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Experience not required: Alfredo Aceves ready to close for first time

04.05.12 at 9:33 am ET
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DETROIT — When the Red Sox acquired Mark Melancon from the Astros, some skepticism existed about whether he was ready to close in Boston. After all, Melancon had spent less than a full year as the closer of a last-place team in Houston. While he had an impressive year, with a 2.78 ERA, how much — some opined — could be expected of a pitcher who had just 20 saves in the big leagues?

That perspective makes the fact that the Sox bypassed Melancon to tab Alfredo Aceves as their closer so intriguing. Melancon has years of closing experience as an amateur (he was a late first round or sandwich pick talent at the University of Arizona before an arm injury dropped him to the Yankees in the ninth round of the 2006 draft), in the minors and, yes, to a lesser degree, with the Astros.

As for Aceves? Scan the records of his major league, minor league and Mexican League experience over the last decade and you’ll see just four saves, his career-high of two saves having been recorded a year ago.

To Aceves, this is not a significant consideration.

“I closed last year,” Aceves shrugged. “It doesn’€™t make a difference. For me, no. You can say, ‘€˜Oh, he was never a closer. It’€™s going to be blah blah blah.’€™ No, it’€™s not like that. Here it’€™s not like that.”

To a degree, where Aceves has done his work is less important than the kind of work he’s done. Last year, he was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA, including a 2.03 ERA in 91 relief innings. He had a 2.37 ERA against American League opponents, and, perhaps most impressively, a 2.04 ERA against AL East foes, the best mark by any pitcher to record at least 50 innings while pitching against baseball’s most unforgiving division. Read the rest of this entry »

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Thursday’s Red Sox-Tigers matchups: Jon Lester vs. Justin Verlander

04.05.12 at 5:15 am ET
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After the sharp sting of the 2011 season, the number of major changes made to the organization in the offseason and all the eager hours of anticipation, the Red Sox will take back to the field as they kick off their 2012 season Thursday against the Tigers in Detroit. Both teams will look to get their respective seasons started on a winning note by wheeling out their premier starting pitchers, as the Red Sox will throw Jon Lester against the Tigers’ Justin Verlander.

Lester will be making his second consecutive Opening Day start, as he got the nod last year when the Red Sox lost 9-5 to the Rangers. In that start, Lester went 5 1/3 innings, giving up five earned runs on six hits, three of which were home runs.

Even with a less-than-ideal start to open the season, Lester emerged as perhaps the team’s most reliable starting pitcher. In 31 starts in 2011, Lester went 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA, 182 strikeouts and 75 walks. His 15 wins were the most of any Red Sox pitcher and his ERA was bested by only one Red Sox starter (Josh Beckett). In spring training, Lester has shown no signs that his production will deteriorate, as he threw 18 innings and went 2-1 with a 3.50 ERA.

With the game scheduled for a 1 p.m. start, Lester will be pitching in two situations in which he thrived last season. Despite just a 5-5 record in 13 starts at Fenway Park last season, Lester went 10-4 on the road with a 3.47 ERA. In day games, he was 7-3 with a 3.25 ERA.

None of Lester’s 18 road starts last year took place at Comerica Park and Lester has not pitched there, or against the Tigers at all, since the 2010 season. In two starts against the Tigers that year, Lester struggled mightily, going 0-1 with a 5.54 ERA. One of those starts was at Comerica, a game in which Lester pitched seven innings and gave up four earned runs in what turned out to be a no-decision. Lester owns a 5.89 career ERA against the Tigers, his highest mark against any American League team.

The Tigers lineup that Lester will face Thursday is expected to be one of, if not the best in Major League Baseball this season. Last season, the Tigers, as a team, batted .277, which ranked them third among MLB teams, trailing only the Rangers and Red Sox. Additionally, Detroit was fourth in hits, RBIs and runs, making it one of the most accomplished offenses in the league. The Tigers were only 11th among MLB teams in home runs, but that can be attributed to playing half of their games at cavernous Comerica Park.

What was already a potent Tigers offense was upgraded immensely in the offseason with the addition of prized free agent Prince Fielder. Last season playing for the Brewers, Fielder was among the leading candidates for the National League MVP, batting .299 with 38 home runs and 120 RBIs. He ranked second in the National League in home runs and RBIs, trailing Matt Kemp of the Dodgers in both categories. Detroit, however, will be without catcher Victor Martinez for the entire season due to injury.

