Morales exceeding expectations

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Morales exceeding expectations

BOSTON Watching Franklin Morales walk the second batter of the game, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine thought there might be something wrong. Entering the game, Morales had given up just eight walks, two intentional, in 28 23 innings this season, compared to 29 strikeouts. In his five-inning start on June 17 his first start since April 8, 2009 Morales didnt allow a walk while striking out a career-high nine.

On Saturday night, Morales allowed a single to Michael Bourn to open the game, walked Martin Prado, and, after a double steal, gave up an RBI single to Brian McCann.

But the left-hander quickly adjusted. He struck out Dan Uggla, looking at an 82-mph changeup, and Freddie Freeman, swinging at an 84-mph changeup, before getting Chipper Jones to line out to Mike Aviles at shortstop to end the inning.

After that Morales faced the minimum number of batters over the next three innings. He gave up a single to Bourn in the third, but the Braves lead-off hitter was erased when Prado grounded into a double play.

Morales went six innings, allowing three runs, two earned, on seven hits and a walk, with eight strikeouts. He threw 86 pitches, 62 strikes, for an impressive 72 percent strike rate. He earned the win, improving to 1-1 with a 3.12 ERA, as the Sox beat the Braves 8-4.

Morales comes out throwing strikes, Valentine said. The first inning when he walked Prado, I thought there was something drastically wrong when you see him walk a batter. Holy cow, is he alright? But actually he turned out to be fine in the first inning. Got us six innings this time instead of five. Throwing strikes aggressively and not afraid to use that changeup now. He mixed that in a lot more tonight. Changed the speed on his breaking ball a little. Hes making good adjustments.

Asked if Morales has given more than what might have been expected, Valentine replied:

Its hard to make expectations. But for him to maintain the velocity now, twice. Into the 80 pitches last time, 86 this time is very impressive and thats more than I expected.

In his two starts combined, Morales has gone 11 innings, giving up four runs (3.27 ERA) with 17 strikeouts and one walk. His eight- and nine-strikeout performances in the two starts are the highest strikeout totals of his career. Since 1985, the only other Red Sox pitchers to strikeout out at least eight batters in their first two starts of a season were Roger Clemens in 1988, and Pedro Martinez (1998 2000).

"I feel real confident in myself and I think it's good for me to be starting, Morales said.

"I feel very good.

Morales last two outings, his first starts in more than three years, were out of necessity. With Josh Beckett on the disabled list, Morales was pressed into service. Although Beckett is eligible to be activated on June 27, Valentine left little doubt to his thoughts on Morales getting another start.

Yes, most assuredly, Valentine said.

Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

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Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

BOSTON — As has been well-documented, the Red Sox have tried any number of solutions at third base this season, with eight different players getting starts at the position.

Travis Shaw has the most starts of anyone, with 99. But with three games left in the season, it's become apparent that Brock Holt is being viewed as the likely starter in the post-season.

Holt started all three games in the recent series in New York and was the starter Friday night against Toronto, too.

"You look at the consistent quality to the at-bats," said John Farrell, "and they've been there for him. That's not to say the other guys aren't important to us. But this is the time of year where you're looking to put the best, current lineup on the field and his versatility has shown up a number of ways. He's a confident defender at third base and his skill set is a little bit different from the other guys.

"So against righthanded pitching, that could be the guy we're going with."

Holt came into Friday hitting .319 (22-for-69) in the last 24 games.

Shaw, meanwhile, has been streaky to a fault. In the second half of the season, Shaw has posted a slash line of .195/.260/.362.

"We've seen (the streakiness both ways) in short spurts," Farrell said. "He does have the ability to carry us. But we're trying to get there and we're at a point in the year where every game is meaningful. That's not to say you turn your back on what he did earlier in the season. But we're looking for sparks somewhere."

What's more, Farrell had Holt hitting second in the lineup, in an effort to produce more offense. The Sox were limited to just eight runs in the three-game series at Yankee Stadium, and over the last 11 games, scored more than five runs just once.

Holt hit second, with Xander Bogaerts dropped to sixth.

"This is to create a little bit of a spark for us offensively," explained Farrell. "We've been grinding a little bit. And also, (we want) to create a little more (left-right) balance up and down the lineup."

TIME TO PLAY

As the final few regular season games of his career wind down, David Ortiz acknowledged that it's becoming increasing difficult to focus on the games with all the tributes and ceremonies going on.

In the final 11 days of the season, Ortiz will have had five pre-game ceremonies held in his honor -- and it would have been six had not Ortiz asked the Tampa Bay Rays to cancel the ceremony they had planned in the aftermath of the death that morning of pitcher Jose Fernandez.

On Thursday night, Ortiz has his family on the field for a pre-game celebration hosted by the New York Yankees.

Minutes later, he had to step in to the batter's box against CC Sabathia. Sometimes, it's hard to flip that switch and be emotionally ready to compete.

"I'm not going to lie to you -- it has (gotten harder)," said Ortiz. "We're already in the playoffs, so for the next three days, I don't really have to worry about it. But the best thing about it is that once we get into the playoffs, there's not going to be all these distractions.

"I like to mentally focus when we play, especially when I'm playing for a reason. We work extremely hard during the regular season to get into the playoffs and once we get there, I don't want to blow that off. It's not easy to (do all the ceremonies) and play baseball at the same time. It can be a distraction."

Friday’s Red Sox-Blue Jays lineups: Porcello goes for win No. 23

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Friday’s Red Sox-Blue Jays lineups: Porcello goes for win No. 23

The A.L. East-champion Red Sox, still fighting for playoff position, field their usual lineup as they open David Ortiz's final regular-season series tonight (7:10) against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox (92-67) are two games behind the Texas Rangers (94-65) in the race for the best record in the A.L., with the Cleveland Indians (91-67) a half-game behind Boston.

Rick Porcello (22-4, 3.11 ERA), the likely Game 1 starter in the ALDS, will try to add to his Cy Young Award resume tonight. He’ll be opposed by right-hander Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.53).

The Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles (both 87-72) are tied for the A.L. wild-card lead with the Detroit Tigers (85-73) 1 1/2 games back.

It’s the final regular season series for Oritz, with ceremonies planned to honor the retiring Red Sox DH prior to each of the final three game this weekend. 

The lineups:

RED SOX

Dustin Pedroia 2B

Brock Holt 3B

Mookie Betts RF

David Ortiz DH

Hanely Ramirez 1B

Xander Bogaerts SS

Jackie Bradley CF

Sandy Leon C

Andrew Benintendi LF

Rick Porcello P

 

BLUE JAYS

Eziquiel Carrera LF

Josh Donaldson 3B

Edwin Encarnacion DH

Jose Bautista RF

Russell Martin C

Troy Tulowitzki SS

Justin Smoak 1B

Kevin Pillar CF

Devon Travis 2B

Marco Estrada RHP