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After ‘rough, long week,’ A.J. Pierzynski relieved to contribute to victory

04.08.14 at 1:09 am ET
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A.J. Pierzynski had more hits on Monday (3) than he had in the season entering the contest. (AP)

A.J. Pierzynski had more hits on Monday (3) than he had in the season entering the contest. (AP)

If you’€™ve been discouraged watching A.J. Pierzynski over the first week of regular season games, you’€™re not alone. He’€™s been just as frustrated at the plate as fans may have been watching him.

But Monday night was a turnaround of sorts for Pierzynski, who went 3-for-4 and was pivotal in the production of the team’€™s first three runs of the evening.

“€œIt was nice to contribute something,” Pierzynski said. “It’€™s been a rough, long week, a frustrating week.”

Pierzynski’€™s approach certainly differs from the philosophy of recent Red Sox teams. The club led the majors in pitches seen in 2013, averaging four pitches per plate appearance. Pierzynski is more of an aggressive hitter who doesn’€™t wait around to swing. Of the 62 pitches he’€™s seen over his 24 at-bats, Pierzynski has swung the bat at all but 10 of them. He’€™s currently averaging about 2.6 pitches per plate appearance after sitting around 3.3 last season.

So the club’€™s new starting backstop doesn’€™t quite share the same offensive philosophy as the majority of the members of the lineup. Pierzynski has been playing in the major leagues for 17 years, shis approach is unlikely to change now.

But that doesn’€™t mean he can’€™t contribute. Read the rest of this entry »

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An ‘aggressive’ John Lackey is a good John Lackey

04.08.14 at 12:07 am ET
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John Lackey was zoned in Monday night as he won his second game in as many starts. (AP)

John Lackey was zoned in Monday night as he won his second game in as many starts. (AP)

When it comes to taking the mound every fifth day, John Lackey has learned that he’s best when he doesn’t mess around.

Sporting an early season repertoire that has included more fastballs and less curves, Lackey has been getting ahead in the count and sending a message to hitters — get me early or don’t get me at all. Lackey was efficient, and at times dominating, allowing just five hits and one run, while walking two and striking out five in seven innings as the Red Sox beat the Rangers, 5-1.

“It’s been a lot of fastball action early on. So far, my arm has been feeling pretty good,” Lackey said. “I’ve been challenging guys and trying to get ahead in the count, and A.J. [Pierzynski] called a great game again for me tonight. I was able to get ahead and dictate some at-bats and it makes things go a little bit faster.

“I definitely want to pound the strike zone. I want them to know that I’m going to throw strikes. If you’re going to get me, you better get me quick [in the count] because I’m coming after you for sure. It can work both ways, if you’re not locating well, you can give it up pretty quick, too, that way. Just have to continue to locate and hopefully keep pitch counts down and get deep into games.”

After going six solid innings (90 pitches) in Baltimore on April 2, leading the Red Sox to their first win of the season, Lackey took the hill Monday at Fenway, the same mound that he stood on while clinching Game 6 of the 2013 World Series. Ironically, it was also the last time the Red Sox had won at Fenway after being swept by the Brewers in the home opening series over the weekend.

But if there’s anyone on the staff that knows something about stopping a losing streak, it’s Lackey. He’s been an ace longer than Jon Lester. And on Monday night, the Red Sox needed a pitcher to take the mound who could give the Red Sox a chance to avoid their first four-game losing streak since losing eight straight to end 2012.

Read the rest of this entry »

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A.J. Pierzynski: Jackie Bradley Jr. has ‘the ability to be a great player’

04.07.14 at 11:52 pm ET
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Jackie Bradley Jr. (AP)

Jackie Bradley Jr., pictured here with then-Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski, matched his career high with three hits Monday. (AP)

Off the bat, Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski knew that teammate Jackie Bradley Jr. had a chance. Yes, the ball hit by Rangers catcher J.P. Arencibia had no business being playable, but Pierzynski saw his right fielder taking flight towards the corner and recognized a player with uncommon defensive skill who had a chance to make the play. And so, Pierzynski was thoroughly impressed but not shocked when Bradley made a running catch in the far reaches of right field, just as he’d appreciated yet hadn’t been baffled by Bradley’s ability to make a sliding catch on a Donnie Murphy liner to right-center.

