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Sunday’s Red Sox-Royals matchups: John Lackey vs. James Shields 08.11.13 at 8:47 am ET
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John Lackey

John Lackey

The Red Sox-Royals contest Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, the finale of a four-game weekend set, features a pair of starters in the form of right-handers John Lackey and James Shields who probably could empathize with each other. They both have had strong seasons — Lackey owning a 3.21 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, Shields 3.36 and 1.27 marks — but don’t exactly get the offensive support they might appreciate.

The Red Sox average 3.33 runs in games Lackey starts, while the Royals put up 4.03 in games Shields pitches.

There was no greater example of that than Lackey’s most recent start, Monday’s 2-0 loss to the lowly Astros. Lackey tossed six innings of two-run ball while mostly scattering eight hits and two walks and striking out 10, his second-highest total all season.

The team survived a bit of a scare in the second when Lackey rolled his ankle fielding a slow bouncer off the bat of Matt Dominguez, who was out at first on the play. Lackey shook it off and went on to pitch four more solid innings, only to take the tough-luck loss after throwing 113 pitches.

“John had very good stuff, got some key strikeouts when he needed to,” manager John Farrell said to the media afterward. “Obviously when a guy goes down making a play, you’ve got immediate concern. We continued to monitor it closely every pitch he threw, every inning he went through. There’s no question he pitches with a lot of heart. He never wants to come out of a game. Unfortunately, he pitches on a day we come up on the short end.”

Overall, Lackey arguably has been the Red Sox’ best starter throughout 2013, but he has seen a dip in his effectiveness since he last won a game July 12. In four starts since, he has an ERA nearing five while allowing opponents a .330 average and .851 OPS, raising his season ERA from 2.78 to 3.21.

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Saturday’s Red Sox-Royals matchups: Clay Buchholz vs. James Shields 04.20.13 at 11:12 am ET
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Clay Buchholz

Following Friday’s postponement due to the Boston Marathon bombing suspect manhunt, the Red Sox will open up a 10-game homestand Saturday, facing a very familiar pitcher in Royals right-hander James Shields. Clay Buchholz will try to continue his remarkable start to the 2013 season in the Sox’ first game in front of the Fenway faithful since the horrific Boston Marathon bombings on Monday afternoon.

Through three starts this season, Buchholz is 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA and has only allowed 11 hits in 22 innings. On Sunday, Buchholz went eight shutout innings, allowing only two hits and four walks while striking out a career-high 11 batters, in a 5-0 win over the Rays. The right-hander’s no-hit bid was broken up by a Kelly Johnson single in the eighth inning.

“It’s fun to go out and pitch when you have all your pitches working,” Buchholz said. “It doesn’t happen every day. Probably five times a season for a starting pitcher.”

Buchholz is 3-1 with a 2.19 ERA in his career vs. the Royals. In 24 2/3 career innings, he has 17 strikeouts. The Sox have won the first game in each of their first five series this young season and will look to continue the impressive streak Saturday.

Shields enters Saturday’s start at 1-2 with a 3.43 ERA. He has allowed 20 hits and just three walks in 21 innings while striking out 20. Shields, along with Wade Davis, was traded from the Rays to the Royals during the offseason in exchange for highly touted prospect Wil Myers and others.

The Royals enter Saturday’s game at 8-6. They have gone 4-4 on the road. In Shields’ most recent start, he pitched a complete game against the Blue Jays, allowing thee runs on two hits, one of them a two-run home run to Jose Bautista. That hit proved costly, as the Royals fell 3-2.

“He pitched a great ball game,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He threw 115 pitches, and if he could take one back, it would probably be the curveball to Bautista. He just got it up a little bit, and he’s one of the strongest guys in the league and he ended up hitting a two-run homer off it.”

During his time with the Rays, Shields had a very tough time against the Sox at Fenway, going 2-9 with a 5.86 ERA in 11 career starts. Dustin Pedroia has had the most success against Shields, with 16 hits, including two home runs. The only Royals hitter with any kind of success against Buchholz is Alex Gordon, who has three hits and a home run in four at-bats.

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Friday’s Red Sox-Royals matchups: Clay Buchholz vs. James Shields 04.19.13 at 10:09 am ET
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Clay Buchholz

The Red Sox will open up a 10-game homestand Friday, facing a very familiar pitcher in Royals right-hander James Shields. Clay Buchholz will try to continue his remarkable start to the 2013 season in the Sox’ first game in front of the Fenway faithful since the horrific Boston Marathon bombings on Monday afternoon.

Through three starts this season, Buchholz is 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA and has only allowed 11 hits in 22 innings. On Sunday, Buchholz went eight shutout innings, allowing only two hits and four walks while striking out a career-high 11 batters, in a 5-0 win over the Rays. The right-hander’s no-hit bid was broken up by a Kelly Johnson single in the eighth inning.

