Archive for April, 2012

Closing Time: Red Sox lineup overcomes late meltdown by Clay Buchholz

Monday, April 30th, 2012

The dust has settled on the first month of the season, and with it, the Red Sox offense has emerged once again as a force.

The Athletics entered the night with a 3.11 ERA, having allowed just 16 homers, second fewest in the American League. But the Red Sox jumped on the A’s and starter Tom Milone for eight runs (seven earned) and three homers in 4 2/3 innings, setting in motion an 11-6 victory. With their fourth double-digit run total in the last seven games, the Sox are now averaging 5.77 runs a game this season, most in the majors.

The team has received a host of contributions from places both unexpected and expected that have offset the absences of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford. That theme continued on Monday, as the offensive damage was done by David Ortiz, Mike Aviles, Darnell McDonald and Marlon Byrd, on a night when the Sox were not only without Ellsbury and Crawford but also Ryan Sweeney (on the bench against a left-handed starter) and Kevin Youkilis (scratched late due to his back).

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR A WHILE AND THEN VERY WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

— For a while, it looked like precisely what the Red Sox needed from Clay Buchholz. Though the A’s are hardly a good barometer for a pitcher — they entered the night with 2.91 runs per game, easily the lowest mark in the AL, while the team’s .597 OPS ranked dead last in the majors (worse, even, than NL teams for whom the pitcher must hit) — for six innings, it was still a far better version of Buchholz than the Sox had seen at any point in 2012.

Buchholz was able to get groundballs and swing and misses with his most diverse pitching array of the year, as he seemed comfortable incorporating his fastball, cutter, change and curve. Through six innings, he allowed just one run on four hits, striking out five and walking three.

And then came the seventh inning. Back on the mound with a pitch count in the low-80s, Buchholz saw his night unravel. He allowed five runs on two walks and three hits (a pair of groundball singles and a three-run homer by Josh Reddick, who golfed a curveball into the bullpen) and was unable to get out of the inning, as manager Bobby Valentine lifted the right-hander after Reddick’s homer with two outs.

And so, what could have been a very strong outing was instead relegated to the status of merely adequate. Buchholz got the win and, thanks to the best run support in the majors, he improved to 3-1 while his ERA dropped ever so slightly from 8.87 to 8.69, but the pitcher’s frustration became evident when he shouted a profanity when Valentine came out of the dugout to pull him and sprinted straight from the mound into the clubhouse. (more…)

What to do with Aaron Cook, Daisuke Matsuzaka and other Red Sox notes

Monday, April 30th, 2012

With a May 1 deadline looming on a major league option, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said Monday that if the Red Sox decide to promote righthander Aaron Cook, he will begin in the team’s bullpen. Valentine said he met with general manager Ben Cherington earlier in the day Monday to discuss a possible landing spot for him on the big league 25-man roster.

“Ben was in this afternoon,” Valentine said. “We talked again on that. I’m sure he has all his ducks in order and again, I don’t know exactly when, why, how, these deadlines and all that. Everyone’s opinion has been shared.”

If the Red Sox select him, Cook will receive $1.5 million. If they don’t he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Valentine made it clear that if the team promotes him by Tuesday, he will come out of the bullpen, despite going 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA in five starts for Pawtucket this April.

“I haven’t talked to him so I can’t speak for him,” Valentine said. “When he throws his sinker, it’s a real good pitch. A lot of hitters hit the top of it. He didn’t pitch that well [in spring training], but when he was throwing well and had that sinker, I really liked it. It’s a little different pitch than many people feature. Competitiveness, he works quickly, he fields his position, has game presence, all that good stuff. I like that, too.”

Asked about how he would manage Cook and use him out of the pen after making a series of starts for Triple-A Pawtucket to start the season, Valentine admitted he’d have his hands full.

“I think it’d be challenging,” Valentine said. “Right now, I couldn’t say it would be anything other than [relief pitching].”

Daisuke Matsuzaka is scheduled to make his next rehab start this Friday for Triple-A Pawtucket. It will be his third of the spring after starts for Class A Salem and Double-A Portland.

