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Josh Beckett’s performance punctuated solid trip for the Red Sox starting staff

04.29.12 at 6:53 pm ET
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CHICAGO ‘€“ It wasn’t the end result Josh Beckett or the Red Sox wanted, but a closer look reveals something that should supply a healthy dose of optimism going forward.

For the sixth time during the seven-game road trip, the Sox starter went at least six innings. In this case, Beckett lasted 6 2/3 frames, giving up three runs in what finished as a 4-1

The entire road swing saw the Sox’€™ starters total 45 innings, to go along with a 5-1 mark (Daniel Bard earned one of the trip’€™s win out of the bullpen). It was the third-most innings of any team’€™s starting rotation during that span.

‘€œYeah, this week it seemed like things were coming together nicely,’€ said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. ‘€œMainly because of the starting pitching obviously. The bullpen fell in nicely.’€

But it was the starters who helped allow the bullpen to figure itself out, which they did in solid fashion. (The relievers finished the trip giving up two runs in 17 innings.)

‘€œIt’s a pretty good road trip as a team,’€ Beckett said. ‘€œAny time you can come to any big league ball club, sweep one and take three or four on another one. Four-game series are tough enough. Pitchers get to see our hitters a lot more than the hitters get to see the pitchers.’€

A sign of the times was the amount of pitches turned in by the Red Sox starters ‘€“ Jon Lester and Beckett ‘€“ over the past two outings. For the first time since 1998, Sox starters threw 121 or more pitches in back-to-back outings (Pedro Martinez, Tim Wakefield), with Lester tossing 121 and Beckett tying his career-high at 126.

Even before Beckett’€™s latest start, the Red Sox starters were fifth in the major leagues with 101.3 pitches per game. Last season they were 16th with 97.1 per outing.

‘€œJosh was ‘€¦ geez, he was good with all his pitches,’€ Valentine said. ‘€œMaybe a mistake or two in the (three-run) first inning. Stuff might have been a little flat that inning. The rest of the game, right up until the last pitch he threw, it looked like he had good movement, location, his curveball was good. One of those days we didn’€™t score for him.’€

Closing Time: No no-hitter for White Sox, but no win for Red Sox

04.29.12 at 5:09 pm ET
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CHICAGO — It could have been a feat not accomplished by the Red Sox in 35 years — going undefeated on a road trip of more than six games (last accomplished by the 1977 team).

So close, yet so far away.

The Sox had to settle for a 6-1 road swing, dropping a 4-1 decision to the White Sox Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field in a game where Chicago starter Gavin Floyd no-hit the visitors through 6 1/3 innings. It returns the Red Sox home at 10-11.

Taking the loss for the Red Sox was starter Josh Beckett, who pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings following a three-run first.

Here is all that went wrong (and right) for the Red Sox:

WHAT WENT WRONG

– It wasn’t until Dustin Pedroia’s one-out single in seventh that the Red Sox managed a hit, with the second baseman going opposite field to prevent the Sox from being no-hit for the first time since 1993 (Chris Bosio). Floyd would finish his 6 2/3-inning outing, giving up a run on three hits, striking out nine and walking one.

– With runners on first and third with two outs in the seventh, and the Sox trailing by a run, Nick Punto (facing reliever Addison Reed) grounded out to first base to end the threat. Punto had previously singled in his only other time at-bat with runners on first and third this season.

– Beckett got off to a slow start, allowing three first-inning runs while having to throw 22 pitches. The Sox’ starter gave up three hits, including a two-run blast to Adam Dunn. The first inning has been somewhat of an issue for Beckett this season, with the pitcher having totaled a 6.75 ERA in the frame coming into the game.

– It was the third time this season the Red Sox have struck out at least nine times in a game.

– Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine went to his bench twice for pinch-hitters in the eighth, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia hitting for Kelly Shoppach, and Darnell McDonald replacing Ryan Sweeney. Both pinch-hitters struck out, with McDonald’s punch-out ending the inning with Mike Aviles on first.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Beckett settled down after the first inning, only allowing three hits and no runs while striking out seven for his final 5 2/3 innings. The starter did run into trouble in the seventh, leaving the bases loaded after a 13-pitch at-bat to Brent Lillibridge that resulted in a walk. He finished throwing 126 pitches, tying a career-high (May 26, 2004).

