Boston Red Sox: Mike Aviles

Sox to hire Farrell, send Aviles to Jays

October, 21, 2012
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The Boston Red Sox have hired John Farrell as their next manager, a source confirmed to ESPNBoston.com's Joe McDonald on Saturday night.

The sides agreed to a multiyear deal, the source told McDonald.

Farrell, the Red Sox's former pitching coach, had one year remaining on his contract as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.

As compensation, the Red Sox will send veteran infielder Mike Aviles to Toronto, a source told ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes. The source also said that the Blue Jays will send a player back to the Red Sox.

Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com first reported the move.

Click HERE to read more.

Sources: Spring incident was a crossroad

October, 4, 2012
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In a column posted this morning (Insider Insider), ESPN Baseball Insider Buster Olney relays a story from spring training that started the ball rolling in the wrong direction for Bobby Valentine and his relationship with Red Sox players:

According to sources within the organization, Valentine had asked for a change in the way that cutoff plays were run, and when he walked onto a field very early in spring training, what he saw almost immediately was that shortstop Mike Aviles was not where he wanted him to be. Valentine loudly and profanely questioned Aviles' aptitude, others in the organization say. What Valentine did not know at that moment was that the Red Sox players hadn't yet been instructed on where to go in the new cutoff alignment.

Aviles is highly respected, a grinder, and other players were bothered enough by the exchange that three leaders on the team -- Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez -- went to Valentine to express concern and provide context for Aviles' mistake. Gonzalez, sources say, asked Valentine that if he wanted to get on a player verbally, the first baseman would be OK with being a target, because he could take it.

It was a moment that others in the organization now look back on as a crossroad in Valentine's year as manager, because in that instant, Valentine could have gone one of two ways.

He could have listened to the players, embraced what they were saying, called a team meeting the next day and built on the incident. He could have apologized to Aviles and then told all of them, in so many words, Mike, you should know that these three guys over here -- Ortiz, Pedroia and Gonzalez -- have your back and are really good teammates, and that's a great thing. And I'm really feeling good about what we have in this room.

"But it didn't go that way," said a member of the organization.

Aviles uncertain about where he stands

October, 4, 2012
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NEW YORK -- In the final month of the Red Sox season, veteran infielder Mike Aviles found himself, more often than not, watching from the dugout rather than playing.

It wasn’t something he was comfortable with, especially given that he had played so well for the majority of the season as the team’s starting shortstop. Unlike many of his teammates, he remained healthy (with the exception of a small bout of turf toe) and played 136 games, posting a .250 average with 13 homers and 60 RBIs.

He played only 16 games in the final month (making only three appearances in the last 16 games) because, with the Red Sox clearly out of playoff contention, the organization wanted to see how prospect Jose Iglesias could handle the major league level.

Iglesias played 21 games down the stretch and finished with a .118 batting average while playing spectacular defense.

“I know I proved myself and that’s just a fact,” Aviles said. “If you can’t see that then obviously you didn’t watch any baseball this year. You can’t honestly watch baseball this year and see what I was able to do defensively and offensively. I was right there, ranking with all the other shortstops until the last month.”

Aviles ranked third among A.L. shortstops in homers and sixth in RBIs. He was ranked seventh with 40 extra-base hits.

“I know what the organization is trying to do [with Iglesias] and I understand, but it doesn’t take away from what I was able to accomplish this year,” Aviles said. “I think I helped my career. We’ll see what happens going forward next year, but I’m not really worried about it right now. I really, personally, don’t care. I’m going into the offseason, I’m going to work out and get ready for next year. If it’s here, it’s here and if it’s somewhere else, it’s somewhere else. It doesn’t really bother me. They can go in any direction they like. I just know what I can bring to the table and I can help this team win.”

When the Red Sox announced during spring training that Aviles would be the starting shortstop and Iglesias would continue to hone his skills at Triple-A Pawtucket, the veteran wanted to prove he could handle the starting job in Boston.

“I felt like it was an OK season for me,” he said. “I felt like I was able to prove to everybody I’m able to play shortstop on an everyday basis and that was really my goal this year, to show people I can play every day because that’s what I wanted to do for my career and that’s what I feel like I put myself in a position to do. I’m hoping that’s the case moving forward and we’ll see how it plays out.”

Aviles, 31, is arbitration eligible this offseason and doesn’t know where he’ll play in 2013.

“I have no idea,” he said. “I don’t control those things. I mean, I would like to be playing here because I like Boston, but I don’t control those things. I’ll just come ready for spring training -- wherever that may be -- and I have no idea what my future holds for me. I just know I’m getting in my car tomorrow and I’m starting my drive home to Utah to see my wife and kids. That’s all I know.”

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington spoke about the continued development of Iglesias, along with rookie catcher Ryan Lavarnway.

“Neither guy lit the world on fire offensively,” Cherington said. “Both have shown flashes. I think Ryan has done a good job behind the plate handling pitchers. He’s driven the ball some, hit some mistakes but probably hasn’t quite gotten into the groove offensively.

“Jose has made some highlight plays at short and struggled a little bit with the bat. He’s made some hard contact here or there and hit balls at guys. It’s a work in progress with both guys and there have been plenty of good big leaguers who struggled in their first September. Both guys are going to be good players moving forward.”

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia led the team with 141 games played this season, while Aviles was second with 136. He takes pride in the fact he remained healthy and productive during a tough season for the entire team.