“Depending on the weather, we’re trying to make a plan so in case there’s bad weather, he doesn’t get off schedule,” Valentine said Monday.

Last Saturday, Matsuzaka faced 17 hitters over 4 2/3 innings, Matsuzaka allowed one run on three hits and two walks, while striking out seven (all swinging), in a game the SeaDogs won, 9-1, at Hadlock Field in Portland. (more…)

Bobby Valentine: ‘I didn’t have a major plan’ for losing Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Bailey

Monday, April 30th, 2012

No one would blame Bobby Valentine for what happened to the Red Sox in the first two weeks of the season when he lost his projected closer Andrew Bailey to UCL surgery after injuring his thumb.

No one would come down hard on the Red Sox skipper for losing his starting center fielder and leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury when Reid Brignac fell on his right shoulder on April 13, partially dislocating it.

But Valentine came down hard on himself Monday for not being prepared to deal with the Ellsbury and Bailey injuries and the struggles of set-up man Mark Melancon.

“I’m reading reports every day,” Valentine said when asked a simple question about the bullpen roles coming together. “I have the to ‘D’ ABCD plans, the what-ifs. You try to have what-ifs. To tell you the truth, I didn’t have what-ifs at the beginning of the season and I’m kicking myself for it.

“The outfield and the bullpen. I didn’t have a major plan for not having Ellsbury. My fault. I should’ve. And two-deep in the bullpen, the two guys we traded during in the wintertime, I figured one of them would be pitching in the ninth inning come April 13th.”

The bullpen is coming off a seven-game stretch in Minnesota and Chicago where the ERA was 1.06, allowing just two earned runs in 17 innings, striking out 13 in the process.

After the disaster of April 21, the 15-9 debacle against the Yankees, Valentine said he’s finally adjusted to adjusting on the fly.

“Absolutely, that’s what we’re doing, that’s what I’m doing,” Valentine said. “And you have to have plans. I’m kicking myself a little. I didn’t have a great plan. But it’s coming into fruition now. On the fly, the plan seems to be working.”

Dave Magadan recalls the day he watched Yoenis Cespedes hit a bunch of home runs

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Dave Magadan has a lot going as hitting coach for the Red Sox, but he has found time to keep an eye on the source of one of his more interesting offeseason adventures — Yoenis Cespedes.

Magadan ventured down to the Red Sox academy in the Dominican Republic in November to watch Cespedes. The team had expressed interest in the Cuban outfielder, and wanted the coach to offer his thoughts after seeing the 26-year-old in person.

“He was impressive,” Magadan remembered.

Now, with the team — the Oakland A’s — that signed Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million contract in town for a three-game series, Magadan took stock of his impressions regarding the outfielder’s somewhat surprisingly quick major league development. (Heading into the series at Fenway, he is hitting .253 with five home runs, 19 RBI and .834 OPS, while striking out 23 times 79 at-bats.)

“It does a little bit,” said Magadan when asked if Cespedes’ early-season success has surprised him. “He has struck out a lot but I was watching the [Jake] Peavy game, that he pitched against Oakland, and he jumped on a high fastball and hit a double down the left field line off him. I thought he would struggle a little bit more, especially with the average, but he’€™s held his own. If he can just tread water while he learns all the pitching and acclimates himself to becoming a major league player, there’€™s not telling what he can do.”

The Red Sox never made a formal offer to Cespedes, not wanting to commit to the kind of annual average value he ended up receiving. But the organization, and Magadan, were left with a favorable impression.

“He was pretty impressive,” said Magadan, who came away with how sociable Cespedes was throughout the day together. “When we saw him it was kind of a controlled environment. He took batting practice. He did simulated games with players who weren’€™t in camp with us. It was impressive because he hadn’€™t really played against any kind of competition for a while, so for him to go out there and pretty much hold his own against guys he had never seen before, faced before was good.

“He probably had maybe 15 at-bats and five or six hits, hitting one home run and put on a pretty good show in batting practice. He can hit a ball a long way, especially at that field where the wind blows in it’€™s hard to hit the ball out. He was driving balls to all parts of the field, out of the park.”

