|05.16.12 at 10:39 pm ET|
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Clay Buchholz‘ momentum kept going, but the same couldn’t be said for his team.
The Red Sox starter turned in his second straight solid outing, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a 2-1 Rays win over the Red Sox in the teams’ series opener at Tropicana Field. The problem for Buchholz and Co. came in the form or the Rays’ pitching staff, which limited the Sox to their lowest scoring output since April 29.
Buchholz lowered his ERA to 7.77 after allowing two runs on six hits, striking out six and walking one over five innings. It snapped a streak of five consecutive games in which Red Sox starters claimed quality starts.
Earning the win was Tampa Bay starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, who avenged his worst outing of the season (in which he allowed five runs to the Red Sox) by holding the Sox to one run on five hits, striking out six and lowering his ERA to 2.77. The Rays’ starters have the second-best ERA in the American League.
Here is what went wrong (and right) in the Sox’ 20th loss of the season:
WHAT WENT WRONG
– Buchholz notched another balk for the Red Sox pitching staff, which now has a major league high six after Franklin Morales added two more, himself. This one proved costly, with Buchholz allowing Carlos Pena to come in with the game’s first run after the pitcher double-clutched on a pickoff throw to first. It was Buchholz’ fourth balk of his career, and marked the second time a Sox pitcher has balked home a run.
– The sixth inning proved to be forgettable for Buchholz, who began the frame my taking a Matt Joyce liner off the left heel, resulting in a leadoff single. After being checked by the Sox’ medical staff, the starter proceeded to allow Pena to line a single into right field on the first pitch he saw, putting runners on first and third with nobody out. It ended Buchholz’ night at 87 pitches, paving the way to Andrew Miller.
– Miller, who had dominated left-handed hitters both in the minors and during his brief stint back with the Red Sox, induced a fly ball to right field off the bat of Luke Scott, the first batter the Sox’ reliever faced. But right fielder Cody Ross stumbled just before gathering in the fly out, failing to get good leverage on his throw home. The result was Joyce scoring with the go-ahead run.
– Bobby Valentine’s roll of the dice in the sixth — leaving in the lefty Miller to face right-handed hitting Elliot Johnson with Matt Albers warming up — with two outs and the bases loaded paid off. Miller, who had allowed a career .415 batting average against with the bases full, got Johnson looking on a 3-2 fastball to end the threat.
– Mauro Gomez came on to pinch-hit with Mike Aviles on first, representing the game-tying run, and one out in the seventh inning. But, in his second career major league at-bat, grounded into a 4-6-3 double play on the first pitch he saw from Jake McGee, ending the inning. Gomez struck out in his only other big league at-bat.
– While Will Middlebrooks didn’t add to his season total for errors (3), he did participate in a couple of iffy defensive plays. The first came when he scooped up an Elliot Johnson bunt when it looked like the spin was going to take the ball foul. Then the rookie failed to handle a back-hand play on a Will Rhymes hard grounder the third base line, allowing it to kick off his glove and toward the stands.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
– Daniel Nava continued to impress, this time driving in the Red Sox’ only run with a two-out, RBI single in the fourth inning, scoring Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Nava is now 9-for-19 with seven RBI this season.
– Scott Atchison came on with one out in the eighth with runners on first and third and got the job done. He initially fanned Jeff Keppinger, and then ended in the inning by getting Johnson to ground out to second to keep the Sox within a run.
|05.16.12 at 9:05 pm ET|
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. ‘ With news coming down that Andrew Bailey has been cleared to throw next week, one thing should be noted: how the reliever throws a baseball.
As it turns out, Bailey grips a baseball differently than any other pitcher on the Red Sox, tucking his right thumb underneath the ball instead of wrapping it around the object.
Remarkably, the pitcher didn’t even realize he held the ball differently until the Red Sox medical staff started examining all potential causes for the injury of his ulnar collateral ligament.
