|Closing Time: Red Sox relievers rebound behind Alfredo Aceves as Sox beat Rays, 2-1||06.12.13 at 10:33 pm ET|
Two nights earlier, the Red Sox’ bullpen had nearly proved the team’s undoing. While the team recovered to eventually claim a 14-inning, 10-8 victory, Andrew Bailey‘s blown save ravaged the team’s bullpen in a fashion that required a reconfiguration of the roster.
On Wednesday night, there was redemption. In support of an outstanding — if Jekyll-and-Hyde — spot start by call-up Alfredo Aceves, the bullpen delivered the goods in the last three innings, navigating a one-run tightrope en route to a 2-1 win over the Rays in the rubber match of the three-game set.
Junichi Tazawa offered the first line of defense, delivering a dominant 1-2-3 seventh inning that featured two punchouts. Craig Breslow — whose reliable strike-throwing ability may have allowed him to displace Andrew Miller as the team’s go-to left-hander in the late innings — followed by striking out the first two batters he faced in the eighth before yielding a two-out double.
On came Koji Uehara, who authored the game’s pivotal sequence — a three-pitch strikeout of Evan Longoria on three straight splitters (the first two called, the third in the dirt) to strand the game-tying run at second. Bailey came on to record his seventh save in nine attempts in the ninth. Though he had to work around a leadoff single and a stolen base, this time, Bailey shut the door, punching out two in a scoreless ninth.
With the win, the Sox improved to an AL-best 20-12 (.625) on the road while increasing their AL East lead to 2 1/2 games, pending New York’s contest.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
– The only reason why Alfredo Aceves was in the big leagues on Wednesday was dire necessity. Yet the right-hander continued to make his case as an invaluable form of rotation depth by delivering an outstanding, six-inning effort to earn the victory. Read the rest of this entry »
|Closing Time: Will Middlebrooks leads Red Sox to ninth-inning comeback win over Rays||05.16.13 at 10:55 pm ET|
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Just over a week ago, Will Middlebrooks took a shot to the ribs. On Thursday night, he delivered one to the Rays.
With the Red Sox trailing, 3-1, in the top of the ninth, the bases loaded and his team down to its final strike, Middlebrooks laced a 1-2 changeup from Rays closer Fernando Rodney into the gap in left-center. The ball scooted all the way to the wall, allowing all three runs to score.
It was a mammoth hit, turning a 3-1 deficit and a fourth consecutive series loss into a 4-3 advantage that permitted the Sox to leave Tampa Bay with its first series victory in two weeks. The hit represented something of a landmark for Middlebrooks, as it was the first of his career to give the Red Sox a lead in the seventh inning or later.
“Awesome, man. Gives us some momentum, we’re on the road, so it’s obviously good to get that momentum going to the next series, and try to get things turned around,” Middlebrooks said of the hit.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
– Middlebrooks continues to impact the baseball since returning from his injury to the ribs. In seven games back, all eight of his hits have been for extra bases, with seven doubles and a homer in that span. He’s hitting .296/.321/.667 in that stretch.
On Thursday, not only did he smash the game-winning hit, but he also continued to show evidence of an improved overall approach both in that at-bat — when he spit on a 100 mph fastball on which Rodney just missed the strike zone on an 0-2 count, then jumped on a changeup — and in a previous one where he negotiated his first walk since May 2.
Middlebrooks said that he continues to feel improvement in his ribs — describing himself as “sore but getting better every day” — and that, more significantly, he continues to feel better at the plate, and that a slump that ran from early April to early May is now behind him.
“I got frustrated a little bit, but I never changed my plan, my routine at the field. And my teammates, they had my back the whole time. They were grinding right there with me,” said Middlebrooks. “Sitting out, I wasn’t going to get any better sitting out. You need reps. You need to fix stuff on your own and not just say I’m going to go sit down. That’s the selfish way to go about it. I wanted to go out there and do anything I could to help my team win, and I knew I couldn’t do that on the bench.”
– Junichi Tazawa worked a pair of scoreless innings to earn his third win of the year. He received an assist from outfielder Shane Victorino in keeping the Rays off the board in the eighth, but in the ninth, he worked around a pair of singles to shut the door.
