Archive for May, 2012

Closing Time: Red Sox fail to sweep Tigers, see end three-game winning streak

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Red Sox starter Josh Beckett only struck out one batter in his fifth loss of the season. (AP)

There would be no sweep at Fenway Park, as the Red Sox fell in the fourth game of their series with the Tigers by a 7-3 count on Thursday night.

Josh Beckett allowed four runs on 10 hits in seven innings pitched, falling to 4-5 on the season. Beckett allowed three runs on four hits in the third inning, stopping any Red Sox momentum in its tracks after Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Scott Podsednik put Boston ahead 2-0 in the bottom of the second.

Another RBI for Saltalamacchia tied the game at 3-3, but then an RBI single for Miguel Cabrera in the fifth and a Delmon Young homer in the eighth moved Detroit out in front for a lead the Tigers would not lose for the rest of the game.

Quintin Berry was a tough Tiger for the Red Sox to handle, as he finished the game with three hits, two runs, two stolen bases and an RBI. The loss left the Sox one game over .500 and three games out in the American League East.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

• While Thursday night was not Beckett’s worst game of the season, he struggled to strike hitters out, only recording one strikeout through his seven innings pitched. That matched a career low in punchouts, previously achieved nine times in his career, most recently on April 13 against the Rays.

Beckett allowed a lot of weak contact en route to a yield of 10 hits, eight of which were singles. In the third inning, when he allowed three runs, Beckett allowed four hits as well as a sacrifice fly. But balls kept finding holes, a reminder of the fact that when a pitcher does not strike out opponents, his outcomes are subject to luck. Beckett has shown an ability to succeed with such a formula, but on Thursday night the lack of swing-and-miss capability hurt him in the end.

Adrian Gonzalez ended his 10-game hitting streak in the game, failing to come through in a key at-bat in the bottom of the seventh in the process. The Red Sox were down 4-3 with Nick Punto on second base, when Gonzalez lifted an easy fly ball to left field for the third out of the inning.

Franklin Morales struggled in his brief appearance, allowing a home run to Young and two walks among the five hitters he faced. Morales allowed a key insurance run for the Tigers, as the Red Sox fell to a two-run deficit with one swing of the bat.

The left-handed reliever has allowed at least one run in five of his 20 appearances this season. Though he has recorded eight holds, Morales has allowed at least one hit in eight of his last 10 relief appearances and has a 4.41 ERA this year, and increasingly, he has been reduced to the role of someone whom manager Bobby Valentine will use only when his team is behind.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

• Saltalamacchia finished his red-hot month of May strong, hitting a solo shot in the second inning for his 10th homer of the year. The switch-hitting catcher pulled the ball from the left side of the plate to deliver a bomb that looked very similar to his walk-off blast against the Rays on Saturday.

The home run was his sixth of the month, which tops his previous monthly high of five homers that he set in August 2007.

Saltalamacchia added another RBI in the game with a two-out single up the middle in the third. Since April 21, he is hitting .333/.362/.596/.958.

• After Beckett got into a one-out jam in the second, with runners on second and third, Ryan Sweeney bailed him out by doubling up Young on his attempt to score from third on a flyout by Jhonny Peralta. Sweeney caught the high fly ball along the foul line in right field, setting himself up with a perfect charge along the wall, and then delivered a throw that was just in time for Saltalamacchia to tag out Young.

The assist was Sweeney’s second of the year, and his first from right field this season. Sweeney’s career high in outfield assists on a season is 11, a mark he set in 2009 with the Athletics.

Scott Podsednik continued his hot hitting since being signed by the Red Sox with an RBI double in the second. The 36-year-old outfielder drilled a pitch deep to center field to score Sweeney all the way from first base. Podsednik stole third base after the double, but Daniel Nava was unable to drive him home.

Podsednik certainly has earned his playing time with the Sox, hitting .444 with a solo homer and two stolen bases.

Will Middlebrooks at shortstop? In case of emergency, break glass

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

In an emergency, Red Sox could ask Will Middlebrooks to play shortstop. (AP)

The Red Sox are wildly shorthanded in their infield right now, at a time when Dustin Pedroia is on the roster but injured and, barring catastrophe, unavailable. And so, just as was the case with the experiment of putting Adrian Gonzalez in right field, the Sox are exploring creative options to cover themselves in case of injury.

