Archive for June, 2012

A look back at the Red Sox career of Darnell McDonald

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Darnell McDonald made the most of his time with the Red Sox, whether it was at the plate, in the field or even on the pitching mound. (AP)

After spending three seasons in Boston, Darnell McDonald’s time with the Red Sox may have come to an end  Saturday when he was designated for assignment to make room for the returning Josh Beckett.

McDonald was signed as a minor league free agent on Nov. 24, 2009, with Triple-A Pawtucket and made regular contributions with the Red Sox in 2010 when Jacoby Ellsbury went down with an injury. When Ellsbury returned, however, McDonald’s role was reduced and he played less and less over the course of his last two seasons.

During his time with the Red Sox, McDonald played in 234 games, batted .252, hit 17 home runs and drove in 67 RBIs. And despite not being a full-time player, the 33-year-old outfielder earned his share of memorable moments during his tenure with the Red Sox. Here is a list of some of those moments that Red Sox fans won’t soon forget:

– McDonald didn’t waste any time making an impact in a Red Sox uniform. On April 20, 2010, he made his debut against the Rangers as a pinch-hitter. Trailing by a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth and with Jason Varitek on base, he took Josh Reddick’s spot in the order and cranked a two-run homer over the Green Monster to tie the game at six.

The game-tying home run marked the ninth time in Red Sox history that a player hit a home run in their first at-bat and the third time in the form of a pinch-hit.

McDonald wasn’t done, though. In the bottom of the ninth, with the game still tied and the bases loaded, McDonald came up again and lifted a high fly ball that hit the Green Monster just past the leap of Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton and scored Kevin Youkilis from third for the walk-off victory. The team mobbed McDonald in short left field as he became the first player in club history to collect a walk-off RBI in his debut.

In the midst of a hot streak, McDonald kept it up the next day in his second game with the Red Sox, as he homered again in an 8-7 victory.

– On Aug. 17, 2010, McDonald feasted on an offering from Angels pitcher Jered Weaver and cleared a solo home run over the Green Monster seats. NESN cameras caught the ball’s trajectory as it sailed over and broke a car’s window in a parking lot across the street from Fenway Park.

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Saturday’s Red Sox-Mariners matchups: Josh Beckett vs. Erasmo Ramirez

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Josh Beckett

Beyond the early-season incident of going golfing while nursing an injured lat, Josh Beckett’s 2012 season has been one of extreme frustration, one full of wasted gem after wasted gem on the mound.

Beckett’s numbers imply anything but a resume worth of gems. He’s 4-7 with a 4.14 ERA and is 0-3 in his last three trips to the hill, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, in his last six starts, Beckett has pitched at least seven innings and produced four quality starts. And in his 12 total starts this season, only two can really be qualified as disastrous ones, and those occurred in the season-opener and May 10.

Since his last win on May 20, Beckett has lowered his ERA and allowed no home runs and just two walks across 29 innings over the course of four starts despite going 0-3 in them. On Saturday night, Beckett will look to build on that success and get back in the win column when he returns from the disabled list to take on a struggling Mariners team at Safeco Field. The right-hander was placed on the DL on June 16 with shoulder inflammation.

Historically speaking, Beckett is at his best when he faces the Mariners. He’s 7-1 with a 2.30 ERA in nine starts against them since becoming a member of the Red Sox in 2006. That includes his last start against them at Fenway Park on May 15, when he tossed a seven-inning shutout while allowing just four hits and collecting a season-high nine strikeouts en route to a 5-0 victory.

This season’s version of the Mariners may be one of the worst offensively that Beckett has seen in his career. The M’s rank 27th in batting average (.234), 29th in on-base percentage (.295) and 28th in slugging percentage (.366). Their best hitter statistically, Ichiro Suzuki, is hitting just .272 this season and they’re coming off of getting two-hit by Aaron Cook on Friday night.

Part of the reason that Beckett has been unsuccessful this season in finding the win column may be because of a lack of run support. In his seven losses, the Red Sox have scored a total of 12 runs, which is just 1.7 per game. They’ll try to turn that around against Erasmo Ramirez, who will make his fourth career start for the Mariners.

The rookie right-hander, who started the season as a reliever, is 0-2 with a 4.18 ERA. He made seven appearances before being sent down to Triple-A Tacoma in early May and then returned to Seattle on June 13 in a starter’s role. After two rough outings, the 22-year-old put together a gem on June 25 against the Athletics. He pitched eight innings, allowed just three hits, one run (earned) and struck out 10, but suffered the loss as the Mariners fell 1-0.