“Much like we talked about the reason why we chose him in that ninth inning, there’s good poise, there’s very good stuff, he does a great job of controlling the running game even when they pinch-run [Sam] Fuld, so a solid job on his part,” manager John Farrell said.
– Thursday represented a considerable step forward for Felix Doubront. Though the left-hander lived dangerously for much of his outing, mostly due to command issues that resulted in a career-high six walks, he navigated carefully around trouble and baserunners. Though he gave up a solo homer to Ryan Roberts in the second, he stranded seven runners and held Tampa Bay hitless in five plate appearances with runners in scoring position, allowing him to work five-plus innings in which he allowed just one run on three hits.
Perhaps more importantly than the line, though, he showed improved power on his pitches. He showed a slight bump in velocity, sitting at 90-92 mph with his fastball for most of the night, and he also had a curveball that at times proved an outstanding pitch with sharp break. (At others, it became loopy and couldn’t find the strike zone.) While pitch inefficiency (104 pitches in 5-plus innings) and control (54 of 104 pitches for strikes — 52 percent) were both issues, he had the arsenal to compete, as evidenced by his seven strikeouts. Meanwhile, his one run allowed was his lowest yield of the season, while his three hits matched a season best.
“A lot better,” Doubront said of his outing. “[I] finally figured out that my pitches, my breaking balls, changeups and curbveballs, start getting the feeling back. I wasn’t that consistent but good spin and my grip, everything was real good.”
While acknowledging that the walks were suboptimal, Farrell backed his starter’s positive outlook.
“We have to take one step at a time. Looking at the stuff objectively, it was much more crisp. Even though, yes the walks were there, but much as he’s done, prior to the last two outings, when he gets into a little bit of a jam, he bends but he doesn’t break and that was the case here tonight,” said Farrell. “He was on the plate with his stuff, all three pitches. I thought he had better conviction to the stuff he threw tonight. His curveball had much better consistency to it. He pitched with a little sense of urgency tonight, which was good to see.”
– David Ortiz erased an early Red Sox deficit by lining an RBI single off the fence in right, the ball hit so hard that he could not advance. The hit was the third in as many games for Ortiz with runners in scoring position during the Tampa Bay series. He went 1-for-3 with a walk.
– Shane Victorino interrupted what had been an early breeze through the Sox lineup for Rays starter Alex Cobb, who retired the first 10 batters he faced. Victorino snapped an 0-for-11 stretch by ripping a double to right that catalyzed a run-scoring rally. The switch-hitter continues to demonstrate strong plate appearances from the left side of the plate. After his 1-for-4 night, he’s hitting .316 with a .771 OPS against righties.
Victorino also made a pair of outstanding catches in right field to rob the Rays of extra bases, slamming into the wall while grabbing a Jose Lobaton smash and then tracking down a Desmond Jennings drive to right with an over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track. However, he ended up having to leave the game in favor of a defensive replacement prior to the bottom of the ninth.
– Dustin Pedroia went 1-for-3 with a single and walk, extending his hitting streak to eight games.
|Buster Olney on M&M: Junichi Tazawa has ‘probably the best stuff in that bullpen’||05.08.13 at 1:32 pm ET|
Buster Olney of ESPN spoke with Mut & Merloni on Wednesday about the potential for protective caps for pitchers after the Jays’ J.A. Happ took a line drive to the head Tuesday, the state of the Red Sox pitching, and the constant suspicion that players are using performance-enhancing drugs if their performance improves.
In the wake of Happ’s injury, the discussion about requiring protective headgear for pitchers has come up again. Olney noted some of the issues that would make it hard to implement such a rule, including the effect it would have on pitchers’ mechanics and the players’ general resistance to change.
“The number of instances of this happening is actually on the increase, according to research that Willie [Weinbaum, of ESPN] has done,” Olney said. “Major League Baseball, for good reason, is concerned, because the 60 feet, 6 inches is not going to change. What Willie has found is that they’re having a difficult time coming up with a lined cap, and if you go beyond a lined cap — maybe even with a lined cap I think you’re going to get the initial response from a lot of players, which is, I don’t know if I want to wear that, that looks kind of weird. When David Wright wore that oversized helmet, there was definitely that old-school pushback on style.
