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Closing Time: Red Sox lineup rampages over Rangers

08.24.11 at 10:34 pm ET
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The slump appears over for the Red Sox lineup.

With David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury now both back after missing time with injuries, the Sox looked very much like the team that had established itself in the best lineup in the majors between May and July. The Sox unloaded on Texas pitchers for 13 runs, their most since tallying the same number of runs on July 26, in a lopsided 13-2 triumph.

Boston hitters pounded out 16 hits, went 5-for-11 with runners in scoring position and blasted three home runs. At the same time, Sox pitchers stifled a Rangers lineup that also numbers as one of the best in the majors. With the Yankees dropping a 6-4 decision to the A’s in 10 innings, the Sox reclaimed first place in the American League East.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

–While the offense made his life relatively comfortable on the mound, Josh Beckett was nonetheless dominant in an environment that can be cruel to pitchers. Though the Rangers managed to work long at-bats that drove up his pitch count, Beckett logged six innings and allowed just one run on four hits, striking out four and walking two. He held the Rangers hitless in four at-bats with runners in scoring position, most notably in the bottom of the first, when he fired a 95 mph fastball past Mike Napoli for a strikeout.

Jacoby Ellsbury, in his second game back in the lineup, had one of his most dynamic games of the season. He went 3-for-5 with a homer and stolen base while also making some fine plays in center field. It was the fourth time this year and 14th in his career that Ellsbury had both a homer and steal in the same game. Ellsbury also now has 16 three-hit games this year, fifth most in the majors. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett

Wondering who gets first crack at trade waiver claims? Here is your answer

08.24.11 at 9:00 pm ET
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Instead of answering folks one at a time, let’s just get this information out in one big shot. The question that has been posed: Who gets first shot at trade waiver claims in August?

Here is how it works …

Teams will put players on trade waivers in order to see if anybody claims them, and if they don’t then the teams are free to deal the player without limitations. The team who waived the player than has the option of pulling him back off waivers.

Each waiver lasts until 1 p.m. of the second business day after the move is set in motion. Teams will often wait until just before 1 p.m. of the second day to explore all the merits of executing a claim. Teams are notified by Major League Baseball a few minutes after the deadline who was awarded the claim.

The order in which teams are prioritized in terms of being awarded a claim first starts with whichever league is involved. In other words, if an American League team puts a player on trade waivers, than all AL teams have first crack at the player. Example: When San Diego recently put Heath Bell on trade waivers, even a team like the Royals had no chance to claim him because San Francisco moved on the reliever first.

The waiver wire order for each claim is determined daily by winning percentage. So if a player was put on trade waivers two days ago, and both Red Sox and Yankees claimed him, the Sox would have been awarded the claim because even though both teams are tied for first-place in the American League, Boston was two percentage points in back of New York as of 1 p.m.

Hope it helps.

Next week: Fun with fondue.

Red Sox pregame notes: News on Andrew Miller, Steve Prefontaine, Bobby Jenks, J.D. Drew, Mark Cuban and Mother Nature

08.24.11 at 7:00 pm ET
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ARLINGTON, Texas ‘€“ The hair is there, and so was the t-shirt. But there is only one reason Andrew Miller is being called ‘€œPrefontaine’€ in the Red Sox clubhouse.

‘€œPedey started calling me it,’€ said Miller, referencing Dustin Pedroia. ‘€œSo [Daniel] Bard bought me a shirt. But I don’€™t really know anything about him other than that.’€

With his new nickname in hand ‘€“ thanks to hair resembling running legend Steve Prefontaine ‘€“ Miller is heading into his start Thursday without the doubt that lingered prior to returning to the starting rotation Friday in Kansas City.

‘€œYeah, I obviously had a little bit of doubt going into that last one because it had been so long,’€ said Miller, who turned in a 5 1/3-inning, one run outing against KC after not having started in the previous 20 days. ‘€œI obviously got over that pretty quick, and I guess that’€™s certainly not an aspect I have going in. I’€™m not worried about knocking off any rust in this one.’€

Red Sox manager Terry Francona also exhibited some optimism based on the effort Miller turned in against the Royals.