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Red Sox Minor League Roundup: The spinning wheel for Daniel Bard, Stolmy Pimentel comes back, Bryce Brentz and the BB

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-2 LOSS VS. CHARLOTTE (WHITE SOX)

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– There have been glimpses of promise for Daniel Bard during his time in Triple-A Pawtucket. But to date, they have disappeared almost as quickly as they’ve emerged, leaving the picture of a pitcher whose mechanics are not close to major league ready right now.

Bard had perhaps his worst outing since being sent back down to Triple-A, retiring just one of the six batters he faced after coming into the game for the top of the seventh inning against Charlotte, the Triple-A affiliate of the White Sox. Bard permitted a leadoff single and steal, and after getting a fly out, walked one batter, hit another, then walked two more to force in a pair of runs. He threw just nine of 26 pitches for strikes.

After nine minor league appearances, Bard has a 7.15 ERA with 14 strikeouts and eight walks in 11 1/3 innings.

“He just can’t repeat with consistency, which is why he’s here, and then you see the wheel start spinning and things kind of snowball,” PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler told the Providence Journal. “That’s the whole deal — trying to get that feel and that consistency to try to repeat.”

– In the first game of his rehab assignment with Pawtucket, Scott Podsednik went 0-for-3 with a walk while serving as the designated hitter.

Andy LaRoche, in his first game since signing with the Sox, went 3-for-4 with three singles and a strikeout.

Alex Wilson had a strong outing in relief of Bard. He inherited a bases-loaded, one-out jam and escaped by inducing a rare double play ball, then sailed through the next two innings, striking out three, walking one and allowing just one single. The 2 2/3 innings was his longest as a reliever.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 9-3 WIN VS. NEW HAMPSHIRE (BLUE JAYS)

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– Outfielder Pete Hissey has been a dynamic performer since coming off the DL this month, and he continued a string of impressive performances by going 2-for-3 with a double and two steals on Friday. In 13 games this month, he’s hitting .333 with a .356 OBP, .500 slugging mark and .856 OPS along with four steals.

– Right-hander Stolmy Pimentel ended an eight-start winless streak, tossing six innings while allowing three runs on four hits and a walk while striking out four. It was his third straight outing in which he permitted just one walk. However, he also permitted a homer for the second straight outing.

Bryce Brentz continued his run as an on-base machine, going 2-for-4 with a walk. In his last eight games, he’s 10-for-25 (.400) with nine walks, good for a .559 OBP during that span.

Jeremy Hazelbaker went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles, a walk, a steal and four runs batted in. He’s driven in 19 this month after collecting 14 RBI in April and May combined. The 24-year-old is hitting .274/.371/.512/.883 with five homers in June.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 4-1 LOSS VS. POTOMAC (NATIONALS)

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– It is a testament to Brandon Workman‘s consistency in Salem this year that his yields of four runs and eight hits allowed both matched season highs. He worked six innings, walked one (his fourth straight outing of one or no walks) and struck out four while giving up his first homer in six outings. (more…)

Opinion: Is Daniel Bard a lost cause?

Saturday, June 30th, 2012
Daniel Bard struggled again in Pawtucket on Friday. (AP)

Daniel Bard struggled again in Pawtucket on Friday. (AP)

Full disclosure: I was in the camp that believed moving Daniel Bard to the starting rotation was a risk worth taking. Potential upside, a good starting pitcher is more valuable than even a very good reliever, if it fails he can always go back to the ‘pen, all the same stuff you heard from everyone else supporting the move in the offseason.

Well, it turns out I was wrong, Ben Cherington was wrong and Daniel Bard was wrong.

Bard was a flop as a starter, a complete wipeout. In 55 innings pitched he allowed 32 earned runs (5.24 ERA), walked 37 batters, hit eight batters and struck out just 34 guys (he had never been below a K an inning as a reliever). The velocity was down and the command was nonexistent.

His final start — five runs, six walks, two batters hits in 1.2 IP against the Blue Jays on June 3 — was confirmation. Fair or not, enough of a sample size or not, Daniel Bard was going back to the bullpen. OK, the Sox sent him down to Pawtucket two days after the start in Toronto to “work things out,” with no comment on if he’d be a starter or reliever when he got back to Boston, but the ultimate conclusion was obvious.

