Archive for June, 2010

Closing Time: Rays 9, Red Sox 4

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

It would not be much of a stretch to suggest that Matt Garza is the pitcher with whom the Red Sox have the most dificulty right now. The Rays right-hander entered his start in Boston with a 6-3 record and 3.36 ERA against Boston, and since the start of the 2009 season, he owned a 3-2 record and 3.07 record against his AL East foe, the latter mark being the best by any pitcher in the majors with at least 30 innings against Boston.

“We’ve seen him at the top of his game,” Sox manager Terry Francona said before Wednesday’s game.

The Sox caught another glimpse of Garza’s best stuff on Wednesday, as Boston lost to Tampa Bay by a 9-4 count. Garza overpowered the Sox through seven innings, allowing just one run before he tired in the eighth (following a lengthy half-inning by his teammates at the expense of Sox relievers). Garza finished the night having allowed three runs on six hits in seven innings, striking out five in the process.

That performance proved more than enough, in no small part due to another night on which the Sox bullpen looked like a major vulnerability.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–The Red Sox remained in the game into the eighth inning, trailing just 3-1 despite Garza’s excellence. But any hopes of a comeback quickly vanished on the watch of a bullpen that allowed six runs on Wednesday after permitting four scores the night before.

Manny Delcarmen continued a stretch in which he has been brutally ineffective. All five Rays who faced him reached base: three on singles, one on a walk, one on a double. All five crossed the plate. Over his last three outings, 11 of the 14 batters he’s faced have reached base, with nine crossing the plate. Over those three appearances (in one week), he has seen his ERA soar from 2.23 to 4.59. Ramon Ramirez allowed the runners he inherited from Delcarmen to score when he gave up a homer to Jason Bartlett, leading to a night in which the Boston bullpen permitted six runs.

The Boston bullpen now has one of the worst ERAs in the game (4.80), and has permitted 35 homers (most in the AL). While GM Theo Epstein said on Tuesday that the Sox would prefer to achieve a bullpen improvement through better performances by their current group of relievers, that possibility seems increasingly unlikely.

Kevin Youkilis has been so good for the last three years that he is, at times, subject to unfair standards. That is certainly the case in suggesting that the Sox first baseman is currently ensnared in a slump that spans all of seven games. That said, he had his worst night of a recent tough spell on Wednesday, going 0-for-4 and punching out twice against Garza. He has now gone down on strikes in 10 of his 26 at-bats during his last seven games, a span in which he is hitting .154/.231/.346/.577. He has struck out multiple times in six of his last 10 games.

Youkilis also committed one play that was charged as an error, throwing a ball away on a relay to the plate (a throw he should not have even attempted), and later kicked a hard-hit ball to his right that was scored a single — a difficult play, but one that he often makes.

Mike Cameron failed to make a difficult play that could have changed the complexion of the game. With runners on the corners and one out in the top of the fourth inning of a scoreless game, he mistimed his leap on a drive to deep center field by Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach. And so, instead of hauling in the ball at the wall in center field, it sailed just over Cameron’s glove for a two-run double. The play had a high degree of difficulty, but it could have been made. While one of the runs would have scored (as a sac fly), the other might not have crossed the plate in the inning. Indeed, the play became of even greater consequence when the Rays added on another run with a two-out single by Ben Zobrist that scored Shoppach.

J.D. Drew was a late scratch from the lineup with a stiff neck.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

David Ortiz served as the Red Sox offense, clubbing a pair of doubles and driving in three runs. Though it was not on a level with his exceptional performance in May, the Sox DH finished June with a .238 average, .928 OPS, six homers and 22 RBI. It was particularly noteworthy that opposing teams are once again pitching around Ortiz, who led the majors with 21 walks in the month of June.

–It wasn’t pretty, but Daisuke Matsuzaka gave the Red Sox a quality start. He allowed three runs in six innings — all in the fourth inning — while allowing just four hits and four walks. He punched out seven.

Matsuzaka managed to avoid harm despite loading the bases on three walks in the first inning. But he could not elude harm after starting the fourth with a walk and a single that put runners on the corners in front of Kelly Shoppach‘s two-run double and a two-out run-scoring single by Ben Zobrist. Even so, had a defensive play been made on Shoppach’s double, Matsuzaka might have finished the night having allowed just one run.

Eric Patterson made some positive contributions in his first game with the Red Sox, collecting a single, getting hit by a pitch, scoring a run and working a 10-pitch flyout against Rays starter Garza. However, he also became the first Red Sox since Sean Casey (March 26, 2008) to ground into a double play in his first plate appearance with the Sox. (It is worth noting, however, that Patterson was likely safe at first base.) For the day, he was 1-for-3.