‘€œWe’€™ve tried to make some adjustments with his stride and things like that so the ball can come out of his arm, crisp,’€ Francona said. ‘€œTaking that into a game is not the easiest thing.’€

In other pregame news ‘€¦

  • Bobby Jenks will pitch ‘€œsomewhere’€ (depending on weather), making his first rehab start since being placed on the 15-day disabled list with a back injury. Jenks came through another side session in Fort Myers Wednesday in good shape and will get a few days off before hurling an inning in an minor league game. The reliever will most likely rejoin the Red Sox just after Sept. 1.
  • J.D. Drew returned to Boston and will taking batting practice at Fenway Park with BP pitcher Matt Noone Thursday. Drew is scheduled to play two rehab games in Lowell, Friday and Saturday, but that may be in doubt due to Hurricane Irene/.
  • Speaking of the weather, Francona said the team is planning on various contingency plans in case it is determined the hurricane will make any of the weekend’€™s games against Oakland unplayable. There are no options to make up any games with the A’€™s, which could potentially result in a preemptive strike doubleheader. ‘€œI think they’€™re throwing around a lot of ideas that are just ideas,’€ the manager noted. ‘€œIt sounds like it could be anything from us having trouble getting home to, who knows. It sounds like it’€™s going to be iffy. That stuff changes so fast. I don’€™t know. I know they’€™re trying to brainstorm.’€
  • Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was a visitor to the Red Sox clubhouse thanks to mental performance coach Don Kalkstein, who works for both the Sox and Mavericks. ‘€œWhat a treat,’€ Francona said. ‘€œA bunch of guys came in. I think they were all excited to see him. Pedey came in and embarrassed himself. A lot of guys came in.’€ When asked if Cuban knew who he was, Pedroia said, ‘€œOf course. This [stuff] is worldwide.’€ Kalkstein later quipped, “I reminded him he was strictly local.”

Red Sox at Rangers Live Blog, August 24

08.24.11 at 6:55 pm ET
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The Red Sox and Rangers will meet for the third contest of a four-game set in Arlington. David Ortiz is back in the Red Sox lineup for the first time in more than a week. He’ll bat fifth against Texas southpaw Matt Harrison, while the Red Sox will feature Josh Beckett on the hill.

For the latest news, analysis and updates, join the Live Blog below.

Red Sox at Rangers Live Blog

Terry Francona on The Big Show: John Lackey can ‘be the pitcher we need’

08.24.11 at 4:03 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona joined The Big Show Wednesday afternoon for his weekly interview to discuss the team’s recent performance and the slow and steady improvement of John Lackey and Carl Crawford.

When Lackey hit the disabled list after allowing nine runs to the Blue Jays back on May 11, he was 2-5 with an 8.01 ERA. Since he returned to the roster, the right-hander has managed to turn around the worst season of his career, winning seven out of his lasteight decisions and whittling his ERA below 6.00 for the first time since April. Francona said he’s confident Lackey can fill the role Boston signed him for as the pennant race heats up.

“Even an inning like [Tuesday] night where he gave up the three runs, that might have had a chance to be six or seven earlier in the season,” Francona said. “But he kind of buckled down, he regained not just his composure, but he regained the strike zone, got out of the inning without more damage, and then settled down and put up some zeroes and let our offense go to work. This guy’s been on a pretty good roll. Yeah, his ERA is higher, and it’s going to be that way because of his struggles early in the year. That doesn’t mean he can’t be the pitcher we need.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to The Big Show audio on demand page.

On playing in the Texas summer heat:

“I’m not going to complain about the heat, I love it. I went out yesterday for a walk, kept my shirt on, but I got a little sun on my head, walked around, swam this morning. I love it. I’ll never complain about it. I think you do have to be mindful of it, and I think they are here now. If you hit outdoors every day, you’re going to kill these guys because it is hot. But man, it is great baseball weather. I think any player, they’d rather sweat than be cold.

“We don’t hit outside while we’re here. We keep our time reserved on the field, we take our ground balls, we hit in the cage. They have a great facility here, so we can hit almost right out in the back of the clubhouse. And again, we’re 130 games into the season, so it really works out well. We try to conserve our energy for the game because we don’t play here every day so we don’t want to run out there four days in a row and just have guys wilt. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

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Read More: carl crawford, David Ortiz, john lackey, Red Sox

Dave Magadan on M&M: Carl Crawford is ready to break out of slump

08.24.11 at 3:26 pm ET
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Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan joined Mut & Merloni Wednesday to break down the performance of Boston’s big bats, including Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz. To hear the conversation, visit the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Carl Crawford was expected to be a key contributor for the Red Sox when he signed a $142 million contract in the offseason, but his .252 batting average and .288 on-base percentage have disappointed Boston fans to this point in the season. Still, Magadan has seen significant progress during the last few games, and he said Crawford is ready to return to his Tampa Bay form.

