Boston Red Sox: Franklin Morales

Sox lose on road but win home-field edge

September, 29, 2013
BALTIMORE -- Takeaways on a night when the Red Sox could safely turn their attention to the postseason after Oakland's loss late Saturday afternoon assured them of the league's best record and home-field advantage throughout the postseason:

* John Farrell, on finishing ahead of the Athletics, and the Fenway Factor in October:

"It's a tribute to the guys in uniform, the way they've come in and competed every day to put ourselves in position to secure home-field advantage. We'd have liked this game to finish up differently, but to know going into the postseason that every series we go into we'll have home-field advantage and playing in front of Fenway fans and how comfortable and successful we've been at home, this is a good thing."

* Jon Lester stiffs media after final regular-season start:

[+] Enlarge Jon Lester
Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesJon Lester didn't get a win in his final regular-season start but looks to be in top form entering the postseason.
Not what you think. The Sox left-hander had the best of reasons, flying back home to Boston after coming out of the game to be with his wife, Farrah, who's about to give birth to the couple's second child. Who says life can't take a turn for the better after what was easily the worst season of Lester's career in 2012, when he went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA. The final line on his 2013 regular season: 33 starts, a career-high 213 1/3 innings, 15-8 record, 3.75 ERA, 177 strikeouts and 67 walks. Every significant statistical category was better than the year before: K's per 9 (7.47), walks per 9 (2.8), hits per nine (8.8), home runs per nine (0.8).

Saturday, he was not at his best -- nine hits, including a home run by Brian Roberts, and four runs in five innings -- but he threw 97 pitches and will be well-rested when he goes into next weekend.

"Not as sharp," Farrell said. "Given the way he's righted the ship from a year ago to this year, a very strong season overall."

Farrell continues to hold off on naming his rotation for the postseason. When Alex Speier of asked whether the Lesters planned to name their baby, "Game One Starter," Farrell cracked: "If they do, someone needs to be slapped."

* You can't be a Sox fan without something to worry about:

And the bridge between the starters and closer Koji Uehara remains the obvious choice. Lefty Matt Thornton, on the bubble for an October roster spot, went three up and three down in the sixth, striking out one. Junichi Tazawa then needed just eight pitches to breeze through the heart of the Orioles' order, retiring J.J. Hardy on a fly ball, slugger Chris Davis on a ground ball, and striking out cleanup man Adam Jones.

But then Tazawa came out for the eighth and yielded back-to-back singles to Matt Wieters and Danny Valencia. Maybe, Farrell said afterward, Tazawa is better in one-inning stints at this stage, but because he'd made such fast work of the Orioles in the seventh, the Sox sent him back out to start the eighth.

Franklin Morales came in and overpowered left-handed hitting Nick Markakis, just as he had Colorado's Todd Helton on Wednesday night, with the same result each time: The hitter went down swinging. But then the right-handed hitting DH, Steve Pearce, hit a ball into the corner, where Gomes had a little trouble picking it up, and the Orioles had the lead.

This was only the fifth time in 83 games that the Sox lost after leading through seven innings. That's not a habit you want to develop headed into October.

In the season's second half, setup man Craig Breslow has made 29 appearances, allowing just two earned runs in 26 2/3 innings for an 0.68 ERA.

The rest of the relievers expected to be in the mix for the playoff roster -- Tazawa, Morales, Thornton, Ryan Dempster, Brandon Workman, and Drake Britton -- have a 3.84 ERA in the second half. That's pretty good, but leaves some room to fret.

* Compared to what he did for Chico, he's in a slump:

Daniel Nava went 4-for-4 Saturday night, his sixth career four-hit game and fourth this season, to raise his average to .303 with a game to play, assuring himself of his first .300 season in the big leagues. Nava could go 0-for-5 Sunday and still finish at .300.

The safety zone to finish above .300 is almost as big for Dustin Pedroia, who went 3-for-5 Saturday, his second straight three-hit game, to raise his average to .301. He'd have to go 0-for-4 to drop below .300, to .299. It would be his third season of hitting .300 or better.

Nava, signed out of the independent Golden Baseball League, batted .371 in his last season (2007) for the Chico Outlaws, before his rights were sold for a buck.

What made Saturday's performance stand out was that all four hits came against lefties. Nava is hitting .322 versus right-handers, and his four hits Saturday raised his average against lefties 26 percentage points, from .226 to .252.

"I'm sure he's going to take from this some increased confidence when he faces left-handers," Farrell said. "He's done an outstanding job for us all year, and he's finishing on a high note."

* Overlook Stephen Drew at your own peril:

He doubled and singled and scored two runs Saturday. He tripled and singled and drove in three runs Friday. He is hitting .333 over his past 13 games with eight extra-base hits. He is batting .276 in the season's second half, after batting .233 in the first half, when he was coming back from a concussion and a hamstring issue. He's made eight errors at shortstop all season. He's been underappreciated.

Sox get a lot accomplished in rout

September, 26, 2013

DENVER -- Dabbling in the National League is a typically pleasurable experience for the Red Sox, and this season was no exception.

The Sox completed the regularly scheduled portion of their interaction with their NL brethren by thrashing the Rockies 15-5 before a sellout crowd at Coors Field of 48,775, drawn in large part to say farewell to Todd Helton, who wore purple in all 17 of his big league seasons.

The fans got their promised bobbleheads, and Helton gave ‘em something to remember him by, cranking a long home run off Jake Peavy in his first at-bat and narrowly missing a second, with the ball hitting off the left-field wall for a double.