Red Sox sign pitcher Rich Hill

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

The Red Sox have signed left-handed pitcher Rich Hill, according to a team source. The left-hander, who hails from Milton, Mass., will join Triple-A Pawtucket.

Hill, 30, last pitched in the majors in 2009 with the Orioles. He has a 21-20 record and 4.87 ERA in parts of five big league seasons. His best year came as a starter with the Cubs in 2007, when he went 11-8 with a 3.92 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 195 innings.

But since then, Hill has struggled with his command, walking 58 in 77 innings while moving from the Cubs to the Orioles to the Cardinals and now the Red Sox. He has spent all of this season pitching for Triple-A Memphis (the Cardinals affiliate), primarily in relief. He had a 4-3 record and 4.30 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 46 innings, but with 30 walks.

News of Hill’s signing was first reported by PawSox broadcaster Dan Hoard (via twitter).

Francona on D&H: ‘We don’t want anything to get in our way’

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Red Sox manager Terry Francona called into The Dale & Holley show for his weekly discussion on everything Red Sox. This week, the topic was what has been on everybody’€™s mind, the surplus of injuries to the squad, including those of Dustin Pedroia and Víctor Martínez.

‘€œI think Víctor was kind of hoping that when he got the inflammation out, he could play. I think pretty quickly, he realized that that wasn’€™t happening,’€ said Francona. ‘€œWe waited a day out of respect, and maybe a little bit of hope, but we realized he was going to the DL.’€

The following are highlights of the interview. To listen to the full audio, click on The Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

On the recent plague of injuries and if it hampers the team:

I know what happened out there and everything, but I don’€™t think we feel that way, especially during a game. We get so caught up in winning the game that you just move on, and I don’€™t mean that unfeeling, we care about our guys, but during the game we need to win. We certainly get updates from the trainers during the game, but our objective is to win and we don’€™t want anything to get in the way.

On nearly blowing an 8-1 lead over Tampa Bay Tuesday night:

I think there’€™s a couple of ways to look at it. First of all both [Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon] had two days off, so we’€™re OK there. With the last day in San Francisco and the day off [the day before] yesterday, it’€™s not like they were being overused. We went to [Hideki Okajima] and he gave up the home run, and then he gave up the hit, so rather than let [the Giants] get back into the game, we brought in Bard to snuff out the 8th, then we start [Scott] Atchison and we could have gone right to Pap, we’€™ve done that before with a four run lead. We went to Atch; it didn’€™t work out quite as we wanted, we brought in Dustin Richardson to not only get outs, but to buy Pap some time, and it actually worked pretty good. Neither Bard nor Pap threw very much. (more…)

Pedroia tries to fight the boredom

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

It has been less than a week, and just three games, since Dustin Pedroia ripped a foul ball off the instep of his left foot, resulting in a bone break that will keep him sidelined for the next several weeks. But the second baseman could not help it. Already, he is stir crazy.

“Hanging out. That’€™s all I do,” said Pedroia, half-jokingly. “It’€™s miserable.”

And so, at about 3:25 p.m., Pedroia headed onto the diamond at Fenway Park on crutches. He threw them aside close to his position at second base and, in deference to the fact that he is not allowed to do any weight-bearing activity, got on his knees on the infield grass just inside the dirt. He briefly played catch and then took a few grounders.

“I was just out there for five minutes. I’€™m pretty bored. Not really a lot for me to do right now,’€ said Pedroia. ‘€œI’€™ve got to keep my arm in shape. Just throwing on my knees, taking some groundballs. It’€™s not bad [doing that from the knees]. We do it in spring training.”

That Pedroia was already trying to pursue baseball activities served as a reminder. It might be a bit of an exaggeration to say that he will have to be chained to stick to doctor’s orders in his recovery from the navicular fracture, but it’s not far from the truth, either.

“He’s a maniac,” said manager Terry Francona. “He knows he can’t put any weight on that foot. He knows it’ll slow him down if he does. He’ll abide by the rules, but he’ll bend them as much as he can.

“Everyone who’s been around him for two seconds knows that he’ll do everything in his power to be ready to go when the bell rings, whenever that is. … That’s part of what makes him so special. He’s unique.”

Pedroia confirmed that he is trying to cut down the time that it will take him to return by doing as much as he can, even though right now, he read, that doesn’t leave much activity for him to pursue. Even so, he has made it a goal to beat the standard six-week timeframe to return.

Thus far, he suggests, despite the boredom, he is willing to accept the hand that has been dealt to him. But, he acknowledges, that could change, depending on his team’s fortunes.

“Hopefully I heal fast,” he said. “If we keep winning, I’€™ll be fine. If we start losing, I might panic, start walking. But I’€™ll be alright.”

