|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.
MLB Network and NESN analyst Peter Gammons joined the Mut & Merloni Show on Wednesday to discuss the state of affairs with the Red Sox. He suggested that the issues with Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate may require some kind of change in the coming weeks, discussed Jed Lowrie‘s potential as an everyday shortstop and gave his view of where the Sox might find left-handed help for their bullpen.
He also discussed the Sox’ leadoff woes, which became pronounced while Carl Crawford was occupying that spot for eight games. Gammons suggested that the Sox never envisioned having Crawford hit leadoff, and that the situation was forced by the fact that Jacoby Ellsbury was not taking the approach needed to occupy the top spot in the order.
“I don’t think there was ever an intention to hit [Crawford] leadoff. Never did. I thought it was third or fifth,” said Gammons. “I think one of the things that’s killed them is that Jacoby Ellsbury has forgotten what his job is in baseball, which is to get on base and run. His four home runs, to me, are one of the worst things that’s happened to this team early in the season, because I think it’s encouraged him to get wider and wider with his swing.
“They need him hitting leadoff. They need him to get on base 37 percent of the time or 38 percent of the time. I think he’s kind of gotten away from that. I appreciate he didn’t play for a year, and I understand how difficult it is to come back, but I think that’s sort of been overlooked. The guy who’s supposed to hit leadoff isn’t getting on base.”
Ellsbury entered Wednesday’s game hitting .196 with a .281 OBP, .451 slugging mark and .732 OPS, along with a team-leading four homers. He has walked five times and struck out on 11 occasions in 57 plate appearances this year.
Gammons also suggested that the defensive struggles of Jarrod Saltalamacchia could soon reach critical mass. Given the questions about how often the 39-year-old Jason Varitek can catch while remaining healthy and productive, the Sox may be in a situation where they are left with few desirable alternatives if Saltalamacchia doesn’t improve behind the dish.
“The Saltalamacchia question is something that’s going to continue to be raised here. I know that [Sox manager Terry Francona] is trying to give him a breather, get him established again, but it’s a problem,” said Gammons. “You look around, though – where do they go to get someone else? Their doctors never would have passed Russell Martin (who signed with the Yankees as a free agent) last winter. They red-flagged him as soon as he became a free agent, as much as some of the people in their front office liked him.
“So the question is going to be, if they really feel that this is an issue, and not hitting, but the defensive part, the throwing, do you just go immediately to (Double-A catcher) [Tim] Federowicz, who’s the best catch-and-throw guy in the organization, and hope that he pulls a [Doug] Mirabelli, and just hits fastballs in the middle half of the plate into the screen once in a while? This is an issue that in the next two weeks is going to be addressed, and I don’t know which direction it’s going.”
Gammons expressed dismay that Saltalamacchia’s struggles have quickly become an issue for the Sox.
“He’s such a good guy. He cares so much. He tries so hard,” said Gammons. “[But] you just can’t have this on a championship team, especially when a big part of that championship team is built around power pitchers who are in a couple of cases struggling for their identity. I would be shocked now if Varitek doesn’t catch [Josh] Beckett all the time now. Clearly, they’ve made the decision that he’s going to catch [Daisuke] Matsuzaka, whose earned run average is massively different with Varitek catching. But I don’t think they can afford to let Jason go out and try to catch 120, 130 games.”
Yet while Saltalamacchia’s defense (and, for that matter, offense) have both been concerns, and the Sox don’t have a catcher who is clearly ready to assume an everyday major league role in their system, Gammons noted that there aren’t viable alternatives on the trade market. Read the rest of this entry »
|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 »
ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk, in his weekly interview on the Mut & Merloni Show, suggested that the Red Sox’ three-game winning streak against the Blue Jays gave up glimpse of what he expected from the club.
“Everyone wants to count them out after 10 games, but they’re too good,” said Kruk. “They’re too good to count them out at any time of the season.”
Even so, Kruk acknowledged that he does have some questions about the club, including the team’s catching situation.
Through the first 15 games of the season, Red Sox pitchers have a 2.40 ERA with Jason Varitek behind the plate and a 7.29 mark with Jarrod Saltalamacchia calling signals. Kruk suggested that he doesn’t think the disparity is a coincidence.
