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Closing Time: Royals 4, Red Sox 3

04.09.10 at 11:21 pm ET
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It was a night that would have been a celebration of Tim Wakefield. The Red Sox starter raced through five shutout innings to start the game and, after permitting back-to-back homers in the bottom of the sixth, rebounded to deliver a crisp 10-pitch seventh to entrust a 3-2 lead to his bullpen against the Royals.

Yet Hideki Okajima, back in Kansas City — the site of his big league debut, where he allowed a homer on the first pitch he ever threw in a major league game — failed to help Wakefield secure his 176th career win as a Red Sox. Instead, he permitted the first batter he faced (David DeJesus) to hit a double. That set in motion a Royals uprising that resulted in Rick Ankiel’s game-winning two-run single to center off of Daniel Bard, sent the Sox to a 4-3 loss and amplified questions that are quickly forming about the Boston bullpen.

Key Play of the Game

Though Bard’s 98 mph heater shattered his bat, Ankiel fisted a single into shallow center with runners on second and third and two outs in the bottom of the eighth to turn the Sox’ one-run lead into a one-run loss. It was the second straight game in which a Sox opponent won in its last at-bat.

What Went Right for the Sox

–Wakefield was efficient and dazzling, going seven innings and allowing six hits and a walk while striking out six. Aside from the back-to-back homers he allowed with two outs in the sixth to Ankiel (who went 4-for-4) and Billy Butler, Wakefield was tremendous. He threw 96 pitches.

–JD Drew hit a colossal shot to center, a two-run homer for his first round-tripper of the season.

–Mike Cameron reached base three times, collecting a pair of singles and a walk.

What Went Wrong for the Sox

–The bullpen again struggled, allowing a pair of runs in an inning. The Sox bullpen has recorded every one of the team’s decisions this year, going 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA.

–The absence of reliable middle relief options may be taking an early toll. Though the Sox have had a pair of off days, it is noteworthy that Bard has appeared in all four games thus far. Still, his stuff was excellent, as he recorded a key strikeout of Butler with one out and a runners on first and third before giving up the game-winning hit on a nasty fastball to Ankiel.

–The Sox lineup continued its futility with runners in scoring position, going 1-for-8 in such circumstances.

–David Ortiz got ejected for arguing a third-strike checked swing. Though he served a double to left against a shift, he had a pair of strikeouts in going 1-for-3, and the ejection seemed a display of mounting frustration.

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Gammons on Big Show: ‘Pretty serious concerns about middle relief’

04.09.10 at 6:55 pm ET
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Hall of Fame reporter and NESN analyst Peter Gammons checked in with the Big Show on Friday to discuss the early-season lessons offered by the Red Sox-Yankees series. Gammons identified two chief concerns about the current Red Sox: the team’s bullpen and, if he continues to struggle, the David Ortiz dilemma.

“The biggest thing is I have some pretty serious concerns about middle relief —getting to [Daniel] Bard, [Hideki] Okajima and [Jonathan] Papelbon,” he said.

As for the other hot topic, David Ortiz, Gammons suggested that there are questions about whether he can still handle fastballs, and that Ortiz needs to stop trying to pull the ball in his at bats.

“I still want to see what happens if he goes back to taking the ball the other way like when he first came here,” Gammons said. “If he does that and gets the ball in the air, maybe he will go back to — maybe not a 50-something home run guy — but if he has a .390 on-baseand hits 30 home runs, he is going to be pretty valuable because of all the guys that are going to be on base in front of him.”

Gammons was asked about what he believes the Sox will do once Daisuke Matsuzaka is ready to come back to the big leagues. Matsuzaka is currently on a rehab assignment with Pawtucket and will pitch on Saturday, but he is likely to get slotted back into the rotation when he is healthy. Gammons said that his guess would be the Red Sox would put Tim Wakefield in the bullpen, but not necessarily permanently.

“At times during the season I am sure that they will use a six-man rotation to get extra rest so they make sure Beckett and Lester and Lackey and Buchholz are fully healthy,” he said. “But I think that is the direction they will end up going and I think that is very hard given the fact that Wakefield was an all-star last year in the first half of the season. But it might be that he is your only guy that can pitch out of the bullpen.”

