Ellsbury returns; Melancon showing improvement

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Ellsbury returns; Melancon showing improvement

After a week on the shelf, Jacoby Ellsbury returned to the lineup following an undisclosed injury.

Ellsbury instructed team officials that he didn't want the nature of his injury revealed to the media, but a major league source indicated that the outfielder had been suffering from a pulled lat muscle.

"Hopefully, he won't have any (soreness),'' said manager Bobby Valentine, "and he'll play the next few days and go home on a good note.''

Valentine said Ellsbury returned to the lineup "because he wanted to, and he's a good player and it's a pennant race that teams are in and we should put our best foot forward.''

Ellsbury missed almost the entire first half of the season with a more serious injury -- a separated shoulder. He's been healthy enough to play about half the season but hasn't put together anywhere close to the year he had last year, when he finished second in the A.L. MVP race.

Entering Saturday night, Ellsbury was hitting just .277 with four homers and 26 RBI. His on-base percentage was just .321 and his slugging percentage was a mere .382.

Valentine said in spring training that he thought Ellsbury should have been the MVP in 2011, but admitted Saturday that he didn't see the outfielder repeat that kind of play in 2012.

"I didn't see him play that way this year, no,'' acknowledged Valentine. "He never quite hit his stride this year. I've had a lot of conversations with the coaching staff about it and a few with Jacoby about it. I don't know...he hasn't had the feel, from what I gather.''

Reliever Mark Melancon got off to a poor start this season and was demoted to Triple A within the first two weeks. He spent several months in Pawtucket, but even after being recalled, couldn't seem to establish himself as a pitcher who could be trusted in the Red Sox' bullpen.

But of late, Melancon has been much better. In his seven September outings, he has a 1.08 ERA, having allowed just one earned run this month while striking out 12 in the last 8 13 innings.

In fact, since Aug. 1, he's held opposing hitters to a .220 batting average while averaging 24 strikeouts in 21 13 innings.

"His curveball is getting swings and misses,'' said Valentine, "and he's getting called strikes. I believe that pitch has improved with arm speed and deception. His ability to work both sides of the plate effectively in his last five or six outings has really made the difference.

"(Early in the season) he got hit early in the count and maybe got behind and stayed away from a lot of righthanded hitters. But he's throwing the ball well now and that's important.''

First impressions: Royals' five-run first inning dooms Red Sox in 6-3 loss

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First impressions: Royals' five-run first inning dooms Red Sox in 6-3 loss

First impressions from the Red Sox' 6-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals:

 

Steven Wright recovered nicely after the first inning, but the damage was done.

Wright's last five innings featured just three hits allowed -- one in the infield. But the first inning did the Red Sox in -- two walks followed by a three-run homer, then a single and a two-run homer.

Whether this was a matter of rust for Wright -- who last pitched three weeks ago Friday night -- or an early inability to command his knuckleball is uncertain.

The fact is, Wright dug an early hole for his teammates, and he had the misfortune to do so against a team with the best bullpen in baseball.

To his credit, Wright kept the game somewhat within reach thereafter, but the five-run head start proved too much of a jump.

 

It's time to worry a little about Jackie Bradley.

Bradley was just 7-for-40 in the just-completed road trip, and things didn't get any better on the first night of the homestand.

In the first, he came up with two on and two out and struck out swinging to strand both baserunners. In the third, he came to the plate with runners on the corners and, again, struck out swinging.

We're seeing the same kind of slump that Bradley fell into in previous seasons, where even contact is hard to find, with nine strikeouts in the last 16 at-bats.

Problem is, with Andrew Benitendi on the DL, there aren't a lot of options for John Farrell with the Red Sox outfield.

 

Trying to get Fernando Abad and Junichi Tazawa back on track in low- leverage mop-up didn't work.

Tazawa had a perfect seventh, but gave up a monster shot into the center field bleachers to Lorenzo Cain to start the eighth.

Abad entered, and while he did record a couple of strikeouts, also gave up a single, a walk and threw a wild pitches before he could complete the inning.

Getting some work for the two was the right idea, given that the Sox were down by three runs at the time. A good outing might help either regain some confidence and turn the corner.

But not even that could be accomplished Friday night.