Hunter to be the hunted

Sox hitters gird for another rookie

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / July 21, 2009

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ARLINGTON, Texas - At some point this afternoon, Red Sox batters will retreat into a room connected to the visitors’ clubhouse and cue video of Tommy Hunter. Another unknown pitcher will spring to life.

Tonight, Hunter will become the 24th rookie starting pitcher to face the Sox this season. Rookie starters have a 7-14 record and a 5.47 ERA against the Sox this season. But some of them have proved baffling, especially recently.

Since June 19, rookie starters have beaten the Sox five times, and that does not include the game in Baltimore, when Orioles rookie Brad Bergesen held the Sox to one run over eight innings, then watched them come back after he exited. Callow pitchers challenge hitters with unfamiliarity and unpredictability, and the Sox have not been able to master the task.

“You see how this team goes every time we face a pitcher we haven’t faced before,’’ shortstop Nick Green said. “A lot of times, it takes us a few times. If he gets us up and down with the lineup quick, it’s tough. I think the second time with these guys, it’s a lot more successful.’’

The Sox faced a pair of rookies this weekend in Toronto. On Friday night, they knocked Ricky Romero out of the game after 4 1/3 innings, drawing 5 walks, pounding 5 hits, and scoring 4 runs. Saturday afternoon, Marc Rzepczynski became the latest rookie to dazzle the Sox, allowing four hits and a run in six innings. Afterward, third baseman Mike Lowell called him “effectively wild.’’

Therein lies one issue with facing a rookie pitcher: How can a hitter figure him out if the hurler can’t figure himself out? Several rookies possess elite stuff, just not the save level of consistency or approach. If they can harness their ability for one night, though, they can derail a lineup.

Before the Sox faced Oakland A’s lefthander Brett Anderson July 6, he was 4-7 with a 5.45 ERA. He then threw the first two-hitter at Fenway Park in more than two years, and he now has not allowed an earned run in 21 consecutive innings.

“Those guys, they figure it out and they start executing,’’ Lowell said. “It’s part of the maturing process. If they come from the minor leagues, it’s usually not stuff. It’s more execution. If they execute, you’re in for a battle. If not, you can score some runs.’’

“It’s tough,’’ right fielder J.D. Drew said. “Sometimes, you can get to him. Sometimes, they can be sneaky enough. The big key is going out and grinding out at-bats and seeing pitches, see what happens.’’

The Sox will try to solve Hunter, a 23-year-old righty making his fifth start this season and eighth of his career, before they face him. They’ll study video, but there is only so much they can do. Friday night, Green didn’t realize Romero could either cut or sink his changeup until he faced him.

“There’s kind of a learning curve,’’ Lowell said. “Some people are like, swing at the first good straight one, because they haven’t seen anything else. I think you get a gauge of if this guy throws a lot of strikes or not from video. And then some people, they don’t even care. I use the video, and then I try to make my judgment.’’

“It’s still part of the game,’’ Green said. “In the minor leagues, you face guys like that all the time. You’ve got to take the same approach you do in the minor leagues. You’ve still got to watch video, but a lot of times the ball doesn’t move the same. You never know what’s going to happen.’’

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