Gammons also touched on the comments made by umpire Joe West about the pace of Red Sox-Yankees games. “I think the league can talk to the Red Sox and it can talk to the Yankees, but I don’t think that is Joe West’s place to be blasting the players,” he said.  “And he didn’t offer any solution. So if he doesn’t have a solution, just go to the league and let them come up with some way to have them play faster.”

To listen to the interview, go to the Big Show’s audio on demand page. A full transcript is below.

You have a terrific relationship with a lot of the players around the game. But on the whole, there is not a great relationship between the athlete and the media today. Has it changed because of the money?

Because time is so restricted and access is so restricted today, there really isn’t a lot of time that the media has with players, managers and coaches. Now you can’t go into the clubhouse until 3:30, I mean I understand that. The size of the media is so much more overpowering today than ever before.

I remember when Richard Justice, one of my journalist friends, was covering the Redskins. He said, “Do you realize that you spend more time with players on a three-game homestand than I spend the entire season with the Redskins?” They were so restricted in being able to get there.

I think it is a lot that players are very guarded in what they say. I was kidding Derek Jeter the other day. In all the interviews I have done with him after games and so forth, there was actually one after Pedro [Martinez] threw at Karim Garcia and all that happened after that, Jeter actually called the whole scene a disgrace. He said to me, “I slipped.” I said, “It is not that big a deal,” and he said, “Ugh, I let my guard down one time.”

That’s the way a lot of athletes are. They are suspicious. It is hard when you are in a large pack of people to know who you can trust and who you can’t trust. And that is why it is so important … [to] try to get time alone with people.

Is the real difference now that there is a whole different tabloid media out there right now?

You are absolutely right. For instance, I go back — and hopefully I am not hurting the reputation of these people — I go back to the mid ’70s and there was a raid at one bar and [inaudible] and Rogelio Moret just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t believe — I think there was a story about [inaudible] because he was arrested. The time that Moret was supposed to pitch against Jim Palmer on Monday night baseball and he had a slight accident at 5:20 in the morning in Connecticut, that was part of the notes but it wasn’t a huge deal. It is now. I actually think that for instance Deadspin is really good at what they do, because people want to read that and they do it well. TMZ does a really good job at what they do. That is what people want to read, and they go out and get it. But it creates a huge guard for the athletes, and I don’t blame them. I think one of the amazing things —and we were talking about this all week with the Yankees here— is that Derek Jeter has essentially managed to stay clear of this. He is a mega-star in New York and is a mega-personality.

But he has been single up to this time, right?

That is right. I remember that Mike Lansing once said to me, ‘George Brett is my idol. He played 20 years and then got married.’

That is the thing. We were talking about Jeter on the program because people reference him all the time and say, “Derek Jeter never does any of that stuff.” People forget that Steinbrenner reprimanded him because he had too much of a nightlife and then they covered it all up with that MasterCard commercial. And it was funny.

It was. Derek knows how to protect his privacy. He and [Jorge] Posada, nobody ever knows where they are. He is very smart that way. But I think it is amazing that considering this time when everyone has a cell phone with a camera, he just doesn’t get photographed. There are a couple people who show up all the time on like Deadspin because somebody is in a bar and takes a picture of them; there are like archives. Not only athletes, but people in the news media. It is a whole different world. The person with the cell phone could be calling 911, or they could be taking a picture.

Was there anything that came out of this series that you didn’t recognize before the series started?

The biggest thing is I have some pretty serious concerns about middle relief —getting to [Daniel] Bard, [Hideki] Okajima and [Jonathan] Papelbon. Maybe this is just mechanical with Manny Delcarman and he will get straightened out and get back to 95 miles per hour. I trust that that can happen. But he and [Ramon] Ramirez had amazing records last year in that their earned run averages went up every single month of the season. We haven’t seen anything from Ramirez that would tell us he is going to be any better. That is a concern and obviously the whole Ortiz thing is something that we watch. I really can’t figure, like Sunday night, 2-1, 3-1, 3-1 with [Kevin] Youkilis in scoring position, he gets fastballs and he is trying to pull them. I don’t know if he is going to hit the fastball again. I think part of it is his insecurity; he is trying so hard to be Big Papi. To me, he is forever trying to pull the ball when he became Big Papi because he hit the ball to left center.

It might be also that he is trying to cheat a little bit.

