Lester, defense don't help one another

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
BOSTON -- If Masahiro Tanaka keeps doing this, the New York Yankees have a veritable ace, for whatever that means. On Tuesday night at Fenway Park, Tanaka easily outpitched the ace for the Boston Red Sox, which might mean a whole lot more.

While Tanaka gave up two runs in 7 1/3 stellar frames, Jon Lester was charged with eight runs (three earned) on 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings of a 9-3 loss to the Yankees. He also walked four after entering the contest with 29 strikeouts against four walks in his first four starts.

“I feel like the mistakes I made tonight, they made me pay for them. You can’t make too many mistakes to this lineup,” Lester said. “Had a couple of walks mixed in there, which gave them more and more opportunities to get runners on base and work counts and get you to make mistakes, which gets you in trouble.”

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesAlthough only three of the eight runs he allowed were earned, Jon Lester gave up 11 hits and walked four in 4 2/3 innings.
Lester, ever the self-critic, took that sort of approach when he failed to make amends for errors, mistakes and even rulings that went against him.

First there was Jacoby Ellsbury’s drive to center to lead off the game. It caromed off a fan who had reached over the wall, the ball bounding away on the warning track. The umpires, who are allowed to place the runner where they believe he would have ended up if there was no interference, gave Ellsbury a triple, which immediately had Lester a bit miffed.

“I still don’t understand why he ended up at third on fan interference. Maybe I’ll get the whole explanation of it sometime,” Lester said. “But no, that’s part of the game. Sometimes the fans run on the field, sometimes you have distractions. I’ve got to bear down there and make a better pitch to Jeter.”

That would be Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who promptly knocked in Ellsbury with a base hit up the middle. Seconds later, catcher A.J. Pierzynski allowed a pitch to get away from him before throwing wildly into center field, Jeter advancing all the way to third. Jeter scored moments later on Carlos Beltran’s base hit to right.

With two outs in the fifth, normally steady first baseman Mike Napoli had a liner go off his glove for an error on what should have been the third out. Four runs would eventually score in the inning, which Lester could not finish.

“Just didn’t make the play,” Napoli said. “It was a little weird. [Yankees catcher Brian] McCann was on first. Kind of lost it for a second. I need to make that play, key situation in the game. They score two runs. Would’ve been the final out.”

Again, despite another knock against a team that entered the night ranked 14th in the American League in defensive efficiency (.666), Lester shouldered the blame.

“I know these guys are out there, we’re all out there busting our butts,” Lester said. “Errors are part of the game. Mistakes are part of the game and tonight they hurt us. Other nights we’ve been able to make up for them and other nights we’ve played exceptionally well. I will never fault a guy for making an error. I know that the effort is always there. I’ve got to do a better job there of picking up Nap. He catches that ball 10 out of 10 times. I’ve got to have a better at-bat right there against Jacoby and pick him up. I didn’t do it.”

Ellsbury’s subsequent two-run double was the big blow in the four-run rally.

While Lester was unable to provide a boost for his teammates, his outing is not the biggest concern. It remains the defense, which has looked much worse than its 14 errors in 21 games would indicate. On that front, there isn’t much to do but work harder.

“We’ve given some extra outs and at this level when you do that, you’re asking for trouble,” manager John Farrell said. “It’s something we continue to address, work out internally. There’s not going to be wholesale changes made, it’s that we have to go out and execute with greater efficiency.”

Kind of like the Yankees, who had no problems making all the plays on defense and saw Tanaka execute brilliantly. He struck out seven and did not walk a batter, improving his strikeout-to-walk ratio to a Cliff Lee-like 35-to-2.

“To his credit, he throws a lot of strikes. He never gave in,” Farrell said. “His split is one that presents itself to the strike zone and forces guys to commit. And with late action, you’re going to get some swing and miss and some mishits. The overall walks issued speaks to his strike-throwing ability. He forced us to swing the bat early in the count at times to try to get something going. He pitched a very good game tonight.”

Tanaka has a little ways to go to become firmly established as a top-of-the rotation guy, perhaps proving that he can dominate an opponent the second time he sees them. Lester’s already there. However, in part because the former received support and the latter did not, their initial encounter was a mismatch.

