Sox stretching out Morales

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Sox stretching out Morales

BOSTON In his previous outing Sunday in Toronto left-hander Franklin Morales went 4 13 innings, more than doubling his prior career high in a relief appearance. In Saturdays 4-2 loss to the Nationals, he entered in the sixth inning with the Red Sox trailing by four runs.

He pitched a perfect three innings with three strikeouts.

In his last two outings combined, he has gone 7 13 scoreless innings, giving up two hits with no walks and seven strikeouts, lowering his overall ERA to 3.04.

Thats what I try to do, Morales said. I try to hold the other team, to do my thing, give my team a chance to get a couple runs. Thats what I try to do, throw strikes, and make my pitches.

Morales struck out three of the last four batters he faced Rick Ankiel swinging at a curveball, pinch-hitter Tyler Moore looking at a 96-mph fastball, and Bryce Harper swinging at a curveball.

When I pitch I dont think for a strikeout, Morales said. I pitch to get the hitter out and if I have the opportunity, I make my pitch and thats it.

Morales three perfect innings were the most by a Sox reliever this season and the most by a Sox lefty since Jamie Moyers three perfect innings in Oakland on May 28, 1996.

For Morales, who thought he could have gone longer against the Nationals, his last two performances were needed. In the outing against the Blue Jays, he entered with two outs in the second inning after Daniel Bards meltdown, when Bard faced 13 batters, hit two, and gave up five runs.

Saturday against the Nationals, Morales relieved Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was returning to a major league mound for the first time since Tommy John surgery June 10, 2011.

Manager Bobby Valentine knew an early call to the bullpen would be likely.

"That's twice Franklin's pitched in a bit of a long role, Valentine said. We're stretching him out a little, and he's maintaining his stuff, throwing strikes, changing speeds. He's doing a very good job.

Getting Morales stretched out also gives Valentine another pitching option, which he really hasnt had this season an emergency spot starter.

"You have to make as many plans as you can, Valentine said. With the way our bullpen's set up, I think that he has some length in him. I thought he did, and now I have a better feeling that he has some length in him. It's good to have."

For his part, Morales said hell take whatever role is asked of him.

Thats not my decision, he said. But I try to do what I can to help. What I can control is go out there. If you give me an opportunity. Ill take it.

Thursday's lineups: Red Sox vs. Braves

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Thursday's lineups: Red Sox vs. Braves

BOSTON -- The Red Sox and Braves play the finale of their home-and-home, four-game series tonight . . . to the Sox' dismay, no doubt.

Boston has won the first three games by a combined score of 21-8, extending its overall winning streak to four. The Sox have also won five of their last six, and six of their last eight, as they've closed to within a half-game of the first-place Orioles in the A.L. East. In addition, they now hold one of the two A.L. wild-card positions.

The lineups:

BRAVES:
Nick Markakis RF
Daniel Castro 3B
Adonis Garcia DH
Freddie Freeman 1B
A.J. Pierzynski C
Jeff Francoeur LF
Jace Peterson 2B
Erick Aybar SS
Mallex Smith CF
---
Jhoulys Chacin P

RED SOX:
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Travis Shaw 3B
Chris Young LF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Christian Vazquez C
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Clay Buchholz P

Hanigan on handling the knuckler: ‘It’s always a battle’

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Hanigan on handling the knuckler: ‘It’s always a battle’

BOSTON - Major league catchers take a beating behind the plate. It goes with the territory.
      
There are foul tips off fingers, jarring blows to facemasks and, even in the aftermath of new rules regarding slides, vicious collisions with baserunners.
      
Those are all well-known parts of the job. Goes with the territory, catchers will shrug and say.
      
But what happened to Ryan Hanigan Wednesday night -- and last Friday night in Houston, for that matter -- was a different sort of test.
      
It was Hanigan's job to coral Steven Wright's knuckleball, dipping and darting in most unpredictable ways. Even the Atlanta Braves hitters seemingly had an easier time hitting the pitch than Hanigan did catching it.
      
Forget 99-mph fastballs; the toughest pitch for a catcher to handle is a knuckler that may not top 75 mph. 
      
From the second through the fourth inning, Hanigan battled and boxed balls, almost blocking and tackling them -- when he wasn't chasing them to the backstop, that is.
      
"It was really dancing tonight,'' said Hanigan after the Red Sox' 9-4 win over Atlanta. "I think the wind played a factor. It was going all over the place.''
      
And, so, at times, was Hanigan, scrambling to keep the ball in  front of him, and, occasionally, going to retrieve it.
      
In the fourth inning, Erick Aybar reached on a strikeout passed ball, took second base, and eventually third on two more passed balls. He was
one more floating, errant knuckler away from circling the bases despite never making contact with a pitch, or being advanced by a teammate making contact.
      
All Hanigan could do was hold on -- make that TRY to hold on -- for dear life.
      
"I was talking to the [home plate] umpire back there,'' chuckled Hanigan. "It was going up, down, left, right...It's always a battle. It's 
tough - every time I catch it, it's a small victory. Some days, it's more consistent in the way it moves. Some days, it's darting left and right and all over. It was one of those nights. I struggled a little bit with some of them back there.
      
"You're not going to catch all of them. That's just how it is. You have to try to stay positive, try working with him back there, keep him in his rhythm and [have him] throw as many strikes as he can.''
      
Problem is, even the strikes can be difficult to catch. At the last possible instant, the knuckleball can evade Hanigan's mitt, like a butterfly eluding capture. 
      
Wright can't help but have some sympathy for his batterymate.
      
"There's times where it can get frustrating [for him],’’ said Wright. "He does a great job. I can't give enough credit to him and what he's done.''
      
The paradox, of course, is that Wright wants the ball to move as much as possible to confound the hitters. Hanigan does too, but he has to deal with the consequences.
      
"The ones that stay high,'' he explained, "you expect a little drop. But they just don't. They tip off the top [of the catcher's mitt]. Those are tough. He had them really darting tonight. It just takes a  left turn on me. Those are tough. But that's what you want. So I just try to knock 'em down.
      
"You just can't really anticipate which way it's going to go. One will go right, one will go left, one will be flat, one will kind of  take off. And I think the wind [is a factor]. It helps [Wright].’’
      
While at the same time, hurting Hanigan.
      
Wright lasted seven innings, allowing just one unearned run.  Hanigan then went back to conventional pitchers Tommy Layne and Matt Barnes.
      
"Man, when I put the other glove on...it's all gravy after that,'' he said. "There's predictability as to which way the ball is going to move, at least to some extent. With the knuckleball, it does what it wants.''
      
And it's Hanigan's thankless task to catch it. Or chase after it.
      

Tom Glavine: Atlanta sports fans apathy was frustrating at times

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Tom Glavine: Atlanta sports fans apathy was frustrating at times

Former Atlanta Braves pitcher and baseball Hall of Famer Tom Glavine talks with Toucher & Rich about the apathy of the Atlanta fan base, where playoff games in the early rounds would frequently not sellout.