Archive for April, 2011

Closing Time: Sox go 0-for-11 with RISP to spoil solid Lackey start

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Call it missed opportunities (yes, plural). Call it not performing in the clutch. Call it leaving ducks on the pond.

However you want to characterize Saturday’€™s Red Sox‘€™ loss at the hands of the Mariners, it will still go down in the books as a 2-0 shutout loss in which the Hometowne Team went a putrid 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-4 with the bases juiced.

Lost in the effort was a solid six-inning, two-run performance out of John Lackey. Lackey had his third quality start in a row to lower his season ERA ‘€“ which stood at 15.58 before the streak ‘€“ to a much nicer number of 5.65. With the loss, he drops to 2-3 after the month of April. Seattle starter Doug Fister went 5 2/3 strong, allowing five hits and five walks while striking out four. Seattle closer Brandon League worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his seventh save of the season.

Boston finishes April with an 11-15 record while Seattle finishes 13-15. Here’€™s what went wrong and what went right for the Red Sox in their loss.

WHAT WENT WRONG

-A David Ortiz strikeout and J.D. Drew flyout to center with the bases juiced in the first. Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis going down in order following a Jacoby Ellsbury double in the third. A Carl Crawford flyout to right with Jed Lowrie on second in the fourth. Gonzalez’€™s lineout/double play with the bases loaded in the fifth and Youkilis’€™s consequent foul out right after. Lowrie’€™s flyout to center and Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘€™s foul out with a man on second in the sixth. Ortiz’€™s flyout to left with runners on second and third in the seventh.

Get the picture? (more…)

Sunday’s Red Sox-Mariners matchups: Tim Wakefield vs. Felix Hernandez

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

After Clay Buchholz was scratched from his start Sunday with a stomach illness, it will be Tim Wakefield who toes the rubber against Seattle for his first start of the season. Wakefield has made seven appearances out of the bullpen so far, notching a 5.56 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and no record in 11 1/3 innings.

Wakefield has struggled with the Mariners in his career. He is 4-10 with a 4.18 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 27 career outings, including 17 starts. Wakefield lost his only start against Seattle last season, giving up four runs (three earned) on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings.

Current Mariners are hitting .272 against Wakefield. Jack Cust has done the most damage, as he is hitting .440 with four extra-base hits and five RBIs in 25 at-bats. Adam Kennedy, Miguel Olivo and Milton Bradley all have a home run and three RBIs off Wakefield.

If Wakefield’€™s poor record against Seattle wasn’€™t enough of a reason for Sox fans to be concerned, there’€™s also the fact that Felix Hernandez will be on the mound for the Mariners. The reigning American League Cy Young winner is 3-2 with a 3.32 ERA this season. He has won each of his last two starts against Oakland and Detroit, respectively, allowing just two earned runs on eight hits and five walks over 13 2/3 innings.

Moreover, Hernandez is 4-1 with a 2.91 ERA in eight career starts against Boston. He won his only start against the Sox last season, allowing just one earned run on four hits and a walk while striking out nine over 7 1/3 innings.

Current Red Sox are hitting .259 against Hernandez. J.D. Drew leads the way with a .391 average and two home runs in 23 at-bats. Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Mike Cameron all have a homer off Hernandez, too. (more…)

Pregame Notes: Matsuzaka doing ‘fairly well’ day after early exit

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

When Daisuke Matsuzaka was taken out of the fifth inning of Friday’€™s 5-4 loss to the Mariners due to elbow concerns, Terry Francona hoped that the concern would only be temporary and that his fifth starter would be able to make his next available start. After another day for the team doctors to examine any possible injury, the Red Sox manager continued to echo his original sentiments.

‘€œHe was examined fairly extensively last night after he came out and actually did fairly well. So that’€™s good,’€ Francona said. ‘€œHe’€™s going through his normal Day One activities. Certainly we want to keep an eye on him, but hopefully we just overreacted.’€

Matsuzaka had seen his velocity dip from the low-90s at the game’€™s outset to the mid-to-high-80s by the fifth, forcing Francona and catcher Jason Varitek to rush to the mound to make sure everything was as it should be. After Matsuzaka noted that he had some stiffness in his elbow, the team decided that they would rather go to the bullpen than risk anything more serious.

Although the Sox eventually fell to the Mariners, the cautionary move seems, at least for now, to have paid off in the long run.