It was a revelation Bailey hadn’t uncovered in all his years of playing baseball.
‘One of our trainers, Mike Reinold, said, ‘How do you grip a baseball?’ I showed him and then I went around the clubhouse and figured out I was the only who does it,’ Bailey said during a recent homestand.
‘It’s just one of those weird things where we’re looking at all the evidence, I guess.’
Bailey makes it clear that he does not believe the stress put on his ligament due to the grip was the cause for his surgery. But because of the peculiarity of the execution, and what lies ahead for the closer, it is worth at least making note of.
‘I’ve always thrown a baseball that way, thumb tucked in a little differently,’ he said. ‘It’s just what’s comfortable to me. Obviously, that’s not the reason my thumb has been bothering me. It’s just one of those weird things. Every guy’s mechanics are different so they’re not going to hold the ball the same way. For me that’s what is comfortable. A little collision just put it over the edge.
‘Throughout the course of my life you’re working on pitches in sides and stuff, working on grips, and that’s what has always been comfortable for me. To say it puts stress on the UCL, I don’t know. I guess it’s abnormal.’
|05.16.12 at 7:39 pm ET|
“Right now, I don’t think he’s all that close to pitching in the major leagues,” Valentine said of Matsuzaka. “He might take a big step. Not until he’s ready. It’s not the calendar that’s going to dictate whether a guy pitches in the major leagues, I don’t think.”
The starter, who is coming off Tommy John surgery, is slated right now to make more two more starts prior to his rehab assignment expiring May 23. The question revolves around what the Red Sox can do after that.
The answer is this: The only the Red Sox can extend Matsuzaka’s time on the DL is by reporting to the Commissioner’s office that the pitcher has suffered a physical setback. If that is the case than the starter would have to sit out seven days and then reset his clock on the disabled list.
Judging by Valentine’s comments prior to his team’s game Wednesday night, an extension may be a very real possibility.
‘I understand everything he says, and he understands everything I say. That’s why I don’t think he’s close,” said Valentine, who expressed concern over Matsuzaka’s mechanics after the pitcher’s last rehab outing. “There’s a lot of things that you do before you’re totally ready, and I’m not sure he’s put his elbow situation behind him yet. I don’t think he totally understands where he is with his elbow. He hasn’t confused me yet. If he tomorrow after the game says, ‘Bring on the Yankees,’ I’ve not understood a lot of the conversations. I don’t think he’s going to say that.’
The manager then added regarding Matsuzaka’s less-than-perfect mechanics right now, “It’s not necessarily tentative. It’s just the understanding of why it happened and what he did to pitch while it was hurt, that mechanic, whether or not that mechanic is something he should be using now or if he should go back to the mechanic he was using when he hurt it. It’s a very confusing state. Until he figures that out totally in his mind, competition is going to be confused. He won’t be into the competition. We want him to be here, not only to be healthy, but we want him to be in the competition.’
Matsuzaka has made four rehab outings, two in Single-A and a pair with Triple-A Pawtucket. He has totaled 18 2/3 innings with a 4.50 ERA, having given up five runs in 5 1/3 innings his last time out.
|05.16.12 at 2:29 pm ET|
ESPN MLB analyst Buster Olney joined Mut & Merloni Wednesday afternoon for his weekly discussion about the latest happenings in the Red Sox clubhouse, which included his thoughts on the team potentially shopping Kevin Youkilis.
Youkilis, who will begin his rehab stint Wednesday night for Triple-A Pawtucket, was placed on the disabled list early this month with a back strain. In his absence, Will Middlebrooks has stepped in and has played exceptionally well, hitting .300 with four home runs and 14 RBIs. Olney said that the Sox will look at possible trade situations for Youkilis as he makes his return.
‘I’ve talked with a number of executives at other teams this week, because this looks like it’s headed down that path,’ Olney said. ‘Unless there’s an injury to a David Ortiz or to an Adrian Gonzalez, eventually you’re going to have a situation when the Red Sox, who are presumably going to want to find a way to keep Middlebrooks in the big leagues, they’re going to have to figure out what to do with Youkilis.’
