Saturday, August 6, 2011

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 11, Bisons 1

Swift summation
At best, for those who prefer suspense, the walkoff motif has skipped a beat. Nonetheless, in the most technical terms, there was something extra special about the PawSox’ performance Saturday night.

Between four doubles and two home runs, five different Pawtucket hitters combined to drive in 11 unanswered runs and obliterate the Buffalo Bisons, 11-1, before 8,649 fans at McCoy Stadium.

Each of the game’s first five hits went for extra bases. Identically placed doubles into the right-field corner by Luis Figueroa and Valentino Pascucci amounted to a 1-0 lead for the Bisons in the top of the first.

Jed Lowrie hit his own two-bagger down the left field line, though he was ultimately stranded in the bottom half. But in the second, with Hector Luna on board with a walk, Brent Dlugach lobbed a two-run homer to the Bisons bullpen in the opposite field to usurp a 2-1 edge for the PawSox.

Che-Hsuan Lin led off the third with a walk and Lowrie deposited another double to the right-center warning track, scoring Lin and raising the upper hand to 3-1.

That difference stood pat over the next five half innings as the teams combined to waste five singles. Then, in the bottom of the sixth, Brett Carroll and Hector Luna each belted a two-out double to make it a 4-1 edge.

If anyone was weighing the matchup between Buffalo southpaw Pat Misch and Tony Pena, Jr. based on pitch count, it was never any contest. The Pawtucket batting brigade did its part to hasten Misch’s exit, although Bisons manager Tim Teufel chose to leave his starter on until after 110 pitches over 5.2 innings.

Of his first 17 challengers on the night, 12 forced Misch to throw at least five pitches in a single confrontation. Yet he might have lasted an even six stanzas were it not for Carroll and Luna’s back-to-back doubles that denied him a 1-2-3 sixth. Misch was finally finished when Daniel Nava followed Luna’s RBI double with an infield single to third.

Conversely, Pena threw only 85 pitches through seven innings, matching a season-high for his longest start. And after the two doubles in the opening frame, he allowed nothing beyond four fruitless base hits and a walk.

The PawSox broadened the edge by a whopping seven runs in the eighth. Bermudez doubled by catapulting a payoff pitch to the right-center wall, scoring both Nava and Dlugach. Two plays later, Bermudez hustled home on Lowrie’s ground-rule double to right.

Besieged pitcher Gustavo Chacin intentionally walked Ryan Lavarnway to load the bases, after which Lars Anderson slugged a grand slam over the right-center fence to finalize the 11-1 upshot.

PawSox pluses
Dlugach’s home run constituted his first dinger in 10 games-played and 34 at-bats, dating back to July 16 versus Durham. Not exactly a splash on a protracted drought, but certainly a refreshing change of pace from the 14 strikeouts he had logged in the 34 at-bats in between.

Furthermore, Buffalo pitchers combined for 10 strikeouts against the PawSox, yet Dlugach and Bermudez were the only ones not to be benched on strikes.

On the other side of the ball, Luna was one of the busiest and most reliable position players in the early going. Within the first three innings, he garnered credit for two putouts and three assists, catching a popup and a sharp liner by Joshua Satin to end the third.

In relief of Pena to commence the eighth, Royce Ring earned his first 1-2-3 inning as a member of the PawSox.

Sox stains
After an otherworldly start to his Pawtucket tenure with Friday night’s walkoff hit, it was a bit of an impactful plummet back to reality for Carroll. The No. 5-slotted batter struck out three times and was the only member of the Sox’ batting order who failed to reach base multiple times on the night.

Bisons notes
For the second consecutive night, the first baseman Satin was charged with a fielding error upon failing to catch a foul popup.

Pascucci was the only Bison to log a multi-hit game. In addition to his RBI double in the first, he singled to lead off the fourth.

Pascucci was also the only Bison to strike out multiple times and one of only three Buffalo batters to strike out at all Saturday. The K department was patently the only bright spot for the Bisons in this one-sided slugfest.

Both teams made roster moves prior to Saturday’s contest.

Earlier in the day, the parent New York Mets recalled Nick Evans from the Bisons and optioned Mike Nickeas to the Triple-A level. Nickeas succeeded starting catcher Raul Chavez to commence the bottom of the eighth after Luis Hernandez pinch-hit for Chavez in the top half.

Meanwhile, the PawSox released outfielder Zach Daeges, who has not seen action anywhere since June 19 with Lowell.

Pawtucket improved to 23-30 when the opposition scores the first run.

Anderson hit the fifth PawSox grand slam this year and has slugged each of the last two, the previous one coming against Durham July 16.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sutton to sit for at least a week, but PawSox persevere Friday

Drew Sutton, a repeat promotion to Boston since mid-May, has put in four sparse appearances for the PawSox spaced over three different calendar months.

That trend of recurring cameos will roll on for at least another week. It was reported Friday that the infielder will be placed on the seven-day disabled list with a finger contusion sustained in Thursday night’s 5-4 loss to the Bisons.

The PawSox have generally managed in his absence, improving their record from 21-19 on May 19 to 63-50 Friday night with his services in place for only five games.

Yet Sutton represents a considerable offensive void, particularly as he is the only active Pawtucket hitter besides Ryan Lavarnway to have played more than 10 games and to be carrying a batting average above .300 in that span. Through 42 games and 157 at-bats, he is enjoying a .306 success rate against International League pitchers.

In addition, in his last four appearances interspersed with two call-ups, Sutton’s production has been consistent. He is, by all technical accounts, riding a four-game hitting streak at the Triple-A level, going 5-for-13.

And while Sutton has not driven in a run for Pawtucket since June 14 versus Charlotte and has not swung for extra bases at this level since May 15, his contributions give no cause to be overlooked. During Thursday night’s losing effort, he was fairly blameless, hitting 2-for-3 with a walk.