“It’s fun to go out and pitch when you have all your pitches working,” Buchholz said. “It doesn’t happen every day. Probably five times a season for a starting pitcher.”

Buchholz is 3-1 with a 2.19 ERA in his career vs. the Royals. In 24 2/3 career innings, he has 17 strikeouts. The Sox have won the first game in each of their first five series this young season and will look to continue the impressive streak Friday.

Shields enters Friday’s start at 1-2 with a 3.43 ERA. He has allowed 20 hits and just three walks in 21 innings while striking out 20. Shields, along with Wade Davis, was traded from the Rays to the Royals during the offseason in exchange for highly touted prospect Wil Myers and others.

The Royals enter Friday’s game at 8-6. They have gone 4-4 on the road. In Shields’ most recent start, he pitched a complete game against the Blue Jays, allowing thee runs on two hits, one of them a two-run home run to Jose Bautista. That hit proved costly, as the Royals fell 3-2.

“He pitched a great ball game,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He threw 115 pitches, and if he could take one back, it would probably be the curveball to Bautista. He just got it up a little bit, and he’s one of the strongest guys in the league and he ended up hitting a two-run homer off it.”

During his time with the Rays, Shields had a very tough time against the Sox at Fenway, going 2-9 with a 5.86 ERA in 11 career starts. Dustin Pedroia has had the most success against Shields, with 16 hits, including two home runs. The only Royals hitter with any kind of success against Buchholz is Alex Gordon, who has three hits and a home run in four at-bats.

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Right pitcher at the right price: Why Ryan Dempster was a good fit for the Red Sox 12.13.12 at 12:01 pm ET
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Ryan Dempster

The Red Sox entered the offseason in need of at least one additional starter. But while sifting through options, sticker shock — whether in prospects or dollars/years — seemed a likely outcome.

That being the case, the Sox ended up pleasantly surprised to add right-hander Ryan Dempster — one of the more reliable pitchers on the market, and one who won’t cost the team a draft pick — for just two years, albeit on a top-of-the-market rate of $26.5 million ($13.25 million per year). The deal (first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and confirmed by multiple industry sources) does not include any options.

At 35, Dempster represents something of a risk as he’s at a stage in his career when performance decline and/or diminished durability become concerns. Even so, the fact that he was open to a two-year deal and didn’t require a draft pick moved Dempster to the front of the line in terms of the pitchers whom the Sox wanted.

After all, Zack Greinke was clearly going to cost more in dollars and years than the team would consider a reasonable investment, particularly given that he never expressed any enthusiasm for Boston. The team might have been interested in Anibal Sanchez — the 28-year-old Tigers right-hander who, because he was traded in the middle of the 2012 season, could not receive a one-year qualifying offer from Detroit and thus would not cost a draft pick — but upon making the determination that he would get more than four years, the team’s enthusiasm for him vanished, particularly given that he has never delivered as many as 200 innings in a season and that his 3.72 ERA over the last four years was in no small part a product of playing in a tremendous pitcher’s park. Kyle Lohse will probably receive more than two years, and he’ll cost the team that signs him a draft pick. Edwin Jackson will likely command more than two years; at the least, if he’s going to settle for a one- or two-year deal, it won’t be until late in the offseason that he’d sign, so the team would run the risk of being shut out of a promising short-term deal if it passed on Dempster.

An industry source said last week that the Red Sox have expressed interest in the veteran, who was 12-8 with a 3.38 ERA in 173 innings in 2012 with the Cubs and Rangers, though he went 7-3 with a 5.09 ERA after Texas acquired him at the trade deadline. Though 35, Dempster has been durable with a strong track record since moving from the bullpen to the rotation with the Cubs in 2008. Over the last five years, he’s averaged 199 innings a year (2012, in fact, was the first time in that span during which he’d failed to log 200 innings) with a 65-49 record and 3.74 ERA.

Dempster is 3-1 with a 4.02 ERA in his career against the Sox, including 2-0 with 13 2/3 shutout innings in two starts against Boston (one while with the Cubs, another with the Rangers) last year. He was also dominant in a start against Baltimore last year, allowing one run in eight innings en route to a victory, but got hammered by the Yankees for eight runs in six innings in a loss. In five career starts in New York, he’s 0-4 with a 7.62 ERA, though given that three of those starts took place more than a decade ago, it’s fair to ask the degree to which that career line is salient.

Even so, there are questions about how Dempster will fare in his transition from the National League to the AL, particularly given that his ERA more than doubled, from 2.25 with the Cubs to 5.09 with the Rangers, after he relocated at the trade deadline.

One major league source suggested that the Sox should — and likely do — have “modest expectations” for the veteran, describing him as the best option available on a relatively short-term deal that permits the team to minimize risk, rather than a true impact starter who can transform a rotation.

