September 2009

No Pap tonight

The Red Sox were already short-handed in their lineup for the second night in a row, with Kevin Youkilis still out with a bad back and Victor Martinez back home in Cleveland tending to a personal matter. As it turns out, manager Terry Francona also did not have his closer at his disposal for Wednesday’s game.

Jonathan Papelbon, accoring to the Boston Herald’s John Tomase, slipped in the bullpen while warming up on Tuesday and hurt his back. Papelbon closed out that game, giving up a run, citing adrenaline for getting him through the injury.

The ailment is not believed to be serious.

“This is just a one-day thing,” Papelbon told the Herald. “I’ll be back good tomorrow. They’re going to give me the night instead
of pushing the envelope. We’re up six games right now. There’s no
reason for me to go out there and push the envelope when I’m going to
be pushed a lot more. It’s a little minor thing and we’re going to stay on the side of
overly cautious. Now if we were tied in the race, it would be a
different story. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Left-hander Billy Wanger has not been cleared to pitch back-to-back nights since joining the Red Sox, so if a save situation presents itself, expect Red Sox manager Terry Francona to go to rookie Daneil Bard.

Ian Browne

Wake and see

Still no definitive word on when Tim Wakefield pitches again for the Red Sox. He threw a side session before Tuesday’s game, but his back simply won’t be right again until he has sugery.

“The strength deficit from one leg to the other is very noticeable. It’s certainly not getting better,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “Because he’s trying hard to do what he does, which is pitch, we’re trying to kind of stay with this and do the right thing. To be honest with you, I don’t know if we know what the right thing is yet. It’s really, nothing has changed. He did throw a side. We want to wait and see how he shows up tomorrow and if he’s better or worse or the same, and we’ll go from there.”

Francona has mentioned loosely a couple of times that Wakefield could return at some point this weekend in Baltimore. Where does that stand?

 “Uh, we could either pitch him Sunday in Baltimore or Monday in Kansas City,” Francona said. “And that is because we would wait and see how Dice-k does tonight and if the extra day does him good. And, again, that far off, doesn’t interfere with Wake’s preparation if he’s healthy enough to pitch.”

Learning more about Victor

Though, in a way, it feels like Victor Martinez has been here all year, we continue to learn new things about him.

In the first game of today’s doubleheader, we learned that he can block the plate like, well, Jason Varitek.

It was the seventh inning and the Rays looked poised to take the lead when Dustin Pedroia ranged up the middle, but his hurried throw sailed wide right on Casey Kotchman. The tying run scored from third and Gabe Gross had visions of scoring from second. But Kotchman recovered the ball quickly and fired a strike to Martinez, who then blocked Gross’s path just in time by sticking his leg out, and he swiftly tagged him out. Great play as you can see right here in the video.

Catching instructor Gary Tuck was proud to see it, just like he was two weeks ago when Varitek made perhaps even a better block of home to prevent a run against the Blue Jays.

“He’s one of the best in the game [at blocking the plate],” said Red Sox catching instructor Gary Tuck. “Overall
blocking the plate, he’s very good at it. His timing is good, he takes
some chances, but he just let a runner slide straight into the plate
and steered him right off. He’s a big kid, too. That’s a hell of a play. You don’t see that much.
You see sweep tags now and bail outs. You don’t see men sticking their
legs out there. He’s sacrificing himself for the team.”


“Him and Tek a few games ago. You can go a year and a half without seeing two
plays like that and they did it within a week. That’s special.”

The play that Varitek made was on Aug. 28, so it actually wasn’t quite within a week, but Tuck’s point is still well taken

“It was a play at the plate. Casey made a good play. Good reaction, good read, gave me a good throw that I could handle it and make the play,” Martinez said.  “I always use my legs a lot to block the plate.”

Sometimes there is nothing like a comfy couch

What did Red Sox manager Terry Francona do after a rain-filled night that ended at midnight with a noon game looming today? Naturally, he slept in his office.

Even though Francona lives relatively close to Fenway, going home made little to no sense. Believe me, I would have done the same thing if I had four things he had — an office, a couch, an accessible shower and a change of clothes.

Was the couch comfortable? “Noooo,” Francona said. “I got a lot of work done though. It was good. By the time you shower and drive. then you have to wake up and turn around. I got a ton of the Anaheim stuff done.”

Francona then revelaed a funny story.

“I’ve got to tell you, I went up to the food room at about 2:30 [a.m.], ran into [assistant equipment manager] Pookie [Jackson] coming out of the shower. That’s about as bad a nightmare as you’re going to see,” Francona said.