Gordon Edes discusses the stellar performance of the bullpen so far and the Red Sox's sleepover at Fenway Park before Patriots' Day.
BOSTON -- It can be no easy thing for the Red Sox to delay activating outfielder Shane Victorino, not when the team’s outfielders are batting a collective .209 (49-of-234), which ranks them ahead of only the Houston Astros in the American League at that position.

And when Jacoby Ellsbury comes to town and doubles, triples, scores two runs and drives in two others in a 9-3 Yankees win Tuesday night, that only serves to underscore Boston’s offensive shortcomings in the outfield in the season’s first 21 games.

And yet the Sox are indeed holding off on activating Victorino, the club deciding that it is more important to add a fresh arm to the team’s overtaxed bullpen Wednesday than Victorino, who will have to wait one more day. Victorino’s skills on both sides of the ball would have been welcome after another rough night for the Sox outfield, both offensively (2-for-11) and defensively.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Nava
AP Photo/Michael DwyerDaniel Nava is batting a team-low .149 a season after recording a .385 on-base percentage.
Grady Sizemore, who played right field for the first time Tuesday, is hitless in his last 13 at-bats, his average falling to .213. After two doubles and a home run in his first six games, Sizemore has just one extra-base hit in his last 11 games, a stretch in which he is batting .128 (5-for-39). The Red Sox may be seeing firsthand the degree of difficulty for a player to come back after an absence of two full years and limited play in the last four; Sizemore had made his long absence seem a trifle during an impressive spring training performance, but all involved knew it would become much harder when the games began to count.

Daniel Nava is batting a team-low .149, and it took two infield hits Monday to raise his average that high. Part of that has been bad luck -- his BABIP (batting average with balls in play) is a dismal .167, compared with .352 last season. That number was bound to come down, but no one expected by more than half. It appeared he might be rounding into form when he hit a couple of home runs in a four-game span, including last Tuesday in Chicago, but he was 1-for-17 with six strikeouts before his two-hit game Monday.

Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is batting .229 and striking out once every three at-bats (19 of 57). He has just 17 total bases, the lowest of any Sox player with more than 55 at-bats.

Jonny Gomes, who has been starting in Nava’s place even against right-handers, has had a couple of big hits, but he’s batting .213 and striking out at an even more alarming rate than Bradley (19 K’s in 47 at-bats).

Part-timer Mike Carp has the best numbers of all the Sox outfielders, batting .250, but that’s in just 24 at-bats.

The Sox have a roster move to make to create a spot for a reliever Wednesday, and much of the speculation has centered on Nava -- one, because of his dreadful start, and two, because he has an option remaining, meaning he does not have to clear waivers before being sent to the minors.

That would be a shocking comedown for a player whose .385 on-base average last season had Farrell talking him up as a top candidate to lead off. But after batting leadoff five times in the first seven games, Nava hasn’t been at the top of the lineup since April 7, as Farrell has employed five different leadoff men.

“He’s probably swung the bat a little bit more early in counts than we’ve seen in the past, and that might be some reflection of the current level of confidence,” Farrell said before Tuesday’s game. “When he’s squared up some balls, he hasn’t seen the fruits of that too much. Like all players, they go through a little bit of a peak and valley, and we’re trying to get him out of that right now.”

After the game, Nava was summoned to Farrell’s office for a meeting with the manager and GM Ben Cherington, always a strong indication that something is afoot. But there is a potential alternative to a demotion: Nava was wearing a large wrap around his torso, which suggests the disabled list could be another option.

“I’ve got to stay positive that the hits will start to fall,” Nava said the other day in Chicago. “My swing doesn’t feel bad; I don’t feel like I’m out front or behind. I feel like I’m where I want to be, but just the results aren’t there. It’s even more frustrating when you’re not winning. You can live with struggling when you’re winning.

“Of course, it’s challenging. Just like you want to do well in your job, I want to do well in mine. When I’m not doing what I feel I’m capable of doing, it’s frustrating.