Red Sox minor league roundup: Matt Barnes is moving up and Jose Iglesias is struggling

Monday, April 30th, 2012

On Sunday, for the first time, Matt Barnes gave up a run as a professional. It took five starts and it was not until his 27th inning of work that it occurred, but it happened.

The right-hander permitted three hits (all singles), walked none and struck out eight in 5 2/3 innings against Lakewood. (Josh Norris, who covers the Trenton Thunder, chronicled all eight strikeouts with video here.) However, the lone run that he permitted was hardly the sort of thing to convince the Single-A South Atlantic League that the 2011 first-round pick is stumbling. It came in the sixth inning, when Barnes allowed a leadoff single and then came back to punch out the next hitter and get a force out before being lifted when he reached his pitch limit. The first run allowed by Barnes, then, was via an inherited runner (on first base with two outs) who came around to score against a member of the bullpen.

The betrayal by his bullpen notwithstanding, Barnes was once again dominant, as he has been in every outing he has made this year. In his five starts, he has allowed no more than three hits, no more than one run and he has struck out at least seven batters each time he has taken the mound. The UConn product now has a 2-0 record, 0.34 ERA, 42 strikeouts and four walks in 26 2/3 innings. Opponents are hitting .130 against him. He leads the South Atlantic League in virtually every pitching category, and he set a Greenville Drive record for the most consecutive shutout innings (26 2/3) before finally being charged with a run.

And so, it came as little surprise that Barnes was promoted on Monday from Greenville to High-A Salem. He is moving up the ladder a bit faster than some other notable Sox pitching prospects in their first pro seasons, most notably Casey Kelly (9) and Anthony Ranaudo (10), but there simply wasn’t much left to prove for a pitcher who was dominating opponents with a mid-90s fastball, swing-and-miss curve and a change that he had incorporated with increasing frequency. Now, the 21-year-old right-hander will compete against more advanced hitters in the Carolina League, a league that is more laden with top draftees out of college.

There, perhaps Barnes will be tested in a way that he was not while with Greenville. It is the first of what the Red Sox hope will be many promotions to come.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-2 LOSS AT COLUMBUS (INDIANS)

(BOX)

There was immense buzz and promise surrounding Jose Iglesias all spring, and with good reason. His defense, of course, was dazzling, but he also showed intriguing progress at the plate. He was squaring up balls (fastballs, to be sure) with greater authority than he’d shown before, in part because he was showing better-than-ever pitch selection.

Coming off a challenging 2011 season in Triple-A Pawtucket in which Iglesias hit .235/.285/.269/.554 as a 21-year-old, this seemed like a fresh start. But in the season’s first month — admittedly, a time when players struggle for any number of reasons, including the colder weather after spring training — it hasn’t quite played out that way. (more…)

Monday’s Red Sox-A’s matchups: Clay Buchholz vs. Tommy Milone

Monday, April 30th, 2012

The last time the Red Sox were in the confines of Fenway Park was a moment that manager Bobby Valentine aptly described as “rock bottom.” The team had just lost its fifth consecutive game, its second straight loss at the hands of the hated Yankees that dropped the Red Sox’ record to 4-10. To pile on to the misery, the Red Sox had lost in excruciating fashion, surrendering a 9-0 lead heading into the sixth inning to ultimately lose 15-9.

Now as the Red Sox return to Yawkey Way, the mood and fortune of the team is decidedly different, as it has used a seven-game Midwest road trip to turn things around. The team has won six of its past seven games to buoy its record to 10-11 and it hopes this recent wave of success can continue as it prepares to take on the A’s in a three-game home series beginning Monday. The first game of the series pits Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox against Tommy Milone of the A’s.

Coming off back-to-back seasons in which he had ERAs lower than 3.50, Buchholz has had a rough go of things in the 2012 season. Through four starts, the 27-year-old right-hander is 2-1 but has an 8.87 ERA and has struggled with his command, as evidenced by his 10 walks to just 11 strikeouts. He has given up at least five earned runs in each of his four starts.

