right-hander, although both Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz, of all people, have triples.

The rookie has struggled a bit with his command against the Red Sox, walking five hitters while striking out just one.

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Red Sox prospect health updates: Kalish, Navarro, Middlebrooks, Tazawa

06.15.11 at 12:30 pm ET
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A few health-related notes about Red Sox prospects who are returning from injury:

–Had all gone according to plan, outfielder Ryan Kalish likely would have seen game action by this point. However, while the recovery of his left shoulder (in which he suffered a partial tear of the labrum while attempting a diving catch for Triple-A Pawtucket in April) is proceeding as the Sox had hoped, the 23-year-old is dealing with what Sox VP of Player Personnel Mike Hazen described as “a little bit of a stiff neck.”

That, in turn, forced Kalish to shut down his baseball activities for a bit, and forced him to renew his progression back to the field, starting with hitting off a tee. Hazen suggested that the outfielder is making improvement to the point where “it should not be long” before he is in a lineup. With the downtime, Kalish — barring a setback — should be fairly close to playing the outfield by the time he is ready to play in games. While he will split his time between DH and the outfield in deference to the fact that he is recovering from an injury, the Sox are optimistic that he will be able to play in the outfield by the end of the month.

–Right-hander Junichi Tazawa, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery, has made significant steps forward in his rehab assignment with the Hi-A Salem Red Sox in recent outings. It took him a while to recover his velocity, which was sitting in the mid-80s both while he rehabbed in Fort Myers and also in his initial outings for Salem. Tazawa was shelled for 12 runs in 7 1/3 innings over his first two rehab starts, walking five and striking out just three. However, in his most recent three starts, he’s tossed nine shutout innings, struck out eight and walked one, and perhaps more importantly, his velocity bumped back up to 91.

“He’€™s been slow getting back there, but he’€™s been solid,” Hazen said of the 25-year-old. “He’€™s getting more comfortable with the slider, the split, competing under the lights. He’€™s been good.”

Tazawa will make one more start with Salem before his 30-day rehab assignment expires; after that, the Sox will determine the pitcher’s next step. Since he will be reinstated from the 60-day disabled list, the Sox will need a 40-man roster spot for Tazawa. However, they currently have an opening on the 40-man thanks to the trade that sent Mike McKenry to the Pirates, and the Sox can also move Rich Hill to the 60-day disabled list to create a roster spot when needed.

It is noteworthy that the Sox have one current vacancy on the 40-man roster and one potential one, since that means that the team can both add Tazawa back from the 60-day DL and, conceivably, call up Andrew Miller from the minors without having to remove anyone from the 40-man roster. However, multiple team officials said that the McKenry trade had nothing to do with freeing a roster spot for either Tazawa or Miller, and that it was motivated by a desire instead to promote catcher Ryan Lavarnway — one of the most consistent hitters in the system — to Pawtucket. (For more on Lavarnway’s promotion, click here.) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: junichi tazawa, ryan kalish, Will Middlebrooks, yamaico navarro

Jerry Remy on D&C: Stanley Cup Game 7 a reminder of 1978 Red Sox-Yankees playoff

06.15.11 at 9:48 am ET
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NESN analyst Jerry Remy made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Wednesday morning, following the Red Sox‘ 4-0 loss to the Rays Tuesday night that snapped a nine-game winning streak. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Remy said of the Sox’ impressive run that includes road sweeps of the Yankees and Blue Jays. “That New York and Toronto series was about as good as you can get. Everything was going right ‘€” the pitching was going right, the defense was going right, the offense was going incredibly right. It was fun to sit there and watch that. It was just bombs away. They were taking early leads, they were putting people away early, putting them away late. It just does not get any better than that.

“But it just goes to show how fickle this game is. You come into a game last night with a tired [Rays] team that got in late in the morning but they had a fresh starter in [James] Shields, who pitched a great game against them and just shut them down. That’s the way this game goes. You run into a hot pitcher, and he can put you to sleep in a day.”

Remy said he expects the Rays to hang around but that ultimately the Sox will battle the Yankees for AL East supremacy.

