|This just in: Mike Napoli will not start 162 games this season||05.17.13 at 9:24 pm ET|
MINNEAPOLIS — Heading into Friday, Mike Napoli led the American League in two categories. One was doubles. The other?
Prior to the series opener at Target Field, Napoli was one of 12 American League players who had played all 41 games.
“That was probably my longest stretch of games in a row of my career,” he said.
Thursday, however, the first baseman was informed by Red Sox manager John Farrell that the streak of starts would be coming to an end and Friday was to be Napoli’s first day off of the season.
He had entered Minnesota coming off a series against the Rays going 1-for-11. But this was more about maintenance than production. In fact, if it was up to the player, the streak would still be trucking along.
“I still feel good. I don’t even have to look at the lineup, I’m just in there. I’m prepared to play every day,” he said. “John came to me and let me know I would have the day off today so mentally I know I wasn’t going to play today, so that was a different feeling.
“Knowing I’m going to be in there every day, when I go home I know it’s going to be the same routine. But my body feels good. It feels fine. Playing first base is such a different feel, mentally and physically.”
Napoli explained that his new lot in life has a lot to do with a desire to join teammates Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury in maintaining a perfect attendance record this season. For the most part, he has lived up to expectations, totaling 34 RBI and more extra-base hits (26) than any player in the majors.
“Mentally it’s unbelievable,” said Napoli regarding the position switch. “I’m not going through the pitchers’ meeting. I’m not going through the game-calling situations. I’m not worrying about how I have to view each pitcher when they’re on the mound. You’re just mentally free. You’re just tackling baseball. It’s so different.”
He did point out that even when catching was part of his existence, such offensive downturns as he experienced in St. Petersburg weren’t an immediate result of whatever he was doing in the field. For that, he credits his former minor-league manager in the Angels’ farm system, Keith Comstock.
“He would always make me take a deep breath,” Napoli said. “If I came in and struck out, he always told me to take a deep breath and lead it go. He would be like, ‘You take a big, deep breath, blow it out, and it’s gone.’ I still do it now. I’ll be pissed off with an at-bat, I’ll take a deep breath, let it go and it’s time for defense.
“It was easy for me separate my defense and offense. When you’re catching, you can’t go behind the plate when you’re struggling hitting and bring that into catching. I was taught at a young age to be able to separate the two. For me, when it’s not going so good, I understand it’s part of baseball but you just try and minimize it.”
|Red Sox-Twins series preview||at 12:34 pm ET|
The Red Sox head to Minnesota to take on the Twins for the second time this month (and the final time this season) for a three-game weekend set starting on Friday night. The second-place Red Sox look to continue to make up ground in the AL East, starting the day one game behind the 25-16 Yankees.
May hasn’t been kind to the Red Sox, who have lost nine of their 15 games this month. But the Sox managed to take their last series, against Tampa Bay, thanks to some late-inning heroics Thursday from third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who hit a bases-loaded double in the ninth inning to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 victory. The Red Sox had dropped their previous three series prior to taking two of the three games from the Rays.
The Twins may be in fourth place in the American League Central, but they are only one game under .500 and three games behind the first-place Tigers and Indians. The club is an even 7-7 in May, dropping two of three to the last-place White Sox in their last series. The team’s decent start is especially surprising given the performance of its starting rotation. The Twins starters have the second-highest ERA in the majors at 5.30, second (but more than a point lower) than the Astros.
The Sox and Twins met earlier this month at Fenway. The Twins outscored Boston 31-18 in the four-game set and won three of the games. The Twins have had their way with the Red Sox on Boston’s home turf, sweeping their only series there in 2012, but the Sox fared well in Minnesota in 2012, sweeping a three-game series last April.
