Youkilis to bat leadoff in Thursday's game

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Youkilis to bat leadoff in Thursday's game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Bobby Valentine has shown a willingness to experiment with lineups, and Thursday's lineup is an example of that, with third baseman Kevin Youkilis serving as the Red Sox' leadoff hitter.

Valentine was asked whether he could envision have Youkilis hit first during the regular season.

"I don't want to rule anything out," said Valentine. "But probably not. That's more on the idea of getting him a couple of quick at-bats."

Valentine has a history of using non-traditional leadoff hitters over his major league career. He had Benny Agbayani with the New York Mets and catcher-turned-DH Brian Downing in Texas.

"Downing is the best leadoff hitter I ever had," said Valentine.

He recounted spring training in 1991, when the Rangers lured Downing, 40, out of retirement to serve as the club's leadoff man.

With about a week's worth of Grapefruit League games, Downing went on to compile a .377 on-base percentage in 1991 and .407 in 1992 before retiring.

"I had a lot of guys who could hit (with the Rangers)," recounted Valentine. "Young guys -- Ruben (Sierra), Juan (Gonzalez) -- and none of them could quite take a pitch. None of them understood the value."

As for Youkilis, Valentine termed him a "very productive hitter," but noted Boston's lack of "other righthanded hitters" in the lineup as a reason not to use Youkilis at the top.

Indeed, many of the Sox' best hitters are lefthanded, including David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford.

Youkilis is hardly a speedy runner, but Valentine said that part of a player's game is overrated when it comes to being at the top of the lineup.
"My opinion is," he said, "if you have guys who can't run (well), and can get on, they should be on before guys who can hit it over the fence because then we don't ask them to run; they're allowed to
trot.

"Guys who can't run at the bottom of the lineup with guys who don't hit it over the fence cause a problem in scoring the run, which is the ultimate concern. (Slow guys at the top) clogging the bases? I get that one. But again, it's easier to run around the bases when it's an extra-base hit instead of singles."

Wednesday's Red Sox-Yankees lineups: Second try at clinching A.L. East

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Wednesday's Red Sox-Yankees lineups: Second try at clinching A.L. East

The Red Sox try again to nail down the A.L. East crown tonight, sending Clay Buchholz to the mound against the Yankees while needed just one victory -- or one Toronto defeat -- to clinch the division.

Tonight's lineups:

RED SOX:
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Mookie Betts RF
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Brock Holt 3B
Andrew Benintendi LF
Sandy Leon C
----
Clay Buchholz P

YANKEES:
Brett Gardner LF
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Gary Sanchez C
Brian McCann DH
Starlin Castro 2B
Didi Gregorious SS
Mark Texeira 1B
Chase Headley 3B
Mason Williams RF
----
Bryan Mitchell P

 

Bruins' Zboril uses criticism and Twitter hate as motivation

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Bruins' Zboril uses criticism and Twitter hate as motivation

BRIGHTON -- It’s easy to see that Jakub Zboril , one of the Bruins' 2015 first-round pick, has come a long way in a year.

“I feel more comfortable,” said Zboril. “After last year, when all of the people saying something about what they didn’t like about me, it really pushed me forward. I told myself I wanted to be in better shape and so I worked really hard at it.”

The 19-year-old wasn’t in very good shape for last season's training camp after coming back from a knee injury, and that carried over into a junior season for the Saint John Sea Dogs (6 goals and 20 points in 50 games). That was a drop from his 13 goals and 33 points in 44 games prior to hearing his name called by the B’s on draft night.

Zboril was back at peak effectiveness in the playoffs for the Sea Dogs with a couple of goals and 10 points in 17 games, but the chain of events caused some to wonder if the Bruins had drafted something of a bust.

It seems ludicrous, considering Zboril is a 19-year-old talented enough to be selected 13th overall in the entire NHL draft, and even more so now that he’s showing much more in his second camp with Boston. It was some good and some bad for Zboril in his preseason debut against Columbus on Monday with a misplay leading to a goal against, but Zboril also kicked off the transition pass that helped the Bruins score their first goal of game.

“From last year I think he’s made big strides,” said assistant coach Jay Pandolfo. “He’s a young kid that’s only 19 years old, and he’s going to keep getting better. So that’s what you want. The structure in his game and the overall attitude [is better]. He was a little young last year. He’s in better shape. He’s done a lot of things that we got on him for last year, and he’s taken it and listened, he’s working hard. He’s done a good job.”

It’s a long shot for Zboril to crack the B’s roster this fall, so he’s likely headed back to Saint John for another junior hockey season after watching fellow prospect Thomas Chabot get a lot of the No. 1 D-man playing time last season. He quickly shot down any possibilities of playing in Europe rather than going back to the Quebec Major Junior League, and said there could still be plenty to learn in his final junior season.

“Right now where I am, I can just learn from myself and pushing myself,” said Zboril, of going back to junior. “What I can take from last year is that my role on the team changed, and I had to be more of a shutdown D. I had to show my defensive abilities, so I improved a lot from the year before. I think I can be more of a defensive defenseman too, so there’s that.”

Still, the so-so season last year had its impact in a positive fashion with Zboril really stepping up his game. But it’s also had its drawbacks as the Czech-born defenseman was forced to deactivate his Twitter account because of the harsh criticism and messages he was getting from hockey fans. Disappointingly, Zboril said most of it was coming from people in Boston that claim to be Bruins fans, and that it was like “people just spitting on you.”

“It was really pushing me down a lot,” said Zboril. “After some games when you know you weren’t playing really good, then you go on Twitter and you just see . . . people just spitting on you. So I had to delete it.”

Zboril said he’s much happier since getting off social media. But it’s a shame that a bright young prospect’s first impression of his future NHL city was the flaming dumpster of keyboard warriors that should forever be known as “Bruins Hockey Twitter.”