Archive for August, 2009

Things are looking up

Monday, August 31st, 2009

A few thoughts from the weekend:

Josh Beckett

Are you concerned about Josh Beckett? I’m not. I know that he has been getting beat by the long ball (12 in his last 4 starts), but to me it doesn’t look like he’s hurt, the velocity is still there. His two-seam fastball has just flattened out and doesn’t have that good sink that we’ve been accustomed to. There are a few universal truths to pitching: 

1. Strike One. Getting ahead of the hitter can change the entire at bat and how you approach it. 

2. Leadoff walks. They usually cause stressful innings and more times then not, end up scoring

3. Two-out walks. They almost always come back to bite you.

I’m sure you saying, “What the hell do you know about pitching?” But the reality is is that as a hitter you are well aware of what a pitcher is trying to do and what causes them to get out of their game. Josh, in his last outing, had a little problem with No. 3.  On two different occasions, he not only walked one hitter, but two with two outs. It cost him in the second inning as Aaron Hill then stepped up hit a three-run shot. But I don’t think that there should be a concern when it comes to “stuff’. It just goes to show you how fine you have to be to be a great pitcher in this league. Make no mistakes about it, Josh Beckett is a great pitcher in this league. 

JD Drew

JD is hot. For most of the year, JD has been silent. We’ve been waiting for him to get hot and carry this team for a month like he’s done in the past. He may not be carrying this team but he’s definitely doing his part. Drew hit .333 with 6 HR’s and 13 RBI’s in the month of August to go along with an OBP of .459. Since being moved down to the eight-hole JD in eight games has hit .333 with three HR’s. Imagine being an opposing pitcher and having to face this lineup with that kind of production from your number No. 8 hitter? 

Clay Buchholz

Let me introduce you to the Sox’€™ No. 3 starter. He has been outstanding in four of his last five starts. He held his own going up against three “aces” in a row. Then he got lit up against a pretty good White Sox lineup, but that’s what happens with a young pitcher in this league. In his last outing, he was as close to unhittable as you can get without throwing a no-hitter. 

I can’t say enough about the development of his two-seamer. Last year we saw him struggle locating his four-seamer. When he did throw it for strikes, it got hit hard. Because of that, he started nibbling and missing with it falling behind hitters and getting himself in trouble. Now he looks confident with his fastball and is willing to throw it and rely on its movement to get easy outs. It also opens the outside part of the plate for his slider, which is another pitch we didn’t see much from him last year. Overall, he looks like a more confident pitcher who is starting to catch his stride. 

The Lineup

Now this is the way it should have been when this team acquired Victor Martinez. It hasn’t been easy for Tito to rotate everyone around and keep players happy with their roles. But I must say, it has gone smoother than I thought it was going to go. I know that Mike Lowell, David Ortiz, and Jason Varitek get frustrated at times, but it has been working and the offense has woken up from its season long slumber.  When you look at the numbers from the month of August, you have a pretty good idea why this team feels pretty good about themselves:

Jacoby Ellsbury: .297-0-11

Dustin Pedroia:. 307-5-13

Victor Martinez: .308-5-19

Kevin Youkilis: .325-4-13

Jason Bay: .289-9-18

JD Drew: .333-6-13

Mike Lowell: .319-5-19

I left David Ortiz out because he struggled early in August dealing with “the list” issues, but recently, he has been on fire, also batting .308 with 7 HR and 16 RBI’s in his last 14 games. Even Alex Gonzalez who was brought here to catch the ball not hit it is batting .296 since coming over to Boston from Cincinnati. When you have a team hitting the way the Sox are, you can make up for the occasional bad outing from any of your starters and still go out and win. 

Billy Wagner

He will be a great addition to an already great bullpen. Remember Saturday night when Oki came in the game to face Adam Lind and Lyle Overbay only to give up a double to Lind and a single to Overbay? In about a week or so, those hitters will be Wagner’s. It’€™s the perfect scenario to bring in a lefty with power stuff to face two left-handed hitters back to back. I know that the Sox don’t pick guys up with the Yankees in mind, but its a good fit.  If and when the Sox play the Yanks in the ALCS, they will have two lefties in the pen to switch Teixeira, Posada, and Cabrera around to hit right-handed, a strategy that will be utilized when playing New York with that short porch in right. The luxury that you have is that both lefties are just as effective against right-handed hitters. Oki has his change up and Wagner has that power slider. 