Friday: Clay Buchholz (6-0, 1.69) vs. Vance Worley (1-4, 7.15)
Saturday: Ryan Dempster (2-4, 3.75) vs. Scott Diamond (3-3, 4.08)
Sunday: John Lackey (1-4, 4.05) vs. Pedro Hernandez (2-0, 5.79)
WHO’S HOT: RED SOX
• Even though he’s batting .211 on the season and his OBP isn’t much higher, Middlebrooks seems to be heating up as of last. His go-ahead three-run double in the ninth inning off of Rays closer Fernando Rodney on Thursday night was his first hit in the seventh inning of a game or later, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. That double was his seventh extra-base hit in as many games, and he hit .296 over that span.
• If there’s one Red Sox hitter who has been consistently good at the plate this season, it’s Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia is riding an eight-game hitting streak and has seven multi-hit games this month. The second baseman is leading the team in batting average (.340), OBP (.428), walks (24) and runs scored (25).
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.
|Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia explain what went wrong on costly pop-up||05.15.13 at 12:14 am ET|
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It had already been a tough inning for John Lackey. The Red Sox starting pitcher, who carried a 3-0 lead into the fourth inning, had seen that advantage get flushed as an opportunistic Rays team rallied on the strength of four hits — including a check-swing double down the left-field line by Luke Scott.
With runners on second and third and two outs, Lackey’s outing stood in considerable peril. It was 3-3, and a mislocated pitch to Matt Joyce could mean two or even three runs.
But after a first-pitch swing-and-miss changeup, Lackey put a pitch right where he wanted it — a fastball that got on Joyce’s hands. Joyce popped it up a mile (“I hit it on the barrel — I hit it really well, just I hit it really high”), long enough that back down on earth below, trouble started brewing.
The footwork of Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia as they crept towards the ball was hesitant, uncertain and in Napoli’s case, a bit faltering. Ultimately, when the ball settled, it did so just behind Napoli and bounced on the ground; Pedroia hollered for Napoli not to touch it, to see if it might roll foul. But it stayed just inside the line, coming to a halt on the dirt of the basepaths.
Two runs scored, with the Rays claiming a 5-3 lead that ultimate provided the final margin of victory. Ballgame.
“It’s frustrating, for sure,” acknowledged Lackey. “I made a pitch, and I needed an out.”
Napoli took full responsibility for the miscue. He suggested that he didn’t lose the ball against the roof, and that instead, his problem was purely fundamental as opposed to visual. Read the rest of this entry »
|Red Sox-Twins series preview||05.06.13 at 10:54 am ET|
Fenway Park will be a welcome sight for the Red Sox after they were swept by the Rangers over the weekend, their first three-game losing streak of the young season. Despite going 2-4 on the road trip, the Sox still come back to the friendly confines of Fenway tied with the Cardinals and Rangers for the best record in baseball at 20-11, and maintain a 1½-game lead over the Yankees and Orioles in the AL East.
The Sox will host the Twins for a four-game set starting on Monday. It will be the first and only trip the Twins will make to Boston this year, though the club might be happy to be anywhere but Minnesota. The Twins come into the series with a 13-14 record, having played only 27 games thanks to four postponed games that could be classified as snowouts rather than rainouts.
Boston is the last stop on the Twins’ 10-game road trip, on which Minnesota is 2-4. The Twins have dropped their last two series, losing the first two games against both the Tigers and Indians but salvaging the final game of both sets.
“No one wants to get swept, and unfortunately for us, we’ve put ourselves in these situations where we have to win the last game to get a game out of the series,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after Sunday’s 4-2 victory over the Indians. “But we’d like to start getting some of the early wins and start winning series.”
The Red Sox will look to keep that from happening, and not only to redeem themselves after the sweep in Texas but also to erase the memories of Minnesota’s last visit to Fenway Park in August 2012, when the Twins took three of four from the then-scuffling Sox.
Here are the pitching matchups for the four-game set.