“I still think it’s going to be a two-horse race, but the Rays aren’t as bad as people predicted,” he said. “They thought when they lost all those players that they were going to be terrible. They’re not going to be terrible, because they’ve got decent pitching. Last night was a good example. And they’ve got a couple of guys that can do that to you. So, they’re going to be competitive, there’s no question about that. They’re offense is a little bit shaky, but their pitching and defense is very good. And if you’ve got pitching and defense, you should be able able to hang around.”

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Read More: james shields, Jerry Remy, Roberto Luongo, Stanley Cup finals

Miller on opt-out decision: ‘It would be a shame not to keep it going’ with Sox

06.15.11 at 3:32 am ET
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Andrew Miller turned in a dominant outing for Triple-A Pawtucket on Tuesday, one day before the Red Sox must call him up to the majors or give him the right to opt out of his contract. He pitched 5 1/3 innings for the PawSox, allowing a run while striking out 10, walking one and lowering his ERA in Triple-A this year to 2.47.

Miller made clear that his goal remains to pitch in the major leagues. Regardless of whether he is summoned as a starter (the role in which he’s spent the full season, and in which he’s identified a routine that has yielded particularly strong results in his last four starts, in which he’s struck out 26 and walked three) or reliever, the veteran of parts of five big league seasons looks forward to competing again at the game’s highest level.

‘€œI’€™m property of the Boston Red Sox. If they call me up, they can do whatever they want with me. I’€™ll happily do it, and I’€™ll give it everything I’€™ve got. I’€™ll start, I’€™ll relieve, I’€™ll play second base. It doesn’€™t matter,’€ he told reporters. ‘€œIf there’€™s a spot in the big leagues, I want it. That’€™s what we all, that’€™s where everyone in this locker room wants to be. That’€™s what we’€™re working for I guess.’€

If the Sox do not call up Miller on Wednesday, then he would find no shortage of suitors for his services if he opted out of his contract, which calls for him to make $1.2 million (prorated for the portion of the season that he spends in the majors) if promoted to the big leagues. He has shown a mid-90s fastball and nasty slider in the minors this year, and of late, he’s been throwing strikes with both.

Yet while the major leagues are, of course, Miller’s goal, the pitcher also underscored that he is not in a rush to move to another organization, emphasizing that he is more focused on his long-term career than on returning to the majors at any cost. After all, the left-hander turned down big league deals from other clubs during the offseason in favor of a minor league contract with the Sox that would allow him to develop without artificial constraints (in the case of a big league deal, the fact that Miller was out of options raised the possibility that an organization other than the one that signed him could claim him if he was exposed to waivers while being sent to the minors).

While he is eager for the opportunity to return to the majors, Miller — whose career prior to 2011 had steadily moved in the wrong direction, with a 15-26 record and 5.84 ERA in 79 big league games with the Marlins and Tigers — also values the progress that he has made in the Sox organization, and suggested that he’€™d like to remain with the franchise.

‘€œThe Red Sox in general in every aspect have given me every opportunity. They’€™ve been first class. I don’€™t have any complaints at all. Certainly, it’€™s a good place, good fit for me,’€ Miller told reporters. ‘€œThings are certainly going the right direction here. It would certainly be a shame not to keep it going. ‘€¦

‘€œConsidering the year I had last year, the ups and downs I’€™ve had the last probably year and a half, for me, it’€™s been nice to go out and show that it’€™s still there and I’€™m showing here that I think I can be a good major league pitcher,’€ he added. ‘€œAt this point, when I came in and signed with Boston, I knew that it was kind of a long-term project. I wasn’€™t going to short-sight anything. I think I’€™ve come back and I’€™ve started to establish that I’€™m on the way back. I’€™m looking to go to the major leagues and stay up for a long time. It doesn’€™t matter when it starts. It’€™s more the long term.’€

Miller is scheduled to talk with Red Sox GM Theo Epstein on Wednesday about his future with the organization. While it is certainly possible that the Sox could decide to promote him to the majors — either to insert in the rotation as a starter or as a member of the bullpen — his statements also suggest that the discussion of the pitcher’s best long-term interests will leave the pitcher open-minded about the opt-out if the Sox do not elect to call him up immediately.