“But in the bigger scheme, there are a lot more things than the game of baseball; that keeps things more in perspective for me. Since I’ve been all over the map with everything, I take pride in what I want to do, but it’s frustrating not doing what I want. But I’ve just got to be grateful that I’m on the Boston Red Sox. That keeps my head going straight.”

Only Ortiz and Napoli could get to Tanaka

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
BOSTON -- Through his first three major league starts, the book on New York Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka reads: Strike quickly or don’t strike at all.

David Ortiz and Mike Napoli combined to buck that trend on Tuesday night.
In the fourth inning of the Red Sox’ 9-3 loss to the Yankees, Ortiz and Napoli hit back-to-back home runs to account for the only runs scored against New York’s prized Japanese pitcher. The home runs were the first time the Red Sox went back-to-back since Aug. 30, 2013, when they did it against the Seattle Mariners.

“He pitched a very good game tonight,” manager John Farrell said of Tanaka. “[Ortiz and Napoli] got a couple of fastballs on the plate [and] squared them up.”

In each of his three starts prior to facing the Red Sox, Tanaka made it through the opponent’s lineup at least three full times.

In first at-bats, opposing hitters scored six runs and hit two home runs while batting .346 (9-for-26). The second and third at-bats, however, have not been as productive. Batters have hit .077 (2-for-26) against Tanaka in their second trip to the plate and .148 (4-for-27) in their third trip.

“I thought we took some good swings against him but no ability to bunch many together,” Farrell said. “Many good pitchers, as you see, if you don’t get them early they’re going to get a rhythm going.”

Their first time through the order facing Tanaka, the Red Sox went a combined 2-for-9 with three strikeouts, two of which belonged to Ortiz and Napoli. After Grady Sizemore grounded into a double play in his second trip against the right-hander and Pedroia grounded out, Ortiz stepped in to face Tanaka once more.

Tanaka fooled Ortiz with an 88-mph splitter in the first inning and went back to his off-speed stuff against the Sox DH in the fourth. He followed a fastball with a curveball and two straight sliders before returning to his fastball. Ortiz drilled the 3-1 offering to straightaway center for his fourth home run of the season, a shot measured at 482 feet by ESPN Stats and Info, second longest in the majors this season (Giancarlo Stanton, 484 feet). The home run was also Ortiz’s longest since ESPN Stats and Info began to track home runs in 2006.

Napoli, who also struck out on a splitter in the first inning, followed Ortiz’s blast with one of his own, a shot to left field on a 91-mph fastball that landed in the second row of the Green Monster seats. The home run was Napoli’s team-leading fifth of the season and traveled 405 feet.

“I watched video so I had a game plan and I just tried to execute it as best as possible,” Napoli said. “There’s no different approach. For me I’m just trying to drive the ball somewhere every at-bat, trying to hit something hard.”

Following the two home runs, Tanaka settled down, allowing only two doubles and a single to the next 14 batters he faced before being pulled after 7 1/3 innings. The right-hander is now 3-0 in his four starts and has allowed only two walks in 29 1/3 innings pitched.

“He has good stuff. He uses four pitches at any time, commands the strike zone,” Napoli said. “Couldn’t really get anything going.”

Not everyone booed Ellsbury

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22

BOSTON -- Sean Wilshere has been coming to Fenway Park for 20 years, ever since he was a kid growing up in Dorchester, and has sat in Section 35, Row 1, of the center-field bleachers plenty of times. So he knows he shouldn't have done it.

But when Jacoby Ellsbury launched the third pitch of Tuesday night's game between the Red Sox and Yankees on a long, arcing path in his direction -- and right where UConn's national basketball champs were just taking their seats -- Wilshere said he couldn't help himself. He was the guy wearing the Bobby Orr No. 4 Bruins jersey who leaned far over the wall in an attempt to catch Ellsbury's drive. It struck him in his left arm.

Umpire Phil Cuzzi immediately signaled fan interference. Ellsbury was awarded a ground-rule triple, and shortly thereafter Wilshere found himself on Ipswich Street, having been escorted off the premises by a Red Sox security guard.

