May 2010

Mags confident about Papi

Slowly but surely, David Ortiz seems to be getting out of his crisis point. Since the calendar flipped from April to May, it has been a different Papi. The lefty slugger is hitting .310 with three homers and seven RBIs in May. He is feeling confident and looking it. One sign of that was how well Ortiz worked himself into that 3-2 count in the ninth yesterday with the game on the line. It should have been a walk, but we all know what happened on the call. Another good sign is that he was the only Boston player to have a hit against Blue Jays righty Shaun Marcum in Wednesday’s game, belting a pair of line singles.

At any rate, hitting coach Dave Magadan is seeing signs every day of a rejuvenated Ortiz.

“He’s done a lot of work, like he always does,” Magadan said. “He’s taken a lot of extra batting practice. What he’s working on is showing up in games. He’s not afraid to get here early and do the things he needs to do to get back on track. He’s showing signs of it. He’s showing a little more consistency. He put a couple good swings on balls today. With his continued hard work, I see him turning the corner, continuing to take good swings, being a little more consistent putting the ball in play hard. When he does that, he’s going to get hits.”

Of late, Ortiz has been spraying the ball to all fields.

“He just needs to hit the ball where it’s pitched. I was saying earlier, when he’s struggling, he’s fouling a lot of pitches off. He’s missing the pitch.  When he’s going good, he’s putting good swings on the ball and hitting them hard,” Magadan said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s up the middle, to right field, off the Monster. As long as he’s hitting the ball where it’s pitched and driving it, he’s on his way.”

Finally, it seems Ortiz is stockpiling consecutive quality at-bats.

“He’s putting consistently good swings on balls,” Magadan said. “He’s putting himself in a good position to put a good swing on the ball. He’s ready on time. He’s a little more direct to the ball. The guys that are throwing 93, 94, 95, he’s getting to those pitches. He’s seeing the off-speed better. When you don’t have to start earlier or cheat to get to the hard stuff, you tend to take the nasty breaking balls. He’s done a better job of that. He’s just put a lot of hard work in, and you’re starting to see the results of that now.”

Ortiz’s frustration is starting to turn into determination.

“He’s always been confident,” Magadan said. “He’s always had the attitude that it’s just a matter of time before he breaks out of it. We all have confidence that it’s going to happen. He looks too good in his pre-game work, in his prep before the game and his routine, it looks too good for it not to eventually show up in the game. He’s starting to show signs of it now.”

Ortiz expressed his own optimism about the way things are headed in his most recent MLBlog.

Wednesday matinee

Hey all. I’m back after a couple of days off. Not much in the way of morning news, as is typical for a day game after a night game.

Manager Terry Francona is quite pleased with the way Jonathan Papelbon is throwing the ball.

The closer is 1-2 with a 1.69 ERA and has converted all nine of his save opportunities.

“I think, when I say he’s on a good run, I think Pap’s career has been a good run,” Francona said. “He’s in a good place right now. He’s been staying in his delivery. I think he’s confident in that. I think he goes through times, and he’s probably talked about it openly, staying in his delivery. But he’s throwing all three pitches. He’s commanding. It’s a good combination. He’s pitching. I think, when he was in Toronto that night, I know his back was sore. But it seemed like, sometimes that is the case, guys have to think. Sometimes hitters, the best day they have are when they have their worst BP. They go into the game with such good concentration. It’s kind of weird how things work but he is throwing the ball really well and he’s using all his pitches.”

If you want to see some more of my early thoughts on the Red Sox, check out this link.

A sign of a day gone bad

Outfielder Jonathan Van Every came on to pitch the ninth inning for the Red Sox on Saturday. In other words, the day went exactly as the Red Sox didn’t want it to. It was a fairly close game through six, as New York led 6-3. But the Yankees got two in the seventh and four in the eighth to make it a romp in motion.

On came Van Every for the ninth, and he served up a titanic home run to Mark Teixeira. It was the third homer of the day for Teixeira, who had just two on the season when the game started.

The last thing the Red Sox wanted to do this series is lose more ground to a division rival. But they’ve dropped two, and hoped to avoid a sweep Sunday night when Jon Lester takes the mound.

Forgettable Friday night in Boston sports

The Red Sox kicked off a three-game series tonight against their
forever rivals, the Yankees. it was a potentially great pitching
matchup with ace Josh Beckett taking on young gun Phil Hughes, who has
been electric this season. Beckett was strong early, but faltered in
the fourth and sixth innings. The Yankees cruised to a 10-3 win.

There
was  a whole lot going on for a Boston sports fan tonight, but none of
it turned out well.  The Celtics were a couple of miles down the road
at the Garden taking on the Cavs in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference
Semifinals. But the have owned this game from start to finish en route
to a 124-95 thumping of the Celts. 

