|Closing Time: Red Sox 5, A’s 3||04.20.11 at 6:47 pm ET|
After much searching, the Red Sox discovered the magic formula for winning baseball. Though he gave up a home run on the first pitch he threw, Clay Buchholz settled down and did not permit another A’s run over the rest of his outing. While strike zone difficulties knocked him out of the game in the sixth inning, Buchholz nonetheless became the fifth straight Sox pitcher to throw five-plus innings while allowing one or no runs, as the Sox beat the A’s, 5-3.
The run of Sox starting pitching is historic. The last time that the Sox went five straight starts in a single season with one or fewer runs allowed in five or more innings was 1947. Unsurprisingly, the Sox have enjoyed their best stretch of the year in the process, winning four of the five contests.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
–Jed Lowrie apparently brought the cape with him to the West Coast. One day after the shortstop went 0-for-4 to see his seven-game hitting streak end, he started a new one in impressive fashion, going 2-for-4 with a two-run homer. In fact, his day could have been even more impressive, but in his first at-bat of the game, Lowrie was robbed of an extra-base hit when A’s right fielder David DeJesus made a leaping catch in the right field corner. (DeJesus later continued his anti-Lowrie campaign, making a tremendous diving catch in foul territory down the right field line against the infielder.) Even though he sat for much of the first two weeks of the season, Lowrie — who started at third base for the Sox, with Kevin Youkilis serving as DH and David Ortiz out of the lineup — is now second on the Sox with three homers and leads the team with 11 RBI.
–Buchholz was effective if not overpowering. The right-hander gave up a homer to Coco Crisp on his first pitch of the game (the first time that Crisp has ever homered on a game’s first pitch), but then prevented the A’s from further damage. The A’s had their opportunities, but Buchholz held them hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Buchholz did, however, struggle with his command (though it’s worth noting that he appeared to take issue with the strike zone of home plate ump Mike DeMuro). One outing removed from walking a career-high five, he issued four free passes, resulting in his pitch count getting run up to 102 in his 5 1/3 innings. That, in turn, left him without a quality start through his first four turns on the mound.
–Daniel Bard reinforced his place as the reliever entrusted with getting the Sox’ most important outs. Manager Terry Francona went to him with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the sixth inning, with the Sox in possession of an increasingly shaky 4-1 lead. Bard blew away Pennington with three straight 96 mph four-seam fastballs, and then, after Crisp hit a ball that sliced foul by inches down the left field line, Bard retired the Oakland center fielder on a pop up. He pitched another scoreless inning as well.
Bard, who has now stranded all five inherited runners he’s received this year, entered a game as early as the sixth inning for the first time since last April 23. That he can impact a game in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings adds to the case that he is the most valuable reliever in the Sox bullpen.
–Marco Scutaro, who had been on the bench for the prior four games, swung well in his return to the lineup. He went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles, and was stopped from collecting a third hit only by a terrific diving stop by shortstop Cliff Pennington.
–Kevin Youkilis is driving the ball with consistency, having collected five extra-base hits (three homers, two doubles) and driving in six in his last half-dozen games. He gave the Sox a 2-1 lead with a solo shot in the top of the fourth. Youkilis also has seven runs in his last six games.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
–Just hours after Peter Gammons suggested that “one of the things that’s killed [the Red Sox] is that Jacoby Ellsbury has forgotten what his job is in baseball, which is to get on base and run,” the center fielder (batting ninth once again) matched a career high by striking out three times, all looking. Ellsbury now has 14 strikeouts in 54 at-bats this year, and after an 0-for-4 day, is hitting .182.
There was an upside to Ellsbury’s struggles, however. J.D. Drew impacted the game from the leadoff spot, hitting a solo homer (his first of the year).
–Sox pitchers continued to perform in spectacular fashion with Jason Varitek behind the plate, as the team now has a 2.33 ERA with the catcher behind the plate. However, Varitek’s offense has remained virtually non-existent thus far. After an 0-for-4 day, he is now hitting .050 (1-for-20).