Wilshere, a general contractor who works for a firm in Brookline, offered no resistance. He knew he was in the wrong. But you have to understand, he said afterward, there was a little history involved.

"I was the last one to say goodbye to Jacoby last year, too,'' he claimed. "I was. I told him, 'Jacoby, we know you're not coming back. Good riddance, goodbye.'

"I'm ticked off. I should have caught it. I had it all planned. I was going to give it to Shabazz [Napier] of UConn. He was right behind me.''

No ball for Shabazz. An early exit for Wilshere ("Oh well, I'll go home and watch the Bruins''). A big return to Boston for Ellsbury, who later doubled and scored two runs in his first game here as a Yankee after seven seasons of entertaining Sox fans with the kind of speed and athleticism rarely seen in a Boston uniform.

(Read full post)

Lackey looking to erase the recent tape

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
BOSTON -- When John Lackey takes the mound against the New York Yankees on Wednesday, he may have some nasty flashbacks.

Lackey gave up a career-high four home runs and six runs overall in his last start against the Yankees in New York on April 12. He followed that up by giving up six runs on 10 hits and four walks in 5 1/3 innings against Baltimore.

While the talk in the wake of Clay Buchholz’s rough outing Monday centered on arm strength and the process of building it, that’s not an issue for Lackey, according to manager John Farrell.

“I think there’s been some things as we sat down with [pitching coach Juan Nieves] and he, seeing a couple of things we can address and adjust from,” Farrell said Tuesday. “We won’t get into specifics, but I think there’s some things that we discovered that are a little bit different than last year.”

Whatever those specifics are, they are the cause for poor location on the part of Lackey.

“Like any pitcher, when a pitch is mislocated we haven’t gotten away with many of those mistakes," said Farrell. "That’s part of what we’re looking at. There’s another thing or two that we’re trying to correct.”

Lackey gave up more than five runs just once in producing a 3.52 ERA last season. He last surrendered at least 10 hits in consecutive games in June 2009.

Rapid Reaction: Yanks 9, Red Sox 3

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22

BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox dominated the New York Yankees en route to their 2013 World Series title, scoring more than six runs a game and winning 13 of 19 meetings. It was their best winning percentage in a season series between the rivals since 1990, when Boston was 9-4 against New York.

The new-look Yankees have turned the tables early in 2014 and improved to 4-1 versus the Sox after a 9-3 rout Tuesday night. Jacoby Ellsbury is a big reason why, and he helped showcase the disparity between the two teams in his return to Fenway Park for the first time since signing a $153 million contract with New York.

Ellsbury had a triple and a double and two RBIs, helping to provide an early exit for Jon Lester, who gave up eight runs (three earned) on 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Lester received little help from his defense and offered up some trademark glares for plate umpire Quinn Walcott after feeling his strike zone had been squeezed early on. But the 11 hits were one shy of a career high, his four issued walks matched his total from the first four outings of the season, and the start as a whole represented an extreme departure from the norm for one of the team’s few constants.

Masahiro Tanaka clearly outshined Lester with 7 1/3 solid innings in his much-anticipated debut at Fenway Park. It’s early, but the Yankees have the decided advantage in 2014.

That’s how you lead off a game: While the Red Sox have struggled mightily to fill Ellsbury’s old spot atop the order, he is thriving for the Yanks (batting both first and third in the lineup). He had a quick answer for the boos he received stepping up to the plate for the first time, launching a shot to straightaway center that caromed off a dolt of a fan in a Bruins jersey and was ruled a triple.

Ellsbury scored the Yankees’ first run moments later and then robbed Boston leadoff man Grady Sizemore with a sliding catch in the bottom of the first.

By the way, Sizemore has one hit in his last 26 at-bats.

Thanks, Jacoby: Once the boos had been booed and Ellsbury was little more than a former player who once gave his all to help the Sox win two World Series titles, he was showered with applause after a video tribute was played following the first inning. Ellsbury was able to doff his cap and wave to the fans. And now we can all move on.

Ellsbury’s absence: Without Ellsbury and No. 2 hitter Shane Victorino in the mix, the Sox have managed a paltry two runs in the first inning this year. Their opponents have produced nine. Boston is 6-1 when it scores first and now 3-11 when the other guys do so.