‘€œI tell you what, he gets some amazing jumps in the outfield,” said Pierzynski. “I just see the jumps he gets. For me, one good thing about being catcher is you get to see jumps on balls hit, and see how quickly they react, I saw him react not only that one but one [Donnie] Murphy hit too, got him coming in. just gets incredible jumps on balls. I don’€™t know if he’€™s fastest guy in world but jumps he gets on balls , gets to top speed right away is impressive.”

On Monday, those plays were pivotal. The Murphy hit would have scored a run with two outs; Arencibia’s ball would have been at least a double had it landed. And so, Bradley played a key role in the dominant line posted by John Lackey, while his offense — three hits, including a pair of RBI singles and a bunt single — contributed directly to four runs.

It was the sort of performance that Bradley has rarely delivered in the big leagues, but one that teammates like Pierzynski believe are within reach of the 23-year-old. While Bradley’s performance hasn’t always aligned with his prospect hype, Pierzynski suggested that his talent remains significant.

“He’€™s a great player — he’€™s got the ability to be a great player,” said Pierzynski. “You don’€™t understand how hard this game is until you actually do it every day and play and get out there and try to understand what it’€™s like to compete against the other guys because the other guys are really good too. Sometimes we try to put people in places ahead of when they’€™re ready to be where they’€™re supposed to be at and Jackie tonight had a great game, had three huge hits for us. It’€™s good for him to get those hits and get confidence and make plays in the outfield like he made, and do some things. It’€™s fun to watch because he has all the ability in the world to be a special player and hopefully this is the start to something special all year.’€

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Red Sox postgame notes: Some key stats from win over Rangers

04.07.14 at 11:42 pm ET
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John Lackey (AP)

John Lackey picked up the win Monday night. (AP)

Courtesy of the Red Sox media relations department:

RED SOX NOTES

The Red Sox snapped a three-game losing streak for their first home win of the season, 5-1, over the Rangers. With the win, the Sox avoided their first losing streak of at least four games since losing the final eight games of 2012 (Sept. 25-Oct. 3).

Monday marked the Red Sox‘€™ first win at Fenway Park since their World Series-clinching victory in Game 6 over the Cardinals on Oct. 30. John Lackey earned the win in both of those games. 

Lackey did not allow an earned run over seven innings of work. It marked the first time he held an opponent without an earned run over at least seven frames since May 24, 2013, vs. the Indians (seven IP, one run). He became the first Sox hurler to throw at least seven innings without an earned run this season (last Jon Lester, Aug. 19, 2013, vs. Giants). Lackey surrendered five hits and two walks while striking out five.

Jackie Bradley Jr. matched his career high with three hits (also June 1, 2013 at the Yankees). With RBI singles in his first two plate appearances, Bradley recorded an RBI on three consecutive hits dating back to April 3 at the Orioles. He became the first Red Sox right fielder age 23 or younger to have multiple RBIs in a game since Phil Plantier did it in 1992 (also 23).  Read the rest of this entry »

Closing Time: Jackie Bradley Jr., John Lackey lead Red Sox past Rangers

04.07.14 at 10:17 pm ET
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THIS was the Jackie Bradley Jr. who set the world on its ear in spring training in 2013. THIS was the Jackie Bradley Jr. whom the Red Sox hoped to see this spring but who was nowhere to be found while Grady Sizemore exploded onto the scene.

