Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Hot Time In The Olde Towne

Yes yes yes, we'll get to the brawling in a few paragraphs. But the big story in Boston's 7-5 win over Detroit isn't the benches-clearing brawl. It's the impressive debut of rookie Junichi Tazawa.

Tazawa made his first official start with the Red Sox and was pretty damned impressive. He went five innings, giving up four hits and three runs (one earned) while striking out six and walking two. He likely would have given up no runs at all had Nick Green been able to successfully start a double play on Guillen's groundball in the first. But that's how the game goes. What's important is that Tazawa showed a lot of mental toughness after that hellacious first inning.

In the third inning Tazawa gave up a triple with one out and then struck out Avila and Inge looking. He worked the corners of the plate beautifully.

In the fourth inning Tazawa engaged in an epic 11-pitch duel with Curtis Granderson before getting him to bite and miss for the strikeout.

In the fifth inning Tazawa put down the side on just five pitches.

All that came after a first inning that would send most other rookie hurlers into a coma. But Tazawa buckled down and got it done. He threw 68.8% of his pitches for strikes and threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of 23 batters (a 74% success rate). He didn't look like a rookie at all. From what I saw of Tazawa in Portland and last night, I think this kid is the real deal and he has earned at least one more start in the bigs.

It was also good to see Fernando Cabrera make his first appearance with Red Sox. He bounced back and forth between Cleveland and Baltimore for most of his career before signing a minor-league deal with Sox this past January. He has the potential to be a solid reliever in the majors and I think we saw some of that last night. Cabrera had a solid sixth inning, followed with a good inning each from Saito and Bard (told you he'd bounce back). Then it was Paps' turn...

Look, Papelbon finished the game out and that is what matters. But his ERA for the second half right now is 3.38. He's already given up four earned runs when he gave up eight in all of the first half. And last night with the lead-off double and then a two-out homer...Paps just doesn't look like his old self. I don't know if it's the pressure of his first big-money contract or what it is. He is still one of the best relievers in the majors, but right now Paps doesn't look like the successor to Mo Rivera as "the best closer in baseball".

What rendered that two-run homer futile was mostly the bat-work of Mike Lowell. Brought in after Youk's ejection (yes, we will get to it), Lowell went 2-3 with two homers, three RBI and three runs scored in his off-the-bench role. Not only did he help the team but he made a statement about playing time.

With the addition of V-Mart, playing time is becoming a commodity to be divided between five players: V-Mart, Youk, Lowell, Ortiz and Varitek. I think Tito has been doing a damn good job thus far in trying to balance all their needs but sooner or later someone is going to feel left out. Right now that guy is Mike Lowell. He wants to play, which is a good thing. And he made that clear not only in his performance but in a respectful manner after the game.

"I feel like I've been swinging the bat really well," Lowell said. "When you're swinging the bat well, I don't think you ever want to be out of the lineup. I take it as what it is, but I'm trying to make their decision as tough as possible."

Mission accomplished, Mike. And I think Tito has to make a tough decision here. Of these five players, you are going to have V-Mart and Youk in every night if possible baring injury, a rest day or one of them matches up poorly against a particular pitcher. So now look at Lowell, Ortiz and Varitek...which one is batting the best? It's Lowell in a landslide. And that means either Varitek or Ortiz needs to start sitting more instead of Lowell being the odd man out. That's a rough choice to make but this is about what is best for the team, not a particular player's ego. Lowell has been able to suck it up and we should expect the same from any other player on the team.

And hats off to Jason Bay, who has found his homer-hitting bat. His three-run shot in the second tied the game at three. In his last four games he is 5-15 with three homers, five RBI and an OPS of 1.308. Don't look now, but he's within seven homers and 21 RBI of the "30/100" he's good for every year. Anyone want to bet against him getting there?

Okay, let's get to the beanball fest...

This carried over from Monday night. The festivities "started" when Tazawa hit Miguel Cabrera in the hand on a 0-2 count. Now, does anyone here really think that Tazawa meant to hit him on a 0-2 count, and then proceeded to aim for his hand? Anyone with eyes could tell that was a fastball that got away from Tazawa. But because of what happened on Monday, Tigers' manager Jim Leyland decided to make it personal and gave Rick Porcello orders to even the score.

