May 2009

Looking for spark, Tito switches lineup

With the Red Sox doing close to nothing offensively in the five games that preceded Sunday’s finale in Toronto, manager Terry Francona switched around the lineup to try to change the results.

Dustin Pedroia was moved to leadoff. Jacoby Ellsbury moved to eighth. And for the first time in his Red Sox career, J.D. Drew batted second. This, with lefty Ricky Romero on the mound for Toronto.

Youkilis is hitting third, with Jason Bay in the cleanup spot, followed by Mike Lowell, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Ellsbury and Nick Green. Lugo is on the bench again, with Tito feeling that Green’s range is necessary with Lester pitching on turf.

And for all of you Tweeters out there — or Twitterers — or whatever you want to call it — I am now a member. Check me out at IanMBrowne.

Rocco bangs into the wall

Just when Rocco Baldelli came back form a sore left hamstring to hit a home run, he had to leave the game in the bottom of the fifth with a contusion of his left knee. The injury was sustained when Baldelli banged into the wall going for a foul ball. X-rays proved to be negative.

Meanwhile, the epic David Ortiz slide continues. The big man went 0-for-4 on the day with two K’s, and is hitting .185. This the lowest Papi’s average has been since April 19, when an 0-for-4 day put him at .170.

Typical Brad Penny performance today. Six innings, 10 hits, three runs, no walks, five strikeouts. Ramon Ramirez allowed the go-ahead runs in the top of the seventh .The offense continues to be sputter on the road trip, scoring three runs or less the last five games and producing just four hits today.

Bard baffles Blue Jays

A footnote of an otherwise ordinary 6-3 loss by the Red Sox was a display of overpowering heat by Daniel Bard. Boston’s top relief prospect struck out five batters in succession in the sixth and seventh innings.

PR guru Henry Mahegan is searching feverishly to find the last Boston rookie reliever who struck out five in a row. The last Sox rookie pitcher to do so was Casey Fossum. More on this later.

It was interesting to hear Bard speak after the game about his breakthrough performance. It seems that a new grip on his slider was a big catalyst.

“It just got a little loopey, the curvebal, breaking ball, slider, whatever you want to call it.Iit was more of a slider tonight. It just got a little loopey and it wasn’t the putaway pitch that it used to be. John [Farrell] and I talked about it. I just slightly rotated the ball with my hands. A little bit later, a little bit more downward action. I just won’t leave many of them up like I did in previous outings.”

Also, it is clear Bard is suddenly feeling comfortable in his new surroundings. He compared it to his adjustment to Double-A last year.

“I think there’s an adjustment period when you’re moving up at any time. Last year, I went through it at Double-A. I was good, but wasn’t getting guys out as good as it could be. It took me about a month. It’s kind of when you get that feeling, ‘I belong here’. Then you start pitching with more and more confidence. You start worrying about what people are thinking of you and it’s more a focus of getting outs and winning ballgames.”

Under the roof at Rogers Centre

Here is the problem with a retractable roof stadium. You have a gorgeous night in Toronto and for some odd reason, the roof is closed. This makes no sense. Are they trying to mess with Wakefield’s knuckleball? That doesn’t add up because Wake usually dominates indoors.

So we are stuck indoors on a perfect summer night. I’m bitter about this.

I did make it through customs fine this morning — new passport and all.

The deep drive David Ortiz hit in the first inning — which just missed being a grand slam and instead was a long out — might have been the best ball he’s hit all season. He also scalded one in his second at-bat, and hit a vicious liner to first. His third at-bat wasn’t so encouraging, a lazy flyout to center. Then there was the familiar sight of Papi, head down, walking back to the dugout.

Anyone notice that J.D. Drew hasn’t done anything since moving into the three-hole? He’s still looking for his first hit of the road trip.

Big Papi, meet Mendoza?

When you go to the fabulous baseball site, baseballreference.com, the players David Ortiz is compared to are: Lance Berkman, Richie Sexson, Paul Konerko, Derrek Lee and Mo Vaughn.

But at this juncture of the season, with Ortiz still in a slump of epic proportions, he just sunk to a new low. Ortiz, 0-for-2 in his first two at-bats today, is batting .199 on the season.

In baseball speak, anyone batting under .200 is below the Mendoza line. Mendoza was Mario Mendoza, who was clasically a light-hitting player, who played from 1974-82 and finished with a career average of .215.

Back then, the batting averages were in order in pretty much every major Sunday newspaper around the country and you would have to keep going down on the page to find Mendoza.

Anyway, the Papi situation is ongoing. He didn’t take any of the desired momentum from the big homer on Wednesday, other than the double two at-bats later.

In the last four games, including those first two ABs today, Ortiz is 1-for-13 with six strikeouts.

The Mets are in the house

It’s a lively Friday night at Fenway, and a nice hot one (84 degrees at game time) with the Mets in the house.

Dice-K and Johan. Good matchup, good way to embark on Interleague. Sheff just hit a moonshot against Dice-K. The always-entertaining veteran is now 7-for-12 lifetime against the Dice Man with two homers.

CF Jacoby Ellsbury extended his 17-game hitting streak after his infield single.

With each home run by Jason Bay, you wonder two things. Is he going to be a top five MVP candidate? And are the Red Sox going to re-sign him?

WEEI.com today reported the approximate contract figures the Red Sox and Bay exchanged during the spring. The Red Sox offered Bay somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million. Bay and his agent countered were looking for $14 million a year. Also, Bay was hoping for three-four years and the Red Sox didn’t want to go that far by the time the sides decided to break up talks. There has been no rekindling of the talks since then.