Oh, I think there is no question. That is why when somebody throws him a breaking ball he usually wraps around a little bit. I still want to see what happens if he goes back to taking the ball the other way like when he first came here. If he does that and gets the ball in the air, maybe he will go back to — maybe not a 50-something home run guy — but if he has a .390 on-base and hits 30 home runs, he is going to be pretty valuable because of all the guys that are going to be on base in front of him. But that is one of those issues that is going to be very tricky for Terry Francona to work through.

If Ortiz does continue to struggle, how long will Mike Lowell continue to sit there and bite his lip?

If Ortiz struggles, I think Lowell will start DHing against left handed pitching and they will see what happens from there. I don’t think Lowell will say things, just because it is not his style. I understand that he is frustrated; he believes he can hit, but at the same time how do you move all these guys around. I think that he will DH against left handers. I didn’t think it was the right time, considering how proud Ortiz is.

It is just too early, isn’t it?

Yeah. I still want to see, again, if he thinks about driving the ball to left center field. He pulled breaking balls but he only hits fastballs to left center and center. I think about a Wednesday afternoon when he hit the home run against B.J. Ryan. It was a 97 mile per hour fastball down and away and he drove it to the center field bleachers. I want to see what happens in time. When he was really great, I don’t think I realized how much he is like everyone else in that he is very insecure.

Well he is sensitive.

He is sensitive and he is embarrassed. Most guys are, most players are. A number of Orioles players told me that Cal Ripken is the most insecure human being they have ever met. So we will just see on that but it is really tough and I think it is really weighing on him right now. He might be better off playing on the road for a few weeks.

There were a couple times where Ortiz would not get a hit and the NESN cameras would show Lowell, and you could see the frustration on his face. Because he still believes, like you said that he should be out there.

Yeah, I mean you look at his numbers last year, and Mike Lowell was still a good hitter even though the hip was obviously bothering him. Now I don’t know if he is going to be able to play third base again, but he can still hit. It is up to Terry to figure out different ways to get people in there. It is a very sensitive issue with Ortiz and the question is going to be when is he going to show signs that he is going to get it back.

Watching some of the new guys, what interests me is watching Curtis Granderson. The guy has two home runs against very good right handed pitchers in a ballpark that is very difficult for left handed home run hitters. This guy against right handed pitching in that ballpark, hitting that low in the lineup in that ballpark, that is a little scary, Peter.

It is. I think that Granderson and Nick Johnson will have 65 home runs between them

How many games does Johnson play? That is the question.

The fact that he is DHing will help. Seeing Nick Johnson hit second with that .406 or .402, whatever it is, lifetime on-base percentage and Granderson down there lower in the order with no pressure and then when they get to that ballpark. I think there are some disturbing signs that the defensive jitters that Granderson had last September in Detroit – they didn’t get rid of him because of money. They got rid of him because they didn’t want to pay him because he really struggled defensively. It will be interesting to see how that goes. But those two guys, they are going to be big offensive forces on that team. And I think [Robinson] Cano is going to hit 35 or 38 home runs before it is over. He doesn’t move too well at second base but he is going to hit a lot of home runs.

Were you surprised that the Josh Beckett deal got done so quick?

When it was sort of played out to me how it went about, I think it speaks volumes about Josh Beckett’s maturity. I remember being down [at spring training] the day before pitchers and catchers reported when John Lackey came in about 2:30 in the afternoon. Beckett and [Jon] Lester were there waiting for him. Lackey got the contract that Beckett thought he was going to get, and that just speaks volumes about who Beckett is. He never really played out the impact of the whole contract negotiation.

He said to me the other day, ‘I am getting pretty good money here. I have a chance to win every year. John Lackey actually gives me a better chance to get a ring. Why leave?’

I thought it was really interesting that he made mention of the fact that Theo Epstein called him as they were signing Lackey. He took that as a tremendous amount of respect from the front office. Who knows exactly what the numbers are going to be anytime you sign a guy? But the thing that you know, and have heard from him too, is that in 2000 the Marlins doctor wanted him to have surgery. And Dr. [James] Andrews now says that his shoulder is stronger now than it was then.

Yeah. He says, ‘I remember them talking in the other room and they said I needed the surgery.’ And that is what really drives him.

