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Closing Time: Pedroia, Red Sox pitchers fight back to claim win over Pirates 06.26.11 at 4:57 pm ET
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Left-hander Andrew Miller allowed just two runs (one earned) in six innings of work for the Sox on Sunday. (AP)

It wasn’t exactly an emphatic response, but ultimately, there is little question that Dustin Pedroia and the Red Sox were satisfied with the measure of revenge that they enacted in the series finale against the Pirates.

Pedroia became irked when Pirates starter James McDonald went up and in to him in three straight at-bats. The second baseman shouted at the pitcher, and Sox starter Andrew Miller appeared to try to settle accounts in the bottom of the sixth, when he fired a couple fastballs at the feet of catcher Eric Fryer en route to a walk (with Miller’s pitches resulting in warnings being issued to both benches).

But in the top of the seventh, Pedroia stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs in a 2-2 game. He bounced a run-scoring groundout to short up the middle, giving the Sox a 3-2 lead en route to a 4-2 victory to salvage the final contest of a three-game series in Pittsburgh.

With the win, the Sox — who lost in Pittsburgh on both Friday and Saturday nights — averted their first sweep at the hands of a National League team since they dropped a two-game set to the Phillies in 2003. The Sox, who typically use interleague play to pad their wins total, have now evened their record against the senior circuit at 6-6 this year.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Andrew Miller (1-0) continued to show promise in the Red Sox rotation, claiming his first victory with Boston and dropping his ERA in two outings to 3.09. In his second start since being called up to the majors, the 26-year-old tossed six innings, allowing just two runs (one earned) on five hits (all singles) while walking two, hitting a batter and striking out four for his first win in the Sox’ rotation.

For the second straight start, 65 percent of his pitches (74 of 114) were strikes. Notably, of his eight swings and misses, five came on fastballs, on a day when he averaged 92 mph and topped out at 95 mph.

–The Sox took advantage of terrible fielding by the Pirates, who committed a season-high four errors that resulted in three unearned runs. Even so, while the team had some productive outs (including a pair of sac flies and Pedroia’s run-scoring groundout), the Sox went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

–For all of the concerns about Pedroia’s foot entering the season, it is notable that he is stealing bases as never before. He swiped second in the first inning, giving him 15 steals (in 17 attempts) on the season. He is on pace for 32 steals, a mark that would shatter his previous career high of 20 (achieved in both 2008 and 2009).

Adrian Gonzalez notched two singles, giving him 36 multi-hit games this year. He is on pace for 76 games with at least two hits this year, giving him a chance to break the mark of 72 multi-hit games by Wade Boggs in 1985 that represents the most by a member of the Red Sox since at least 1919.

Jonathan Papelbon, pitching for the third time in 16 days and first time in five days, looked a bit rusty when he took the mound for the ninth inning, walking the first batter he faced (Ronny Cedeno) on four pitches. However, he recovered quickly, punching out Fryer on seven pitches (all fastballs, the last a 96 mph offering) en route to his 14th save of the year and first since June 16. His scoreless ninth concluded three innings of hitless relief by the Boston bullpen, following perfect frames by Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–The Red Sox’ defense struggled. Josh Reddick misplayed a fly ball into an error, and a bad hop prevented Marco Scutaro from fielding a potential double-play grounder. The error resulted in an unearned run charged to Andrew Miller. Later, Kevin Youkilis couldn’t convert a pair of tough plays in the sixth, as his throw to first on what appeared to be a sac bunt attempt by Chase d’Arnaud was late, resulting in a single, and he also failed to glove a smash single off his glove by Andrew McCutchen.

Darnell McDonald continues to make little impact. After entering the game as a replacement for injured right fielder J.D. Drew, McDonald went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. The punchout came with runners on first and second and two outs in the third, and McDonald later popped out with runners on second and third with two outs and ended the ninth with a two-out, bases-loaded groundout, dropping to 1-for-20 with seven strikeouts with runners in scoring position and two outs, dating to last year.

McDonald did reach on an error when his cousin, Pirates starter James McDonald, threw away a comebacker (a misplay that helped the Sox to score their second run of the game), but he was cut down trying to steal to end the sixth inning.

J.D. Drew had to leave Sunday’s game in the second inning due to a left eye contusion. The right fielder had a foul ball bounce off his eye during batting practice. Initially, he remained in the lineup, but after striking out in his only at-bat, he left the game.

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Sunday’s Red Sox-Pirates matchups: Andrew Miller vs. James McDonald at 1:00 am ET
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Andrew Miller

The Red Sox and their fans will get a second look at Andrew Miller since his call-up to the big club when the lefty takes the hill Sunday afternoon against the Pirates and their starter James McDonald.