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Read More: Dennis Eckersley, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, justin verlander

Red Sox announce Opening Day roster

04.04.12 at 5:06 pm ET
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DETROIT — The Red Sox announced their season-opening major league roster, a group that will feature two particularly unusual elements. First, the team will have 13 pitchers, with an eight-man bullpen as the Sox try to sift through roles in the absence of Andrew Bailey, who underwent successful surgery to reconstruct the ulnar collateral ligament of his right thumb on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the team will have nine players on the disabled list.

The procedural details:

Rich Hill and Daisuke Matsuzaka, both of whom are recovering from Tommy John surgery, were placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 26. They were joined by left-hander Andrew Miller (left hamstring strain) and outfielder Carl Crawford (recovery from left wrist surgery).

— The team selected the contracts of Vicente Padilla, Scott Atchison and Justin Thomas, all of whom signed minor league deals this winter. Padilla will receive a big league salary of $1.5 million, while Thomas makes $516,000 and Atchison makes $510,000.

— In order to clear spots on the 40-man roster for those three pitchers, the Sox placed Bailey, Chris Carpenter (right elbow surgery) and outfielder Ryan Kalish (shoulder surgery) on the 60-day disabled list. They join Bobby Jenks and John Lackey on the 60-day DL.

— With the decision to have a 13-man pitching staff, the Sox assigned infielders Pedro Ciriaco and Nate Spears and outfielder Jason Repko to Triple-A Pawtucket, while sending catcher Daniel Butler to Double-A Portland.

— Here is the complete roster:

PITCHERS (13): Alfredo Aceves, Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, Daniel Bard, Josh Beckett, Michael Bowden, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, Jon LesterMark Melancon, Franklin Morales, Vicente Padilla, Justin Thomas

CATCHERS (2): Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Kelly Shoppach

INFIELDERS (6): Mike Aviles, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Nick Punto, Kevin Youkilis

OUTFIELDERS (4): Jacoby Ellsbury, Darnell McDonald, Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney

Josh Beckett: Though thumb eventually may require surgery, ‘dumbfounded’ by concern

04.04.12 at 4:42 pm ET
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DETROIT — In most years, little drama surrounds a team on the day of its final workout prior to the start of the regular season. In that sense, the 2012 Red Sox are already an atypical team.

Andrew Bailey will undergo surgery on the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb on Wednesday, thus leaving the Sox without their anticipated closer for the first half of the season. Given Bailey’s situation, there were alarm bells sounded when news emerged that right-hander Josh Beckett was having his thumb examined both in San Antonio by Dr. Mark Bagg and in Cleveland by Dr. Thomas Graham, the latter being the same doctor who examined Bailey.

However, after manager Bobby Valentine declared Beckett’s thumb “not much of an injury,” Beckett suggested that he was stunned by the concern that the condition — which he considers trivial after dealing with some variation of it for 18 months — generated as much attention as it did.

“Everything’s fine. I really have no idea how this got blown out like this. I was dumbfounded,” said Beckett. “The text messages and the e-mails I was getting from guys, I was like, what’s going on here? I think a lot of it had to do with Andrew Bailey also having injured his thumb. But he injured his thumb on one thing. Mine was something that’s happened over time.”

Beckett said that he “had some issues the last few weeks of spring training,” but said that it’s something he “should just get through for six months.” He received a cortisone injection into the joint during the offseason and another roughly two to three weeks during spring training, and it was the fact that the second injection had limited palliative impact that led him to see Bagg in San Antonio. (It was the team, Beckett said, that wanted him to see Graham.)

“It didn’t respond as well [to the cortisone shot] this time, and I just wanted to make sure there wasn’t some more damage in there,” said Beckett, who said he did not know how to describe the medical condition that he faced. (“There’s a bunch of little bones and stuff in there that had some things going on.) “It’s something I’ve been dealing with for 18 months. It’s been there for 18 months. Like I said, we’re just covering the bases as far after a shot things didn’t go as smooth as they had in the past. We had to make sure there wasn’t some more stuff going on. … I think everything’s good. There was just one concern that it was my ligament, much like Andrew Bailey’s deal, and it wasn’t.”

Beckett acknowledged that he will continue to monitor the condition of his sore thumb during the season. He suggested that, at some point, surgery may be an option, but that it wasn’t being considered right now.

“We’ve got to kind of play it by ear, see how things go,” said Beckett.

