September 2009

Buchholz belted

Better now for Buchholz to have a night like this than his first postseason start, right?

Four homers in three innings. How unfathomable is that? Buchholz had given up four homers over his last 58 2/3 innings entering tonight.

In other news, the Red Sox again have Hideki Okajima available in the bullpen. The lefty had an injured right side that had kept him out a few days. Mike Lowell will return to the mix on Thursday.

Nick Green, still trying to prove he’s healthy enough to be on the postseason roster, could be back in action by Friday.

Happy 90th birthday, Johnny Pesky

A nice moment has just unfolded here at Fenway, with the Red Sox celebrating Johnny Pesky’s 90th birthday with an on-field presentation. Pesky’s birthday was yesterday, when the Red Sox were in New York, so they honored the occasion tonight.

Pesky went to the mound with his red fungo bat and threw a ceremonial first pitch to Jason Varitek.

Johnny is as good an ambassador as any Major League team has. Even though Johnny isn’t around the park as much as he used to, it’s still great to see him whenever he is. Just a complete class act. That’s all I can say about him.

And Johnny’s Number 6 hangs proudly on that right-field facade, along with Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Carlton Fisk.

Lester appears set for start

As of now, all indications are that Jon Lester will make his start on Thursday against the Indians. The Red Sox will be cautious, but Lester wants the tune-up before his likely start in Game 1 of the ALDS.

“He’s doing pretty well,”Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “Now, again, it’s pretty early this morning for guys to be doing much. Wake went in the cage and threw because of the weather. But I don’t know that that’s a necessity for [him to throw a side. He’s got 33 starts under his belt anyway. Sometimes you take something that could be a negative and turn it into a positive. Just maybe hold off on how much he throws a side, or if he throws a side. Then we’ll go from there.”

Lester did some work on the exercise bike on Saturday.

 “He’s done good,” Francona said. “Before he goes and pitches, you can bet that we’re going to give him the twice-over. I actually think he’s going to be OK.”

Varitek handling reduced role; Clinch party?

The Red Sox had a lineup on Friday night that had Jason Varitek behind the plate and Mike Lowell — despite four homers and 14 RBIs lifetime against Joba Chamberlain — on the bench.

“I really wish it was a little bit different,” Francona said. “He’s swung the bat so well off of Joba. It just doesn’t seem to make much sense to do that. We’ve got a couple of lefties the next two days. Again, and I know the numbers, it’s tremendous. I’m just trying to do something to not hurt him physically.”

Most often of late, Varitek has been the one to feel the lineup squeeze that has existed since Victor Martinez was acquired on July 31. Over that span, the Red Sox had played 50 games entering Friday, with each guy catching 25. Of course, Martinez has started at first base in nearly every instance when he wasn’t caching, while Varitek has ben relegated to the bench.

How has Varitek handled that?

“There was a reason they put that ‘C’ on his chest,” Francona said. “Even through maybe disappointment, or like you referred to it, a little bit of a reduced role, he still exhibits a lot of leadership. He’s helped Victor and he will continue to be very valuable to what we’re doing.”

Francona said that Varitek will catch two of the three games this weekend, but didn’t say if Martinez will catch Daisuke Matsuzaka on Saturday.

“It’s a possibility,” Francona said. “We don’t quite know yet what we’re going to do tomorrow or the next day. I don’t know if we want Tek to catch all three. We’ll see.”

In another matter, the Red Sox, as David Ortiz indicated Thursday in Kansas City, will have no reservations about spraying champagne at Yankee Stadium if they clinch the Wild Card this weekend.

Ortiz joked in KC that it would be nice not to have to get the home clubhouse at Fenway dirty.

Manager Terry Francona also indicated his team should relish the moment when they officially become one of the eight teams what will move on.

“Of course. Oh yeah. I’ve actually been asked a couple of times, hey, if this happens, are you guys going to celebrate?’ I could never quite understand that. Because we were fortunate enough to win six years ago and then a couple of years ago, why in the world would we not be happy if we’re fortunate enough to go back to the playoffs?” Francona said.

“I never did quite understand that. What we don’t need to do is choreograph anything. That’s the part I think we need to stay away from. A couple of years ago, when Pap danced out on the field after that crazy night when we were at home and Mora bunted [against the Yankees], [there was] all the craziness there that could probably only happen in New York or Boston. …  What I’d like for us to do is play good and if they’re comes a moment when we’re able to celebrate, just do whatever you feel like doing.”

Green still in limbo; Francona takes in some NFL

Shortstop Nick Green remains back in Boston doing rehab work with physical therapist Scott Waugh. In fact, the Red Sox told him not to join the team in New York this weekend so he can keep focusing on his non-baseball activities.

Green has what is believed to be a disc issue in his back that had been causing a “dead leg” type of numbness in his right side.

The Red Sox need to determine whether Green can get himself back in time to be on the postseason roster. Boston is a little deep when it comes to backup infielders. Jed Lowrie would be an ideal candidate to fill Green’s spot, but his surgically repaired left wrist is still not 100 percent. Veteran Chris Woodward was brought to the team earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Tim Wakefield will pitch Tuesday night agianst the Blue Jays.