Then you have the Bruins,
who were trying to sweep the Flyers and advance to the Conference
Finals for the first time since 1992. But the B’s lost in OT.

Theo talks state of the team

On the last three games: “We’ve played well the last three days. The key is to keep it going. Guys who are new to the team are settling in, it’s natural for them to need a little bit of time. Guys are able to take a deep breath, relax, and be themselves out there. Making plays that are more characteristic of them. Not trying to do too much, either.”

Of the early problems: “We were just in a funk, for a month. Sometimes they don’t last long, sometimes they do. This one lasted a long time.”

Meeting of the minds: “Tito had a good meeting Monday, and the players certainly were tired of the funk we were in, so hopefully this is a little cathartic.break, and we’ll play some good baseball, that’s what we’ve done so far.”

The standings: “It’s not something that you fixate on. When you play below your capabilities for a month, the focus is on stringing one good game together, and then two and three. Maybe we can go out and play the type of baseball we’re capable of for a month, and then look up and see where we are, I think that’s the approach. When you’re scuffling, most days, you’re struggling to put a few good games together, you can’t be concerned with what anyone else is doing. You do what we did, which is focus inward, try to figure out what we need to do to do better, which in this case is probably relax, be ourselves, and go out and play. You can’t concern yourself, at this time of year, with what anyone else is doing. Everyone knows it’s going to take a high standard to get into October this year.”

Bad starts get magnified: “One-sixth of the season is 27 games, and we ended up going 13-14 our first sixth. Every year I’ve been here, since 03, except one, we’ve had a sixth of the season when we went 13-14 or worse. You just don’t realize it at the time because you’re in the middle of a pennant race. It’s deeper in the year – when we’ve never done it in that first sixth. Getting out of the gate slow, means that there’s no context for your slump, makes things look a lot worse than they are sometimes. and it amplifies it… I think it’s important to keep it in context.”

And now? “Now that we’ve taken a deep breath, put your head down, play good ball for a month or so and see where we are.”

Of Theo’s quote to the Herald on Sunday that there would be changes if things don’t improve soon: “One reporter came up and asked me a question, what kind of baseball are you guys playing. And I don’t think there’s a single player in that clubhouse that would disagree with me. I didn’t call anyone out. I didn’t call our players out. We’re all in this together. But the fact of the matter is we were not playing good baseball. We all know that. We weren’t playing the kind of baseball we were capable of. Tito had a meeting, a couple other things – there’s a reason you do those things, not that they ultimately matter. Ultimately it’s how our players play, and they’ve done a great job this week. It’s nice to see guys take a deep breath, relax, be themselves and go out and play good baseball.”

He says that by change, he didn’t mean a roster shakeup.

“I was asked ‘will this change by itself?’ And I said ‘Yeah, it’ll change by itself or we’ll have to find a way to change it.’ I actually didn’t even mean personnel changes. Obviously that’s the natural connection when a GM says that, but I actually meant, ‘have a meeting, find ways to put guys in a better position to succeed. There was no follow-up, which I understand, because that’s naturally what you would expect when a GM says that. But I was actually alluding to the meeting we were going to have the next day. And Tito had a meeting. You can’t make personnel changes this time of year that are anything more than symbolic. Maybe once a decade you’ll find a trade you can make this time of year. But they’re really symbolic. And we don’t really believe in change for change’s sake.”

Did the meeting work? “So we had the meeting, some good conversations. Maybe it doesn’t amount to anything, maybe it’s changed the mood a little bit. I think, most likely, a couple guys have just found that comfort zone and relaxed. We’re not doing anything we’re not capable of this week. We’re  just playing good, clean baseball. This team looks a lot better when the starters are going deep into games, supported by a defense that allows the bullpen to have a more realistic goal of making nine outs, six to nine outs, on a given day. Instead of 12 to 15. That makes your team look a lot crisper. The starting pitching really sets the tone, and I think we’ve played good overall baseball because of that.”

Papi at crossroads

The David Ortiz saga remains a hot topic, even after a 5-1 win over the Angels. Ortiz’s slump  extended with an 0-for-4 on Tuesday night that included two strikeouts and two double plays, the latter of which came with the bases loaded and nobody out in a tie game.

It is a tough situation for manager Terry Francona, particularly with Mike Lowell seemingly spraying line drives in every at-bat. Francona really would like Ortiz to get hot, but there’s a fine line with how long he can wait. The Red Sox, to a man, hope that Big Papi snaps out of it.

In the meantime, Jeremy Hermida stepped into the hero’s role tonight after Ortiz’s DP.