As good as I feel about this team, they still have to go out on the road and play good baseball. Jason Bay said it best while in Texas, “Until we play better on the road, nobody is going to take us serious”. No better place to start than in Tampa where the Sox have lost 13 of their last 15 going back to last year. They have their rotation set up with Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz going in the three games. Winning two out of three will put the Rays even further in the rear view mirror. I’m not sure about you, but I will breath allot easier once the Rays are out of the picture

What’s Byrd’s Deal?

Monday, August 31st, 2009

When Paul Byrd signed with the Red Sox in early August, he signed a split contract that compensated him modestly while in the minors, but that paid him a pro-rated annual salary of $1.25 million for whatever portion of the 2009 season he would spend in the majors. After being called up on Sunday and delivering six shutout innings, and assuming that he remains in the big leagues for the rest of the year, Byrd would seem set to earn roughly 20 percent of that total, or roughly $246,000 in base salary.

On top of that, the 38-year-old also will receive the following incentives for his starts down the stretch:

$25,000 each for his first, second and third big-league starts

$50,000 each for his fourth through seventh starts

$75,000 each for his eighth through tenth starts

Also, as Rob Bradford reported on Sunday, Byrd said that he did not have any guarantee of a September call-up when he decided to sign with the Red Sox.

Matsuzaka’s tale of two innings

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

MANCHESTER– Much has been made about Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s eventual return to the Red Sox. One can only hope that a lot will change between today and September 9.

Matsuzaka, rehabbing from a right shoulder strain, took the hill today in Manchester, NH for the first game of a double-header between the Double A Portland Sea Dogs and New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Expected to throw 55 pitches on the day, Matsuzaka nearly filled his quota with a five-run first inning. It took the Japanese right-hander 49 pitches to get his first three outs and was told after the inning that he was done for the day. After telling Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler that he would still like to “get [his] work in,” Matsuzaka was told he could throw the first 10 pitches of the second inning. As it happened, he needed only nine.

Matsuzaka adjusted his release point a bit and retired Scott Campbell, Brad Emaus, and David Cooper in order in the nine-pitch, eight-strike second. He said after the start through an interpreter that, though he expected to improve throughout the game, he didn’t expect the beating that came in the first.

“In the first inning, I think I got into the game sort of at about 60-70 percent of maximum output for me,” Matsuzaka said. “That’s how I was approaching it. There were a few things that I wanted to work on, and that’s why I wanted to get into the game gradually. Mind you, I didn’t think that I would get hit up quite that badly, but I think in the second inning, I just applied a few of those things that I was working on in the first.”

From the very beginning (literally) it was clear that there was plenty that needed work. After getting a standing ovation from the MerchantsAuto.com Stadium crowd, Matsuzaka sailed his first warmup pitch high and wide of Sea Dogs catcher Juan Apodaca. The crowd laughed, Matsuzaka laughed, and he received a half-hearted Bronx cheer on his next attempt, a strike. End of story? Hardly.

After serving up a leadoff homer to New Hampshire left fielder Todd Donovan, Matsuzaka repeated the laughable toss to Campbell en route to walking the No. 11 Blue Jays prospect (according to Baseball America). Matsuzaka said after the game that he was using Major League balls in the start and that he didn’t necesserily feel uncomfortable with his grip or release despite letting some pitches fly.

“Physically, I have no problems,” Matsuzaka said. “I think, within the game, there are probably some adjustments that I need to make to my delivery, but nothing that I am too worked up about.”

Also present in the unpleasant first was a very noticeable leg kick that that previously had not been a part of the pitcher’s delivery. Matsuzaka explained the kick after, saying it was done in an “attempt to prevent myself from diving too far forward and getting in front of myself.”

