May 2010

Sox seeking a Sunday split

After losing the first two games of this series, a gem by Clay Buchholz Saturday night has put the Sox in position to salvage a split of this four-game series. They have a decisive advantage today in the pitching matchup, with a red-hot Jon Lester taking on Bruce Chen.

Dustin Pedroia will not start today. Obviously the little second baseman is scuffling at the plate. Today’s off-day coincides with Monday’s team day off, which means a well-rested Pedroia can take the field on Tuesday night.

Victor Martinez will also take a breather today after playing the last two games on a badly bruised left toe.

Josh Beckett held court with the media a little while ago. He doesn’t seem overly concerned about his back injury, thinking he could experience great improvement at any time. If anything, Beckett feels the team was overly conservative not letting him throw the last two days. But as he said, “Everyone has to answer to somebody.”

Papi back home tonight — in three-hole

The combination of a short-handed Red Sox lineup tonight — no Ellsbury, no Drew, no Victor — has put David Ortiz back in his former home in the batting order, the three-hole. Ortiz didn’t know about the move until a flock of reporters informed him of it before the game.

Was he excited about it? “I’ll let you know after the game,” Ortiz chuckled.

During Ortiz’s slump of epic proportions early last season, manager Terry Francona took his slugger out of that spot, and this is the first time he’s been back there since May 24, 2009 against the Mets.

Ortiz has played 662 games and had 2,521 at-bats batting third, more than double his total of any other lineup slot. He has 177 of his 326 homers hitting third.

Meanwhile, a pretty big game for the Red Sox tonight if they can pull out a three-game sweep here against Garza and the Rays. Coming here 8 1/2 games back and leaving 5 1/2 back would be a significant leap.

Cameron in center — at least tonight

Mike Cameron will hit ninth for the Red Sox tonight in his first game back from the disabled list. He will also be in center field. However, it sounds like that is not going to be a common occurrence for the next few weeks.Jacoby Ellsbury — who is taking a rest tonight — will be the team’s primary center fielder, at least while Cameron recovers from a lower abdominal strain. Ellsbury’s interpretation of the move is that he will play center for “the duration of the season.”

This is an injury that could linger a little for Cameron all season long, so it would not be a surprise at all if left field be comes his primary position for the foreseeable future. And now we get word that Ellsbury had soreness in his left side before the game and Darnell McDonald — who was supposed to be designated for assignment to make room for Cameron — has resurfaced. Scott Atchison was designated for assignment to make room for Cameron. More on that later

Josh Beckett threw off flat ground earlier this afternoon and threw briefly off the mound. He might throw a full-blown side session on Friday. No word yet on if Beckett will be able to be activated as soon as he is eligible — on June 3 vs. Oakland.

Here is tonight’s lineup:

Scutaro SS
Pedroia 2B
Drew RF
Youkilis 1B
Ortiz DH
Beltre 3B
Hermida LF
Varitek C
Cameron CF

Lester SP

Back at the Trop

Here we are, getting set for this three-game showdown between the Red Sox and the Rays. Obviously it’s a much bigger series for the Sox, who start the series 8 1/2 games back in the AL East.

This, even with five wins in the last six games. The Rays just don’t seem to lose. The Red Sox can at least control their own destiny the next three nights.

As for other subplots, Mike Cameron will be activated for Tuesday’s game, giving manager Terry Francona his full complement of players for the first time since April 11.

Jed Lowrie, still recovering from mono, is with the team for the next few days, taking a nice break from solitude in Fort Myers.

And Scott Atchison has returned for his second stint with the team, coming up from Pawtucket to take the roster spot vacated by shortstop Angel Sanchez.

Getaway day against the good Doctor

You know how they say a great performance like the one Daisuke Matsuzaka had Saturday night can get a sputtering team on track? Today is the ultimate test. Momentum is only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher. Well, the Red Sox have a good one going in Tim Wakefield. But they are facing one of the best in the game in Roy Halladay.

The good news is that the Sox have had more success against Halladay than just about any other team, going 14-14.

Here are the Sox hitters lifetime vs. Halladay.

Ellsbury — .259, 2 homers, 4 RBIs
Pedroia — .211, 1 homer, 2 RBIs
Martinez — .333, 0 homers, 0 RBIs
Youkilis — .352, 1 homer, 7 RBIs
Drew — .300, 1 homer, 1 RBI
Beltre — .167, 0 homers, 2 RBIs
Hermida — .667, 0 HRs, 1 RBI
Scutaro — .429, 0 HR, 1 RBIs
Ortiz (available off bench), .273, 6 HRs, 24 RBIs
Varitek (available off bench) .205, 2 HRs, 10 RBIs

With a big series in Tropicana Field looming, the Red Sox could badly use a win today.

Friday night in Philly

Back to Interleague Play, where I’ve already seen John Lackey execute a perfect sacrifice bunt.

What is imperfect for the Red Sox is that David Ortiz can’t be in the lineup despite being red-hot. Kevin Youkilis is equally hot, but there’s no DH, meaning only one guy can play. Tonight, that guy is Youkilis. Perhaps by tomorrow, it will be Ortiz. But one thing manager Terry Francona said you won’t see this weekend is Youk playing third and Ortiz starting at third. Youkilis hasn’t spent any time at third this season with Mike Lowell on the roster as the backup 3B, so Francona doesn’t think it’s fair to throw that at him now.

In another encouraging sign that ace Josh Beckett will be able to return as soon as his DL stint expires on June 3, the righty played catch before Friday’s game.

“That’s the first step,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “And again I haven’t talked to him, but he will kind of ramp back up throwing, and then when he’s ready for a side, we’ll do that and then take it from there. But I think like we said the other day, we weren’t thrilled about putting him on the DL. But I think if you’re going to err — I don’t know that we did
err — but if you’re going to, we want it to be on the side of caution. I think we probably did the right thing. Now we’ll get him back up feeling good about himself.”