When Daniel Bard returned, he’d be back in the bullpen. No question about it.

But after nearly a month in Pawtucket, the question has changed.

Has the failed conversion to starter ruined Daniel Bard?

One year ago, Bard was maybe the best relief pitcher in baseball, at least in the top dozen or so. A year ago today, he pitched a scoreless inning against the Phillies, completing a June that saw him allow no runs and four hits in 13.0 innings pitched. That was followed by another scoreless month in July.

This June? Bard has a 7.15 ERA in 11.1 innings for Triple-A Pawtucket, with eight walks and four batters hit.

And Friday night was the bottom (to date, anyway) for Bard. He faced six Charlotte batters and gave up a single, recorded a fly out, walked a batter, hit a batter and then walked the next two before being yanked.

Twenty-six pitches, nine strikes.

Look, maybe Bard will figure it all out and be OK. But it’s fair to at least wonder if we are in Act I of another Steve Sax, Rick Ankiel or Chuck Knoblauch. Again, maybe something clicks and he’s the Bard of last summer, but haven’t seen this story enough times to at least have some pause? Are you convinced that Bard will be an elite major-league reliever again? Because right now — and I’m assuming he’s physically healthy, there’s no way the Sox would be trotting him out to pitch like this in Pawtucket if he was hurt — he’s a terrible minor-league reliever.

Right now, this story isn’t tracking much. We look at the box scores and shake our heads, but other issues are pressing. Plus this: The Sox bullpen has been terrific the last two months, so Bard hasn’t been missed all that much. But what happens if Matt Albers or Scott Atchison or Andrew Miller come back to what they’ve been before this season, which I hate to tell you isn’t exactly out of the realm of possibility? What happens when the 2012 Red Sox need Daniel Bard?

There’s no way to answer that. The Red Sox took a chance and it has backfired spectacularly and with ramifications that could last long past this season. The story just seems to get uglier and uglier with each outing. Because right now Daniel Bard finds himself lost in the tall grass. Others have been there and not found their way out.

Will Bard? Impossible to predict. It sure doesn’t look good, but I’ve been wrong about him before.

Closing Time: Aaron Cook cruises in masterful shutout effort

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

It wasn’t just a fluke.

Aaron Cook turned in a spectacular outing on Friday night in Seattle, blazing a complete-game shutout in just 81 pitches. He gave up just two hits (one of the infield variety, another a liner to the outfield), walked none, struck out two and threw 72 percent of his pitches (58 of 81) for strikes. It was an outing unlike any the Red Sox had seen in more than a decade. After all, the last time that the Sox received an outing of at least eight innings that required 81 or fewer pitches was in 1999, when Bret Saberhagen worked eight innings in 76 pitches.

But while the performance in the Red Sox’ 5-0 victory over the Mariners was unlike any other by a Boston pitcher in years, it was not unfamiliar territory for Cook. This was the sort of performance that, at his peak with the Rockies from 2007-09, defined him as one of the better pitchers in the National League. In 2007, he had a 74-pitch complete game; in 2009, he needed just 79 pitches for a complete-game shutout.

This is what a sinkerball can do when it is in peak form, eliciting feeble early-count contact that keeps a game moving at a blistering pace and, not only keeps a pitcher locked into his rhythm, but also denies an opposing pitcher the opportunity to catch his breath. Cook recorded 16 outs via grounder (with a pair of double play balls), facing just one batter over the minimum, as he claimed his second straight victory.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Will Middlebrooks snapped an 0-for-12 streak in a big way, breaking a scoreless tie with a solo homer to left field in the top of the fifth inning. He later added a single to finish with a 2-for-4 night. The contest was significant in underscoring that Middlebrooks is capable of pulling himself out of slumps, a trait that the Sox had seen once before in May and that ultimately helped convince the team that it was prepared to commit to the 23-year-old and trade Kevin Youkilis. On Friday, that faith was rewarded. (more…)

Friday’s Red Sox-Mariners matchups: Aaron Cook vs. Hector Noesi

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Aaron Cook

After spending 10 seasons with the Rockies, Aaron Cook has moved on to the Red Sox. He’s made just two starts this season in the wake of injured starters in the rotation, and on Friday night he’ll do it again as he takes the mound against the Mariners in the second game of Boston’s West Coast trip.

