Start of a road trip in Cleveland
The Red Sox arrived in Cleveland without Daisuke Matsuzaka. The injured starter is currently in Japan tending to personal business. On his way back, he will stop in Southern California and see the renowned Dr. Lewis Yocum to get a second opinion on his ailing right elbow. At this point, Dice-K and the Red Sox hope surgery can be avoided. There will be more information on that front after the visit with Yocum, which will take place before the end of May. If Dice-K needed to have Tommy John Surgery, it would take him out for all of this season and at least a large portion of 2012. His contract with the Red Sox ends after the 2012 season.
Being back in Cleveland, I can’t help but think of how much things have changed since the last visit here. The Red Sox, lacking in confidence and execution at the time, dropped to 0-6. They left on that hearbreaking loss, when Darnell McDonald fell down rounding second to end the game. It was quite a way to enter the Home Opener the next day.
As it turns out, getting swept by the Indians was not quite as bad as it looked at the time. After all, these are the same Indians who have a 29-15 record, the best in the Majors.
“I was just thinking about getting introduced on that first-base line [for the home opener] and wondering if they were going to shoot us,” quipped Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “Obviously they’re playing good and they feel good about themselves and it happens every year to a team. You start out well. Guys get confident. You get a couple of guys that really click.”
The Red Sox are in far better position to go toe to toe with the Indians this time around, because they are clicking, with eight wins in their last nine games going into tonight.
“Well, when we were here, nothing was going right,” Francona said. “The day Lester pitched well, we didn’t get any runs. we got blown out every so often. We would lose a close one. We were inconsistent in all areas. Now, it seems like we’re sort of stringing together maybe that game where we spread it out a little bit and we’ve won a lot of close games. I just think things have settled down a little bit.
“Like Salty, which is such a huge position, things were going kind of quick for him, now I think it’s slowed down for him. Tek’s taken a little bit off his plate, which has helped. Pitching is keeping us in games where if we don’t swing the bat early, like last night, it gives us a chance to get into the game and not have to fight our way back so much. and then there’s been a couple of games where we’ve fought back. Gonzalez has been maybe the best hitter in the game.”
Tonight, the Red Sox see Justin Masterson, who made a great impression during his years in Boston’s farm system, and the parts of two seasons (2008-09) he spent on the Major League roster. Masteron has done a great job, going 5-2 with a 2.52 ERA in his first nine starts.
“I know, it’s hard not to love him,” Francona said. “We all do. I hope we beat his brains out. Yeah, he’s everybody’s favorite. How can he not be?”
What has Masterson done to take his game to the next level?
“He’s pitching in very aggressively, especially to lefties, and he always needed to do that,” Francona said. “Because of his arm slot, lefties are always going to get a better look than righties. He’s pitching in aggressively. Because he’s such an easygoing guy, I don’t think people realize how much he competes. But he’s a really good competitor. I just think he’s good. We used him out of the bullpen because we could. It was kind of a luxury. When you go into starting, you need to have that other pitch or locate a little bit to get through the second time through the order. Now he’s got that, and he’s really good.”
As for the Red Sox, they have a pretty good one of their own going in Clay Buchholz, who is coming off a career-high of 127 pitches.
“You won’t see him go that again, I guarantee you that,” Francona said. “He bounced back really well. A pitch count is a tool, and I agree with it. We need to know what it is. But he stayed in his delivery so well, he didn’t really tax himself. If he would’ve, we would’ve taken him out. I think he’ll be okay. But we recognize it and we’ll keep an eye on it. We keep an eye on workload pretty good. “