The Red Sox have also been dominated in the third inning, especially in the past two days. Clay Buchholz gave up five straight singles and seven hits overall in the third inning Monday against Baltimore before being pulled with just one out. Lester surrendered three consecutive doubles to begin the third in this one, and after New York completed its two-run rally, Sox opponents had a 21-8 advantage in that frame this year.

Gopher balls: Tanaka’s one (slight) bugaboo has been the home run ball. He has given up four so far, including back-to-back bombs by David Ortiz and Mike Napoli in the fourth. Ortiz’s shot landed far beyond the Red Sox's bullpen and Napoli’s went down the left-field line and left the park in about a second. Ortiz’s homer measured at 482 feet, the second-longest in the majors this season (Giancarlo Stanton).

One out later, A.J. Pierzynski doubled within a few feet of a home run off the Green Monster. Tanaka’s splitter, when it fails to sink, can become rather hittable. That was the case in the fourth. He was perfectly fine the rest of the way.

Join the club, Jon: Excluding Felix Doubront’s most recent outing, Red Sox starters have been extremely hittable this most recent time through the rotation. Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy and John Lackey have combined to give up 38 hits in 18 innings in that span. When the offense is ho-hum and the defense downright stinks, you won’t win many games serving up so many hits.

Rehab updates: Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts for Triple-A Pawtucket in his third rehab game Tuesday. Victorino is 1-for-11 in three rehab games and is expected to be activated Wednesday.

Even if the hits do not immediately come for Victorino, the Sox should benefit from his presence.

Up next: Boston carries a 4-7 home record into the second game of the three-game set. John Lackey, who gave up four home runs in his last start versus the Yankees, opposes Michael Pineda.

Ellsbury booed in Fenway return

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22

BOSTON -- So what did you expect, anyway? Bouquets? Air kisses? A standing ovation?

Jacoby Ellsbury, a valued member of two Boston Red Sox world championship teams who now happens to play for the hated Yankees, got what most players who go from "here" to "there" get when they return to their former home.

The raspberries.

Ellsbury was booed, although neither as long nor as loudly as you might expect, as he led off Tuesday night's game between the Yankees and Red Sox at Fenway Park. No surprise there.

The surprise came a few seconds later, when Ellsbury silenced the crowd by lining Lester's third pitch to the deepest part of the ballpark, where a fan leaned out of the stands and touched the ball before it hit the wall, causing the umpires to rule fan interference and award Ellsbury a leadoff triple.

After the umpires conference, Derek Jeter lined the next pitch into center field for a base hit, and Ellsbury, who sprinted all the way around the bases before the umpires sent him back to third, scored easily to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead.

And to take the Fenway faithful out of the game before it had hardly begun. The Yankees eventually went on to win 9-3.

It was hardly the homecoming anyone on either side could have anticipated considering the intensity of the rivalry and the history of traditional fan reaction to player movement between the two teams.

"I'm kinda interested to see what happens tonight," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said beforehand.

(Read full post)

Farrell: Sleepover the result of research

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
BOSTON -- There was much discussion Monday surrounding the Red Sox and their ability, or lack thereof, to obtain a decent night of sleep prior to their 11:05 a.m. start against the Baltimore Orioles. Pitchers Clay Buchholz and John Lackey and first baseman Mike Napoli all elected to spend the night at Fenway Park and utilize the team’s sleep room, rather than fight traffic home late Sunday and then return to the park hours later.

On Tuesday, manager John Farrell delved deeper into the matter in an appearance on MLB Network Radio.

“We’ve done a number of sleep studies and as the game has evolved -- and without PEDS and the ability to find some energy in an artificial way -- we’re looking at every possible way, through nutrition, through sleep,” Farrell told Mike Ferrin and Kevin Kennedy. “So we built the sleep room here and that’s where they stayed. We have guys who use it during the middle of the afternoon for a short nap. Again, this is all part of the research that we’ve done here to try to help maintain a certain level of energy and just physical well-being that we can.”

Napoli told reporters that the room consists of two bunk beds and not much else. It is meant to serve just one purpose.