After spending the first month of the season in Pawtucket, Cook made his first Red Sox start on May 5 due to the absence of Josh Beckett, who missed that start due to a sore lat muscle, which led to the much-discussed incident in which it was reported that Beckett went golfing with the injury.

As it turned out, Cook may have liked to forget his start just as much as Beckett would like to have forgotten the controversy. Cook gave up seven runs (six earned) in 2 2/3 innings as he was quickly chased by the Orioles. He didn’t strike out anyone as the Orioles beat the Red Sox, 8-2.

Cook had a chance at redemption on Sunday, as he was called up a day before his start to replace Clay Buchholz, who had to miss his start due to a serious case of esophagitis. Cook, who was returning from the disabled list after receiving 11 stitches due to a gash on his left knee suffered on a play at home plate, made better in his second opportunity.

He pitched five innings, scattered six hits, gave up three runs (two earned) and struck out none as he earned his first Red Sox victory in a 9-4 win over the Braves. Now, with Buchholz still on the disabled list, the 33-year-old right-hander will make his third start with the team against the Mariners, a team he has never faced. He’s faced five different current Seattle batters, posting a combined .100 opponents batting average and striking out four in 20 combined appearances.

The Mariners will counter with Hector Noesi, a young pitcher who has had extreme difficulty finding success this season. In 15 starts, the 25-year-old is 2-9 with a 5.50 ERA. The Dominican hasn’t won a game since May 6, and is 0-6 in his last nine starts.

Noesi might be turning a corner after a fairly impressive outing last time out against the Padres. Despite taking the loss, Noesi pitched six innings and gave up only two runs (both earned) although he surrendered seven hits. He’ll go up against a Red Sox team that he’s faced off against twice as a member of the Yankees in his two-year big league career.

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Where does Scott Podsednik fit in the Red Sox’ potential outfield logjam?

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Scott Podsednik is optimistic about continuing his success when he comes off the 15-day disabled list, for whatever team it might be. (AP)

PAWTUCKET, R.I. — At least Scott Podsednik is honest.

“You can’t help but think about it because of the amount of outfielders we have,” said the outfielder regarding whom might be the odd outfielders out when Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford return to the Red Sox. “But I’m going to be honest with you to tell you I’m in a place in my career that I’ve become a lot better at worrying about the things I can control and not worry about the things I can’t. That’s the fact of the matter. I’m going to go out and try and stay healthy and try and continue to play my game and help the Red Sox win games. When those guys become available, if I’m still with the Red Sox I’ll be extremely happy. If I’m with another club I’ll go and try and help them. I think a player can waste a lot of time and energy worrying about those situations you can’t control.

“Early in my career I used to read the papers and pay attention to the rumors and wonder if I was going to make a club or if I was going to get traded. You just wear yourself out thinking about that kind of stuff. I’ve just tried to make the adjustments and worry about what I can control.”

Right now, it’s not a dilemma that the 36-year-old has to be consumed with. He will be getting his first rehab assignment at-bats since going on the 15-day disabled list (groin), tonight with the Pawtucket Red Sox, serving as the team’s designated hitter.

But soon, it will become an increased topic of conversation.

Right now there is Daniel Nava (.313 batting average, .429 OBP, still with options), Ryan Kalish (.226 BA, .531 OPS, still with options), Darnell McDonald (.214 BA, .678 OPS, out of options), Cody Ross (.278 BA, .915 OPS, 11 HRs) with Ryan Sweeney, Ellsbury and Crawford currently on the disabled list. Another player in the outfield mix is utilityman Brent Lillibridge, who is out of options.

The good news for Podsednik, that based off his performance in 19 games with the Red Sox, he will be playing somewhere in the major leagues. The outfielder claimed multi-hit games in nine of his 16 starts, stealing six bases while totaling a batting average of .387 and on-base percentage of .409.

And, despite his recent setback, Podsednik stands by his declaration in Miami that this is as good as he has felt throughout his career. It’s a state that he continues to credit to the preparation put in with trainer Eric Minor in Fort Worth, Texas.

“I’m not surprised. I’ve trained really hard to put myself in this position,” he said. “I still feel like I have some gas left in the tank. I feel like I’m a young 36. I’m still running well to steal a base. So if I can manage my injuries and keep myself healthy I feel like I can help somebody.”