Matsuzaka eventually took the loss in the 5-3 New Hampshire victory. He threw 58 total pitches (32 for strikes), gave up four hits, five earned runs, and walked three while striking out too. Though he didn’t admitedly wasn’t at full capacity in the first inning, Matsuzaka did add that his effort in the second was “pretty much at 100 percent.”

“Right now I’m not too worried about the results of facing each individual hitter,” Matsuzaka said. “I think what’s more important right now is that I’m able to really feel and grasp those gradual steps in each game and feel like I’m making progress in each start. Compared to my previous start, I definitely feel that I took some positive steps. I certainly was able to get my arm around a lot better today, so I think today was a good outing overall, especially in the second inning.”

No. 18 used his fastball, slider, and changuep in the start. After reaching 92 only once in the long first frame, Matsuzaka hit 96 in the second. While he credited the solid contact made by Fisher Cats (among them a bases-loaded two-run double by Fisher Cats catcher Brian Jeroloman) to their tendency to be “very aggressive to the fastball,” it was his slider that may have disappointed the most. Time and time again he missed badly with the pitch the right-handers, often times going very far outside and making Apocada’s day just a little more difficult.

Matsuzaka, was 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA with the Sox before being shut down on June 20,  also confirmed that his next start (September 4 for Pawtucket) is expected to be his last rehab start. He noted that when he is officially activated (again, the ninth is the date said by Sox Manager Terry Francona) will be decided by the “managers and coaches.”

Two completely different pitchers were present in the first two innings. Which one shows up next month for the Sox is anybody’s guess.

There was no guarantee for Byrd

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

According to Paul Byrd, there were no guarantees from the Red Sox that he was ever going to wear a major league uniform again.

Byrd confirmed after his return to the Sox, Sunday afternoon — in which he pitched six shutout innings without giving up a run in his team’s 7-0 win over the Blue Jays — that he had no guarantee from the Red Sox, formal or informal, that he would be added to the big league club by the time rosters expanded on Sept. 1.

“I wanted to make sure I deserved it,” Byrd said. “If I wasn’t going to be good enough I have them have to bring me up here.”

There had been a report out of New York that suggested Byrd had turned down the Yankees‘ offer when New York wouldn’t assure a Sept. 1 promotion. The blog post in the New York Post linked the Yankees’ reported claiming of minor league first baseman Chris Carter — one of the players thought to be sent to the Mets in the Billy Wagner trade — with the Yanks’ assumption that the Red Sox had agreed the reported request by Byrd.

In the Friday post, The Post’s Joel Sherman wrote: “When the Yanks learned that Carter was one of the players that was going to the Mets in the Billy Wagner deal, they claimed Carter him on waivers and forced Boston to pull the outfielder/first baseman back. One reason was they assumed Boston had to make the same deal with Byrd — to bring him up on Sept. 1 — that the Yanks refused. So that meant Byrd has to be put on the 40-man roster. So the Yanks figured they could cause some 40-man roster havoc for their main nemesis by forcing Carter back on the 40-man, as well, at a time when Wagner, too, had to be added and Daisuke Matsuzaka is close to coming back from the 60-day DL.”

Because the Red Sox 40-man roster stood at 38 prior to the activation of Byrd, Sunday, no move was necessary. It is assumed that the final roster spot will be taken by Daisuke Matsuzaka — who is currently on the 60-day disabled list — upon his return from a rehab assignment.

“I’ll take it a day at a time,” Byrd said. “I work hard , I feel like I’m in shape, I feel really good. My arm has appreciated the rest. My arm feels very strong. I just want to stay sharp and whatever happens with me happens with me. I want a World Series ring and any way I can help this team get that. If they need me to clean toilets I’ll go do that. I’m excited and whatever they need me to do I’ll do. I told that to Tito. I said I’ll help you out any way I can. I’ll get ready and whatever you need me to do I’ll do.”

Byrd had fielded offers from teams during the offseason, but chose to spend time with his family instead of signing. But the plan went astray when May and June came and went without any interest. Yet as the season further progressed, the 38-year-old began to get some phone calls from major league clubs, which ultimately led him to signing a minor league deal with the Red Sox on Aug. 5.