In each of his first two at-bats, Sutton lined a single that pushed Lars Anderson all the way from first to third base. After Sutton did this in the second inning, Anderson subsequently scored the game’s first run while Hector Luna distracted the Bisons’ infield by grounding into a 6-4-3 double play.

The fourth inning bore a similar sequence. Anderson walked, Sutton pushed him ahead two bases on a single and Luna finished Anderson’s journey home with his own base hit to renew Pawtucket’s lead to 2-1.

In Sutton’s absence Friday night, the multifaceted fielder Nate Spears took over at second base while Anderson filled Sutton’s cleanup spot in the batting order. In turn, Spears and Anderson sandwiched a rehabbing DH in Jed Lowrie, who eerily channeled Sutton from Thursday night in the bottom of the ninth.

With the PawSox trailing, 5-4, and down to their final two outs, Lowrie sent Che-Hsuan Lin from first to third on a single to shallow right. Lowrie subsequently gave way to pinch-runner Tony Thomas, who followed Lin home on newcomer Brett Carroll’s walkoff base hit down the right field line.

Thomas, who himself typically plays second base, had ironically been placed on the DL himself on Wednesday after a knee contusion.

In other DL news, southpaw starter Felix Doubront will start for the Single-A Lowell Spinners in Saturday’s 7:05 tilt with the Connecticut Tigers. It will be Doubront’s first lick of authentic game action since July 19, when he aggravated a right hamstring against Lehigh Valley.

Now in his sixth year with the Red Sox, Doubront previously accumulated a 3-3 record in 10 starts for the Spinners between the 2006 and 2007 seasons. The odds are against his earning a decision on Saturday as he will likely be forked out after two innings of work.

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 6, Bisons 5

Swift summation
The drama days of August are officially on. And to the PawSox’ credit, they are learning how to pull through when the stakes come down to the wire.

For the fourth time in as many outings this calendar month, the Sox trailed by a run with only three outs. And for the third time in four tries, they pulled through, deleting two deficits in all on the night to vanquish the Buffalo Bisons, 6-5, at McCoy Stadium Friday night.

Right fielder Brett Carroll, formally assigned by Boston on Thursday after being acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers system, caught on to this trend on the fly as his second base hit in Sox attire made the difference.

Standing as Pawtucket’s last hope with Che-Hsuan Lin and pinch-runner Tony Thomas on the corners, Carroll dropped a 2-2 offering by Buffalo Bisons pitcher Dale Thayer to the opposite foul line in right field.

Lin scored with relative facility for the equalizer while Thomas all but channeled Enos Slaughter the way he beat Mike Baxter’s throw to finalize the victory.

Buffalo cleanup man Valentino Pascucci drew first blood by clearing the centerfield fence and taking Joshua Satin home from first base.

In the bottom half, Pawtucket cut the deficit when Lin led off with a double and then shuffled to third and the plate on Nate Spears’ and Jed Lowrie’s respective sacrifice grounders. Lars Anderson followed through with an equalizing solo shot to right field.

For each of the following two innings, PawSox starter Kevin Millwood neutralized the Bisons for a pair of 1-2-3 segments while his mates tacked on another run. A botched double play forced Buffalo to settle for a force-out, gave Jose Iglesias a free pass to first and scored Daniel Nava from second for a 3-2 lead.

Pawtucket raised the upper hand to 4-2 in the third as Spears led off with a walk and advanced one stage apiece on sacrifices by Lowrie and Anderson and an RBI single by Carroll.

Buffalo perked back up and put their first two batters on base in both the fifth and the sixth. Although they spilled those runners in the fifth, they pulled even in the sixth. Fernando Martinez doubled with one out to deep right to score Mike Baxter from second and send Satin to third. In turn, Satin went home for the 4-4 knot on a sacrifice grounder by Nick Evans.

The eldest rostered members of each contesting club, Pawtucket’s Millwood and Buffalo’s Miguel Batista, each pitched six full innings before handing the 4-4 deadlock over to their respective bullpens.

After retiring each of his first four challengers, Hideki Okajima walked Satin, who subsequently scored from first with the help of Fernando Martinez’s double off the right-center wall.

The resultant 5-4 deficit remained until the ninth, when Lin and Lowrie set the stage for Carroll’s heroics.

PawSox pluses
After repeat relegations to the reserves’ squad and a demotion from the No. 2 to No. 7 slot in the batting order, Nava went 2-for-3 with a run-scored and a walk. After Nava dropped a single into shallow right-center in the second inning, the PawSox went without redirecting any pitches to the outfield until Nava lined another single to right field in the sixth.

It was Nava’s first multi-hit game since July 26, which was effectively the eve of his recent slump.

Carroll earned himself a welcome variety pack in his McCoy debut. And that was all before his game-winning hit.

With the game tied 2-2 in the top of the second, the Bisons might have carried on the two-way scorefest if it weren’t for Carroll’s alertness in right field. He tracked down Tejada’s base hit and thwarted his endeavor to stretch a single to a double.

Carroll was one of four PawSox to steal a base on the night, joining Jose Iglesias, Lin and Spears. The latter two runners simultaneously pilfered second and third with one out and Lowrie at bat in the seventh.

Sox stains
The PawSox ought to understand that they can’t go on like this for the next month-plus. And they could have practiced sparing themselves the dramatics if they had done a little more to exploit Batista, who threw 43 of his 97 pitches for balls, walked five and authorized five hits.

All four of Pawtucket’s stolen bases went for naught. In the second inning, Iglesias might have augmented a 3-2 lead if not for an inning-ending ground out by Lin. In the fourth, Carroll was likewise stranded on second by Hector Luna, who grounded out in each of his first three at-bats and went 0-for-4 on the night.

And in the seventh, with a radiant opportunity to bust a 4-4 tie with the bases loaded and one away, Anderson grounded into a force-out at home and Carroll flied out.