“I think he is starting to get more comfortable at the plate,” Magadan said. “I know watching him throughout the year he’s had a lot of swings where he’s very late and he’s kind of using his upper body to flick the ball the other way and flick the ball on the ground. It doesn’t matter who you are, you’ve got to be on time and you’ve got to be in a position where you can get your legs into your swing a little bit.

“I think what we’ve seen since Kansas City, I know he’s not lighting the world on fire, but he’s really starting to drive the ball, especially from the pull side. He hit the home run in Kansas City, he’s gotten a couple hits here in Texas to the pull side. He’s really hit some balls hard that have gotten caught. So I’ve seen some positive signs and he feels really good about what he’s doing and he’s really positive about it and he’s showing a little more confidence. … We’re going to see him start to break out of it, and I think we’re starting to see that over the last four or five games.”

Gonzalez has been a viable MVP candidate for his performance in Boston, although his home run numbers have declined since the All-Star break. While Gonzalez denied that his participation in the Home Run Derby led to the late-season power outage, Magadan said the contest did a number on the slugger’s swing.

“I know [Gonzalez] said that it didn’t have anything to do with it,” Magadan said. “Watching him take batting practice every day and the whole first half of the season, he would hit probably 80 percent of his balls, he’d hit them center, all the way down the left-field line and he would drive the ball to that side of the field and then all of a sudden you go to the Home Run Derby and every swing that he takes is to the pull side.

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Read More: adrian gonzalez, carl crawford, Dave Magadan, David Ortiz

Wednesday’s Red Sox-Rangers matchups: Josh Beckett vs. Matt Harrison

08.24.11 at 12:00 pm ET
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The Red Sox and Rangers will play the third game of a four-game set Wednesday night in Arlington as Boston tries overtake the Yankees atop the AL East and turn around the season series with Texas. The Red Sox will send ace Josh Beckett to the mound, while the Rangers answer with Matt Harrison.

Thanks to another solid outing last Thursday, Beckett (10-5, 2.46 ERA) has now recorded quality starts in six of his last seven appearances. The right-hander held the Royals to three runs on seven hits over seven innings, and kept his ERA among the top four in the major leagues. It was an encouraging bounce-back performance after a five-run, eight-hit loss against Seattle on August 13.

Beckett hasn’t faced the Rangers in over a year, dating back to a wild, 11-inning loss on Aug. 23, 2010, in Arlington. Beckett allowed six runs on 10 hits, including three home runs, and was pulled after five innings. The Red Sox clawed back thanks to a seven-run fourth inning, but Texas had the last laugh on a Nelson Cruz walk-off home run.

The Boston starter has been effective regardless of where he pitches this year, although his home ERA is nearly a full point better than his road ERA. The right-hander has performed well against lefties, holding them to a .185 average and .253 on-base percentage. However, nine of the 15 home runs Beckett’s allowed have come against left-handed hitting.

Texas is hitting a combined .286 with six home runs in 129 plate appearances against Beckett. Reigning 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton (who was at the heart of a fascinating debate about whether he or Beckett should be drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft) leads the team with two home runs, six RBIs and a .500 average in 13 plate appearances against the Boston starter. Endy Chavez is hitting .360 with two doubles in his team-high 25 matchups with Beckett, while Michael Young has struggled with just three hits in 23 plate appearances.

The Rangers seem to love when Harrison (10-8, 3.28 ERA) takes the mound, at least over the past two months. Dating back to July 5, Texas has won eight out of Harrison’s last nine starts. Last month, the left-hander went 3-0 with a 2.04 ERA. In four August starts, however, Harrison has struggled to a 5.16 ERA. Still, the Rangers have turned up the offensive firepower as of late, averaging 7.66 runs in their last three games.

Despite the team’s success, Harrison was unable to get through the sixth inning in either of his last two starts. Against the White Sox on August 19, he was pulled in the fifth after giving up three runs on four hits while walking three. On August 14 in Oakland, Harrison allowed six runs on four hits and walked three more. Granted, both of those starts came on the road, and Harrison has been a better pitcher at home. In 12 starts at the Ballpark in Arlington, he’s posted a 3.15 ERA, compared to 3.42 on the road.