Miller (0-0, 4.76 ERA) looked good but not spectacular in his first start for Boston last Monday in a 14-5 win over San Diego. Through the first five frames of the contest, the 26-year-old didn’t allow a single run before offering a meatball that was crushed by Orlando Hudson for a three-run bomb into the Monster seats. When Anthony Rizzo smashed a double to the 420-foot mark in center that would’ve been a homer in any other park, Red Sox manager Terry Francona yanked Miller one out before he would have been credited with a quality win. In addition to the three earned runs, Miller also allowed seven hits and three walks while striking out six. The former sixth-overall draft pick posted a 3-3 record for Triple-A Pawtucket to go with a 2.47 ERA and 61 strikeouts over 65 2/3 innings.

The Pirates as a team haven’t had much experience against Miller, who has bounced up and down between the majors and minors since being seen as the best pitcher in the 2007 draft. Pittsburgh outfielder Matt Diaz is the only player with more than three plate appearances against the lefty with 15, dating back to the pair’s time in the NL East (Diaz with Atlanta, Miller with Florida). Diaz, who has yet to knock one of the park this season, is 4-for-13 with a home run and .938 OPS against Miller.

McDonald (5-4, 4.86 ERA) has had a lot more experience at the major-league level this season than his Sunday counterpart as he will make his 16th start of 2011. The right-hander has performed well as of late with 3-1 record and 3.46 ERA over his last seven starts. That being said, he has proven to be hittable over that time with a .295 batting average-against. Before any Red Sox fan or member of the organization gets too excited about that last stat, consider the 26-year-old’s home-away splits. On the road, McDonald has not pitched well at all, going 3-3 with a 6.25 ERA, but at the friendly (and beautiful) confines of PNC Park, he is 2-1 and has seen his ERA nearly cut in half at 3.43.

Most of the Red Sox lineup, including of course Miller himself, will be taking their first cuts against McDonald. Only Adrian Gonzalez (3-for-5, walk) and Mike Cameron (0-for-2) have faced McDonald. Interestingly enough, Darnell McDonald has never faced his cousin – Darnell and James’s fathers are brothers – in the majors but no word as of yet about how any backyard battles played out during family gatherings. Read the rest of this entry »

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Terry Francona on The Big Show: Unsure about Adrian Gonzalez in outfield 06.21.11 at 4:16 pm ET
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When the Red Sox finish up their three-game series with the Padres on Wednesday, they will head to Pittsburgh to begin nine straight games against National League opponents. That’s an obvious dilemma for manager Terry Francona, who has to figure out a way to get David Ortiz in the lineup.

One scenario involves moving first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to right field, but Francona said on his weekly interview with WEEI’s Big Show that there is still much to be considered. Click here to listen to the whole interview.

“David is certainly not going to play nine games,” Francona said. “Gonzie has talked to us and we’ve gone back and forth with him about possibly going to right field. I don’t know how I feel about that. I’m a little bit confused. If we ever send him out there and something bad happens — and by that I don’t meaning a bad play. Do you move JD [Drew]  to left field for a couple of days. He’s never done that. I don’t know. That’s the best answer I can give you. We have a day off before we go to Pittsburgh. There’s a lot of things we need to talk about and then we’ll figure it out. There’s some anxiety. Just being truthful.”

This is a different scenario for Francona than in past years when he could mix and match Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and Ortiz and third and first base. Also, the games in National League parks are consecutive.

“We have nine in a row in the National League. That hasn’t been the case since I’ve been here,” Francona said. “So again it’s going to be something we’ll have to deal with. I’m not excited about it. It puts at a real disadvantage, not just competitively but in keeping David sharp.”

Here’s the rest of the transcript from Francona’s appearance: Read the rest of this entry »

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Andrew Miller offers Sox a ‘very encouraging’ first glimpse at 12:12 am ET
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Left-hander Andrew Miller struck out six and allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings in his Red Sox debut. (AP)

It would, of course, be silly to jump to conclusions based on a pitcher’s first major league outing of the season. As if to emphasize that point, Andrew Miller received a no-decision in the Sox’ 13-4 victory over the Padres that prevented any runaway proclamations about his night or his future.

Even so, his performance was not short on intrigue. The left-hander is one of the more fascinating Red Sox experiments in some time — a pitcher with incredible natural gifts, a poor track record, a history of mechanical inconsistency and a run of recent dominance in the minor leagues.