Specifically, the team plans to see if Will Middlebrooks — whom the Sox drafted as a shortstop but moved just before the start of the 2008 season in Lowell to third — can be an emergency shortstop. In that scenario, Middlebrooks would play short while Mike Aviles would cross the bag to play second, a position where he has played 142 big league games.

It’s only an emergency measure and an insurance policy that the Sox hope not to cash, but still, it’s interesting to consider the last time that Middlebrooks played short. By Middlebrooks’ recollection, he was moved off the position after the conclusion of extended spring training, about three days before he was slated to begin his first meaningful professional assignment with the Lowell Spinners.

How did Middlebrooks look at the position?

“He was a shortstop and couldn’t catch anything at short,” said Greenville Drive manager Carlos Febles, who worked with Middlebrooks, then 19, in extended spring training that year. “And he was just swinging and missing everything.” (more…)

Red Sox pregame notes: Bobby Valentine says Kevin Youkilis ‘looks great’

Thursday, May 31st, 2012
Kevin Youkilis is one of just two remaining members of the 2004 World Series team. (AP)

Kevin Youkilis has hit .321 since his return from the DL

Nine games into the season, Bobby Valentine described struggling veteran Kevin Youkilis as not being “as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.” The comments created a stir, as the new Red Sox manager had made his first controversial statement about a popular, experienced Red Sox player.

Youkilis continued to struggle after the comments and ended up on the DL with an injured back. After his stint on the DL though, Youkilis has been back to his old form behind the plate, and Valentine has noticed it.

“He looks great,” Valentine said. “I try to monitor things when a guy is in the dugout as well as when he is on the field and early on he looked different. He is good when he is in the dugout now and he is moving really well on the bases.

“The only time it looked like there was even a stutter in his step was when he was a little miscommunication coming around third base one night. His at-bats are good. Very consistent.”

In his eight games played since his return to the Red Sox lineup, Youkilis has hit .321 with a .387 OBP, .536 slugging mark, .923 OPS, two home runs and three walks. That is a large improvement after starting the season hitting .219/.292/.344/.635 with only two home runs and five walks through his first 18 games. Youkilis struck out 20 times over that span, compared to only six times since his return.

However, thanks to the emergence of rookie Will Middlebrooks during Youkilis’ time on the DL, the Red Sox have had an interesting dilemma of who to start at corner infielder.

Middlebrooks has hit .316 with six home runs and 29 RBIs since his arrival in Boston, which made him a key piece of the Red Sox offense during Youkilis’ absence.

Adrian Gonzalez has moved to right field on occasion to help solve the situation as a short-term solution, but Valentine would prefer to keep Gonzalez at first base for the upcoming games on the artificial turf of Rogers Centre in Toronto.

For Thursday night’s series finale against the Tigers, Valentine decided to sit Middlebrooks, move Youkilis back to third base and move Gonzalez back to first base in preparation for the series in Toronto. Valentine said it was tough to sit Middlebrooks, especially one night after he hit a home run. However, Valentine said Youkilis is in line to get a day off in Toronto due to the playing surface, so he wanted to stick with the two veteran corner infielders.

OTHER NOTES

Cody Ross no longer has pain in his foot with or without the walking cast. Ross has another MRI scheduled to determine the amount of healing in the foot.

“It was non-displaced but you could see there was an opening there,” Valentine said. “We want to see how much healing has occurred.”

Ryan Kalish, after going 4-for-12 with a homer in Salem, has been promoted to Double-A Portland to continue his rehab assignment. He played on Thursday, going 1-for-4 with a double and a walk. Valentine said Kalish has had “no ill-effects of his medical woes.”

– Despite the injury to Dustin Pedroia and the offensive struggles of Nick Punto, Valentine said there is no plan for another infielder to travel with the team to Toronto. However, he did not rule out the possibility of an infielder being called up during the series.

“We are doing that day by day. We have a plan,” Valentine said. “I suspect before the weekend is over there will be another infielder. But maybe not.”

