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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

Where things stand with Ryan Kalish

04.25.11 at 6:35 pm ET
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Ultimately, no one can say exactly what will happen with Ryan Kalish‘€™s shoulder. A team source confirmed multiple reports that the right fielder is dealing with a partial tear of the labrum in his left shoulder, an injury whose roots date to his days as a football player.

(Interesting footnote: The fact that Kalish was available to be drafted by the Red Sox in the ninth round of the 2006 draft is at least in part a byproduct of that injury. He was limited largely to playing DH during his senior season; Sox area scout Ray Fagnant, however, had seen quite a bit of Kalish in the outfield while he was playing in an East Coast Pro Showcase during the summer after his junior year, and so the Sox were able to land the talented two-sport star after he slid in the draft. For more on that, click here.)

Everything is on the table. Kalish — who was hitting .236 with a .300 OBP and .309 slugging mark in 14 games for the PawSox — may be fine without surgery. Then again, if he doesn’€™t respond to a conservative, non-invasive course of rehab, then it might prove necessary for him to undergo a procedure (described by the source as a ‘€œclean-up,’€ rather than a major surgery). It is worth noting that, given that Kalish’€™s left arm was being held at his side by a trainer as he walked off the field, the MRI did reveal that the worst-case scenario ‘€“ a dislocation of the shoulder, which would have required immediate surgery and a lengthy rehab process ‘€“ had not been realized.

Kalish, who suffered the injury (described by the team as a “significant shoulder sprain”) while trying to make a diving catch on Thursday, has been shut down for the next two to three weeks. At that time, a determination will be made about whether the 23-year-old is responding to rehab. Read the rest of this entry »

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Nuggetpalooza: “We’re Going Streaking!”

04.25.11 at 2:18 pm ET
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Now, THAT was a pretty nice Boston sports weekend! And here are some random Sox nuggets as they take a breather after their four game sweep in Anaheim:

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* – Red Sox starters have allowed zero earned runs in three straight starts. It’s the first time they’ve done that since April 25-29, 2004 (Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Byung-Hyun Kim). It’s the first time they’ve done it ON THE ROAD since August 24-26, 1990 (Dana Kiecker, Roger Clemens, Greg Harris).

Note this: In 2002, Red Sox starters allowed zero earned runs EIGHT times in a span of 14 games. Pedro had three, Derek Lowe three, Tim Wakefield one, and John Burkett one.

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* – Since Torii Hunter’s home run off Josh Beckett in the 7th inning on Thursday, Sox starters have tossed 24 consecutive scoreless innings.

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* – Carl Crawford hit his first home run as a member of the Red Sox on Sunday and is now tied with 137 other Red Sox who have hit one career bomb with the team. The list includes Adrian Gonzalez, Daniel Nava, Doug Mientkiewicz, Creighton Gubanich, Billy Jo Robidoux, Ed Jurak, Stan Papi, Ted Cox, and the immortal Arquimedez Pozo.

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* – Twice in the last five seasons, Crawford’s first homer came later in the season than April 24. In 2006, his first jack came on April 30, and in 2009, he didn’t get off the schneid until May 7.

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* – Crawford’s homer came after he fell behind 0-and-2. That’s significant because his last HR after falling in an 0-and-2 hole was back in 2007, a stretch of 311 such plate appearances without one.

Note this: The only player with 30 or more HR since the start of the 2008 season and more 0-2 chances than Crawford without a homer? Texas’ Michael Young, who has not hit a bomb after being down 0-and-2 since 2005 (617 such plate appearances).

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* – Jon Lester has induced seven groundball double plays already this season (in just 27 DP situations), the highest GIDP percentage in the AL (min. 20 DP situations faced):

25.7% – Jon Lester, BOS (7-of-27)
21.1% – Josh Tomlin, CLE (4-of-21)
18.5% – Zach Britton, BAL (5-of-27)

Note: Britton is Baltimore’s scheduled starter on Tuesday night.

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* – Jacoby Ellsbury averaged 5.0 pitches per plate appearance on April 1 and again on April 2. In the 18 games that he’s played since then, he’s averaged just 3.6 pitches per plate appearance and averaged five or more in a game just once (April 18).

Note this: Kevin Youkilis has had six different games in which he’s averaged five or more pitches per plate appearance and is averaging 4.57 for the season, second highest in the majors behind Oakland’s Daric Barton (4.65; min. 70 PA).

