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Friday’s Red Sox-Royals matchups: Andrew Miller vs. Jeff Francis 08.19.11 at 9:58 am ET
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Andrew Miller

The Red Sox will take on the Royals in the second game of a four-game series Friday night in Kansas City. The pitching matchup features two left-handers in Andrew Miller (4-1, 5.40) for the Sox and Jeff Francis (4-13, 4.76) for the Royals.

With the Sox playing three games in two days against the Rays earlier in the week, Miller will be getting a spot start after being sent to the bullpen when pitcher Jon Lester was activated off of the disabled list.

Miller appeared in two games out of the bullpen. He threw 2 2/3 innings on Aug. 4 against the Indians, allowing two runs on four hits. Most recently, Miller pitched one-third of an inning against the Twins on Aug. 10, walking one and striking out the other batter he faced.

Although Miller was 4-1 as a starter in eight starts, his record was a little deceptive as his ERA was 4.36. His last start came on July 31 against the White Sox. He gave up three runs on 10 hits in five innings and did not get a decision. Miller had eight strikeouts, throwing 106 pitches.

The Red Sox are 7-1 in games that Miller starts, but he receives an average of 8.25 run support per game.

Francis has struggled of late for the Royals. He has lost his last two starts, and six of his last seven decisions. In his last outing, Francis went 3 2/3 innings, allowing six runs on 10 hits in t he Royals’ 6-2 loss to the White Sox on Aug. 14.

He is in his seventh season in the league, his first with the Royals. Francis spent his first six seasons with the Rockies. He has pitched against the Red Sox once in his career, back in 2007. He pitched seven shutout innings in the Rockies’ 7-1 win at Fenway Park.

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Read More: adrian gonzalez, andrew miller, Jeff Francis, Jon Lester
Despite gem, Jon Lester didn’t feel quite right until the middle innings 08.16.11 at 5:18 pm ET
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You look at Jon Lester’s line from the Red Sox 3-1 win over the Rays in the opener of Tuesday’s doubleheader, and you’d think it represented something perhaps Pedro-esque:

7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 1 HBP

The lone earned run. The sub-1.00 WHIP. The 8-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Those are the pitching lines that define aces.

But it wasn’t until the fourth inning that Lester was spinning something special. In fact, with the way his outing started, the Sox simply were hoping that he would be able to hang on.

Lester gave up doubles to two (Desmond Jennings and Evan Longoria) of the first four Rays he faced Tuesday, allowing a run mere minutes after he’d thrown his first pitch. The next inning he allowed two runners to reach on a walk and hit batter. Usually an impatient lineup, the Rays forced Lester to finish the second at 42 pitches, not exactly what he or the team was looking for given a doubleheader’s ability to screw up a bullpen.

But then Lester set down the side in the third, fourth and fifth innings – ultimately retiring 12 batters in a row at one point – and that ability to settle things down propelled him to his outstanding line.

Lester said he finally felt comfortable in the fourth, the inning in which he struck out the side for the first time since May 3. (On that point, he said, “I threw enough pitches. I should have felt comfortable by that point.”) However, the fifth frame, during which he set down all three Rays hitters on two pitches a piece, may have been the official tipping point. Read the rest of this entry »

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Closing Time: Jon Lester’s masterpiece leads Red Sox to 3-1 win in doubleheader opener at 3:32 pm ET
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With two All-Stars on the mound in Jon Lester and James Shields, Tuesday’s opening game of a doubleheader between the Red Sox and Rays promised to be somewhat of a pitchers’ duel.

It ended up being more than that.

The two teams scattered only six hits and four runs combined Tuesday afternoon at Fenway Park, but ultimately it was Lester who got the better of  Shields and the Tampa Bay offense in the 3-1 Boston win at Fenway Park.

The 27-year-old lefty was the best he’s been since returning from the disabled list on July 25. Over seven innings of work, Lester (12-6, 3.22 ERA) allowed just the one earned run (which came in the first inning) on three hits, one walk, one hit-by-pitch while striking out eight Rays batters. After giving up the lone run in the first, Lester allowed just three more baserunners to reach the rest of the way and retired as many as 12 Rays in a row at one point.

Shields (11-10, 2.83 ERA) was nearly as masterful as he too scattered just three hits over eight innings while walking one and striking out six. However, a couple of missed locations in the third inning led to his 10th loss despite the strong outing. Following two singles by Josh Reddick and Mike Aviles, Jacoby Ellsbury sent a three-run bomb over the Rays bullpen in right field – his 21st home run this season – to give Lester all the run support he would need. Despite pitching well, Shields’ record in Boston moved to 1-8 while his ERA improved to 6.99 over nine outings at Fenway. It was the first time that Shields had gone more than seven innings at Fenway Park.