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Team sources: No decision on Miller until after Wednesday meeting

06.14.11 at 10:56 pm ET
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Multiple Red Sox sources said on Tuesday night that no decision has been made regarding the next step for left-hander Andrew Miller, with one suggesting instead that “everything is open” until the team and pitcher sit down to discuss his future with the organization on Wednesday.

Miller, who struck out 10 and walked one in 5 1/3 innings with Triple-A Pawtucket on Tuesday, has an opt-out in his minor league contract if he is not called up by Wednesday. However, sources indicate that the Sox are unlikely to let the situation come to that, and that they plan on talking with the pitcher about how to continue what both sides have referred to as a “partnership” beyond the opt-out date — whether in the majors or minors.

A left-hander with a history of control troubles, Miller has been dominant while attacking the strike zone of late, striking out 26 and walking three hitters in his last 25 1/3 innings, spanning four starts. On the year, he now has a 2.47 ERA in 13 games for the PawSox.

While a report in the Boston Globe suggested that Miller will be called up and added to the rotation in the upcoming series against the Padres, the team sources said that the Sox had not yet made a decision about whether Miller will be called up, or if he is promoted to the majors, how his role might be defined. Sox GM Theo Epstein is slated to meet with Miller to discuss the pitcher’s path going forward on Wednesday.

“I know Theo plans to sit with him [Wednesday] and kind of talk about his status,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona explained before Tuesday’€™s game against the Rays. “He’s throwing the ball great. He’€™s somebody we’€™ve obviously watched since spring training with anticipation because of what he potentially can do but I do know Theo is going to sit and visit with him.

“There’€™s a lot to like about him,” added Francona. “He’€™s a good kid. He’€™s grounded. He went through a lot of stuff in the winter talking to him because I wanted him here so bad. I kind of spent some time talking to him. He’€™s just a likeable kid. I think he wants to succeed here. I think he likes it here.”

For more on the unusual decision that the Sox and Miller face with the pitcher, click here.

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Closing Time: Sox winning streak stopped by ‘Big Game James’ in Tampa Bay

06.14.11 at 9:36 pm ET
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The Red Sox lineup had battered all opponents over the first 10 games of the month, pounding out 87 runs in bludgeoning one opponent after another. However, the team’s lumber continued to slumber in Tampa Bay, one day after the team enjoyed an off day.

The Sox managed just five hits against Rays starter James Shields, who was dazzlingly efficient through the first seven innings before his command faltered in the eighth.

The 4-0 loss marked the sixth time the Sox had been shut out this season, and the first since May 29. The unexpected silence of the lineup led to a hard-luck loss by Boston starter Tim Wakefield on a night when the Rays could muster little against him.


–The Sox appeared poised to strike early against Shields, putting runners on the corner with one out in the first inning for Kevin Youkilis. But Youkilis, who has been surprisingly wretched with runners on third and fewer than two outs this year, continued to struggle in those run-scoring situations. Youkilis swung and missed at a 2-2 changeup. For the year, he is now 1-for-15 (.067) with 10 strikeouts in 20 plate appearances in situations where contact would likely result in an out.

That was simply the beginning of a dreadful night for Youkilis, who grounded into double plays in each of his next two plate appearances. It was just the second game in his career in which he’d grounded into two twin killings, with the other having come almost five years ago, on July 7, 2006, against the White Sox.

–Shields was terrific against a number of hitters against whom he had struggled in his career. Though Dustin Pedroia carried a .433 average against Shields into the game, he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and a surprising (and unsuccessful) bunt attempt in the first inning, in which Pedroia — who was bunting for a hit — popped the ball back to Shields. David Ortiz, who entered the proceedings with a .364 average and three homers against Shields, was likewise 0-for-3 with a walk.

–In an indication of how good Wakefield’s knuckleball was inside the Tropicana Dome, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia committed a pair of passed balls, both in the sixth inning, in permitting the Rays to score an insurance run without benefit of a hit. Wakefield issued a one-out walk to Evan Longoria, who advanced to second on the first passed ball. After a walk and a groundout, Saltalamacchia’s second passed ball permitted Longoria to cross the plate to give Shields some breathing room in what had been a 1-0 game.

