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Closing Time: Nick Punto’s bat, Felix Doubront’s arm carry Red Sox out of last-place

06.02.12 at 4:18 pm ET
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The Red Sox have finally climbed their way out of last-place in the division as they topped the Blue Jays on Saturday. The two teams entered Saturday’€™s game two games over .500, but the Red Sox used a 7-4 win at Rogers Centre to squeak into fourth place.

A four-run second inning gave the Red Sox a lead that they would never surrender, thanks to RBIs from Will Middlebrooks, Nick Punto, and Daniel Nava. All of the RBIs came with two outs, including Nava’€™s two-run single to center field that bounced off Colby Rasmus’€™ glove.

The Blue Jays slowly were making a comeback between the third and fifth innings, as they scored a run in each of those three frames thanks to two home runs and an unearned run. Toronto had a chance for more runs in the third with the bases loaded and two outs, but Rasmus helped the Red Sox out again by popping out to third.

The Red Sox play the final game of the series tomorrow and will be looking for a series sweep on the road before their day off on Monday.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Punto drove an RBI double to right field in the second inning, scoring Ryan Sweeney from third base. Punto earned his first double and first RBI since his first start of the season on April 8 against the Tigers. That game was also the last time Punto had a multi-hit game, a feat that he accomplished on Saturday after a seventh-inning single to right field.

Punto also hit his first home run since Sept. 27, 2011 in the top of the ninth inning, crushing one into the second deck in right field.

While Punto has been struggling at the plate recently and is only hitting .175 on the season, he has a hit in three of his last five games.

Felix Doubront continues to be the most consistent Red Sox starter this season, earning his fifth win in his last six starts. Doubront pitched 6 1/3 innings, only allowing two earned runs on seven hits while striking out seven on Saturday. The Venezuelan lefty leads the Red Sox with six wins and 66 strikeouts on the season.

– The Red Sox left Nava in the leadoff spot again on Saturday and he continued to produce, driving in two runs on an RBI single in the second inning that went off of Rasmus’€™ glove. In his four games batting leadoff this season, Nava has four hits and six RBIs while scoring two runs.

Nava has been a reliable option in the outfield for the Red Sox with all of their injuries, as he is now batting .315 with 18 RBIs in his 23 games played this year.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– Even though Middlebrooks drove in a run with an RBI single in the game, the 23-year-old third baseman grounded into two double plays on Saturday. Middlebrooks has grounded into three double plays in the past two games after only hitting into one in his first 24 games. The first double play that he hit into scored Kevin Youkilis from third.

Jeff Mathis not only hit his third home run on the year in the game, he caught the Red Sox napping in the fourth inning by bunting for a base hit with two outs. Mathis dropped a bunt towards Middlebrooks, who was positioned too far back to have a chance to make the play. The bunt single advanced David Cooper, who had reached on an error the previous at-bat, and set up Kelly Johnson to deliver an RBI single to left field.

– Sweeney let a throw to the infield slip out of his hand in the bottom of the eighth, allowing Edwin Encarnacion to score all the way from first instead of standing in at second. With a runner on second, the tying run came to the plate for the Blue Jays with only one out. However, Rajai Davis flew out to center field, before Brett Lawrie was caught stealing third to end the threat. The error was the Red Sox second error on the game.

Read More: Blue Jays, felix doubront, Nick Punto, Red Sox

Red Sox Minor League Roundup: Brandon Jacobs ends the drought, Blake Swihart on a roll, Boss Moanaroa is … boss

06.02.12 at 10:15 am ET
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A roundup of Friday’s rain-impaired activity in the Red Sox system…

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: RAINED OUT AT LEHIGH VALLEY (PHILLIES)

Jose Iglesias was placed on the seven-day DL due to the ongoing stiffness in his lower back. He was examined on Thursday in Boston, and while that exam revealed no change in the diagnosis, the fact that he will be sidelined for a few more days convinced the Sox to put him on the DL, backdated to May 26.

