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Red Sox’ frustration mounts as they’re swept away by Nationals

06.10.12 at 8:10 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was ejected for the second time this season Sunday, as frustration levels continued to rise for Boston as the Nationals finished off a three-game sweep with a 4-3 decision. The Red Sox now have lost six out of their last seven games and are two games under .500 (29-31). They’re in the basement of the AL East, six games behind division-leading Tampa Bay.

With the Sox trailing by a run and two outs in the ninth, Dustin Pedroia watched a 1-1 offering from Tyler Clippard sail by for a questionable called strike, which angered  Valentine. After an explosion from Valentine, home plate umpire Al Porter tossed the skipper. That led to an argument between Valentine and Porter, one that ended with Valentine leaving with an ovation from the Fenway crowd before Pedroia struck out to end the game.

After the game, Valentine had some more words for Porter and the umpiring crew, and said his frustration was a result of an accumulation of questionable calls throughout the game (including a pitch called a ball in the top of the ninth from Alfredo Aceves that Valentine thought was a strike). That call was followed by the game-winning RBI the Red Sox couldn’€™t recover from.

‘€œWe’ve got guys trying to bust their butt, battling their butt off. It’€™s just not right,’€ said Valentine, who was ejected for the 39th time as a big league manager. ‘€œGood umpires had a real bad series this series — real bad series. And it went one way. There should be a review.’€

Asked if the questionable calls affected his players’€™ willingness to swing at pitches they normally wouldn’€™t bite on, Valentine offered a fundamental answer.

‘€œThe game is simple. Throw over the plate, call it a strike. Don’€™t throw it over the plate, call it a ball. It’€™s simple,’€ Valentine said. ‘€œThat’€™s all anybody asks. And I know it’€™s been going on for 100 years, I’€™m not the first one to say it, but this was a pretty lousy series.’€

Jon Lester delivered a strong performance, throwing seven innings and striking out a season-high nine hitters, but did not factor in the decision after Danny Espinosa‘€™s fly ball to left bounced off the wall, just past the outstretched glove of Darnell McDonald. It scored two runs and gave the Nationals a 3-2 advantage in the seventh. It was Lester’€™s third consecutive no-decision — the Red Sox have lost three out of the last four games that the southpaw has started.

Lester wasn’€™t upset with missed calls like Valentine, but when asked about the mood in the clubhouse, the lefty vented about the overall struggles of the team.

‘€œEveryone cares. Nobody’€™s been in this situation here, nobody’€™s lost before like this,’€ Lester said. ‘€œIt’€™s all new. I’€™m sure I can speak for myself — it aggravates the piss out of me. I hate going out there and losing, regardless if I’€™m pitching or not. I know guys down there are frustrated and rightly so. It sounds cliché and I keep saying it, but we keep grinding out at-bats, we keep grinding out starts and something’€™s got to give.

‘€œOur effort’€™s there, the will is there, the execution is there. Today, a 300-foot fly ball was the difference in the game. It’€™s bad luck in some games, it’€™s playing bad in other games, it’€™s pitching bad, it’€™s not playing good defense. Whatever it is, it just seems to come back and bite us in the butt. ‘€¦ The biggest thing is nobody in that clubhouse is giving up. Everybody shows up and prepares the same way [whether] we’€™re in first place by 10 games. We just have to keep sticking to that approach and it has to change.’€

Read More: Bobby Valentine, Jon Lester, nationals, Red Sox

Nationals finish sweep with ninth-inning win vs. Red Sox

06.10.12 at 4:42 pm ET
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Roger Bernadina doubled off Alfredo Aceves in the top of the ninth and advanced to third on a play that scored Bryce Harper and gave the Nationals both a 4-3 victory and a series sweep against the Red Sox Sunday.

Bobby Valentine was ejected with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning by home plate umpire Al Porter shortly before Tyler Clippard struck out Dustin Pedroia to end the game.