But the Sox hardly came away empty-handed after winning for the 14th time in 20 games against NL teams, improving their record to a major league-best 130-70 in interleague play since 2003. They reduced their magic number for clinching the league’s best record to two with just three games to play. The Oakland Athletics lost to the Los Angeles Angels to fall two games behind; the Detroit Tigers are three back after beating the Minnesota Twins Wednesday.

"It’s something that I don’t want to say has become on the forefront of guys’ minds," manager John Farrell said, “but it’s another goal guys have in front of them. It’s a motivator inside a game to put together a strong game and a good brand of baseball. That’s what we hope to do on this trip, and to finish out the season with the best record would be a further statement these guys are making."

So if the Sox want to see another NL team this season, they can still arrange to do so: The World Series begins in 27 days.

No sense getting ahead of ourselves, which has been a working template for the Sox all season. The business immediately at hand has been a priority from day one, and that was no different here Wednesday night. In addition to winning, here’s what the Sox accomplished, loosely arranged in order of importance:

Jacoby Ellsbury made a successful return to the field after a 16-game absence. Wearing a protective plate on his shoe to protect the small fracture in his right foot, Ellsbury lined a single and scored in his first at-bat, grounded out and walked and scored in the fourth before being lifted in the bottom of the inning.

"He’s much improved," Farrell said. “I can’t say he’s completely 100 percent, but it’s not to the point where it’s holding him back on the bases, in the field or in the box. A good step."

Will Middlebrooks, locked in a 5-for-41 slump despite a double Tuesday night, broke out of it in grand fashion with a three-run, opposite-field home run in the fifth and a grand slam off Roy Oswalt in the eighth. The seven RBIs are a career high for Middlebrooks; the slam was his second this season and the third of his career.

[+] EnlargeRed Sox
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiWill Middlebrooks followed up his three-run homer in the fifth inning with a grand slam in the eighth.
"It’s been a tough couple of weeks," Middlebrooks said. "It’s been a tough year. But at this point of the year, man, it’s not about me. It’s about winning for us."

Middlebrooks said he was surprised by Oswalt’s off-speed pitch on the slam.

"I thought it was going to go foul," he said. "How it stayed fair, I don’t know.

"He fooled me. He threw me that slow curveball. I was late on the heater before that, so I thought he was going to come with another heater. Sixty-four, sixty-five mile an hour curveball. I was just trying to stay in the at-bat."

Franklin Morales, fighting for a spot on the postseason roster, made a compelling case for himself by picking off Michael Cuddyer before throwing a pitch, then pumping 95 mph fastballs to whiff Helton, a former teammate on the Rockies.

“I think the fact that he’s put the physical issues behind him, and you look at probably the last nine to 10 appearances for him, the power to the stuff has increased," Farrell said. "And, obviously, his pickoff is a weapon, and he comes in against a hot hitter and shuts him down."

• Peavy, for whom Coors Field has never been a comfortable habitat, got his work in and the victory, throwing six innings. He began and ended nicely -- three up, three down in the first and sixth -- with a lot of hits, runs and Helton’s home run in between.

"He had to grind through it, the way the ball was flying in here tonight," Farrell said. "Much like we’ve seen, he doesn’t back down, doesn’t give in. He gave us six blue-collar innings tonight."

Farrell has not disclosed his rotation for the postseason, but Peavy would figure to be a strong candidate to start a fourth game in the division series if necessary, following Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz, in that order. He threw 110 pitches Wednesday night in what will be his last in-game tuneup, though he figures to pitch in next Wednesday’s intrasquad game.

"I honestly felt as good tonight as [previously]," Peavy said. “It just stinks pitching here, especially when those balls are cold and humidified up. We won’t get into that, but I promise you those balls were in the humidifier tonight, which is A-OK because I’ll take our guys swinging when the ballpark was playing like it was."

For good measure, Peavy also doubled for the first hit by a Sox pitcher in 24 at-bats this season. Peavy’s hit triggered a rally capped by Shane Victorino’s three-run home run that broke a 4-4 tie in the fourth.

"When a pitcher gets a hit, it breaks your spirit as the opposing pitcher because you’re supposed to get that guy out," Peavy said. "Being able to contribute a little bit that way was fun, brought me back to a few years back when I enjoyed doing that a lot [while playing in the National League]."

David Ortiz made it through two games of playing first base without incident and doubled home two runs in the first inning, giving him 100 RBIs for the seventh time, which ranks third all-time in Red Sox history. Only Ted Williams (nine) and Jim Rice (eight) have more. With Ortiz putting on his glove, regular first baseman Mike Napoli, who needed the break to alleviate the plantar fasciitis condition in his left foot, will have had six days off before he makes his expected return to the lineup Friday in Baltimore.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, having the best September of his life, went 4-for-5 for his second four-hit game this season and is batting .424 (14-for-33) with 10 RBIs in his past nine games.

Ryan Dempster, who is transitioning to the bullpen, made his second relief appearance and pitched a scoreless ninth.

And in a great gesture of respect, at least 10 Sox players remained in front of their dugout to offer their congratulations to Helton as he made one final victory lap around the field.

Farrell: LHP Morales likely to return soon

August, 8, 2013
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Left-handed pitcher Franklin Morales, who made his fifth rehab appearance for Pawtucket Wednesday night, is on deck to be called up, said Red Sox manager John Farrell, implying that his promotion could come sometime this weekend.

Morales' return would give the Red Sox a third lefty again in their bullpen, the number Farrell had at his disposal until Matt Thornton strained an oblique muscle Sunday and went on the disabled list. With rookie Drake Britton pitching as well as he has and Craig Breslow considered an integral part of the bullpen mix, a healthy Morales could give the Sox a potential piece to move during the August waiver period.