— Right-hander Mark Prior was assigned out of extended spring training to Triple-A Pawtucket. The 31-year-old, who has not pitched since 2006, pitched in the Yankees‘ system last summer, appearing in 11 games in which he struck out 15 and walked four in 12 innings while forging a 2.25 ERA.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: RAINED OUT AT ALTOONA (PIRATES)

— Left-hander Drake Britton was promoted to Double-A Portland after a seven-start stretch in which he had a 2.76 ERA with 36 strikeouts and 15 walks in 32 2/3 innings. For more on Britton, who was described by former Salem teammate Matt Barnes as having “stuff too good to be hit,” click here.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 12-4 WIN VS. MYRTLE BEACH (RANGERS)

(BOX)

Brandon Jacobs, in his second game back from a disabled list stint following a hand contusion, hit his first homer since April 12, ending a 28-game drought. It was part of a 2-for-5 night for Jacobs, who pushed his average back over .300 and now has a season line of .301/.344/.425/.769. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: blake swihart, boss moanaroa, brandon jacobs, christian vazquez

Saturday’s Red Sox-Blue Jays Matchups: Felix Doubront vs. Kyle Drabek

06.01.12 at 10:18 pm ET
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Pitcher Felix Doubront leads the Red Sox starting pitching staff with a 3.86 ERA, five wins and 59 strikeouts and is coming off a 7-4 win over Detroit on May 28. Doubront (5-2) lasted six innings and gave up two earned runs against the Tigers.

Doubront will try to mount his second winning streak of the season when the takes the mound against the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon.

The Venezuelan last faced the Blue Jays on April 9, when he pitched five innings of two-run baseball to earn a no-decision. The Red Sox went on to win the game 4-2.

Overall Doubront holds a 3.48 ERA against Toronto. Jose Bautista is the Blue Jay who has faced Doubront the most, appearing against the lefty six times and recording a .167 batting average and one RBI.

Toronto will counter with Kyle Drabek, who has a 4.55 ERA, one of the highest on Toronto’s starting pitching staff. Drabek (4-5) is entering Saturday’s game having lost his last start against the Rangers. He gave up nine earned runs and two home runs through three innings against Texas.

The Texas native last won on May 21 when he pitched six innings of two-run baseball to help the Blue Jays defeat the Rays 6-2. He also won the last time he faced Boston on April 10. He threw 5 1/3 innings of one-run baseball to give the Blue Jays the 7-3 win and his first win of the season.

Against the Red Sox, Drabek is 1-1 all-time with an 8.16 ERA. Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz have faced Drabek nine times, with Ortiz recording a .500 batting average. Gonzalez has five RBIs against Drabek. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, David Ortiz, felix doubront, Jose Bautista

Closing Time: Red Sox, Clay Buchholz take another step forward against Blue Jays

06.01.12 at 10:07 pm ET
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Clay Buchholz might have finally found his groove.

One game after turning his best start of the season, Buchholz uncovered one better. The righty allowed just two solo home runs over eight innings on the way to earning the win in the Red Sox‘ 7-2 win over the Blue Jays Friday night at Rogers Centre. Over his last two starts, Buchholz — who threw 71 of his 108 pitches for strikes — has given up four runs over 15 innings. He also becomes the first pitcher ever to win six straight road starts against the Blue Jays.

The victory draws the Red Sox even with the Jays at 27-25, with both teams sitting three games behind first-place Tampa Bay.

Taking the loss for the Blue Jays was starter Henderson Alvarez, who had come into the game having allowed just one run in 12 innings pitched against the Red Sox. This time the Toronto righty gave up four runs on eight hits over 6 1/3 innings.

Here is what went right (and wrong) for the Red Sox’ victory:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Buchholz’ stuff was electric for much of the night, with a fastball sitting at 94-95 mph, along with a much-improved changeup. The stuff translated into a season-high seven strikeouts, three of which came when he struck out the side in the sixth. Buchholz got Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista to fan three times.

– Daniel Nava continued to impress, notching four more hits (three doubles) to improve his batting average to .314. Nava also scored three times, while making it 5-1 with a fifth inning, run-scoring two-bagger. Adrian Gonzalez was the other member of the Red Sox’ lineup to come away with at least three hits, which included two RBI singles. For Gonzalez, it was his fifth three-hit came of the season.

David Ortiz might not want to be in the Home Run Derby this season, but he sure doesn’t act like it. The Red Sox’ DH hit another homer, this one a solo shot that led off the second inning and gave the visitors a 1-0 lead. It was Ortiz’ 13th of the season. The designated hitter added one more RBI before the night was over, singling in Gonzalez for the Sox’ final run, in the seventh. The run-scoring blast to left came against Toronto lefty Luis Perez, who had allowed just four hits in 39 at-bats to left-handed hitters coming into the contest.

– The Red Sox finished the night going 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position, highlighting the performance with a four-run seventh inning.

– For the first time this season, the opposition put a shift on Will Middlebrooks. For his first three at-bats, it paid off for the Blue Jays, with the rookie grounding out to the left side in each of his trips. But in the fourth at-bat, Middlebrooks took the ball the other way, rifling a single into right-center field to up his batting average to .313.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– The first home run allowed by Buchholz — coming off the bat of Yunel Escobar in the third inning, was a very poorly placed changeup, finding the heart of the strike zone. Escobar clearly felt good about his third homer of the season, taking a very long time to round the bases.

