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Wednesday’s Red Sox-Phillies matchups: John Lackey vs. Vance Worley

06.29.11 at 8:22 am ET
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John Lackey

While this week’s Red Sox-Phillies series promises several marquee pitching matchups, Wednesday’s game will feature two back-of-the-rotation hurlers at Citizens Bank Park. Struggling veteran John Lackey will take the mound for the Red Sox, while the Phillies counter with young righty Vance Worley, a rookie who’s had success while flying under the radar in Philadelphia’s rotation of superstars.

Lackey (5-6, 7.36 ERA) will get another shot at redemption in the midst of the worst season of his career. He didn’t exactly impress in his last start, giving up five runs, four hits and four walks before being pulled in the fourth inning against the Padres, an outing that was made more challenging by multiple rain delays. Lackey did go eight innings against the Brewers on June 17, although he gave up four runs on eight hits. With Clay Buchholz poised for a return from the DL, Lackey could be pitching for his spot in the rotation, although Andrew Miller or Tim Wakefield could be moved to the bullpen instead.

The Phillies roster has amassed 143 plate appearances against Lackey, and nearly every Philadelphia regular has seen him at least five times. Raul Ibanez has a team-high 59 plate appearances against the Boston starter from his days with the Mariners. Ibanez is hitting a sweltering .352 off Lackey with four doubles, five walks and six RBI. Placido Polanco has hit for the cycle in 24 plate appearances against the right-hander, although the single, double, triple and home run are his only four hits off Lackey. Polanco is the only Phillies hitter with a home run off the Boston starter.

In 37 career plate appearances, Lackey is hitting .086 with a double, an RBI and 10 strikeouts. Two of his three hits came off Ubaldo Jimenez, and the third came against Barry Zito.

Worley (2-1, 2.83 ERA) will be making his ninth career start on Wednesday and his seventh of 2011. With just 48 career innings under his belt, it comes as no surprise that the 23-year-old has yet to face a Red Sox hitter. Left-handed hitters are batting .250 against Worley, while he’s held righties to .242.

The Phillies will have an obvious advantage playing at home in the interleague matchup, and Worley has pitched his best at Citizens Bank Park. The former Long Beach State standout has recorded both of his wins at home, posting a 1.57 ERA and holding opponents to a .163 batting average in 23 innings.

Worley struggled mightily against the Mets on May 29, allowing eight runs in three innings, but bounced back quite well in his two starts in June. Through 11 innings this month, Worley has allowed just one run on six hits while striking out seven and walking six.

At the plate, Worley is 2-for-10 with four strikeouts.

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Theo Epstein talks prospects, trade deadline

06.29.11 at 12:36 am ET
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Red Sox GM Theo Epstein (AP)

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein visited with play-by-play announced Joe Castiglione on the WEEI Red Sox Pre-Game Show to discuss a number of topics. Among them:

–The Red Sox’ strange history in Philadelphia during his tenure;

–The amazing performance of Adrian Gonzalez;

–The status of several prospects (including Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick and Jose Iglesias); and

–Where the Sox stand with regards to the July 31 trade deadline.

To listen to the complete interview, click here. A transcript of highlights is below:

On memories of the Red Sox’ visits to Philadelphia since Epstein took over as Sox GM in 2003:

We’ve had some big games here over the years. We were talking about the Vet, and our series here in 2003 when Jim Thome tied up a game in the ninth and won it in extra innings. We had a rainout and came back in early Sept., Trot Nixon won it with a big home run when Manny [Ramirez] was either benched or refusing to play – I can’t remember – and that put us into the wild card lead and we went on a good run there in Sept. We were joking about the grand slam that Manny hit here in this park where he threw his bat in frustration. He thought he popped out, but it carried and carried and was a big hit for us. So it always seems to be entertaining games, hard-fought series when we come here.

On his view of this Red Sox series in Philadelphia:

It seems like they’re the class of the National League, and we’re fighting to get where we want to be in the American League. You know when you face the Phillies that you’re going to go up against some great, great starting pitching, a dangerous offense with some really good left-handed hitters. So we need to scratch and claw, have a good approach against their starting pitching, be opportunistic when we have runners on and keep their left-handed hitters at bay in this ballpark.

Has Adrian Gonzalez been better than advertised?

As a person and as a player he’s really special. I think it’s more that we all get to be around him day after day now. instead of looking at his numbers, fans get to see what he does in the batter’s box, the consistency of his approach, how beautiful his swing is. A lot of guys have pretty swings, but it’s how often he can repeat it. He can out-think the opposition more often than not. It always seems like when he’s looking for a pitch, he’ll get it, sometimes during that at-bat, and not miss it.

It’s pretty meaningful what he’s done, not only at the plate, but in the field and with his leadership, with the stability he brought in. It’s actually a lot of fun. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kevin Millwood looking to make MLB return with Red Sox, declines June opt-out

06.28.11 at 11:06 pm ET
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PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Kevin Millwood was signed to a minor-league deal by the Red Sox on May 19 to provide organizational starting pitching depth at a time when John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka were headed to the disabled list. While the latter will remain on the DL for the rest of the season and Clay Buchholz is currently taking a turn in the infirmary with a back issue, starting depth is again looking like it could be an issue.