“It’s 25 guys, man. We met the other day,” Dustin Pedroia said. “We need everybody to win. This isn’t two or three guys that’s going to carry a team. We need everybody to help us win games. We have each other’s back, and we’re ready for the long haul. We started out [poorly], but we’re going to come out of it. We believe that.”

Pedroia — in his typically animated way — also expressed confidence that Ortiz will snap out of it.

“David’s fine. He’s one of our teammates,” Pedroia said. “It could have been me that hit into a double play. It happens to everybody, man. He’s had 60 at-bats. A couple of years ago, I had 60 at-bats I was hitting .170 and everybody was ready to kill me too. And what happened? Laser show.”

“I’m tired of looking at the NESN poll —  Why is David struggling? David’s fine. He’s one of our teammates. We believe in him. He came out of it last year, he’s going to come out of it this year. I’m going to go online and vote. NESN.com. Papi’s fine. Thanks for playing.”

Game 2 Red Sox-Angels

The 20-hit attack of Monday night was nice. Now the Red Sox will see if they can use it as a springboard.

Healthy bodies could be on the way soon, as Jacoby Ellsbury (hairline fracture left ribs) and Mike Cameron (lower abdomen strain) both appear close to Minor League rehab assignments.

Wednesday will be a festive night at Fenway. Nomar Garciaparra, who retired back in March, wil be honored during a pre-game ceremony. And it is Cinco de Mayo, which make it all the more special for Garciaparra, who is of Mexican descent. The big story Wednesday will be John Lackey pitching against his former team for the first time. Lackey went out of his way to say there would be no extra incentive or added motivation. Do you believe him?

And one final note: It was sad to hear of Ernie Harwell’s passing tonight. I only met him a couple of times, but he was a wonderful man, as well as one of the greatest broadcasters of all-time. Best known for his work with the Detroit Tigers, Harwell was 92. He was simply a legend.

Critical homestand underway

During the Theo Epstein regime, which started in 2003, this is probably the first time that a homestand that opened on May 3 was considered critical. But there’s no overstating how important these games are for the Red Sox right now, who entered the night trailing the Rays by seven games in the American League East.

If circumstances were different right now, the focus of tonight would be on how the Red Sox are playing the Angels for the first time since being knocked out in three straight in last year’s Division Series. That, and the fact that John Lackey is seeing his former team for the first time. But the Red Sox have no time for subplots right now. Their sole focus is winning, and getting out of this funk.

General manager Theo Epstein called out the team a bit in a great piece by the Boston Herald’s John Tomase.

“Things haven’t really changed,” Epstein told the Herald. “We talked about this last week. We’re still playing bad baseball. Unintelligent, undisciplined, uninspired baseball. It’s got to change. It either changes itself or we have to do something to change it.”

Manager Terry Francona thinks players have been trying too hard to change things, resulting in over-aggressive mistakes.

“And I agree it appears at times — we’ve run ourselves out of some innings. We’ve thrown to the wrong bases,” Francona said. “We’ve made some physical errors. I agree with that. The reasoning behind it varies sometimes. I think, when things aren’t going the way you want them to, guys try to do more than they’re capable of, as opposed to spending their energy doing what they are capable of.”

Injuries haven’t helped, particularly playing without ignigtor Jacoby Ellsbury since April 12.

“Oh sure, he gives our team a different look,” Francona said. “He’s that guy that can change the game. All the concerns we’ve had with [Carl] Crawford or whoever, he does the same thing to other teams, sure. Now saying that, I think that we’re lucky we have Marco [Scutaro]. He’s a guy, we hit him first and we don’t have to wake up every morning and say, ok, he’s going to hit leadoff. He can do that just fine.”

Meanwhile, I’m sure everyone would like to extend their best wishes to 2004 folk hero Dave Roberts, who is being treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

“I expect Davey can outrun anything,” Francona said. “He’s got a lot of people here pulling for him. I think he probably feels that everywhere. Everywhere he’s been, I would think he’s got people pulling for him.”

Saturday night special — Ortiz goes deep

Just when things seemed to be getting to a low point again for David Ortiz — he didn’t look good in any of his at-bats on Friday night — the big man started tonight’s game by  belting a homer just over the wall in right in his first at-bat. The key for Ortiz will be trying to keep some momentum with one at-bat to the next.

For all the attention on Ortiz’s slump, the Red Sox really need Victor Martinez to get his bat going. The No. 3 hitter in Boston’s lineup, Martinez his hitting .238 with one homer and five RBIs.

Jeremy Hermida is out for tonight’s game with a sore left quad, so Darnell McDonald is starting in left and Jonathan Van Every is in center.

Things started in rocky fashion for Daisuke Matsuzaka. A walk, a throwing error on an attempted pickoff , and then an RBI single. But in typical Dice-K fashion, he settled down and got through the rest of the first unscathed.

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