It has been a difficult season for Morales, who was shut down early in spring training with a bulging disc in his back, returned in late May, then strained his left pectoral muscle, which put him back on the DL on June 25 (retroactive to June 23). He has missed 92 games while making just six appearances (one start), in which he has posted a 2-0 record with a 7.30 ERA. In five rehab appearances, four with Pawtucket, he has allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings, striking out 6.

--Right-handed reliever Alex Wilson has had his rehab stint placed on hold after experiencing discomfort in his sprained right thumb. Farrell said Wilson will be re-examined. He had made four appearances, the last on Monday.

--Knuckleballer Steven Wright was optioned back to Pawtucket with Daniel Nava back from paternity leave.

--The Sox came into Thursday's game with 25 home runs since the All-Star break, second in the majors to Toronto (26).

Buchholz might throw off mound Tuesday

August, 5, 2013
HOUSTON -- Manager John Farrell said on Monday the team is hopeful that Clay Buchholz will incorporate mound work into a workout on Tuesday, which would be a significant step in his rehab from a right shoulder injury.

Buchholz has not thrown from a mound since prior to the All-Star break. Buchholz has not made a start since June 8.

“The fact is that he’s entering the next phase, which is a positive,” Farrell said.

In other pregame news, Farrell said reliever Matt Thornton is day-to-day with a “right oblique issue,” which is the same term he used to describe the injury on Sunday.

Farrell said that tests from the training staff were positive, but that there is still soreness in his right side. Thornton left Sunday’s game after throwing just six pitches in the eighth inning.

“He’s still sore,” Farrell said. “If there’s any potential roster movement, that’s going to come to a head here in the next couple of days.”

Reliever Franklin Morales is scheduled for a two-inning outing on Tuesday as he continues his rehab assignment in Pawtucket. Morales hasn’t allowed a hit and has struck out six in three rehab appearances, and Farrell hinted that his return might be imminent.

“What we find out about Matt on his exam tomorrow will have a direct impact on [Morales'] next outing, as far as how long it is and where it will be,” Farrell said.

Catcher David Ross, who accompanied the team to Houston to serve as a bullpen catcher, will see MLB concussion specialist Dr. Micky Collins on Thursday in Pittsburgh.

Ross has missed 52 games after sustaining two concussions. If cleared by Dr. Collins, the veteran catcher, 36, will begin his rehab assignment immediately.

Recovering Morales throws off mound

July, 23, 2013
BOSTON -- Red Sox manager John Farrell said Tuesday that injured reliever Franklin Morales is progressing in his recovery and that a 25-pitch bullpen session on Monday went well.

“First time he’s gotten off the mound and first time that he’s progressed to the point of, through the flat-ground process, [being] able to feel good enough and recover from the throwing sessions to get on the mound, so it’s the first step,” Farrell said.

Farrell said the plan is for Morales to throw another bullpen session Wednesday. Despite not having a date for a rehab assignment yet, the manager is hopeful of getting the left-hander back in the mix soon.

“Any contributions he could make would be welcomed,” Farrell said. “Particularly to the level in which he pitched previous.”

Morales was placed on the disabled list June 25 with a pectoral injury.

Sox waiting on Morales, roster move

June, 23, 2013
DETROIT -- The Boston Red Sox will hold off on making any roster moves until they get a definitive answer on relief pitcher Franklin Morales.

“Franklin will go through more of a complete exam tomorrow,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said in the dugout prior to Boston’s game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. “He doesn’t feel any drastic improvement coming out of last night’s game. He’ll go through a complete workup tomorrow and then determine if there will be a roster move after that.”

Morales left Saturday’s game after giving up a two-run homer to Detroit’s Omar Infante.

According to Farrell, the injury occurred on the pitch prior to the home run.

“He felt it on the one pitch and didn’t feel he could go back to his fastball and threw a breaking ball,” Farrell said. “As we’ve seen, it was much less than the ones he was throwing inside of last night’s outing. It affected him.”

The injury is in the left pectoral area, similar to an injury he suffered earlier in the season.

“I think it’s in the same general area, but [when] we get the MRI we’ll know more specifics if it concurs with what he’s dealt with in the past or it’s something in addition to it,” Farrell said. “But he still feels some of that discomfort from this morning.”

Morales had a left shoulder injury in 2012. He was just reinstated off the disabled list on May 28 after missing 52 games with a low back strain.

“We felt like coming out of last night our bullpen is in good shape as far as getting through and with tomorrow being an off day to catch up,” Farrell said.

Morales lasted 2 1/3 innings on Saturday, allowing four runs on five hits and two walks. He struck out four.

* Jonny Gomes will get the start in left field, replacing Daniel Nava, who has been bothered by a wrist injury.

“I wouldn’t say just for the wrist,” Farrell said when asked why Nava was given the day off. “I’d say over the past week, today would be a day to give him a day down and tomorrow the off day as well.

“You might say with (Justin) Verlander going on the mound why do you not try and load up with left-handers, but he’s probably been more difficult with lefties than righties,” Farrell continued. “We need to put together the best game we can.”

* Ryan Lavarnway will start behind the plate for Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

“He came out of last night’s game and we talked and felt today was a good day to give him down,” Farrell said of sitting Saltalamacchia. “Even if we were playing Monday, day game after a night game and the amount of innings he’s caught this week, he needs a day off his feet.”

Saltalamacchia has appeared in 59 games this season.

