McAdam: Sox will miss Hill, not Dice-K

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McAdam: Sox will miss Hill, not Dice-K

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

One pitcher grew up half a world away, the other just miles from Fenway Park.

One was the object of an unprecedented bidding war, the other signed for less than double the major-league minimum salary.

One threw a dizzying array of pitches, the other spent the past two seasons experimenting with various arm angles.

One is right-handed, the other lefty.

Yet, for all their differences, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rich Hill are the same in ways they surely don't wish: both seem headed for season-ending -- and potentially career-threatening Tommy John surgery.

Dr. M. explains Tommy John surgery

And here's the irony: despite the fact that the Red Sox paid 103 million for Matsuzaka and just 700,000 for Hill, it's Hill whom they'll miss the most.

Matsuzaka may have attracted the most attention, arriving with great fanfare and a mythical pitch (gyro ball), and he may have won 33 games in his first two seasons with the Sox, 11 more than Hill has over parts of seven big-league seasons.

But in 2011, it was Hill who held much greater value to the Red Sox and whose absence will be far more difficult to replace.

No matter what they had invested in him, financially and otherwise, Matsuzaka remained an enigma, seemingly unable to win with any consistency. Since the start of 2009, in 44 starts -- roughly the equivalent of a season-and-a-third -- Matsuzaka was 16-15 with a 5.03 ERA.

This year, he was as unpredictable as ever. In back-to-back starts in April, he teased the Red Sox with one-hitters. But as dominant as he was in those two outings, his ERA for the season was 5.30 -- about a run higher than the American League average.

Money and reputation aside, Matsuzaka had devloved into a back-of-the-rotation starter -- and not a very durable one at that.

In the eight games that Matsuzaka started for them this season, the Red Sox were 4-4; with others starting, they are at least (nominally) over .500 at 26-22.

And though neither Tim Wakefield nor Alfredo Aceves are necessarily long-term solutions to the Red Sox rotation, they've consistently given the Sox a chance to win games. In seven starts combined, the pair have twice allowed five or more runs; in Matsuzaka's eight starts before his trip to the DL, he also allowed five or more runs twice.

For the time being, the Red Sox plan to use either Wakefield or Aceves in place of Matsuzaka. In time, they could call upon Felix Doubront (fresh off a DL stint of his own at Pawtucket) or perhaps even Kevin Millwood.

But they're not about to venture into the trade market to replace Matsuzaka, thanks to the prohibitive cost of obtaining pitching help and, frankly, because it shouldn't be difficult to match what Matsuzaka was giving them with their many internal candidates.

Hill, however, is another story.

Even after walking off the mound and out of the game Wednesday afternoon following a walk to Adam Dunn, Hill had not given up a run in eight appearances this season. In fact, dating back to his late-season callup last September, Hill was, improbably, unscored upon in his Red Sox career, throwing nothing but blanks over 15 appearances, covering 12 innings.

If quality starting pitching is difficult to find, it's downright bountiful when compared to effective left-handed relievers like Hill.

Consider that the Red Sox had a handful of lefty relievers in camp this spring, including Hill and journeyman Dennys Reyes.

Reyes made the Opening Day roster, then pitched so poorly that the Red Sox found a reason to place him on the DL before they even returned home from their season-opening road trip.

Hill, on the other hand, was showing signs of beginning to master his role. A starter earlier in his career, Hill transitioned to the bullpen after shoulder surgery in 2009.

This year, he held opposing lefty hitters to a single hit in 14 at-bats with seven strikeouts and just two walks. But Hill was also getting righties out, allowing just two hits in 12 at-bats (.167 BAA).

Had Hill remained healthy, he might have resulted in another option for the seventh or eighth innings -- beyond his usual duties as a situational left-hander.

The Sox don't have anyone like him in their system. Even in his first few seasons with the Sox, Hideki Okajima wasn't particularly effective against lefties, and the Sox thought so little of him two weeks ago that they designed him for assignment.

Doubront could conceivably help out in the short-run, but long-term his future is as a starter.

By their own admission, the Sox got lucky with Hill. He chose to opt-out of a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals organization last summer for the chance to pitch for his hometown team. As a free agent, non-tendered by the Sox last winter, he turned down offers from other interested clubs to accept a minor-league, make-good deal with the Sox. And after experimenting with a number of sidearm release points, he found one this spring that worked.

Now, he's gone for the remainder of this season and parts of next. And putting aside his modest salary and the little fanfare he attracted, his loss is far greater to the Red Sox than the internationally known pitcher with whom he's now linked, both felled by the same injury, different as can be but united in their fate.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

First impressions: Ortiz moves past pregame ceremonies, hits game winner for Sox

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First impressions: Ortiz moves past pregame ceremonies, hits game winner for Sox

BOSTON -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 5-3 win over Toronto:

* What's left to say about David Ortiz?