“I had some nice offers, which is hard,” said Byrd of the interest in his services prior to the season. “It’s hard because I love to compete, I love to get out. But I’ve drug my kids all over the country and they’ve never been able to play on a baseball team. Their school’s getting a little more serious. My family had just reached that point. My wife looked at me and I just knew I needed to take some time off that first part of the year and then I couldn’t get back in it. That was tough because I felt like I could still bring something to the table.”

Matsuzaka makes rehab start in New Hampshire

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

MANCHESTER– Rehabbing Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka is set to take the hill today when the Portland Sea Dogs take on the New Hampshire Fisher Cats at MerchantsAuto.com Stadium at 4:05. Matsuzaka, who was shut down on June 20 with a right shoulder strain, is expected to throw roughly 55 pitches. WEEI.com will have regular updates throughout his start as well as his post-start comments, which he is expected to give roughly 30 minutes following his outing.

WARMUP NOT SO HOT

Something about the fact that the crowd here at New Hampshire gave Matsuzaka a standing ovation after celebrating a Lars Anderson strikeout has to confuse the common man. Know what else has to confuse the common man? The fact that Matsuzaka sailed his first warmup pitch far wide and over the head of catcher Juan Apodoca.

TOODLES, THIRD PITCH

New Hampshire leadoff man Todd Donovan just jacked a 91-mph fastball from Matsuzaka way over the left field wall for a home run on Daisuke’s third offering of the game. The next batter, Scott Campbell, crushed one that had the distance but was just foul down the right field line. Matsuzaka walked Campbell on the very next pitch, sailing one wide again of Apodeca.

PROBLEMS A PLENTY EARLY ON

After falling behind Brad Emaus, 3-0, Matsuzaka surrendered a single down the left field line to the New Hampshire second baseman. The next hitter, first baseman David Cooper, then crushed a ball deep to left field that plated Campbell. With runners on second and third with one down, Nick Gorneault walked after working the count full. This has prompted pitching coach Mike Catcher to trot to the mound for a word with Matsuzaka.

MORE OF THE SAME

After Matsuzaka struck out Darin Mastroianni, Brian Jeroloman hit a bases-loaded double to center that scored two. Still with just one down, shortstop Jonathan Diaz walked. Kevin Berman then flew out to right, scoring Gorneault. Five runs, two outs.

…FINALLY

New Hampshire leadoff man Todd Donovan, after homering to begin the inning, grounded to third on Matsuzaka’s 49th pitch of the game. First inning analysis: Totally off the mark. After laughing off his wild warmup pitch, Matsuzaka barely showed more control, often missing down and away to right-handed hitters. He threw a great deal of breaking balls and topped out at 92-mph with his fastball. Don’t buy your September 9 tickets just yet.

49 ISN’T 55

Matsuzaka is out there to begin the bottom of the second inning. Perhaps he can save face with a quick out or two.

1-2-3 SECOND

Sometimes it takes 49 pitches to get out of an inning. Sometimes it takes nine. After getting crushed in the first, Matsuzaka came out and fired seven straight strikes, eight of nine total, en route to a perfect second. After two, Matsuzaka has thrown 58 pitches (he was expected to throw 55), 32 of which were strikes.

Wakefield in a Week? Pitcher Hopes for Speedy Return

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Pitcher Tim Wakefield appeared to be walking much more freely through the Red Sox clubhouse on Sunday than had been the case one day earlier, when he was hunched over while limping through Fenway Park. The 43-year-old confirmed that he was feeling better, and that with a cortisone injection in his lower back scheduled for Monday, he is hopeful that he might be able to return to the rotation within ‘€œa week or so’€ if he responds well.

Wakefield was both puzzled and disappointed by the recurrence of a back problem that had wiped out the first five weeks of his second half. He found it particularly frustrating given his hope that, after allowing one run in seven excellent innings on Wednesday, he seemed primed to stabilize the Sox rotation down the stretch. Now, he is hopeful that an injection can return him to that point.