Francona and some of his staff members went to Chiefs practice earlier today. Scott Pioli, the former general manager of the Patriots, is now running the show in KC. Francona and Pioli have a good relationship because of a mutual friend — Indians general manager Mark Shapiro.

What was that like?

“It was a different hour. I wish I could have stayed more, it was fun. It was a different mentality than we’re used to, I really enjoyed it,” Francona said.

How was it different? .
“Well, they’re 300 pound men trying to kill each other in practice, we’re taking grounders getting ready for a game,” laughed Francona.

Did he bring along fiery second baseman Dustin Pedroia for some tough talk?

“I’m not going to embarrass the organization,” quipped Francona.

Just play the games

Red Sox manager Terry Francona said he is not consumed between the crossover races. Entering the night, the Sox held a commanding eight-game lead on the Rangers in the Wild Card standings, while trailing the Yankees by five games (four in the loss column) in the American League East.

Does he go all out and try to win the division, or does he start resting the troops in anticipation of the playoffs?

“You know what, I think the best way to move forward is just play. I understand your point. There may come a time when you have to – I guess I hope we do have to make some decisions,” Francona said. “That would mean things have gone real well. But right now, no. we pretty much have a good rotation going with the way our guys are playing. We gave our pitchers an extra day with inserting Wake. We haven’t over-done anybody in the bullpen anyway so no, we just try to win.”

How much extra value would there be for the Red Sox if they won the division and got an extra playoff game at home?

“You know what, I don’t know. I really don’t know. I think the most important thing is to try to go in healthy, and having your pitching somewhat lined up,” Francona said. “I think as we’ve proven in the past, we’ve been a much better team at home during the regular season. I think that’s stating the obvious. I also think when we’ve gotten to the postseason in the past, we have been OK on the road. To get to that point, it normally comes down to having your pitching lined up. I think we’ve proven that.

“The year we didn’t [in 2005], Chicago got rid of us in a hurry. I guess that’s more what we care about. Last year, things actually looked pretty good and then Beckett had that oblique and that really changed the way our staff looked in a hurry.”

The Red Sox should have a much better handle on what their playoff fate will be after they complete a three-game series in New York on Sunday.

“Wherever our plan takes us, it will take us. We’ll see,” Francona said.

Will Victor work with Beckett in postseason?

An interesting point was brought up to Red Sox manager Terry Francona before Saturday night’s game. Sean McAdam from the Boston Herald wondered if Francona might give Victor Martinez a start or two with Beckett before the season ends so they can get comfortable with each other in the event that is a tandem that will happen in the playoffs.

To be sure, Francona has not decided yet who will catch Beckett in October.

“You know, I don’t know. It’s not a bad question,” Francona said. “I don’t know.  That’s the answer. I just don’t know. It’s a legitimate question. To be honest with you, I know the numbers with ‘Tek are phenomenal and I believe in that. I also think that the night that Victor caught Beckett [in Toronto] was a crazy night.”

“I just, again, I’m very aware that when Victor catches, our lineup is more potent. Also, our goal is to win that game. That’s where we probably have to sit down at some point and think about … I just don’t know the answer. I certainly don’t think it’s a bad question. I just don’t know the answer.”

In other words, be sure to stay tuned.

Bay goes deep, then leaves ill

Jason Bay delivered his 34th home run of the season in the fourth inning of Friday night’s game, but exited in the bottom of the fifth inning with “flu-like” symptoms.

Josh Reddick replaced Bay in left field.

Thanks to Bay’s home run, the Red Sox had a 2-1 lead over the Orioles at Camden Yards when Bay left the game.

Youk back in the fold; Lowell sits

For the first time since Game 1 of Sunday’s day-night doubleheader against the Rays, Red Sox manager Terry Francona produced a lineup on Friday night that included Kevin Youkilis.

The corner infielder, bothered by back spasms all week, was sufficiently recovered enough to return to his customary cleanup spot. Youkilis got the start at third base for the opener of a three-game series at Camden Yards.

“Yeah, he feels pretty good. Good enough where there were no qualms about playing him,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

Mike Lowell got the night off but it was not for health reasons. Lowell is hitting .174 lifetime against Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie with one homer and seven RBIs. Casey Kotchman, who started at first place, effectively taking Lowell’s spot in the lineup, is a .429 hitter against Guthrie in a small sample size (3-for-7) with one homer and three RBIs But the move was basically to keep Lowell fresh.

“Not so much matchup because I think Mike is a good hitter,” Francona said. “He played three days in a row. We traveled last night. I wanted to get Kotch enough at-bats where he could help us.”

Ian Browne

A sixth man next week?

Remember all the controversy back in June about that six-man rotation that never came to fruition? Well, the Red Sox might finally get a six-man rotation next week, for one turn around.

With Tim Wakefield tentatively scheduled to start Monday in Kansas City, the Red Sox will simply slide everyone else back a day. Look for Byrd to pitch Tuesday, followed by Beckett, Buchholz, Lester and Dice-K.

The Red Sox don’t have another day off for the rest of the season, so this will be an opportunity for Terry Francona to get some breathers for a staff that has worked hard over the course of a long season.