“First and foremost it’s certainly not a country club atmosphere, I will tell you that,” Farrell said. “That’s not where this is going. ... We live in a schedule that’s not normal -- and that’s not to complain -- but when your internal clock is thrown out of sync with game times, with travel, with late nights, early mornings, those types of things, we’re just trying to provide a resource to guys that allows them to be at their peak, or close to their peak, as much as we can.

“And we did this with some [sound] evidence and research," Farrell added. "We have access to some of the best research in the world so we’re trying to find ways to help our players be put in the best position possible, and this is one of the things that we can provide to them.”

The extra rest did not appear to assist Buchholz, who gave up six runs in 2 1/3 innings in his shortest start ever at Fenway Park.

Victorino's return may be delayed

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22

BOSTON -- Following another abbreviated start Tuesday night, the Boston Red Sox may be forced to call up a pitcher to help out a taxed bullpen Wednesday instead of activating outfielder Shane Victorino, manager John Farrell said.

The original plan was to activate Victorino prior to Wednesday's game against the New York Yankees. However, Jon Lester lasted just 4 2/3 innings a day after Clay Buchholz went 2 1/3, and another arm could prove vital, if only for a day.

"This turn through the rotation it's been less than we've shown in the past. It's been less than expected," Farrell said. "For us to play with consistency, we need our starting rotation to lead us through that. Right now we're not getting that."

Chris Capuano threw 30 pitches over 2 1/3 innings Tuesday against the Yankees. Burke Badenhop tossed 3 2/3 and Craig Breslow lasted two innings in relief of Buchholz on Monday. Three others have worked a total of one inning in the last two games. Jake Peavy and John Lackey could not complete six innings in their most recent starts at the end of last week.

(Read full post)

Notes: Victorino, Middlebrooks close

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
BOSTON -- Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino is expected to be activated from the 15-day disabled list Wednesday, according to manager John Farrell.

Victorino was scheduled to play his third rehab game with Triple-A Pawtucket on Tuesday night. He is 1-for-7 in two games so far, showing no issues with the hamstring strain that sent him to the DL just before the season began.

Meanwhile, third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who is sidelined with a calf strain, was getting work done at Fenway Park on Tuesday. He will return to the PawSox to play Wednesday and likely Thursday before possibly being activated from the DL in time for this weekend’s series in Toronto.

Middlebrooks was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in his first rehab game Monday.

“Physically those guys are doing fine,” Farrell said.

Lineup moves: The mission to get the offense going becomes difficult Tuesday against Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who enters 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA. Farrell made the somewhat unconventional move to install Jonny Gomes in left field, batting fifth against a right-hander. Nava usually faces righties but has failed to produce much, and Gomes has shown some positive signs of late.

“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference between lefty and righty against this guy,” Farrell said of Tanaka. “He’s a very talented pitcher. Jonny has been putting up a lot of quality at-bats of late. I know the easy target is gonna be why is Daniel Nava [not] in this game. We’re trying to get him going offensively and Jonny gives us a little bit more of that right now.”

There actually has been a difference between lefties and righties versus Tanaka. The former have just six hits in 45 at-bats (.133) against Tanaka, while right-handers are hitting a bit more respectable .250.

Cheers or jeers?: Farrell said he expects the reception for former Red Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to be “a mixture.”

“All we can go on is what we experienced with [Ellsbury],” Farrell said. “Very good player and experienced a lot of success here in Boston. He’s been a little disruptive through the first four games against us and that’s where our focus is, on how to contain him.”

Ellsbury was 5-for-14 with a pair of stolen bases in the four-game series against the Sox earlier this month.

Lester aiming to extend his roll

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
BOSTON -- While attention deservedly is focused on Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, the newest addition to the Yankees’ constellation making his first start against the Red Sox, the lefty taking the hill for the Sox on Tuesday night has made quite the impact so far this season.

How good has Jon Lester been in 2014? Let Red Sox statman Jon Shestakofsky count the ways. Lester has allowed two earned runs or fewer with at least six strikeouts in all four starts this season. He is just the third Sox pitcher in the last 100 years to begin a season with such a streak. The others are Pedro Martinez, who did it three times (first seven games in 2001, first eight in 2000, first four in 1998) and Roger Clemens (first eight in 1991).