Read More: Josh Beckett, thumb,

Bobby Valentine joins The Big Show Wednesday afternoon

04.04.12 at 10:47 am ET
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Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine won’t have a shortage of topics to discuss when he joins WEEI’s The Big Show for his weekly Wednesday appearance at 2:35 p.m.

With closer Andrew Bailey set to undergo surgery on his injured thumb and miss the first 3-4 months of the season, Valentine has to do some juggling as the Sox prepare to open the season Thursday against the Tigers in Detroit.

Valentine has come under fire from ESPN analyst Curt Schilling in the past week, with Schilling saying that some players have already grown tired of Valentine frequently speaking his mind to the media.

The new Sox manager apparently wasn’t affected by the criticism of his constant media presence, as it was revealed Wednesday that he has signed with ESPN Radio in New York to do a weekly segment with Yankees television voice Michael Kay. That’s also scheduled to start Wednesday.

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Nuggetpalooza Red Sox preview: 25 guys, 25 nuggets

04.04.12 at 8:45 am ET
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Here’s my contribution to the wonderful annual explosion of Opening Day previews: A statistical nugget of each of the Red Sox‘ 25 players. Granted, a couple of these guys (Carl Crawford, Andrew Bailey) will begin the year on the disabled list and I could have included their temporary replacements here, but let’s face it, a Pedro Ciriaco or Nate Spears nugget isn’t ready for prime time.

There is one other thing that makes this article unique among all the other Red Sox season previews: You won’t see the word “thumb” in it anywhere. Except just then.

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Alfredo Aceves – Aceves’ .887 career winning percentage (24-3) is the highest in major league history (since 1950; min. 20 decisions):

.887 – Alfredo Aceves, 2008-2011 (20-3)
.857 – Luis Aloma, 1950-1953 (18-3)
.762 – Brendan Donnelly, 2002-2010 (32-10)
.742 – Preacher Roe, 1950-1954 (66-23)

———————————————————————————————————-

Matt Albers – In his six year career, Albers has struck out 6.9 and walked 4.6 batters per nine innings in relief appearances. In that same span, 25 different pitchers have faced 1,000 or more batters in relief and averaged fewer than seven K/9 and only one of them has posted a higher walk rate:

6.1 – JC Romero
4.6 – Matt Albers
4.4 – Sean Green

———————————————————————————————————

Mike Aviles – In his career, Aviles has homered in 25 games. His team (the Royals) won each of the first 10 games in which he went yard, but since then have won just 5 of the last 15 such games (1-1 as a member of the Red Sox).

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Andrew Bailey – They’ve tracked lefty/righty splits since 1974, and Andrew Bailey is one of only four pitchers since then to face at least 300 batters from each side of the plate and allow an average of .195 or lower to each:

Andrew Bailey – Right: .194; Left: .182
Billy Wagner  – Right: .186; Left: .190
Carlos Marmol – Right: .182; Left: .176
Neftali Feliz – Right: .189; Left: .158

———————————————————————————————————-

Daniel Bard – Bard’s 0.27 career ERA in July is the lowest in history (min. 30 July innings):

0.27 – Daniel Bard (2009-2011)
0.98 – Mike Butcher (1992-1995)
1.14 – Jeff Zimmerman (1991-2001)

——————————————————————————————————–

Josh Beckett – Over the last three seasons, Beckett has allowed 1.52 home runs per nine innings after the All-Star break, the highest by any of the 100 major league pitchers that have thrown 175+ such innings in that span:

1.52 – Josh Beckett
1.45 – Brett Cecil
1.44 – Bronson Arroyo

Note this: Beckett’s pre-All-Star rate of 0.75 HR per nine innings over that span ranks him 28th best (out of 127 qualifiers; same minimum).

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

Ben Cherington talks Andrew Bailey, Josh Beckett

04.03.12 at 4:08 pm ET
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Talking to reporters prior to the Red Sox‘ final exhibition game in Washington, D.C., general manager Ben Cherington spoke to the media regarding updates on both Andrew Bailey and Josh Beckett, whom both were being examined for thumb ailments in Cleveland on Tuesday.