Scott Atchison came on for Beckett with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh and got Alex Rios to fly out to left on the at-bat’s first pitch. Since joining the Red Sox, the righty has limited hitters to two hits in 13 at-bats with the bases loaded.

– The Sox were able to break up Floyd’s perfect game in the fifth when Cody Ross drew a two-out walk.

– The Red Sox were able to drive up the pitch count on Floyd, forcing the righty to toss 90 pitches after six innings. He would be forced from the game in the seventh, having thrown 111 pitches.

– It was the birthday for both Kelly Shoppach (32) and pitching coach Bob McClure (60).

Bobby Valentine has been reminded Dustin Pedroia is really good

04.29.12 at 2:08 pm ET
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CHICAGO ‘€“ For Bobby Valentine, the last few days have been part revelation, part reminder.

That’€™s what watching Dustin Pedroia during the Red Sox‘€™ current six-game win streak has done for the manager.

‘€œYou know what, during this little road trip here, Dustin has played great defense. Just ‘€¦ I guess you guys are used to it. I haven’€™t seen it,’€ Valentine said prior to his team’€™s series finale against the White Sox. ‘€œHe comes up with a big play, or two or three, that are spectacular. Unbelievable. He’€™s special.’€

In the past two games, Pedroia has made the top two defensive plays of the road swing, one on a grounder up the middle Friday, and the other via a pop-up down the line he had to leave his feet for.

‘€œYou know, I talked about him last year, as everyone did, for an MVP. Seeing it is believing it,’€ Valentine said.

And while Valentine wouldn’€™t yet classify Pedroia as the best defensive second basemen he has managed to date (citing Roberto Alomar as a pretty good one), he did recognize that Pedroia’€™s voice in the clubhouse might be unique from anything he has been a part of.

‘€œIt’€™s amazing. It’€™s amazing,’€ Valentine said. ‘€œConsistently amazing. It’€™s unbelievable. He’€™s in there with the guys, so I only get echoes. If I’€™m in the dugout with him early or out early, it’€™s fun. It’€™s always baseball. How could it not be fun?’€

‘€œIt’€™s what he wants to be doing. It’€™s great. Passion and commitment, right? He’€™s got it.’€

Red Sox Minor League roundup: Could Red Sox add Aaron Cook as a sixth starter?

04.29.12 at 11:08 am ET
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It is, Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure told reporters, a good problem to have. Both Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard have looked very promising in the rotation, and so there is certainly no rush to replace either. Meanwhile, Aaron Cook has been terrific in his minor league stint with Triple-A Pawtucket. After allowing three runs in 6 1/3 innings on Saturday, he has a 1.89 ERA in his five starts for the PawSox.

Cook looks like someone who can help a big league rotation right now. But it remains to be seen how he could squeeze into the Red Sox rotation, barring a move of Doubront or Bard to the bullpen. And now, Cook has a May 1 opt-out of the minor league contract he signed this winter (with a $1.5 million big league salary) that looms should the Sox not call him up by Tuesday.

McClure told reporters that Cook’s shoulder has been healthy enough that a bullpen role might be a possibility, but as of yet, there have been no substantive conversations between the pitcher and club about pitching in relief. Indeed, given his past shoulder woes, while the Sox will discuss the possibility of adding Cook to the ‘pen (a pitcher with excellent groundball rates could be an interesting asset in situations with runners on base), the team might be disinclined to do so out of concern for the right-hander’s health.

One consideration worth noting: The Red Sox do have a stretch of 20 games in 20 days that starts on May 4. If there was a time to go to a six-man rotation while keeping the pitching staff on a fairly normal schedule (five days’ rest between starts, with an extra day of rest that could be beneficial as the Sox look to regulate the innings of Bard and Felix Doubront), this would be it.

