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Questions and answers: Indians general manager Chris Antonetti 04.04.11 at 9:57 pm ET
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CLEVELAND — As the Red Sox get ready to take on the Indians in a three-game series at Progressive Field, first-year Cleveland general manager Chris Antonetti took a few moments to answer five questions posed by WEEI.com:

WEEI.com: It’€™s been about 14 months since the Indians announced that they would transition from Mark Shapiro to you as the GM. How did your responsibilities change, if at all, once that announcement was made in 2010, and again when the transition was completed after last season?

Antonetti: I am really fortunate that Mark has always been great about providing me with opportunities to grow and develop.  In my time as [Assistant GM], Mark involved me in all areas of our operations so there really isn’€™t anything I am doing now that I haven’€™t had some experience with already.  The primary difference between this year and last year is the sense of accountability and responsibility that comes with the position.

WEEI.com: A lot of us saw Carlos Santana’€™s horrible injury last year, which he incurred on a collision with Ryan Kalish at Fenway Park. Given the way his season ended, it must have been immensely satisfying to see him in the lineup and hitting a homer on Opening Day. Does he face any restrictions going forward, and how do you project him long-term?

Antonetti: Thankfully, Carlos has fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered last year.  He progressed through a normal spring training and we don’€™t anticipate any limitations for him going forward.

WEEI.com: How would you evaluate Justin Masterson‘€™s first full year with you in 2010, and what did you see from him in spring training this year? How about Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price?

Antonetti: We felt Justin pitched very well last year in his first season as starter in the Major Leagues. He continued to improve as the season progressed and we are confident that he will build upon his second-half success this year. Nick and Bryan both made strides in their development last year and have a chance to contribute to our major league pitching staff in the near future.

WEEI.com: On the subject of the Victor Martinez trade ‘€“ obviously, you guys had a tremendous relationship with Martinez. How difficult is it to face a market reality in which you will at times have to trade franchise cornerstones?

Antonetti: Nearly every team faces the reality that it can’€™t retain every player it values.  Inevitably some players will leave via free agency and some players will be traded prior to reaching that point. In Victor’€™s case, even though it was a prudent decision for the organization, it was especially painful to trade him rather than allow him to reach free agency because he combines exceptional production on the field with unmatched character, passion, and professionalism. He is a special player and person that had a profound and lasting impact on our organization.

WEEI.com: You have been part of one rebuilding effort in Cleveland that started in 2002 and brought the Indians within a game of the World Series in 2007. Where do you guys feel you are in the current effort to create the nucleus of a contender?

Antonetti: We feel that we are on our way back to becoming a championship caliber team. We have a young, but very talented major league roster bolstered by a strong and deep minor league system. The timing of our success will largely depend upon how quickly this group transitions from a collection of young players with potential to a championship caliber team that consistently produces at the Major league level. We are doing everything we can to try to expedite that process.

Read More: carlos santana, chris antonetti, Cleveland Indians, justin masterson
For Red Sox, frustration but not panic after losing three straight 04.03.11 at 8:10 pm ET
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ARLINGTON, Texas ‘€“ Frustration? Yes. Panic? No.

That was the balance that the Red Sox were trying to strike after they suffered their first season-opening three-game sweep since 1996, a season in which they opened with five straight losses en route to a 6-19 start from which they never recovered.

The Sox saw the Rangers swipe their meal money and their dignity over the course of three games in which the Texas lineup slammed 11 homers and outscored the visitors by a 26-11 count. A candid self-assessment by the Sox suggested that it was, quite simply, an awful performance out of the gate.

“I think we’€™re all frustrated. We got outplayed. It’€™s not for lack of talent on our team. We got outpitched, we got out-hit, they played better defense than us,” said second baseman Pedroia. “They kicked our ass, that’€™s it. We better show up and play better on whatever day we play again. We have to play better than we’€™ve been playing.’€

That said, while the Sox were disappointed in their performance, they have not changed their overall self-perception. Mindful that three games represent a handful of sand in a desert of a season, the team still exhibits confidence about its ambitions, namely, to compete for the postseason and then a World Series.