“He’ll carve up weaker lineups and will be a positive clubhouse guy,” said the source. “[But it's] hard to expect much against the deeper lineups and I don’t think [the Sox] do.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Hot Stove: Royals manager Ned Yost on Wil Myers rumors and KC’s pursuit of a starter 12.03.12 at 5:45 pm ET
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Royals manager Ned Yost suggested that outfielder Wil Myers — Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2012 after hitting 37 homers in Double-A and Triple-A as a 21-year-old — reminds him of a young Dale Murphy, the former Braves center fielder and two-time NL MVP. He suggested that like Murphy, Myers has 30-plus homer potential. Kansas City plans to let him compete for an everyday job in spring training.

That said, in the aftermath of reports (including from WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford) last week that had the Royals considering trade proposals that would send Myers elsewhere for a front-of-the-rotation starter such as Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester or Tampa Bay’s James Shields, Yost also acknowledged that the Royals are open to the possibility of trading top prospects for a pitcher who can anchor their starting staff.

“Absolutely,” Yost said of the possibility of trading a top prospect for a starter. “But I can give you like nine more scenarios. … We’re looking at all of our options. We feel like we’re really close to being able to compete, and we’re looking at every option that we can. [Royals GM Dayton Moore has] worked really hard over the last five years to fill our minor league system with tremendous prospects that we can use for situations like this. We’re looking at a bunch of different options. One may work out; none may work out. We’re just going to do what’s best for our organization.

“Starting pitching, can’t have enough of it,” he added. “I’d like to have as much as I can get. But at what cost? That’s important to me.”

For now, Yost said, he felt no need to talk to Myers about his spot in the rumor mill.

“We’re talking about stuff, just like all organizations are, we’ve been locked up in our room, going over 90 different scenarios with 40 different players,” said Yost. “They’re just rumors right now.”

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Trade Deadline: Dodgers, Rangers reportedly join Angels in hunt for Rays P James Shields 07.26.12 at 1:05 pm ET
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James Shields

The Angels’ AL West-rival Rangers as well as their crosstown-rival Dodgers have joined the trade talks for Rays starting pitcher James Shields, according to CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman.

Heyman said that all three teams have proposed trades to the Rays, but Tampa Bay is looking for a more enticing offer. He also reported that the Angels discussed a package including young center fielder Peter Bourjos, who hasn’t played much because of the emergence of sensational rookie Mike Trout.

According to Heyman, the Rangers also are interested in Zack Greinke and Josh Johnson, while the Dodgers remain high on Ryan Dempster and possibly Matt Garza as well.

Shields, 30, has a $9 million team option for 2013 and a $12 million team option for 2014. He’s 8-6 with a 4.39 ERA this season.

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Sunday’s Red Sox-Rays matchups: Josh Beckett vs. James Shields 07.15.12 at 7:27 am ET
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Josh Beckett

On Sunday afternoon the Red Sox look to begin shaking off their first-half mediocrity with a series win over division rival Tampa Bay.

This year, just as last, Josh Beckett‘s first post-All-Star break start comes against the Rays. However, that’s where the similarities to 2011 end. Last season, Beckett entered the All-Star break with an 8-3 record and a 2.27 ERA while the Sox already had recorded 55 wins, putting them 20 games over .500.

This year, Beckett limped into the break at just 4-7, with an ERA of 4.43. In his last outing, on July 6, the big righty was roughed up by the by the Yankees, giving up six runs on eight hits over just five innings.

If history is any indication of what to expect from Beckett in the second half, there is good news and bad for Sox fans. Let’s start with the bad: Over the last three seasons, the 32-year-old has been significantly worse post-All-Star break, as his ERA jumps nearly a full run, from 3.57 to 4.41, while opponent batting average spikes from .227 to .263.

The good news is that Beckett has pitched quite well at Tropicana Field. Over the last three seasons, Beckett is 1-1 with a 3.58 ERA in four games in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the Rays are hitting a measly .184. His ratio of 29 strikeouts to three walks in those games is also among his best at any park.

Also good news for Beckett and the Sox: Tampa Bay has one of the worst offenses in the league, and against Beckett the Rays are even worse. In 223 plate appearances, this edition of the Rays is hitting just .213 with 44 hits and 55 strikeouts. One exception is Luke Scott, who has 11 hits in 27 at-bats (.407), including three home runs, along with eight RBIs and five walks.

Starting opposite Beckett is James Shields. The 30-year-old righty has an impressive 8-5 record, but his ERA has climbed to 4.17 while the Rays are just 3-5 in his last eight starts.

Shields throws a fastball, changeup, curveball and slider and relies heavily on his offspeed pitches. In fact, Shields throws his fastball just 43 percent of the time, which makes some sense given opponents are hitting .316 against it.

In the 13 games he’s played against Boston over the last three years, Shields is 5-8 with a 4.33 ERA. Boston’s current lineup is hitting a collective .270 in 225 plate appearances, with eight home runs and 30 RBIs. Half of those RBIs come from David Ortiz, whose 15 hits include nine doubles and three home runs.

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