The 25-year-old has allowed just one home run this month, which is a major improvement from earlier in the season, when he allowed six home runs in seven starts in April and May. Harrison is a southpaw, but he’s actually performed better against right-handed hitting this year. Lefties are hitting .289 off Harrison, while righties are at .242. Still, the Red Sox’ lefty-heavy lineup wasn’t able to do much against the Texas starter back on April 3, when Harrison allowed just one run over seven innings in a 5-1 win.

As a team, the Red Sox are hitting .175 against Harrison in 64 combined plate appearances. Darnell McDonald has the lone Boston home run to go along with two walks in five plate appearances. Mike Aviles has a team-high 12 matchups with Harrison, but he’s just 1-for-12 with two strikeouts. David Ortiz has the best numbers against the Texas starter, hitting .429 in eight plate appearances.

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Read More: Josh Beckett, Matt Harrison, Rangers, Red Sox

John Lackey rekindles memories of Jack Lazorko, and John Lackey

08.24.11 at 12:41 am ET
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ARLINGTON, Texas ‘€“ John Lackey likes it in these parts ‘€¦ unless he’€™s pitching at Rangers Ballpark.

The Red Sox starter lives in the area, and has season tickets to the team that resides just a parking lot away from where he just pitched 6 2/3 innings of four-run baseball, the Dallas Cowboys.

But, as Lackey has discovered in pasts go-rounds, nothing can ruin a homecoming like trying to keep the score down in the home of the Rangers. (He is now 6-6 with a 6.78 ERA in the House That Nolan Ryan Built, Or At Least Visits).

‘€œI like hot. But I don’€™t think anybody likes to pitch here, honestly,’€ he said after the Red Sox’€™ 11-5 win over Texas Tuesday night. ‘€œThis place is pretty tough, for a lot of reasons. The ballpark, they’€™ve always had a good lineup here. But with the offense we’€™re bringing in with us, you feel a little more confident than I have a few times in the past.’€

Even with the discomfort of pitching here, Lackey continued to take steps toward becoming the pitcher the Red Sox need. For the first time all season, he saw his ERA dip below 6.00 (5.98), winning for the seventh time in his last nine starts.

Lackey feels good about himself, or at least a lot better than he did earlier in the season.

‘€œI feel good, healthy,’€ he said. ‘€œI like my chances.’€

Lackey hasn’€™t been lights out by any stretch of the imagination, with Tuesday night’€™s victory exemplifying the kind of outings he has turned in. This time around he allowed three runs in the third inning after the Sox built a 6-0 lead.

But as has been the case of late, Lackey escaped when it counted the most. This time around the most important maneuver came in the form of the pitcher lunging down to field a comebacker off the bat of Yorvit Torrealba, resulting in a 1-4-3 double play to end the sixth inning. At the time, Torrealba represented the game-tying run.

‘€œIt was big, but [second baseman Dustin Pedroia] said he probably would have had it anyway,’€ Lackey said. ‘€œHe was behind me. I’€™m glad I just didn’€™t mess it up, I guess. I’€™m trying to win, man. Hell yeah, I get fired up about anything.’€

It also offered his manager a chance for a little reminiscing about (who else?) Jack Lazorko.

‘€œGreat play. Looked like a guy who used to pitch the Rangers named Jack Lazorko. Remember him? He was like a goalie,’€ said Francona, referencing the former relief pitcher who pitched for four teams in his five big league seasons. ‘€œAnd Pedey’€™s turn, that was fun to watch. And watching Lack’€™s reaction, that was even better.’€

Perhaps Lackey still hasn’€™t reached a level many expect, but he has garnered some optimism throughout the past two months. It’€™s a vibe that wasn’€™t hard to notice when listening to a much more upbeat starting pitcher.

Why not? In his last nine starts the Red Sox are 7-2, he holds a respectable 4.11 ERA and, above all, he’€™s healthy.

‘€œFor sure, a lot stronger,’€ said Lackey when asked how he felt compared to earlier in the season. ‘€œI’€™m a guy, my second 100 innings have always been better than my first. Hopefully that continues. I don’€™t know why. I think I’€™m a guy that needs to build arm strength. I think it happens with a lot of bigger guys. You get stronger as the year moves forward.’€

Closing Time: Adrian Gonzalez homers twice as Sox down Rangers

08.23.11 at 11:15 pm ET
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It’s been one of the more curious subplots of the second half of the Red Sox season: Where have the home runs gone for Adrian Gonzalez? After more than than three weeks and 85 at-bats, Gonzalez finally went deep for the first time since July 30 when he ripped a first-inning offering from Colby Lewis into the right field seats.