Bradley had perhaps the best game of his major league career in the Red Sox‘ 5-1 victory over the Rangers on Monday, making the sort of two-way impact that established him as one of the Red Sox‘ best prospects in the less than three years since the Sox drafted him. He started in right field and made a pair of sensational catches, first getting a great jump on the way to an inning-ending sliding catch on what would have been a run-scoring hit by Donnie Murphy. Then, on a J.P. Arencibia launch toward the right field corner in the third, he got an amazing jump and ran in a straight line with his back to the plate and stuck out his glove in time to rob the Rangers catcher of extra bases.

But on this night, he changed the game not just with his glove but also his bat. In the bottom of the second, he got the Sox on the board (with their first lead of a homestand that is now four games old) by lining a two-out single to center on a 94 mph fastball from Texas starter Tanner Scheppers, just the fifth two-out hit with runners in scoring position by a Sox hitter this year. After the Rangers came back to tie the game in the top of the fourth, Bradley once again put the Sox ahead by lining a run-scoring single to left. He also added a bunt single in the eighth that contributed to a three-run rally that blew the game open.

This was the approach that the offensive approach that the Sox believe can make Bradley an excellent hitter — the ability to spray line drives from line to line with some gap power while forcing pitchers to throw strikes permitting him a chance to post strong batting averages and on-base numbers. Bradley didn’t show those abilities in the spring, when his swing often got long as he seemed intent on hitting for power. But now, at a more important time, with an unexpected season-opening job in the big leagues due to the injury to Shane Victorino, Bradley is displaying his considerable talents at a most opportune time for the Red Sox. The victory allowed the Sox to halt their three-game losing streak.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– Bradley had his fifth career multi-hit game.

John Lackey delivered a second straight powerful outing to open the year, firing seven innings in which he allowed just one unearned run on five hits (four singles and a triple) while striking out five and walking two. Lackey is now 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA, 11 strikeouts and three walks in his two starts.

Grady Sizemore continued to show no hesitation on the field. The center fielder crashed head first into the padding at the wall in center field in an unsuccessful attempt to haul in Shin-Soo Choo‘s triple, and then made an impressive diving catch in the next inning. Sizemore went 2-for-4 with a double.

Read the rest of this entry »

Red Sox notes: Shane Victorino’s return slowed; no timetable for Will Middlebrooks

04.07.14 at 7:37 pm ET
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Shane Victorino (AP)

Shane Victorino is battling a hamstring injury and a sickness. (AP)

The Red Sox have felt the absence of Shane Victorino early, and the team remains uncertain about when it will get its everyday right fielder back.

Victorino, who suffered a hamstring injury in the final game of spring training that resulted in his placement on the disabled list, was further slowed in his efforts to rehab by a nasty bout of the flu last week. Illness forced him to miss the visit to the White House and continued to afflict him into the weekend.

The reigning AL Gold Glover is finally improving to the point where he’s been able to commence exercise, but there’s a good chance that he’ll still be resuming the earliest stages of his return to baseball activities at the end of the coming week. That being the case, his return to the active roster appears likely to have been slowed by his illness.

“He was in earlier today for treatment, so the flu symptoms, those are slowing. … He’s started to do some cardio work, so we’re starting to get some physical activity back in the mix, but that’€™s been delayed because of how he’s felt from the flu,” said manager John Farrell. “We’re still trying to keep him away from everyone else for obvious reasons, but as we get through this week or toward the end of this week and not just the treatment but also the activity starts to ramp up, we’ll get a better read on a projected time for a rehab assignment.”

Meanwhile, there is no timetable yet for Will Middlebrooks‘ return as he continues to let his strained calf heal. While Farrell said the third baseman’s discomfort had diminished since he was placed on the disabled list on Sunday, it will be some time before he does anything more than receive treatment for the injured area.

OTHER NOTES

Farrell said that there were no concerns about Clay Buchholz‘s health in the aftermath of his poor outing on Saturday. Farrell said the issue was one of location rather than health.