The Red Sox have had plenty of buy-low candidates making appearances on their roster in recent years – players like John Smoltz, Rocco Baldelli, Brad Penny and Jeremy Hermida come to mind – but none with quite the combination of stuff and singularly disappointing track record of Miller.

And so, even as the Sox continued their offensive rampage of the past month – scoring 10 or more runs for the ninth time in 29 games – it was Miller whose no-decision was in many ways provided the night’s most intriguing storyline. That was true not just of Sox officials and spectators, but also of the pitcher himself, who conceded that he felt “probably quite a bit” of pressure in the build-up to the outing. Read the rest of this entry »

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Closing Time: Gonzalez delivers in reunion with Padres as Sox win, 14-5 06.20.11 at 10:52 pm ET
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Apparently, there is nothing that can faze Adrian Gonzalez, a first baseman whose kryptonite has yet to be discovered since he came to Boston. Many newcomers to the Sox require an adjustment period during which they get used to the intensity of their new home environment.

Gonzalez?

“[Expletive] no,” manager Terry Francona before Monday’s game. “He’s hitting .350 with RBIs all over the place. No. He’s a pretty confident guy. He should be. If I could hit like that, I’d be confident too. No, he’s been really good. He’s enjoyed the intensity of playing here. I think that’s what we certainly hope when we get players. Honestly, that’s not always the case. This is a little bit different place to play.”

“[But] I think everybody thought [Gonzalez] was really going to enjoy it here. And again, with the lineup around him, I think everybody thought he would really flourish, which you’re seeing.”

That continued on Monday, in a contest when it would have been understandable if it was challenging for Gonzalez to play with his emotions under control. he was, after all, facing the Padres for the first time since they traded him to the Red Sox this winter.

The result? Gonzalez went 3-for-5 and drove in three runs, including the go-ahead tally in the bottom of the seventh, in the Red Sox’ 14-5 victory over San Diego. He is now hitting .353 for the season with 67 RBI, a pace that would yield 151 for the season, as well as 43 extra-base hits — a pace that would result in 96 multi-base knocks on the year, which would surpass the Red Sox record of 92 set by Jimmie Foxx in 1938.

On a night when he was reunited with many former teammates, Gonzalez was everything that the Padres expected him to be and that the Red Sox hoped he would be when they enacted their winter blockbuster.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Andrew Miller received a no-decision, but offered more than a few glimpses of promise. He carried a shutout through five innings before faltering in the sixth, when he gave up a three-run homer to Orlando Hudson, and finished his night having permitted three runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings.

His command — always the central area of conversation with Miller — left the Sox with little room for complaint. Though he walked three batters, he threw 58 of 89 pitches for strikes — a 65 percent rate that was slightly better than the major league average of 63 percent. He also showed swing-and-miss stuff, getting nine empty waves (five on sliders, two on fastballs, two on changeups) while getting seven groundball outs.

–The Red Sox continued to ransack opposing starters, knocking out Wade LeBlanc with the bases loaded and no outs in the fourth inning. The contest marked the 11th time in 2011 that a starter pitcher has pitched three or fewer innings against the Sox, far and away the most times any team in the majors has sent starters to the showers that early. Indeed, entering Monday, the Yankee and Phillies were tied for second in the category, having knocked out starters in three or fewer innings on six occasions.

David Ortiz continued his tremendous campaign with a pair of run-scoring hits.

His first-inning, RBI single represented one of the more impressive plate appearances of the slugger’s career. After falling behind the left-handed LeBlanc, 0-2, Ortiz took a pair of pitches off the plate, fouled off two more pitches and then took a curveball that appeared to catch the edge of the strike zone but was ruled a ball. He then fouled off six straight full-count offerings before waiting back on a changeup and rifling it to left-center to plate the first Sox run of the night. The 14-pitch at-bat was the longest of Ortiz’ career; he’d had three 12-pitch plate appearances, most recently in 2009.

–The Red Sox manufactured a pair of runs with consecutive bases-loaded HBPs, one by Marco Scutaro, the next by Jason Varitek. It marked the first time that a team had back-to-back RBI plunkings since the 2008 Giants accomplished the feat.

Josh Reddick drove in his first runs as a pinch-hitter, jumping on an 0-1 pitch for a two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single. He had been 1-for-11 in the role.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–The outfield tandem of Darnell McDonald and Mike Cameron continue to offer the Sox little production. McDonald went hitless with two strikeouts in three plate appearances; he is 1-for-14 (.071) since coming off the DL, and is now hitting .114 with a .384 OPS for the season. Cameron was 0-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout, and he’s now hitting .153 with a .503 OPS.