“In 2007, Mike Coolbaugh, who was a coach in the minor leagues, was killed by a line drive, and after that Major League Baseball basically made a rule saying all the base coaches have to wear a helmet. And initially there was pushback on that, and now we don’t even notice. I think when you’re talking about pitchers going out there wearing some kind of a cage, like cricket batters, I think that we are a long, long way from players ever agreeing to do something like that. And hopefully it doesn’t take some terrible accident where they’re taking that more seriously.”
Olney said headgear for pitchers likely would have to be implemented first at the youth level.
“Any type of change would have to literally take place with kids who are learning how to throw the ball,” he said. “It’s not only a style component, but let’s pick out someone older, say, Ryan Dempster. Let’s say MLB said we want to have head protection on a pitcher. There’s a mechanical issue there, too. The way you use your hands, you draw your hands over your head, and suddenly you have some kind of headgear device — that would not be something that could be embraced overnight by anybody, no matter what the risk was. It would literally alter how these guys would have to throw the baseball. If in fact there are changes, and the velocity keeps accelerating and we get more and more of these kinds of things, it’s only natural that his conversation’s going to take place. It would have to first take place in Little League.”
|John Farrell: Junichi Tazawa will be new closer for now||05.07.13 at 2:30 pm ET|
Speaking on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM Tuesday, Red Sox manager John Farrell said with both Andrew Bailey (biceps) and Joel Hanrahan (forearm) out due to injury, Junichi Tazawa would step in as the team’s closer.
“I think what we’d love to do is close [Junichi] Tazawa,” Farrell said. “We’d keep Koji [Uehara] in that eighth inning role that he’s been in. We just got [Craig] Breslow back to us yesterday and before the game we put [Andrew] Bailey on the disabled list who had done a great job in the closing role as well. So fortunately we do have some depth to turn to internally and we know that we’ve got to get through these next couple of days to kind of regroup, because [we had] a couple of extra-inning games, we were in some tight games down in Texas, we have a starter check out early in the game where we’ve had to use the bullpen. So we’re kind of breathing a little thin ice down there right now and just trying to manage the best we can to get through these next couple of days to regroup.”
Asked why the choice was Tazawa instead of Uehara, Farrell said, “Well, the one thing I like about Koji is, typically, if you’re going to get those pinch hit left-handers in the eighth inning, he’s so effective against lefties. And you can point to a few guys around the league that are right-handers that are so effective against lefties, and Peralta down in Tampa is another one, Koji is obviously one for us. I think that’s where you might get a little bit of that gamesmanship or the matchup capability in that eighth inning. Both of them are very good strike throwers. They have very good command of their fastball, they’ve got a good secondary pitch, they control the running game, both of them, very effectively. Tazawa has a little bit more fastball which, whether I’m siding to the traditional approach with a little bit more power late in the game, that’s there. So, right now that’s the initial approach that we’d take to closing things out.”
Tazawa has pitched in a team-high 16 games this season, totaling a 2.51 ERA with opponents hitting .216 against the righty. (Uehara had an identical .216 opponents batting average in 15 appearances.)
|Dennis Eckersley tells Jack Morris to ‘zip it’ over Clay Buchholz accusations||05.02.13 at 11:17 pm ET|
NESN analyst Dennis Eckersley took umbrage to comments by Blue Jays broadcaster Jack Morris in which the career 254-game winner suggested that Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz had been doctoring the baseball with a substance on his left forearm. During Thursday night’s broadcast on SportsNet of the Sox-Jays game, Morris reportedly expounded on comments by former Jays pitcher Dirk Hayhurst that Buchholz had used an illegal substance.
Eckersley became incensed about Morris’ accusations, noting that it would be impossible for Buchholz to command his arsenal in such dominating fashion if he were using an illegal substance on the ball.
“I was upset during the game when we found out what was happening with Jack Morris, and the more I saw it, the more I started thinking about it, it made me more and more angry about Jack Morris. To me, that’s clueless on his part,” Eckersley said on NESN. “If he knew anything about Buchholz, he knows how nasty he is. His ball doesn’t dance all over the place. The guy paints. He’s got nasty stuff. [Morris] should know that, and he’s gotten carried away. It becomes about Jack Morris almost.