–Bobby Jenks had his second terrible outing in his last three appearances. Last Friday, he set one career high by allowing four earned runs and matched another by permitting four hits. Entrusted with a 5-1 lead in the eighth, Jenks recorded just two outs and allowed another run while allowing three singles and walking a batter. That, in turn, forced the Sox to bring Jonathan Papelbon into the game in the eighth inning.
|Red Sox vs. A’s Live Blog, 4/20/11||04.20.11 at 3:35 pm ET|
It’s afternoon baseball for the Red Sox today, and WEEI.com’s cast of characters (and friends) will be giving updates from the contest between the A’s and Red Sox. Click below for updates and on-the-spot analysis as the game unfolds and as the Sox look to salvage a split of the two-game series in Oakland.
|Francona: Sox are trying to play Jason Varitek as Saltalamacchia tries ‘to earn those stripes’||04.19.11 at 3:15 pm ET|
Red Sox manager Terry Francona, in his weekly interview on The Big Show, acknowledged that he has been trying to increase Jason Varitek’s playing time in recent games because of his strengths in working with a pitching staff. Francona said that he talked with starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia about the idea that it would take time for members of the pitching staff to become as comfortable with him as they are with the longtime Sox catcher.
“I don’t think that is a knock on Salty. I told Salty last week, ‘Right now, you’re trying to earn those stripes,’” said Francona. “I think sometimes a catcher can put down the same signs, but depending on who it is, the pitcher throws with a little more commitment. I think Tek has earned that. It’s always going to be hard for the next guy to come in to compare themselves, the way the game’s being run, with Tek. That’s been Tek’s strength for so long. He certainly didn’t get dumber. … You’re talking about one of the very best who’s probably ever played this game. They don’t come along very often.”
Francona noted that Varitek’s workload needs to be managed at this stage of his career, but noted that he has been increasing his recent usage of him. Saltalamacchia started eight of the Sox’ first nine games, but Varitek has been in the lineup for four of the last seven games. Entering Tuesday, Sox pitchers had a 2.40 ERA throwing to Varitek, and a 7.29 ERA with Saltalamacchia.
Asked to what degree he was trying to balance Varitek’s age with the desire to have him work with pitchers, Francona responded, “I’d be lying about that if I didn’t say I was thinking about it right now. We’ve obviously tried to get him in there a little bit more just because of some of the strengths you guys were talking about. I’ve got to be a little bit careful about running him out there too much. He has gotten a lot of wear and tear. We don’t want to reach for too much and get him hurt. Then we’re really in a bind. We’ve tried to not have him go back to back days so we can keep him fresh and do the things he can do.”
Saltalamacchia will be behind the place for John Lackey’s start on Tuesday in Oakland.
Francona also addressed several other topics. Among them: Read the rest of this entry »
|For Scutaro, playing time takes a back seat to winning||04.18.11 at 4:01 pm ET|
The striking emergence of Jed Lowrie has come at the expense of playing time for Marco Scutaro. With Lowrie amidst a seven-game hitting streak in which he is hitting .625 (15-for-24), he has cemented himself — at least for now — as an everyday player for the Sox. As a result, Scutaro (hitting .188 with a .547 OPS) has been left to sit for three of the last four games.
But despite the fact that Lowrie has effectively supplanted him for now, Scutaro is not complaining.
“It’s all about winning here,” said Scutaro. “I’m fine. It’s special being on a winning team. Being on a losing team is no fun at all. Right now, [manager Terry Francona] is just trying to put the best guys out there to win games.”
Scutaro said that it wasn’t necessary for Francona to explain the playing time division to him.
“You don’t have to [talk to the manager] to understand what’s going on,” said Scutaro.
He made clear that he was not upset about his current role. Though it took him years to become an everyday shortstop as a 32-year-old with the Blue Jays in 2008, Scutaro suggested that he is not concerned about playing time at this point.
“There’s still a long way to go,” said Scutaro.
In many respects, Scutaro and Lowrie complement each other very well, and in some respects are interchangeable depending on their performance. Lowrie is capable of playing all four infield positions; but should the Sox continue to use him as an everyday shortstop, Scutaro could be used as a player capable of giving the Sox depth at shortstop, second and third.
|Closing Time: Red Sox 9, Blue Jays 1||04.18.11 at 1:56 pm ET|
“We’ve got everything you possibly need. We’ve got speed, we’ve got power, we’ve got pitching. Once it all goes together, it’s scary,” he said. “Every single day, we’ve got to go out there and do the same thing. We haven’t proven anything. We can’t go out there and have one good game, one bad. We’ve got to be consistent, and that’s what we’re working on.”