“[Josh] Beckett and Daisuke [Matsuzaka], their best starts of the year just happened to be with Varitek behind the plate? I don’t think so,” said Kruk. “First of all, the thing with Jarrod Saltalamacchia is this. He’s never established himself as an everyday catcher. All we heard about when he was in Atlanta was, ‘Oh, this guy is going to be the second coming of Johnny Bench – switch-hitter with power to both sides, he can call a game, he can throw.’ He’s never proven it. You wonder why a guy who was supposed to be this great has been with his third organization already at such a young age. There has to be something there where two other organizations felt this guy isn’t an everyday catcher, we can get by with someone else.
“To me, the thing that Varitek does back there with that pitching staff, they trust him. They know that when he puts a finger down, there’s a reason why he wants that pitch and they throw it,” Kruk added. “Saltalmacchia puts a finger down and they’re like, ‘Uh-oh, why does he want this?’ There’s questions. Everything is questioned with a catcher you don’t trust. You don’t have full faith in him because you haven’t spent a lot of time with him. Can he develop into that? I don’t know.”
At the same time, Kruk said that manager Terry Francona has a difficult decision about how to manage his catching situation, given that Varitek (at age 39) is at a stage of his career where his playing time needs to be limited.
“Francona has to be really smart with [Varitek],” said Kruk. “If he tries to throw him out there four, five days in a row, that could be devastating to the rest of his career.”
Kruk also expressed surprise that Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez appeared to be trying to pull the ball during the series against the Jays, rather than using his natural swing to drive the ball the other way. Even so, Kruk expected that Gonzalez would make an adjustment to achieve his typical results.
Carl Crawford was another matter. Read the rest of this entry »
|Dustin Pedroia ‘wills’ Red Sox to important win||04.11.11 at 1:13 am ET|
With the Red Sox offense spinning its wheels, Dustin Pedroia and Marco Scutaro were the two who jumpstarted the engine Sunday night in a 4-0 blanking of the Yankees at Fenway Park.
It’s not that the Red Sox ripped the cover off the ball. After all, they left an amazing 16 runners on base. But when it mattered this weekend, with the Red Sox desperately needing to take at least 2-of-3 to regain some momentum after an 0-6 start, it was Pedroia who really produced.
The 2008 AL MVP had three hits in each game, finishing 9-for-13 with four runs scored. The Red Sox improved to 2-7, four back of Baltimore in the AL East.
“The way I think about it, we’re four games out of first place with 153 to go,” Pedroia said. “That’s a long-ass way away. I’m not very smart, but it looks doable. What do you think? Arizona State education, it paid off.
“We’re just going to come out and play. In like the sixth inning, I was looking up at the [standings] board out there. We’re four games out now with 153 to go. That’s the reality of everything. Everybody knows what type of team we have. The expectations, everyone told us how good we were and we went to Texas and they punched us right in the mouth. We’ve go to respond to it. The best we can do is go out there and play.”
Scutaro reached base all four times and had the game’s biggest hit after his teammates failed time after time with runners in scoring position. Scutaro, who drove in two with a bases-loaded double in the seventh, couldn’t agree more with Pedroia’s read of the situation.
“It’s contagious,” Scutaro said. “When you hit, it gets contagious. When you get in a slump, it’s contagious, too. There’s too much talent on this team not to win a lot of games. Losing streaks, we’re going to have it sooner or later, maybe in the middle of the season. It’s 162 games. Unfortunately, we got it in the beginning so that kind of makes it look a little worse. We just got to pray to stay healthy. If we stay healthy, we’ll be fine.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Russell Martin: The Red Sox were ‘iffy’ on me||04.09.11 at 6:41 pm ET|
Russell Martin says he holds no grudges against the Red Sox.
But you certainly couldn’t prove it by the show he put on Saturday at Fenway Park, belting two homers to the Monster seats in left as part of a four-homer barrage that led the Yankees over the Red Sox, 9-4.
Martin afterward acknowledged the Red Sox tested the waters on the veteran catcher as a back-up but were scared off by the torn labrum in his right hip from last August – the same injury that slowed Mike Lowell over his last two seasons in Boston.