A decision is looming on the right-hander. While the outcome is unknown, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the only way in which the Sox can add Cook to their major league staff would involve some creativity, either with the structure of the pitching staff or with Cook’s role.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 6-4 LOSS AT COLUMBUS (INDIANS)

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— In his last minor league outing prior to his May 1 opt-out date, right-hander Aaron Cook allowed five hits (four singles and a double) and three runs in 6 1/3 innings, walking two and striking out a season-high five. Uncharacteristically, the sinkerballer had just five groundball outs.

In five starts in Triple-A, Cook is 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA while allowing one homer and holding batters to a .217 average in 33 1/3 innings. He has struck out 13 and walked 11, but more significant than his strikeout numbers is the fact that, Saturday’s outing aside, he recorded groundball outs in volume and showed both solid velocity (up to 92 mph) and excellent movement on his sinker during his minor league assignment that suggested that his shoulder is healthy.

— Left-hander Andrew Miller recorded a pair of strikeouts while allowing a groundball single to left-hander Lonnie Chisenhall. It marked just the second time in 14 plate appearances that a left-handed hitter made contact against Miller in his Triple-A assignment.

— Right-hander Alex Wilson made his second relief appearance, entering in the middle of the eighth inning (the Sox seemingly wanted him to enter with a runner or runners on base for the first time, but a homer led to a bases-empty situation) and recording two quick groundball outs.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 9-1 WIN VS. READING (PHILLIES)

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— Right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka had seven strikeouts (all of the swinging variety) while permitting three hits (a triple and two singles), walking two and allowing one run in a rehab start for Double-A Portland. It was the right-hander’s second rehab outing in his return from Tommy John surgery. The Portland Press-Herald reported that his fastball registered as high as 93 mph. Sox manager Bobby Valentine told reporters that the right-hander could be moving up to Pawtucket next.

Bryce Brentz recorded his first steal of the year on a day when he went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk. Though hardly a base-stealing threat (he swiped three bags last year), Brentz did work during the offseason to improve his speed so that he could be a better baserunner.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 3-2 WIN VS. CAROLINA (INDIANS)

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— Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. went 1-for-3 with a double and was hit by a pitch, giving him six straight games of reaching base at least twice. His .473 OBP now leads the Carolina League. Bradley also stole a base, his sixth of the year.

— Right-hander Ryan Pressly allowed two runs on three hits and a walk in six innings while striking out six. Though he has struggled to an 8.87 ERA while repeating at Salem (where he went 6-11 with a 4.50 ERA last year), the right-hander’s stuff is more impressive than his numbers might suggest. Aaron McFarling of the Roanoke Times noted two intriguing aspects of Pressly’s outing on Saturday: First, his last pitch of the night was clocked as a 97 mph fastball. Secondly, he was wearing someone else’s pants.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 6-5, 12-INNING LOSS AT LAKEWOOD (PHILLIES)

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Keury De La Cruz came up a double shy of the cycle, delivering a single, homer and triple while driving in three. On the year, he is now hitting .301 with a .370 OBP and .521 slugging mark, and his seven walks in 81 plate appearances suggest strides in his plate discipline (he had just 10 walks last year in Lowell in 312 plate appearances). The 20-year-old has shown above-average power for his age, and if he can combine that with strides in his approach, his ensemble of tools makes him an intriguing (albeit little-heralded) prospect. He leads Greenville in average and OPS while ranking second in slugging and extra-base hits (8).

— Right-hander Jason Garcia, in his first start of the year, punched out seven in four innings while allowing one run on one hit. In 17 1/3 innings this year, the 19-year-old has 22 strikeouts.

Read More: aaron cook, alex wilson, andrew miller, jackie bradley jr.

Nuggetpalooza: Nuggets from the Red Sox’ 1-0 win

04.29.12 at 9:42 am ET
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Here are a few items that I noticed following Jon Lester’s gem last night:

* – With their 1-0 win last night, the Red Sox have now won at least one game by that score in each of the last nine seasons, tied with the Giants for the longest current streak in the majors.

* – Boston managed only four hits on Saturday, snapping their seven game streak getting 10 or more hits and their nine game streak with a home run.

Note this: The seven game streak with 10+ hits was the longest in the majors so far this season. The last time the Red Sox had a longer such streak was 2008 (11).

Note this too: Nine games with a home run tied the longest streak in the majors this season. The Rangers and Indians also had nine game streaks.