Jon Lester was sharp for the most part after allowing a run in the top of the first inning, but his final inning of work was an ugly one as he allowed two runs in the top of the seventh. He finished the day having allowed six hits and three earned runs over seven innings with a season-high nine strikeouts. He walked two batters on the day.

Lester allowed a leadoff double to Danny Espinosa in the top of the first, and it cost the lefty when Ryan Zimmerman drove Espinosa home two batters later. The Sox would tie it up and take the lead by getting a run in both the third and fourth innings, the second of which came on David Ortiz‘ 14th homer of the season.

The Nationals scored two more off Lester in the seventh inning to take a 3-2 lead, but the Sox tied it in the bottom of the inning on an RBI groundout from Scott Podsednik that scored Ryan Sweeney.

Jordan Zimmerman countered Lester’s performance with a strong showing of his own, limiting the Red Sox to three runs over seven innings. He surrendered seven hits, a pair of walks and compiled seven strikeouts.

The game was the Red Sox’ 745th consecutive sellout, setting a new record for American major league sports. The previous record was held by the Portland Trail Blazers, who sold out 744 games from 1987-1995.

The Sox will hit the road for three-games series against the Marlins and Cubs. Josh Beckett will take the mound against Josh Johnson Monday in Miami.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a tough time both at the plate and behind it. He struck out swinging four times (in each one of his at-bats), and the ball slipped out of his hand when he tried to get the lead runner on a third-inning double-steal. Saltalamacchia, who is having a career year offensively, has now struck out multiple times in two of the last three games.

– Will Middlebrooks also had a rather rough day offensively, as he struck out twice against Zimmerman but drew a walk in the bottom of the eighth. In his last four games, Middlebrooks is now 1-for-10.

– Depending on how you look at it, Bobby Valentine’s decision to have Darnell McDonald bunt with runners on first and second and nobody out in the seventh inning was either a good thing or a bad thing. McDonald, who has a sub-.200 batting average, advanced the runners along to set up Podsednik’s grounder to tie the game, but in sacrificing the at-bat, the Sox also sacrificed the opportunity to have a bigger inning rather than just getting the one run. According to a tweet from the Boston Herald’s Jon Couture, it was the fifth time in 16 such scenarios that the Sox have scored following a sacrifice bunt this season.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– As previously mentioned, Lester’s nine strikeouts made for a season-high. He had previously recorded two seven-strikeout performances this season, the most recent of which came on May 30 against the Orioles.

Lester came through with a big strikeout in what could have been a much uglier third inning. Roger Bernadina had reached singled to center with one out and advanced to second when Lester walked Danny Espinosa. Jarrod Saltalamacchia bobbled the ball while trying to throw to third on a double-steal when Xavier Nady struck out swinging, forcing Lester to intentionally walk Ryan Zimmerman to load the bases with two out. Lester controlled the damage and kept the Nationals off the board for the inning by getting Michael Morse looking with a 95 miler-per-hour fastball.

Dustin Pedroia beat out a double-play to give the Red Sox their first run of the day in the bottom of the third inning. After Nick Punto walked to lead off the inning and later advanced to third on a Scott Podsednik single, Pedroia came to the base with one out and the tying run at third base. He sent a grounder to second base, but hustled enough down the line to beat Ian Desmond’s throw (which first baseman Adam LaRoche had to pick), getting the Red Sox on the board rather than ending the inning.

– Ortiz’ fourth-inning homer was his first dinger in the last eight games, but it was also his first RBI in that span. He now has 14 homers and 38 runs batted in on the season.

– The Red Sox took advantage of some careless baserunning by the Nationals in the top of the fourth inning. After picking up a double with one out, Ian Desmond came a little too far off the bag and hesitated when Tyler Moore hit a grounder to short. Noticing the hesitation on the baserunner’s part, Nick Punto threw to second, where Dustin Pedroia tagged Desmond out. Moore reached on a fielder’s choice, but Jesus Flores grounded out on the next at-bat to end the inning.