“The Red Sox, I think they were a little iffy with the injuries that I had and they weren’t too sure,” Martin said. “It was one of those injuries that hadn’t happened in baseball. The Yankees took the chance and hopefully, I’ll make it a good one for them.”
The Red Sox decided on keeping Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who has mirrored many in the Boston lineup with a slow start. Salty went 1-for-4 Saturday which actually raised his average to .182 in eight games as the first-string catcher.
The Yankees, on the other hand, were not as picky as the Red Sox and felt they needed a veteran presence behind the plate to finally take some of the load off Jorge Posada until prospect Jesus Montero is ready. Call Martin a “bridge” catcher.
“I hadn’t played since August,” Martin said. “I was injured but I did the right things to get back healthy and I feel fresh.
“My focus is just going out there and giving my best effort every day. With this lineup, you feel like you’re protected anywhere you hit, and that’s a little bit different than the last couple of years. I feel comfortable wherever I hit in the lineup and I’m just trying to put good swings on the ball.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Kevin Youkilis, Jason Varitek explain ‘weirdest play’ catcher has ever seen||04.06.11 at 11:55 pm ET|
CLEVELAND — Kevin Youkilis’ first thought was to drop the ball. After that, he expected some sort of chaos. Just not this kind of chaos.
To set the scene …
With nobody out and the bases loaded, reliever Dan Wheeler had been brought on to face Cleveland outfielder Michael Brantley. Hitting lefty, the Indians’ leadoff man shot a line-drive toward Youkilis at third base. The infielder’s first instinct was to execute a play that rarely works because of umpire’s discretion — drop the ball, catching the baserunner off guard, and then take advantage of the frozen baserunners to get multiple outs.
But as the ball approached, Youkilis discovered that the option of getting the final decision when it came to how the out was executed had gone out the window when the liner took an unexpected turn to the left.
“I was messing around with it in my head,” Youkilis said after the Red Sox’ 8-4 loss to the Indians. “It kind of went far. I was trying to go back and do it, but it worked a little too much. It got Tek a little off guard. We play around, not to trick … I never thought I’d be the guy to pull that off. At first I was like try to drop it. Then it was a little too far out of my range, so I tried to catch it, literally. But that was in the back of my head to try and drop it.”
Once the ball was on the ground, and the third base umpire Dan Iassogna ruled it was a legitimate drop, Youkilis scooped up his miscue, ran over and tagged third base for the force out and threw home. The problem was that catcher Jason Varitek didn’t see Youkilis tag the bag and subsequently failed to tag Travis Buck, who accounted for the hosts’ fourth run.
“I’m trying to figure out — it’s probably the weirdest play I’ve ever been part of,” Varitek said. “I’m trying to see and learn what I could have done different besides, obviously, tagging him, but I didn’t actually see the play.”
Youkilis said he never yelled to Varitek to tag the runner, and Wheeler explained that while he wanted to warn the backstop that that force play was off, he couldn’t get the words out in time. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez did manage to shout a warning, but was too far away for it to take effect.
“Yeah I was trying to yell, but heat of the moment, it’s hard for them to hear you,” Gonzalez said.
“Once the ball got out of my glove, I was like, that’s a double play, easily,” said Youkilis, who remembered Mike Lowell adeptly making the same sort of play from time to time. “That play will always work. As a runner, you’re going back to the base. At that time, it was a crazy play. A lot of times it works, most of the time the umps call it.”
Following the miscommunication, the flood gates opened as Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera launched a Wheeler sinker into the right field seats for a three-run homer, making it 7-2 Indians. It would be all the Tribe would need to hand the Red Sox’ their fifth loss in as many tries.
“We all know we’re in a hole, but the big thing is we’ve got 150-something games left,” Youkilis said. “This is a team that can get so hot, you roll of eight out of 10, you’re back over .500. I think that’s one thing we have to try to do. We can’t win this series, but we can salvage a ‘W’ tomorrow and go into the next series and try to win that series. It’s a long road. A lot of crazy stuff happens. You saw it tonight. This team’s going to be a good team. Once we start swinging the bats a lot better, you’ll see a lot more ‘W’s’ start coming up.”
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