He forged a very close relationship with Dr. Andrews. I think it is a huge advantage to have to much pitching tied up for a long period of time. I think we see that the worst decisions on free agents are made with pitchers because of the unpredictability. So now, whether it is Jayson Werth or whoever it is going to be this offseason, the price isn’t going to be as high as it would be for Cliff Lee, who I think is a tremendous physical risk.

If everybody is healthy when Daisuke Matsuzaka comes back, who is the odd man out in the rotation?

I think they will figure that out when they get to it.

Who would you say is the odd man out of the rotation?

Well my guess is that [Tim] Wakefield ends up in the bullpen. I’m not sure but they think [Clay] Buchholz is a [No. 1 or No. 2 starter] and it is his time. Nine out of 10 quality starts down the stretch, so I think they just figure out what to do. At times during the season I am sure that they will use a six-man rotation to get extra rest so they make sure Beckett and Lester and Lackey and Buchholz are fully healthy. But I think that is the direction they will end up going and I think that is very hard given the fact that Wakefield was an All-Star last year in the first half of the season. But it might be that he is your only guy that can pitch out of the bullpen. I think that Buchholz is so good that there is no reason to put him in the bullpen. But it is an interesting situation. Last year with all the injuries they had and the disappointments with Brad Penny and John Smoltz, they had 55 starts where their starters had a 6.28 earned run average. It is amazing they won 95 games last year given how many problems they had holding their rotation together.

What do you think of those Joe West comments?

Well, I was sitting behind home plate and I was muttering and cursing because Joe West was missing so many pitches. He was part of the problem with the delay of that game. Angel Hernandez blowing two or three calls at first base didn’t help. Look, the Red Sox and Yankees — both teams have talked about how those games get to be excessively long. But it is the nature. It’s the pressure, it’s the intensity. Both teams are built to try to get the other teams starters out by the sixth inning. OK, they may wander around a little bit. But these guys stepping out didn’t just start happening now. It used to drive opposing teams insane that Dwight Evans and Marty Barrett were forever trying to upstage pitchers by stepping out during their delivery. Angel made his point the other night, but I don’t know. I think some of the umpires should be a little bit careful blasting players when the whole umpire structure in Major League Baseball is being called out constantly. I think they are trying, but the umpire’s union has far more power. And Joe West is the head of the umpire’s union, so therefore he got the opening night home plate.

I was pretty happy with the pace. Three games, all were under four hours. For Red Sox-Yankees, I would say those are brief encounters.

They are, especially since all three games were tied in the 7th inning. They were all very tense games. I think the league can talk to the Red Sox and it can talk to the Yankees, but I don’t think that is Joe West’s place to be blasting the players. And he didn’t offer any solution. So if he doesn’t have a solution, just go to the league and let them come up with some way to have them play faster. But if the games are memorable — if they are five hours long and they are won in the 14th inning on a grand slam or Aaron Boone hits a home run — people want memorable games, not just games that are played very fast. A 5-1 game played in an hour and 51 minutes is not very memorable. Just ask the fans in Kansas City.

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Will opponents stop throwing fastballs to the Sox?

04.09.10 at 3:02 pm ET
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Gary From Chapel Hill breaks down the Red Sox’ Wednesday loss to the Yankees with typical precision, and in the process, noticed an interesting trend:

Through 3 games, Red Sox hitters have created a solid +2.17 runs above average per 100 fastballs seen (3rd in the majors) and a putrid -2.40 per 100 non-fastballs (3rd worst).   Last season, the Red Sox RCAA per 100 fastballs ranked 2nd and they were 6th per 100 non-fastballs.

Is this just an early season blip?  Or a concern going forward?  We will find out soon if opposing teams believe it to be true because they will stop throwing them as many fastballs (currently, the Sox are seeing 54.9% heaters).

So far:

Game 1 – Yankees threw 61% fastballs (1% lower than CC Sabathia’s typical start in 2009) and the Red Sox won;
Game 2 – Yankees threw 59% fastballs (7% lower than AJ Burnett’s typical start in 2009) and the Red Sox lost;
Game 3 – Yankees threw 44% fastballs (13% lower than Andy Pettitte’s typical start in 2009) and the Red Sox lost;

I’m not sayin’.  I’m just sayin’.