‘€œWhat might turn this team around? To win games,” said Adrian Gonzalez. “Still got 159, and I’m fully confident that, come September, we’ll be either in first place or right in the middle of everything.”

Manager Terry Francona said that while the Sox will own up to the idea that they played poorly, they are not at the point where there is a sense of desperation after a few consecutive losses.

‘€œWe’€™re not very happy with the series. That’€™s an understatement,’€ he said. ‘€œI think there’€™s a difference between being aggravated at a series as opposed to sitting around and panic enters. It would have been a lot more fun going on the flight with a win and feeling good about yourself. We didn’€™t play a very good series.

‘€œWe got outplayed all the way around. They hit better than us, they pitched better than us. Now we have to go regroup and try to get us a win so we feel better about ourselves.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

Buchholz: ‘I wouldn’t read too deep’ into sweep 04.03.11 at 6:58 pm ET
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz, in his first start of 2011, suffered through a performance that was a far cry from his 2010 performances. In his breakout campaign, he allowed as many as four earned runs just four times in his 28 starts. Moreover, he allowed as many as two homers just once all of last year en route to a second-place finish in the American League ERA race.

And so, it was somewhat startling to see the right-hander get tagged for four runs on four solo homers by the Rangers on Sunday in the Sox’ 5-1 loss. The outing was the culmination of a three-game series in which the Rangers erupted with a steady drumbeat of longballs, hitting three in the first game of the series and four in both the second and third. The 11 round-trippers were the most ever allowed by the Sox in a season-opening three-game set.

Buchholz, who ended up allowing just five hits, walking two and striking out three over his 6 1/3 innings, concluded that he was more the victim of a red-hot lineup than his own poor pitching.

“I don’€™t think these guys missed a mistake pitch in [24] innings,” Buchholz said. “Today didn’€™t seem like a big struggle for me. It felt more like, with nobody on, behind in the count a couple of times, I’€™m not going to give in. I’€™d rather give up a hit than walk a guy for that guy to score. All in all, I think I left four pitches up out of the zone. I don’€™t think these guys mishit one all series. You’€™ve got to tip your cap sometimes and move on.”

Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia likewise felt that Buchholz had a relatively strong outing. He was efficient, needing just 86 pitches (56 strikes) to make it into the seventh inning, and he wiped out the only three runners on base he faced all game — two on double play grounders, one on a pickoff.

“Clay was aggressive. He was throwing fastballs, he was getting ahead. He went after them. Simple as that,” said Saltalamacchia. “He didn’€™t shy away from anyone. We went after them. We went with his strengths. A couple balls they put up in the air, they went out, just like this whole series.”

That being the case, Buchholz was far from distressed about his outing or even the series. Yes, the Sox suffered three straight losses, and Buchholz — who went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA last year — now brandishes an 0-1 record and 5.68 ERA. Nonetheless, given the stage of the season, he implied that he would lose little sleep over his outing.

“Everybody is a little bit shocked, but we’€™ve got a lot of games left, a lot of room to improve. I wouldn’€™t read too deep into it,” said Buchholz. “We go to Cleveland for another three games, and then we go home. I’€™m sure everybody will feel OK when we get off the plane tonight.’€

Read More: Clay Buchholz,
Closing Time: Rangers 5, Red Sox 1 04.03.11 at 4:51 pm ET
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ARLINGTON, Texas — It was an inauspicious start to the season of great expectations.

The Red Sox endured an exercise in humility over the course of a three-game sweep at the hands of the Rangers, which culminated in a 5-1 defeat on Sunday. It marked the first time since 1996 (coincidentally, also a season that the team opened in Texas) that the Sox opened the year by dropping all three contests.

This was not merely a sweep — it was a thrashing of memorable proportions, as the Rangers outscored the Sox by a 26-11 count over the three contests.