On Bailey: ‘€œWe’€™re proceeding as if he’€™s not going to be on the roster for Opening Day. Until we get a little more information I don’€™t want to speculate on what may or may not happen. It’€™s clear he has an injury, we’€™re still trying to figure out the best way to deal with it.’€™’€™

‘€œBailey’€™s injury is different (than Beckett’s) in that we believe it is more of an acute injury we think he suffered when he was in a collision at Bradenton when he covered first and collided with Alex Presley and he fell. At the time he didn’€™t think anything of it but then started to experience some soreness shortly after that and then went back and looked at the video and he definitely landed on his thumb so he’€™s never had any thumb soreness before that so we don’€™t know for sure but it seems possible that’€™s what did it. Anytime you have more of an acute injury, we have to get to the bottom of how bad it is and whether it can be managed conservatively or not.”

Regarding surgery: ‘€œDon’€™t think it would happen today. If the procedure’€™s necessary, I think it would happen soon but we’€™re not at that point yet.’€™’€™

On potential closer candidates: ‘€œWe’€™ve got a number of guys who have done it a little bit and think they can and are capable of doing it. Ultimately that’€™s up to Bobby [Valentine] who he brings in in the ninth inning. there are a number of guys out there who have some saves, have pitched late in games and maybe it’€™s more than one guy, that’€™s something that Bobby will decide and the game will dictate.

‘€œWe’€™re never comfortable with the depth we have, this is an opportunity for some guys to step up and maybe pitch in a different role than they would have before. I think when you lose one guy to the bullpen no matter who it is, no matter what the role is, there is a little bit of a ripple effect on other guys’€™ role. This is an opportunity for guys to step, maybe do a little more than in the past and then we’€™ve got to continue to look for protection just as we would in any season. As you guys know, we’€™re going to use 20,. 25 pitchers, not 12, we’€™ll keep doing that. Then we’€™ve got guys who are hopefully can be factors at some point early in the season ‘€“ Andrew Miller and Rich Hill ‘€“ both in Fort Myers and who both should go out on rehab assignments pretty soon. We’€™ve just got to keep looking and give the guys here every chance to prove they can do it.”

On Daniel Bard’s role: ‘€œNo, the decision was made and he’€™s going to pitch Game 5 in Toronto and we’€™re committed to him as a starter right now.”

On Beckett: ‘€œJosh has had some soreness off and on this spring that he’€™s pitched through. We took the opportunity, the time between his last outing to the extended side he threw, the 100 pitch side in Fort Myers to let him gather as much information as possible so that we could help him manage it the best possible. He’€™s not that concerned about it, we expect him to pitch Game 2. It’€™s mostly information gathering at this point.

‘€œYou know that was one of those things that is common with pitchers, they might feel a little something, guys feel stuff all the time and he didn’€™t report it right away. I think he felt like it was just one of those things you get in spring training, you’€™re just a little sore and it goes away and you keep pitching through it. Over a period of days it kept nagging at him and it wasn’€™t getting better ‘€“ I can’€™t remember the exact date he reported it. We took him out of his last outing and kind of stepped up our efforts to get it checked out and get to the bottom of it. It is what it is. We’€™ll know more by the end of the day.’€™’€™

‘€œHe’€™s had it off and on this spring. There may have been a time or two in the past where it’€™s been bugging him. This isn’€™t atypical for a pitcher or any player, you have something that crops up from time to time and has to be managed, and he’€™s managing it.

‘€œIt’€™s not tendinitis. You can kind of make a comparison to a pitcher’€™s shoulder or elbow, most major-league pitchers have changes in their shoulder or elbow that they pitch through. He’€™s got some changes in his thumb but it’€™s something he’€™s been able to pitch through and he’€™s planning to pitch through and pitching with, not that concerned with.

On if that impacts his grip: ‘€œYou’€™d have to ask him. Josh has evolved as a pitcher. He was a different pitcher in 2011 than he was in 2007, we all saw that. He’€™s always making adjustments out there. He threw his curveball plenty this spring, threw it effectively, I don’€™t think there’€™s any one pitch he’€™s not going to use. He’€™s evolved as a pitcher but he’€™s not eliminating anything.’€™’€™

Read More: Andrew Bailey, ben cherington, Daniel Bard, Josh Beckett

Poll: If Andrew Bailey is out, who should close for Red Sox?

04.03.12 at 8:30 am ET
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Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey will get a second opinion on his injured right thumb in Cleveland Tuesday from Dr. Thomas Graham, the hand specialist who performed surgery on both Kevin Youkilis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in 2010. If Bailey lands on the DL to start the year, the Sox do have some in-house alternatives at closer. Who do you think should close for the team if/when Bailey is sidelined?

If Andrew Bailey lands on the DL, who should be the Red Sox closer?

