|Mike Napoli on home run: ‘It felt good to do something like that’||08.15.13 at 2:39 am ET|
TORONTO – Mike Napoli’s day at Rogers Centre started with an early-afternoon meeting in John Farrell’s office with the Red Sox manager.
From there he would go from the batting cage, to meeting with the media, to a get-together with the hitting instructors, to computers for video work and finally into the somewhat unfamiliar seventh spot in the Sox’ lineup.
By the time Napoli stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning Wednesday night, the vibe hadn’t really changed all that much. He was 0-for-3, making him hitless in his last 15 at-bats with nine strikeouts during the stretch.
Then, out of nowhere, the script was flipped.
With the Red Sox down to their last out, trailing by a pair and Jonny Gomes at first via a walk, Napoli launched a Brett Cecil offering over the right field wall for his first home run since July 24.
By game’s end, he couldn’t be classified as a hero considering the Blue Jays pulled out a 4-3, 10-inning win. But considering the depths Napoli found himself earlier in the day, the turnaround was certainly noteworthy.
“Obviously, you’d like to win the game. But, I mean, it felt good to do something like that, to come through in that situation,” he said. “Obviously I’ve been struggling a little bit. I’m going to keep grinding. I got a pitch I could drive and put a swing on it.”
He added, “Today was, I mean, I got out a couple times, but I felt good about my approach and where I was at. Just get out here tomorrow and try to repeat it and do the same drills and try to stay comfortable.”
The moment wasn’t lost on Napoli’s teammates, either.
“Yeah, encouraging. Certainly what he’s been going through of late, to come up in a key spot to tie it down to the last out,” Farrell said. “You know, as we said before the game, he’s streaky. We know it. We have to ride it with him and he came up big in the moment.”
“A guy like him, we get him going, it just lengthens our lineup, so hopefully that puts him in a good frame of mind,” said the Red Sox’ starting pitcher Wednesday night, Jon Lester. “He’s pretty excited. Hopefully we can get him going. Once we do that, like I just said it lengthens our lineup, makes us that much stronger. So that was a good thing to see from him, especially going the other way with it.”
As for Napoli’s intentions for that ninth-inning at-bat, he admitted this wasn’t about simply blooping a base-hit.
“I’m trying to drive the ball to the gap somewhere, hit a double, get in scoring position,” he said. “I’m always up there trying to drive the ball. I’m not trying to really hit a single. You guys see me swing all the time. But yeah, I’m trying to drive the ball to the gaps.”
|Clay Buchholz calls bullpen session ‘the best day so far’||08.14.13 at 8:35 pm ET|
TORONTO — Clay Buchholz is getting closer.
The injured starting pitcher (bursa sac strain) threw another bullpen session, Wednesday, this one including approximately 50 pitches. Buchholz said he amped up the intensity to 80-85 percent with no issues, calling the workout “the best day so far.”
The session — which included all of Buchholz’ pitches, along with some breaks to simulate getting up and down during a game — will now be followed with one more bullpen session, Saturday, and then possibly a simulated game. The simulated game was thought to be the last step prior to making a minor league rehab outing.
“Since that was the most intense that I’ve done anything, just see if there’s any lingering soreness or anything. I don’t anticipate that,” he sad. “I think I’ll be fine for Saturday, probably throw a bullpen and probably do the same things that I did today, the up and downs, then try to see if we can do something facing hitters.”
Despite the progress, Buchholz still isn’t identifying any sort of timeline for a return.
“I’ve already tried that and it didn’t work out too well,” he said. “I’ll just let it happen when it happens.”
|Is Shane Victorino actually the best defensive right fielder in baseball?||08.14.13 at 12:15 pm ET|
TORONTO — Was John Farrell right?
When the manager uttered these words about Shane Victorino following the Red Sox’ 4-2, 11-inning win over the Blue Jays Tuesday night — “To me, defensively, he might be the best right fielder in baseball right now just because of his range and his ability to throw. He’s an intuitive player. He’s instinctual. He finds a way to make something happen based on the game situation that’s in front of him” — it raised some eyebrows.