Olney said that other general managers have told him that Youkilis is going to have to put about three productive and healthy weeks together in order for them to gauge his trade value.
‘They think then, that’s when you can get a little something in return,’ Olney said. ‘Not great, they’re not going to get a Grade A prospect, they’re probably not even going to get a Grade A-minus prospect because of the amount of money owed to him.
‘But there’s clearly a lot of places where he could land. The Dodgers, I think are in an evaluation period now with their first baseman James Loney, because he’s gotten off to a terrible start. ‘¦ I think the Chicago White Sox potentially are a fit for Youkilis as a third baseman, and potentially in his hometown of Cincinnati would be a great fit for him because they need a right-handed hitter who can play third base especially now that Scott Rolen‘s career might be over.’
|05.16.12 at 1:53 pm ET|
MLB Network analyst John Smoltz weighed in on the Josh Beckett golf controversy during a Wednesday appearance on the Mut & Merloni show. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
Smoltz acknowledged that Beckett “could have handled it a little bit better,” but he said Beckett’s golf excursion is being overblown in Red Sox Nation.
“We make way too much of things that have absolutely nothing to do with execution on the field,” Smoltz said, adding: “A golf swing and throwing a baseball is not even remotely close. I will give you this: A back or a lat can come into play, but unless you’re a violent golfer or a terrible golfer, it really has nothing to do with Josh’s inability to throw strikes or where he wants to. He proved it the next start. He made the changes.”
Smoltz, who pitched 21 major league seasons, mostly with the Braves, spent a chunk of the 2009 season with the Red Sox. He said he knows first-hand from that experience that the Sox starters are putting in the effort.
“To be honest with you, I talked to [Beckett] and [Jon] Lester about toning it down a little bit. Those guys worked like animals,” he said. “I’d never seen guys work as hard as they did in between starts. I played a long time, and I was always priding myself on the way that I worked, but those guys put me to shame.
“I know they were younger, and certainly that trend can not continue. But I think from what goes on in a clubhouse and what goes on on a field, sometimes we translate it into, ‘What could it be? Why is his head not right? Why is it this?’ There’s a lot of things that I think each player, if they had a chance to do it all over again, might answer questions differently or not have a certain attitude of disdain. I think taking better ownership and taking more direct hits sometimes is not fun, but you’ve just got to deal with it.
“From a standpoint of these guys and going to spring training, look, I went 21 years with the Atlanta Braves. I never did half of the stuff I did when I was with the Boston Red Sox in spring training, and the way they went after it. I mean, it was incredibly tough.”
Smoltz said he has confidence the Red Sox will turn things around, but he cautions that it will take patience.
“Time is not on Boston’s side, for obvious reasons,” he said. “People want that team to rebound from last year and be the team everyone thinks they’re capable of being, and I think they will. But time, it’s just not something that people are very patient with. And you’re seeing this very streaky team. And now the rotation is coming around. It’s going to be OK. I just know people don’t feel that way given the fact that it happened in September and it’s really carried over to this year.”
|05.16.12 at 10:59 am ET|
Jose Iglesias had been hitting like crazy since the last day of April, but the 22-year-old shortstop had been spraying line drives around the park. Even during a stretch of 11 games that included seven multi-hit contests, he had totaled just two extra-base hits.
And so, Tuesday represented a notable milestone for Iglesias. The shortstop cleared the left-field fence for his first homer of the year, lining a fastball off of Rays prospect (and UMass alum) Matt Torra just over the left field wall in Durham. It was part of a 3-for-5 night in which Iglesias matched a season high for hits while delivering just his second career homer, the continuation of a stretch in which Iglesias has gotten the best results of his career.