Maddon on Beltre: ‘I’ve seen it before’

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Before he played for the Red Sox, Adrian Beltre‘s defensive wizardry took on a certain element of mysticism. There was the youtube video of outrageous highlights (since removed due to MLB copyright violations), but the man who perhaps did the most to crystallize Beltre’s talents was Rays manager Joe Maddon. It was he who declared at MLB’s winter meetings, while Beltre was still a free agent, that Beltre was “the best who I’ve ever seen with my two eyes — defender, not just third baseman, but defense.”

Yet while Beltre’s defensive credentials were unquestioned, he was viewed by most as something between offensively adequate and a lineup liability based on his numbers from 2005-09 (.266 average, .317 OBP, .759 OPS) with the Mariners.

And so, what he has done at the plate has been little short of shocking. Beltre went 4-for-4 on Tuesday, in his club’s 8-5 victory over the Rays, thus improving his average to .349 (second in the American League). He has a .387 OBP (second highest of his career to his .388 mark in 2004), a .561 slugging mark (9th in the AL) and .948 OPS (7th). Those stats, along with his 12 homers and 52 RBI (which have him on pace for 25 homers and 108 RBI) lead to a simple conclusion: he’s been an offensive force.

Maddon’s team has been victimized with particular frequency by Beltre. The Sox third baseman is hitting .500/.517/.893/1.410 against the Rays with two homers and seven runs batted in against Tampa Bay.

No one in the baseball world anticipated this sort of eruption. Yet while Maddon makes no pretense of having foreseen this turn of events, the Rays skipper notes that he has seen it from Beltre before — but that it had been a long time.

“He hadn’€™t done it in a couple of years, but what you’€™re seeing right now is what I saw with the Angels [as a bench coach in the first half of this decade] when he was with the Dodgers. I’€™ve seen it before,” said Maddon. “I’€™ve seen really good offensively in the past. It only surprises me because he’€™s been away from that for a couple years. … I know he loves to play. From the beginning of the year, from my perspective, he was just getting used to playing in Boston. He appears to be pretty comfortable right now.”

Red Sox vs. Rays matchups, 6/30

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

As the Rays continue to struggle, having lost nine of their last 12 games, the Red Sox hope to finish a quick two-game sweep at Fenway Wednesday night with Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound.

Matsuzaka (5-2, 4.50 ERA) has given up three runs or less in his last five starts, having gone five innings last week against Colorado, surrendering five hits and two runs, while also striking out six. After coming off the disabled list for the second time this season (forearm, neck), the hope is that he can find some sort of rhythm heading into the All-Star break.

With a rash of injuries hitting the Red Sox offense, with Victor Martinez joining Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Lowell and Jeremy Hermida on the DL, it will be interesting to see how they function without some of their best hitters. Last night they showed how dangerous they can still be, collecting 10 hits and six walks against the Rays; with James Shields giving up five runs and two walks of his own. Now, however, they turn their attention to another young, powerful right hander in Matt Garza.

Garza (8-5, 4.10 ERA) went eight innings in his last outing against the San Diego Padres, allowing three runs while striking out five. The Red Sox pounded Garza in their last meeting on May 26, with the Sox scoring six runs off the young righty en route to a 11-3 win.

Most Red Sox starters have struggled against Garza in their career, but watch for Adrian Beltre, who in only 16 plate appearances has a .438 average, two home runs and five RBI.

Currently one game behind the Yankees and two ahead of the Rays, the Sox will look to wrap up a successful month of June (18-8 record) and set their sights on taking control of the AL East.

Red Sox vs. Matt Garza

Marco Scutaro (42 career plate appearances against Garza): .222 average/.333OBP/.222 slugging, 2 RBI, 6 walks, 5 strikeouts

Kevin Youkilis (34): .214/.353/.429, 3 doubles, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 5 walks, 6 strikeouts

David Ortiz (30): .167/.333/.583, 1 double, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 6 walks, 9 strikeouts

Victor Martinez (26): .261/.308/.348, 2 doubles, 4 RBI, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

J.D. Drew (25): .143/.240/.333, 1 double, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts

Jason Varitek (22): .158/.273/.211, 1 double, 2 RBI, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts

Adrian Beltre (16): .438/.438/.875, 1 double, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 2 strikeouts

Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald are both hitless against Garza in six combined plate appearances. The Tampa Bay starter has never faced Bill Hall, Daniel Nava, Eric Patterson and Angel Sanchez.