Monday: Vance Worley (0-4, 7.22) vs. Clay Buchholz (6-0, 1.01)
Worley was acquired by Minnesota in the deal that sent center fielder Ben Revere to Philadelphia, and he went from being the No. 5 guy in a veteran Phillies rotation to becoming the ace of the Twins staff, making the Opening Day start. He hasn’t pitched like an ace so far, however. In six starts, Worley has come out on the losing end of all of his decisions, heading into Monday with an 0-4 record and a 7.22 ERA. Worley’s been hit hard, allowing an average of 14.4 hits per nine innings, and his WHIP sits at 1.919. In his last start, he was knocked around by the Tigers, going 4 2/3 innings while allowing six runs on 10 hits, including three home runs.
Buchholz, one the other hand, has been nothing short of dominant, and he has an American League Pitcher of the Month award to prove it. He owns the lowest ERA in the majors at 1.01, and was the first to six wins (and still the only one with more than five victories). Buchholz’ last start was another gem — seven innings of two-hit ball against the Blue Jays on Wednesday. But the outing brought some controversy as well, as Toronto analyst Dick Hayhurst and commentator Jack Morris accused Buchholz of doctoring the baseball with an illegal substance. Buchholz (along with his teammates and manager) denied the claims, saying, “I’m doing the same thing right now as I did in 2008, when I was sent down to Double-A. But I guess something’s got to be wrong, right?”
|Closing Time: Clay Buchholz dominant again, this time leading Red Sox past Blue Jays||05.01.13 at 9:59 pm ET|
TORONTO – Clay Buchholz continues to take his game to new levels.
The Red Sox starter managed yet another standout performance, this time allowing just two hits and no runs, striking out eight and walking three in leading his team to a 10-1 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
With the win, the righty became the first six-game winner in the majors while lowering his ERA to 1.01. Buchholz has the best ERA through the first six starts for a Red Sox pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1991 (0.73).
Buchholz, who has allowed a total of five earned runs in his six starts, also continued his domination at the home of the Jays. In 10 career starts at Rogers Centre, the righty has an ERA of 1.49, having led his team to wins in the pitcher’s last eight appearances in the venue.
“Just very consistent,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell regarding Buchholz, who becomes the first Sox starter since Josh Beckett to win his first six starts of the season. (Beckett won the first seven in 2007.) “Very poised on the mound. The maturity as we’ve talked about on a couple of occasions, continues to I think play out in those situations, where he’s got to make a pitch with men on base. Once again, it was the case here tonight. Wasn’t really challenged as he’s been in other games. And that’s not to take anything away from the Blue Jays, he was just in that kind of command from the get-go.”
Offensively, Mike Napoli led the charge with the 11th multi-home run game of his career, hitting a solo shot to center in the fourth and a three-run job in the seventh. The second homer came on a 3-0 count, the fifth time in his career he has gone deep in such a situation. The first blast was measured at 472 feet, while the second came in at 467 feet. Both out-distanced Napoli’s previous best of 460, hit earlier this season in Rogers Centre.
“It wouldn’t matter to me, if it goes right over the fence, it’s just the same thing to me,” Napoli said. “It doesn’t matter to me, but I thought the second one went farther.”
Napoli and Stephen Drew both finished with three hits apiece, leading a 15-hit attack by the Sox.
Capping the scoring for the Red Sox was Mike Carp’s solo, pinch-hit home run int he ninth inning. The blast remarkably gave the first baseman/outfielder 12 hits for the season, nine of which have gone for extra-bases.
“You go in there and you’re in Big Papi’s spot, so you better do some damage,” said Carp, who was batting for David Ortz.
Here is what went right (and wrong) in the Red Sox’ 19th win of the season:
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
- Drew got the scoring going with a two-run homer, his first as a member of the Red Sox. The second-inning blast, which sailed into the second deck, scored Will Middlebrooks, who had been hit by a Buerhle pitch. Drew came into the game with one hit in 14 at-bats against left-handed pitching. The Red Sox are now 13-0 when scoring first.
“I think the one thing that we’ve seen, we have to remember that probably on the homestand, compared to everyone else, was just about the end of spring training for him,” Farrell said of Drew. “We’re seeing the timing become more consistent. Right-handed and left-handed, he’s still putting good ABs up and he’s seeing the ball much better and he gives that bottom third of our order added depth and certainly a lift.