“We typically take the view that this is a two-man position,” Farrell said. “There’s going to be a lead guy to it and Salty is clearly the guy. We fully expect him to catch north of 100 games and that’s unfolding as we speak the way he’s going about it. I can’t compliment him enough on the work he continues to do outside the games. We’re not to the halfway mark yet and we have to keep him fresh as much as can.”

* Farrell had no other update on starter Clay Buchholz.

“The next move will be to continue trying to get him on the mound,” Farrell said. “There’s going to be a need for a couple of bullpens before he gets into a game situation and clearly that game situation will be on a rehab assignment.”

Sox need more arms with Morales hurt

June, 23, 2013

DETROIT -- The injury news continues to get worse for Boston Red Sox pitchers.

Relief pitcher Franklin Morales could miss some time after he injured a muscle around his left armpit in Saturday's 10-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.

"He felt a little discomfort in that left shoulder [area]," Boston manager John Farrell said. "It will be re-examined here tomorrow, but there's potential for the DL."

[+] EnlargeFranklin Morales
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesFranklin Morales exited in the seventh inning after hurting himself on a pitch Omar Infante hit for a two-run home run.
Morales, who had a left shoulder injury in 2012, was just reinstated May 28 after missing 52 games with a lower back strain. He had been placed on the DL retroactive to March 22.

His return from the DL was delayed when a left pectoral strain was discovered while he was still out with the back strain.

"It's hard to be real specific right now," Farrell said when asked where the injury was this time.

Morales tended to think it was in his left pectoral muscle.

"I feel a little soreness," Morales said after the game as he pointed to the injured area. "He wants to check it out tomorrow."

When asked whether it was similar to a previous injury, Morales continued to say it was more in the pectoral area.

"It's crazy," Morales said. "I'll stay positive."

The injury occurred when Morales delivered a fastball to the Tigers' Omar Infante, who clubbed it out for a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh.

"When I threw one pitch to Infante, the fastball, I feel the pinch right there," Morales said.

After a visit to the mound by Farrell and the team trainer, Morales was taken out of the game.

He lasted 2 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on five hits and two walks. He struck out four.

He had a 5.40 ERA entering the game and left with it at 7.30.

It was his first bad outing since June 8 against the Los Angeles Angels, when he lasted just 2/3 of an inning, allowing four runs on two hits. He also walked four in that span.

Earlier in the day, Clay Buchholz's planned bullpen session was scrapped, leaving him unlikely to come off the disabled list to start Tuesday.

The ineffectiveness of rookie starter Allen Webster didn't help matters.

He gave up four runs in the first inning for a second straight spot start for the Red Sox, with the big blow coming from a grand slam by Victor Martinez.

"We only have three starts to go by, but he's going to be a very good pitcher," Farrell said. "It's still strike throwing early in the count where additional consistency needs to be. Once he got them to acknowledge that secondary pitch, he could go to it, slowed them down a little bit, and he was able to throw some fastballs by some guys. I think there were some flashes inside this outing that we saw all of spring training and that's like we've said very good stuff."

Webster finished allowing eight hits and five runs, and struck out five in 4 1/3 innings.

"He's got all the pitches and raw stuff you're going to look for in a young pitcher; it's a matter of consistency, matter of repetition especially at this level from at-bat to at-bat," Farrell said. "Being able to execute pitches is the number one thing."

The Red Sox could have two new arms arrive in Detroit prior to Sunday's game with the Tigers if they send Webster back to Pawtucket and place Morales on the DL.

"We've got to get an arm in here because of the need to go to the bullpen so early," Farrell said. "It will be determined."

The last of the injury news came from Mike Carp, who started at first base. He labored getting around the bases most of the night.

"He's not full speed, but he's able to play first base, but can't get into the outfield obviously with the way that he's running," Farrell said.

Aceves, De La Torre on their way

June, 11, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox pitchers Alfredo Aceves and Jose De La Torre were on their way to St. Petersburg on Tuesday to help an overtaxed pitching staff that is in need of fresh arms.

Meanwhile, pitcher Clayton Mortensen has been placed on the disabled list with a hip/groin condition that has been bothering him since early April.

De La Torre is expected to be activated tonight for insurance purposes and then will be sent back down to Pawtucket to make room for Aceves, who will start on Wednesday against the Rays.

Red Sox manager John Farrell went through eight pitchers in Monday night’s 5-hour-and-24-minute, 14-inning exercise, which led him to answer a question with a question when asked what he intended to do for pitching in the coming days.

“Can you pitch?" he asked a reporter following Boston’s 10-8 win in which the last two pitchers he used, Koji Uehara and Franklin Morales, were supposed to have the night off. Instead, Uehara, who threw 31 pitches on Sunday, gave the Sox two scoreless innings in the 11th and 12th, while Morales, who had thrown a 30-pitch side session Monday afternoon in advance of a scheduled start Wednesday, worked the final two innings and was credited with the win.

But starting Wednesday is now out of the question.

“We’ve got to get some arms in here," Farrell said. “We’ve got some decisions to make."

Enter Aceves and De La Torre.

Aceves starred in an emergency role when called upon to fill in on May 27, limiting the Phillies to a run in six innings before being returned to Pawtucket.

Aceves, who is 2-1 with a 3.52 ERA in five starts, hasn’t pitched since June 3, when he went 7 2/3 innings, allowing six hits and four runs, so he’s well-rested.

Mortensen is out of options and almost certainly would be claimed if exposed to waivers. He pitched the ninth inning Monday night, holding the Rays at bay after they’d tied the score at 6 the inning before on a wild pitch by Junichi Tazawa.