While Francona spent the wee hours getting ready for the start of the Angels’ series on Tuesday night, most of his lineups had already been decided upon.

He went with an interesting mix in Game 1. David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew and Alex Gonzalez all got the game off against Matt Garza, who has given the Sox fits the last couple of years.

Ortiz is 2-for-21 against Garza, with both hits being homers. Lowell? 3-for-20. Drew is 3-for-19, and got a very rare start off against a righty. Jason Bay made his first start with the Red Sox as a DH. V. Mart is getting the nod behind the plate, while Tek will catch Lester in the nightcap. Casey Kotchman is starting Game 1 at first base, with Josh Reddick in left and Nick Green at short.

This couild be a monumental day in the Wild Card standings. The Rangers also have a doubleheader. This means that there’s at least a chance Boston’s lead could be as high as five games by the end of the day or as low as one game.

Dice-K ready, team will line up a spot

Now that Daisuke Matsuzaka has completed his rehab, the Red Sox, perhaps by later tonight, will slot in a spot for him in the rotation. Right now, it seems logical to think he will pitch Tuesday night against the Angels. Do they push everyone back or do they skip Paul Byrd? That seems to be the question at the moment.

The Red Sox got very good reports on Dice-K’s performance — 6 2/3 innings, 3 hits, 1 ER — from his performance in Winston Salem the other night.

“Very [encouraged],” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “Sounded like he held his velocity, had some depth to his slider. Later into the game, as he accumulated some pitches, his fastball stayed, which was great. We know, it’s Winston Salem. But it’s a heck of a lot better than – pitching good is better than pitching bad. And we wanted him to get deep into the game and compete a little bit and he did all that.”

Tim Wakefield had the third cortisone shot of the last couple of months for his ailing back during Thursday’s off-day.

Wakefield isn’t worried that he is putting his long-term health in jeopardy with so many cortisone shots in a short amount of time.

“No, the doctor said it’s not going to do any harm. It’s not like a shoulder, where it can be potentially harmful, so I trust the doctors,” said Wakefield.

The Red Sox hope the knuckleballer can step back into the rotation next weekend at Baltimore.

Happy Labor Day

I hope everyone is having a nice BBQ today and following Brownie points and twitter — @IanMBrowne — from their blackberries!! Ha ha.

At any rate, news of the day.

David Ortiz is not in the lineup today, despite a .354 average with two homers lifetime against Buehrle. Because Terry Francona is committed to catching Jason Varitek on days Josh Beckett pitches, someone had to sit, and it wasn’t going to be Mike Lowell, who has already had his share of days off of late, and belted a homer yesterday.

Tim Wakefield won’t pitch for a while. The club put the brakes on and told him to skip his side session today, and will likely give him about a 10-day break before he next takes the ball, perhaps when the Red Sox play at Baltimore the weekend of Sept. 18-20.

It sounds more and more like Jed Lowrie’s season will end today, when he plays in Pawtucket’s season finale. It has simply been a lost year for Lowrie, so he might as well take some rest and then have a great winter of strenghtening the wrist. Nothing official yet, but it sounds like that is the way it will go.

Iron Man Gonzalez rests for a day

When Alex Gonzalez was re-acquired by the Red Sox on Aug. 14, manager Terry Francona aid that it was nice to have a shortstop he could throw out there every day. Tito meant it pretty literally.

Gonzalez started his first 17 games in Boston stint, Part Deux, before finally getting a respite on Saturday. Nick Green made the start at short.

The scheduled day off for Gonzo explains why he was the only regular to play all nine innings of Friday’s 12-2 loss. In fact, seven starters exited in the bottom of the fifth.

What has Gonzalez given the Red Sox since coming back in the fold?

“Just what we expected,” Francona said. “It shouldn’t be a surprise because he’s always been that good. We’ve seen it in person, we’ve seen it from afar, now we’re seeing it in person again. It’s such a stabilizing factor. You hit it that way, you’re out. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

Despite some injury woes Gonzalez had in the near three seasons he was with the Reds, Francona has seen pretty much the same player he remembers.

“I don’t detect a dropoff,” Francona said. “The way I said it before, you can tell he had a knee [surgery]. When he walks, anybody that’s ever had a knee scoped, you can just tell. He’s played in every game. Day game after a night game. He’s good.”

Hitting for the captain

Before jumping to the conclusion that Wednesday night’s move will signify the start of a trend in which manager Terry Francona will start hitting for Jason Varitek, consider the situation.