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Read More: alfredo aceves, Andrew Bailey, Daniel Bard, mark melancon

What Matt Cain’s contract means to Jon Lester and the Red Sox

04.02.12 at 4:51 pm ET
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San Francisco pitcher Matt Cain is much richer man today than he was yesterday, signing a five-year, $112.5 million extension with the Giants (with a $21 club/vesting option for 2018). So the 27-year-old will be making $20 million a year from 2013-17.

It was a also a good day for Jon Lester.

The Red Sox lefty’s contract isn’t most likely up until after the 2014 season (the Sox hold a $13 club option for ’14 they surely will pick up). He is in the midst of a five-year deal for $30 million he signed March 15, 2009. But, assuming Lester continues down his current career path, when he does become eligible, the stakes just got a whole lot higher.

(It should be noted that Lester recently switched agents, going with Sam and Seth Levinson at ACES after previously partnering with SFX.)

Lester’s track record is trending toward a significant pay day, which would seem to be even more exorbitant now that Cain has inked his record deal for a right-handed pitcher. Only three pitchers in Major League Baseball have won 15 games for four consecutive seasons — CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Lester. The Sox’ Opening Day starter while averaging more than 200 innings per season and totaling a 3.33 ERA over the past four years. They are feats no other American League East pitcher has managed with the exception of Sabathia.

Lester, who was born in the same year as Cain, not only has the kind of numbers that match-up favorably to the San Francisco starter, but will still be just 30 when free agency rolls around. Up until recently, such scenarios as what awaits Lester might suggest a deal in the vicinity of an AAV of around $17 million (see Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jered Weaver). But now you have Cain, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay, all of whom are averaging more than $20 million per season.

Simply put, if Lester keeps being the Lester we’ve witnessed the last four seasons, the Red Sox will easily have to count on another $20-million-plus player on their roster if they want to keep the lefty.

Such days as today aren’t good ones for the Red Sox. Last year, Matt Kemp set an uncomfortable bar for Jacoby Ellsbury (who is up after the ’13 season). Cain did the same for Lester. And when Robinson Cano inks his new deal (he is in the last year of a four-year contract), Dustin Pedroia will have his jumping off point. That could be five players on one roster (Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Lester, Ellsbury and Pedroia) potentially at $20 million or more if they were all to re-sign.

It makes the contract of Clay Buchholz, which has the pitcher under the control of the team through ’17 while never being paid more than $13.5 million, so important.

For a team that will — like the Yankees — be trying to stay under $189 million by ’14 due to new CBA rules (revenue sharing rebates, chance to reset luxury tax threshold penalty percentage), the likelihood of keeping the core together is looking more and more non-existent. Monday, thanks to Cain, the Red Sox were slapped with that reality once again.

Crisis averted? Bobby Valentine ‘totally’ expects Josh Beckett to be ready for start of season

04.02.12 at 12:48 pm ET
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Shortly after Alfredo Aceves told reporters in Fort Myers that he was on call in case the Red Sox needed to fill in for Josh Beckett‘s first two starts of the season, manager Bobby Valentine suggested that, while the team has made some contingency plans for a “situation” with Beckett’s right thumb, he does not anticipate having to seek an alternative starter for the team’s second game of the year.

Asked if he expected Beckett to make his scheduled start on Saturday against the Tigers, Valentine responded, “Totally.”

Valentine told reporters that Beckett had an impressive 100-pitch bullpen session on Sunday, and that he felt good and commanded well. The manager suggested that Beckett will have the thumb — an issue that has been mildly bothersome since late-March — examined in San Antonio “just for peace of mind.”

“Just been a little situation. I think I might’€™ve mentioned it 10 days ago that there’€™s a situation that we’€™ve been dealing with,” Valentine told reporters. “I feel really right now ‘€“’€“ as in all cases you have to be prepared and I think we are. I think we’€™re covered with whatever happens. The good news is in his 100 pitches yesterday, he felt terrific.”

The thumb injury notwithstanding, Beckett had a very strong spring, with a 0.95 ERA in five Grapefruit League starts and a .117 batting average against, along with 10 strikeouts and eight walks, in 19 innings.

OTHER NOTES

— Valentine said that closer Andrew Bailey‘s thumb is being examined on Monday and perhaps Tuesday. Until the Sox have the results of his exam, they won’t be ready to finalize their roster, particularly their pitching staff. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Andrew Bailey, Bobby Valentine, carl crawford, Josh Beckett
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