Rich Hill (elbow) to see Dr. James Andrews

06.10.12 at 12:31 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said prior to Sunday’€™s game against the Nationals that relief pitcher Rich Hill, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list, will see Dr. James Andrews to determine why he has been experience tightness in his left elbow. Andrews performed Hill’s Tommy John surgery last June.

Valentine said that Hill told him three weeks ago that his arm was hurting him, but that it went away before recently popping back up. After throwing four curveballs to Bryce Harper on Friday ‘€“ one of which resulted in a Harper RBI single ‘€“ Valentine said Hill didn’€™t feel great about his elbow.

‘€œI didn’€™t think he was throwing much differently,’€ Valentine said. ‘€œI thought his curveball just didn’€™t have the same late break, but I don’€™t know if that’€™s elbow-related or not.’€

Mark Melancon will take his spot, who Valentine says has been playing “lights out” in Pawtucket recently. In 21 2/3 innings, the right-hander has compiled a 0.83 ERA.

“Every report was excellent,” Valentine said. “He regained command of his fastball, his curveball , I’€™m not sure if it got sharper, but it became a much more functional pitch, and he started throwing his changeup, also. He threw to both sides of the plate. He maintained his velocity. He pitched one and two innings. He did everything. He would have been back sooner if our bullpen wasn’€™t doing as well as it has been.”

Valentine also addressed the status of Aaron Cook, who went down last month with an injured knee. Valentine said that he pitched two innings yesterday and will meet up with the Red Sox this week in their series at Miami, where he will throw a bullpen.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, who made his return to the Red Sox yesterday, will make his next scheduled start on Friday. Matsuzaka returned to the hill to make his first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery and threw five innings, scattering five hits and four earned runs while striking out eight in the loss.

Valentine said that Carl Crawford is taking today off from throwing exercises, but that the outfielder is feeling ‘€œno ill effects’€ from throwing the last couple of days. Crawford is rehabbing from left wrist surgery, which landed him on the 60-day DL on March 26.

Read More: Bobby Valentine, mark melancon, Red Sox, rich hill

Mark Melancon back in Boston after dominating Triple-A

06.10.12 at 11:59 am ET
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Mark Melancon is back with the Red Sox after a disastrous start to his Boston tenure. The veteran reliever gave up 11 runs over two innings in four appearances in April for the Sox, but he dominated Triple-A in allowing only two runs in 21 2/3 innings.

So how did he feel as he turned in what manager Bobby Valentine called a “lights-out” stretch in in Triple-A?

“It was nice to get out of an inning,” he said with a laugh Sunday.

Despite his early struggles at the major-league level this season, Melancon has turned his season around in Pawtucket enough to suggest that he could be reliever the Sox thought they were getting when they acquired him from Houston in the offseason.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘Was it confidence?'” he said. “No, it wasn’t confidence. I really didn’t think it was and I still don’t think that’s what it was. It was simply aggressiveness and approach.”

It took an injury to Rich Hill (elbow tightness) to get Melancon back to Boston, as Boston’s bullpen has been very strong for the most past this season. Valentine pointed out that Melancon “would have been back sooner if our bullpen wasn’t doing so well,” but Melancon tried to viewed that as a god sign as he waited his turn in Pawtucket.

“It was easier when our guys up here were doing well,” Melancon said. “Obviously you don’t wish for an injury, you don’t want anybody to be bad, so when they set the bar as high as they were, it’s pretty obvious why I was down there kind of hanging out.”

Though obvious disappointment and frustration accompanies a demotion for an established veteran (see: Bard, Daniel), Melancon took his assignment and made the best of it. In addition to limiting opponents to two runs in his 21 appearances, he allowed just 15 hits and three walks while picking up 27 strikeouts.

