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Lugo Leaves, Buchholz Returns, And Sox Offense Slumps

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Red Sox Record for the Week of July 13: 1-2

In this edition of Dead Red, there’s some good news and bad news. The good? Over the weekend, Mike Lowell and Jed Lowrie came back from the DL while the disappointing shortstop Julio Lugo was designated for assignment. The bad? With the Yankees sweeping Detroit over the weekend and the Sox losing two of three to Toronto to start the unofficial second half of 2009, Boston enters Tuesday with a first-place tie with the Yanks.

There’s an old saying in baseball that says, “You can never have too much pitching.” In Boston, however, you certainly can. Young right-handed stud starter Clay Buchholz, famous for pitching a no-hitter in his second career major league start back in 2007, has been tearing up AAA in 2009. Surely GM Theo Epstein didn’t expect this, at least no so soon since Buchholz had a lousy 2008, going 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA in 15 starts with the big club. This is likely why Penny and Smoltz were signed in the first place -– the Sox didn’t think Buchholz would be ready to make that next big step (despite the no-hitter).

Unfortunately, with Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, Brad Penny, Jon Lester, and John Smoltz making up the current starting five (and Daisuke Matsuzaka rehabbing his shoulder), there has been no room for Buchholz to prove again he can pitch in the majors. That is, until Terry Francona made the unusual move of starting the second half of ’09 with a six-man rotation for its six-game road trip (Buchholz, Penny, Lester, Smoltz, Beckett, Wakefield, in that order).*

Last Friday night in Toronto, Buchholz got back to the big leagues at last, for one start only, and made his one night stand a good one, as he gave up only one run in 5.2 IP. As promising as his outing looked, Sox fans won’t see him again for a while as he was sent back down to Pawtucket the next day to make room on the 25-man roster for SS Jed Lowrie, who finally came off the DL Saturday and homered in his return to the Sox.

Though he can occasionally fill in for Mike Lowell at third, Lowrie will be primarily competing for at bats and starts at short with Nick Green (who can also play third or second). Julio Lugo, on the other hand, was told by Epstein to pack up and leave over the weekend (and wait 10 days to be traded or released). And to both mens’ credit, the decision was handled with class and with no bitterness towards one another.

With Lugo still set to make about $13.5 million for the rest of ’09 and all of 2010 as part of the four-year deal he agreed to with the Sox starting in 2007, he really doesn’t have much to cry about anyway. I, for that matter bear no ill will toward the shortstop either, even though I disapproved of Epstein’s decision to bring him to Boston in the first place. The man tried his best but clearly, he was exactly what I thought he was, average offensively and below average defensively. It was good enough however, to earn a World Series ring 2007. I just never understood what the Sox front office saw in him, other than occasional power and some speed on the bases.

Surely that speed paid off for his most memorable Sox moment, the “Mother’s Day Miracle” 6-5 win vs. Baltimore from May 13, 2007, where, after a weak ground ball, his speed from the batter’s box to first helped force the game-deciding error that brought the two winning runs home with two outs, to cap a six-run bottom of the ninth inning. But injuries last season and to start this season, along with his subpar play and the emergence of Nick Green and presence of a healthy Jed Lowrie spelled doom for Lugo here, despite his big contract. I wish him good luck with his next team.

Speaking of below average, the Red Sox offense has gone from just good enough before the break to mediocre to start the second half. Of course, the Sox have run into some great pitching this month from Seattle to Oakland and now Toronto, capped by Roy Halladay’s complete game victory over the Sox Sunday. And in the three-game series this past weekend in Toronto, the Sox batted .188, with only six hits in each game and seven runs scored total.

J.D. Drew in particular has been gawd awful, going 1-24 (.042 avg.) in his last six games (excluding yesterday), all in the leadoff spot. And at the other end, Nick Green has slowed down offensively, with one hit in his last 17 at bats going into Monday night. In fact, in the Toronto series, Green and Jacoby Ellsbury went a combined 0-11. Jason Varitek is one for his last 16 and Jason Bay has one RBI in his last eight games going into the series in Texas.

Because Terry Francona apparently believes Ellsbury can be more effective as a stolen base threat further down the lineup, the Sox have tried out other leadoff hitters — at least four — in recent weeks but only Ellsbury has been consistent there for any stretch of time. But now that Lowell is back, you should soon expect to see more of the Opening Day lineup than some of the other experimental ones Tito has tried of late (because of injuries, sickness or other strategic reasons). Tito will, of course shake things up when Lowell isn’t in the lineup.

On the bright side, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia have continued to hit well (but not always at the same time). And Mike Lowell, activated Friday night in Toronto went three for seven in his first set of games since the last days of June when he went down with a right hip stiffness. Even though Lowell says he feels better now than two months ago and that his hip is more “stable” than it was a year ago, Francona may not allow him to start in all six games on the road trip. Lowell batted .343 in his last 17 games away from home (through June 19), so Tito might be tempted to use his bat as much as possible with much of the offense struggling to score runs.

And finally, the Sox front office and Jason Bay, after restarting contract talks in mid-June mutually decided over the past weekend to delay talks until after the season (which is no surprise to me). Bay feels “encouraged” by the talks but wants them to continue after the season when it’s less of a clubhouse distraction and before he files for free agency.

Bay says the offers he’s been getting lately (through early July, when he was still hitting well) are better than talks/offers during Spring Training. Still, they’re not good enough from his point-of-view. And who can blame him for not signing a multi-year extension now? Bay certainly won’t get Manny money ($20 million per year) but he likely wants to play a full year plus possible postseason in Boston to fully gauge his true value to the Red Sox. And whatever that value turns out to be, the Sox should have the big money and smarts to keep Bay in the “Bay State,” whenever talks eventually restart.

No, Jason Bay is not Manny Ramirez, production-wise, but despite recent struggles, he is a stabilizing, powerful force in the heart of the Sox lineup, sound defensively, and an all-around good teammate, something you could not say about Manny as he left town. If Epstein and the Sox learn any lessons from the past (Johnny Damon), they will not undervalue the services of Jason Bay and lose him to another team.

* – UPDATE: Tim Wakefield will not make his scheduled start on Wednesday as the Red Sox placed him on the 15-day DL today for lower back strain. Clay Buchholz won’t have to wait long for his next big league start after all, as he has been called up to take Wake’s place in the rotation, starting tomorrow.

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.
  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Bud Smith. Jose Jimenez. Anibal Sanchez. These are all people who pitched no-hitters recently*.

    Clay Buchholz reminds me of those guys. Hey, pitching a no-hitter is not an easy task, but it really does make him stand out amongst other guys trying to stay in the majors, doesn’t it?

    * – Jose Jimenez’s no-no was ten seasons ago? Jeezus.

  • Charlie

    Right now, that no-hitter Clay threw during the Red Sox’s World Series championship season in 2007 is the only thing he’s really known for, fair or unfair (and by the way, Clay never even made the postseason roster that year).

    Also, you may remember that Anibal Sanchez came over to Florida from the Red Sox in the Beckett-Lowell for Hanley Ramirez trade.

    Everybody knows Hanley was the big prize Florida got out of the deal but Sanchez made the first splash with his no-no in 2006. He’s done practically nothing since then and Hanley, who had a pretty good rookie season himself (in 2006) has become one of the best all-around shortstops in the game.

    It was one of those rare instances where a major trade worked out great for both teams.