‘€œIt stinks, because in two rehab starts, I felt fine. I don’€™t think there was anything I did during the game that would provoke this injury to come back or the feeling that I had to come back,’€ said Wakefield. ‘€œThere is a fragmented piece that’€™s floating in there, it’€™s like a bone spur basically that’€™s irritating the nerve. It’€™s just a matter of getting it to the right position where it’€™s not going to bother me and hopefully the cortisone shot will do that.’€

As things currently stand, Wakefield anticipates that he will require offseason surgery to remove the bone fragment. That could change if the symptoms disappear, but in all likelihood, he will undergo what the pitcher believes and hopes will be a relatively minor procedure this winter.

‘€œI think surgery is inevitable in this situation,’€ he said. ‘€œI think it’€™s a situation where they’€™re just going to have to go in there and pull that spur out or that piece out. I think that in itself will relieve a lot of the symptoms and it’€™s not a huge deal where I’€™m going to be on the shelf rehabbing for two months. It’€™s more of a two-week type of thing. Let the wound of the surgery heal up and then be ready to go.’€

Wagner Could Have Been a Red Sox Closer

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Billy Wagner was not brought to Boston to be a closer’€¦this time.

Since joining the Sox on Thursday, the left-hander has sat idly in the bullpen while watching Jonathan Papelbon put the finishing touches on a pair of victories. Wagner, in his ongoing recovery from Tommy John surgery, is expected to serve as part of the setup crew in front of Papelbon, rather than the man to whom the middle relief innings flow.

But that doesn’€™t mean that the idea of having Wagner as a game-ending presence hasn’€™t occurred to the Sox. Wagner was last a free agent following the 2005 season, following three years with the Phillies. The Sox’€™ ninth-inning was somewhat unsettled, since Keith Foulke was coming off of a season that had been mostly lost to injuries, and Mike Timlin ‘€“ despite a serviceable couple of months as a fill-in closer ‘€“ was not viewed as ideally suited for the role.

And so the Sox talked with Wagner’€™s representatives in general terms about the possibility of bringing the left-hander to Boston to stabilize the ninth. Wagner was intrigued by the Red Sox, but the conversations never advanced beyond the preliminary stages, since the Mets blew away not only any other potential offer, but also Wagner’€™s expectations.

Wagner said that he was hunting for a three-year, $30 million deal following the 2005 season, and that he imagined that at the end of that deal, he would be ready to retire. But the Mets, according to the pitcher, blew him away by saying they were willing to go as many to as five years.

The deal ended up being a guaranteed four-year, $43 million agreement with an option that could increase its value to as much as $50 million over five years. Such an offer was beyond what the Sox ‘€“ or any other team ‘€“ was willing to contemplate, and so Wagner ended up with the Mets.

The Sox emerged from spring training with Keith Foulke as their closer, but in the season’€™s third game, they summoned Papelbon to blow away the Rangers in the ninth inning for his first career save.

Papelbon has since added 144 more saves for the Sox, and is now the unquestioned ninth-inning force for the Sox. Wagner, who saved 101 games for the Mets before blowing out his elbow towards the end of last year, now joins him in Boston in a role that is quite different from the one that he and the Sox discussed nearly four years earlier.

Byrd in Red Sox Sunday plans?

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

In a move that could signal a start for the Red Sox on Sunday, righthander Paul Byrd was scratched from a scheduled start tonight for Triple-A Pawtucket. The Red Sox are short a starting pitcher after Tim Wakefield was scratched from his Tuesday start with lower back pain.

Byrd is the likely move to start Sunday’s game against Toronto. Meanwhile, the Red Sox recalled righthander reliever Marcus McBeth to provide depth to the bullpen for Saturday’s game and optioned righthander Junichi Tazawa to the Gulf Coast League Red Sox.

Jon Lester’s start was moved from Sunday to Tuesday at Tampa Bay, leaving a vacancy for the series finale against the Blue Jays.

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Match-Ups, 8/29

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Sure, the Red Sox have been slumping during the second-half of the season.

