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Peter Gammons on M&M: ‘Jacoby Ellsbury has forgotten what his job is’ 04.20.11 at 4:42 pm ET
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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 »

Read More: Bengie Molina, Jacoby Ellsbury, jarrod saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek
Francona: Sox are trying to play Jason Varitek as Saltalamacchia tries ‘to earn those stripes’ 04.19.11 at 3:15 pm ET
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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 »

Read More: jarrod saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, marco scutaro
John Kruk on M&M: Carl Crawford ‘thinks he’s the worst player in baseball’ at 12:59 pm ET
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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 »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, carl crawford, jarrod saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek
For Scutaro, playing time takes a back seat to winning 04.18.11 at 4:01 pm ET
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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.

For complete Red Sox coverage, visit weei.com/redsox.

Read More: Jed Lowrie, marco scutaro,
Closing Time: Red Sox 9, Blue Jays 1 at 1:56 pm ET
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On Sunday, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia offered quite a boast for a Red Sox team that had just managed to win its fourth game (out of 14) in 2011.

“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 »

Read More: carl crawford, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie
Patriots’ Day notes: J.D. Drew is atop the order at 11:03 am ET
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Gut morgen! (Nothing says Patriots’ Day like a hearty German greeting.)

A bleary-eyed group of Red Sox players made their way into the clubhouse very, very early this morning. J.D. Drew might have had to rub his eyes a couple of times to verify that he was indeed the leadoff hitter against the Blue Jays and Ricky Romero. Drew has enjoyed tremendous success in his career against Romero (.450 average, .560 OBP in 26 plate appearances), and the Sox felt that his general approach at the plate — see a lot of pitches, don’t expand the strike zone — made him a good candidate to helm the top of the batting order, at least against Romero.

Carl Crawford, meanwhile, moves down to the seventh spot in the lineup. His average is now down to .127 for the season (second-worst in the majors), and he’s 2-for-14 (.143) in his career against Romero. Manager Terry Francona reiterated his sense that the Sox “are going to like Carl wherever he hits,” but that right now, in the interests of balancing matchups and structuring the lineup in a way that didn’t fill the entire bottom of the order with left-handed hitters. Francona also considered other alternatives, including Jed Lowrie, but felt that Drew was the most sensible option.

Drew has not put up good numbers in the leadoff spot in his career (.229 with a .336 OBP and .727 OPS), but Francona suggested that in some respects, those numbers miss the point about Drew, who has averaged 4.01 pitches per plate appearance in 346 career plate appearances from the leadoff spot. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: carl crawford, J.D Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie
Francona on Crawford: ‘He’s going to be a huge part of our offense’ 04.17.11 at 1:19 pm ET
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It was virtually certain that Carl Crawford was going to return to the Red Sox lineup on Sunday, after sitting on Saturday. But it was less clear where he would return.

Crawford is hitting .137 with a .342 OPS this year; as a leadoff hitter, he is hitting .107 with a 138 OBP, .281 OPS and no walks. Yet a day after Jed Lowrie went an impressive 3-5 in the leadoff spot against the Toronto Blue Jays, Crawford returned to the top of the order against the Blue Jays and starter Jesse Litsch (against whom Crawford is 5-for-10 in his career).

Manager Terry Francona sat Crawford on Saturday not as a punishment but in attempt to give his struggling leftfielder a bit of rest.

“I just wanted to do a couple things, reassure him how we feel which I think it pretty obvious, and to find out if I can help,” said Francona. “This is certainly not a guy that when he doesn’€™t hit you run from. He’€™s going to be a huge part of our offense.”

Francona is hoping the day off relieved some of the pressure Crawford has felt through the beginning of the season.

“I think a day like yesterday after being in the cage and not having to take it right to the game sometimes can help,” said Francona. “I know he was itching to play yesterday too’€¦.which I’m really glad about’€¦.I just think that hopefully this will help him a little bit.”

After talking with Crawford, Francona felt that it was necessary to get him back in the lineup as soon as possible and try to get him in a groove offensively.

“Once he gets going — I think we all know it, at least I do — he’€™s gonna get real hot. I just hope it starts today,” said Francona.

Other Notes:

-Jed Lowrie celebrates his 27th birthday Sunday and  will make his fourth start this season at shortstop. After going 3-for-5 with a homer on Saturday to improve his average for the season to .500, Francona said that Lowrie’s, “so hot right now I don’€™t know how to keep him out of the lineup.”

Instead of batting leadoff, Lowrie will hit sixth and occupy the slot between David Ortiz and J.D. Drew. Francona felt that having the switch-hitting Lowrie slotted between the two left-handed hitters would give the Blue Jays some pause about the idea of bringing in a left-handed reliever.

–Lineup changes are nothing new for this team. Sunday will represent the 12th batting order the Sox have used in 14 games. Francona elaborated a little bit on the method behind the lineup madness.

“If we had one or two lineups, everything was going right. I don’t know if that makes sense right now,” said Francona. “I’€™ve talked a lot about being consistent. We’€™re trying to do everything we can to play as well as we can and put guys in the best position. We’€™ll see. I do know as we get into the season, things normally settle down.”

-With the recent lineup changes due to Wednesday’s rainout, Francona chose to skip John Lackey‘s start on Wednesday in favor of keeping the rest of the pitching rotation on schedule. While Francona empathizes with with Lackey’s frustrations he said he felt it better to affect one one of his pitchers rather than all of them.

“This is not easy for  [John] Lackey right now and we understand that,” said Francona. “We felt as a staff it’s better to take one guy, try and make him adjust than take all five guys because then you’re really doing a disservice to the staff. I told Lack to do whatever he felt. Whatever he wants to do to get ready, that’€™s up to him. … Lack doesn’€™t do a lot of moaning and groaning. I think he was mad he wasn’€™t pitching. I would have been, too. But he’€™ll take it and go with it.”

-While the offense continues to struggle Francona is putting his focus on getting quality pitching out of his starters every day.

“If you have consistent pitching you can have inconsistent hitting and still win,” said Francona. “I think we all know once we get our lineup squared away, we’€™ll be pretty good, we’€™ll score some runs. But if you pitch well then you give yourself a chance to win every night.”

Read More: carl crawford, Jed Lowrie, john lackey,
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