As a team, the PawSox hit 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position. This is a habit they will have to break to bulk up their insurance policy in the playoff race.

Bisons notes
Through the first six innings, the PawSox logged four hits on connections that reached the outfield. Other than that, the Buffalo outfield trinity of Evans, Feliciano and Baxter had nothing to go after and thus did not garner credit for any putouts or assists until Feliciano caught Carroll’s shallow fly to center to end the seventh.

Conversely, the Bisons elevated 19 balls to the outfield within the first eight innings, nine for hits and 10 for outs.

Batista and batterymate Dusty Ryan were each charged with an error in the second inning. First Batista, covered first base but failed to reel in a throw from the shortstop Tejada on the would-be double play that instead sent Nava home. One play later, Iglesias stole second and proceeded to third on a throwing gaffe by Ryan.

Lin’s leadoff double in the first inning constituted his first hit in 25 plate-appearances.

Millwood stopped one pitch shy of cracking a triple-digit count for the third consecutive outing. With a no-decision, he is now on a personal four-game winless streak.

Each team garnered an infield hit in Friday's contest. Carroll’s RBI single in the third scored Spears while Feliciano rolled a grounder to second and loaded the bases in the eighth.

Jason Rice, who succeeded Okajima with two out in the eighth, allowed no hits and garnered credit for his third win this season.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

In win over PawSox, Bisons get their Ducks worth for a change

There were a few iffy omens early on in Brendan Duckworth’s start for the PawSox Thursday night. There were disturbances pointing to the specter of a rare defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Bisons, whether it would go on the starter’s tab or not.

For instance, by the fourth inning, with still nobody out, Duckworth had already doled out three walks. That alone equated the three walks he had logged over a span of 24.1 innings-pitched during his personal four-game winning streak, which came to an inevitable end when reliever Clevelan Santeliz spilled a 4-1 lead in the sixth.

The three walks Duckworth yielded to the Bisons also matched the three Buffalo had drawn on his tab in a span of 18.2 innings that covered their first three confrontations in the 2011 season. In those games, Duckworth had notched himself a 2-0 record while Pawtucket had gone 3-0.

It was a little less than a stunner when, by night’s end, the Bisons had claimed a 5-4 extra-inning upshot at McCoy Stadium, thereby slapping the Sox with their first loss in a Duckworth-Buffalo start this season. After all, the veteran hurler himself was having first-time fits against the visiting bat rack.

On the one hand, he did muster three 1-2-3 stanzas in the first, third and fifth innings. On the other hand, Duckworth was done by the end of the fifth after he had thrown a total of 92 pitches.

In that regard, the bedraggled Bisons were suddenly more like the top dog Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who likewise allowed Duckworth to stay on for only five frames in recent confrontations July 18 and July 29.

In every case, it was not for lack of ability to cooperate with the defense and restrain the opposition under the run heading. After all, he authorized merely one run for his second earned-run in a grand total of 23.1 innings against Buffalo this season.

It was simply for a quicker-than-desired drainage of the tank.

No Bison pestered Duckworth Thursday night quite like No. 5-hitting right fielder Fernando Martinez. Martinez constituted the evening’s first baserunner on either side when he drew a one-out walk in the second inning. He had patiently earned an initial 3-0 edge in the count, took a strike, then fouled off the next two pitches before Duckworth’s seventh throw missed the zone.

In the fourth, with Duckworth now safeguarding a 1-0 lead, Martinez approached the dish on the heels of a leadoff double by Joshua Satin and a full-count walk to Valentino Pascucci.

After taking a pair of balls and strikes in succession, Martinez stood back and let the count run full, then fouled off four straight would-be payoff pitches. On the fifth do-over and the tenth overall pitch of the confrontation, Martinez was directed to first base, loading the diamond with nobody out.

After a visit from pitching coach Rich Sauveur, Duckworth stopped the bleeding momentarily by striking out Nick Evans. But Jesus Feliciano, who had also singled in the second inning, moved everyone up one station and scored Satin from third with a one-out base hit.

PawSox second baseman Drew Sutton seized the spotlight for the rest of the inning, snuffing out a liner by Ruben Tejada and throwing out Raul Chavez on an inning-ending grounder.

Buffalo was thereby confined only to an equalizer, but in that fourth frame alone, Duckworth’s pitch count had spiked from 45 to 77 tosses.

For that reason, he did not get a chance to build upon a promising fifth inning, which he polished off with relative facility by inducing Luis Figueroa to a leadoff fly out and benching Mike Baxter and Satin on strikes.

Translation: Duckworth had initially allowed three walks with no strikeouts to speak of, then halted the bases-on-balls for three straight strikeouts while allowing only one hit in the interim. But having thrown another 15 pitches in the fifth, there was little logic in sending him back to defend the new 4-1 lead his mates granted him in the bottom half.

Instead, the lately struggling Santeliz came on and all but breathed a second wind into the Bisons. Buffalo nimbly drew a 4-4 knot on three more hits in a span of 0.2 innings-pitched, then claimed the ensuing bullpen’s arm-wrestling match at the expense of Michael Bowden in the extra inning.

Post-game pop-ups: Bisons 5, PawSox 4

Swift summation
It only took the Buffalo Bisons six pitches to put three unanswered hits on Michael Bowden’s tab and usurp a 5-4 lead in the tenth inning Thursday night.

Fernando Martinez led off with a double to deep right-center, Nick Evans nudged a pinch-running Fernando Perez to third on a single and Jesus Feliciano finished Perez’s go-ahead journey on an impossible-to-retrieve single to shallow left.

With that, followed by an efficient defensive job in the bottom half, the visitors bucked two fun trends for the McCoy Stadium masses.

In the 5-4 loss, the PawSox missed an opportunity to claim their third walkoff win in as many games this young month of August. In addition, a la Jonathan Papelbon in the 2009 ALDS, Bowden saw a protracted five-game shutout streak snapped and suffered his first loss since June 5. He had saved eight games and won Monday’s 3-2 decision over Louisville in the interim.