“After five or six times of [being sent down], you realize it doesn’t help to go down there and get pissed off,” he said. “It’s tough to go down there after you’ve had a couple bad outings, but you’ve got to make the best of it and that’s what I was trying to do.”

Read More: Daniel Bard, mark melancon, rich hill,

Red Sox Minor League Roundup: A first for Matt Barnes; Ryan Kalish, Travis Shaw keep mashing

06.10.12 at 10:24 am ET
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Matt Barnes was in uncharted territory in his pro career.

He hadn’t thrown more than six innings in any of his previous 11 starts. But after requiring just 72 pitches through the first six innings on Saturday, he returned to the mound for the seventh (and last) inning in the front end of High-A Salem’s doubleheader against the Potomac Nationals. Yet in the seventh, he started to falter.

He allowed back-to-back one-out singles, and then after a strikeout, issued a walk to load the bases, putting the tying run on first base in a game that he led, 3-0. Salem manager Billy McMillon went to the mound for a visit.

“He ran out toward me,” Barnes told MILB.com’s Sam Dykstra. “I saw him get up in the dugout and thought, ‘You can’t pull me now.’ Then he started jogging and I thought, ‘If he’s jogging, he’s obviously not coming out to get me.’ He said, ‘I just want to let you know that this is your last batter.’

“For me, 6 2/3 is like running a marathon and stopping in the last mile. It’s just one of those things where you have to go and finish it.”

Barnes got a groundout to third for his first complete-game and shutout in pro ball. He allowed five hits (four singles and a double) while walking three and striking out five, on a day when he traded pitch efficiency and bad contact for his higher strikeout totals. He’s now logged 13 scoreless innings in his last two starts, and on the year, his 0.93 ERA and 0.80 WHIP (between Single-A Greenville and High-A Salem) are the best in the minors.

The Sox have no immediate plans to promote Barnes to Portland, and the pitcher is not looking ahead to when he might move up a level. That said, he welcomes the idea of taking a fast track to the big leagues.

“If I start thinking about where I’€™m going, when I’€™m going, I’€™m not giving the team 100 percent,” said Barnes. “Obviously, every player in pro ball wants to play in the big leagues. Otherwise they wouldn’€™t be in pro ball. I’€™m trying to be consistent with my mechanics, work on my three-pitch mix and get to Boston as fast as possible.”

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-4 LOSS VS. GWINNETT (BRAVES)

(BOX)

— The performance of Ryan Kalish after being sidelined for most of the last 14 months is now little short of startling. He went 4-for-5 on Saturday and blasted his third homer in four games in Triple-A. He is 10-for-16 (.625) in Pawtucket with a .714 OBP, 1.313 slugging mark and 2.027 OPS. Against lefties, he is 6-for-9 with two homers and three walks, good for a line of .667/.750/1.444/2.194.

“He swung the bat in extended [spring training], but he hadn’t really swung the bat in a year, so I think there was some feeling out with his swing, just getting used to tracking pitches and getting into game speed,” said farm director Ben Crockett. “As he’s gone to the affiliates, he’s certainly been a lot more comfortable at the plate of late. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: bryce brentz, keivan heras, Lucas Leblanc, matt barnes

Sunday’s Red Sox-Nationals matchups: Jon Lester vs. Jordan Zimmermann

06.10.12 at 7:26 am ET
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Jon Lester will take the mound for his 13th start of the season Sunday afternoon when he faces the Nationals and Jordan Zimmermann at Fenway Park.

Lester (3-4, 4.64) has struggled at at Fenway Park, winning his last game at home on May 14 over the Mariners. Lester is 1-2 with a 6.42 ERA at Fenway.

Lester did not factor into the decision in his last two starts, giving up a combined six earned runs over 12 2/3 innings in a loss to Baltimore and a victory over Detroit.

The 28-year-old allowed two earned runs through six innings in his last start, an 8-6 loss to Baltimore. His last victory came on May 19 against the Phillies, when he pitched six innings of four-run ball in a 7-5 win.

