Archive for August, 2010

Closing Time: Orioles 5, Red Sox 2

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

BALTIMORE — An Orioles team that has been an easy mark for numerous teams for much of the 2010 season continued to give the Red Sox fits on Tuesday night. Just hours after Red Sox GM Theo Epstein said that his team needed to get “really hot” in order to stoke the embers of its flickering playoff hopes, Boston fell flat in Baltimore against an increasingly familiar nemesis.

Young left-hander Brian Matusz owns a 7-12 record and 4.72 ERA on the year, but he has overmatched the Sox in his brief career. Matusz stifled the Sox lineup in the Orioles’ 5-2 victory. In four starts against the Sox this year, he is now 2-0 with a 2.55 ERA after allowing two runs in six innings. He struck out six and walked just one.

The Sox’ third straight loss left them eight games behind the Yankees in the division and seven behind the Rays in the wild card.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–The effect of Marco Scutaro‘s physical issues on his ability to throw a baseball were apparent, and costly. In the bottom of the first inning, he fielded a grounder in the hole by Ty Wigginton, but did not bother to throw to first to try to catch the lumbering runner.

More costly, with runners on the corners and two outs in the bottom of the third, Scutaro fielded a soft grounder, double pumped and then fired towards second with an awkward submarine motion. The throw sailed wide of the bag, heading down the right-field line and allowing both baserunners to score. Scutaro pulled his glove off his left hand and feigned throwing it to the turf.

–The Sox offense has disappeared. For the fifth straight game, the Sox scored three or fewer runs, the team’s longest such streak of futility since a six-gamer in July 2009.

David Ortiz and J.D. Drew saw their hellacious struggles against Matusz deepen. The two went a combined 0-for-5 with five strikeouts against the Orioles southpaw. Ortiz is now 0-for-9 with eight punchouts against Matusz, while Drew is 0-for-5 with four strikeouts. When Drew walked against Matusz to lead off the seventh, it represented a minor triumph for the duo.

Felix Doubront, against whom left-handed hitters were 5-for-35 without a single homer this year, got touched for longballs by left-handers Luke Scott and Felix Pie in the bottom of the eighth inning, giving Baltimore insurance runs that all but snuffed out any hope of a comeback.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Josh Beckett turned in his strongest outing in four weeks. The right-hander allowed three runs, just two earned, in his seven innings of work, and of the seven hits he allowed, two were infield singles and two were broken-bat flairs. But for Scutaro’s gaffe, he easily could have finished the night with just one run allowed.

Beckett was more aggressive using his secondary pitches early in counts, throwing his curveball at the start of at-bats to keep the Orioles honest. The approach had an unsettling effect on the O’s, allowing Beckett to snap a streak of five straight starts in which he’d allowed a homer, and resulting in his lowest earned-runs yield since Aug. 3.

Jed Lowrie gave the Sox an offensive spark at a time when the lineup appeared moribund. With the Sox down, 3-0, in the top of the fifth, he smoked a 388-foot homer to left field off of Matusz for a two-run homer that put the Sox back in the game. Lowrie, who also singled, is now hitting .287 with a .912 OPS and a career-high four homers.

–For the first time since undergoing surgery to remove the cavernous malformation of his brain stem, prospect Ryan Westmoreland was in uniform for a game, joining the Lowell Spinners to continue his rehab. For more on the progress of a player who was rated the top prospect in the Sox system entering 2010, click here.

Westmoreland takes an important step in long journey back

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

In 2009, Ryan Westmoreland left a hole in the wall of the Lowell Spinners' LeLacheur Park on a spectacular catch. (Image courtesy Lowell Spinners)

LOWELL – Six months ago, Ryan Westmoreland literally needed to be held up by his belt to take swings with a whiffle ball bat in the hospital.

On Tuesday, the 20-year-old Red Sox prospect showed some encouraging signs as he participated in another round of baseball activities in his long road back from brain surgery.

Westmoreland, who underwent a procedure to remove a cavernous malformation from his brain stem in March, spent the early afternoon taking roughly 60 swings off a tee and in rounds of soft toss at LeLacheur Park with the Lowell Spinners, the site of his last minor league stint with the Red Sox organization.

“I hit the ball pretty well for being only six months out,” said Westmoreland, who plans on rehabbing in Lowell until Thursday before heading down to Greenville to work with the Single-A Drive for the remainder of its season. “I’m not nearly in the shape that I used to be, but I feel great.”

The organization is taking it slow with Westmoreland in his recovery.

“It’s all on him as far as how he feels and how he’s going to progress,” said Spinners’ manager Bruce Crabbe. “What he’s capable of and we are just going to ride the wave and see where it takes us.”