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Monday’s Red Sox-Padres matchups: Andrew Miller vs. Wade LeBlanc at 9:54 am ET
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Andrew Miller

Interleague play for the Red Sox continues Monday night when the Padres come to Fenway for a three-game series. The Padres last visited in 2004, when the Red Sox took two out of three. The Red Sox also took two out of three at San Diego in 2007. The Red Sox won the World Series both those years, so perhaps the Padres’ arrival bodes well for Boston’s postseason chances.

With Clay Buchholz on the DL, the Red Sox are turning to Pawtucket call-up Andrew Miller. In 12 minor league starts this season, Miller was 3-3 with a 2.41 ERA. Although he has just a 1.74 BB/K ratio in 65 2/3 innings, he has only given up two home runs. Miller’s last major league start was a Sept. 29 loss to the Braves while with the Marlins, giving up four runs in just three innings.

Miller will face another pitcher that has bounced between the majors and the minors throughout his career in Wade LeBlanc. LeBlanc was called up from Triple-A Tuscon on June 14 and will make his third start of the season when he faces the Red Sox. In 11 minor league starts this season, LeBlanc is 5-1 with 5.24 ERA. The Red Sox may have some luck with the long ball against him, as he has given up eight home runs in 68 2/3 minor league innings. Miller lost both of his previous major league starts this season, walking more batters than he struck out while allowing six earned runs in 12 2/3 combined innings.

Miller has made two major league starts against the Padres, going 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA and a .250 batting average against. Shortstop Jason Bartlett has had the most success against Miller, batting 4-for-9 with two doubles. Third baseman Chase Headley has two hits and three RBIs in three plate appearances.

The Red Sox will have to learn LeBlanc on the fly Monday, because no player has faced him before.

Padres vs. Miller

Jason Bartlett (9 plate appearances): .444 BA/.444 OBP/.667 SLG, two doubles, two RBIs

Ryan Ludwick (7): .286/.286/.429

In three plate appearances, Brad Hawpe is 0-for-1 with two walks

In three plate appearances, Chase Headley has two hits, including a double, and has driven in three.

Nick Hundley is 0-for-1 with a walk in two appearances.

Chris Denorfia, Alberto Gonzalez, Jesus Guzman, Rob Johnson, Cameron Maybin and Will Venable have never faced Miller.

Red Sox vs. LeBlanc

No Red Sox player has a major league plate appearance against LeBlanc.

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Clay Buchholz makes it a Red Sox weekend trifecta on the DL 06.19.11 at 2:30 pm ET
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Clay Buchholz

Andrew Miller is about to get his big shot with the Red Sox. And the Red Sox might just find out how smart they were to take a chance on him in the winter.

Clay Buchholz joined Jed Lowrie and Carl Crawford on the 15-day disabled list on Sunday as the Red Sox placed the right-handed starter on shelf with lower back strain. He is the third Red Sox player to land on the DL in as many days.

Taking his spot on the staff is lefty Miller, who will take Buchholz’s place in the rotation and will start Monday in series-opener against the Padres. Miller was selected from Triple-A Pawtucket and added to the 40-man roster while the move with Buchholz is retroactive to June 17.

The 26-year-old Buchholz is 6-3 with a 3.48 ERA, allowing 76 hits with 60 strikeouts and 31 walks in 14 starts. He is undefeated in nine straight starts since the beginning of May, compiling a 5-0 record with a 2.59 ERA in that span. Since the start of the 2010 season, Buchholz ranks third among qualifying American League pitchers in both ERA (2.70) and winning percentage (.697).

For Miller, this is his first career stint with the Red Sox after signing with the club as a minor league free agent last December. The 26-year-old left-hander is 3-3 with a 2.47 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 35 walks over 13 appearances (12 starts) with Pawtucket this season, including a 2-1 mark with a 1.78 ERA in his last four outings (three starts) since May 29.

Few pitchers in baseball had higher expectations in the 2006 MLB draft.

Originally signed by the Tigers with the sixth overall selection in the first round of the 2006 draft, Miller struggled out of the gate with the Tigers, going just 15-26 with a 5.84 ERA.

In 294 1/3 innings, he allowed 191 earned runs, while striking out 238 and issuing 174 walks over 79 career Major League games. After struggling with the Tigers, he moved onto the Marlins before 2008 and signing his minor league deal with the Red Sox last December.

Miller has sparkled in Triple-A, leading all qualifying pitchers with a .181 opponent average this season and ranks fourth among that group in ERA.

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