Obviously, it’s early, so one should no more draw conclusions about whether opposing teams are altering the way that they are pitching to the Sox as one should wonder, after three games, whether David Ortiz is done. Even so, it will be interesting to monitor whether opposing pitchers depend on an unusually off-speed heavy arsenal against the Sox going forward.

Another random fact from the the Nuggetpalooza Pitch Report:

The Sox lost on Wednesday despite their starter (John Lackey) going 6+ innings while allowing no runs or extra base hits.  It was the first time that’s happened to the Red Sox since 2003.  In each of the previous two such losses, the Red Sox starter was Derek Lowe (in 2002 and 2003).

For more of the Nuggetpalooza breakdown, click here.

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Red Sox vs. Royals matchups, 4/9

04.09.10 at 1:39 pm ET
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Now that the craziness of Opening Night and the long games (which Joe West is clearly not a fan of) with the Yankees are over, it’s time for the Red Sox to get rolling along with the 2010 season. The Sox embark on their first road trip of the season, starting in Kansas City against a young Royals team.

The Red Sox will not be sending a young starter to the mound on Friday night (8:10 start). Tim Wakefield, 43, gets the ball for the first time in 2010, and he is out to prove that his back is healthy and able to withstand a full season after offseason back surgery. Wakefield is 11-6 with a 3.90 ERA in 26 games (19 starts) in his career against the Royals. Last year, Wakefield had a disappointing September start against the Royals when he went five innings and gave up five runs (four earned) and was very wild, issuing seven walks in a 12-9 loss on Sept. 20 while trying to pitch through both his back injury and the rain.

Wakefield’s start actually represents something of a milestone. At 43 years, 250 days, he becomes the oldest pitcher ever to start a game for the Sox, surpassing David Wells, who was 43 years, 98 days in his final start for the Sox in 2006.

The Royals don’t come in with a lot of experience against the much experienced Wakefield. The well-traveled Jose Guillen has the most plate appearances vs. Wakefield (17), but he has only mustered a .214 average, while the free swinger has struck out seven times. Scott Podsednik comes in blazing, hitting .455, but he too has struggled hitting the knuckleball, only hitting a paltry .143.

Unfamiliarity is the theme of this game. Royals starter Kyle Davies has not faced three of Boston’s top four hitters in Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. Victor Martinez has seen Davies the most, 13 times, and he has been successful, batting .333 while belting one home run off the starter.

Davies has only faced the Red Sox once in his career, that being a 2005 start when he was with the Atlanta Braves. He did pitch well, shutting out the Red Sox over five innings, striking out six and scattering four hits in a 7-5 Atlanta win. But only David Ortiz, Jason Varitek and Youkilis (who did not register an at-bat) remain from that Red Sox squad.

Davies went 8-9 with a 5.71 ERA in 22 games for the Royals last year, and batters hit 18 home runs off of him. Red Sox fans might remember Davies for giving up Alex Rodriguez’ 500th home run in 2007.

There are a lot of unknowns in this game as the Red Sox look to improve on their 5-3 record vs. the Royals last season.

ROYALS VS. TIM WAKEFIELD

Tim Wakefield gets his first start of 2010 after a mixed bag in 2009. (AP)

Jose Guillen (17 plate appearances): .214 average/.353 OBP/.214 slugging percentage, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts

Yunieski Betancourt (13): .385/.385/.692, 1 homer

Jason Kendall (11): .300/.364/.300, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

David DeJesus (9): .111/.111/.111, 1 strikeout

Billy Butler (8): .286/.375/.429, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Scott Podsednik (7): .143/.143/.143

Willie Bloomquist (6): .667/.833/1.000, 3 walks

Mitch Maier (5): .000/.200/.000, 1 walk

Rick Ankiel: 2-for-4

Mike Aviles: 0-for-3

Alberto Callaspo: 0-for-3

Chris Getz: 2-for-3

Never faced: Brayan Pena

Kyle Davies is facing the Red Sox for the first time since 2005. (AP)

RED SOX VS. KYLE DAVIES

Victor Martinez (13 plate appearances): .333 average/.385 OBP/.750 slugging percentage, 1 homer, 1 walk

Marco Scutaro (9): .625/.667/1.375, 2 homers, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Mike Cameron (6): .400/.500/1.000, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Adrian Beltre (5) .200/.200/.200, 1 strikeout