Lester’s streak matches the longest by an American League left-hander to begin a season in over the last 100 years. The only others to do it were Seattle’s Randy Johnson in 1995, Cleveland’s Sam McDowell in 1964, and the Yankees’ Whitey Ford in 1956. Johnson and Ford went on to lead MLB in ERA in their years.

Lester also has been a handful for the Yankees. He has allowed four earned runs or fewer in all 10 of his starts against the Yankees dating back to the beginning of 2012, going 4-2 with a 3.50 ERA (24 ER/61 2/3 IP) in those games. It is the longest such active streak by a left-handed starter against the Yankees. He is 10-5 against New York since the start of 2009, the most wins by any pitcher against the Yankees in that stretch. Tampa Bay’s David Price ranks second on that list (9-5).

SweetSpot TV: Rapid fire

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22

It's another edition of rapid fire, featuring Masahiro Tanaka, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Jesse Chavez, Chase Utley, Mike Moustakas, the Mets and the Mariners.

Red Sox reconnect with marathon

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21

BOSTON -- They were standing at the barricade where Brookline Avenue empties into Kenmore Square, a man in sunglasses holding a little boy in a Red Sox jersey, his wife by his side. The winners of the Boston Marathon had passed hours before, but people were still lined up three and four deep, urging on the many runners still on the course.

"Where are you from?" a woman asked the man in sunglasses.

"Florida," he said.

"And you came all the way here for the race?" she said.

"No, I work around here," Sox catcher David Ross said.

We know them first as baseball players, but at least for the six months of spring turned into summer, they live here too. They are our neighbors. They are fellow citizens. To us, they live a charmed existence, and many of them do, but when the bombs went off on Boylston Street, so close to the place where they work and some of them live, the grief and fear and anger resonated with them too.

A year ago after playing on Patriots' Day, the Red Sox were boarding buses to the airport less than an hour after the bombing, the sound of screaming sirens piercing the air as they made their way to Logan. When they came back from their trip to Cleveland, many did so with a resolve to do what they could for a city reeling from the horror, fanning out in groups of five to visit hospitals in the immediate aftermath.

Night after night last summer, there was someone new on the field at Fenway Park, being saluted for their sacrifice, their survival, their bravery, their generosity. The Red Sox grasped their hands, shared their embraces, caught their ceremonial pitches, and stood in the dugout and applauded, along with the rest of us.

(Read full post)

Sox get their first whack at Tanaka

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
BOSTON -- Former Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury makes his return to Fenway Park on Tuesday as the Sox and New York Yankees open a three-game series. Ace Jon Lester will be on the mound for Boston.

If recent history is any guide, all eyes may wind up on Lester’s counterpart, Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who has been dominant in the early going. The 25-year-old is 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA in three starts.

[+] EnlargeMasahiro Tanaka
AP Photo/Kathy WillensThe Yankees' young phenom Masahiro Tanaka is 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA in three starts, but even more impressive is his quick transition to the major leagues, says Sox manager John Farrell.
“Looking forward to seeing him pitch,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Monday. “Anyone who’s a fan of the game would want to see [him]. Have only seen highlights or video of him prior to signing with New York. We know he’s got a well-above-average split-fingered fastball. Competitive, strong, and looking forward to seeing him on the field and across the field from him.”

Tanaka’s 28 strikeouts against just two walks are perhaps the most impressive portion of his stat line. Farrell has been awed by other facets of his start with the Yankees.

“What probably has been as impressive as anything is the pretty quick transition into the major leagues here,” he said.

Tanaka will face a lineup that entered Monday ranked 13th in the American League in hitting (.234) and 14th in slugging (.350).

“It’s going to be like every other pitcher. We’re going to watch video on him, get a scouting report. Everyone’s going to have a plan when we go up there,” said first baseman Mike Napoli. “It’s not going to be any different. Only thing different is we’ve never faced him before. Go up there, have a good approach and do the best I can.”