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Since April 30, when Iglesias collected a pair of hits to nudge his average up to .200 for the season’s first month, the shortstop has been on a tear. In 12 games, he’s hitting .388 (fifth in the International League in that stretch) with a .423 OBP (10th in the league), .510 slugging mark and .933 OPS (11th). For the first time, he’s showing in a sustained stretch — dating to even before the start of the hot streak — that he has adjusted to the level of competition in an advanced league that features pitchers with legitimate breaking balls and, in many cases, big league experience.
For the season, Iglesias now has a line of .262/.322/.315/.637. It’s not a spectacular performance, but it nearly replicates the league average (.250/.326/.376/.702) at a level that features much older competition. And the more recent performance — which is also noteworthy for the fact that Iglesias has struck out just four times while walking three times over this stretch of 52 plate appearances — lends credence to the notion that the shortstop can be more than a defensive hitter who is a zero in the lineup.
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 8-2 WIN AT DURHAM (RAYS)
— Like Iglesias, Che-Hsuan Lin started to get hot at the end of an otherwise tough April and has been hitting ever since. He went 2-for-3 with a walk on Tuesday, and in his last 14 games, he’s hitting .372 (seventh in the International League since April 30) with a .491 OBP (third), .488 slugging mark and .979 OPS (10th). The 23-year-old now has a better-than-league-average line of .264/.359/.382/.741, and given his excellent defense in center field, the performance is intriguing.
Lin has struggled with being too passive at times throughout his minor league career, something that has driven high walks totals and solid OBPs despite low batting averages. But hitting coordinator Victor Rodriguez and PawSox hitting coach Gerald Perry have been working with the native of Taiwan to be ready to hone that passiveness into selectivity with a readiness to take some rips at pitches that he can handle, with positive results to date this year.
“He’s really worked on his approach at the plate,” said farm director Ben Crockett. “He’s someone who does such a good job of taking pitches and working the count that sometimes it can work against him. He’s really trying to make the adjustment of being ready to attack, and I think it’s paid off a little bit in the numbers and will continue to be a focus for him.” Read the rest of this entry »
|05.16.12 at 10:41 am ET|
Clay Buchholz may be the Red Sox starter with the highest ERA, but he is also the one with the most wins, a number bolstered by a 7-5 victory over Cleveland in his last start. The righty tossed 6 1/3 innings, giving up three earned runs and three walks.
Buchholz (4-1) will attempt to help the Red Sox match their longest win streak of the season at six when he takes the mound Wednesday night against the Rays.
The Texas native has recorded an ERA of 8.31 through seven starts. Despite this, Buchholz has a team-high four wins. The 27-year-old last faced Tampa Bay and Hellickson on April 14. Buchholz pitched seven innings and overcame five earned runs, three walks and a home run to earn the victory as the Sox won 13-5. He is 5-2 all-time against the Rays with an ERA of 2.38.
Luke Scott is the Ray who has faced Buchholz the most, accumulating 25 plate appearances and recording five RBIs, three walks and four strikeouts. Jose Molina has the Rays’ highest batting average against Buchholz, batting .500 in 10 appearances.
Jeremy Hellickson will serve as Buchholz’s counterpart Wednesday night. Although he is undefeated, Hellickson (3-0, 2.95) has not recorded a decision since an April 25 win over the Angels. He lasted 6 2/3 innings in his last outing against Baltimore and surrendered three earned runs. The Iowa native turned in the shortest outing of his career in the start before his appearance against Baltimore, tossing 102 pitches through 3 2/3 innings against Oakland. The Rays have lost Hellickson’s last two starts.
Hellickson did not fare well the last time he took the mound against the Red Sox, pitching five innings and allowing five earned runs and three home runs. Hellickson did not factor in the decision, but the Rays lost.