‘€œJust kind of a bad day and move on,’€ said Francona. ‘€œI think that’€™s what Daisuke thinks. The trainers have said nothing different. They’€™re upbeat about this.” (more…)

Why one Red Sox prospect was elated when Pats drafted Ryan Mallett

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

There is no doubt that the Patriots did plenty of homework on Ryan Mallett before drafting the quarterback in the third round on Friday. Even so, it is likely that a member of the Red Sox organization had even more far-reaching knowledge of the rocket-armed 22-year-old.

Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, currently playing with Double-A Portland, met Mallett in grade school, when both were growing up in Hooks, Texas. Both were the sons of high school football coaches in Texarkana. Though they went to different high schools (Middlebrooks to Liberty-Eylau, where his father Tom is the coach, and Mallett at Texas High to play for his father Jim), but they remained constantly in each others’ company. Both were talented quarterbacks who were tall and athletic with powerful arms and big ambitions.

“We’re very close. We’re like brothers. … Basically all through high school, we lived at each others’€™ houses,” said Middlebrooks. “Ever since the time we were in seventh grade, at the time, we said we’€™re both going to end up in the NFL, we’€™ll be neighbors and on the same team.”

Middlebrooks is regarded now as a terrific all-around prospect, one whose defense receives raves in no small part because of his bazooka arm. But even as they were working out in high school, Middlebrooks recognized that on a football field, his arm strength could not compare to that of his close friend.

“He can throw a football 80-plus yards. I used to run routes for him in high school. A lot of guys at his high school would wear two pairs of gloves. He threw it hard, but I guess since I grew up around him, I got used to it. It doesn’€™t bother me,” said Middlebrooks. “He was just a powerful guy. He was a leader. Everyone looked up to him. He’€™s always had a cannon. He’€™s always been able to throw the ball. It was just the higher up he’€™s gone, the better he’€™s gotten because guys an actually catch it. In high school, he threw so hard that guys couldn’€™t catch the ball.” (more…)

Bobby Jenks: ‘I don’t know what to say right now’

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

The vision was tantalizing. With a two-year, $12 million deal to add Bobby Jenks, the Red Sox would feature a late-innings trio of three pitchers capable of closing (Jenks, Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon) for any number of times in order to make the march through at least the final nine outs a safe one.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Bard has absorbed three losses, and on Friday, Jenks — who entered for the seventh inning — got jumped for two runs on three hits that turned a 4-3 Sox lead into a 5-4 loss. It was Jenks’ second loss of the year (1-2), and continued an alarming stretch. After not permitting a single hit in his first four appearances, he has been hammered for multiple hits in four of his last six outings. He has give up eight runs on 12 hits in his last 4 1/3 innings, a stretch so poor that both he and the Sox are at a bit of a loss to explain it.

“I don’€™t even know what to say right now. I’€™m going out there, I feel terrific, all my stuff is there. Just the results aren’€™t. I don’€™t know what to make of it,” said Jenks. “It seems like every time I go out there something’€™s finding a hole or flaring in there. I know they’€™re good hitters, but the way I’€™m feeling right now, it shouldn’€™t be happening.

“Obviously something’€™s not clicking,” he added. “Something’€™s off. I’€™ve got to fix it and fix it now.”

That said, the solution isn’t obvious, since Jenks says that he is feeling as good now as he did when he had four nearly perfect outings to start his Red Sox career. He acknowledged that he is not experiencing quite the same adrenaline rush for the middle innings that he did when responsible for the ninth with the White Sox, but said that at this point, he should have made the adjustment to the point where that shouldn’t be an issue.

It took Jenks little time to get into trouble. He gave up a leadoff single to Ichiro Suzuki on a 95 mph first-pitch fastball, and then faced runners on second and third when Chone Figgins followed with a double down the left field line. He then struck out Milton Bradley on a nasty curveball, but gave up the tying run when Miguel Olivo grounded a slider to second, and the go-ahead (and ultimately winning) tally when Jack Cust drove a ball off the scoreboard in left-center.

Boos rained on Jenks as he walked off the field, and the reliever was in position to understand why. That said, while he acknowledged that he has had a string of bad outcomes, based on the quality of his stuff, the right-hander remains optimistic that both his results — and his reception — will change.

