In The News
Last night, the Red Sox survived Josh Beckett’s worst start of the young season to win 13-12 in Toronto in a wild but exciting game. (More on that game in next week’s Dead Red.)
Elsewhere, the Sox called up LHP Fabio Castro from the PawSox to help the back of its beleaguered bullpen, which now has three lefties (including Hideki Okajima and Scott Schoeneweis). He has an ErA over 8.00 in Pawtucket in three starts in 2010 and is 0-1 with 13 Ks in 10 innings. His stuff includes a cut fastball in the high 80s, along with a decent changeup and curveball. Castro is 0-1 with a 3.30 ERA in 30 career games with the Phillies and Rangers.
Apparently, Theo Epstein and the BoSox brass are sending a message to Alan Embree, who will leave the Sox if not called up from the minors by Friday, April 30. He previously had extended his opt-out (of the Sox organization) provision from April 15 to this Friday so they can evaluate his rehab and eventually call him up to the big club. This is not likely to happen now, unless Schoeneweis adds on to his two most recent bad outings or gets injured between now and then.
To make room for Castro, RHP Scott Atchison was demoted to Pawtucket. The Sox also just signed 22-year-old Cuban catcher Adalberto Ibarra to a major-league contract worth approximately $4.3 million over five years. It appears the Sox are looking for catching depth in case they lose Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek to free agency after this season.
Also, Dice-K is expected to make his first start of the season Saturday in Baltimore, taking Tim Wakefield out of the rotation and into the bullpen.
And finally, though the Sox are well behind the Rays and Yankees right now, there is hope luck will change if not for the Sox but for the rest of baseball as whole. Why? The defending world champion New York Yankees are now a candidate for the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx, as Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte are on the magazine’s most recent cover. And with that, on to summarizing the week that was in Red Sox Nation.
Red Sox Record for the Week of April 20-25: 4-2
The Red Sox began Week Three on Tuesday, April 20 six games behind first place Tampa Bay Rays. But even while taking two of three games against both Texas and Baltimore on the week, the Sox headed into the next week (April 26-May 2) still six games behind the Rays. Heck, they still haven’t overtaken third place Toronto in the standings, with whom they play three games this week (and as aforementioned, beat last night to move one game back of them and 5½ back of the Rays). But it was an exciting, drama-filled third week in Beantown (and that includes thrilling playoff wins by the Boston Bruins and Celtics as well).
Darnell McDonald: Welcome to Boston
I said last week to look for either young kids Darnell McDonald or Josh Reddick to make a “splash” in the Red Sox lineup in the next several games now that Mike Cameron is on the DL, for either J.D. Drew or David Ortiz to start producing runs, and for Kevin Youkilis to snap out of his slump. Well, Reddick got sent down to Pawtucket once Jonathan Van Every got traded back to Boston from Pittsburgh a few days ago, but McDonald made a name for himself in a big way.
On April 20, McDonald’s first big league hits were a game-tying homer and game-winning single versus Texas (final score 7-6). Then the next day (April 21), he homered again and with Jason Varitek blocking the plate, threw out a runner from his center field perch. He is the first Sox hitter to homer in his first two Sox games since Sam Horn did it in 1987 (July 25-26). Also in the April 21 Red Sox win against the Rangers, Drew hit a grand slam and Youk hit the game-winning homer in the 12th inning (final score: 8-7).
Lost in these heroics is the fact that as of April 25, Sox catchers have thrown out exactly two out of 40 base stealers on the season. Opponents have no respect for V-Mart and Varitek’s arms. And why should they when you can steal a record nine bases as Texas did on April 20? V-Mart took the next day off to work on throwing mechanics but Sox pitchers need to relearn the basic art of looking back runners and effectively using a slide step to help out him and ‘Tek out. Otherwise, opposing hitters will keep finding it ridiculously easy to turn a single or walk into a double in essence as they steal second base.
Big Papi Gets Benched
Sure, David Ortiz hit his first homer of the season versus Baltimore on April 23 to left-center field in the Green Monster seats, an impressive opposite field feat for him. But Terry Francona had Mike Lowell pinch-hit for the big man on April 20 after going 0-3 on the night and seeing his average dip to .146. Lowell got the start at DH instead of Ortiz the next day as well, a decision that paid off with Lowell belting his first homer of the year in that Sox win.
How did Big Papi feel about being pinch hit for? He called it his first “embarrassing” moment in a Sox uniform. What’s embarrassing is his eight hits in 50 at-bats for a .160 average so far this year. (FYI: McDonald, by contrast, has six hits in just 17 at-bats.)
Even though the Sox won more games than they lost last week at Fenway, the Sox went a disappointing 4-6 on its 10-game homestand overall. They need to go 4-2 again or better this week to move up in the standings, as they begin a road trip against weak AL East teams like Toronto and Baltimore.
The bullpen that was so good at the start of the past week but fell apart in both wins and losses by the end of it, has yet to show any kind of consistency in 2010, with the sole exception of Manny Delcarmen (ERA 1.74), whom opposing batters have hardly touched so far this season, as he has allowed just two hits in 10 innings. More reliable arms like that and Francona won’t have to let his starters go over 110 pitches night after night as he did last week with John Lackey, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett.
Speaking of Lester, it was good to see him actually pitch well in an April game as he did on the 23rd, having allowed zero runs in 5 2/3 innings, and Lackey get a win at Fenway for the first time on April 24 vs. Baltimore, having to throw 111 pitches and watch two Sox hitters — Marco Scutaro and Kevin Youkilis — accomplish the rare feat of hitting three-run bombs in one inning to earn it. Ironically, the last time Sox hitters did that was off of Lackey and his Anaheim Angels in August of 2003, courtesy of Nomar and Kevin Millar.
But it will be hard to see knuckleballer extraordinaire Tim Wakefield dropped from the starting rotation this week, especially in favor of Daisuke Matsuzaka, and even harder knowing Hideki Okajima and the Sox bullpen couldn’t hold a three-run lead Sunday in his last start for a while. Someone had to be dropped, and it wasn’t going to be Clay Buchholz (ERA 2.70 as of April 26). So Wake, as he always does, will be the loyal soldier and pitch wherever, whenever. He’ll never get booed.
As for Dice-K? I’m sure Francona planned for him to make his ’10 debut away from the Fenway Faithful knowing that they will likely boo him for withholding a big injury last season, as we learned a few months ago. Of course, winning cures (or at least delays) all ills. And given the schedule, a second winning week in a row is what the BoSox are expected to have, no matter who is in the back end of the rotation. So far, despite the ugliness of Monday’s game, so good.