The Sox took another very impressive step towards that goal on Patriots’ Day. With a game that commenced at a time of day when a team could almost be expected to look sloppy, the Sox were sterling in their 9-1 victory over the Blue Jays. And the person most responsible for one of the cleanest Sox wins of the year was unexpected: Daisuke Matsuzaka.
After one of his worst starts as a member of the Red Sox, Matsuzaka turned in one of his best. On the strength of a 91-93 mph fastball, a cutter with good late life and a slider that he could throw for strikes at will, Matsuzaka had a remarkably efficient outing, churning through seven shutout innings and allowing just one hit and one walk.
And so, the Sox head west for the start of a nine-game roadtrip armed with the confidence of three straight victories and three straight outstanding starts from Matsuzaka, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. The trio combined to allow the Blue Jays just two runs in 20 innings, a sterling 0.90 ERA. The offense, meanwhile, enjoyed an eruption, giving the Sox their most comprehensive win of the year.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX Read the rest of this entry »
|Red Sox bring back Okajima, send down Doubront||04.18.11 at 12:27 pm ET|
When he was told at the end of spring training that he would open the year in Triple-A Pawtucket, the disappointment for Hideki Okajima was undeniable. In the span of four years, he had gone from Hero in the Shadows to All-Star, then key bullpen contributor, then struggling left-hander, then minor leaguer. Even though he knew that opening the year in the minors was a possibility after he signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Red Sox during the offseason, that made the reality he faced — coming off a 2010 season in which his struggles against right-handers deepened, and he had a 4.50 ERA — any easier to accept.
Nonetheless, Okajima took the news professionally.
“Instead of going and pouting or feeling sorry for himself, he threw the ball pretty well and got a lot of people out,” said Sox manager Terry Francona.
Okajima tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings in Pawtucket, allowing just two hits, walking none and striking out five. With the Sox having gone through early struggles with a pair of left-handed relievers — first with Dennys Reyes, who was designated for assignment one week into the season, then with Felix Doubront, whose spring training was limited by elbow stiffness and who looked unready to compete at the game’s highest level — the Sox made the move on Monday to bring back a known quantity.
Even Okajima confessed that he was surprised at how soon his return to the majors came. Okajima is rarely a demonstrative person in the clubhouse, but after arriving at Fenway Park around 8:30 a.m., he was beaming upon being reunited with his big league teammates.
“I knew that if I pitched the way I can and believed in myself, I would eventually get the call up. That’s how I spent my time down there,” said Okajima, who was pleased with a cutter that he was using with positive results against right-handers. “[But] I didn’t expect to be up this early, so I’m very happy, very grateful to Tito and the rest of the club.’
The opportunity arose because the Sox felt that Doubront, 23, was better served to resume his build-up for the season in the minors while also providing the team depth in the starting rotation. Doubront’s results were spotty — he looked good in moments, as when he struck out Robinson Cano of the Yankees, but his command was inconsistent as he worked to build his velocity. On Sunday, Doubront (who pitched 2 2/3 innings in three games, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks) walked both of the left-handers he faced, never a positive indicator for a team’s only southpaw in the bullpen.
“The thinking was, when we called Doubront back up, we fully well knew he wasn’t in midseason form. Saying that, we love this kid,” said Francona. “[But] we’re carrying one lefty. [Doubront's] not a guy we want to get up and down a lot. That’s not going to work. The other side of that is that we can go get him stretched out as a starter, obviously for some depth reasons. So, Oki was throwing the ball really well in Triple-A, so it seemed like the logical move to make.”
The rotation depth consideration was not to be overlooked. With Doubront, Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves all in the major leagues, the Sox ran the risk of getting caught in a situation where their three primary starting depth options were all either unavailable or not sufficiently stretched out to step into the rotation, leaving the Sox at risk, in Francona’s words, of “not being prepared if something happened.”
If Doubront is built up to log a starter’s innings, that concern could diminish. Meanwhile, Okajima offers the Sox a reassuring presence in the bullpen. The team hopes that he might bring stability to a role that has represented an early-season vulnerability for the club.
“We know when Oki’s going well,” said Francona, “he can be a solid, reliable major league pitcher.”
|Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Patriots’ Day Live Blog||04.18.11 at 11:11 am ET|
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