Tommy Hottovy, against whom hitters were 0-for-6 entering Monday, permitted his first major league hits (both on soft liners) and also hit a batter in allowing his first two big league runs in the eighth inning.

–In his first game in Tampa Bay as a member of the visiting team, Carl Crawford went 0-for-3 with a strikeout. In his first at-bat — in which he was heavily booed as he stepped to the plate, before a wave of cheers overtook the initial hostilities — he grounded out with the bases loaded to end the Sox’ only real threat of the game.


–Wakefield turned in an outstanding outing. Though his knuckleball moved so much that it became an issue, at times, to command the ball (resulting in five walks), he logged seven innings and allowed just two runs (one earned) while permitting four hits. He matched a season-high in innings pitched. Meanwhile, Wakefield also logged 119 pitches, the most he’s thrown in a game since 2003.

Adrian Gonzalez saw his streak of nine straight games with an RBI come to an end, but he collected three hits in four at-bats. It was his 11th three-hit game of the year, tied for the most in the majors.

Tuesday’s Red Sox-Rays Matchups: Tim Wakefield vs. James Shields

06.14.11 at 3:11 pm ET
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The Red Sox will be seeking their tenth straight win when they take on the Rays at Tropicana Field Tuesday night. The Sox have swept the Athletics, Yankees and Blue Jays en route to nine straight wins. They outscored the Blue Jays 35-6 in their series over the weekend.

It will also mark Carl Crawford‘s first visit back to Tampa following signing with the Red Sox this past off-season. Veteran Tim Wakefield (3-1, 4.84) will take to the mound for the Sox, while the Rays will counter with James Shields (5-4, 2.85).

Wakefield, who is only four wins shy of 200 for his career will look to extend the Sox winning streak and get him even closer to the milestone. He has appeared in 45 games lifetime against the Rays, including 34 starts. He has had a great deal of success as well, compiling a 21-6 record.

He has won three out of his last four starts, including a 11-6 win over the Yankees last week in his last start. In that game Wakefield didn’t have his best stuff, but the Sox bats bailed him out. He pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing five runs and three walks, but it was good enough to earn the win.

His counterpart Shields, has struggled when facing the Sox. Over the course of his six year career Shields has faced the Red Sox 16 times, going 5-9 over those 16 starts. Shields is coming off of a no decision in his last outing. He went 7 innings, allowing three runs in the Rays win over the Angels.

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Read More: David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, james shields, Tim Wakefield

Andrew Miller, Red Sox arrive at potential crossroads

06.14.11 at 2:21 pm ET
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It is time for The Decision.

The partnership between Andrew Miller and the Red Sox has been everything that both sides could have hoped for to date. When Miller decided to pass on major league deals this winter in favor of a minor league contract with the Sox, the two sides considered the arrangement one that was meant to be in the long-term best interests of both the player and club.

Miller would be able to work on developing mound consistency without the limitations of roster considerations, such as the prospect that he would need to be exposed to waivers and potentially change organizations. At 26, he was willing to work in the minors with one organization and one pitching coach to find the mechanics that would best allow him to harness his considerable gifts ‘€“ a 6-foot-7 frame, a mid- to high-90s fastball, a slider that can make left-handed hitters weep ‘€“ into results.

With Triple-A Pawtucket, Miller has done just that. He has not been the disappointing pitcher who was taken with the sixth pick of the 2006 draft and rushed to the majors en route to a 15-26 record and 5.84 ERA in 79 big league games. Instead, he has been dominating on the mound. He has a 2.54 ERA and 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Opponents are hitting just .175 against him, and he’€™s permitted just one homer in just over 60 innings all season.