Red Sox Minor League Roundup: Drake Britton’s ‘stuff too good to be hit,’ mixed results for Matt Barnes, promise from Michael Almanzar

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

For once, Matt Barnes took a back seat to another pitcher on his team on Wednesday (Darrell Snow / Greenville Drive)

The Salem Red Sox had a double header in which phenom Matt Barnes was pitching the first game, and so it seemed fair to view left-hander Drake Britton as the undercard. After all, Barnes has been the pitcher who has been all but untouchable in his first tour of pro ball. Britton is the one who went 1-13 with a 6.91 ERA last year at Salem, and then after being sent to the same level to start this year, got off to what seemed like an even worse start, going 0-2 with a 13.86 ERA in his first three outings of the year.

But Britton is amidst an fascinating run, his most successful at least in his two seasons in Salem and perhaps since turning pro. That continued on Wednesday in one of the best games he’s ever thrown in the Sox system.

The left-hander fired six shutout innings (a season high) while striking out seven and walking none. It was his first outing as a pro in which he logged at least six innings without permitting a walk.

Since his first three starts, the 23-year-old has looked like the pitcher who emerged as one of the top handful of Sox prospects in 2010. In his last seven starts, Britton is now 3-3 with a 2.76 ERA, 36 strikeouts, 15 walks and no homers allowed in his last 32 2/3 innings. Opponents are hitting .205 against him over the stretch.

“Phenomenal,” Barnes said of the outing. “His stuff is too good to be hit. He’s got unhittable stuff. When he’s on, he’s not going to be hit at all.”

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-2 WIN VS. NORFOLK (more…)

Thursday’s Red Sox-Tigers matchups: Josh Beckett vs. Max Scherzer

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Josh Beckett

Lost in the controversy around his golf outing, sore back and some leftover hard feelings from last September is the fact that Josh Beckett (4-3) has largely been fantastic this season.

Save for two bad outings — his first of the year and his first returning from the sore lat muscle — the much-maligned righty has allowed just 12 earned runs in 49 1/3 innings (which translates to a 2.19 ERA). What’s more, he’s given up only two home runs in that stretch while recording 40 strikeouts and just 12 walks.

Unfortunately for Beckett and the Sox, when he’s been off, the results have been equally eyebrow-raising. In those two bad starts, Beckett gave up a combined 14 earned runs and seven homers in just seven total innings.

When he was pounded by the Indians on May 10 — a 2 1/3-inning, seven run embarrassment — many fans and media members felt his value in a Red Sox uniform had run its course. Since that outing, however, Beckett has responded with three of his finest performances of the season. Beginning with his ensuing start on May 15, which happens to have been his 32nd birthday, Beckett went at least seven innings in each game, allowing a total of three earned runs with 19 strikeouts and just four walks. Most importantly, the Sox have won all three games.

And while the sample size drops to just four games when excluding the May 10 disaster against Cleveland, its worth noting that Beckett has otherwise been outstanding at Fenway, going at least seven innings in all four outings and allowing just four earned runs total.

Thursday will be Beckett’s second start against the Tigers this season, and Sox fans are hoping the home field advantage will help it go better than the first. Back on April 7, Beckett allowed seven earned runs, including five homers, in just 4 2/3 innings en route to a 10-0 blowout loss in Detroit.

Overall though, Beckett has fared much better against the Tigers, who are hitting .237 in 97 at-bats against the three-time All-Star. New Tiger Prince Fielder, however, has had tremendous success against Beckett, with three home runs in just six at-bats. Alex Avila (.375 BA/.444 OBP/.750 SLG) and Delmon Young (.353/.389/.529) have hit him well.

Taking the mound Thursday for Detroit will be Max Scherzer. The 27-year-old enters Thursday’s game with a 4-3 record and 5.67 ERA.

Scherzer has had at least nine strikeouts in four of his last five starts, including a 15-strikeout performance against Pittsburgh on May 20, but he’s also given up seven home runs in that stretch. As his 72 strikeouts vs. just 19 walks suggests, Scherzer throws a lot of strikes and gets a lot of K’s, but his penchant for keeping the ball over the plate has also lead to 64 hits in just 54 innings this season.

(more…)

It was a walk to the mound to remember (unless you’re Jon Lester)

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Jon Lester allowed four runs over 6 2/3 innings Wednesday night. (AP)

It was an unusual sight – that of Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine coming to the mound in the seventh inning, with a runner on second base, one out and his team leading by a run. In what turned out to be a 6-4 win for the Sox over the Tigers, that wasn’t the unusual part.