Varitek had been 0-for-15 lifetime (including postseason) against Grant Balfour.

“I told him last night, the only situation I was going to hit for [him] was Balfour. That’s a pretty obvious one for me,” Francona said. “I told him, just give me a look if Balfour is in. If anything else, you’re hitting. The at-bat before, he actually came close to hitting a homer.”

Francona started hitting for Varitek at times during the playoffs last year, but never in the regular season. As he said at the time, “I don’t think it’s necessarily the best thing for our team to have the captain looking over his shoulder.”

With three Major League catchers on the roster and usually a potent bat or two waiting on the bench, Francona says there might be times where it makes sense to hit for Varitek.

“It’s a little different when you have more bodies,” said Francona. “Again, I think you have to be somewhat realistic when the season takes a toll on him. That’s not a shot [at Varitek]. That’s being realistic. He bears the brunt of a lot of physical [things]- he just gets beat up. But I also don’t want to run to start hitting for him because I don’t know if that always helps us maybe as much as other people do.”

Senator Schilling?

Curt Schilling has always had an interest in politics, and campaigned for George W. Bush in 2004 and Sen. John McCain in the most recent election. So it wasn’t entirely shocking when a report surfaced earlier today that the former baseball great has been contacted about running for the seat vacated by late Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, who died last week after a prolonged bout with brain cancer.

However, Schilling, later on Wednesday, told New England Cable News reporter Brad Puffer that he has his plate full and would have to re-arrange his priorities to make a run at the Senate a priority.

Schilling currently runs 38 Studios, a developer of on-line games.

“I don’t know,” said Schilling in a phone interview with NECN. “Right now I’m working on 38 Studios and working on the
funding and that’s going well and doing all the things that go with
that. I’ve got a lot on my plate. So as of today, probably not. I don’t
know. Going forward, that’s a pretty big deal from a commitment
standpoint not just for someone like me, but for my family. Right now,
I’m not even going to speculate on it.”

But Schilling confirmed he had been contacted.

“I have been contacted, yes. I’ve been contacted,” Schilling said. “I’m not going to get
into those discussions. I’ve been contacted by people whose opinion i
give credence to and I listen to and i listened. But this is not a decision that I would make. This is a decision that Shonda and I would
make. She’s given her entire life and the first 14 years of my
children’s lives to baseball. and rightfully so. This company, 38
studios, has taken a lot of time and energy. If i could divert time and
energy away from that, then there’s a possibility i might think about
it, I don’t know.”

Schilling has always supported the republican party. Kennedy was a democrat. Schilling doesn’t think that the political party should be a big issue when it comes to who fills the seat.

“My hope is that we’re past that,” Schilling said. “That we’re past the whole R and D
thing. My fear is that we aren’t. My hope is that we understand now
more than ever that we’re in a place where we need to put good people,
above all else. People without ties to special interests, people with
integrity and ethics and country first values in office regardless of
the letter that precedes their name.”

Schilling last pitched in the Major Leagues in 2007. He officially retired in March of 2008.

Ian Browne

Lester becoming a strikeout machine

Jon Lester pitched his way into the Red Sox record book on Tuesday night, notching nine strikeouts to give him a total of 196 on the season. That is now the record for a Boston left-hander, surpassing the record of 190 set by Bruce Hurst in 1987.

Lester was in line for his seventh double-digit strikeout game of the season, but came out after 97 pitches because of some discomfort in his groin. It is nothing that will impact his next start.

“It’s alright,” said Lester. “Just a little precautionary thing. I don’t want to push it, especially this time of the year. I would have liked to have gone a little deeper.”

As for passing Hurst and working his way into the club annals, Lester was typically humble.

“It’s something that’s cool, something that’s nice,” said Lester. “But like I’ve said all along about strikeouts, I’d give strikeouts back for wins. That’s what we’re trying to do is win ballgames. If you strike out 100 guys a game, it doesn’t matter, as long as you win.”

Is manager Terry Francona surprised that Lester is on the verge of a 200-strikeout season?

“I don’t think we’re surprised. I know you guys don’t get invited into those pre-Spring Training  meetings four or five years ago but I think there were a lot of people in the organization who thought that’s what he would be,” said Francona. “[A] workhorse who wouldlog innings. I think we’re seeing what we hoped we’d see.”

Lester is 11-7 on the season with a 3.58 ERA. He led the Red Sox to an 8-4 win over the Rays on Tuesday.

Ian Browne