Ortiz acknowledged before Friday's game that the pre-game ceremonies and the attendant fuss over his pending retirement have created a challenge for him. Sometimes, it's hard to go from being feted to trying to win a game.

Not that you would know it by Friday night.

In his first at-bat, he singled home the first run of the game. Two at-bats later, he lined a bullet that was right at Jose Bautista.

But he saved his best for the seventh when, after the Red Sox tied the game at 3-3, Ortiz promptly untied it with a laser down the line, landing in the right field seats.

One more clutch hit from Ortiz in a career full of them.

* Brock Holt's defense at third has stood out.

John Farrell is looking for someone to step up with the third base job, given that Travis Shaw is hitting under .200 since the All-Star break and Aaron Hill has had difficulty hitting righties.

Holt, meanwhile, has seized the job somewhat by default, with a .319 average in the last 24 games.

But since starting the last four games at third, Holt has also contributed with his glove.

On Friday night, Holt made a fine stop with his backhand, on the third base line, and fired to nail Devon Travis on a close play at first.

Later, he came on a slow roller to gun down Josh Donaldson out at first.

* The Red Sox have done a better job of late capitalizing on opponents' mistakes.

Last week in Baltimore, the Red Sox were handed a gift by the Orioles when a throwing error by Chris Davis resulted in five runs being scored -- all of them unearned. It took exactly two pitches for the Red Sox to pounce on the opportunity.

On Friday night, it happened again.

Trailing 3-1, the Red Sox used a throwing error by Russell Martin to score one run and put another runner in scoring position. A groundout and single by Mookie Betts tied things, and Ortiz's homer broke the tie and gave the Red Sox a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Good teams take advantage of mistakes. Two of the last six Red Sox wins are prime examples of that maxim.

Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

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Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

BOSTON — As has been well-documented, the Red Sox have tried any number of solutions at third base this season, with eight different players getting starts at the position.

Travis Shaw has the most starts of anyone, with 99. But with three games left in the season, it's become apparent that Brock Holt is being viewed as the likely starter in the post-season.

Holt started all three games in the recent series in New York and was the starter Friday night against Toronto, too.

"You look at the consistent quality to the at-bats," said John Farrell, "and they've been there for him. That's not to say the other guys aren't important to us. But this is the time of year where you're looking to put the best, current lineup on the field and his versatility has shown up a number of ways. He's a confident defender at third base and his skill set is a little bit different from the other guys.

"So against righthanded pitching, that could be the guy we're going with."

Holt came into Friday hitting .319 (22-for-69) in the last 24 games.

Shaw, meanwhile, has been streaky to a fault. In the second half of the season, Shaw has posted a slash line of .195/.260/.362.

"We've seen (the streakiness both ways) in short spurts," Farrell said. "He does have the ability to carry us. But we're trying to get there and we're at a point in the year where every game is meaningful. That's not to say you turn your back on what he did earlier in the season. But we're looking for sparks somewhere."

What's more, Farrell had Holt hitting second in the lineup, in an effort to produce more offense. The Sox were limited to just eight runs in the three-game series at Yankee Stadium, and over the last 11 games, scored more than five runs just once.

Holt hit second, with Xander Bogaerts dropped to sixth.

"This is to create a little bit of a spark for us offensively," explained Farrell. "We've been grinding a little bit. And also, (we want) to create a little more (left-right) balance up and down the lineup."

TIME TO PLAY

As the final few regular season games of his career wind down, David Ortiz acknowledged that it's becoming increasing difficult to focus on the games with all the tributes and ceremonies going on.

In the final 11 days of the season, Ortiz will have had five pre-game ceremonies held in his honor -- and it would have been six had not Ortiz asked the Tampa Bay Rays to cancel the ceremony they had planned in the aftermath of the death that morning of pitcher Jose Fernandez.

On Thursday night, Ortiz has his family on the field for a pre-game celebration hosted by the New York Yankees.

Minutes later, he had to step in to the batter's box against CC Sabathia. Sometimes, it's hard to flip that switch and be emotionally ready to compete.

"I'm not going to lie to you -- it has (gotten harder)," said Ortiz. "We're already in the playoffs, so for the next three days, I don't really have to worry about it. But the best thing about it is that once we get into the playoffs, there's not going to be all these distractions.

"I like to mentally focus when we play, especially when I'm playing for a reason. We work extremely hard during the regular season to get into the playoffs and once we get there, I don't want to blow that off. It's not easy to (do all the ceremonies) and play baseball at the same time. It can be a distraction."