More tellingly, though, Pawtucket spilled 1-0 and 4-1 leads in the losing effort.

Each of Pawtucket’s first two runs sandwiched Buffalo’s first tally and resulted from the same basic sequence of events. Lars Anderson drew a walk, hustled to third on a single by Drew Sutton and scored with the help of Hector Luna’s bat.

Luna grounded into a 6-4-3 double play with nobody out in the second, enough to distract the infield while Anderson ran home. Two innings later, Luna dropped a single into left center to send Sutton to third and score Anderson to renew the lead to 2-1.

In his five innings of work, PawSox starter Brandon Duckworth alternated between 1-2-3 innings and a couple of torch-juggling segments, yet the Bisons only mooched one run off of him while stranding four baserunners. A leadoff double by Joshua Satin and a pair of back-to-back walks loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth.

But save for a shallow RBI single by Feliciano, Buffalo inflicted no outstanding damage on Duckworth, who was nonetheless forked out after throwing 92 pitches in five innings.

Jed Lowrie fluffed Duckworth’s pillow in the bottom of the fifth. The rehabbing Boston shortstop thrust a double to deep right to score Nate Spears and Ronald Bermudez from the corners and augment the lead to 4-1.

The Bisons reloaded the bases at the expense of Clevelan Santeliz in the sixth. In turn, Ruben Tejada nailed a two-run single and Luis Figueroa sent Feliciano home from second on a base hit to draw a swift 4-4 knot.

PawSox pluses
In his first game back from yet another loan back from Boston, Sutton was ready when needed to make a key play from his defensive post at second base. When Duckworth faced a potential Buffalo outburst in the fourth, Sutton caught Tejada’s liner to hold everybody on base for the second out, then fielded a grounder along the infield/outfield borderline and threw out Raul Chavez to leave the bases loaded.

Bermudez put his wheels to abundantly productive use all around the diamond Thursday night. In the fifth, he motored from first to third by defiantly beating a solid throw by Bisons right fielder Fernando Martinez and subsequently scored.

Bermudez later stretched a leadoff single to shallow right field into a double to lead off the seventh. He also sent Iglesias to second with a sacrifice bunt in the ninth.

After Anderson led off the bottom of the tenth with a single and advanced to scoring position on Sutton’s sacrifice bunt, manager Arnie Beyeler made a prudent decision to insert Che-Hsuan Lin as a pinch-runner. Through no fault of the skipper’s own, Luna and Daniel Nava simply failed to get Lin home for the requisite equalizer.

Sox stains
Eight of the nine men to start in Pawtucket’s batting order played a noteworthy part in the offensive cause, whether that was by pushing fellow baserunners along, driving runs in or scoring runs themselves.

The odd man out: The once-otherworldly Ryan Lavarnway, who went 0-for-5. Lavarnway’s lowlights Thursday night included grounding into a double-play to delete Lowrie in the fourth, striking out swinging after initially holding a 3-0 advantage on pitcher Brian Sweeney and flying out in the ninth to strand Nate Spears and Jose Iglesias in scoring position.

In relief of Duckworth, Santeliz threw only 11 strikes and 12 balls while giving up three runs on three hits along with two walks in a mere 0.2 innings-pitched. Santeliz has now allowed at least one earned run (six total) in each of his last four relief endeavors. Within that same time frame, he has allowed a cumulative nine hits and walked eight other batters over 7.2 innings.

Bisons notes
Skipper Tim Teufel was ejected by home plate umpire Art Thigpen in the fifth when he vehemently argued that Martinez had thrown Bermudez out at third base.

After hitting 2-for-3 with a single, double and walk, Lowrie gave way to Brent Dlugach at short to commence the top of the eighth. In his first at-bat in the ninth, Dlugach prolonged his recent strikeout hex by whiffing in his ninth straight game-played and for the 15th time overall in his last nine games.

Of the 10 pitchers to see action between both sides Thursday night, Pawtucket’s Tommy Hottovy and Buffalo’s Dale Thayer, who claimed the win, were the only two to not record a strikeout.

PawSox reliever Jeremy Kerht was placed on the seven-day disabled list Thursday with what is being billed a lower calf strain.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Spears’ walk-off is last stage in PawSox hero’s day at the plate

Nate Spears is ordinarily a second-baseman who has half-heartedly expressed self-doubt when assigned to play shortstop, but has just as willingly assumed that position as well as that of left field.

Rather fitting, therefore, that on a day when he played the full length of a game in Daniel Nava’s usual territory, he would dip his name under most every major offensive heading.

His game-saving, game-winning catapult that granted the PawSox another instantaneous 4-3 triumph over the Louisville Bats was just the grand finale to Spears’ show Tuesday afternoon. In a span of four at-bats and five plate appearances on the day, he essentially went from one stage of achievement to another in an order of exponential improvement.

Given the No. 2 slot in the batting order, Spears struck out swinging at a 2-2 pitch in the bottom of the first.

In his second confrontation with Louisville starter Scott Carroll, with Pawtucket looking to add to a 2-1 lead with Che-Hsuan Lin on board with a leadoff walk, Spears connected and put the ball in play. But Bats left fielder Kristopher Negron snared the distant pop-up with relative facility and Lin was ultimately stranded to end the third inning.

With Lin on board again in the fifth, Spears drew a full-count walk against the command-lacking Carroll for his first baserunning endeavor in three tries on the day. With the game now squared a two apiece and one out in the inning, Lin and Spears vied to renew the lead with the help of the heart of the batting order with Jed Lowrie, Lars Anderson and Hector Luna all looming.