– After Alvarez was shaken up via a Mike Aviles grounder off the pitcher’s shin, which brought out the Blue Jays’ trainers and manager John Farrell, the Red Sox couldn’t taken advantage of a clearly distracted pitcher. The Sox chose to try and take advantage of Alvarez’ uneasiness by calling for a hit-and-run with Nick Punto instead of testing the hurler’s wheels with a bunt. The result was a 4-6-3 double play on the first pitcher Punto saw.

Can they find the next Cy guy? A look at the history of Red Sox’ 2012 draft picks

06.01.12 at 6:55 pm ET
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The idea behind the draft, and behind the changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement meant to deter teams from signing players to bonuses above Major League Baseball’s slot recommendations, is to get the most talent to the worst teams. So, the best players are supposed to be at the top of the draft, with a progressive narrowing of the funnel the further down one gets in the draft.

But that’s not always how it works. Sometimes, the best picks in a draft are found late in the first round, or in the second round or the 10th (there’s a fellow named Pujols…). It’s both the challenge and fascination of the Major League draft, the most inexact of all of the professional sports due to the need in most instances for years of development in the minor leagues before a player is ready to contribute at the major league level.

The history of the spots where the Red Sox will make their early-round picks this year suggests as much. One can make the case that the pick with the least impactful history of the Sox’ top three (or even five) choices has been the team’s top overall selection at the No. 24 spot. After all, while a few All-Stars have been taken at No. 24, the Sox’ next three selections — No. 31, 37 and even 87 — have netted Cy Young winners and even a player whose spot in the inner sanctum of Cooperstown is assured.

In other words, the position of the pick doesn’t necessarily illuminate what kind of major league career a player will have. An obscure pick at No. 117 can have a greater impact that a player taken at No. 24. That is why draft rooms are filled with lively debate, round after round, with decisions made based on the area scouts who have seen an obscure later-round pick 10 times or more and become convinced that, while a player might not look like a big leaguer at the moment at which he is drafted, in three or five or seven years’ time, the players skill set and makeup will eventually yield a player who can help a major league team.

“The foundation for what we do is all based on our area guys, our area scouts. When you have strong area scouts that believe in certain players, it doesn’€™t matter if that player is in the second round, the ninth round, the 16th, 17th round, (a) Josh Reddick-type player. Our area scout really believed in Josh Reddick,” said Sox amateur scouting director Amiel Sawdaye. “To me, it’€™s about how strong your area guys are. We have a group that’€™s been together for a while where we feel really confident that the players we’€™re going to be talking about, whether it’€™s later on or early, there are big leaguers that are on the board.”

Here is a look at the types of players who have been taken with the selections at which the Sox will make their first five picks:

1st round — No. 24 (complete history)

All-Stars: Chad Billingsley (2003), Rondell White (1990), Terry Mulholland (1984)

Red Sox picks: Corey Jenkins (1995; never played in majors), Joseph McCullough (1966; never played in majors)

Big leaguers: 26 Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Adam Jones, doug drabek, frank viola, Greg Maddux

Kevin Millar on M&M: Red Sox will be in first by June’s end

06.01.12 at 2:32 pm ET
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Appearing on Mut & Merloni on Friday afternoon, former Red Sox infielder Kevin Millar discussed Boston’s recent success and how position changes are affecting the team.

Millar said the Red Sox, despite their early season struggles, will be leading the division by June’s end because of pitching and Kevin Youkilis.

“The Red Sox are my pick. I think their starting pitching’s good enough. I think [Josh] Beckett‘s throwing the ball good enough, I think [Jon] Lester throws the ball good enough, I think [Clay] Buchholz throws the ball good enough and [Alfredo] Aceves in the bullpen, he’s found a decent little role. Youkilis being back, everyone else gave up on Youkilis, sorry guys. … He’s in that lineup now, he’s healthy, he looks good.”

Because Youkilis is back in the lineup, Adrian Gonzalez is playing in the outfield even though he’s a sure-handed first baseman. Millar said the lineup makes sense for the Red Sox because of the improved offense.

“If Gonzo’s body’s healthy I don’t have a problem with it,” Millar said. “In this league you’ve got to hit. And I’m sorry, I’m not going to go out there in right field and have guys that have zero home runs and cute little singles. You’ve got to mash the ball.”

Part of Boston’s lineup problems are due to an injury to Dustin Pedroia, who suffered a torn adductor muscle in his right thumb. Millar said Pedroia should play if the injury doesn’t affect his offense.