– Farrell characterized shortstop Xander Bogaerts’ defense to date as being “probably a little bit more than we anticipated, and that’€™s not to say we had lower expectations of him. There was a ball yesterday that he gets caught a little bit in that five-six hole, went at it with his forehand when he probably could have planted and gone to the backhand. The range has been good. I think he’s playing very well.”

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For Ryan Roberts, ‘crazy journey’ ends with opportunity with Red Sox

04.07.14 at 6:33 pm ET
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Ryan Roberts (WEEI.com)

Ryan Roberts is entering his ninth season in the majors. (WEEI.com)

The past 12 days represented a new and unknown journey for Ryan Roberts.

The 33-year-old, entering his ninth season in the majors, found himself without a team to play for when Opening Day rolled around, having opted out of his minor league deal with the Cubs upon learning that he would not make the 25-man roster out of spring training. Falling out of the typical baseball routine presented a challenge and new experienced for the veteran Roberts.

“If I had to relate it best, I’€™d say, like, the Bud Light commercial where they pick the guy up and take him on a wild crazy night and journey. That’s kind of been my deal here,” said Roberts. “It’s been a crazy journey, an experience that I’ve never dealt with before. They’re long days…the  days sometimes go by really fast, but my days went by really slow. It’s been a learning experience.”

Roberts was trying to find the right opportunity, weighing different possibilities. But then, with the injury to Will Middlebrooks and the need for a versatile, right-handed hitter with experience at third base, the Red Sox saw Roberts as a good fit. The deal came together quickly between the two sides.

“[It came together] in a matter of 24 hours,”€ Roberts said. “€œI had opportunity to think about other places to go, and then all of a sudden, the best opportunity came up [in Boston].”

Roberts will be part of what manager John Farrell described as a platoon situation with Jonathan Herrera at third base, and with left-hander Martin Perez on the mound for the Rangers tomorrow, Roberts will get the start at the hot corner. Having played six different positions over the course of career, including every infield position, Roberts gives the Red Sox some much-needed versatility and a veteran presence off the bench.

“I’€™ve been fortunate to play everywhere, I feel comfortable everywhere on diamond,”€ Roberts said. “I’€™m not going to claim to be the best at any position, but I do feel comfortable. I make mistakes like everyone else…but I feel confident I can get the job done if needed.”

Barring an at-bat off the bench on Monday, Tuesday will be the first time the 33-year-old will have faced live pitching in about 10 days. Roberts spent spring training with the Cubs, batting .237/.310/.342 with four doubles and an RBI in 18 games, but opted out of his minor league deal at the end of camp. Roberts was very close to making the cut with the Cubs, but they opted for youth with Mike Olt at third base. Though his spring training stats are rather lackluster, they’re not necessarily an indication of how Roberts was swinging the bat.

“I felt great [in spring training],” Roberts said. “Obviously, a lot of people look at numbers, and my numbers weren’€™t the best. But I would have at-bats where I saw seven or eight pitches and then I would line out. There were at-bats where I would just miss the ball by a hair…that happens in spring training. I just all around felt great. You always want the numbers to be higher, but in perspective of how I felt, I felt the best I ever have.”

Part of that related to an unexpected development: Roberts’ eyesight improved.

“Long story short, I had a stigmatism in both eyes. My left eye was 20/15, which was pretty good, and my right eye was 20/25,” said Roberts. “I went in in spring training this year, I did have contacts. I just couldn’€™t wear them. I had glasses, and didn’€™t really ever wear them. I went into spring training this year, my eyesight on my left is 20/14.2, my right eye was 20/14.3.”

Though Roberts represents a valuable asset for a club to have given his versatility and solid bat, he admits that he did entertain the thought that his playing days might be over as the days passed without a team to play for.

“It comes into your mind. I just trust that God will put me somewhere,” Roberts said. “If the door closed on baseball, I figured another would open. It didn’€™t close yet, and I landed with a championship team, and I couldn’t be more blessed.”

Read More: Ryan Roberts, Will Middlebrooks,
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