The lefty hasn’t faced the Nationals since June 24, 2009. He allowed three runs through six innings en route to Boston’s 6-4 victory. All-time against Washington, Lester is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA. National Xavier Nady has faced Lester the most, taking the plate eight times against the lefty.

Zimmermann (3-5, 2.82) also didn’t factor in the decision of the last game he pitched, throwing six innings of two-run ball in Washington’s 7-6 victory over the Mets. His last victory also came against the Phillies, just three days after Lester defeated Philadelphia. In the Nationals’ 5-2 win, Zimmermann allowed one run in six innings.

The righty has only pitched against the Red Sox once in his career, a 9-3 victory over Boston on June 25, 2009. In that game Zimmermann lasted seven innings and allowed one earned run. Marlon Byrd had the most experience against Zimmermann, but following Byrd’s designation to the minors that honor falls to David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Nick Punto. The trio has faced Zimmermann three times each.

Zimmermann has been more effective on the road than at home this season. He’s 3-2 with a 2.25 ERA when the Nationals are away. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jordan Zimmermann

For Daisuke Matsuzaka, it’s a start: ‘Nervous’ outing offers a ‘usable’ foundation

06.09.12 at 8:30 pm ET
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A couple hours before Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s first major league start in 385 days, his manager, Bobby Valentine, offered a refrain that has been familiar for much of the right-hander’s six-year tenure with the Red Sox.

“I have no idea what to expect,” Valentine said.

How could he? Matsuzaka was coming back from Tommy John surgery, the last time Valentine had seen him pitch in game circumstances from the field level was in Japan back in 2006 and even at his healthiest, Matsuzaka had been a study in unpredictability as a big leaguer. Even Matsuzaka acknowledged that the circumstances surrounding the start were unusual, given how emotional he became at the idea of a return to a big league mound for the first time in more than 13 months.

“That’s the most nervous I’ve been before a start. When I was first told by Bobby that I was starting today’s game, every time I would think about the game, I’d become a little nervous. The preparation aspect, too, I felt nervous warming up, especially in the bullpen,” said Matsuzaka. “There were a lot of emotions going through my this week. A lot of memories today, especially from the fans and stadium itself that I’ve had over the last five years. That really made me appreciate even more all the support I’ve had throughout my rehab process. I’m really grateful and want to express my gratitude towards everyone that has supported me along the way.”

Given the uncertainty surrounding what Matsuzaka might do on the day of his first appearance, it seems fair to suggest that the pitcher exceeded any expectations with his stuff, if not his actual line. Though he allowed four runs on five hits in five innings, he elicited several swings and misses, mixing his fastball (typically 91-93 mph) with an impressive slider and changeup, as well as a cutter to allow him to get on hitters’ hands, and he was on the attack against an aggressive Nationals lineup. Read the rest of this entry »

Franklin Morales showing his stamina, could be used for starting pitching depth

06.09.12 at 8:22 pm ET
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In Franklin Morales‘€™ first 20 appearances of this season, he only pitched for longer than an inning twice. However, in his last two appearances, Morales has submitted the longest two relief appearances of his career, pitching 7 1/3 combined innings including a three-inning outing on Saturday against the Nationals.

Throughout those 7 1/3 innings, Morales has only allowed two hits, striking out seven and not walking a single hitter.

The recent performances have Bobby Valentine tossing around the idea that Morales could provide starting pitching depth should the Red Sox need it.

“Have to make as many plans as you can and the way our bullpen is set up, I think that he has some length in him ‘€“’€“ I thought he did, now I have a better feeling that he has some length in him. It’s good to have,” said Valentine. “If we need a spot starter along the way, something comes up, I’ve mentioned before our bullpen is not really built for a spot starting type of situation.”