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* – Opponents are batting just .188 on groundballs against the Red Sox this season, the second lowest such average allowed in the AL. Texas has held opponents to a .181 average so far. Last year, the Red Sox allowed a .220 average on grounders, ranked fourth.

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* – John Lackey has faced 20 batters in the first inning this season without recording a strikeout. That’s the second most in the majors without a K:

23 – Javier Vazquez, FLA
20 – John Lackey, BOS
18 – Alexi Ogando, TEX

On the flip side, opponents are 1-for-17 with nine strikeouts and no walks in the first inning this season against the Angels’ Dan Haren. Haren retired the Red Sox in order (with one strikeout) in the opening inning on Friday night.

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* – Lackey’s turnaround: In his first two starts, Lackey averaged -0.44 “points per pitch” (using my pitch results grading scale), the worst in the majors through April 8. In his two starts after he was skipped over, he’s averaged +0.65 points per pitch.

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* – Here’s a clip-and-save for this week: Through 20 games, the Orioles have scored only two total runs in the first inning, the second fewest in the AL. That’s right, the Twins have only scored ONE first inning run in their first 21 games this season (and it scored on a throwing error so there was no RBI).

Note this: The Orioles haven’t scored a first inning run in their last 14 games. Their leadoff batter in the first has reached base only twice in the last 17 games. Wow.

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* – The Red Sox needed only 128 pitches on Saturday and 118 on Sunday. It’s just the second time since the ’08 season that they’ve thrown fewer than 130 pitches in consecutive wins (home or away). They haven’t done it in three straight road wins since 2002.

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Closing Time: John Lackey, Red Sox keep good times rolling, shut out Angels

04.24.11 at 7:08 pm ET
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(Click here to listen to postgame interview with Carl Crawford)

One game away.

That’s what the Red Sox find themselves from hitting the magical .500 mark after completing a four-game sweep of the Angels courtesy of a 7-0 win Sunday afternoon in Anaheim. The Sox now stand at 10-11, the identical mark they possessed after 21 games last season.

The win marked the first time since 1980 the Red Sox completed a four-game sweep against the Angels in Anaheim since 1980. The victory also made the Sox’ 8-1 since April 16, the best mark in the majors over that time. During the eight games leading into the series finale, the Sox starting pitchers had  combined for a 6-1 mark with a 1.01 ERA, limiting opponents to a .152 batting average.

The Red Sox starters also matched a stretch not seen since 1946, allowing two runs or less while totaling more than five innings or more in each of the last nine games.

Sunday it was John Lackey who carried the torch. The starting pitcher was one of more than a few things that went right for the Sox in their latest win.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

— Lackey was in control all day, notching 23 first-pitch strikes to his 32 batters, while going to just three three-ball counts. When it was all said and done, the righty had gone eight innings, giving up six hits, and one walk while striking out six. It marked the second time in Lackey’s Red Sox career that he came out of a start without giving up a run.

— Reliever Dan Wheeler, who had allowed at least one run in four of his seven previous appearances, cruised through the ninth to keep the shutout intact.

Carl Crawford actually smiled. The grin game after his third at-bat of the game, when the outfielder worked his way back from an 0-2 count, made it 3-2, and proceeded to launch his first home run as a member of the Red Sox over the right-field fence. Crawford, who raised his average to .171, capped his day with a single in his next at-bat.

— The Red Sox answered a persisting problem by going 4-for-8 with runners in scoring position. The Sox, who were last in the majors in such situations, were helped mightily by Adrian Gonzalez, who went 3-for-5 with two RBIs.

Jacoby Ellsbury continued to show signs of life out of the leadoff spot, coming away with a pair of hits, along with the Red Sox’ first run. His strikeout rate continued to be somewhat of a concern (2 more), but the outfielder now has his highest batting average (.219) since the third game of the season. He also finished the series 6-for-18 with two walks and four runs.

— With the red-hot Jed Lowrie getting a day off, Marco Scutaro returned to the starting lineup at shortstop and came away with a pair of hits.

WHAT WENT WRONG

— While Ellsbury has been more of a presence in the leadoff spot of late, his stolen base percentage isn’t what he would probably like. The speedster was thrown out for the third time this season, having made eight attempts.

Mike Cameron is still getting used to a new role, going 0-for-4 while replacing J.D. Drew in right field Sunday, with the veteran’s average dropping to .136. It was just Cameron’s seventh game, which has included three hits (no extra-base hits) in 24 at-bats.

Read More: Angels, carl crawford, john lackey, Red Sox
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