Boston Red Sox

Red Sox notes: Dice-K, Byrd, Ellsbury, Crawford

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Red Sox notes: Dice-K, Byrd, Ellsbury, Crawford

BOSTON One day short of a year since he had Tommy John surgery, Daisuke Matsuzaka is returning to a major league mound, starting against the Washington Nationals Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park.

It will be a first for manager Bobby Valentine.

Id like to get it over with actually because I have no idea what to expect, Valentine said. Ive seen him a little on film. Ive never seen him on the big stage. So this is something Id like to turn the page.

Matsuzaka has made eight starts on two separate 30-day rehab assignments with one start each for High-A Salem and Double-A Portland and six starts, posting a combined record of 0-3 with a 3.65 ERA.

In five seasons with the Sox, Matsuzaka, who is in the sixth and final season of his contract, has a record of 49-30 (4.25). He was 3-3 (5.30) in eight games, seven starts last season. This is the second season he began on the disabled, along with 2010 when he was sidelined by a neck strain.

To make room for Matsuzaka on the roster, outfielder Marlon Byrd was designated for assignment.

Marlon came here, kind of saved the day and now hell more than likely be with another team, Valentine said. Hopefully its not in our division and competing against us. He did a good job while he was here. We just needed room for a starting pitcher today.

The decision was between Byrd and Darnell McDonald, Valentine said.

When we got Marlon there was a real need for outfield depth and Daniel Nava has filled in very nicely there. Hes done a great job. And Darnell coming back, it was kind of a decision with Darnell and Marlon.

McDonalds tenure with the Sox was a factor in the decision. McDonald, the No. 1 pick of the Orioles in 1997, is in his third season with the Sox. Byrd was acquired in a trade with the Cubs on April 21.

McDonald has had a little more history here, Valentine said. Coaches and all were much more familiar with him and we feel that he might be able to give us a little more extra-base power when hitting against left-handers.

McDonald missed 22 games, from May 12 June 5, on the DL with a right oblique strain.

Been pretty good, Valentine said. Been about what I thought in spring training. He played a lot more in spring training obviously. He was hot.

Jacoby Ellsbury, on the DL since April 14 with a right shoulder subluxation, is making progress, but there is still no timetable on a return for him.

Yesterday was his fifth day in a row hitting off a tee and he felt great, Valentine said. Hes in very good physical condition and his baseball activities are going to progress in this progression that we have in mind. He has had no setbacks.

Carl Crawford threw for the second day and took batting practice before Saturdays game. But there is no timetable for his return.

Dont know anytime soon what that means, Valentine said. But he played catch today and threw the ball well, ran the bases. So hes progressing.

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

BALTIMORE — Baseball records are so precise. When to pursue them, when to value them even if minor risk is involved, is not nearly as clear cut.

The Red Sox, Chris Sale and John Farrell have stumbled upon that grey area, and it will continue to play out in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Sale reached a tremendous milestone on Wednesday night, becoming the 14th different pitcher in major league history to reach 300 strikeouts in a single season. No one else has done it in the American League this century. Clayton Kershaw was the last to get there in the National League two years ago.

“It was really fun,” Sale said of having his family on hand. “My wife, both my boys are here, my mother-in-law. Being able to run out and get a big hug from him and my wife and everybody — it was special having them here for something like this. … I’ll spend a little time with them before we head to Cincinnati.”

Now, there’s another mark ahead of Sale: Pedro Martinez’s single-season club record of 313. And the pursuit of that record is going to highlight the discussion of what matters even more.

The tug-of-war between absolute pragmatism and personal achievement was on display Wednesday, when Farrell gave ground to the latter. 

The manager was prepared for the questions after a celebratory 9-0 win over the Orioles. His pitchers threw 26 straight scoreless innings to finish off a three-game sweep of the Orioles, and the Sox had the game well in hand the whole night.

With seven innings and 99 pitches thrown and 299 strikeouts in the books, Sale went back out for the eighth inning.

If you watched it, if you saw Sale drop a 2-2 front-door slider to a hapless Ryan Flaherty for the final strikeout Sale needed and his last pitch of the night, you surely enjoyed it. Records may not be championships, but they have their own appeal in sports that’s undeniable. 

But Sale could have recorded strikeout No. 300 next time out. Surely, he would have. He needed all 111 pitches to do so Wednesday.

In this case, the difference between 299 and 300 wound up being just 12 pitches. 

It’s doubtful those 12 pitches will ruin Sale’s postseason chances, particularly considering he was throwing hard all game, touching 99 mph. 

Nonetheless, the Sox hope to play for another month, and they've been working to get Sale extra rest. So, why risk fatigue, or worse, injury?

“The two overriding factors for me,” Farrell explained, “were the pitch counts and the innings in which he was in control of throughout. Gets an extra day [for five days of rest] this next time through the rotation. All those things were brought into play in the thinking of bringing him back out.

“We know what the final out of tonight represented, him getting the 300 strikeouts. Was aware of that, and you know what, felt like he was in complete command of this game and the ability to go out and give that opportunity, he recorded it.”

If Sale makes his final two starts of the year, he’ll break Martinez's record of 313. At least, Sale should. But he might not make his projected final start, in Game No. 162, so that he’s set up for Game 1 in the Division Series.

(So, if he could do reach 314 Ks in his next start, he’d make this discussion disappear — but 14 Ks in one outing is not easy.)

When should exceptions be made to let someone get to a record? Where do you draw the line? 

Would it be reasonable to get Sale an inning or two against the Astros in Game 162 if he was a few strikeouts away, even though he may face the Astros in the Division Series?

Letting the Astros get extra looks against Sale is a different matter than Sale throwing 12 extra pitches. But neither is really a guarantee of doom. They're small risks, of varying size.

Consider that if Sale is on, he should rough up the Astros no matter what.

What's 12 pitches Wednesday for a guy who leads the majors in average pitches thrown per game? Not enough to keep Farrell from letting Sale have a go at one milestone.

Will the Sox work to put Sale in position for the next?

Records don’t usually fall into such a grey area. Outside of the steroid era, anyway.

Sale gets strikeout No. 300 as Red Sox shut out O's, 9-0

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Sale gets strikeout No. 300 as Red Sox shut out O's, 9-0

BALTIMORE - Chris Sale struck out 13 to become the first AL pitcher in 18 years to reach the 300 mark, and the Boston Red Sox moved to the brink of clinching a playoff berth by beating the Baltimore Orioles 9-0 on Wednesday night.

Sale (17-7) reached the milestone on his last pitch, a called third strike against Ryan Flaherty to end the eighth inning. The last AL pitcher to fan 300 batters in a season was Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1999, when he set a club record with 313.

Mookie Betts and Deven Marrero homered for the Red Sox, who reduced their magic number for reaching the postseason to one. If the Angels lost to Cleveland later Wednesday night, Boston would be assured no worse than a wild-card spot in the AL playoffs.

The Red Sox, of course, would prefer to enter as AL East champions. They hold a three-game lead over the second-place Yankees with 10 games left.

After winning two straight 11-inning games over the skidding Orioles, Boston jumped to a 6-0 lead in the fifth and coasted to its 11th win in 14 games.