Nationals stymie Sox in Dice-K's return, 4-2

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Nationals stymie Sox in Dice-K's return, 4-2

BOSTON Before the game, manager Bobby Valentine said he was anxious to get Daisuke Matsuzakas first start in his Red Sox managerial tenure over with because he had no idea what to expect.

Matsuzaka gave Valentine five innings, giving up four runs on five hits and a walk with eight strikeouts and a home run. He threw 80 pitches, 52 strikes, facing 20 batters. But Valentine may still not be sure what he can expect from the Japanese right-hander.

The Sox lost their second straight game, 4-2, to the Nationals at Fenway Park Saturday afternoon.

Matsuzaka started out strong. He struck out Steve Lombardozzi and Ryan Zimmerman, both swinging at sliders, with a Bryce Harper fly out sandwiched in between, in the first inning. He needed just 12 pitches, nine for strikes, in the inning.

Despite a lead-off, first-pitch home run by Adam LaRoche in the second, Matsuzaka looked solid through the first three innings when he faced one batter over the minimum. He had five strikeouts in that span three swinging at sliders, one looking at a slider, and another looking at a 91-mph fastball.

But he ran into trouble in the fourth, giving up three runs on three hits and a walk. A nice double play started by Adrian Gonzalez sliding catch in right field and then doubling Ian Desmond off first, saved Matsuzaka from more damage.

The Sox offense, meanwhile, could do little with Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez. In five previous starts against the Sox, Gonzalez had not gone more than six innings and had not allowed fewer than three runs.

In the first four innings, though, the Sox had just one baserunner when David Ortiz doubled to lead off the second then took third on a wild pitch. But that was as far as he got.

The Sox had baserunners in the fifth and sixth innings, without being able to score, before driving Gonzalez from the game in the seventh after a one-out walk to Will Middlebrooks and a single by Mike Aviles.

Right-hander Craig Stammen entered the game and walked pinch-hitter Ryan Sweeney. Lefty Michael Gonzalez entered to face pinch-hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who hit a first-pitch two-run single off the wall in left field. But Gonzalez struck out Daniel Nava, looking at a 92-mph fastball, and got Dustin Pedroia to pop out in foul ground to first baseman Adam LaRoche to end the Sox threat.

Franklin Morales relieved Matsuzaka to throw three perfect innings with three strikeouts. Alfredo Aceves pitched a perfect ninth.

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Chris Sale had been the subject of so many trade rumors for the past year that he admitted feeling somewhat like "the monkey in the middle.”

On Tuesday, the rumors became reality when Sale learned he was being shipped to the Red Sox in exchange for a package of four prospects.
    
It meant leaving the Chicago White Sox, the only organization he'd known after being drafted 13th overall by Chicago in 2010. Leaving, he said, is "bittersweet.''
     
Now, he can finally move forward.
     
"Just to have the whole process out of the way and get back to some kind of normalcy will be nice,” said Sale Wednesday morning in a conference call with reporters.

Sale had been linked in trade talks to many clubs, most notably the Washington Nationals, who seemed poised to obtain him as recently as Monday night.

Instead, Sale has changed his Sox from White to Red.

"I'm excited,” he said. "You're talking about one of the greatest franchises ever. I'm excited as anybody. I don't know how you couldn't be. I've always loved going to Boston, pitching in Boston. (My wife and I) both really like the city and (Fenway Park) is a very special place.”
     
It helps that Sale lives in Naples, Fla., just 20 or so miles from Fort Myers, the Red Sox' spring training base. Sale played his college ball at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.
     
"Being able to stay in our house a couple of (more) months,” gushed Sale, “it couldn't have worked out better personally or professionally for us.”
     
Sale joins a rotation with two Cy Young Award winners (David Price and reigning winner Rick Porcello), a talented core of mostly younger position players and an improved bullpen.

"There's no reason not to be excited right now,” said Sale. "You look at the talent on this team as a whole... you can't ask for much more.”

Sale was in contact with Price Tuesday, who was the first Red Sox player to reach out. He also spoke with some mutual friends of Porcello.

That three-headed monster will carry the rotation, and the internal competition could lift them all to new heights.
     
"The good thing in all of this,'' Sale said, "is that I can definitely see a competition (with) all of us pushing each others, trying to be better. No matter who's pitching on a (given) night, we have as good or better chance the next night. That relieves some of the pressure that might build on some guys (who feel the need to carry the team every start).”

But Sale isn't the least bit interested in being known as the ace of the talented trio.

"I don’t think that matters,” he said. "When you have a group of guys who come together and fight for the same purpose, nothing else really matters. We play for a trophy, not a tag.”

Sale predicted he would be able to transition from Chicago to Boston without much effort, and didn't seem overwhelmed by moving to a market where media coverage and fan interest will result in more scrutiny.

"It's fine, it's a part of it, it's reality,” he said. "I'm not a big media guy. I'm not on Twitter. I'm really focused on the in-between-the-lines stuff. That's what I love, playing the game of baseball. Everything else will shake out.”

After playing before small crowds and in the shadow of the  Cubs in Chicago, Sale is ready to pitch before sellout crowds at Fenway.

"I'm a firm believer that energy can be created in ballparks,” he said. "I don't think there’s any question about it. When you have a packed house and everyone's on their feet in the eighth inning, that gives every player a jolt.”