- Napoli’s first homer – which helped him rebound from a four-strikeout performance Tuesday night — was followed by Daniel Nava’s fifth homer of the season. It marked the fourth time this season the Red Sox have gone back-to-back (having done it twice against the Blue Jays). The Nava home run also marked the first home run by a Red Sox right fielder this season.
“I feel like I’ve been doing it long enough to understand that you can let those AB’s go,” the first baseman said. “Of course, you don’t want to do that but you’re not going to have a good night every night in baseball. I was able to let that go – I wish we had won and I did that, but we didn’t. I know how to let things go and go to the next day. I let it go. I’ll let this go, I had a good night, get out here tomorrow and do my same routine and try to have a good day.”
- Ortiz extended his hit streak to 22 straight games thanks to a leadoff double in the sixth. He is the only major leaguer in history to accumulate a hit streak that long while playing exclusively at designated hitter.
- Will Middlebrooks not only came away with a pair of hits, but managed a nifty basket catch of Colby Rasmus’ pop-up in foul ground in the sixth inning. It was Middlebrooks’ third multi-hit performance in his last five games.
- Jonny Gomes, who came into the game 6-for-13 against Mark Buehrle, drove the Toronto starter from the game with his second walk of the game in the seventh. After Gomes scored via an Esmil Rogers wild-pitch, the lefty hurler closed out his line, having given up five runs on seven hits over 6 2/3 innings, raising his ERA to 6.43.
- Nava took advantage of a terrible baserunning decision by Melky Cabrera, who was thrown out by the Sox’ right fielder trying to stretch his seventh-inning single into a double (down by eight runs). Nava’s throw was right on the mark to Drew, who put on the tag with plenty of time to spare.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
With one out in the sixth inning, the bases loaded and Buehrle’s pitch count closing in on the century mark, Drew grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.
Alex Wilson had a rough outing in following up Buchholz, allowing one run on two hits while also issuing a walk.
|Brian Butterfield on M&M: Mike Napoli ‘a guy that’s going to chase you down to get some extra work’||at 12:07 pm ET|
Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield joined Mut & Merloni Wednesday to discuss Mike Napoli‘s play at first base, his approach to defensive shifts as a coach and how David Ortiz has thwarted other teams’ shifts.
Butterfield also addressed the strange situation that arose in Tuesday’s Red Sox game, in which Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s throw to first sailed off target after his arm made contact with the umpire’s facemask.
Saltalamacchia didn’t bring up the issue at the time, he said, because he wasn’t aware the play should be called dead, and Butterfield said nobody else quite knew what happened until the moment had passed.
“I don’t think anybody really saw it until after the fact,” Butterfield said. “I didn’t see it, because you’re watching to see what the runner’s doing, and you see Salty come out of the chute, and your eyes gravitate over toward first base and we saw the ball go out in right field. So I don’t think anybody saw it from the dugout, and then when it was finally realized it it was a little bit too late.”
Butterfield said Napoli, who has spent much more time at catcher than first base over his career, has worked tirelessly to improve his defense at first.
“He’s a hard worker,” Butterfield said. “He’s a guy that’s going to chase you down to get some extra work. It’s not a case with some players that you’ve seen in the past where you’ve got to hunt him down to work defensively, to make them better defensively. He’s a tremendous kid. Nap works. He cares about everything we do. He wants to be a great defender. He’s very accountable. When he doesn’t pick a ball, he’s very upset with himself because he feels like he let his infielder down.
“He’s handling the welfare of three other infielders and a pitcher and a catcher, and the No. 1 priority is being able to get around that bag, and being able to adjust and pick balls out of the dirt and be athletic. And sometimes it’s an underrated thing because the profile is to have that first baseman be a home run hitter, which Nap has provided, and we knew he was going to provide that, but we’ve been very pleased with the way he works and how diligent he is.”
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