But Lowrie and Anderson both disappointed with a pair of soft grounders to quell the threat and the 2-2 draw lived on through Spears’ next at-bat in the seventh. Yet again, Lin had drawn a one-out walk ahead of Spears and this time, the multifaceted fielder belted his first hit in four tries and just Pawtucket’s fifth on the day.

In what was little more than a twist of ill fortune however, Lin lost a dramatic footrace as he attempted to advance from first to third ahead of Spears’ single. Bats right fielder Jeremy Hermida caught up to the ball and collaborated with third baseman Mike Costanzo to catch Lin out.

With that, the PawSox had failed on their most radiant opportunity to bring a runner as far as third base since Lars Anderson’s two-run homer in the first inning.

Undaunted, with otherworldly slugger Ryan Lavarnway pinch-hitting for Lowrie, Spears stole second base for the second time in as many nights. A fresh-armed Lavarnway now had a chance to nudge home the go-ahead run with a simple, distant base hit.

Instead, Lavarnway went down swinging at an 0-2 pitch from Jared Burton, evaporating the baserunner and retaining the 2-2 tie through the start of the eighth.

One inning later, none other than Spears was involved in the play that saw Louisville finally pull ahead. After Devin Mesoraco led off with a single to centerfield and advanced to third on Daniel Dorn’s base hit to right, Costanzo lobbed a basic sacrifice fly to Spears, who had next-to no chance of thwarting Mesoraco’s go-ahead hustle home.

With that, the PawSox faced the glowering ultimatum of either rerunning the dramatics of Monday night’s victory or risk losing more footing in the congested International League wild-card derby. A win would have given Louisville three out of four in their visit and brought the Bats to within 2.5 games of the Sox.

Bottom-feeding batters Ronald Bermudez and Tony Thomas hardly helped any of the cardiac cases among the McCoy masses as they nimbly constituted the first two outs.

But yet again, Lin walked on a full-count to end a 10-pitch at-bat and bring Spears to the dish. From there, Fisher cast instant shades of his besieged colleague Jordan Smith, throwing three unanswered balls.

Most certainly in light of recent developments, Spears elected to wait for Ball Four, though the next offering proved a strike.

So when Fisher’s next thrust fell within a similar range over the plate, Spears―who also had Pawtucket’s only ninth-inning hit Monday in the form of a single―took a hack and then took a euphoric tour around the diamond.

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 4, Bats 3

Swift summation
The Louisville Bats’ last-minute giveaway that went into effect Monday night proved a limited time offer. But the generous spread of home runs was a two-day event, as evidenced by the turn of events at McCoy Stadium Tuesday afternoon.

In a game where six out of seven overall runs came by way of the dinger, the PawSox converted a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 triumph on their last call for the second time in as many tries. This time, with Che-Hsuan Lin on board with a two-out walk, Nate Spears took three straight balls and a called strike before he slugged Carlos Fisher’s next offering over the right-field wall.

The PawSox charged up a pair of homers for the second consecutive game. And Tuesday’s longballs effectively bookended what proved a multi-round staring contest between the pitching staffs and defenses.

In the bottom of the first, three pitches after fouling a 2-0 offering off his mug, Lars Anderson homered to left field to score Jed Lowrie from first and give Pawtucket a 2-0 lead.

Afterward, though, the lately mediocre PawSox offense tapered off. All the while, former PawSox outfielder Jeremy Hermida led off the second and fourth with solo shots to draw a 2-2 knot.

Over the bottom halves of next seven innings after Anderson’s blast, the Bats pitching staff authorized 11 baserunners, four of them in the form of a base hit and seven by way of the walk. But it all amounted to nothing for the Sox.

Pawtucket’s best missed opportunity to regain the lead came in the seventh. Spears dropped a Pyrrhic single into right field, where Hermida collected the remnants and gunned down Lin, who attempted to hustle from first to third base on the play. Spears subsequently stole second, only to be stranded when Ryan Lavarnway, pinch-hitting for Lowrie, went down swinging.

Meanwhile, until the seventh, Hermida was the only Louisville hitter to get past first base, which he did for the third time in the sixth upon walking and advancing to second on Devon Mesoraco’s single.

That trend changed dramatically in the ninth when Daniel Dorn and Mesoraco placed themselves on the corners with nobody out. A simple subsequent sacrifice fly by Mike Costanzo scored Mesoraco from third to grant the Bats a 3-2 upper hand.

PawSox pluses
Early on, starter Matt Fox’s strike-to-ball ratio was less than ideal (20-18 through two innings). But through that, he seemingly convinced the Louisville Bats to take chances, which paid off for the PawSox more often than not. By the time he was forked out after 5.2 innings of work, Fox had thrown 61 out of 96 pitches for strikes―19 of those fouled off―and logged a season-high nine strikeouts, eight of which were swinging Ks.

Fox also matched counterpart Scott Carroll’s tidiness with two runs on four hits and Hermida’s two homers were the only extra-base hits he authorized.

Jose Iglesias played a key role in continuously confining the Bats on the basepaths from his post at shortstop. He singlehandedly tagged Jose Castro at second and threw out Dave Sappelt for a double-play in the third and initiated a 6-4-3 to abolish Chris Valaika and Denis Phipps in the sixth. He reprised that feat to end the ninth and hold Louisville to one run after its most assertive threat of the day.

If a leadoff man isn’t going to get on base by hitting, which Lin hasn’t done much lately, he might as well sniff out iffy pitching and let a passport to the bags come to him. And in three encounters against Carroll, who threw 38 out of 80 pitches for balls, Lin drew two walks and also swiped second base in the third with Lowrie at bat. He then let reliever Jared Burton throw four consecutive balls by in the seventh and drew a full-count walk when he stood as the PawSox last hope in the ninth.

Sox stains
Were it not for Spears’ heroics, a repeat offender on the basepaths would have hampered Pawtucket yet again Tuesday.