Bill Hall (5): .333/.600/1.267, 2 walks, 1 strikeout

Jeremy Hermida (5): .250/.200/1.000, 1 homer, 1 strikeout

Mike Lowell (5): .000/.000/.000, 1 strikeout

David Ortiz: 1-for-3

Jason Varitek: 0-for-2

Never faced: Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, J.D Drew

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A look around the Red Sox system

04.09.10 at 12:14 pm ET
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A few items from today’s coverage of the Red Sox minor league system, which will be a regular component of our Friday coverage:

From the minor league notebook, a look at Red Sox pitching prospect Drake Britton, who started lighting up the gun after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Both he and roommate Nick Hagadone rehabbed like possessed men in Fort Myers, in part because they had little else to do … save for blitzing through episodes of Entourage on DVD. It was not outlandish for the two to watch a full season in a single day.

Hagadone, who was dealt to the Indians in the Victor Martinez trade, is throwing in the mid- to high-90s. Britton is in a similar boat, as the promising young left-hander discovered with some pleasure when he returned to the mound at the end of last year.

The notebook also features a look at some openers from the Sox affiliates, including one prospect who had a nice first step in trying to rebound from a rough 2009, and a few players with new teams and new positions.

–Over at Sox Booth – a place to get an insider’s perspective on the Red Sox radio broadcast coverage — you can find the first of the minor league radio interviews that will be a regular feature. Evan Lepler, broadcaster of High-A Salem, checks in with Salem manager Kevin Boles to discuss the team’s opener and promising pitcher Stolmy Pimentel. For that, click here.

Also in Sox Booth, Mike Antonnelis — who does play-by-play for the Portland Sea Dogs in Double-A — sat down with reliever Robert Coello to discuss his unusual career path that has taken him from catching to pitching. For that interview, click here.

–The family of Sox prospect minor leaguer Ryan Westmoreland released a statement of gratitude to both Sox fans and the doctor who saved their son’s life.

Alan Embree turned in a scoreless inning of work, throwing just 10 pitches. He said that he will likely exercise his right to opt out of his minor league deal if he’s not added to the Sox’ big league roster by April 15.

Boof Bonser had an 89-93 mph fastball for over the course of his 4.1 inning outing for Triple-A Pawtucket. He hung a couple of curveballs that were hit for homers, and said that his groin felt fine. For more, click here.

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Statement from Ryan Westmoreland’s family

04.09.10 at 11:01 am ET
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The family of Red Sox minor leaguer Ryan Westmoreland released the following statement about the 19-year-old’s recovery from surgery to remove a cavernous malformation in his brain through the outfielder’s agency, Octagon:

As previously reported, Ryan is finally back close to home at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. Out of respect for a very caring and concerned public, the Westmoreland family felt it is now appropriate to issue the following statement:

“We greatly appreciate the privacy that we have had to this point. This privacy has allowed Ryan to focus entirely on his rehabilitation and we believe this has helped him make significant progress in a short period of time. The next few weeks are very important to Ryan’s recovery. We prefer to maintain this level of privacy until Ryan is further along in the rehabilitation process. We appreciate your understanding.

There are still many unanswered questions, but we are confident that with Ryan’s strength, courage and determination, along with the great support of his doctors and therapists, he will continue toward a successful recovery. We know that the road of rehabilitation will be long, hard and frustrating at times, but with continued patience and faith, everything will be ok. His spirits are great and his outlook is positive. As proud as we are of so many things Ryan has done in his young life, we have never been, and never will be, more proud of him for the courage he has shown during his recovery.

In the days after Ryan first experienced symptoms in early March, he was fortunate to consult with some of the leading neurosurgeons in the world. Ultimately, he was led to what we believe is the best medical staff in the world for this procedure, Dr. Robert Spetzler and his team at the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ. Dr. Spetzler’s handling of this dangerous and delicate procedure not only gave Ryan a chance at a normal life, but in fact, saved his life. For that, we cannot adequately express our gratitude. The Neuro Rehabilitation Unit there, and at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, have paved the way for his recovery. We recognize those therapists and staff as being among the best in their field and crucial to Ryan’s recovery. We expect Ryan will remain at Spaulding Hospital for a short period of time and then transition to out-patient therapy.