The best defensive right fielder in baseball?
Maybe. But even Victorino thinks it can be better.
“I would say it’s one of better years, but I feel like I’ve played better defense in other years,” he said. “But I can’t complain.”
Certainly, what transpired in the Sox’ latest win did nothing to hurt Victorino’s cause. The outfielder adeptly gathered in Edwin Encarnacion’s single and fired a strike home to easily nail Jose Reyes at the plate.
If nothing else, it is certainly worth discussion.
Statistically, Victorino is among the best in the business. He carries the best range factor per nine innings of any right fielder, while possessing the fifth-best zone rating and the top ultimate zone rating (click here to see rankings) of any outfielder.
The first-year Red Sox also is one assist away from leading all major league outfielders, a part of his game that has surprised even Farrell.
“The one thing that we’ve seen throughout the course of the year is his ability to throw, which is, I think better than our anticipated reports on him,” the manager said.
Victorino believes people might be taking note of his arm partly due to a position change. Prior to this season, he had played 762 games in center field, 147 in right and 111 in left.
“It stands out a lot more because of the fact people see it more,” he explained. “I didn’t get as many opportunities in center field.”
Now he’s getting the opportunities, and making the most of them. But has that translated into becoming the best of the best among big league right fielders? He’s certainly in the thick of the conversation.
|In short time, Will Middlebrooks leaving powerful impression||08.14.13 at 3:37 am ET|
TORONTO — It’s only been three games, but when it comes to the return of Will Middlebrooks ... so far, so good.
After going 2-for-5 with a run in the Red Sox’ 4-2, 11-inning win over the Blue Jays Tuesday night at Rogers Centre, Middlebrooks is now hitting .417 (5-for-12). And, perhaps most important, the Red Sox have won two of the three games, improving the 24-year-old’s career win-loss mark to 75-56.
“He looks more relaxed, a little more confident,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell regarding Middlebrooks. “Makes a handful of good plays down at third base. I thought the first at-bat, the first time he’s probably faced [Toronto starter Todd] Redmond, who could be tough on some right-handers, but then he gets the double down the right-field line. A key basehit in that one inning, breaks up a double play. He played a solid game for us tonight.”
When told of Farrell’s analysis, Middlebrooks said, “Yeah, I guess. I’m not fighting my body anymore. I can just go out and play, and I don’t have to worry about making things worse or me not being able to make certain movements because I’m hurting. I don’t have to worry about that anymore. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
Middlebrooks identified the Mother’s Day collision with David Ross — in which the third baseman injured his ribs — as a time his fortunes took a turn for the worse. It was an uphill battle that only got steeper when his back ailment flared up.
“I’m in a much better place,” he said. “Like I said, I just don’t have to worry about, ‘Am I going to blow out here and be done?’ I can just go out and play free. I’ve got more fluid motion back and just was able to play my game.”
Besides pushing his physical issues aside, Middlebrooks also seems to have reentered the Red Sox clubhouse with a greater peace of mind.
“I mean, with this core group of veterans we have here, it’s pretty easy,” he said. “Granted, this is only my second year in the big leagues, but I’ve never been around a group of guys who come in and want to win this bad. I mean, we had three guys on an off-day here yesterday watching the game. How often is it you’re going to see that?”
|The thought process behind bringing Junichi Tazawa in for Ryan Dempster||08.14.13 at 12:31 am ET|
TORONTO – Within the Red Sox’ 4-2, 10-inning win over the Blue Jays Tuesday night, there could be found a controversial managerial decision.
With Ryan Dempster sitting at 88 pitches after seven innings – having just completed a 10-pitch seventh – Red Sox manager John Farrell chose to go to reliever Junichi Tazawa to start the eighth inning with the Sox clinging to a one-run lead.