Between the second and eighth innings, the PawSox stranded nine runners, including six in scoring position. Among other things, that effectively wasted stolen bases by Lin, Spears and Anderson, who stole second in the eighth after leading off with infield single, only be left hanging with three unanswered outs.

Bats notes
Hermida belted his second and third home runs of the series at Fox’s expense, but also struck out for the seventh time in the last four games when Hideki Okajima benched him to curtain a 1-2-3 eighth.

Mesoraco joined Hermida, Spears and Anderson in the game’s multi-hit club. He singled in the sixth as Pawtucket reliever Scott Atchison’s first challenger and led off the ninth with a liner to the grass in left-center.

Lowrie, who assumed the DH position in his second rehab venture, went 1-for-3 with a single in the first inning.

Jason Rice faced one challenger in relief of Okajima in the top of the ninth, inducing Kristopher Negron to an inning-ending double-play.

Each of Pawtucket’s last three home victories have been decided in the bottom of the ninth inning, including Monday night’s walk-induced walkoff and Lin’s game-winning single against Lehigh Valley July 20.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Nava knocking harder to break slump

For the second time in three nights, Daniel Nava made his lone plate-appearance for the PawSox in the form of a pinch-hit Monday. And when he took the bat in lieu of the No. 9-slotted right fielder Ronald Bermudez, the left fielder was in a position to lay down a storybook smash on a recent cold spell.

With the visiting Louisville Bats leading, 3-2, and with Nate Spears on second base, Nava stood as Pawtucket’s last hope after both Luis Exposito and Brent Dlugach left Spears hanging.

In a fairytale world not unlike the one he simulated last summer with his first-pitch, first-at-bat grand slam in the Majors, Nava would have simultaneously belted his first dinger since June 12 and Pawtucket’s first walk-off home run since May of last season.

Instead, the ever-practical, down-to-earth Nava passively exploited Louisville closer Jordan Smith’s ghastly lack of command. He drew a five-pitch walk to keep the game alive. And when Che-Hsuan Lin, Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway successfully took a similar approach, Nava found himself crossing home plate for the most literal walk-off and a 4-3 PawSox triumph.

That was sufficient for a much-needed win, regardless of how it was attained. But in the wake of his two recent relegations to the reserves’ office, odds are Nava is growing increasingly poised to thaw out his own bat and help resuscitate the PawSox’ offense in general.

Whether or not he starts in left field once again in the four-game series finale with the Bats on Tuesday afternoon, Nava is about to round out a long week since he went 4-for-5 with four singles in Lehigh Valley July 26.

Since then, he has hit a featherlike 1-for-18 with two walks, including Monday’s rally-starter, and five strikeouts. His only hit has been a double last Friday. The rest of the time, he has failed to reach base at any point in four whole games.

One potential plus point, though, is that most of Nava’s more recent outs have seen him go down with a little more fight. This past Saturday, he was summoned to fill in for Lars Anderson in the seventh inning when it appeared as though the parent Boston club was exporting the cleanup man to Oakland for pitcher Rich Harden.

Nava flied out to right in his only plate appearance that evening. On Sunday, he returned to the starting lineup as the No. 2 hitter and went 0-for-4; although, on two occasions, he sent the ball a respectable distance to left-center. And in his final at-bat, he redirected on offering to the outfield, albeit in foul territory, where it was caught.

Previously, over the last three games of the series in Lehigh Valley, Nava had flied out thrice, but also grounded out four times and endured five strikeouts. With his double on Friday, he contributed only one of Pawtucket’s 18 total hits over those three games.

Since coming home, the PawSox as a whole have run into something of an untimely offensive downturn as they enter the homestretch. They have racked up eight runs on 17 hits in three bouts with the Bats and most of the upper echelon of the batting order has been easily stifled.

Lin is suddenly on an 0-for-9 drought (but has also drawn six walks) after going 12-for-45 in the previous 10 games. Anderson and Lavarnway have combined for merely three hits while striking out a combined seven times in this series.

But Nava has been barren just a little longer than those three. And on Monday, it was rather telling when manager Arnie Beyeler waited to summon him until the bottom of the ninth when he theoretically could have activated Nava as early as the top of the fourth.

After all, Spears was unconventionally starting in left field while a rehabbing Jed Lowrie played short and the comparatively colder-batting Brent Dlugach took second base. When Lowrie came off at the end of the third inning, Beyeler might have transplanted Spears to short and put Nava in his usual outfield office.

Instead, Iglesias succeeded Lowrie and nobody else changed positions. Not until Nava filled in for Bermudez, who went 2-for-3 on the night with a pair of base hits.

Was that second forced respite the final ingredient Nava needs to collect a new wind and start hitting habitually again? He is his own juror in that department and deliberation begins as early as Tuesday’s noontime tilt at McCoy.

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 4, Bats 3

Swift summation
After the bottom portion of the their bat rack kindled just enough to sustain their viability in the game, some traditional and non-traditional top-four PawSox made the wise choice to restrain their cold bats and passively surpassed the lately unsolvable Louisville Bats, 4-3, at McCoy Stadium Monday night.

Coming on for the ninth inning vying to salvage a 3-2 victory, Louisville reliever Jordan Smith threw 17 balls out of 25 pitches, including 13 of his last 16 tosses with only one out needed to give the Bats each of the first three games of this series.

Pinch-hitter Daniel Nava drew a five-pitch walk with Nate Spears already on second base, Che-Hsuan Lin was hit to load the bases and Jose Iglesias let four unanswered balls go by to force Spears home for the equalizer.

Enter slugger Ryan Lavarnway, who had combined with the likes of Lin and Iglesias for an 0-for-8 evening, let three straight balls, a called strike and then Ball Four drop by. With that, Nava crossed the plate for a cathartic victory after the Bats had seemingly retained a subtle stranglehold all evening.

Louisville drew first blood for the third time in as many bouts as home runs via Daniel Dorn and Chris Valaika in the second and third innings, respectively, sculpting an initial 2-0 lead.