He followed up the blast with another to left-center in the fourth inning as the Sox rode his hot bat and a solid enough start from John Lackey to an 11-5 win over the Rangers in Texas. Gonzalez added a sharply-hit single and finished with three hits and three RBIs.

The return of Gonzalez’ power stroke was a welcome sight for the Sox who earned their first win over the Rangers this season. That, along with a Yankee loss against the A’s, pulled the Sox into a virtual tie for first place in the American League East. (The Yankees are one game ahead in the loss column).

The breakthrough against the Rangers was a long time coming. The Sox had been outscored 30-11 in their four previous games against Texas. It was their first double-digit scoring game since Aug. 6 against the Yankees and their most runs in a game since plating a dozen against the Royals back on July 27.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t waste any time marking his return to the lineup, rocketing a single back up the middle to lead off the game and then stealing second.

– Ellsbury also made a great catch to open the fifth inning when he robbed Ian Kinsler of extra bases, earning a tip of the cap from Lackey. Marco Scutaro followed with a strong play up the middle taking a base hit away from Elvis Andrus. Those twin defensive gems loomed even larger when Josh Hamilton took Lackey deep one batter later. Instead of a two or three-run shot, Hamilton’s two-out solo shot did significantly less damage.

– While Gonzalez made the biggest impact, the Sox had contributions from everyone in the lineup. Jed Lowrie had two hits and scored two runs, Ryan Lavarnway and Jarrod Saltalamacchia each had RBI doubles and Carl Crawford reached base twice and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.

– Lackey’s performance was uneven, but effective overall. He cruised through the first two innings, but was touched for three runs in the third and walked in a run with the bases loaded. He then proceeded to retire six of the next seven hitters before giving up the home run to Hamilton in the fifth. He stared down trouble in the sixth before making a nice play to start a 1-4-3 double play to escape the jam. Lackey gave up four runs and walked three but lasted into the seventh inning — his fifth straight start where he’s gone at least six innings.

Franklin Morales had to retire one batter but it was one of the biggest outs of the game. Called on to face Hamilton with one on and two outs in the seventh in what was a 7-4 game, Morales got him to line out to left.

– The final score was deceptive because the Rangers stayed in striking distance until the eighth inning when Scutaro’s two-out, two-run double in the eighth made the score 9-4 and gave the Sox some much needed breathing room. Dustin Pedroia added his own two-run double later in the inning.

Ryan Kalish sidelined again, potentially jeopardizing season

08.23.11 at 8:25 pm ET
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The blueprint for Ryan Kalish entering the season was that he would spend perhaps a few months in Triple-A, excel at the highest level of the minors and then return to the majors, likely for good, at some point in the 2011 season. But now, it is becoming increasingly unclear whether the outfielder will play at all this year in the majors after he landed on the minor league seven-day DL on Tuesday night.

Kalish had been out since Saturday after experiencing a recurrence of the neck/upper trapezius muscle soreness that proved vexing for much of the summer. The 23-year-old was initially injured in mid-April while attempting to make a diving catch in the outfield; he suffered a partial tear of the labrum in his left (throwing) shoulder.

But while he successfully rehabbed that injury, he experienced — literally — a pain in the neck that prevented him for being able to swing for several weeks during the summer. He ended up having to see a specialist in Pittsburgh, who recommended pain-killing injections in the area. Those — along with acupuncture and other treatments — seemed to take hold, as Kalish finally returned to the field earlier this month, first with a two-game rehab stint in Lowell of the Single-A New York-Penn League, and then returning to Triple-A Pawtucket on Aug. 8, nearly four months after he was initially sidelined by the shoulder injury.

But after going 4-for-12 in his first three games back in Pawtucket, Kalish was 1-for-19 over his next five games, leaving him with a .209 average, .271 OBP, .279 slugging mark and .550 OPS in Triple-A this year. Then, following Saturday’s Futures at Fenway contest, he had a recurrence of soreness in the same neck/upper trapezius region that slowed his recovery this season. Given the degree to which the problem lingered previously, the Sox and Kalish opted for a conservative course to shut down the outfielder while investigating the cause of the discomfort.

That, in turn, could leave Kalish’s season in jeopardy. Even if Kalish misses the minimum seven days, there would be just eight days left in the minor league regular season. While there may be more games in Pawtucket’s season (the PawSox currently lead the International League’s North Division, and they are very likely playoff bound barring a collapse), Kalish is up against something of a clock — especially if he ends up missing more than the seven-day minimum. Read the rest of this entry »

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