“I know it’€™s going to take some work to get these fans back on my side, but once I turn this around, I’€™ll get them back,” said Jenks. “I’€™ve got some work to do obviously numbers-wise, but when we win this [expletive], we’€™re going to look back and not remember April.”

Daisuke ‘not worrying too much about’ elbow, expected to make next start

Friday, April 29th, 2011

For now, at least, the Red Sox think that the situation with Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s elbow is not an issue with implications beyond Friday.

Matsuzaka suggested that he had been dealing with some stiffness starting sometime around the third inning of his start. Between the fourth and fifth, the team noticed that he appeared to be stretching out his arm. Then, when he took the mound in the top of the fifth, his velocity dropped from the low-90s to roughly the mid- to high-80s during a five-pitch at-bat that culminated in a single by Ichiro Suzuki.

Matsuzaka said (through a translator) that he felt that he “could have continued throwing,” but with the warning signs apparent, the Sox felt differently.

Catcher Jason Varitek went to the mound. The pitcher and catcher were soon joined by manager Terry Francona as well as multiple trainers on the mound, where the decision was made to remove Matsuzaka rather than risk a more significant injury.

“Dice just didn’t look right. The ball wasn’t coming out, he was inside the ball, his velocity dropped quite a bit. We wanted to make sure he was alright. He didn’€™t look right,” said Varitek. “It was just a drastic change in delivery to me. So I wanted to make sure he was alright. Tito did the right thing of removing him before we lose him.”

For his part, Matsuzaka was far less concerned. He suggested that the stiffness was apparent but not unusual, and said on multiple occasions that he “could have continued throwing.”

“I didn’€™t really feel I needed to pull off from the mound,” said Matsuzaka. “This kind of tightness happens sometimes but I didn’€™t really pay attention to it. when tito comes to the mound, I told him I could continue to throw. That was [Francona's] decision.

“I have an idea what’€™s going on with my elbow right now so I’€™m not worrying too much about it,” he added. “It’€™s not particularly unusual pain.” (more…)

Closing Time: Matsuzaka injured as Red Sox lose to Mariners

Friday, April 29th, 2011

In some respects, the outcome of the game represented a secondary concern for the Red Sox on Friday.

In the top of the fifth inning, Daisuke Matsuzaka — who had allowed all of four hits over a 19-inning span that was in its third start — threw an 87 mph fastball that Ichiro Suzuki grounded back up the middle for a hit. There were two oddities at work: first, that Matsuzaka had thrown his fifth straight 86-88 mph fastball; and second, Matsuzaka made no effort to make a play on the ball.

Catcher Jason Varitek immediately went to the mound, and manager Terry Francona and team trainers soon followed from the dugout. After a brief conversation, Matsuzaka was removed with what was described as tightness in his right elbow. Given the area of the injury, it appears likely that Matsuzaka will be sidelined for at least precautionary reasons. And so, the Sox are likely to have their first test of rotation depth this year, with Tim Wakefield on the big league roster as a potential fill-in and Alfredo Aceves and Felix Doubront looming in Pawtucket while the team makes a determination about how long they will be without a pitcher who had looked so promising in recent weeks.

Matsuzaka has been on the DL in each of the last three seasons with an assortment of injuries.

While Matsuzaka’s departure had the most lasting implications, it was the bullpen that coughed up Friday’s game. Reliever Matt Albers allowed Ichiro to score when he could not catch the relay on a potential 3-6-1 double play, and Bobby Jenks — summoned in the seventh — continued his recent struggles by allowing two runs on three hits, turning a 4-3 Sox lead into a 5-4 loss.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–Matsuzaka’s injury, of course, was the most significant development of the game for the Sox. Should the right-hander miss time, the Sox would have a couple of obvious fill-ins, with Tim Wakefield being the most straightforward solution. Alfredo Aceves (on the 40-man roster) was the starter for the PawSox on Friday, tossing five innings and allowing three runs (two earned) while allowing two hits, walking three and striking out five. He threw 77 pitches.

–Jenks has been a disappointment for the Sox in recent weeks. He was strong out of the gate, making four straight hitless appearances to start his Sox career. But since then, he has given up multiple hits in four of his past six outings. Over that six-game span, he has allowed eight runs on 12 hits in 4 1/3 innings, a 16.62 ERA over the stretch. On the year, he has an 8.64 ERA.

Jed Lowrie went 0-for-4, and is now 2-for-13 since having back-to-back off days on Sunday (when he was given a day of rest) and Monday (a scheduled Sox off-day).