The No. 7-slotted DH Luis Exposito and bottom-feeding Ronald Bermudez combined for the PawSox’ first four hits. Exposito led off the third with a solo shot into the Bats’ bullpen and Bermudez hit a single in back-to-back innings. However, he along with two other runners, including Exposito in the fourth, were stranded to preserve Louisville’s 2-1 edge through four innings.

The Bats raised their upper hand to 3-1 in the fourth courtesy of Dave Sappelt, whose sacrifice fly scored Michael Costanzo. Hector Luna countered with a leadoff blast to pull Pawtucket back within one, 3-2, in the sixth.

Louisville retired each of the next nine PawSox batters before Spears led off the bottom of the ninth with a rolling single to shallow left-center. Spears advanced to scoring position on Exposito’s subsequent sacrifice grounder, but had no other tasks afterward but to savor the gradual gift from Smith.

PawSox pluses
Shortstop Jed Lowrie lasted only three innings in his first rehab game before he was lifted as planned after his second at-bat. But in that sliver of time, he collected his share of key defensive highlights. He initiated a 6-4-3 double-play for the first two outs of the second and collaborated with the catcher Lavarnway to foil Felix Perez’s stealing attempt and end the top of the third.

After threatening twice to catapult the ball out of the yard (flying out both times), Luna belted his 12th homer of the season well out of the park to extend his hitting streak to four games.

Lin barred Louisville first-baseman Daniel Dorn’s bid to augment his team’s lead in the ninth, snagging his fly ball at the right-center fence for the second out of the inning. As it happened, that play had vital implications when the PawSox usurped the game in the bottom half.

Sox stains
What has come over Lars Anderson? In the near-48 hours since his near-trade to Oakland, which came on the heels of a seven-game hitting streak, the cleanup man has gone 0-for-7. In four plate appearances Monday night, he struck out twice and hit a pair of soft grounders to the right side of the infield.

Anderson’s third-inning grounder to Dorn at first base left the bags loaded and spoiled Pawtucket’s opportunity to surmount a 2-1 deficit early. With the score unchanged through the next inning, Lin grounded into a force-out to strand a threesome of prospective RBIs of his own in the bottom of the fourth.

Meanwhile, his passive winning play aside, Lavarnway endured a pair of strikeouts for the ninth time in his last 11 games-played and went hitless for the fifth time in his last 12 outings.

Bats notes
Starting pitcher Edinson Volquez toiled to throw 111 pitches over a span of seven full innings-pitched. Although only 69 of those pitches were for strikes, he managed six strikeouts, confined the PawSox to two runs on five hits and pulled off four 1-2-3 stanzas.

Valaika and Denis Phipps each had multi-hit outings. Phipps lined a leadoff single to left field in both the fourth and the sixth and also doubled in the eighth.

Spears stole his eighth base out of nine attempts on the year after walking in the fourth inning. He is now tied with Nava for third on the team in that department. Ironically, the multifaceted Spears was filling Nava’s usual defensive post in left field on Nava’s night off Monday.

PawSox starter Kyle Weiland threw 98 pitches, his second-heaviest bushel in a single start this season. He sandwiched five so-so innings with a 1-2-3 first and seventh, finishing his night with a relatively efficient 13-pitch frame.

Infielder Brent Dlugach, playing second base while Lowrie and Iglesias took his usual shortstop position, struck out for his eighth consecutive outing and the 13th time overall these last eight games.

Michael Bowden, who combined with Tommy Hottovy for one hit in two innings of relief, garnered his third win of the season.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Relief coming for Pena? Rough outings, transactions may mean return to PawSox bullpen

Can Tony Pena, Jr. go home to the bullpen now? It’s possible.

With the parent Boston Red Sox having acquired Erik Bedard from the Seattle Mariners before Sunday’s MLB trading deadline, odds are Andrew Miller will be due back in the PawSox’ clubhouse before long.

Either that, or the potentially impending reactivation of Felix Doubront―whose hamstring had him placed on the 7-day disabled list―could offer another option to fill Pawtucket’s rotation.

Perfect timing. If and when he can find a suitable arrangement, Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler might want to consider sending Pena back to the relief brigade, where the veteran pitcher is generally better suited.

Pena’s role in the PawSox’ 7-2 home loss to the Louisville Bats coincided with Miller’s no-decision in a Boston victory at Chicago Sunday afternoon. The ugly upshot at McCoy Stadium dropped Pena to 1-2 on the month and the team to 1-5 in his six July starts.

Pena, who has made 19 relief appearances in 2011, got his first starting nod in a May 22 visit to Toledo and has been a mainstay in the rotation since June 27.

And over his first four starts for the PawSox, Pena charged up a 3-1 record for himself, his only blight being a 3-0 loss to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre during a July 2 doubleheader at McCoy.

Since then, though, Pawtucket is 0-4 when Pena starts. He received three consecutive no-decisions and then took Sunday afternoon’s albatross against Louisville after allowing a season-worst nine hits in a span of five innings. Four of those hits were doubles, all of them playing a direct or indirect part in Pena’s four earned runs.

To be fair, Pena’s four-game winless streak has not been an unadulterated quartet of duds. He was in line for a potential win in two consecutive tangles with the North Division-leading Lehigh Valley IronPigs, having lasted seven innings in both cases.

But in the second of those games last Tuesday, he disassembled in the third after he was nearly spotless through two innings. And this was 10 days after a six-hit, seven-run shellacking in 3.1 innings against Durham and one start before Sunday’s debacle against the Bats.

To start last week’s visit to Coca-Cola Park, Pena benched Delwyn Young and Tagg Bozied on strikes while allowing only one base hit while logging six outs in as many challengers.

But in the third, a hit batsman, back-to-back singles, a sacrifice grounder, a walk, a wild pitch and a two-run single amounted to four IronPigs runs. The complexion of the game thus changed instantaneously as Lehigh Valley usurped a 4-3 lead and ultimately won a seesaw slugfest, 8-7, in 10 innings.