“The big deal is if he can’t be Dustin Pedroia, then heal it,” Millar said. “If you can mask the injury — like we’ve all had sprained thumbs, sprained fingers or whatever — and you can tape something up and all of a sudden you can hang a finger off and it doesn’t hurt you offensively or it doesn’t hurt you defensively, fine.

“But only Dustin knows this. Now, Dustin’s not stupid, either, Lou. If he can’t produce or be productive, then get this thing healed and get ready to come off the DL and get healthy.”

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Read More: Alex Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Millar, Kevin Youkilis

Red Sox Minor League Roundup: Bryce Brentz, Jackie Bradley continue tears; Travis Shaw finds power

06.01.12 at 1:03 pm ET
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Initially, it seemed as if it might be 2010 all over again for Bryce Brentz. In April, the 23-year-old seemed overmatched in his first exposure to advanced breaking balls in the upper levels. On April 25, he was hitting .198 with a .244 OBP, .284 slugging mark and .528 OPS while leading the Double-A Eastern League in one category: Strikeouts. In his first 21 games, Brentz punched out 28 times (while walking just five) in 81 at-bats.

At that point, even though Red Sox officials insisted that Brentz was showing a solid approach and waiting back on breaking stuff while driving it to all fields (an approach, they said, that simply wasn’t being rewarded with hits, as hard-hit balls would either get caught or land just foul down either line), it would have been difficult to forecast what was to come.

On Thursday, Brentz made Portland franchise history, becoming the first Sea Dogs player ever to collect five hits in multiple games. Brentz’s 5-for-5 day (which also included three doubles, tying a franchise record) came less than three weeks after another five-hit game, and continued a stretch in which he has been as hot as any player in his league.

Since April 26, Brentz is leading the Eastern League with a .390 average (32 points better than the runner-up in that category), .638 slugging mark and 1.082 OPS (more than 100 points better than the runner-up). His .443 OBP during that span is third best in the league. In those 28 games, he has 16 extra-base hits (five homers and 11 doubles), and in the process, the No. 36 overall pick in the 2010 draft has looked very much like the player who was named Red Sox Co-Offensive Player of the Year (along with Ryan Lavarnway) last season while emerging as one of the top power hitters in both the Single-A South Atlantic League and, after an early season promotion to High-A Salem, the Carolina League.

On the year, Brentz now has an excellent line of .306/.358/.484/.842 with six homers (though, somewhat surprisingly, just 18 RBI). As impressive as those numbers appear, more significant is the fact that the outfielder proved capable of responding quickly and impressively to his early-season adversity.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 2-0 LOSS VS. NORFOLK (ORIOLES)

(BOX)

Daisuke Matsuzaka, in his second appearance since a cortisone shot, delivered his second consecutive excellent outing. Though he was touched for a solo homer in 5 1/3 innings, that was one of only two hits he permitted, on a night when he struck out four and did not walk a batter. In two starts since his cortisone injection, Matsuzaka has allowed one run in 10 1/3 innings (0.87 ERA), with opponents hitting .091 against him. In 10 1/3 innings, he’s struck out six and walked one. Overall, in seven rehab starts, Matsuzaka has a 3.53 ERA, 28 strikeouts and eight walks in 35 2/3 innings. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: brandon jacobs, Brandon Workman, bryce brentz, Daisuke Matsuzaka

Nuggetpalooza: Some Red Sox stats from the Tigers series

06.01.12 at 8:51 am ET
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Here are some Red Sox notes from the last few days:

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* – Only two American League teams can claim a winning percentage above .500 in games started by Justin Verlander since the start of the 2010 season: The Yankees (4-1) and Red Sox (3-2). The rest of the league is a combined 19-42 (.311).

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* – Matt Albers allowed his inherited runner to score on Wednesday. Prior to that, the Red Sox bullpen had not allowed an inherited runner to score since May 19, stranding all 11 in that span. From May 12 through 29, Sox relievers stranded 21-of-24 inherited runners (87.5%), the highest/best percentage in the AL in that span:

87.5% – Red Sox
86.7% – Mariners
85.0% – Blue Jays

Note this: In that same span, Reds’ relievers allowed just 1-of-20 inherited runners to score (5%) and the White Sox allowed 12-of-20 (60%).

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* – Over 46 games from August 23, 2010 through April 10, 2011, Red Sox starters struck out 10 or more batters seven different times. In the 204 games since then, they’ve fanned 10 or more only 3 times, none in the last 72 games.

Note this: The two longest streaks in which Red Sox starters failed to notch 10 or more strikeouts are 313 games (7/26/77 through 7/11/79) and 586 games (6/7/54 through 4/25/58).