* – The Red Sox have won their last three road games that were decided by one run (Monday, Wednesday, Saturday). It’s the first time they’ve won three one-run road games within a week of each other without a loss since 2006, when they won at Baltimore by identical 6-5 scores on September 12 and 14, then downed the Yankees, 5-4, on the 17th.

Note this: Do you remember when the Red Sox lost 16 straight road games that were decided by one run in 2008? That streak spanned from April 25 through August 10.

* – The White Sox have lost six of their last seven home games immediately following being shut out.

* – The Red Sox, however, are 22-7 following their last 29 pitching shut outs. 14 of those 29 came on the road and Boston went 10-4 in those games.

* – Opponents have just two stolen bases against Lester in his last 18 road starts (since last May 10). In his 10 road starts prior to this stretch (8/14/10 through 4/28/11), he allowed 10 stolen bases.

Sunday’s Red Sox-White Sox matchups: Josh Beckett vs. Gavin Floyd

04.29.12 at 7:24 am ET
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With their fortunes seemingly on the mend after a slow start, the Red Sox will look to continue their recent winning ways as they continue their Midwest road trip with the final game of a four-game series against the White Sox. The game will pit two of the teams’ best pitchers against each other as Josh Beckett takes to the mound for the Red Sox and Gavin Floyd will go for the White Sox.

Entering the season with some injury concerns, most notably to his right thumb, Beckett has made four starts this season and has been largely impressive. Beckett began the season with a miserable outing against the Tigers in which he gave up seven earned runs and five home runs in just 4 2/3 innings pitched.

Since then, however, Beckett has gone six innings or more and has not given up more than three earned runs in each of his three other starts, with his most masterful performance of the season coming in a 12-2 win over the Rays on April 13 in which he gave up just one earned run in eight innings. For the season, he is 2-2 with a 4.56 ERA, 16 strikeouts and six walks.

Beckett did not make an appearance against the White Sox in 2011, but he did have two starts against them in 2010. In those games, one of which was at home and the other on the road, Beckett was strong with a 3.65 ERA in 12 1/3 innings pitched with 14 strikeouts and six walks, though he was actually 0-1 in those appearances despite his solid showings. In the one game he pitched at U.S. Cellular Field, the site of Sunday’s game, Beckett struggled, pitching six innings and giving up four earned runs.

Beckett does have some level of experience against the White Sox, having previously faced 11 current players on the White Sox team. Among those 11 players, Beckett has faced four batters more than 10 times. Of those players with double-digit plate appearances, A.J. Pierzynski has had the most success against Beckett with a .333 batting average and eight hits in 26 career plate appearances.

The right-handed Floyd, now in his ninth MLB season, has been an anchor for the White Sox rotation for the past several seasons. Through four starts in 2012, Floyd has continued to be a reliable starter for the White Sox, with a 3.60 ERA and 22 strikeouts despite just a 1-3 record. Among White Sox starters, Floyd has the third-best ERA, as well as the third-most strikeouts and innings pitched.

Floyd faced the Red Sox twice in 2011, with both starts resulting in wins. Not only did Floyd win those games, but he was very impressive doing so, pitching 13 2/3 innings. One of those starts was at U.S. Cellular Field, a game in which Floyd pitched seven innings, giving up only one earned run and striking out six Red Sox batters.

For all of the experience that Beckett has facing the White Sox lineup, Floyd has that much more familiarity with facing the Red Sox. Though they have faced the same number of opposing batters in the past (11), Floyd has gone against eight of those 11 players 10 or more times (as opposed to Beckett’s four). Those 11 Red Sox hitters have largely struggled against Floyd, with a collective 2.09 batting average, but of the players with double-digit plate appearances, David Ortiz has had the most success, with a .318 batting average in 23 plate appearances, with seven hits, three of which were home runs.

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Read More: A.J. Pierzynski, David Ortiz, Gavin Floyd, Josh Beckett

Closing Time: Jon Lester outduels Jake Peavy in another Red Sox win

04.28.12 at 9:54 pm ET
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CHICAGO — The Red Sox extended their win streak to six games, while reaching .500 for the first time this season, beating the White Sox 1-0, Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Field. It was the Sox’ first 1-0 win since July 17, 2011 when they beat the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Starring for the Red Sox was starting pitcher Jon Lester, who out-dueled Jake Peavy to earn his first win of 2011. Alfredo Aceves picked up the save with a scoreless ninth inning.