The Sox could have avoided using Uehara and Morales on Monday night, but Andrew Bailey blew up in the bottom of the 10th after Jarrod Saltalamacchia had knocked in two runs to give the Sox an 8-6 lead. Bailey gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Jose Lobaton, and then loaded the bases on two walks and a single before walking Kelly Johnson to force in the tying run.

Bailey avoided defeat by inducing Evan Longoria to ground into a third-to-home-to-first double play and getting an acrobatic play from second baseman Dustin Pedroia on Sam Fuld's drag bunt.

“I put myself in bad counts and walked three guys," Bailey said. “Getting out of it, I guess, is good, but it shouldn’t have come to that."

The 38-year-old Uehara needed just 16 pitches to pitch two clean innings, retiring all six batters he faced.

“I had a battle with the strike zone with the umpire yesterday," Uehara said through a translator. “Today, there was nothing in that sense going on, and I was able to pitch well."

Was he tired?

“No problem at all," he said. “I was a starter before. I still had plenty in my tank."

Still, when he returned to the dugout after the 11th, he did so without his usual raucous gauntlet of high-fives. “I was thinking I’d better save my energy a bit," he said with a smile.

Morales said he felt fine physically despite throwing 30 pitches earlier in the day. As for losing his start on Wednesday by pitching Monday night?

“Today, that’s what’s most important," Morales said. “Take the win today, and next day someone else could do it."

Morales' loss of control costs Sox

June, 8, 2013
Franklin MoralesJim Rogash/Getty ImagesFranklin Morales exits the mound after back-to-back four-pitch walks forced in two runs.
BOSTON -- Franklin Morales could not escape every pitcher's nightmare.

Ball one. Ball two. Ball three. Ball four. Try fastballs. Miss the strike zone. Try curveballs. Miss the strike zone. Take a deep breath. Miss the strike zone. Have a confidence-building meeting at the mound. Miss the strike zone.

Nothing was working.

The Red Sox left-hander just could not find the strike zone in the pivotal seventh inning as the Los Angeles Angels stretched their lead and ultimately held off Boston 9-5 on Saturday in the first game of a day-night doubleheader at Fenway Park.

Morales walked four in only 2/3 of an inning, including a pair of four-pitch, bases-loaded walks that forced in a couple of runs and helped the Angels blow open the game. And it wasn't as if plate umpire Tim McClelland was squeezing him.

"I try to throw strikes. I was just trying to do my job," said Morales. "I miss a couple of pitches. I couldn't find the zone. I try to throw different pitches. I move on the rubber. Things happen in baseball."

[+] EnlargeFelix Doubront
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesFelix Doubront kept it close, giving up three runs in six innings, but was charged with the loss.
He was pitching for the first time in nine days after making his season debut in a start against the Phillies on May 30. He entered Saturday's game in relief of Felix Doubront, who had gone six solid innings though he left trailing 3-2.

Morales retired the first batter he faced on a hopper to first baseman Mike Napoli. After Mike Trout crushed a double high off the wall in left-center, Josh Hamilton flied out to center. Two outs, a runner on second, still a 3-2 game.

But that's when problems started for Morales and the strike zone. And Boston manager John Farrell unwittingly opened the control-trouble can of worms. He had Morales issue an intentional walk to Albert Pujols.

So Morales threw four wide ones for his first walk of the inning. When Mark Trumbo reached out and slapped an opposite-field roller inside the first-base bag for a one-run double, the plate seemed to shrink on Morales.

He walked Howie Kendrick on a full count, loading the bases. Alberto Callaspo just had to stand in the batter's box to collect an RBI on a four-pitch walk. The crowd of 34,499 was getting antsy, but pitching coach Juan Nieves already had been out to talk to Morales and Clayton Mortensen had just gotten up, so the Sox had no choice but to leave Morales in to face Chris Iannetta.

Ball one. Ball two. Ball three. Ball four. Another walk, another run. A 6-2 Angels lead and Morales finally, mercifully, was lifted by Farrell.

"He lost the strike zone as we got deeper into it," said Farrell. "Ended up being the difference in today's game. Any time you walk that number of guys we're asking for trouble. Benefit of the doubt from him. A number of days before appearances. After [the Pujols walk and Trumbo hit], I think he tried to pitch a little bit careful and missed the strike zone."

Morales didn't use inactivity as an excuse.

"In the bullpen [between assignments], I did a lot of work," said Morales, who spent time on the disabled list the first two months because of back and pectoral muscle issues. "I threw bullpens. I threw on flat ground. I feel good. I try to do the best I can, but I didn't have location."

Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried everything he could to get Morales back on track. He called for different pitches. He went to the mound.

"When you're missing with the fastball, you try other pitches, but when it got to the bases loaded, you have to bring the best pitch, the fastball. He just missed his spots," said Saltalamacchia, who said he tried to remind Morales to "stay behind the ball and drive it through me" in one of his seventh-inning chats with the hurler.

"He's got great stuff," said Saltalamacchia, "but he's going to go through bad days. Everyone has those days. You don't expect it to happen, but he's human."

If misery loves company, then Andrew Miller's ninth-inning performance might have softened the bad outing for Morales. Miller also walked in a run as part of the Angels' two-run flurry, which helped Los Angeles withstand five consecutive two-out hits in the bottom of the ninth that narrowed the gap and forced manager Mike Scioscia to summon closer Ernesto Frieri for the final out, a whiff of Jacoby Ellsbury with runners at second and third.

Rapid Reaction: Angels 9, Red Sox 5

June, 8, 2013

BOSTON -- The top of the seventh inning was ugly for the Red Sox.

