BOSTON - Three things we learned from the Red Sox 9-4 victory over the Astros on Thursday night at Fenway Park.
1. Dustin Pedroia is playing with lasers again.
Pedroia hasn't had a great season by his standards, and the power is nowhere near where anybody wants it to be.
Pedroia has just five home runs this season. His slugging percentage (.377) and OPS (.722) are the lowest they've been since his first season in the majors in 2006 when he hit .191.
While his defense has looked as strong as ever, the fact that his stats have taken a dip have caused some to question the eight-year, $110 million contract he signed.
Well, to those people I say this: zip it! For now, anyway.
Pedroia went 3-for-5 with a double, two RBI, and two runs scored Thursday night. It was his 10th game this season with at least three hits, and 39th multi-hit game, most on the team.
His two-run double capped off a seven-run sixth inning that turned the game around.
"I think over the last couple of weeks he's getting multiple hits a game," John Farrell said after the game. "Seemingly in the middle of run-scoring situations for us. I think anytime of late when he's really turned on some balls and pulled into that let-field corner or down into left field, I think it's an encouraging sign because he's been pitched away so much over the last year-plus, and he hasn't missed those pitches on the inside part of the plate that have been strikes."
Pedroia has hit safely in 12 of his past 14 games dating to July 29 (.379, 22-for-58) with multiple hits in nine of those games. His .285 average is the highest it's been since May 14 (.286).
Perhaps the surgery Pedroia had on the thumb in the offseason slowed his spring and start to the season. It's too little too late for Pedroia and the Sox this season, but if he can finish strong he'll undoubtedly be in a better position to start the 2015 season than he was this season.
And let's hope that means a little more power, too.
2. Everybody loves Christian Vazquez.
I'll admit it, I walked past Christian Vazquez a few times in the Sox clubhouse without even realizing it was him.
I thought he was part of the Sox clubhouse staff.
He's not a physically intimidating guy. A bit on the shorter/stockier side. He's listed at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds - sounds about right - though he may be an inch or two shorter.
Anyway, regardless of size, he's doing all the right things behind the plate to warrant more playing time.
John Farrell speaks highly of him, and the pitching staff loves him.
Here's Allen Webster after the game on Thursday: "With Vazquez back there, it helps out a lot. He's making everything look like a strike. It can be two or three inches off and he's still making it look like a strike. It's nice having him back there."
The guy Vazquez replaced on the roster, A.J. Pierzynski, is kind of the anti-Vazquez. Pierzynski isn't close to the defensive catcher Vazquez is, and you could see it right away. Even Farrell specifically mentioned Vazquez's ability to catch the ball after his first day or two with the team.
On Thursday, Vazquez got it done behind the plate and at the plate, going two-for-three with an RBI that came from a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning.
One inning later, Vazquez tagged Astros' Jake Marisnick out at the plate after he tried to score on a tag-up from third base. It was obviously a big play, and Vazquez was fired up after it.
"He plays with a lot of confidence," Farrell said of Vazquez. "He plays with energy. I think our pitchers feed off it when they make a big pitch to finish an inning. Just a little emphasis with the fist pump I think can be a little contagious and carry over. Or if it little defensive momentum hopefully that can fill in to the offensive side. But he's done an outstanding job. His blocking ability back there is as good as you're going to see. He's got a wherewithal about him on plays like where [Daniel] Nava makes a very strong throw and completes the double play."
3. Clay Buchholz has another chance to feast on the Astros.
Buchholz' best game of the season came against the Astros in Houston on July 13.
Buchholz went the distance, giving up just three hits while striking out a season-high 12.
Since then, however, Buchholz hasn't looked good. In the five games since that start, Buchholz is 1-2 with a 7.50 ERA. He's allowed 25 earned runs, 37 hits, 15 walks, and struck out 21 over 30 innings.
Still, Buchholz didn't factor into his last start against the Angels, which was his best of the five. He went eight innings and allowed three runs on six hits and two walks, while striking out eight.
His start tonight against Houston is part of an important stretch for Buchholz and it's clear he still has lots of work to do to get back to the pitcher that he once was. GM Ben Cherington will feel plenty of pressure to bring in talented starting pitching over the offseason (Jon Lester or not). Couple that with a few Sox pitching prospects ready to make the jump and Buchholz could suddenly be fighting for a spot in the rotation.
"On thing [Buchholz] did the other night in Anaheim was he had very good feel for his curveball when he fell into some fastball counts," Farrell said. "He was able to neutralize the bat speed of some guys and slow some hitters down. But I thought he trusted his fastball earlier in the count more the other night than had been the case in previous three starts. And those will be the things we continue to look for as we go forward."