Lester turned in his best outing of the season, allowing no runs over seven innings while throwing a season-high 122 pitches. The lefty allowed five hits and a walk and struck out seven.

Here is what went right (and wrong) in another Red Sox victory:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Adrian Gonzalez plated the game’s first run with an RBI single in the fourth inning, scoring Ryan Sweeney. Gonzalez, who has at least one RBI in six of the Sox’ last seven games, came into the game with the best batting average in the majors (by a healthy margin) on balls in the strike zone over the past two seasons (.412). The hit also snapped Jake Peavy’s 17-inning scoreless streak.

– For the second straight game, Dustin Pedroia made the defensive play of the game, this time sprinting over to the right field line to snag Gordon Beckham’s shallow pop. The play was made with Pedroia stretching out and leaving his feet, while White Sox baserunner Brent Morel was forced to remain at first.

– Lester got out of his biggest jam, in the seventh, when on his 122nd pitch he induced a grounder to shortstop off the bat of Gordon Beckham with runners on first and third. The force out at second finished off the lefty’s night, allowing him to finish with his most pitches since May 30, 2011. Three times last season Lester managed to go seven innings without giving up a run.

Vicente Padilla got the Red Sox out of a big jam in the eighth, when with runners on first and second and two outs he got Alex Rios to ground out to second base to end the inning. Franklin Morales also pitched in the eighth, allowing a hit while striking out one in 2/3 innings.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Marlon Byrd continued to struggle with the habit of breaking back on balls in center field, this time costing Lester a double off the bat of Paul Konerko. The first baseman’s one-out fly ball in the fourth dropped just in front of Byrd after the outfielder’s tardy start. Fortunately for the Red Sox, the hit failed to do any sort of damage, with Lester retiring Alex Rios on a fly ball to center, and struck out Dayan Viciedo to end the threat.

– The Sox hitters had some difficulties with Peavy, managing just one run off the White Sox starter over eight innings. Peavy, who had once professed a desire to play with the Red Sox, came into the game boasting a 1.88 ERA in four starts. It’s fair to say that even if Peavy continues his impressive pace, the White Sox will not be picking up his $22 million club option following this season.

– Viciedo managed to reach with one out in the seventh when Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis chose to let the batter’s slow roller dribble down the line. The hit never went foul, however, ultimately hitting the third base bag and putting the potential game-tying run at first. The Sox ran into some more tough luck with the next batter, Tyler Flowers, grounding up the middle, where Mike Aviles dove, got the ball, but flipped it too hard to Pedroia, resulting in runners at first and third.

Why Paul Konerko’s home run was a foreign feeling for Daniel Bard

04.28.12 at 7:59 pm ET
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CHICAGO — One of the few mistakes Daniel Bard made Friday night in his first win as a starter came when he grooved a 92 mph fastball to Paul Konkero, resulting in the first baseman’s 401st career home run.

It took Bard somewhat by surprise.

It wasn’t because Konerko hit the pitch. He is, after all, currently hitting .410 with a 1.208 OPS with four home runs on fastballs this year. No, the mild shock came because it came on a 3-0 pitch. In Bard’s big league career, he had never allowed a hit on such a count, with hitters previously going a combined 0-for-26 when putting the ball in play.

And, it should also be noted, Konerko came into the game 8-for-15 when putting 3-0 pitches in play.

“Now I’€™ll be more careful with a guy like him,” Bard said before his team’s game against the White Sox, Saturday. “Even when they swing 3-0, guys are so geared up they’€™re late. Maybe they’€™re late on 96 or 97 when I’€™m coming out of the pen instead of 92 and straight to a really good fastball hitter. I probably should have thrown the sinker.”