Tazawa, the Red Sox’ regular eighth-inning in tight ballgames, had experienced little success in his previous six outings against the Blue Jays this season. The righty had allowed six earned runs in just 5 1/3 innings, including four home runs.
The end result wasn’t good for the Red Sox, with J.P. Arencibia depositing a 3-1 fastball over the left field for a game-tying home run.
“I checked the video and the pitch I made I thought I missed the location, but sequence that led up to that pitch is something I have to work on,” Tazawa said through a translator.
“I knew I had been struggling against this team and I was looking forward to payback. For some reason it didn’t work out that way. … I have to be more aggressive and do what I do best and I think that will take care of it.”
Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia agreed with the reliever in regard to second-guessing the pitch selection (five straight fastballs), as well as location.
“I think every team has a guy they face really well, that they see the ball well against,” the catcher said. “Taz seems to be the guy, so we have to see what we have to do to get them off his fastball. He got everyone else out. It was just a 3-2 heater that leaked out over the plate. We never really showed anything down and away. Every time we tried to go down there, we missed in. We have a guy who swings for some power, and he got a fastball over the plate.”
As for the decision to go away from Dempster in favor of Tazawa, Farrell explained part of the decision revolved around having more of a fastball pitcher go up against Arencibia.
“Well, it didn’t work out, obviously,” Farrell said. “We felt like with power, it’s a better matchup with J.P., who handles offspeed stuff very well. Like I said, in this case it didn’t work out.”
As for if Farrell had any hestitancy in going to Tazawa despite Toronto’s success against the reliever, the manger said, “No, no reluctance at all. He’s been such a good reliever for us late in the games. We know he’s not going to create situations that we can’t work around. He doesn’t walk people. He’s going to challenge guys. This is a good fastball-hitting team. If you don’t locate well, they have a chance to square you up and that was the case tonight.”
Farrell also surmised why the Blue Jays might have done so well against Tazawa.
“I think they look in one area to go to and they look to go down and away to get a fastball,” he said. “A couple of times they’ve gotten into some fastball counts and it hasn’t worked out well for them. To me, it’s more they understanding where his strengths are and looking to attack it.”
|Closing Time: Shane Victorino saves day for Red Sox in win over Blue Jays||08.13.13 at 10:46 pm ET|
TORONTO — It was a bit more taxing than the Red Sox would have preferred, but in the end they got their win.
With two outs in the 11th inning — with runners on second and third — Shane Victorino grounded a two-run single up the middle against Blue Jays reliever Aaron Loup, handing the Sox a 4-2 win over Toronto. Scoring on the decisive play were Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
The Red Sox are now four games up on Tampa Bay in the American League East, their biggest lead since July 7.
“I’m just trying to put the ball in play,” Victorino said. “Once I got down two strikes I was trying to get a ball I could handle. Fortunately I got a ball out over the middle of the plate and was able to put it through to center field and get the two ribbies.”
Heading into the eighth inning, it appeared as though the Red Sox had set things up in fine fashion, holding a one-run lead with reliever Junichi Tazawa on the mound. But Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia took Tazawa’s fifth pitch over the left field wall for the game-tying solo shot.
It continued Tazawa’s struggles against the Blue Jays this season, with the reliever having now allowed seven runs over seven innings in seven appearances.
Prior to Arencibia’s blast, it looked as though Dustin Pedroia would be playing hero. The Red Sox second baseman had singled in the go-ahead run during the visitors’ two-run seventh inning, scoring Ellsbury.
Pedroia, who is now hitting .500 (6-for-12, 3 walks) with runners in scoring position, followed up an RBI single from Ellsbury, scoring Will Middlebrooks. The Sox third baseman reached via his first extra-base hit since returning to the major-league lineup, a double into the right field corner.
A huge positive for the visitors was also the pitching performance of Ryan Dempster. The righty, who had allowed five or more runs in four of his last five starts, finished his seven innings giving up one run on four hits while throwing 88 pitches.