He has been particularly sharp in his last three starts, after he and PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur tweaked his routine to have him simulate an inning before the start of games. Miller, who had walked 32 batters in his first 40 1/3 innings this year, particularly his last three starts in which he’€™s walked just two batters and struck out 16 in 20 innings. For a pitcher whose chief limitation has been his lack of command, it’s been an eye-opening stretch. Read the rest of this entry »

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Nuggetpalooza: 30 Clubs/30 Nuggets

06.14.11 at 2:19 pm ET
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Before we get into the 30 clubs, 30 nuggets, here are a couple of additional notes:

* – The Indians beat the Yankees, 1-0, last night at Yankee Stadium, snapping a streak of 193 straight losses by the Tribe when they score fewer than two runs on the road, dating back to 1992. They were within two of the all-time record of 195, set by the Tigers from 1988-2003.

* – By June 1, every team in the majors had a shutout this season. It’s the first time that’s happened since 1992.

Now, on to the nuggets:

Boston Red Sox

After leading the majors with a team OPS of .820 in May, the Red Sox offense is again leading the majors in June:

.941 – Red Sox
.847 – Tigers
.827 – White Sox

If the Red Sox’ OPS holds up for the remainder of the month, it would mark the second highest in MLB history (since 1946), trailing only the June by the 2003 Red Sox (.945).

New York Yankees

The Yankees allowed triples to coco Crisp and Andy LaRoche of the A’s on May 31, snapping a club record streak of 276 consecutive games without allowing multiple triples.


Tampa Bay Rays

Wade Davis has induced misses on just 13.5 percent of swings against him this season, on pace to be the lowest ever by the Rays pitcher (min. 1,500 pitches in full season):

13.5% – Wade Davis, 2011
14.0% – Paul Wilson, 2002
14.0% – Albie Lopez, 2001


Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles have allowed 19 home runs to opposing cleanup hitters, the most in the majors and more than twice as many as they’ve surrendered to any other spot in the opposing lineup. They’ve been outhomered 19-6 at the #4 spot in the lineup this season.


Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays pitchers have walked the first batter of an inning 71 times this season, far and away the most in the majors:

71 – Blue Jays
58 – Rangers
55 – Red Sox

That’s 11.8 percent of leadoff batters faced that have walked against Toronto, on pace for the highest percentage since they began tracking the stat in 1974:

11.8% – Blue Jays, 2011
11.6% – Rangers, 1986
11.5% – Reds, 1988

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

Lavarnway continues steady rise in Red Sox system

06.13.11 at 5:59 pm ET
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The Red Sox‘ decision to trade minor league catcher Mike McKenry was driven less by anything that the 26-year-old had done since being acquired from the Rockies at the end of spring training than by the performance of one of the top hitters in the Sox’ minor league system.

McKenry, acquired in exchange for right-hander Daniel Turpen at the end of spring training, had put together a respectable line in Triple-A Pawtucket. He was hitting .274 with a .369 OBP, .421 slugging mark, .790 OPS and three homers in 29 games. But the Sox were willing to send him to Pittsburgh (in exchange for a player to be named or cash) because Ryan Lavarnway gave them little choice but to promote him.

Lavarnway started slowly in Double-A this year, hitting .216 with a .272 OBP, .365 slugging mark and .636 OPS in 18 games in April. Yet those numbers were misleading.

“He wasn’€™t hitting at all in April, but we were getting reports saying, ‘€˜Don’€™t worry about it ‘€“ this guy is smoking the ball,'” said Sox VP of Player Personnel Mike Hazen. “Things started to fall ‘€“ more often, over the wall ‘€“ in May and June.”

Indeed, the 6-foot-4 23-year-old has dominated Double-A pitching after the season’s first month. In 37 games since the start of May, he was hitting .343 with a .408 OBP, .590 slugging mark, .998 OPS, 11 homers and 19 walks. He was hitting for average, hitting for power and controlling the strike zone, something he’s done almost from the moment that he was promoted to Portland almost a year ago.

In 99 games with the Sea Dogs since last summer, Lavarnway had a .284 average, .375 OBP, .503 slugging mark, .878 OPS and 22 homers — marks that are strikingly in line with his performance in parts of four pro seasons, during which he’s hit .281/.373/.503/.876.

“I’€™d say he has a pretty good handle on the competition there. It’€™s time to challenge him,” said Hazen. “This is a pretty good bat here, and he needs to face better pitching.” Read the rest of this entry »

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