We have always been very proud to be Boston Red Sox fans, but over the course of this time, that pride has increased ten-fold and is unrelated to the game of baseball. The ownership, management, staff, players and fans have shown a genuine compassion, sensitivity, professionalism and thorough support which has proven to be immeasurable. We are so fortunate to have their support and hope that knowing this, all of Red Sox Nation can realize this same pride in rooting for such a caring organization.

The overall support for Ryan during this period has been amazing. The thoughts and prayers of so many family, friends and many others that we have never even met, have given us confidence that the progress we have seen over such a short period of time will continue. Members of the MLB fraternity, both executives and players, have taken time to be by Ryan’s side and have shown class and support while offering an encouragement that is truly special.

We wish that we could individually address every message that has been sent our way through thought and prayer, but that would be difficult. Please know that we are very grateful and recognize them all for their kindness and sincerity. On behalf of Ryan, and our entire immediate and extended families, thank you.”

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Everybody settle down about Big Papi

04.09.10 at 12:24 am ET
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Everybody should exhibit a little patience when it comes to David Ortiz. (AP)

The first series of the year for the Boston Red Sox didn’t end the way they would have liked.

After coming from behind to beat the Yanks on Opening Day, the Sox dropped the next two. The talk about the first three games of the year has been exhausting. It seems as though David Ortiz will be a topic for discussion until the big DH shuts up all doubters with his bat. Is he capable of doing exactly that? That’s yet to be seen.

Even if David comes out and swings the bat like he did the final four months of last season, when he led the AL in homers, tied for the lead in runs batted in and finished third in slugging percentage, it won’t be enough for some.

I’ve already heard, “But it was against bad pitchers,” or “None of them were clutch hits.” I agree that the days of David hitting .300 with 50 homers are over, but I still think that he can be productive, hitting .265-30-100.

A few observations on David Ortiz through the first three games …

He is missing some good pitches to hit.  He is either fouling them back or swinging through them. I’m sure he’d like to get a few of them back. But I do like the way he is staying within the strike zone.  In Game 1, David saw 20 pitches in four at bats. He saw the same 20 pitches in Game 2. In Game 3, it was 16 pitches. The point is is that he is working the count, getting in good hitter’s counts, seeing pitches and not chasing out of the zone. As a hitter, one of the most important things is to swing at strikes. You can’t make a living swinging at balls outside of the zone.

The best thing for David is indeed this six-game road trip. Its an opportunity to get away from the chaos that is Boston. There won’t be 30 members of the media in Kansas City or Minnesota. He won’t be listening to talk radio (not that he does). It’s a chance to clear his head and realize that it’s the first week of the season.

Big Papi is well aware how important it is for him to get off to a good start this year. He doesn’t need to be reminded of it after two or three games. If there is anything that he can take away from his tough start last year, it’s that no matter how bad you start, you can recover and still have a productive season. Can he have a two-month stretch like he did at the start of last year? I don’t believe he can, but I’m willing to give him a month or so to get it going. He’s too important to this lineup not to give him that long of a leash.

We all talked about how important he was going to be to this team coming into this year. If that’s the case, how can people talk about pulling him out of the lineup so quick? I don’t understand it. We call ourselves baseball fans, but ask yourself this: Over the years have we ever seen someone struggle early in the year only to come back and be a very productive player? So why is this any different?

I understand that there is a track record with David over the last two years, but injuries have been an issue. After the ’07 season, David had knee surgery. It’s never a good thing when a “big” guy has a lower extremity issue. You could see early in 2008 that David was favoring his knee at the plate, not sitting down on his legs when hitting. It took a while that season, but he got it going, only to injure his wrist midway through the year. That offseason, David admits that he didn’t hit as much as he would have liked. That fact, paired with the World Baseball Classic, meant that Big Papi just wasn’t ready to start the year.  He paid the price last season as it took him two months to find any kind of rhythm. This offseason was different. He had no injuries to rehab.

But he now has another battle on his hands —  a fan base that is extremely impatient. Fans don’t want to wait a month or two. They want Big Papi back and they want him back NOW. How does he handle it? It may take a few weeks to answer that question, but if you ask me, he’s still earned that much patience after everything he has given Red Sox Nation since the first day he became one of ours.

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