His work in the batting cage took place well before the rest of the team went out for its regular work. Westmoreland said he has hit the ball off the tee on 10 different occasions during his rehab and stepped up to soft toss — from the side and from in front — only a couple of times.

But this small step can be seen as a major victory in the recovery process, both mentally and physically.

It was Westmoreland’s father, Ron, who remembered watching his son go through some aggressive rehab just a week after the life-threatening surgery in Phoenix.

“It was actually Andre Ethier’s brother who was one of the therapists. He put a whiffle ball bat in (Ryan’s) hand and they had to hold (Ryan) up by his belt,” said Ron Westmoreland. “They were pitching him balls and he was swinging and he was making contact. That was a pretty inspirational moment.”

Both father and son have said the doctors have been impressed where the prospect is in his recovery process, but one of the biggest hurdles that he has had to overcome is the ability to regain his eyesight.

Westmoreland said he was close to being legally blind after the surgery and in the first couple of months he had trouble watching television and movies. He slowly moved up to playing golf and worked on building muscle memory watching things that stood still.

Now he has 20/20 vision in his right eye and 20/25 in his left. His vision was a perfect 20/20 in both eyes before the surgery. His goal is to build up enough momentum with the soft toss from different angles where he can take regular batting practice, but he had no timetable on when that would happen.

“I saw a quick improvement,” said Westmoreland. “My eyes have learned how to focus on things that are still, it’s just now they are learning how to focus on things coming at me.”

For now Westmoreland will have to be a cheering teammate on the bench at whatever level he goes to work out. On this night, Westmoreland was introduced to a loud ovation before the Spinners game against the Tri-City Valley Cats — an affiliate of the Houston Astros.

Some prospects would be disappointed returning to the same level for a second straight year, but Westmoreland plans on taking small victories one step at a time until one day he can put on the Red Sox uniform in Boston.

“It was amazing just because, at one point, there was a question about whether I was going to do anything again – breath, walk,” he said. “To be able to now do baseball activities – and pretty advanced activity for baseball and rehab – it’s great. To be able to do the thing I love, play baseball, although it’s second to being alive, which I’ve taken grips to, it’s special just to be around the game.”

“I’m alive,” he added. “And now let’s work back and let’s try to get to Fenway.”

Sox bull(pen)ish on Doubront?

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

BALTIMORE — Part of the reason that Manny Delcarmen became expendable was that he had been bypassed by a teammate.

Delcarmen’s struggles forced the Sox to see if they could find viable alternatives to him. The role that he once occupied, helping to pass the baton to Jonathan Papelbon in games when the Sox had a middle-innings lead, was put up for grabs while Delcarmen was relegated to pitching in games in which his team trailed.

In dealing Delcarmen, Sox GM Theo Epstein explained that he’d been bypassed by other relievers, including Felix Doubront. In eight games as a reliever, the 22-year-old has a 3.12 ERA and a whopping 12 strikeouts in just 8 2/3 innings. He has walked only two batters in that time.

The Sox, Epstein said, still view Doubront as a starter for the long-term. But for the rest of this year, and perhaps even for next year, the team may have the left-hander work out of the bullpen.

As of now, the Sox have six starters under their contractual control for the 2011 season: Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield. While trades or injuries could alter the outlook, Epstein suggested that Doubront could follow a time-honored tradition of having future starters cut their teeth in relief.

“We like Doubront a lot. He’s had a really consistent development path through the minors as a starter, and we see him long term as a starter, but like a lot of starting pitchers, the first stage of his big league career might be as a reliever, especially in this organization,” said Epstein. “We have a full slate of starters coming back. We have some kids we like in the minor leagues, Doubront included. We think he’s a major leaguer at this point. As long as he continues his development, there’s a chance he’s here to stay. If the only opportunity exists in the bullpen, he’s certainly proven that he has a chance to be an effective one.”

Epstein: Trade no surrender

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

BALTIMORE — It’s not a white flag, the Red Sox insist.

Yes, the Red Sox have parted with a member of their big league club on the Aug. 31 deadline for waiver trades, and yes, they got a 21-year-old, Single-A prospect in return. The deal that came down featured veteran reliever Manny Delcarmen heading to the Rockies in exchange for right-hander Chris Balcom-Miller, a player who is years away from pitching at the big league level.

“This is not one of those moves that helps us tomorrow at the big league level,” Sox manager Terry Francona said of Balcom-Miller, “but we think down the road it could be great.”

That said, GM Theo Epstein said this deal — made with the Sox seven games behind both the Rays and Yankees in both the AL East and wild card races — was not to be confused with the sign of surrender that was hoisted four years earlier, when the Sox (trailing in the division by eight games, and 6 1/2 games back in the wild card) traded David Wells to the Padres for George Kottaras.