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Mike Cameron, who had played in just eight games this year entering Friday, delivered the right-handed thump that the Sox hoped would make him a valuable bench contributor this year. He went deep twice against Mariners starter Jason Vargas for the 16th multi-homer game of his career, and the first since 2009. The first was a pop-up down the right-field line that snuck inside the Pesky Pole; the second was a no-doubt blast into the Monster Seats.

Adrian Gonzalez went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles, marking his third straight multi-hit game and his fourth in his past five contests. Gonzalez has seen his average go from .263 to .314 during the stretch.

–Had Albers not muffed the throw on a double play, his outing would have been immensely praiseworthy. He logged two innings and allowed one hit while striking out one and walking one. His fastball touched 96 mph on the scoreboard.

Red Sox vs. Mariners Live Blog

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Red Sox vs. Mariners Live Blog

The culprit for the Red Sox’ offensive struggles

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Entering the season, few would have predicted that the Red Sox would enter the final weekend of April averaging 4.29 runs per game, a middle-of-the-pack mark that is actually just slightly below the American League average of 4.33 runs per game.

There are different ways to define the cause of the offensive shortcomings. Certainly, the slow start for Carl Crawford and the Red Sox’ catchers has played a part. The team has also shown little power to date. But one factor gets circled in red in examining how a team that was expected by many to feature the best lineup in the majors has instead been pedestrian.

The Red Sox’ struggles with runners in scoring position have received ample attention at this point, and rightly so, with the club hitting .217 with a .300 OBP and .322 slugging mark in such opportunities. Yet those numbers are positively gaudy in comparison to the Sox’ struggles with the best run-scoring opportunity in the game: A runner on third base with fewer than two outs.

The Sox have come to the plate 63 times in such situations this year, third most in the AL. Yet they have just 23 RBI as a club when even an out can produce a run, tied for last in the junior circuit. The team’s .189 average, .254 OBP, .226 slugging mark and .480 OPS are all the worst in the AL with runners on third and less than two outs. The Sox are well aware of their struggles.

“We’€™ve not been real good at it so far. That’€™s something we drastically want to improve on,” said Francona. “It’€™s not just the numbers. I think numbers will go up and down and in between. But our approach, we really need to start staying in the middle of the field a little bit better. You start trying to pull’€¦ They’€™re gonna pitch you backwards. They’€™re gonna throw a lot of offspeed in fastball counts. We’€™ve had a lot of guys pulling off or pulling balls foul or some strikeouts. We need to stay in the middle of the field better. That’€™s something that gets talked about a lot.”

Most notable among those struggling in those run-producing opportunities is Kevin Youkilis, who has a team-leading 11 plate appearances with runners on third and fewer than two outs but has done virtually nothing in those situations. He is 0-for-8 with two walks, a sac fly and six strikeouts in such moments — a particularly surprising turn of events given that he was a career .433/.459/.675/1.134 hitter with a runner on third and less than two outs entering the 2011 season. Ortiz is 0-for-6 with two walks and a sac fly in nine such plate appearances.

Pregame Notes: Ellsbury the leading man

Friday, April 29th, 2011

No member of the Red Sox was more impressive during spring training than Jacoby Ellsbury. Though manager Terry Francona admitted at the start of spring training that there was some concern about the possibility that his time away from the field in 2010 — he played just 18 games due to rib fractures — would hinder the outfielder’s development, there was no evidence of that notion in Florida.

Ellsbury hammered the ball throughout the spring, covered ample ground in center, ran aggressively on the bases… In short, he looked like the dynamic player whom the Sox had hoped was coming into his own entering 2010.

Then came the start of the season. Ellsbury went 3-for-8 with a homer in his first two games against the Rangers, but then entered a bit of a tailspin. He endured an 0-for-15 stretch between Texas and Cleveland, and suddenly, six games into the year, the Sox elected to drop him from the leadoff spot to the bottom of the order.

The results there were little better. Ellsbury showed power, but did not get into a consistent rhythm at the plate. He hit .200 with a .282 OBP after his removal from the leadoff spot, and he sat in three of the Sox’ next 12 games.

But with Carl Crawford unable to get on track after he took over as the Sox leadoff hitter, the Sox returned Ellsbury to the perch in which he has spent most of his career. And in the last six games in that spot, he has delivered the sort of impact for which the Sox were hoping.