Porcello tried to tag V-Mart but missed. So with the first pitch of the second inning, Porcello put a fastball right between Youk's shoulder blades. Even with all his protestations, anyone who thinks that Porcello didn't mean to do that isn't paying attention. That marked the 10th time Youk has been hit this year, good for seventh-most in the majors and fourth in the AL. He has been hit a minimum of 10 times in each of the last three years (including 2009). So he kind of lost it and charged the mound.

Now, I will not defend his throwing of his batting helmet at Porcello. That's not how it is done. But I have no problem with a batter charging the mound. That has always been part of the game and it isn't about to change now. Especially when the league has removed just about every other way for the players to police themselves (banning roll blocks, cracking down on purpose pitches, warnings to the dugouts, etc.). So I don't mind that. Just don't chuck the helmet, Kevin.

And let's also note that he likely wouldn't have reached Porcello had the Tigers infield been paying attention to what was going on. There's poor 32-year old Brandon Inge trying to run across from third to stop Youk while Avila, who is right behind the plate, just lets Youk take off. And then Rayburn and Polanco just stand there and watch their rookie pitcher get tackled like a Detroit Lions' QB. What the hell was that all about?

All this has set up what should be a very interesting game tonight with Beckett taking the mound against Galarraga. As we all know, Beckett has no problems in drilling an opposing batter to send a message. And that is as it should be. But I would hate to see him get tossed, especially considering how well he has been pitching. Beckett has gone 14 innings without allowing a single run. You want him on the mound striking Tigers' batters out, not striking them in the ribs. I think the Sox sent their message last night and things should be quiet tonight. Also, V-Mart is batting around .111 against Galarraga. So I would wager he'll get to rest tonight.


Jason said...

I'm curious who the other guys are who've been hit more than Youk.

I've also got to disagree with you that Porcello got tackled like a Lions QB. Looked to me as though Porcello was the one who made the tackle.

Dave said...

Yes, Youk's follow-through left something to be desired. The initial hit was fine, though.

In the AL, Kelly Shoppach leads with 15 HBP, followed by Brandon Inge (14) and Shin-Soo Choo (13). Ryan Garko is tied with Youk at 10. Three of the five batters hit the most reside (or resided, in Garko's case) in Cleveland.

Overall, Chase Utley has been hit 17 times, Garko is 13 (inc. 3 in SF), Josh Willingham has been hit 11 times in Washington, and Youk is tied with Jason Kendall and Miggy at 10. That places him 7th in the majors.

Anonymous said...

I'm kind of confused by this conventional wisdom that Youkilis tackled Porcello. Looked to me like Youk got taken down by a skinny guy who isn't old enough to drink.

Dave said...

The picture most people see of them on the ground looks like Youk got taken down. He actually initiated a good tackle. But he tried to twist at the same time and pulled Porcello down on top of him.

Next time he has to remember to put his grill in the other guy's chest and drive straight through. :)

Anonymous said...

Typical baseball chick-fight. No one got hurt. No one even really threw a punch with any intent. The whole thing was ridiculous. You can even tell that Youk is not trying to hit the guy with his helmet. The one guy I would go after in this case, were I Youk, is Leyland.

Anonymous said...

"As we all know, Beckett has no problems in drilling an opposing batter to send a message."

Oh really. Have you actually watched Becket's responses in these situations. It's usually to shut down the other team while NOT drilling anyone!!!

Dave said...

Um...yes, I have watched Beckett. And while he does tend to shut the other team down, he will not shy away from drilling a guy when he thinks it is needed. Remember, this is the guy who plunked Florida's Alejandro De Aza in spring training back in 2007 when he ran into Youk at first base. Beckett will do what needs to be done.

As I wrote, the odds are nothing will be done tonight since the Sox made their statement on the field last night.

Dave said...

As for the fight...I'm glad Youk didn't throw a punch. That shaved a few games off whatever suspension he gets.