Here’s what else went right in the Red Sox win Tuesday afternoon as well as a few things that went wrong:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

–Lester’s biggest strength was his ability to get the K. After striking out just four Twins in his last outing, the lefty ace rebounded in that department to strike out eight Rays Tuesday afternoon. At one point between the third and sixth innings, he went on a run in which he struck out six of the 11 batters he faced, including the fourth where he struck out the side for the first time since May 3 against the Angels. In that one 11-batter stretch, Lester struck out more hitters than he had in 11 of his 23 starts this season. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Jacoby Ellsbury, james shields, Jon Lester,
Tuesday’s Game 1 Red Sox-Rays matchups: Jon Lester vs. James Shields at 1:11 pm ET
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Jon Lester

The Red Sox and Rays will play three games in two days at Fenway Park beginning with a day-night doubleheader on Tuesday. The first game will feature a pitching matchup of two 11-game winners this season in Jon Lester (11-6, 3.32) and James Shields (11-9, 2.80).

This will be Lester’s fourth start since coming off the disabled list on July 25. He has won only one game since making his return — a 10-2 win over the White Sox on July 30, a game in which Lester went eight innings and gave up two runs.

Lester has lost his last two outings. On Aug. 5 Lester gave up three runs and six innings against the Yankees in the Sox’ 3-2 loss. Then on Aug. 10 he gave up four runs in 7 1/3 innings in a game the Sox lost 5-2 to the Twins.

Tuesday will be Lester’s 18th career start against the Rays, the most against any major league team. Over the course of his career Lester is 9-4 with a 3.81 ERA against the Rays. He pitched against the Rays last on April 12, a game that the Sox lost 3-2. He went seven innings, giving up three runs on seven hits, suffering the loss in the process.

Shields is also no stranger to facing the Red Sox. This will be his 19th start against them. He is 6-10 with a 4.95 ERA lifetime against the Sox. He has pitched in two games this season against the Red Sox. On June 14 he pitched a complete-game shutout in the Rays’ 4-0 win. Most recently on July 16 he went six innings, giving up six runs on six hits and suffered the loss in the Red Sox’ 9-5 win.

The right-hander has won his last two starts. He is coming off of a complete-game shutout of the Royals on Aug. 9 in the Rays’ 4-0 victory. Shields allowed six hits and struck out eight.

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Read More: adrian gonzalez, David Ortiz, james shields, Jon Lester
Red Sox sign seventh-rounder Cody Kukuk for $800K 08.15.11 at 10:18 pm ET
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The comparisons to Red Sox ace Jon Lester are likely a bit premature. Yes, Kukuk is a 6-foot-4 left-hander with terrific athleticism, a fastball that he can run up to the plate at 92-94 mph and the ability to spin a breaking ball.

Even so, Kukuk was not as polished a product as was Lester when the Sox signed him as a second-round pick in the 2002 draft. And so, the Red Sox were not comfortable meeting the Kansas prep star’s bonus figure of $1.05 million, a sum that he had sent to all 30 major league teams via email prior to the draft. Lester was considered extremely polished for a high school left-hander when he was drafted and signed for a $1 million bonus. Kukuk, meanwhile, is viewed as having a very high ceiling, but he is expected to require more development if he is ever to reach it.

Still, the Sox looked at him both when they scouted him and then during the signing process as a pitcher with considerable potential. And so, according to baseball sources, the team was more than happy to sign him away from his commitment to Kansas for $800,000, a bonus figure typically given to a pick in the sandwich round. (Jim Callis of Baseball America was first to report that the bonus figure.) The deal also includes a $160,000 scholarship package and additional incentives that could push its value into seven figures.

In the years since taking Lester, the Sox had rarely used top picks on high school left-handers, but they have been willing to take such pitchers in later rounds and then sign them away from college scholarships for significant bonuses. Most notably, the Sox signed Mike Rozier — a 12th rounder in 2004 — for a $1.575 million bonus that ranked, at the time, as the biggest ever conferred upon a pick taken that late in the draft. The team likewise conferred a $700,000 bonus on 23rd round selection Drake Britton (still considered one of the Sox’ top pitching prospects, despite struggling this year in High-A Salem) in 2007.

This year, Kukuk joined sandwich pick Henry Owens as the first high school left-handers to be drafted in the first 10 rounds by the Sox since Lester’s 2002 class. The Sox, naturally, would be elated if either pitcher neared the return of their predecessor.

Read More: 2011 MLB Draft, cody kukuk, Jon Lester,
Closing Time: Red Sox bats fall flat in 5-2 season finale loss to Twins 08.10.11 at 11:19 pm ET
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It doesn’t happen too often, but Jon Lester was hurt by his own teammates Wednesday night.

Despite 7 1/3 strong innings from Lester, the Red Sox fell 5-2 in their season finale with the Twins  as the offense failed to muster more than two runs for the second straight Lester (11-6) start. (The Boston offense had averaged 5.7 runs in support of Lester this season prior to the loss.) With the Yankees 9-3 win over the Angels earlier in the night, the Sox now stand 1 1/2 games ahead of their rivals for the AL East lead.