He has faced Boston five times, recording an ERA of 4.21 and two wins. While seven current Red Sox batters have faced Hellickson, Adrian Gonzalez has been Boston’s biggest threat against the righty. Gonzalez has faced Hellickson 15 times, pressing the pitcher for four RBIs and four walks as well as a home run. David Ortiz has Boston’s highest batting average against Hellickson, batting .462 in 15 plate appearances. Read the rest of this entry »
|05.15.12 at 9:31 pm ET|
David Ortiz hit a home run on Tuesday. Yawn.
The idea that Ortiz might go deep is hardly an unexpected event. He has 1,809 hits in a career that has seen him spend parts of 16 seasons in the majors. Of those, 386 have been homers.
But on Tuesday, in a 5-0 victory over the Mariners, Ortiz did something with little precedent in his career. For just the sixth time in his career and the first time since 2010, he dropped a perfect bunt single down the third base line.
The decision to do so came in the bottom of the fifth inning, after the Mariners replaced starter Blake Beavan with left-hander Charlie Furbush. Furbush works from an angle that gives left-handers little sense of comfort; last year, Ortiz was 1-for-5 with two strikeouts and two groundballs against him.
And so, Ortiz decided to take advantage of the fact that the Mariners infield was employing a shift against him, with the third baseman swung around to occupy what was roughly the shortstop position in deference to the fact that three infielders were crowded on the right side of the diamond.
‘You’ve got to play the game the way it’s supposed to be. I never see the ball coming out of that guy anyway,’ said Ortiz. ‘I’ve got to make chicken soup out of chicken you-know-what.’
The decision was made unilaterally.
‘It’s me hitting,’ said Ortiz. ‘Nobody else. I do whatever I want to do.’
In this case, he also executed precisely what he wanted to do. He dropped a textbook bunt down the third base line. With no Mariners infielder within a zip code of the ball, Ortiz easily legged out the infield hit.
It was the first time that Ortiz had bunted for a single since Oct. 3, 2010, when he did so against the Yankees on the final day of the season. Prior to that, he had four career bunt hits, all of which came in 2005 and 2006, when teams were just beginning to employ the shift against him (much to the designated hitter’s displeasure).
The strategy thrilled Ortiz’s teammates, who were elated at the sight of the man with one of the most ferocious swings in big league history executing a form of small ball so well. They were further enthused when Ortiz hustled safely into second on a fielder’s choice when the throw pulled the shortstop wide of the bag, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Will Middlebrooks single.
Again, the sight of Ortiz trotting around the bases has become commonplace in the slugger’s decade in Boston. The image of him flying around the bases and manufacturing runs is somewhat novel, a reflection of the fact that he used the offseason to slim down and reshape himself.
‘You know he lost all that weight and he’s got some speed now, so he’s feeling good right now,’ said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. ‘That’s how we like it.”
The approach could reap ancillary benefits if Ortiz continues to employ it successfully. If he continues to use the bunt as a countermeasure against the shift, then teams will have to start respecting his ability to bunt for a single. In that scenario, the DH could force teams to realign, thus opening up the field for when he swings away.
‘He said, ‘That’s why we practice it in spring training, right?’ It is,’ said manager Bobby Valentine. ‘I hope he gets 10 of those this year. It spreads out the defense, then he’ll get another 10 hits through the right side of the infield.’
Of course, Ortiz has required little help in getting his hits this year. After going 2-for-3 with a homer (yawn) and a walk on Tuesday, he’s now hitting .353 with a .417 OBP, .633 slugging percentage and 1.050 OPS, all marks that rank among the top three in the American League.
With that sort of performance, there will be no rush to achieve a seventh career bunt single.
|05.15.12 at 7:04 pm ET|
No Red Sox player has been subject to more scrutiny than Josh Beckett. Whether because of the glare or in spite of it, the right-hander delivered his most dominating start of the year and arguably the most overpowering of any Sox pitcher this year.
Beckett tossed seven shutout innings in which he allowed just four hits (all singles), walked two and struck out nine, overmatching the Mariners in a 5-0 Red Sox victory that concluded a two-game series sweep at Fenway. The strikeout total was the highest by a Sox starter this year. That total reflected an impressive arsenal of swing-and-miss offerings — a 91-94 mph fastball, a terrific changeup to keep the left-handed-heavy Mariners lineup honest, a curveball and a cutter.