But finally the team from Boston is on a roll. The Sox are 7-3 in their last 10 games, and Saturday night they’€™ll seek their fifth win in six games. Since August 16 Boston’€™s once-struggling offense has rebounded, averaging 7.7 runs and batting .300 with 24 homeruns.

As the Sox prepare to face Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero Friday night, the prospect of keeping their resurgent offense going looks good.

In three starts against Boston this season, the rookie pitcher is 0-2 with a 10.50 ERA. Not to mention in his last start against the Sox on August 18, Romero lasted only 3.2 innings en route to surrendering five earned runs and three walks. While Romero’€™s season has been fairly impressive for a rookie (11-5, 3.91 ERA), he hasn’€™t been able to silence the Boston bats in 2009.

David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis, specifically, have been a nightmare for Romero: Ortiz is 5-7 with a homerun against Romero, while Youkilis has gone 3-5 with two homeruns and three walks.

Pitching for the Red Sox tonight is young flamethrower Clay Buchholz.

Buchholz pitched against Toronto in his first game of the 2009 season, earning the win as he went 5.2 innings and gave up only one earned run. In fact, his only two wins this season have been at Toronto’€™s expense. But the young pitcher has struggled overall, going 2-3 with a 5.02 ERA in eight starts. In his most recent start against the Chicago White Sox on Monday, Buchholz gave up seven earned runs and lasted only 4.2 innings.

Boston currently trails the Yankees by six games in the AL East standings, but leads Texas by 2.5 games in the Wild Card.

BLUE JAYS VS. BUCHHOLZ

Aaron Hill (10 career plate appearances against Buchholz): 2-for-10, 3 strikeouts

Lyle Overbay (10): 5-for-9, walk, strikeout

Vernon Wells (9): 2-for-7, 2 walks

Adam Lind (8): 3-for-8, strikeout

Marco Scutaro (8): 0-for-5, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts

Kevin Millar (7): 0-for-5, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts

Rod Barajas (5): 1-for-4, walk, strikeout

Randy Ruiz (3): 1-for-3, strikeout

Jose Bautista (2): 0-for-2

Travis Snider (2): 0-for-2, 2 strikeouts

John McDonald (1): 1-for-1

RED SOX VS. ROMERO

J.D. Drew (9 career plate appearances against Romero): 2-for-7, walk, 3 strikeouts

Kevin Youkilis (8): 3-for-5, 2 homers, 3 walks, strikeout

Jason Bay (7): 1-for-4, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts

David Ortiz (7): 5-for-7, homer, strikeout

Nick Green (6): 0-for-5, walk, 4 strikeouts

Mike Lowell (6): 2-for-6, 2 strikeouts

Victor Martinez (6): 2-for-5, walk

Dustin Pedroia (6): 2-for-5, homer, walk

Jacoby Ellsbury (5): 2-for-3, strikeout

Jason Varitek (4): 0-for-1, 3 walks

Rocco Baldelli (2): 0-for-2, strikeout

Alex Gonzalez (2): 1-for-2

Matsuzaka pushed back to Sunday

Friday, August 28th, 2009

With the pending tropical storm bearing down on New England and the Eastern seaboard, the Red Sox have pushed back Daisuke Matsuzaka’s rehab start from Saturday to Sunday in Manchester, NH.

“Daisuke will now pitch Sunday in New Hampshire,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “There was some cooperation from their club and our organization. They obviously were going to have a big crowd tomorrow. The forecast is horrible. It was supposed to be a doubleheader and what they’re doing is playing a single game.”

Matsuzaka, who has been with the team in Boston all week, will pitch for Boston’s Double-A affiliate in Portland against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the first game on Sunday at 4 p.m. Red Sox manager Terry Francona made the announcement before Friday’s game, adding that the team is still hopeful to have Matsuzaka back for a Sept. 9 start against Baltimore at Fenway Park.

“When I stated that Daisuke could come back and pitch on the eighth, what we really wanted is for him to pitch on the ninth,” Francona added. “So, that actually works out perfect.”