The Boston bats struggled against Minnesota starter Nick Blackburn (8-9), who had an ERA of 11.68 over his last three starts leading up to Wednesday. The right-hander allowed one run (not earned) over 6 2/3 innings on six hits and two walks while striking out four. The Sox stranded nine runners on base while going just 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position on the night.

Lester (7 1/3 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 5 BB, 4 K) lost his chance at a quality start when Alfredo Aceves allowed an inherited runner to score in the eighth. Aceves allowed another a runner of his own to score later in the frame, giving him two earned runs allowed in his last 1 1/3 innings. But that’s not to say Lester didn’t do a little damage to himself either. All four Twins runners who scored off Lester entered the basepaths via a walk as the lefty walked a season-high five batters Wednesday night. Jim Thome did the most damage against his fellow left-hander, going 2-for-4 with two RBI including the game-winner in the eighth that chased Lester from the game.

After closing the door in the ninth, Twins closer Joe Nathan saved his 256th game with Minnesota, giving him the most saves in club history.

Here’s what went wrong (and what actually went right) for the Red Sox in the loss:

WHAT WENT WRONG

–The first and sixth innings prove to be difficult ones for Lester this season. The southpaw entered Wednesday’s game with the two highest inning ERAs in each of those frames: 5.09 in the sixth, 4.29 in the first. Lester allowed a run in both of the frames during the loss, during which he saw the top of the Twins order for the first and third times.

That being said, the lone tally in the sixth came on a controversial fan interference call in which the umpires deemed that awarded Ben Revere home plate instead of third base on what could have been a ground-rule double had the fan not leaned over the rail to snag the ball.

–Surprisingly, strikeouts were a problem early for the Red Sox. The team totaled four K’s against Blackburn, a pitcher who had struck out only three batters combined in his last three starts, in the first four innings. Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s strikeout with two runners on to end the fourth, which was preceded by a Carl Crawford lineout, was especially difficult to swallow as it proved to be one of the few chances the Sox had at the plate with a runner in scoring position against Blackburn. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: David Ortiz, Jon Lester, Nick Blackburn,
Wednesday’s Red Sox-Twins matchups: Jon Lester vs. Nick Blackburn at 6:38 am ET
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Jon Lester

The Red Sox will wrap up a three-game set with the Twins Wednesday night at Target Field before heading west to Seattle for a chance to pad their division lead. Jon Lester will take the mound for the Red Sox after a tough-luck loss against the Yankees last Saturday, while the Twins counter with Nick Blackburn, who hasn’t had a quality start since July 20.

Lester (11-5, 3.23 ERA), pitched his second straight quality start in his last outing against the Yankees, but his six innings of three-run, five-hit ball weren’t enough as the Red Sox only put two runs across in a 3-2 loss. Still, Lester has been solid since his return from the disabled list, posting a 2.82 ERA over his last three starts. The two home runs he gave up to the White Sox on July 30 could be a cause for concern, but the two solo shots were the only runs Lester allowed in a convincing eight-inning performance that included eight strikeouts and just one walk.

Lester hasn’t faced the Twins since last May, when he went the distance for a complete game victory, allowing one earned run on six hits while striking out nine and walking none. However, Lester struggled the last time he pitched at Target Field, lasting five innings after giving up four runs on nine hits in a 5-2 loss in April of 2010.

Very few Twins have had consistent success against Lester in their 90 combined plate appearances, with Denard Span leading the way. In 13 matchups, Span is hitting .333 with two RBIs and has drawn three walks. Delmon Young has a team-high 27 plate appearances vs. Lester but a team-low .174 batting average, including seven strikeouts. Jason Kubel has struggled as well, going just 2-for-11 with a walk and an RBI.

Blackburn (7-9, 4.58 ERA) has seen his record drop below .500 after taking three losses in his last three starts, including a 20-6 loss to the Rangers on July 25. Blackburn lasted just 2 2/3 innings in that outing, allowing nine runs (six earned) on 11 hits and two home runs. It was the low point of an abysmal July in which the right-hander went 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA.

Blackburn was staked to an early two-run lead in his last start, but he gave up four runs on seven hits, including two home runs, as the Twins fell to the White Sox, 5-3. Blackburn walked six hitters in that game, and has walked 11 in his last 9 2/3 innings. Despite his recent struggles, the Twins starter pitched well in a losing effort against the Red Sox back on May 9 at Fenway Park. Boston managed just one run on seven hits over 6 1/3 innings, eventually winning in the 11th on a Carl Crawford walk-off double.

Blackburn has allowed 19 home runs this season, the sixth most in the American League, but he’s never given up a long ball to a Red Sox hitter in 90 career matchups. In his team-high 15 plate appearances vs. Blackburn, Dustin Pedroia is hitting .308 with a double and an RBI, while Kevin Youkilis is at .333 with a triple and an RBI in 13 matchups. Carl Crawford has struggled the most against Blackburn, going just 1-11 with three walks and three strikeouts.

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Read More: Jon Lester, Nick Blackburn, Red Sox, Twins
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