He has at least one hit in all six games since returning to the leadoff spot, and four multi-hit games — including back-to-back three-hit games to conclude the series in Baltimore. He is 12-for-28 (.429) with a walk and five doubles, a .448 OBP, .607 slugging mark and 1.055 OPS, as well as a pair of steals. The difference for the Sox has been notable.

“We’€™re a different team,” manager Terry Francona said of Ellsbury’s impact. “I’€™ve probably said it a million times. Whoever’€™s hitting first, when they’€™re on base, especially with speed, it changes the game a lot. Even when guys aren’€™t stealing, if they’re having to stop guys from stealing, it creates a lot of things going on. It makes the next guy a better hitter, more mistakes, things like that.”

Francona suggested that Ellsbury has taken a more relaxed approach at the plate en route to his improved results. The outfielder has been using the whole field, rather than becoming pull-conscious. In short order, he has lifted his numbers to a .264 average, .326 OBP, .471 slugging mark and .798 OPS for the season.

‘€œAt the end of the homestand when he got a few hits, he threw a couple balls into right. He didn’€™t whack them, he just stayed on them. He fought them off and got a couple hits ‘€” big hits,” said Francona. “The last week or so, though, he’€™s using the whole field, he’€™s getting on top of the ball when he hits it to left field and he’€™s hitting a lot of line drives. It’€™s a short stroke. He hasn’€™t been afraid to hit deep into the count. There’€™s been a few strikeouts because of it, but he’€™s worked the count real well.”

As Francona pointed out, Ellsbury has been striking out with surprising frequency. He has eight whiffs during his current six-game stretch from the leadoff spot, and 23 in his 95 plate appearances this year, or one for every 4.1 plate appearances, a significant increase over his career rate of one per every 8.5 plate appearances prior to 2011.

Interestingly, more than half of Ellsbury’s strikeouts have been called. Given his recent performance, the Sox seem unconcerned.

‘€œI think sometimes [strikeouts] go in spurts. He’€™s swung the bat so well, he’€™s taken some called thirds, he’€™s had a few swinging. He’€™s had a pretty good week. I don’t think he’€™ll be a real high strikeout guy when it’€™s all said and done,” said Francona.

Ellsbury has gotten into two-strike counts in nearly half (46) of his 95 plate appearances. He is 7-for-44 with three homers, two walks and the aforementioned 23 whiffs when down to his last strike.

‘€œI think [his two-strike approach] will improve,” said Francona. “He’€™s still a young hitter and sometimes trying to find out what he could do. I also think early in the year it gets a little more glaring, just because guys aren’€™t in their compelte rhythm yet and things like that.”

OTHER NOTES

–Carl Crawford and J.D. Drew are both getting the night off with left-hander Justin Vargas on the hill for the Mariners, and the Sox wanting to get some playing time for outfielders Darnell McDonald and Mike Cameron, who have played infrequently thus far this year. Both have been limited in their playing time in part because of the success of Drew and David Ortiz against lefties.

Drew is hitting .316 with a .960 OPS against lefties. Ortiz, who struggles against left-handers a year ago had relegated him to a near-platoon with Mike Lowell, is hitting .385 with a 1.054 OPS against southpaws. In the process, he has reasserted himself as an everyday player.

“He’€™s swinging at strikes, not chasing balls, taking his walks and staying through the middle,” said Francona. “He had a nice at-bat against [Orioles reliever Mike Gonzalez] the other night where he stayed right back through the middle. He’€™s kind of taken what they’€™re giving him, and he’€™s not expanding his zone.”

As for Crawford, who is now hitting .160 with a .436 OPS, Francona suggested that he is working with hitting coach Dave Magadan to improve the timing of his setup at the plate.

‘€œIf there’€™s one thing I know they’re talking about, it’€™s just getting ready sooner. When it’€™s a rush, and there’€™s different terms, you get your front foot down, but when it’€™s a rush, it’€™s a little harder to see the ball, to react, so they’re trying to get him ready a little earlier,” said Francona. ‘€œIt certainly should [help with pitch recognition]. Hitting’€™s always so finicky. One thing, people talk about mechanics. If you’€™re not seeing the ball, you can’€™t have good mechanics. It all goes hand in hand.”

Kevin Youkilis, who left Thursday’s game with a sore left hip, is back in the lineup on Friday.