Red Sox notebook

Matsuzaka calls the shots

Batters powerless against his pitches

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo and Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / August 10, 2008

CHICAGO - Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched a gem last night, allowing one run on four hits over eight innings in the Red Sox' 6-2 win over the White Sox.

"I didn't want to be responsible for our second loss in the row. I made some mistakes but I hung in there and battled through," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter.

Matsuzaka improved to 13-2, and his ERA dropped to 2.90. He had the White Sox' batters off-balance and sometimes overmatched on a night when he also walked three, hit a batter, struck out four, and had a very good slider and fastball. Matsuzaka threw four double-play grounders (three off the bat of A.J. Pierzynski).

"He continues not to give up hits," said manager Terry Francona. "He made some very good pitches." Francona didn't seem concerned about Matsuzaka's occasional wildness. The manager thought Matsuzaka pitched to contact, which allowed his fielders to do their jobs.

"Leadoff walks make innings more difficult, but he made some good pitches," Francona said.

Matsuzaka, who threw 106 pitches, indicated he didn't say a word when Francona informed him he would not pitch the ninth inning. It was the first time in 20 starts Matsuzaka made it through eight, and he now has 10 quality starts on the season, fourth most of the team. He's 5-1 with a 2.20 ERA in his last eight starts, and has a 2.04 road ERA.

"I certainly got double plays in spots when I needed them," said Matsuzaka. "A lot of that was hitters just missing those hits. I owe it to the guys behind me who turned the double plays."

Matsuzaka indicated that he and catcher Jason Varitek had discussed strategy before the game, attempting to keep the White Sox from stepping out of the box and messing up his timing. Matsuzaka said, "I didn't want to be sucked into their pace."

Matsuzaka felt his fastball set up his slider. He thought he had good velocity, and he seemed to get inside effectively, as Pierzynski, previously 2 for 3 against Matsuzaka, found out.

"I just wanted to be careful and attack the inside. I remember the last time I faced him he got a hit on a slider," Matsuzaka said.

Varitek 9th in order
Francona made yet another change to his batting order, moving Varitek all the way down to No. 9. That, according to the manager, had nothing to do with Varitek's slumping over the last two months, and more to do with foiling the White Sox bullpen.

Noting that Varitek has been better of late (7 for 23, .304, with six walks in his last eight games), Francona said, "Since we have [Jacoby] Ellsbury nine and [J.D.] Drew one, rather than having our fastest guy get stuck behind our catcher, and if they want to bring a lefty in, it just seems to make some sense. It may make them use an extra pitcher."

Varitek is batting just .170 (31 for 182) with two home runs over his last 56 games. That brings his average down to .222, third lowest in the majors among players with at least 300 at-bats.

"I think he feels a little bit better," Francona said.

"I remember a lot of times he'd come back to the bench, even on a ball that wasn't [a hit], he'd say, 'I feel better.' He's taken some better passes, more consistent."

In and out
Mike Timlin came in to pitch the ninth inning, giving up a solo home run to Jim Thome . . . More from the Maniacal One, Chuck Waseleski: The Red Sox have scored 124 of their 585 runs in innings in which Ellsbury has led off (21 percent). "He's been doing great," Dustin Pedroia said. "I know he's put in a lot of time and is working hard. [It's] starting to pay off for him." Ellsbury's offensive output might vault him to the top of the order in the coming days. Francona has been vocal about wanting to return Ellsbury to the top soon. "I just told myself to relax," Ellsbury said. "That's the biggest thing, relax. And be on time, be ready to hit." . . . The Red Sox have won six of their last eight games . . . Boston is 18-7 against the American League Central this season . . . Pedroia extended his hitting streak to nine games, and upped his road streak to 28 games.

End of Lester run
When Jon Lester lost Friday night, not only did he end his seven-game winning streak, the longest active run in the American League, the Red Sox also lost for the first time in his career in a game in which he pitched at least seven innings. Prior to the 5-3 defeat, the Sox had been 13-0 in that situation (including 10-0 this season) . . . Bartolo Colon is scheduled to throw his second rehab outing today for Pawtucket. He didn't get out of the first inning in his first appearance . . . Jed Lowrie, who was hit on the left foot in Friday night's game, said he was fine yesterday. He started at shortstop . . . Julio Lugo (torn left quad) did some light jogging out of the water Friday with rehabilitation coordinator Scott Waugh in Boston. Though Lugo is making progress, it seems unlikely he will be back before September . . . When the Red Sox return to Fenway Park, they will honor former managers Joe Morgan and Dick Williams during the homestand. Wednesday, the Sox will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Morgan's Magic when they host Texas. Williams, who won the American League Manager of the Year award in 1967, will be honored for his 2008 election to the Hall of Fame before next Sunday's game against the Blue Jays.

Tricks of the trade
White Sox general manager Ken Williams isn't patting himself on the back after what many consider the "steal of the century" in Carlos Quentin - who could be a contender for MVP. Quentin, who is hitting .286 with 31 homers and 88 RBIs, was acquired from Arizona for first baseman Christopher Carter. "I don't think it was any great scouting job or great coup on my part," said Williams. "Arizona used the kid we traded to them in the Dan Haren deal with Oakland, so it wound up working for them. We just knew Carlos had a lot of ability and that he was injured in 2007 and that was the reason for the drop-off in his play. Did we think he'd have 31 homers in mid-August? Not really, but we're thrilled and he's been a top performer for us." The other acquisition that has worked out well is setup man Scott Linebrink, who is working his way back from a shoulder injury. He should be back soon. Linebrink has appeared in 42 games and is 2-2 with a 2.31 ERA. Many baseball people didn't feel Linebrink was suited for a smaller ballpark like U.S. Cellular, but that's been proven wrong. "We really did our homework on that one," said Williams. "We went inside the numbers and spotted trends that we felt were favorable and worth the risk when we signed him as a free agent. He's been a terrific pickup for us and we need him back healthy in order to get going with our season and to get where we want to go." . . . The White Sox last night acquired pitcher Horacio Ramirez from the Royals for minor league outfielder Paulo Orlando. Ramirez was 1-1 with a 2.59 ERA in 15 relief appearances this season.

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