The 0-3 Sox now have an off-day to regroup before they commence a three-game series against the Indians.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–The Rangers continued to flex their muscles. Ex-Sox prospect David Murphy, leadoff man Ian Kinsler, catcher Mike Napoli and right fielder Nelson Cruz all went deep. Both Kinsler and Cruz homered for the third time in as many days, while Napoli delivered his second longball. The three-game series was little short of a Rangers barrage, as Texas launched 11 homers during the weekend set, the most allowed by the Sox in a three-game season-opening series since at least 1919.

Though Clay Buchholz pitched well for most of the game, allowing just five hits in 6 1/3 innings, four of the knocks were solo homers — a marked aberration from last year, when Buchholz proved one of the most successful pitchers in the game at keeping the ball in the park.

His four homers were the second most he’d ever given up in a start in his career (topped only by the five he permitted against the Blue Jays on Sept. 29, 2009), and were twice as many as he permitted in any of his starts in 2010. Indeed, Buchholz permitted nine homers in 173 2/3 innings in all of 2010, a number he will now be hard-pressed to match.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia endured a woeful opening series against his former club, going 0-for-9 with five strikeouts and stranding four base runners. It would appear likely that Jason Varitek will get the start at catcher on Tuesday (weather permitting), when Josh Beckett is on the mound.

–One day after they went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position, the Sox again came up empty in run-producing opportunities, going 1-for-5 in such situations. The most significant failure came in the top of the seventh, when the Sox amassed their only sustained threat against Rangers starter Matt Harrison.

After the Sox had plated one run in the inning, they loaded the bases with two outs for Jacoby Ellsbury. But Harrison got the Sox’ leadoff hitter to chase an elevated fastball for his eighth punchout of the day (a number that matched the left-hander’s career high), thus stifling the Sox’ final uprising.

Harrison did feature spectacular stuff at times in his seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits (all singles) while striking out eight and walking two.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Carl Crawford ended his oh-fer. The left fielder, who was dropped from the No. 3 to No. 7 spot in the batting order, flicked a Matt Harrison fastball just inside the third base bag for a single in the top of the second inning, thus ending the 0-for-7 struggle to start his Red Sox career. Crawford would later drop an RBI single in the seventh inning for another first with his new club.

He also made his presence with the glove felt for the first time, making a fine running catch in foul territory down the left field line.

David Ortiz continued to enjoy success in the opening days of the season, collecting two of the Sox’ five hits against starter Harrison. He later nearly homered to straightaway center field, but his bid for a third homer in as many days (this one against Rangers closer Neftali Feliz) was denied when the wind knocked it down on the warning track.

–Though Buchholz never pitched into the sixth inning in spring training, he delivered the Sox’ best outing of the weekend, allowing just five hits in 6 1/3 innings. Unfortunately for both him and the Sox, four of those hits were solo homers from a Rangers team that enjoyed an outrageous first weekend at the plate.

Even so, Buchholz — who threw 86 pitches, 56 for strikes while striking out two and walking one — was able to limit the damage, especially with runners on base, eliciting a pair of double play grounders.

Buchholz gave up as many as four earned runs in just four of his 28 starts in 2010, but that he did so against the Rangers may have been as much a commentary on the Texas lineup as it was on his pitching.

Read More: carl crawford, Clay Buchholz, David Ortiz, jarrod saltalamacchia
Francona on dropping Crawford: ‘Obvious he’s trying too hard’ 04.03.11 at 12:41 pm ET
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ARLINGTON, Texas — The Red Sox preach that it’s important not to overreact to a poor first two games of the season. All the same, after seeing the Sox get outscored by the Rangers, 21-10, manager Terry Francona did see fit to make some tweaks to the lineup against Texas and left-hander Matt Harrison.

Most notably, after Carl Crawford spent the spring batting either second or third, and hit third in each of the first two games, Francona opted to lower the left fielder to the No. 7 spot in the batting order on Sunday. Crawford is 0-for-7 with a walk and four strikeouts in his first two games with the Sox. He has yet to hit a single ball out of the infield. Francona suggested that the outfielder, who must deal with the scrutiny that comes with a seven-year, $142 million deal that he signed in the offseason, is clearly pressing. By moving him down in the batting order, Francona is hopeful that it will permit the three-time All-Star to breathe.