Franklin Morales, pitching for the first time in nine days, lost total contact with the strike zone, ultimately walking three straight batters with two outs, the last two of which received four-pitch, bases-loaded free passes to force home a couple of runs.

After he was finally yanked and trudged to the dugout while the restless crowd of 34,499 voiced its displeasure with his outing, Clayton Mortensen was nicked for an infield RBI single, tacking a fourth run onto Morales' log before the final out was recorded, and a close game had been blown open by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

But while the performance of Morales, who entered in the seventh in relief of Felix Doubront, was a clear focal point in the Red Sox' 9-5 setback, Boston's offense had to shoulder its share of blame in the loss in the opener of a day-night doubleheader at Fenway Park despite a spirited two-out, three-run rally in the ninth.

Boston batters had a difficult time coming through in the clutch against Angels starter Tommy Hanson, who labored through five innings and allowed seven hits and walked four in a 114-pitch struggle.

The Red Sox were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position over the first five innings.

And it was some of Boston's top hitters who failed most significantly.

In the first inning, with runners at second and third and one out, David Ortiz waved weakly at a curveball for a strikeout, and then Mike Napoli grounded out to third. In the second, Jose Iglesias and Jacoby Ellsbury failed to deliver with runners at first and second.

The third inning was similar to the opening inning. Ortiz swung and missed at a curveball for a strikeout with runners at first and second, Napoli took a called third strike and Jarrod Saltalamacchia popped up to third.

Daniel Nava snapped the drought with an RBI single in the fourth, narrowing the Angels' lead to 3-2, but with runners at first and third and two outs later in the inning, Ortiz again failed, this time grounding out to second and stranding his fifth and sixth runners of the day.

The Sox had one other chance to overtake the Angels. With runners at first and second and one out in the sixth, Dustin Pedroia scalded the ball, but shortstop Erick Aybar deftly short-hopped the smash and turned it into an inning-ending double play, keeping it a 3-2 game.

And then the Angels, thanks to seventh-inning doubles by Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo as well as Morales' wildness, put the game out of reach. Andrew Miller punctuated the forgettable afternoon by walking home a run in the Angels' two-run ninth, putting the visitors on top 9-2.

Decent outing: Felix Doubront (4-3) was saddled with the loss. He pitched decently, allowing three runs on six hits in six innings, but his pitch count hit 97 on his final pitch of the sixth inning, prompting manager John Farrell to opt for Morales to open the seventh.

Predictable pitch, positive result: In Mike Carp's second at-bat, leading off the fourth, Hanson slipped a breaking ball over for a called strike on the first pitch. His second pitch was another breaking ball, which Carp took for another strike. Hanson tried a third breaking pitch, a slower curveball, but bounced it on his next delivery, making the count 1-and-2.

It's unusual for a pitcher to double up on breaking balls, let alone throw three in a row. So the reasonable expectation was that Hanson would throw a fastball on his next delivery. He did, and Carp was ready for it, launching a home run into the Angels bullpen for Boston's first run of the game and cutting the Sox deficit to 3-1. The homer traveled 434 feet, making it the longest homer hit at Fenway this season by a batter other than Ortiz, who has blasts of 446 and 439 feet to his credit.

In Carp's next at-bat against Hanson in the fifth, the pitch sequence went changeup (strike called), slider (ball), slider (ball). With the count 2-and-1, Hanson stayed away from a predictable fastball and threw a changeup. But Carp was able to keep his weight back and he drilled a two-out single to right-center.

Bad luck: With Ellsbury at second and none out in the first, Nava ripped a shot up the middle. The ball struck Hanson's foot and ricocheted right to third baseman Alberto Callaspo.

Ellsbury, running on contact on what could have been an RBI single up the middle, was instead caught in a rundown. And even though Callaspo dropped the ball when he tagged Ellsbury halfway between second and third, Callaspo was able to pick up the ball and throw to Hanson covering third for the easy out.
NEW YORK -- Quick hits from Red Sox manager John Farrell’s Friday pregame session:

* The Sox will approach Friday night as a “complete recovery” day for Jacoby Ellsbury as he deals with some left groin tightness, which Farrell said occurred on the last of his five stolen bases Thursday night in Philadelphia. That means Ellsbury will not be called upon off the bench in any capacity -- pinch hitting, defense, etc.

Ellsbury, who was wearing an ice pack after the game but didn’t appear overly concerned that he was hurt, had treatment at the ballpark early Friday afternoon and is listed as day-to-day. “We’ll get a better sense and gauge of what his capacity will be, but that’s about the extent of what we can say right now," Farrell said.

The Red Sox have a day off on Monday, which means if they are concerned about Ellsbury aggravating his injury by playing this weekend, he would get five days off in a row if he doesn’t play here. With Shane Victorino not eligible to come off the DL until Wednesday, rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. will be the center fielder as long as Ellsbury is out, Farrell said.

The Sox are losing Ellsbury at his most productive. In his last 10 games, Ellsbury has posted a slash line of .400/.489/.550/1.039, scoring six runs, walking six times, collecting five extra-base hits and stealing eight bases. He has raised his season batting average from .241 on May 20 to its current .268, while his on-base average has risen from .303 to .337.

Ellsbury will not face Yankee left-hander CC Sabathia on Friday night. He was batting .226 (7-for-31) against Sabathia, who had struck out Ellsbury nine times while walking him once. Among Ellsbury’s hits off Sabathia are a double and home run.

* Clay Buchholz will definitely start Sunday, Farrell said. Buchholz will face Hiroki Kuroda in a reprise of their April 3 encounter, in which Buchholz limited the Yankees to six hits and a run (a home run by Travis Hafner) in a 7-4 win. Kuroda didn’t last until the second inning, leaving after a Shane Victorino line drive bruised the middle finger of his pitching hand.

