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Saturday, April 26, 2014
Takeaways: Pierzynski, Buchholz settle in

By Gordon Edes


TORONTO -- Quick hits from the Rogers Centre, where two straight wins against the Toronto Blue Jays have given the Red Sox the chance to reach the break-even point Sunday for the first time since April 4, when they were 2-2:

John Lackey was immense Wednesday night against the Yankees. Jake Peavy was terrific here Friday night. Clay Buchholz settled in after a very rough start and gave the Sox seven good innings Saturday. The common thread in all three starts? A.J. Pierzynski was behind the plate.

A.J. Pierzynski
A.J. Pierzynski is congratulated by David Ortiz after hitting a grand slam on April 26 in Toronto.
It takes time, Pierzynski said, but he's beginning to settle in as he gets to know this rotation better.

"I know you guys all think this is an easy job, but it's a hard job to do, and every game is different and every day is different," Pierzynski said after Saturday's 7-6 win over the Blue Jays. "Especially with starting pitching. You've got to find a groove and have got to find a way to go back out there and settle in. Tomorrow is a new day, and circumstances all change, but you try to fight the fight and try to win the game."

Until this week, there had been a marked difference in the overall performance of the Sox starters with Pierzynski behind the plate as compared to backup David Ross. Until Lackey's gem, Sox starters had been 4-10 with a 5.06 ERA with Pierzynski, while they were 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA with Ross.

But in Ross's past two games, with Buchholz and Felix Doubront on the hill, Sox starters have been charged with nine earned runs in five innings, while the tally has been five earned runs in 22 innings for Pierzynski's past three starts. Ross is now 5-3 with a 4.00 ERA, and Pierzynski is 7-10 with a 4.46 ERA.

"I'm getting there," Pierzynski said. "Every day is a little better."

Catchers' ERA can be a deceptive barometer of performance, but Pierzynski has been behind the plate for 11 of the team's quality starts this season, Ross for five.

• Pierzynski's grand slam in the third was his first in nearly five seasons (May 2, 2009, in Texas). It was also Boston's first hit of the game, yet gave the Sox a 5-0 lead, with Jays starter Brandon Morrow having walked the previous four batters in a row, and eight total, before being dismissed with two outs.

"We were just talking about that. I've never seen 7 walks in 2⅔ and no runs, no hits," Pierzynski said. "Usually, you give up that many walks, somebody's going to run into one or get a hit. But [Morrow] did a good job, made a couple of pitches to get a couple of double plays. Grady [Sizemore] put up a great at-bat to get the eighth walk and get us on the board, then, obviously, we came out with two home runs to put us ahead."

Buchholz
After the first three Blue Jays scored in the first, Clay Buchholz pitched six scoreless innings.
After Pierzynski took reliever Chad Jenkins deep, the next batter, Will Middlebrooks, did the same, the second time in five games the Sox have gone back-to-back. David Ortiz and Mike Napoli did so on Tuesday.

• Remember that scene in "It's Wonderful Life" in which George Bailey's pals plastered posters of exotic locales to make it seem like Bailey wasn't stuck in Bedford Falls for his honeymoon? Well, the Sox might have to employ similar deception to persuade Junichi Tazawa that he is anywhere but in Toronto.

"Me, too," said Koji Uehara, who survived a ninth-inning scare after Tazawa was touched up for two runs in the eighth.

Tazawa had not given up a run in 11 appearances (10 innings) until Saturday, when he was greeted by a home run by Juan Francisco leading off the eighth. Three more singles followed, and manager John Farrell had to employ Uehara for a four-out save. He retired the big leagues' leading hitman, Melky Cabrera, to end the eighth, but Jose Bautista took him deep to open the ninth, and two more hits followed before Edwin Encarnacion lined out wickedly to center to end it.

Uehara ha also been unscored upon this season (eight innings, eight saves). The Red Sox closer exaggerates his Toronto phobia -- he gave up just one hit in the Rogers Centre last season -- but Bautista's home run Saturday was the first allowed in the regular season by Uehara since last June 30, when Bautista hit a game-tying home run here.

Bautista is now just one of three players who have two career home runs off Uehara, joining Howie Kendrick and -- wait for it -- Johnny Damon.

Uehara said he didn't think he made a particularly good pitch to Cabrera. "I think Melky missed it," he said through interpreter Shigenari Matsumoto.

"Had it the whole way, the whole way," Pierzynski cracked. "I mean, we know these guys can hit. Bautista, Encarnacion, Francisco. They can hit. But as long as we end up with one more run than they do, it's a good day. It was a little scary in the eighth and ninth, but we found a way to get it done, and that's all you can ask for."

Will Middlebrooks
Will Middlebrooks continues to mash the ball at Rogers Centre.
Uehara looked more relieved than happy when it was over.

"It's a feeling that I always feel," he said, "but it was more pronounced today."

Tazawa, meanwhile, does everything but break out into hives when he pitches here, or faces the Blue Jays, for that matter. Of the nine home runs he gave up last season, six were hit by the Blue Jays. Last season against Toronto, he was 1-3 with a 10.13 ERA, and since the start of the 2013 season, the Jays are hitting .439 (18-for-41) with 10 extra-base hits against him. They're batting .400 here.

"They're such a good fastball-hitting team," Farrell said of the Jays. "It's strength on strength, and a few times they've beaten him."

• As inhospitable as Toronto is to Tazawa, it's a hitter's paradise for Middlebrooks. It was here that he hit three home runs in a game last April 7, and he now has 10 extra-base hits in his past 10 games here dating back to the start of 2013. That ties him with Orioles strongman Chris Davis for most extra-base hits by a visiting player.

Middlebrooks has lined six balls hard in two games, including Saturday's home run and a single and double Friday.

"Yeah, I feel good," he said. "I went down to Triple-A for a couple of days [three-day rehab assignment] and got [overmatched] a little bit. Guys were throwing 100 [mph]. But I feel good, really good. I feel like I'm putting myself in a good position to hit, getting into good counts."

Middlebrooks also made a key defensive play, taking away a hit from Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie in the sixth.

"It's always good to take away a hit from that guy," Middlebrooks said. "He takes a lot of hits away from a lot of people. He's a good player. He took one from Jackie [Bradley Jr]. We owed him."

Koji Uehara, A.J. Pierzynski
A.J. Pierzynski and Koji Uehara were relieved after stamping out the Blue Jays' comeback bid.
• Buchholz made some adjustments since his last start, speeding up the tempo of his delivery. It looked ugly early -- "You could see he didn't look comfortable at all," Pierzynski said -- but gradually, he found a rhythm and a more consistent release point and gave up just two more hits over six scoreless innings. That was particularly noticeable, Farrell said, with his cutter and curveball.

"He found a way to give us seven innings," Pierzynski said. "That was huge. People are going to forget he went seven innings after the first three hitters scored. Hopefully, he can build on that. That's an outing as a pitcher you should be proud of."

• It helped, Buchholz said, to have Bradley running down balls behind him, most notably in the third, when, with his trademark great jump, Bradley was able to overtake a gapper to right-center by Colby Rasmus with two runners on.

"Not many people know the game well enough to know that a player makes plays behind you a lot of people wouldn't be able to get to," Buchholz said of Bradley. "He saves a lot of runs with the jumps he gets on balls. It's amazing how talented he is at that position."