In his first five starts playing for the Sox Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket, Millwood had emerged as a quality low-risk signing, going 3-0 with a 2.89 ERA while also allowing two runs or fewer in four of those five starts.

Tuesday night’s contest against Rochester, the Twins’ little brother in Triple-A, suggested that Millwood is not quite where Andrew Miller was two weeks ago. The veteran right-hander allowed season-highs in hits (nine) and runs allowed (six) over four innings, his fewest innings pitched since a low pitch count cut short his PawSox debut to 2 2/3 frames on June 1.

The 36-year-old shrugged the most during a five-run second inning in which he allowed six runners to reach on one walk, two singles, two doubles and a triple. He later allowed a solo home run in the fourth on a 3-1 offspeed pitch to close out the Red Wings’ scoring. An eight-run comeback by the PawSox saved Millwood from getting his first loss in the Red Sox organization.

His fastball topped out at 89 on a strikeout of former PawSox first baseman Aaron Bates in the first inning, while his slider hovered in the low 80s and his curveball was around the high 70s. Although his stuff hasn’t been overpowering, it was at least effective prior to Tuesday night.

But according to Millwood, who called the start “just one of those nights,” control began to be a bit of a problem in his latest start.

“It was a bit of an issue,” he said. “Left some balls up and just didn’t make pitches when I needed to. That was it. … Didn’t throw quality strikes.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Closing Time: Cliff Lee the story in 5-0 Phillies win

06.28.11 at 9:45 pm ET
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PHILADELPHIA — Too much Cliff Lee on Monday night, as the left-hander was simply dominant, tossing his major-league leading fourth shutout of the season in a 5-0 Phillies win before 45,714 at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies (50-30) will send Vance Worley (2-1, 2.83) to the mound in the second game of the much-hyped interleague showdown on Wednesday. He will be opposed by John Lackey (5-6, 7.36).

WHAT WENT WRONG

– The Sox were unable to solve Lee, managing just a sixth-inning Marco Scutaro single and eighth-inning Darnell McDonald double against the left-hander. Lee has allowed just a single run in five June starts.

– Josh Beckett never really had a chance against Lee, but that doesn’t excuse a season-high five earned runs for the right-hander, who was making his first start since June 15. Beckett had allowed just four home runs entering Tuesday, but gave up two homers in the loss (Domonic Brown and Shane Victorino).

– Mike Cameron continued his struggles, striking out (looking) twice in three hitless at-bats. Cameron is now batting .149 for the season, a number that is only magnified without the bat of David Ortiz in the lineup.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Franklin Morales was activated before the game (he had been on the DL since May 26 with a left forearm strain) and pitched a perfect inning of relief, striking out two batters. It was his first appearance since May 25.

– Scutaro broke up the no-hit attempt by Lee with that leadoff single in the sixth inning and made a couple of nice plays in the hole at shortstop in the first two innings.

– Bobby Jenks also returned and authored a scoreless inning, striking out Victorino to escape a jam in a 25-pitch eighth inning. Jenks had been on the DL since June 8 with back tightness.

Tommy Hottovy: ‘I’d do [road to majors] all over again’

06.28.11 at 6:40 pm ET
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Despite how long it took there, Tommy Hottovy wouldn't trade his journey to the majors for anything. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Tommy Hottovy’s road to the majors had as many twists, turns and seemingly dead ends as a Boston side street, but like any Beantown driver, the lefty reliever finally reached his ultimate destination of the majors, even though it took Tommy John surgery in 2008, seven-plus seasons of minor-league ball and a minor pit stop as a waiter at Arizona Pizza in Fort Myers, Fla. to get there.

But the end of fellow lefty arm Franklin Morales’s rehab stint Tuesday and his subsequent return to the Red Sox left no room on the active roster for the 29-year-old southpaw, putting his major-league career on hold after pitching from the hallowed ground of a big-league mound in eight games. Back at McCoy Stadium, the home of Red Sox Triple-A affiliate Pawtucket, Hottovy exhibited the same signature smile that he showed when he first entered the Fenway clubhouse back on June 3 when discussing his experiences with the big club.

“It was the most fun thing ever,” he said. “When you work a long time to get to this point and have it rewarded – a lot of hard work, a lot of time spent on buses all over the country – it’s just amazing. Can’t really put it into words the experience but just try to soak stuff up as much as you can.”

Over his eight appearances, Hottovy retired 12 batters (4 IP) and allowed three earned runs on four hits and three walks while striking out two. Two of those earned runs came in a June 14 loss to the Rays in which the lefty failed to retire Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria and Casey Kotchman before being taken out for right-hander Alfredo Aceves. Joyce and Longoria would eventually round the bases.