Rays vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka

Carlos Pena (26 career plate appearances against Matsuzaka): .333 average/.538 OBP/.611 slugging, 2 doubles, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 8 walks, 6 strikeouts

Carl Crawford (15): .214/.267/.214, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts

B.J. Upton (15): .077/.200/.308, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts

Jason Bartlett (14): .143/.143/.286, 2 doubles, 1 RBI, 5 strikeouts

Willy Aybar (7): .333/.286/.500, 1 double, 1 RBI, 2 strikeouts

Evan Longoria (7): .800/.857/1.600, 1 double, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 walk

Ben Zobrist (7): .000/.143/.000, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts

Hank Blalock (6): .167/.167/.667, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 strikeouts

Matthew Joyce (6): .250/.500/.1.000, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 walk

Kelly Shoppach (6): .400/.500/.400, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

The Boston starter has never faced Reid Brignac, John Jaso and Sean Rodriguez.

Lackey’s Night – Pitch By Pitch

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

My Monday post concerned John Lackey’s season so far and included information from Fangraphs showing which of Lackey’s pitches have been most and least effective.  Generally, his fastball has been right around league average over the last three years and his curve, which was well above average for several seasons, has shown signs of deteriorating (although perhaps showing signs of rebounding with a strong June).

So let’s look at Lackey’s strong start on Tuesday against the Rays from a pitch-by-pitch standpoint and see what we see.  I threw together a VERY rudimentary scoring system so we can grade the outcome of (almost) every pitch.  What I’m trying to simulate is the change in expected runs either through hits, outs, or a change in the count on the batter.  So every pitch is assigned a positive value if it helped Lackey escape the inning (strikes and outs) or a negative value if it helped get him in trouble (balls, hits, or walks).  The only pitches that do not get graded (and do not show up below) are two-strike foul balls, which do not change the count.

Oh, and MLB.com classified almost all of Lackey’s fastballs as “cutters”, but looking at his history of less than 1% cutters in his career, I’m pretty sure that those will be corrected to “fastballs” (and that’s what I called them here).

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Key / Scoring System:

4 = HR =  minus 8 points
3 = 3B =  minus 7 points
2 = 2B =  minus 5 points
1 = 1B =  minus 3 points
W = Walk or HBP = minus 2 points
B = Ball = minus 1 point
S = Strike = plus 1 point
O = Out = plus 2 points

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1st Inning:

Fastball – BOBSBS1SSBSBSSB (0)
Curveball – BOBW (-2)
Slider -
Change – O (+2)

An uneven inning for Lackey saw two full counts, a single (apparently Crawford’s 1000th consecutive hit off Lackey), an erroneous pickoff throw, and a walk.  But he escaped.  Wonder how the rest of the game would have gone had Tampa taken advantage there?

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2nd Inning:

Fastball – OSBOSBO (+6)
Curveball – SB (0)
Slider – 1 (-3)
Change -

Four short AB’s with one single (on his only slider) added in.

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3rd Inning:

Fastball – BSSOSSSBOBBBSO (+7)
Curveball – BS2 (-5)
Slider -
Change – B (-1)

Four AB’s again, but these four were much longer, which can be expected facing the top of the order.  Crawford’s double was the only blemish.  Note how he’s leaned on his fastball for 7 of the 9 outs (+13) and 2 of the 3 hits have come off his other pitches (-9).

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4th Inning:

Fastball – SSSBBBS (+1)
Curveball – BSOO1SSO (+5)
Slider -
Change – 1 (-3)

Two singles in the 4th (remember how he’s struggled against 7-8-9 hitters this year?) led to extra pitches, and turned over the lineup for the 5th, but Lackey turned to his curveball more to escape the jam.

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5th Inning:

Fastball – BOSSOO (+7)
Curveball – SB (0)
Slider -
Change – S (+1)

Three up and three down against the top of the order on just 9 pitches might have bought him an extra inning down the road.

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6th Inning:

Fastball – BBSBWSSBSO (0)
Curveball – OSBBSOB (+3)
Slider -
Change -

Lackey labored through a walk and some long AB’s, probably guaranteeing that the 7th inning would be it.

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7th Inning:

Fastball – BSOOS1S11 (-3)
Curveball – BB (-2)
Slider – B (-1)
Change – B (-1)

Lackey breezed through the 8-9 hitters, then gave up three straight singles and his first run. Luckily, Crawford’s baserunning gaffe ended the frame on the 3rd hit or things could have gotten interesting.

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Tale of the Tape:

Fastball – +18 on 68 fastballs
Curveball – -1 on 28 curveballs
Slider – -4 on 2 sliders
Changeup – -2 on 5 changeups

At the end of the day, Lackey got consistently good results with his fastball last night.  And he must’ve known that it was sharp as he threw it on 66% of the pitches that “counted”, above his 59.6% fastball usage for the season to date.

Was Tuesday the start of a big second half for Lackey?  We’ll see.