Red Sox notes: Hitters catching fire

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Red Sox notes: Hitters catching fire

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It isn't just the starting pitchers who are beginning to turn things around.

Some of the slumping hitters in the lineup are starting to enjoy some success, too.

In the Red Sox' 5-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Jason Varitek, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury all contributed in significant ways.

Before Saturday's game, Youkilis had the highest batting average of that quartet: a not-so-impressive .218.

-- Varitek came into Saturday with just one hit in 23 at-bats. But in the sixth inning, he drove a double to right, scoring Crawford, snapping a string of 19 hitless at-bats in a row.

"We've been working and I saw the ball a lot better,'' said Varitek. "I had all quality at-bats. The other day, I didn't feel like that. I just continue to get into it and keep working.''

-- Crawford, who was hitting eighth for the first time, had an infield single and an RBI-double for a multi-hit night.

"I'm just trying to keep everything simple,'' said Crawford. "Just see the ball and hit it and not try to overdo anything.''

Crawford hit the ball on the ground and hit his double to the opposite field, both encouraging signs.

"Usually, when I'm going the other way and just going with the pitch,'' Crawford said, "and not pull everything, that's a good sign.''

-- Youkilis, who missed Friday's game after fouling a pitch off his lower left shin Thursday night, returned to the lineup and made his presence felt with a two-run homer to right-center.

Terry Francona has long said that it's a positive when Youkilis is driving the ball to right of center field.

"Anytime you drive the ball the other way and it goes out of the yard, it feels good,'' confirmed Youkilis. "I just haven't been my normal self at the plate. For me, it's just battling and keep going and keep figuring out things and try to put together good at-bats.''

-- Ellsbury, hitting in the leadoff spot for the second straight night, had two singles in four trips with two stolen bases.

"When those guys are on, we're a different team,'' said Francona. "Getting on has been a little tough for us early.''

Daniel Bard pitched a scoreless ninth, his third appearance in the last four games . . . Varitek's RBI was his first since last June 29, 2010. Varitek missed almost two months in the second half of last year with a broken foot, then didn't get an RBI in the final month . . . Ellsbury tied Heinie Wagner on the Red Sox all-time steals list at 141 . . . Matsuzaka became just the third pitcher in Red Sox history to throw back-to-back games of seven or more innings with one hit allowed. The others were Pedro Martinez in 2002 and Howard Ehmke in 1923. The last major leaguer to do it was Vincente Padilla in 2009.

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

Wednesday's Red Sox-Rays lineups: Ramirez gets night off

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Wednesday's Red Sox-Rays lineups: Ramirez gets night off

Hanley Ramirez is getting a night off as the Red Sox look for their third straight win against the Rays tonight at Tropicana Field.

Travis Shaw will play first base, with Brock Holt at third.

Tonight's lineups:

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

RAYS:
Logan Forsythe 2B
Kevin Kiermaier CF
Evan Longoria 3B
Brad Miller SH
Matt Duffy SS
Logan Morrison 1B
Steven Souza Jr. RF
Corey Dickerson LF
Bobby Wilson C
---
Matt Andriese P

McAdam: Buchholz is the relief the Red Sox need

McAdam: Buchholz is the relief the Red Sox need

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- This is the kind of season it has been for Clay Buchholz:

A little more than a month ago, he was merely taking up space on the Red Sox roster, having been summarily removed from the rotation after three months of poor outings.

He was in the bullpen, but the Sox were loathe to use him. Asked, memorably, why Buchholz hadn't been the choice to serve as a long reliever in a game in which the starter departed early, John Farrell candidly noted, in not so many words, that because the Sox still had a chance to win the game, Buchholz didn't make sense as an option.

Ouch.

But slowly, Buchholz became more effective in his new relief role. And when injuries struck the rotation, Buchholz got himself three cameo starts, during which he posted a 2.70 ERA in 16 2/3 innings, topped by Tuesday's beauty -- 6 1/3 innings, one run allowed, nine strikeouts recorded.

Just as Buchholz has straightened out, however, Red Sox starters are suddenly stacked up like jets waiting for clearance to land at Logan Airport. Steven Wright returns from a brief DL stint Friday, and Eduardo Rodriguez is not far behind.

When he pitched poorly, the Red Sox didn't have any other options.

When he pitched well, the Red Sox have plenty of other choices.

So, now what?

"As far as Clay goes,'' said John Farrell, "this will be, I'm sure, a conversation (had) within (the organization). But setting that aside, he's throwing the ball exceptionally well right now.''

That's indisputable.

But the question remains: In what capacity will he throw the ball in the near future?

There's been a suggestion to keep Buchholz in the rotation while moving Drew Pomeranz to the bullpen. That would give the Sox a dependable lefty in relief -- as opposed to, say, Fernando Abad -- while also serving the dual purpose of putting a governor on Pomeranz's climbing innings total.

Pomeranz, who has plenty of bullpen experience in the big leagues, has also thrown 140 1/3 innings this season, eclipsing his previous major league high by nearly 40.

But Pomeranz is 27, not 21. He's shown no signs of fatigue. To the contrary, he's 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts. The Sox shouldn't mess with his success.

Instead, Buchholz should become one of the team's high-leverage set-up weapons, available in the seventh or eighth inning.

True, Buchholz doesn't have the swing-and-miss capability you'd prefer to have in the eighth inning, where the fewer balls put in play, the better off you are. But he can get lefties and righties out, and, pitching out of the stretch full-time, he's greatly improved his command.

Buchholz would remain the best option for a spot start if one of the five Red Sox starters faltered or got hurt. But the bullpen remains the best choice for him.

Ironic, isn't it? When he pitched poorly, he remained in the rotation for several months. Now that he's pitching superbly, he can't earn a permanent spot.

It's been that kind of season.