* Victorino and third baseman Will Middlebrooks are both scheduled to take early batting practice Saturday. Farrell said it's possible Victorino will be sent on a rehab assignment in Pawtucket shortly, perhaps on Sunday, for a couple of games. Middlebrooks, who hit off a tee Friday, said the timing of his rehab stint has yet to be discussed. He said depending on how he feels, he could go down for as many as three games. He is due to come off the DL next Saturday.

* Left-hander Franklin Morales, who pitched five innings Thursday in an emergency start against the Phillies in his first appearance this season, could possibly be available out of the pen Sunday, but Farrell thought Tuesday was more realistic.

Sox rising, Yankees falling ... for now

May, 31, 2013
PHILADELPHIA -- Takeaways from a night on which Jacoby Ellsbury went home with a new record and a souvenir to commemorate it, Franklin Morales stuck his first win in his back pocket and the Boston Red Sox headed up the Jersey Turnpike to face the suddenly reeling New York Yankees, losers of a season-high five straight, including four to the crosstown (and heretofore harmless) New York Mets:

"That doesn't mean they're not going to play against us," said Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who warmed up for the weekend with two RBI doubles, missed a home run by no more than a foot and threw out an attempted base-stealer, the only catcher to do so on the night Ellsbury stole a club-record five bases.

"I always get pumped up to play those guys," he said. "What does Pap say -- if you want to be the best, you got to beat the best?"

At least Jonathan Papelbon, who had saved Philadelphia Phillies wins each of the previous two nights, was limited to just being quoted. The Sox jumped on the Phillies with four in the first, expanded their lead with solo home runs by Jonny Gomes and David Ortiz, then tacked on three more in the eighth, rendering Papelbon no more useful than the Phillie Phanatic.


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"The Yankees have been at the top of the division a long time," Saltalamacchia said. "I'm looking forward to going in there for a good series. Looking forward to playing the chess match."

The Sox and Yankees haven't played since the first three games of the season, when the Sox won two out of three despite missing Ortiz and pinning their hopes on a rookie with one full year of pro experience, Jackie Bradley Jr. The Yankees, meanwhile, have been playing short-handed all season, though two missing regulars, Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis, are due to return Friday night.

Before the season started, New York injuries and Boston's extreme makeover had the smart money speculating that the Bombers and Sox would be bringing up the rear of the division. What would Gomes have said in March if someone had told him Sox-Yanks would rank 1-2 entering June?

"You nailed it," Gomes said. "I think we talked about it in spring: The AL East was going to be a five-team crapshoot. We've seen it in the past -- big teams, big payrolls, big everything, go into the season and not work out, and then there's the other side of it. The AL East is the Beast.

"I didn't think there was going to be a five-way tie for first."

Gomes, a newcomer to the rivalry, likes the added cachet that comes with it but says no one should read too much into what takes place.

"I don't think who wins these three games or who wins the series tells anything," he said.

But he saluted the Yankees for persevering under daunting circumstances.

"It's awesome, it really is," he said. "I think it says a lot about their secondary players. I think their manager [Joe Girardi], it says a lot about the ship he runs and the organization.

"It doesn't matter who they run out there, they're expected to win. It comes from the past there and definitely Joe Girardi. Just because all their guys are banged up, I don't think they're going to lay down. And granted maybe they're secondary players now, but you're talking Vernon Wells, [Brennan] Boesch, Lyle Overbay. These aren't no-names. These aren't Triple-A call-ups. These guys have track records, too."

[+] EnlargeFranklin Morales
AP Photo/Matt SlocumFranklin Morales gave the Sox just what they needed in a spot start Thursday.
Gomes has a point, although of the three guys with "track records" he cites, Overbay and Boesch were other people's discards this spring, while Wells was a consensus choice as the most-overpaid player in the game.

Still, the Yanks are coming, with Tex and Youk back in the fold. Derek Jeter remains a speck on the horizon (All-Star break, perhaps?) and Alex Rodriguez is a salvage job with a very uncertain outcome.
  • The Sox used two emergency starters against the Phillies this week, Alfredo Aceves on Monday and Morales on Thursday, and those are the two games they won in the four they split with the Phils. Aceves gave the Sox six innings and allowed just a run, and Morales, after giving up a two-run home run in the first to Delmon Young, tacked on four scoreless innings before giving way to a four-man bullpen shuttle that put up four more zeroes.

    You can't overstate the value of being able to call on guys like that who deliver that caliber of performance. Bobby Valentine used Zach Stewart for two emergency starts last season: He went 0-2 with a 22.24 ERA and lasted a total of 5⅔ innings. Yes, Allen Webster was knocked around in an emergency start earlier this season, but Webster, Morales and Aceves offer depth that was lacking last season.
  • What difference does defense make in a game decided by seven runs? Plenty. A key play Thursday night was the double play turned by Stephen Drew and Dustin Pedroia on Erik Kratz with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, when it was still a two-run game.

    "A huge play," Sox manager John Farrell said. "It wasn't a hard-hit ball. Stephen gave him a firm feed, and Pedey [Pedroia] hangs in tough with [Kevin] Frandsen right down his throat. A momentum shift."
  • Ellsbury's souvenir? The Phillies gave him a base to commemorate his five steals. "Very nice of them," he said.

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 9, Phillies 2

May, 30, 2013

PHILADELPHIA -- The rest of the team is taking the bus to New York.

Jacoby Ellsbury might just sprint alongside.