Starting is nothing new for Morales, who entered the big leagues as a 21-year-old starter for the Rockies in 2007. In his 15 career starts, Morales is 5-4 with a 4.46 ERA and 44 strikeouts. However, he was moved to the bullpen permanently when he returned to the roster after straining his shoulder in his second start of 2009.

After his three-inning relief performance on Saturday though, Morales is said his arm feels fine.

‘€œI feel pretty good. My arm is healthy, I feel strong and I feel good,’€ Morales said.

Morales has a 3.48 ERA this season coming out of the bullpen. Given the team’s relative lack of starting pitching depth, his versatility could prove a significant asset going forward.

Read More: franklin morales, Red Sox,

Red Sox sign five college seniors from draft, close on deals with three more top picks

06.09.12 at 8:14 pm ET
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The Red Sox signed five college seniors whom they selected in the first 10 rounds of the 2012 MLB draft. The quick deals come as little surprise, since seniors lack negotiating leverage, something that the Sox undoubtedly had in mind when taking them, since players who can be signed for relatively low bonuses in the first 10 rounds would permit the team valuable financial flexibility with other picks in the draft. (For more on how drafting college seniors increased the Sox’ flexibility to pursue high-ceiling draft picks, click here).

The players signed are:

Fifth-rounder Mike Augliera, who had an 83-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio for Binghamton (more on him here)

Seventh-rounder Kyle Kraus, a 5-foot-11 right-hander out of the University of Portland (more on him here)

Eighth-rounder Nathan Minnich, a power-hitter who became the first player ever drafted out of Shepherd University (more on him here)

Ninth-rounder Mike Miller, a 5-foot-8 shortstop out of Cal-Poly (more on him here)

Tenth-rounder J.T. Watkins of Army, an impressive catch-and-throw guy who will play this summer before he starts his military service in the fall; Watkins is the son of Red Sox area scout Danny Watkins (more on him here)

Terms of the bonuses were not available.

The team is also close to deals on three of its other picks from the first 10 rounds. Supplemental first-rounder Pat Light, a hard-throwing starter out of Monmouth whom scouting director Amiel Sawdaye described as having one of the best fastballs in the draft, is close to signing, as are second-rounder Jamie Callahan (a high school right-hander out of South Carolina who throws in the mid-90s) and sixth-rounder Justin Haley, a 20-year-old right-hander out of Fresno (more on him here).

Read More: 2012 MLB Draft, college seniors, J.T. Watkins, jamie callahan

Closing Time: Gio Gonzalez, Nationals spoil Daisuke Matsuzaka’s return

06.09.12 at 7:00 pm ET
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The Nationals spoiled Daisuke Matsuzaka‘€™s return from Tommy John surgery on Saturday, defeating the Red Sox 4-2 at Fenway Park. The loss pushed the Sox back under .500 at 29-30.

Matsuzaka lasted five innings, allowing five hits and one walk on 80 pitches while striking out eight. The Japanese pitcher ran into trouble in the fourth inning when he allowed three runs on three hits and a walk.

While Matsuzaka allowed four runs in five innings, Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez shut down the Red Sox offense for the most part, allowing only three runs on three hits and two walks through 6 1/3 innings. The Red Sox left runners in scoring position in four of the first seven innings, and could not capitalize on the three errors the Nationals made throughout the game.

The Red Sox will look to avoid being swept at home on Sunday, when Jon Lester will match up with Jordan Zimmerman.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

— The Red Sox could barely hit Gonzalez on Saturday, as he only allowed three hits through 6 1/3 innings. The only runs that Gonzalez did allow came after he had already left the game, as Craig Stammen and Michael Gonzalez could not hold the Red Sox after Gio Gonzalez left runners on first and third for them.

Nationals starting pitching has had a lot of success against the Red Sox over the past two games, as Gonzalez and Steven Strasburg have combined to allow four runs through 12 1/3 innings while striking out 18. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Gio Gonzalez, Red Sox,
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