“I know I’m better than that,” said Dempster of his recent struggles. “Sometimes you hit those patches and those rough spots, but I was able to make an adjustment and be a little bit better tonight.”
Here is what went right (and wrong) for the Red Sox:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
- Salatlamacchia added to his career-high double total, ripping a two-bagger into the right field corner in the fifth inning. It was just the third hit of the game at the time for the Sox.
- Jonny Gomes once again proved to be productive as a pinch-hitter, this time walking to load the bases in the sixth inning against Blue Jays’ reliever Brett Cecil. He has now been on base in 12 of his 24 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter this season.
- Victorino threw an absolute strike to home on Edwin Encarnacion’s single to right in the sixth inning, nailing Jose Reyes (who chose not to slide or collide into catcher Saltalamacchia) for the frame’s final out.
“I knew the ball was hit hard. At first I kind of wondered if they were going to send him. The thought went through my mind, but I still had to come up and throw and make the best throw I could,” Victorino said. “Those kind of plays you always analyze the situation – with the ball hit hard are they going to send them here? It was kind of a tricky hop. It kind of short-hopped because it got out there quick. But it also gave me enough time to gather myself and not rush, so that helps.”
Regarding Victorino’s play in the field, Farrell said, “To me, defensively, he might be the best right fielder in baseball right now just because of his range and his ability to throw. He’s an intuitive player. He’s instinctual. He finds a way to make something happen based on the game situation that’s in front of him.”
- Koji Uehara recorded the final four outs for the Sox, picking up his 12th save in 15 chances. The righty has gone 15 straight outings without giving up a run, a 17 1/3-inning stretch in which hitters are managing just an .091 batting average.
WHAT WENT WRONG
- The Red Sox squandered a golden opportunity in the sixth inning, loading the bases with one out. But Mike Napoli — who had been 8-for-16 with 23 RBI with the bases full — was called out on a called third strike, paving the way for Stephen Drew’s inning-ending fly out to center.
- The Sox couldn’t solve Toronto rookie starter Todd Redmond. The righty left the game after not allowing a run, while giving up three hits, striking out five and walking one over 5 1/3 innings. Redmond was coming off a start against the Angels in which he allowed three runs on seven hits over 3 2/3 innings.
- The Jays struck first against Dempster and the Red Sox, with J.P. Arencibia singling in Brett Lawrie with one out in the fifth inning. Entering the frame, the Sox starter had allowed just one hit.
- Napoli continued his struggles, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts, leaving five men on base. The first baseman is 5-for-37 (.135) with 18 strikeouts this month. He is also 1-for-24 with men on base in August, striking out with the potential game-winning run at second base in the 10th inning. He leads the major leagues in runners left on base (134) since June 1.
|John Lackey, Red Sox can’t recover from slow start, drop series to Royals||08.11.13 at 5:09 pm ET|
The Royals jumped all over John Lackey early on, and James Shields held off the Red Sox long enough to hand Kansas City a 4-3 win over the Sox, Sunday at Kauffman Stadium.
Lackey, who was dealing with a sprained ankle suffered in his last outing, allowed runs in each of his first three innings. The flurry came after the Red Sox had initially jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first thanks to an errant pickoff attempt by catcher Salvador Perez.
After Alex Gordon’s third-inning solo homer in the third inning made it 4-1, Lackey settled down. The Red Sox’ starter finished his seven-inning outing giving up four runs on seven hits, throwing 111 pitches.
The Sox closed within a run in the sixth inning thanks to Ryan Lavarnway’s two-run single off Shields, scoring Daniel Nava and Stephen Drew. Drew and Lavarnway were the only two Red Sox with multiple-hit games.
Red Sox reliever Drake Britton escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the eighth inning by inducing a ground out to third off the bat of Alcides Escobar before striking out Jarrod Dyson
Shields earned his seventh win, going seven innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on seven hits.
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