While Beckett’s 4.97 ERA suggests struggles this year, the reality is that he has five quality starts and two complete clunkers. But for the most part, he’s given the Sox the type of performances that they need in order to contend, with no effort more emphatic than Tuesday’s.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
— Beckett continued a dominant turn of the rotation by Red Sox starters. Over the team’s five-game winning streak, the starters went 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA. Each went at least six innings, with Beckett going seven frames and Jon Lester turning in a complete game.
— David Ortiz found both conventional and unconventional ways to beat the shift. The designated hitter demolished a 93 mph fastball from Blake Beaven, sending it into the Red Sox bullpen in the bottom of the third inning for his eighth homer, giving the Sox a 1-0 lead. Then, leading off the bottom of the fifth, Ortiz dropped a textbook bunt down the third base line for a single.
The two-hit day was Ortiz’s first in eight games. In the previous seven contests, he was 4-for-28 with two walks. After going 2-for-3 with a homer and a walk, Ortiz is hitting .353 with a 1.050 OPS this season.
— Rich Hill delivered a 1-2-3 eighth inning, retiring all three left-handed hitters he faced. On the year, lefties are now 1-for-14 (.071) against him.
— Mike Aviles had a pair of doubles, going 2-for-4 while driving in two runs. Moreover, he continued to play spectacular defense.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
— Daniel Nava verged on mortal, going “just” 1-for-3 while striking out. He reached base twice, as he was also hit by a pitch. In the process, Nava saw his OBP fall from .750 to .708.
— Adrian Gonzalez went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.
|05.15.12 at 4:27 pm ET|
All spring, the clamor for Jose Iglesias was driven by a chief force, namely, the idea that his spectacular defense would outweigh any offensive deficiencies he might have. That assessment was a direct reflection upon the sense that Mike Aviles was not an adequate defender at the position. He was expected to be a downgrade from Marco Scutaro, let alone a Gold Glove-caliber defender in Iglesias.
With 35 games now in the books, something unexpected has happened. Foremost, Aviles has been among the best defensive shortstops in the majors.
The small sample disclaimer is necessary. Typically, defense is best evaluated — at least from a statistical standpoint — over multiple seasons. A couple of months thus can be deceiving. Nonetheless, the initial returns on what Aviles has done at the position are eye-opening.
The John Dewan Plus/Minus evaluation system (which examines every ball hit into a player’s defensive zone and compares the number of plays made by a single player to the average number of plays made on such balls) suggests that Aviles has made 13 more plays than the average shortstop on the balls hit in his direction this season. He’s made five more plays than the average shortstop on balls hit to his right, three more than average to his left (where his positioning, range and strong arm has allowed him to make a number of plays behind the second base bag) and four more than average on pop-ups. In Dewan’s system, that defensive wizardry has translated to 10 runs saved, the second highest total among all big league shortstops. Fangraphs.com’s UZR statistic pegs Aviles as the fourth best shortstop in the majors, 2.5 runs better than the average shortstop.
With Aviles performing as an above-average defender on the left side and reigning Gold Glovers Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez on the right side, infield defense has been a strength of the Red Sox in the early going.
“I think we’re playing pretty good defense, especially on the infield,” said manager Bobby Valentine. ‘[Aviles has been] huge. I don’t want to jinx him, but he’s made all the progressions. He’s learning to move with hitters and position himself properly. He always knows the speed of the runner. He’s been huge. The stability of him has been huge for our defense.”
That said, while the infield defense has been solid, the Sox’ defensive efficiency rating (meaning the number of balls in play turned into outs) is 23rd in the majors. That, however, reflects primarily on a makeshift outfield that is without Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford.
OTHER NOTES Read the rest of this entry »
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