“Where’s Jack Morris been all these years, anyway?” Eckersley continued. “He finally gets a job up there in Toronto and he has to make statements like that and take away from what this kid has done? I think it’s wrong. He’s pitched long enough to know. Guys, you talk about stick-’em, whatever that is, pine tar. He knows that you go to something if you’re sweaty just to get a grip. It’s all about a grip. You saw the comment — that guy [Hayhurst] backed off a little bit, saying maybe it’s rosin, maybe it’s this, but if you just watch the game, you know: the ball disappears on you. Read the rest of this entry »
|For Jon Lester, struggle yields promise — and a win||04.25.13 at 12:03 am ET|
It was a different game for Jon Lester than any other he’d pitched this year. His frustration — with himself, with the strike zone — became visible at times. The execution and ability to attack the strike zone were inconsistent.
It was precisely the sort of game that often got away from the 2012 edition of the left-hander. On Wednesday, however, Lester overcame some rough patches and gave his team a chance to win. In perhaps his biggest test during what has otherwise been a phenomenal April, he achieved a sort of “bend not break” outcome, showing the ability to win a game where he doesn’t have his best stuff in the Red Sox’ 6-5 victory over the Athletics.
Lester had already shown the ability to dominate this year through his first four starts. But on Wednesday, another facet of his game was on display — the ability to adapt to something other than his A-game. That trait, in some ways, may be an even more important indicator of his ability to reclaim the form that made him a two-time All-Star and one of the top left-handed pitchers in the game.
“Those are the things that I think give [Lester] an opportunity to have a big year,” manager John Farrell said of the ability to stop his struggles from snowballing. “Jon has solidified his delivery to where he’s able to make adjustments inside the game, and that was the case today.”
The lefty battled through 5 2/3 innings, walking a season-high six hitters and allowing a season-high three runs. He gave up his first home run of the year (a three-run shot to Chris Young), tied a season-high with 115 pitches thrown and also allowed more than five hits for the first time in 2013. Read the rest of this entry »
|Closing Time: Red Sox solve Justin Masterson, Indians for fifth straight win||04.17.13 at 10:31 pm ET|
The Red Sox jumped all over one of the best pitchers in this young season, Cleveland’s Justin Masterson, and never looked back.
The Sox saw their first five hitters of the game reach base on the way to a three-run first inning. When it was all said and done at Progressive Field, the Red Sox had come away with a 6-3 win over the Indians on Wednesday night.
The win was the fifth straight victory for the Red Sox (10-4), the longest such streak since June 16-21, 2012. The Sox are six games over .500 for the first time since 2011.
The first-inning runs were the first given up by Masterson in 19 innings, with the former Red Sox hurler having not previously allowed an opponent to cross the plate since April 2. The 15 hits by the Red Sox matched a season high, having pounded out an equal amount in their April 7 win in Toronto.
Here is what went right (and wrong) for the red-hot Red Sox.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
• Alfredo Aceves stretched the streak of Red Sox starters allowing three runs or less to 14 games to start the season. Aceves finished his five-plus innings giving up three runs on seven hits, throwing 106 pitches.
• Mike Carp’s three extra-base hits (2 doubles, triple) matched the total number of extra-base hits surrendered by Masterson in the pitcher’s previous three outings.
• The Red Sox hitters came out the gate taking the ball the other way against Masterson, with eight of their 11 hits against the right-hander going to the opposite field.
• Daniel Nava rebounded from his four-strikeout game Tuesday with a pair of hits and two RBIs.
• Shane Victorino had one his best games as a Red Sox, coming away with his second three-hit game of the season while making a few key defensive plays in right field. The most notable contribution with his glove came in the third inning when he threw out Lonnie Chisenhall trying to stretch a single into a double to lead off the frame.
• Junichi Tazawa cleaned up Aceves’ mess in the sixth inning, coming on to throw two perfect innings, striking out his last four batters.
WHAT WENT WRONG
• The Red Sox left 10 men on base, It was the fourth time this season the Sox have left 10 or more on base, though John Farrell’s team has won all four. The Sox squandered some golden opportunities early on, not scoring despite loading the bases in both the second and fourth innings.
• Aceves wore down in the sixth, allowing back-to-back homers to Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi to cut the Sox’ lead to two.
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