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

Friday’s Red Sox-Blue Jays matchups: Clay Buchholz vs. Henderson Alvarez

06.01.12 at 8:42 am ET
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Clay Buchholz had a frustrating start to 2012, but if his most recent start is any indication, the 27-year-old right-hander might finally be turning things around.

Buchholz arguably had his best outing of the season against the Rays on Sunday, when he threw seven innings and allowed only two earned runs on eight hits and struck out six. He was lined up for the win when he was taken out, but Alfredo Aceves blew his save opportunity in the ninth inning and the Red Sox lost, 4-3.

Buchholz (4-2) improved his ERA to a still-dismal 7.19, but he should be happy to be taking the hill at the Rogers Centre on Friday night against the Blue Jays, a team that he’s had much success against in his career. In 12 career starts against the Jays, Buchholz owns a 7-3 record with a 2.58 ERA and 57 strikeouts. He’s experienced a lot of success at the Rogers Centre, where he is 5-2 with a 1.62 ERA and where he has won his last five starts.

Buchholz’s last game against the Blue Jays came in Toronto last year on June 10, when he tossed seven innings, let up one run on three hits and struck out six in a 5-1 Red Sox victory. Toronto’s best hitter against Buchholz comes in the form of slugger Jose Bautista, who hits .273 with a home run in 25 plate appearances against the right-hander. Overall, Buchholz has held current Blue Jays batters to a combined batting average of .132.

The Blue Jays will respond with right-hander Henderson Alvarez, who is coming off of a disastrous start against the Rangers. He pitched 5 2/3 innings and gave up back-to-consecutive home runs to Nelson Cruz, Yorvit Torrealba and Mitch Moreland. On the next at-bat, he was ejected after throwing too far inside to Ian Kinsler, and the Blue Jays ultimately lost in 13 innings, 8-7, on a Josh Hamilton walk-off home run.

Alvarez hasn’t been pitching in the major leagues very long. After spending three years in the minors, the 22-year-old Venezuelan made his debut last year on Aug. 9 and got his first career win on Aug. 31 in a 13-0 rout of the Orioles in which he pitching eight innings, struck out five and only gave up just three hits. For his career, Alvarez is 4-7 with a 3.55 ERA, including a 3-4 record and 3.56 ERA start to 2012.

Alvarez has pitched twice against the Red Sox in his career, both of which were no-decisions that came at the Rogers Centre. Last year, he pitched six innings, gave up four hits and struck out four in a 1-0 Blue Jays win, and earlier this season, he pitched six innings, struck out two and surrendered one run on four hits in the Blue Jays’ 4-2 loss. Alvarez has held current Red Sox batters to a combined .156 batting average. Ryan Sweeney and David Ortiz have got the best of him with a .286 and .400 average, respectively.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Clay Buchholz, Henderson Alvarez,

Josh Beckett struggles to find a way without the K

06.01.12 at 8:03 am ET
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Josh Beckett barely kept his streak alive. In his entire major league career, he has never gone an outing without a strikeout.

‘€œDoes that make me a strikeout pitcher?’€ Beckett asked after hearing about his streak.

Throughout his career, it has been fair to characterize Beckett as a strikeout pitcher. Beckett has finished with over 150 strikeouts in every season he has pitched 24 games or more, including a career-high 199 punchouts in 2009.

However, this season Beckett has just 46 strikeouts through his first 10 starts, and he only struck out one hitter in seven innings during Thursday’€™s loss to the Tigers. His 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings are the lowest rate of his career.

Beckett said he didn’€™t have his put-away pitch on Thursday in a game that he was struggling to make hitters swing and miss.

‘€œI don’€™t think I had my curveball to put guys away,’€ Beckett said. ‘€œIt was difficult for me to get the ball down.’€

The 32-year-old did not pitch poorly even with the lack of strikeouts, but he was not very sharp, either, allowing four runs and 10 hits. Of those 10 hits though, eight were singles.

Instead of focusing on getting swings and misses in the game, Beckett was focused on making the right pitch to get any out he could get.

‘€œI’€™m just trying to get as many [outs] as I can,’€ Beckett said. ‘€œIt’€™s nice to get a strikeout when you need one. When you’€™ve got guys in scoring position with less than two outs and you need to get a strikeout, it’€™s nice to get a strikeout.’€

In his four starts this season in which he has struck out fewer than five hitters, Beckett is 1-3. However, in his one win in such a game, Beckett lasted eight innings and only allowed one run on 94 pitches while striking out one.

Read More: Josh Beckett, Red Sox,
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