What raised eyebrows was when Valentine left the field without taking out starter Jon Lester.

Lester was sitting at 116 pitches and had Detroit lefty Quintin Berry coming up with the potential game-tying run standing at second in the form of Gerald Laird.

“I don’t know. I don’t hear half the stuff that goes on out there,” said Lester when asked what Valentine told him before leaving the mound. “All I know is he came out there, didn’t take the ball and walked back to the dugout. I’m so attunded to what’s going on that I usually don’t hear what’s being said. I think a lot of pitchers are like that.”

It was unorthodox, but it worked.

Lester would strikeout Berry on four pitches before finally being replaced by reliever Matt Albers. It allowed the starter to finish his night on a positive note, an important accomplishment considering he the bumps he had to overcome on the way to completing a fairly solid outing.

There was one run in the first inning, and two more in the third. Through four innings, Lester had already thrown 74 pitches.

But, when it was all said and done, he had seemingly figured some things out.

“Jon Lester gave up those runs early, but I thought he had the best stuff of the year tonight,” said Valentine of his starter, who finished his 6 2/3-inning outing giving up four runs, striking out seven and not walking a batter.

“It’s getting frustrating to have good stuff and get whacked around a little bit. But that being said, more importantly, try to go deep in the game,” Lester said. “Guys gave me a chance to win, which is all you can ask for.”

Closing Time: Adrian Gonzalez, home runs propel Red Sox to another win

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Will Middlebrooks celebrates his sixth home run of the season. (AP)

Adrian Gonzalez came through when it counted the most in the Red Sox’ 6-4 win over the Tigers Wednesday night at Fenway Park.

One half inning after allowing the Tigers to score the game-tying run when he couldn’t haul in Miguel Cabrera’s pop up down the right field line in the seventh inning, Gonzalez brought in the game-winner with a ground rule double into the right field corner with two outs in the seventh. The RBI, which was his second double of the game, brought in Daniel Nava, who had worked a two-out walk.

Also helping the cause were two-run homers in the fourth inning by David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks, along with Kevin Youkilis’ solo shot in the eighth inning.

Here is what went right (and wrong) for the Red Sox, who now find themselves at two games over .500 and just 2 1/2 games out of first-place:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

- Ortiz continued his torrid stretch, launching a two-run homer in the fourth inning — his 12th of the season — and a wall-ball single in the sixth. The two hits raised the designated hitter’s batting average to .324. It was Ortiz’ sixth homer of the season against a left-hander, which is more than he has had in all but four of the slugger’s 15 seasons.

- The other Red Sox player to homer, Middlebrooks, capped a four-run, fourth inning with his sixth of the season. The ball just cleared the left field wall and plated Kevin Youkilis.

- After Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine praised Daniel Nava’s arm prior to the game, the left fielder showed his stuff in the seventh inning. Nava gathered in Alex Avila’s line-drive off the left field wall and threw to second baseman Nick Punto, who applied a quick tag for the first out of the inning.

- Valentine made a somewhat unorthodox move by visiting the mound with one out in the seventh inning and the tying run at second base, seemingly intent on taking out Lester. But after a brief conversation the manager decided to leave in the lefty, who proceeded to strikeout Quinton Berry before giving way to reliever Matt Albers.

- Jon Lester rebounded from a rocky start to turn in a fairly solid outing, allowing four runs on 10 hits over 6 2/3 innings, striking out seven and not walking a batter. The lefty had to dig himself out of a 3-0 hole after the first three innings. It was the first time in 31 starts that Lester had surrendered at least 10 hits.

- After some suspect plays in center field — allowing balls to hit on the warning track, resulting in Detroit hits — Marlon Byrd made the play of the game when he dove head-first to catch Gerald Laird’s sinking liner to end the Tigers’ half of the eighth.

WHAT WENT WRONG

- Adrian Gonzalez was left in the right field in the seventh inning with the Red Sox and it backfired a bit. With two outs and runners on first and second, Miguel Cabrera lobbed a high fly ball down the right field line which was just out of the range of second baseman Nick Punto, forcing Gonzalez to attempt a sliding catch, which he couldn’t quite execute. The result was the game-tying run, as Gerald Laird scored from second.