“Looking at him, it’€™s kind of obvious he’€™s trying too hard. Especially with a lefty today, just let him sit down there As soon as he gets on base, starts causing some havoc, he’€™ll loosen up and the real Carl will come out. In the meantime, just take a little off of him,” said Francona. “He’€™s a great kid. I think he’€™s trying too hard. I always watch him. I think it’€™s an admirable quality. I actually love it. But we’€™re two games in, he’€™s not had real good at-bats. I just wanted him to be able to relax a little so he can play.”

Francona also made a couple of additional lineup alterations. For the second time in three games, J.D. Drew will sit in favor of a right-handed hitter. Whereas Mike Cameron got the start on Opening Day, it will be Darnell McDonald who starts on Sunday. McDonald got his first start as a Red Sox against Rangers lefty Harrison last year, hitting a homer and taking a walk in his two plate appearances against him. Though Drew also has enjoyed success in his limited plate appearances against Harrison — going 1-for-3 with a walk and sac fly in five plate appearances — Francona opted for the right-handed McDonald.

“I think Mac matches up good against this guy and then J.D. will be sitting over there if we get into the bullpen,” said Francona.

The Sox have one additional alteration to their lineup, with Marco Scutaro (1-for-4 with two walks and a sac fly against Harrison) sitting in favor of Jed Lowrie (1-for-3 against Harrison) at short. Scutaro is 0-for-8 thus far this year, but Francona said his move was motivated more by a desire to get Lowrie into the lineup, particularly against a left-handed pitcher. Lowrie hit .338 with a 1.025 OPS against lefties last year.

‘€œI wanted to get Jed, especially righthanded, wanted to get him into the game,” said Francona.

That said, Francona said that the determination of when to have Lowrie play cannot be driven solely by matchups.

“I just think this is the best place to play him,” said Francona. “A lot of times, if we want to get his right-handed bat in there, the other guys are pretty good, too, so there’s not really an obvious guy to sit if he’s going to play.”

Scutaro had a grounder tear off a fingernail in Friday’s opener, but the issue is not considered significant — especially in light of the pain that the shortstop faced last year, and that severely impaired his ability to throw the ball.

‘€œI think it’€™s sore, but I don’€™t think it’€™s getting in the way. Compared to what he had before, I don’€™t think he’€™s going to complain much about this one,” said Francona.

Read More: carl crawford, darnell mcdonald, J.D Drew, Jed Lowrie
Hamilton on Beltre: ‘They shouldn’t have let him go!’ 04.03.11 at 9:37 am ET
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Reigning American League MVP Josh Hamilton had just seen new teammate Adrian Beltre enjoy his first true impact performance as a member of the Rangers. In Beltre’s second game with his new team, he hit a grand slam off of John Lackey in the fourth inning that sucked any drama out of the game.

And so, Hamilton was amused to deliver a playful message to the Sox after the Rangers beat Boston, 12-5.

“Shouldn’€™t have let him go!” Hamilton joked with reporters in the Rangers clubhouse.

It’s a bit early for such a pronouncement, particularly given why the Sox let Beltre leave as a free agent. Once the Sox made the trade for Adrian Gonzalez, they were going to shift Kevin Youkilis back to third. That, in turn, gave Boston a ferocious tandem of corner infielders and took the team out of the market for Beltre.

Beltre’s departure as a free agent also meant that the Sox would receive a pair of compensatory draft picks in what is viewed by evaluators as an exceptional class of amateur talents.

So, the Sox had few regrets when Beltre left for Texas on a five-year, $80 million deal. To the contrary, almost everyone in the organization was happy for a player who was considered an exceptional teammate, a tremendous worker and an outstanding performer in 2010, when he recovered from an injury-riddled 2009 season with the Mariners to hit .321 with 28 homers, 102 RBI and a .919 OPS while playing excellent defense at third base.