Red Sox minor league roundup: A promising beginning for Stolmy Pimentel

04.28.12 at 11:42 am ET
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Aside from Alex Wilson, who is now transitioning to the bullpen in Pawtucket, the Red Sox‘ pitching prospects are concentrated between Single-A and Double-A. Stolmy Pimentel, even after a disastrous 2011 campaign at Portland, is a significant part of that, and so it was notable that his season got off to a strong start on Friday.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 4-1 LOSS AT COLUMBUS

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Andrew Miller has now made seven appearances during his rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket. He’s only allowed runs in two of those, yet particularly in comparison to the straight line progression of Rich Hill, it feels like considerably more than that. On Friday, Miller did record three strikeouts (all swinging) in an inning of work, but after he blitzed through two strikeouts to start the inning, he allowed a two-out walk and a two-run homer (the first longball he’s given up during a rehab assignment that is now more than three weeks old).

Miller’s stuff remains good enough that he’s struck out an average of more than two batters per inning in Triple-A (15 in 7 1/3 innings), and he’s permitted just three hits while holding opponents to a .115 average. Still, he’s been an adventure, with 11 walks.

One aspect of Miller’s relief work does merit consideration: He has faced 12 left-handed hitters. Just one has put a ball in play, as Miller has eight strikeouts, three walks and one ball in play (a flyout) against lefties.

Mark Melancon allowed a single in a scoreless inning of work, striking out two. He now has four scoreless appearances in which he has given up four hits while striking out eight and walking none. Of the 13 outs he has recorded, all have come either via strikeout (8) or groundball (5).

— For just the fourth time in 21 games, Will Middlebrooks failed to reach base, going 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts. He has struck out five times in nine plate appearances over his last two games.

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Read More: andrew miller, bryce brentz, mark melancon, Stolmy Pimentel

Saturday’s Red Sox-White Sox matchups: Jon Lester vs. Jake Peavy

04.28.12 at 9:24 am ET
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After starting the week with a 4-10 record, the Red Sox enter Saturday afternoon’s game against the White Sox with a chance to reach the .500 mark thanks to a five-game win streak. The matinee game has the potential to be a pitching duel, as Boston will send out ace Jon Lester on Saturday to face White Sox ace Jake Peavy.

Lester is searching for his first win of the season, as he is 0-2 through his four starts and has lost five consecutive decisions dating back to Sept. 11 of last season. The left-hander did not earn a decision in his most recent start, a 6-5 Red Sox win over the Twins, but he gave Boston a chance to win by limiting the Twins to five runs on six hits through seven innings of work.

Lester has a winning record in his career at U.S. Cellular Field. He posted a 4.50 ERA through five starts and owns a 3-2 record in Chicago. Lester’s last outing against the White Sox was a good one, as he tossed eight innings of two-run baseball in a 10-2 Red Sox win on July 30, 2011.

Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski have both hit well against Lester in their careers. Konerko, who is 4-for-8 through the first two games of this series and hit a home run off Daniel Bard Friday, has a .389 career average against Lester with three home runs and six RBIs. Pierzynski hits Lester at a .364 clip and has a double and three RBIs in his career against him.

While Lester enters the game looking to reverse his early-season struggles, Peavy will make the start hoping to improve on his perfect 3-0 record. Peavy’s three-game win streak to start the season is tied for the longest season-opening win streak of his career, as he also won his first three decisions in 2008 while pitching for the Padres.

In his most recent start, Peavy tossed a complete-game shutout in a 4-0 win over the Athletics. Peavy allowed just three hits through his nine innings of work and lowered his ERA to 1.88, the second-best mark among American League pitchers.

Peavy has made just two career starts against the Red Sox and earned a 1-1 record with a 4.50 ERA in those games. The one win came in his most recent start against the Red Sox, a 7-3 Chicago victory back on May 30, 2011. Peavy allowed three runs on six hits in that outing while striking out just two batters through seven innings.

None of the Red Sox have more than nine career at-bats against Peavy. Recent acquisition Marlon Byrd has the most experience against Peavy, as he faced him nine times. Most of those at-bats came while both Peavy and Byrd were in the National League, and Byrd is 2-for-8 against Peavy with a double and two strikeouts. David Ortiz hits Peavy best of any Red Sox player, as he is 3-for-6 against Peavy with one RBI.

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