On the whole, Hottovy only completed a whole inning by himself two times in his short Red Sox career. That being said, he didn’t surrender a hit in six of his appearances, even if most those outings came in lefty-vs.-lefty situations. Those results had Hottovy optimistic about his future despite his shipment down to Pawtucket.

“I felt like I did pretty well,” he said. “Anytime you go up you’re going to have some nervousness, butterflies or whatever, in your first outing. But I felt like I handled it well. There’s some situations where I could’ve pitched better or differently, no question. You could always say that. But I think for my first experience, some of the situations I was in, I learned well and I think it’s just going to make me better down the road. Even coming back here, I know the situations that I’m in, what’s going on and what’s going to make me successful. It’s just important to keep that in mind and not get caught up in everything else.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Dennis Eckersley on M&M: John Lackey is ‘disturbing to watch’

06.28.11 at 2:57 pm ET
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Dennis Eckersley

NESN baseball analyst Dennis Eckersley talked with Lou Merloni and Tom Caron on Tuesday’s edition of the Mut & Merloni Show about the Red Sox pitching staff and the upcoming showdown with the Phillies. (To listen to the complete interview, click here.)

In advance of the series in Philadelphia, Eckersley said that the Phillies rotation has lived up to its lofty expectations so far.

“I think you have to have [Roy] Oswalt there pitching as good as he can pitch to be the best [rotation] of all time, but you’ve got three guys right now [Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels] that should be in the All-Star game,” Eckersley said. “You could argue they could go 1-2-3 right at you, three best pitchers in the National League. So how good does it get? The two left handers [Lee and Hamels], they’re over the top, but Halladay to me … it’s hard to do what he’s done over the period of time that he has. And I think it’s really helped him that he’s changed leagues. I think there’s a chance for him to get to 250-300 wins.”

While the Phillies have certainly impressed on the mound to this point in the season, Eckersley said Tuesday’s starter [Josh] Beckett has been just as good.

“You think about Beckett, you watch him pitch, nothing goes straight. He’s cutting it … then the change up … one ball’s going that way, one’s going the other,” he said. “He’s got a hook, a consistent hook. What’s forgotten in all this is Beckett — because I’ve been there before, you know when you’re hurt, when people go back to the season and say, ‘Oh this guy stinks.’ Well, stinking has a lot to do with not being 100 percent, which is what happened last year.”

On the other end of the Sox rotation, Eckersley struggled to find a silver lining in John Lackey‘s season to date.

“He’s disturbing to watch. He just is. It’s a tired act when he’s not going well or doesn’t get a pitch,” said Eckersley. “That being said, he didn’t forget how to pitch. He’s got a good little hook. He doesn’t bring it anyway, he’s got to paint a little bit. I can’t imagine he’s going to keep stinking it up and then they’re going to put him in the bullpen. It’s human nature, the guy’s making [$15.25 million]. It’s on your mind when he’s not performing very well, but I think the guy’s been around too long to just forget how to pitch.”

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John Kruk on M&M: ‘Feeling-out’ process during Red Sox-Phillies series

06.28.11 at 1:01 pm ET
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John Kruk

ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk joined the Mut & Merloni show on Tuesday afternoon for his weekly appearance, and Lou Merloni and Tom Caron talked to the former Phillies first baseman about what it’s like to play in the high-pressure environment that is Philadelphia, the Red Sox’ destination for an upcoming three-game series. Kruk said that not every Joe Ballplayer can handle playing in such a city.

“No, not at all,” he said. “A good example is Andy Ashby, a guy who pitched when I was playing there and he struggled. He really struggled. Because of the criticism, whatever, he didn’t pitch well. Then when he went to San Diego, he was a Cy Young candidate one year. The Phillies brought him back, and he couldn’t pitch again. It was just a mental block that Andy went through about playing and pitching in Philadelphia that really got to him.

“But I loved it. I think anytime you know the slightest mistake you make is going to be noticed by Boston fans, New York fans, Philadelphia fans, I think to me it makes your concentration so much better. You look statistically I had my best years in Philly just because I think for that reason. Playing in San Diego, sometimes you have mental lapses. There you couldn’t because the last thing you wanted was the scorn of 30,000 or 40,000 people on a daily basis.”

As for the Red Sox-Phillies matchup itself, you don’t have to look hard to find someone in the stands or press box calling the series a preview of this year’s World Series. That being said, Kruk wouldn’t say that anyone should look too hard into who wins this late-June set.

“This is more of a feeling-out thing for me between these two teams,” he said. “If [Jed Lowrie] was healthy, that may be a different story. If [Carl Crawford] was healthy, that might be a different story. The Phillies, we don’t know what they’re going to be because all the rumors are that they’re looking to get a right-handed bat, they’re looking to get some bullpen help. Heath Bell‘s name’s been thrown around. Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer. So you’re talking about a three-game series in June that might be different players by the time the postseason comes around on each of these teams.

“But as far as the pitching goes, oh my gosh. Cliff Lee and [Josh Beckett]. That’s special. We’re dialing that one up tonight. We might have to invite Mark Mulder in to break this one down.” Read the rest of this entry »

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