Last season Buchholz made two starts against Oakland, posting a 1-0 record and a 5.40 ERA. One of those starts came in Boston, a June 3 game in which Buchholz went 4 2/3 innings and gave up five earned runs. That start proved to be something of an outlier, though, as Buchholz was consistently strong when pitching at Fenway Park, posting a 2-1 record with a 3.94 ERA. Two of Buchholz’s 2012 starts have come at Fenway. Buchholz is 1-1 in those games with a 6.92 ERA. Perhaps more alarmingly, Buchholz has allowed six home runs in those starts.

Against current members of the A’s, Buchholz is relatively inexperienced, having only faced six players in the A’s lineup for a combined 44 plate appearances. Two of the three A’s players with double-digit plate appearances against Buchholz — first baseman Daric Barton and catcher Kurt Suzuki — have batted .500 against Buchholz in those plate appearances. The six A’s players who have faced Buchholz collectively have a .316 batting average against him.

Entering just his second MLB season, and first with the A’s, Milone has been a pleasant surprise for Oakland. Through four starts, Milone is 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA with 13 strikeouts and six walks. Among Oakland starters, Milone has the best ERA and is tied for the most wins.

The 25-year-old left-hander, due to his limited time in the professional ranks, has never pitched at Fenway Park nor faced the Red Sox. In 2011, Milone was significantly worse on the road than at home, as he had a 6.30 ERA in two road starts compared to his 2.25 ERA in three home starts. Heading into the 2012 season, Milone had just five career starts (all with the Nationals). Milone has never faced a member of the Red Sox lineup.

(more…)

Despite the performance of G-Flo, Red Sox feel pretty good about themselves

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

CHICAGO ‘€“ The reaction to this 4-1 loss to the White Sox was different than most any other of the 11 losses this season.

After the initial jolt, supplied in large part by Chicago starting pitcher Gavin Floyd (who boasted a no-hitter with one out in the seventh inning), the feeling was primarily positive as the Sox head home one game under .500 instead of the six games under they left town at.

‘€œThis was a great road trip,’€ said newcomer Marlon Byrd. ‘€œWe won a lot of games in a row. This last one, ran into some great pitching. G-Flow looked amazing out there. He’€™s a guy I came up with in Philly. I tip my hat to him. But this team can play. I’€™m excited to go back to Fenway and keep winning.’€

Byrd’€™s perspective is an interesting one considering he not only wasn’€™t around for the early-season struggles, but he also doesn’€™t have any frame of reference when it comes to comparing anything that happened last season.

Judging by the outfielder’€™s post-game comments, his new team has left a solid first impression.

‘€œThe camaraderie,’€ said Byrd when asked what struck him about his new teammates over the past week. ‘€œThis is a close-knit team. The chemistry is there. I came in and they welcomed me in with open arms. You can tell those guys are close.

‘€œWhatever happened in September you can still tell this team is close, even with everything happening last year,’€ he added. ‘€œThese guys laugh together and they hurt together. I want to be a part of that.’€

Despite the latest loss, the stats are solid across the board for the road swing:

Offensively, the Sox finished the road trip with a .287 batting average (4th in majors over that span), 11 home runs (first), and 46 runs (first by 11 runs despite only scoring two combined the last two games).

The Red Sox pitchers finished the trip with a 3.19 ERA and .232 batting average against. They converted all four of their save opportunities, with the relievers allowing just two runs in 17 innings.

But, according to those in the Red Sox’€™ clubhouse who were packing up to head home, the most important takeaway is that they feel good about themselves again.

‘€œWe all are really confident in each other,’€ said Cody Ross. ‘€œI knew it would just take a good winning streak like we had to get back where we needed to be. We’€™re figuring ourselves, each individual guy, how we’€™re capable of doing stuff with certain guys — certain guys hitting and running, stealing. It’€™s starting to come together now. We’€™ve played, what, 21 games or so, and we’€™re starting to figure out our team. Hopefully now we can start rolling.’€

‘€œIt’€™s great to go home,’€ Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. ‘€œIt’€™s always great to go home. Guys are playing their butt off. This was a tough seven days. We battled the travel, battled the weather. They’€™re a tough group.’€