The difference, Epstein suggested, is that whereas Wells was a key member of the rotation at the time of being dealt, Delcarmen had become “a diminishing asset,” someone whom the Sox were no longer using in the highest-leverage relief situations. Once he had been supplanted by Felix Doubront on the bullpen depth chart, the Sox made the decision — following his having been claimed off waivers by the Rockies — that they were willing to part with the former first-rounder, who had spent his career in the organization for which he’d rooted while growing up in Hyde Park.

“[The Wells trade] was a bright line, an example where our hopes for contention that season had completely dissipated based on the injuries and the talent we had left on the roster, whereas I think this club is capable of winning games,” explained Epstein. “Let’s be honest: We need to get really hot in order to make this thing interesting. Really hot. Hotter than we’ve gotten at any point in the year. We haven’t done that yet. It doesn’t mean we can’t do that. I don’t think moving what had become for us a lower-leverage reliever is going to make the difference one way or the other in that.”

Delcarmen had entered the year as a pitcher whom the Sox anticipated using in key late-inning situations. Indeed, over the early stretches of the season, he was one of the team’s most effective pitchers. But he endured mechanical inconsistencies that manager Terry Francona said made it difficult to know whether he was going to be a dominant reliever or one who was unable to retire opponents.

That, in turn, led to different usage patterns for the right-hander, who was 3-2 with a 4.70 ERA this year, a mark that included a 9.00 ERA since June 3.

“Manny wasn’t necessarily pitching in the highest leverage situations any more. We had a couple guys who had passed him on the depth chart, most recently Doubront,” said Epstein. We ran Manny through waivers, which we do as a matter of routine with all our players. “The Rockies were motivated to acquire him. We ended up getting a prospect we liked. Manny gets a change of scenery. It’s not a reflection of any grander plan than that.

“We’re constantly looking for guys we can lean on in high leverage situations,” Epstein continued. “The way the season evolved, at this point in time, Manny wasn’t one of those guys, so we thought it worthwhile to get an asset that can really help is in the future for what was now becoming a diminishing asset for us.

“Manny has been a pleasure to have around, a hometown kid originally drafted by the Red Sox who’s helped us win a lot of games over the years. We certainly wish him well and will be watching him pitch in the National League now.” (more…)

Sox press release on Delcarmen trade

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

BALTIMORE– Here is the Red Sox press release on Tuesday’s trade that sent Manny Delcarmen to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for minor-league RHP Chris Balcom-Miller:

BOSTON, MA — The Boston Red Sox today traded right-handed pitcher Manny Delcarmen and cash considerations to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for right-handed pitcher Chris Balcom-Miller, who has been assigned to Single-A Greenville. The announcement was made by Executive Vice President/General Manager Theo Epstein.

The 28-year-old Delcarmen has gone 3-2 with a 4.70 ERA (23 ER/44.0 IP), 32 strikeouts and 28 walks in 48 relief appearances for the Red Sox this season. A second-round selection by Boston in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, the right-hander ranks fourth in club history with 289 relief appearances, compiling a 11-6 record with a 3.89 ERA (123 ER/284.1 IP) and 243 strikeouts over parts of six seasons with the Red Sox. Since 2008, the Boston-native ranks among American League relief leaders in appearances (T-6th, 185), innings (11th, 178.0) and strikeouts (T-17th, 148).

Balcom-Miller, 21, is 6-7 with a 3.31 ERA (40 ER/108.2 IP), 117 strikeouts and 19 walks in 19 starts for the Rockies Single-A Asheville affiliate this season. He ranks seventh in the South Atlantic League in ERA and ranks among the circuit’s starters in strikeouts per nine innings (1st, 9.69), opponent batting average (2nd, .214), fewest walks per nine innings (2nd, 1.57) and fewest base runners per nine innings (2nd, 9.77). In 2009 Balcom-Miller was named Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year after posting a 4-0 record with a 1.58 ERA (10 ER/57.0 IP) and 60 strikeouts in 11 starts for Short-A Casper. Selected by Colorado in the sixth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, he is 10-7 with a 2.72 ERA (50 ER/165.2 IP) and 177 strikeouts compared to 29 walks in 30 career starts in the Rockies system.

With today’s moves, the Red Sox 40-man roster is now at 38.

Beckett could make unwanted Red Sox history

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

This was not the kind of entry into the Red Sox record books that Josh Beckett could have ever envisioned.

Amidst an exceedingly difficult season that has seen the Opening Day starter struggle to be healthy (he missed more than two months with a back strain) or effective, the right-hander has rarely found the form that had characterized his first four years in Boston (and particularly his three most recent campaigns, from 2007-09).

It is worth looking back at Beckett’s pre-2010 resume, if only to offer a contrast to his disappointing 2010 season. During that time, it has been sometimes forgotten this year, Beckett had compelling credentials as a front-of-the-rotation starter, a two-time All-Star whose performance earned him a four-year, $68 million contract extension from the 2011-14 seasons.