The Boston Red Sox leadoff man reached base five times and stole a club-record five bases in Thursday night's 9-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, giving the teams a split of their home-and-home, four-game interleague series.

When Ellsbury wasn't running, the Sox were slugging, as Jonny Gomes hit a pinch-hit home run in the sixth, and David Ortiz, playing at first base for the first time this season, hit his ninth of the season to extend the 4-2 lead the Sox held after the first inning.

Left-hander Franklin Morales gave up a two-run home run to Delmon Young in the first but held the Phillies to a single over the next four innings to earn the victory in his first appearance of 2013, having missed the team's first 52 games with a bulging disk in his back, followed by a strained pectoral muscle.

Morales stepped in to start when Clay Buchholz was pushed back from Friday to Sunday and Thursday's scheduled starter, Jon Lester, was slotted into Friday night's start in the Bronx against the New York Yankees. Morales was backed up by a collaborative effort by four Sox relievers -- Craig Breslow, Clayton Mortensen, Junichi Tazawa and Andrew Bailey -- who held the Phillies to two hits the rest of the way.

In each of the four games against the Phillies, Ellsbury led off the first inning with a base hit and came around to score, the purest possible definition of jump-starting a team's offense. Thursday night, he singled off Phillies starter Jonathan Pettibone, took third on a single by Daniel Nava, and scored on an infield out by Dustin Pedroia, who brought home Ellsbury with the team's first run all four nights.

Pedroia did it four different ways, too: home run Monday, single Tuesday, sacrifice fly Wednesday, groundout Thursday.

Ellsbury walked and stole second in the second, singled and stole second in the fourth, was hit by a pitch in the sixth and stole second and third, then singled in the eighth, stole second and took third on a throwing error by Phillies catcher Erik Kratz. Oddly, none of the stolen bases resulted in a run scored but made for a long night for Kratz.

Ellsbury leads the majors with 21 stolen bases; in 2009, when he led the majors with a club-record 70 stolen bases, he stole his 21st base on May 27, in the team's 47th game. The Sox have played 55 games so far in 2013. Ellsbury has been caught just twice in 23 attempts this season for a 91.3 percent success rate. In 2009, he had been caught six times by the time he stole his 21st base.

Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia had been the one exploited on the bases the night before, when the Phillies stole safely four times. Thursday night, Saltalamacchia erased Domonic Brown attempting to steal in the first inning and also hit two RBI doubles.

The Sox tacked on three more runs in the eighth after scoring a total of four runs the past two nights against the Phils.

The Sox head into the Bronx and a three-game series with a two-game lead in the AL East -- their biggest since May 6 -- against the Bombers. The Yankees have lost a season-high five in a row after being swept in four games by their subway rivals, the Mets.

"I think through the first 50-plus games, I think both teams have answered questions. They've met challenges head on, personnel changes to the roster," Sox manager John Farrell said before the game. "I would expect [the series] to be not only a focal point, but one our guys are certainly looking forward to.

"I think we know about ourselves, which is most important to us: where guys slot in, how guys perform. We're going in there again not at full strength because of some injuries, but we haven't used that as a crutch, and the expectation stays the same regardless of who's in the lineup. That is, to win, and that is to hopefully win the division title."

Morales likely to return Tuesday

May, 26, 2013
BOSTON -- The Red Sox are leaning heavily toward activating left-hander Franklin Morales on Tuesday, manager John Farrell said Sunday morning.

Morales has been on the disabled list all season with back and pectoral issues. He has been stretched out to as many as 77 pitches through the course of a minor-league rehabilitation stint designed to provide more starting pitching depth, but will join the bullpen upon activation.

Farrell said Saturday that when a pitcher has been stretched out in order to start and then bumped back into a bullpen role, he usually has about two weeks before he loses the ability to step right into a starting spot.

Morales was 3-4 with a 3.77 ERA in 37 games with Boston in 2012. He had some impressive moments in the nine starts that he made during the campaign, which made him an intriguing option to round out the back end of the rotation as the Sox put together this year’s edition. The signing of Ryan Dempster and Morales’ physical issues this spring put that idea on the back burner, and the relative health of the rotation has led the 27-year-old back to the bullpen for now.

Morales threw five innings for Double-A Portland on Thursday. He was 1-1 with a 3.18 ERA in five rehab outings.

Sox mulling when to activate Morales

May, 25, 2013
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox may decide as soon as Saturday whether to activate Franklin Morales to have him join the bullpen or continue his rehab with another start in the minors.

Morales has made five rehab appearances as he recovers from back and pectoral issues. Manager John Farrell said the lefty is ready to contribute, but the team is content to wait things out until it knows where and when to utilize Morales.

"He's been up to 80 pitches," Farrell said. "If we want him to be even that much more sure of length we could make one more start, assuming he plugs right into the rotation, or he could work on top of someone the next time through and be available out of the bullpen."

Morales last pitched Thursday for Double-A Portland, going five innings in a win over New Hampshire. He allowed just one unearned run and threw 52 of his 77 pitches for strikes. He likely would not be available until after the weekend, at which point the Sox may have a keener sense of their needs.

Boston carries 13 pitchers into Saturday's matchup with Cleveland. Farrell has stressed his desire to rebalance the roster and drop a pitcher for a position player once the Sox are comfortably removed from Thursday's game, in which the bullpen needed to eat up six innings. Alfredo Aceves, who was recalled Friday to provide support, threw an inning to cap Friday's win.

Farrell indicated that temporarily going with a six-man rotation is not really an option. Because they recently shut down Morales, the Sox were able to reset his rehab clock, which expires June 5, at which point a decision would have to be made.