Clearly, Bay has hit more like a $14 million to start the year. But will that continue? Can the sides find common ground or is some team going to blow Bay out of the water  In this economy, it is very hard to judge. But I’m sure that Red Sox fans — who are falling in love with Bay — will be upset if he leaves. Perhaps not as upset, however, if Theo pays the freight to bring Matt Holliday to town.

Why no Rocco in right field tonight? Because Ellsbury is on fire, Drew had a day off two days ago, and Santana is every bit as nasty against righties as he is against lefties. Baldelli will make the start on Monday afternoon in Minnesota against Francisco Liriano.

In Jed Lowrie news, the shortstop is doing a great job with his rehab and remains on track to get back in the lineup in late June or early July
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“I don’t think that’s a surprise,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “He’s young and a very hard-worker and he’s very diligent in what he’s doing. When we were on the road, he was going over to see [rehab trainer] Scotty Waugh at 7:30 in the morning. Things he doesn’t have to do. But I do think young kids heal quicker than older guys. That’s just the way it is. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s right on time or a little early.”

Lowrie was taking some grounders on Friday. “He’s been out there with Bogey doing the throwing and everything. He’s just doing a little more every day. One day I went down to go to the bathroom in the fifth inning. This is back a few weeks and he had the bat in his hands. He gave me that look like, I got caught. All good players do that.”

Ellsbury makes history

While all the buzz at Fenway Park was over David Ortiz ending his home run drought — not to mention the Red Sox belting four homers in that same bottom of the fifth inning — center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury set a club record for an outfielder with 11 putouts and then tied a Major League record by collecting putout No. 12 on the final out of the game.

In the sixth inning, the speedster recorded his 11th putout of the night. Four Red Sox outfielders had made 10 putouts in a game. Who held that record previously? Ted Williams on Sept. 4, 1948, Tommy Umphlett on Aug. 16, 1953, Fred Lynn on June 4, 1978 and Lee Tinsley on Aug. 14, 1995.

Ellsbury made several fine running catches at the wall, helping along Brad Penny, who turned in his best performance in a Red Sox uniform.

The 12 putouts tied Earl Clark of the Boston Braves (May 10, 1929) and the Twins’ Lymon Bostock (May 25, 1977) against the Red Sox

“Good thing he stretched,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “He had a lot going on.”

“I got off to a busy start. What was the total?” Ellsbury asked.

He was told it was 12.

“It didn’t seem like that many,” Ellsbury said. “Just got quite a few from the get-go. Brad was getting a lot of flyball action and I was tracking them down.”

Youk: Lay off Papi

Clearly, Red Sox players are getting tired of talking about the ongoing power outage of David Ortiz. In other words, they can only imagine how tired Ortiz is of talking about it.

What will it take for Ortiz to bust out?

“Well, I think if everyone would stop asking questions about David Ortiz and left him alone, maybe he’d start hitting a little more,” Youkilis said. “If everyone just leaves him alone. Maybe talk about the weather outside or something. Maybe get off baseball convo and talk about something else, maybe that will help him out.”

“I don’t know. It would bother me if everyone was talking negatively about me every day. As baseball players and athletes, there’s nothing more frustrating than when you’re going through a slump. You’ve got to deal with it yourself. Then you have added pressures on you and people talking around time. David Ortiz wants to get out of the slump as much as you guys want him to get out of the slump and as much as the fans do. I think there’s a lot of added pressures there all around.”

Ortiz back in there, and in a familiar spot

Yes, David Ortiz is back in the lineup after his three-day break in Seattle. No, manager Terry Francona did not move the left-handed slugger out of the No. 3 spot in the batting order, where Ortiz has been almost exclusively since the beginning of 2004.

Ortiz declined to speak before the game, but he seemed in a good mood.

The true answer of what the break did for him will come a little after 7 p.m. tonight when he steps back into that batters box for the first time since last Thursday in Anaheim, when he went 0-for-7 and tied a franchise record by leaving 12 men on base. Ortiz is hitting .208 with no homers and 15 RBIs in 130 at-bats.

The Red Sox are playing the American League East-leading Toronto Blue Jays for the first of a three-game series at Fenway. Speaking of the Blue Jays, they are not only off to a great start, but they have an old friend in Kevin Millar, who is batting eighth tonight and DH-ing.

Millar and Ortiz were always very close in their three years as teammates so Kevin of course is aware of the slump his friend is in and can definitely relate. Here is Millar talking about Ortiz:

“You know what, he should have a longer runway then most players here just because of what this guy has done, all the big hits he’s had. You feel terrible for him. I want to talk to him today. You have to understand, it’s baseball and there’s struggles and when you start out this way, it’s magnified and it’s brutal. You can go do this in August and go 80, 90, 100 at-bats without a home run – it happens. But at the start, it gets magnified and becomes more mental than physical.”

“I think, David, physically, looks good. I think he’s obviously still very powerful but I think once he gets that first one, you’re going to see him hit 10 in a month, then seven in a month, and you’ll know he’s back.”

“No doubt about it. We’ve all been there. I remember one year in ’05 or something, same thing, I started out and didn’t hit a home run for whatever, but once you hit the first one out of the way … “

“He’s the best about that, Tito. He’s not going to move him down and say he’s not going to do this. He’s going to stick with him and he needs to.”

Game 2 in the OC

Can the Red Sox win a third straight game without Pedroia and Youkilis? We are about to find out, as manager Terry Francona has once again posted a lineup that has Julio Lugo batting second, Jeff Bailey batting seventh and playing first and NIck Green batting ninth at second base.

Chris Carter is in Anaheim, but not at the ballpark. The left-handed hitter is staying back at the hotel in case the team decides to add him to the roster for either tomorrow’s game or the weekend series in Seattle. Do stay tuned.

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