From 2006-09, Beckett was tied for third in the majors with 65 wins. His 3.71 ERA from 2007-09 ranked third among pitchers who threw at least 450 innings while working exclusively in the American League. His 8.66 strikeouts per nine innings ranked sixth in the majors from 2007-09.

This year, obviously, has been another story. Despite pitching in front of an upgraded defense, Beckett (4-3) is allowing a career-worst 10.4 hits per nine innings. His 1.4 homers and 2.9 walks per nine frames are the second worst marks of his career.

But the most eye-popping number tells a blunt tale of his struggles. Beckett’s 6.50 ERA is not merely the worst of his career. It has put him in reach of an ignominious sort of Red Sox history.

Right now, Beckett’s ERA is the eighth-worst ever by a Sox pitcher who has thrown at least 75 innings. (For the list, “topped” by Jim Bagby with a 7.09 ERA in 1939, click here.) Even more surprising, Beckett has a shot at producing the worst ERA ever by a Sox pitcher in a season in which he throws 100 or more innings. That mark is held (quite unexpectedly) by Hall of Famer Lefty Grove, who suffered through a dismal first year in Boston in 1934, producing a 6.50 mark.

If there is a silver lining for Beckett and a Sox team that has him under contract for the next four years, it is that some of the pitchers on this list have recovered in subsequent years to produce outstanding seasons.

Grove is the most noteworthy example. After his horror show of a Sox debut in ’34, he led the American League in ERA in four of the next five seasons. Buchholz, of course, went from a 6.75 ERA in 2008 to the lowest ERA (2.21) in the majors this year. Bagby went on to produce a couple of 17-win seasons in which he had ERAs around 3.00.

And so, there would be precedent for Beckett to leave behind his struggles of 2010. For that matter, there remains time for him to do so this season. After all, he will still show in stretches the impressive stuff that helped lead to his emergence as a leader of the Sox pitching staff over the last few years.

One of the great puzzles of his season is the fact that his pitches will show plenty of life, at times overpowering hitters for a few innings at a time, before he suddenly sees an outing fall apart in a big inning. That has been the case in his most recent two outings. If Beckett can harness his effectiveness for a full outing, then he might well be able to remove himself from the running for one of the worst ERAs in Red Sox history.

Even so, it is nothing short of stunning that, as Beckett prepares for his start against the Orioles on Tuesday, his season has a chance to rank as one of the worst in franchise history.

A Few Quick Red Sox Nuggets

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Noting the Red Sox. Especially Clay Buchholz.

—————————————————————————————————————————–

* – Neither the Red Sox or Rays ever had a lead of more than 2 runs all weekend. It’s the first series since the start of 2008 (at least) that the Red Sox have never led or trailed by 3 or more runs.

—————————————————————————————————————————–

* – On Sunday night, the Red Sox lost for the 57th time this season. In those 57 games, they’ve averaged 1.07 RBI after the 5th inning and had none after the 5th in 25 of those losses (44%). To my eyes, that seemed like a very low average and a high percentage. Until I looked at the last two seasons. Last season, they averaged 0.85 such RBI in losses (and none after the 5th in 48%). In 2008, it was 0.84 and 54%.

—————————————————————————————————————————–

* – Clay Buchholz had a nice August. His ERA, 1.03, was 2nd in the majors (min. 30 IP), trailing only Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (0.98). It was the 3rd best August by a Red Sox pitcher since 1950 (same minimums):

0.95 – Luis Tiant, 1972
1.01 – Mel Parnell, 1952
1.03 – Clay Buchholz, 2010
1.09 – Roger Clemens, 1990

—————————————————————————————————————————–

* – Buchholz has allowed more than 3 earned runs only twice in 20 road starts (10%) since the start of last season, the 2nd lowest percentage in the majors in that span (min. 15 road starts):

9% – Felix Hernandez (3 out of 33)
10% – Clay Buchholz (2 out of 20)
11% – Chris Carpenter (3 out of 28)

The rest of Boston’s starters have allowed more than 3 ER in 41% (52 out of 126) of road starts in that span.

How far has Buchholz come? In 2008, he allowed more than 3 ER in 7 of 10 road starts (70%), the 3rd HIGHEST percentage in the majors.

—————————————————————————————————————————–

* – Boston starters have an ERA of 2.63 at Camden Yards this season, yet the Red Sox are 2-4 there. Much of that is because their RELIEVERS have an ERA of 7.07. Last season, they went 8-1 in Baltimore despite a 4.30 starter ERA (and 4.55 by the pen). In 2008, they were 5-4 (starters: 4.68; relievers: 2.90). And in 2007 they were 5-3 (starters: 3.16; relievers: 4.70).