Jacoby Ellsbury will be back in the leadoff spot on Saturday night, which will be a most welcome thing for Red Sox followers.

Back at Fenway, but not for long

The homestand is officially underway, but don’t get used to it. The Red Sox will be at Fenway for all of two games before venturing back on the road for a six-game road trip through Philly and Tampa Bay that starts on Friday.

A long night at Yankee Stadium — an hour rain delay and a four-hour game — became longer even still for the Red Sox when they had some flight issues coming home. What time did manager Terry Francona return to his residence?

“I think I pulled up at the driveway at 10 till 6,” Francona said.

He didn’t stay home long. When did he get to Fenway?

“I got here at 10 to 12 because I had to do the EEI thing at noon so I made it,” Francona said.

By the way, Francona is surprised that the media did not ask him about the somewhat humorous scene on Monday night, when he was in the middle of an argument with the umpire and wound up staying on the field during God Bless America.

“I can’t believe nobody asked me about the God Bless America the other night,” Francona said. “I can’t believe it. I didn’t know what to do. I went out to tell the guy I was mad at him and I ended up honoring America with him. We were both looking at each other laughing. I told him during the song, did you ever throw anybody out during God Bless America. He didn’t know me, I don’t think he knew how to take that. I said, ‘I’m just teasing.”‘

On to the nuts and bolts of the day:

Josh Beckett won’t pitch for the Red Sox again until June 3. The righty is on the DL with a lower back strain. But Tim Wakefield will step right in and pitch Sunday in Philly.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron will both play at Portland on Thursday, inching closer to returning to the team.

Joe Nelson, the last cut in Spring Training, is back, ready to help the bullpen.

Finale in Bronx

Tough one last night, obviously. There are no other nominations for toughest loss of the year. That one took the proverbial cake, only because what was about to become Boston’s best win of the year became the toughest loss. Jonathan Papelbon had never had a game like that in his career where he gave up two home runs in one relief outing.

Frustrating losses create overall disenchantment, and that has been evident. For instance, Mike Lowell feels out of place on the 2010 Red Sox. Now that David Ortiz is hitting, he doesn’t feel as if he has a role. In fact, Lowell even wondered if he is a hindrance to the current setup of the roster.

“I think it’s a little unfortunate, but I think somewhat it’s painfully evident I don’t really have a role on the team,” Lowell said. I think I had a temporary role but I think that was more to the fact that we had young outfielders because of the injuries to Jacoby and Cam and David got off to a slow start. David’s swinging the bat a lot better, which I’m actually happy for. I actually think he’s still a big presence in our lineup. I don’t really care what the numbers say. He’s that guy that you still fear that he doesn’t have to make really good contact and he can still hit the ball out of the park.

“As a friend and as a teammate, you don’t like to see those guys struggle. You just don’t. Obviously I think there’s a catch how it affects me. When Jacoby and Cam come back, I just don’t really know what my role is. With those two in the lineup I don’t know who would I hit for. When I hit I get pinch-run for. I don’t play defense. I think sometimes you feel like the team might be better off if you’re not it. I just eat up a roster spot, I really do. I don’t know. If anything it’s a good feeling that I’ve had so many teammates come up to me and they say they sympathize with my situation. I think I’ve truly agonized over it. But it’s not good or bad, it’s just reality. It’s just reality. I don’t know what else to do.”

Then there is the matter of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Victor Martinez seemingly having some communication issues during Monday’s game.

“Again, I think it was frustration showing. My point to both of them was, OK, if we’re frustrated, how do we make it better? It’s easy to show frustration but how do you make it better? That’s what we’ll try to do.”,” Francona said.

What could cure all these issues? Maybe a good old 10 or 12-game winning streak

One step forward, two steps back

In somewhat of a recurring theme, just when it seemed Daisuke Matsuzaka might be gaining some momentum, he stumbled.

His last start was one of the best of his career. In that one, Dice gave up three hits and a run over seven innings, walking none and striking out nine.

How does he follow that up? By giving up five runs in the first inning tonight against the Yankees. He has settled down nicely the last couple of innings, but Matsuzaka has to learn how to avoid that one big inning that always seems to haunt him if he’s going to be the guy the Red Sox need him to be.

The righty has been living on the edge quite a bit, but that came back to haunt him tonight as his 0-for-24 stretch with the bases loaded — which dated all the way back to Sept. 8, 2007 — ended with A-Rod’s two-run single in the first.

Bronx-bound

Hey all. Sorry for the lack of blog entries the last few days. I wasn’t on the trip to Detroit. But I am on the Amtrak right now, ready to get back into action.

The Red Sox need some sort of jolt. Every time they establish just a bit of momentum, they take a step back. Saturday night’s game was a perfect example, with a 6-1 lead and unable to close it out. And then another tough loss followed on Sunday.

Healthy bodies are coming. Mike Cameron should play Tuesday; Jacoby Ellsbury starts his rehab today.In the meantime, the Red Sox cannot afford to fall back any further in the standings. Seven and a half games is a sizable deficit before Memorial Day.

We have two strong pitching matchups for this series. Tonight, it’s Dice-K vs. Phil Hughes. Matsuzaka’s last start was one of the best he’s had during his time with the Red Sox. If he can duplicate that, perhaps he will become a serious weapon for this rotation.

And tomorrow, it’s Josh Beckett against CC Sabathia for the second time this season. Naturally, it turned into a slugfest on Opening Night. I don’t expect either ace to allow that to happen this time. All eyes will be on Beckett, as he has been highly inconsistent thus far this year.

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