“I just sent him a note like, way to go,” Sox manager Terry Francona said of his contact with Beltre after he signed his deal with the Rangers. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Adrian Beltre, adrian gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, texas rangers
The one that missed: Sox release former first-round pick 04.03.11 at 9:08 am ET
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ARLINGTON, Texas — By and large, the Red Sox have done extremely well with their top draft picks under the current front office. Virtually every top pick has yielded meaningful value for the club, whether by reaching the major leagues or through a trade. The 2002 draft yielded Jon Lester with the Sox’ first pick; 2003 yielded a pair of eventual trade chips in David Murphy and Matt Murton; 2004 gave Boston Dustin Pedroia; one year later, the team grabbed Jacoby Ellsbury. The top picks in the 2007-09 drafts (2007 top pick Nick Hagadone was a key to the Victor Martinez deal with the Indians; 2008 and 2009 first rounders Casey Kelly and Reymond Fuentes were both in the Adrian Gonzalez deal) all helped deliver impact talent to the Sox.

But there’s one outlier. On Saturday, the Red Sox released 2006 first round pick Jason Place. The outfielder — a two-sport star in high school — was drafted out of South Carolina by the Sox with the No. 27 overall pick that year. His across-the-board skill set earned comparisons to Trot Nixon. The Sox were at a point in their farm system where they wanted to aim high and go for impact players; Place’s tools made him a player about whom the Sox could dream big.

And even now, in hindsight, it’s not that difficult to understand what the Sox saw in him.

Daniel Bard — whom the Sox drafted one pick after Place, with the No. 28 overall pick in 2006 — played with the outfielder in Greenville in 2007. Place was playing essentially in his home town following a very solid debut in pro ball in 2006, hitting .292 with a .386 OBP, .442 slugging mark and four homers in the Gulf Coast League. There were aspects of Place’s game as a 19-year-old that were simply different from his peers of the same age.

“There’€™s a big building in left field in Greenville ‘€“ an apartment or warehouse building. It’€™s huge, four stories or five stories high,” recalled Bard. “It covered all the way from the left field line almost all the way to center field. If you really got a hold of one, you could put it on top of the building. He used to hit them up there pretty consistently in batting practice.

“In practice, he’€™s a five-tool guy, if that makes any sense,” Bard continued. “He can run; big, strong kid; took the most impressive round of batting practice you’€™ll ever see ‘€“ an impressive big league batting practice as far as he could hit the ball and stuff; always played really good defense ‘€“ that translated to the game ‘€“ always played hard out there with a plus arm, would run into a wall for you.”

The natural gifts were obvious. But…

“The old breaking ball got him, I guess,” said Bard. “He couldn’€™t hit it consistently enough.”

Place’s swing had a hitch that the Sox thought could be ironed out with instruction when they drafted him. They were willing to take a chance on a player with a flaw because, without it, a player with his potential upside wouldn’t have been available at that position in the draft.

The Sox anticipated that Place would struggle early in his pro career, but thought that over time, he would be able to put his talents together to become a potential impact big leaguer. But despite Place’s best, tireless efforts to iron out his swing, it never happened. Place struck out so much that his prodigious power didn’t have a chance to play. That led to immense frustration and a constant search in his approach. He hit .214 with a .657 OPS in Greenville in ’07, .246 with a .752 OPS in Lancaster in ’08; and .253 with a .719 OPS while splitting time between Hi-A Salem and Double-A Portland in ’09.

The situation began to grind on Place. In 2010, after a dismal start in Portland (.127 with a .491 OPS), the outfielder and the Sox decided that he should spend some time away from the game to clear his head and sort out his future. He decided to return a couple months later, but in 13 games, he struck out 19 times in 40 at-bats against Rookie Level and Hi-A competition.

With the Sox farm system increasingly crowded with athletic outfielders, the window for Place had closed. And so, he was released coming out of spring training, offering something of a cautionary tale about the challenges of the draft.

“There’€™s only so much research you can do to see how a guy’€™s going to fare with everything in pro ball,” noted Bard.

Read More: Daniel Bard, jason place,
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