Under ordinary circumstances, Pena’s two sparkling stanzas might have meant keeping the mound warm for Michael Bowden, Jason Rice or Randy Williams to shut the door in the ninth.

Before his June 27 bout with Indianapolis, Pena had pitched a cumulative 39.1 innings, striking out 23 batters and allowing only 14 runs over 18 relief outings.

As a starter this season, Pena has logged 43.1 innings-pitched, thrown 24 Ks and authorized 26 runs. Overall, those differences in data are roughly negligible, but that only suggests that Pena is better suited for slivers rather than slices of action per night.

His lone active return to the bullpen this month happened to be a save situation in Syracuse July 6, when he struck out two men in as many innings to stamp a 2-0 victory. Apart from an identical 2-0 triumph over the hapless Buffalo Bisons three nights later, that is the simplest and smoothest outing Pena has experienced in at least five weeks.

So far, Pena has not quite devolved into a hair-whitening starter. But seeing as he has a day job in the bullpen and that the PawSox may soon have gridlock coming to their rotation in the coming week, it would simply make more sense to revert him back to a reliever.

Post-game pop-ups: Bats 7, PawSox 2

Swift summation
On both sides of the ball, the PawSox into overslept Sunday afternoon, cultivating only momentary and negligible highlights while the visiting Louisville Bats smoothly and slowly buried them en route to a 7-2 loss at McCoy Stadium.

Louisville DH Denis Phipps opened the scoring for the second straight day, lining a single to shallow left to score Dave Sappelt from third in the top of the first.

Pawtucket pulled even in the bottom half thanks to an ever-gradual baserunning circle tour by Che-Hsuan Lin. The centerfielder led off with a walk, stole second with Daniel Nava at the dish, advanced to third on a balk with Ryan Lavarnway at bat and scored on Lavarnway’s single.

But from there, Bats starter Daryl Thompson retired each of his next 11 challengers. Within the same time frame, Pawtucket’s Tony Pena, Jr. charged up a four-inning tab that included nine hits, four doubles, two walks and four runs.

Louisville promptly reclaimed the lead in the second courtesy of Kristopher Negron’s sacrifice fly, which was enough to sent Corky Miller home from third. Two innings later, doubles by Daniel Dorn and Costanzo augmented the upper hand to 3-1. Costanzo advanced to third on a single by Jose Castro and scored ahead of Sappelt’s third single in as many plate-appearances.

The Bats added a fifth run in the sixth inning at the expense of reliever Clevelan Santeliz. In the bottom half, the PawSox posed one of their more outstanding threats when Lars Anderson drew a two-out walk and advanced to second on Hector Luna’s single. Yet both men were stranded when former Sox outfielder Jeremy Hermida robbed Nate Spears at the right field warning track.

Hermida proceeded to expand the gap to 6-1 with a solo home run to left in the seventh.

Lavarnway cut the deficit to 6-2 in the eighth when he doubled to the left field corner, stole third with Luna at the plate, then hustled home when Luna hit an infield single on the next pitch. But with Phipps on third in the top of the ninth, Miller renewed the five-run edge with an infield single to short.

PawSox pluses
Twice in as many innings, Pena let two men reach scoring position with no outs. But both times, Lavarnway played a key role in helping his batterymate confine the damage to one run.

In the first, the catcher collaborated with shortstop Jose Iglesias to catch Phipps stealing for the first out of the game. And in the second inning, when Nava caught Castro’s shallow fly to left and threw to the plate, Lavarnway appealed Costanzo’s would-be scoring tag from third and relayed the ball to Luna to complete an unusual inning-ending double play.

Luna initiated another double play with two Bats on board in the third, catching Hermida’s liner and throwing to Lars Anderson, who tagged Phipps at first.

Sox stains
Coming on in relief of Pena to commence the sixth, Santeliz loaded the bases with nobody out by way of a walk, a fielding error and a hit-batsman. Although that only amounted to one run, second-baseman Nate Spears might have averted that run if not for a Bucknerian gaffe on Costanzo’s grounder that sent Miller from first to third.

In two innings of work, Santeliz threw 20 strikes, 19 balls while authorizing a walk, a hit-batsman, two extra-base hits and two insurance runs.

With Spears and Iglesias on the corners with two outs in the fifth, the lately productive Lin had a chance to kindle a welcome offensive disturbance. Instead, with a 2-1 count in his favor, he stood pat and watched two strikes zip by to end the inning and keep intact what was then a 4-1 deficit.

Designated hitter Luis Exposito joined Nava as the only Pawtucket batters not to reach base on the day. And just when the Sox were thawing out in the eighth, he too stranded men at the corners with a grounder to short.

Bats notes
In 6.2 innings-pitched, Thompson allowed one run on four hits―none of them for extra bases―and struck out seven PawSox.

Sappelt, Phipps, Dorn, Costanzo and Castro all logged multiple hits for Louisville (team total of 17). Sappelt went 4-for-5 with a quartet of singles. While Costanzo doubled twice and singled once.

Miller went hitless in his first four at-bats, but scored two of Louisville’s runs after drawing a walk in the second and the sixth.

Negron was the last Bat to record a hit on the day, singling to load the bases with two outs in the ninth.

Relievers Nick Christiani and Jeremy Horst combined for one earned run on three hits in 2.1 innings of work.

In eight games and 10 days since returning from the disabled list, Iglesias has hit a respectable (12-for-26) but has also struck out at least once (eight times total) in each of the last six games. Both trends continued Sunday afternoon when the shortstop sandwiched a fifth-inning single with a pair of Ks in the second and seventh.

Luna hit 2-for-4, notched his first RBI in five games and ran from first to third on Spears’ second hit of the day, a sharp single to right field in the eighth.