“I was here for the entire year, and playing every single day, I showed that I’m durable, showed that I was healthy and showed I can produce from a shortstop standpoint, so that’s all that matters to me,” he said. “I know we didn’t have a great season, but I know from a personal standpoint I felt like I have a lot of positives to take from this season. With the exception of this last month, which has been miserable for me because normally when you play well you just don’t sit the entire month. It is what it is and I’m just going to get ready for next year and wherever my career takes me.”

Searching for positives on L.A.'s big day

August, 26, 2012
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[+] EnlargeMike Aviles
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesMike Aviles, center, celebrates his home run with Pedro Ciriaco, left.
BOSTON -- After the Red Sox traded away three stars and another known veteran in the trade that sent shockwaves throughout baseball, they brought in some minor leaguers to fill the roster spots and installed the fringy Aaron Cook to take Josh Beckett's vacated start.

This is the new era of Red Sox baseball, one no longer marked by star power at virtually every position and shiny sports cars in the players' lot to prove it. Or at least not as many.
In actuality, the blockbuster trade cannot be truly judged for years. In the interim, it will present the faithful with scenes like the one presented Saturday night at Fenway, where a ragtag bunch flirted with a rout, lost it all in inglorious fashion and then fought tooth and nail into the night before falling to a Kansas City Royals team careening toward its 10th straight losing season.

Meanwhile, 3,000-plus miles away, the Los Angeles Dodgers were trotting out their new toys like the rich kid at show-and-tell. Adrian Gonzalez hit a three-run homer in his first at-bat as a Dodger and curtain calls abounded for each new member of a team high on life, playoff hopes and the pay scale. Even Nick Punto, the bit player in the big deal, scored the last run in an 8-2 rout of Miami.

Again, the trade is just hours old. Los Angeles might miss the playoffs and find itself hamstrung by the big contracts in the coming years. Boston may rebuild quicker than expected. But for now, the dichotomy is striking.

That leaves the Sox finding the positives where they can. On Saturday, many came from those extras that have to fill the gaps and, perhaps, fight for a future in the organization. Mauro Gomez, never to be confused with Gonzalez, did his best impression with a home run of his own to go along with three singles. Pedro Ciriaco had two more hits and is batting .351 after 41 games with the club. Scott Podsednik had two of his own and is sitting at .375. And Cook put in a yeoman's effort on three days' rest and on a night in which Boston was already thin in the bullpen due to the Alfredo Aceves suspension.

"More than we expected," manager Bobby Valentine said of his emergency starter. "Cook got his ground-ball double plays when he had to. He gave us everything he had. Seventy pitches and six innings, pretty good."

Gomez and others keyed an offensive effort that gave the Sox a 9-3 lead after four innings. His homer kicked off a four-run second and he had run-scoring singles in the third and fourth. Cody Ross had hits in those two innings, including one to score Ciriaco.

The names are not flashy. The results sometimes aren't as well. Blowing a six-run lead at home to a team 14 games below .500 is downright disgusting. But the energy, which enabled the crowd at Fenway to exhibit more positivity and support than the club has seen in recent weeks, may be the first sign of a potential change in the culture, a change for which many have clamored. There was even a standing ovation during Gomez's at-bat to lead off the ninth in which he fouled off pitch after pitch before grounding out.

"I did see some relaxed play. Definitely a positive. We didn't come out flat like I would assume a lot of people thought we would after what went down earlier in the day," Ross said. "Came out ready to play, fired up."

It did not translate into success. In fact, the new era in Boston began in rather miserable fashion. Meanwhile, in L.A. it started with a bang. But in Chavez Ravine right now it is about dreaming big. In Fenway, it's all about the little things. It has to be.
NEW YORK -- Bobby Valentine returned to New York to manage for the first time since he was fired by the Mets after the 2002 season.

He may not have come back as a conquering hero -- not with the Red Sox a game under .500 (49-50), 10 games behind the Yankees and 4 games out in the wild-card race -- but he was hardly cursing his fate, either, regardless of how much his team has underachieved.

Valentine I think we're heading in the right direction. ... I think we could build on that to 10, 15, 20 games over .500.

-- Bobby Valentine, on the Red Sox
"I'm a lucky guy," Valentine said when asked if his enthusiasm for the job has waned at all. "When I wake up in the morning, I count my blessings.

"Hell's bells, it's been exciting. Challenging for sure."

As upbeat as Valentine sounded Friday, it was hard to imagine how giddy he would have been if the Sox had come in here as something more than a team that has gone 8-13 in July, has lost 5 out of its past 6 and had beaten the Yankees only once in six previous meetings this season, all of which took place in Fenway Park.

The Sox manager talked about what a "great group of guys" he has, saying "I think we're heading in the right direction.

"We got off to a lousy start there with some confusion in the bullpen, we've been about five games over since that bad start in April, I think we could build on that to 10, 15, 20 games over .500."

For the Sox to finish 20 games over .500 (91-71), they would have to play at a .667 pace (42-21) the rest of the way. What does Valentine see that makes him believe this team is built to win?

He mentioned Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez's getting hot, referenced the return of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, noted that David Ortiz should be back soon and mentioned the stabilizing of the bullpen and his continued confidence in the team's starting pitching despite a 4.85 ERA and a record of 36-38.

"I've seen Adrian and Dustin really hitting their stride," Valentine said. "We went 80 games without them really getting their stride. They're feeling good. I see David coming back. I see Ellsbury and Carl in the lineup. I see our bullpen pretty well-stabilized and our starting staff feeling pretty good about themselves.

"Everyone says, 'How can the staff feel good about itself without Josh Beckett] or Jon Lester] winning their last starts and all that? They're healthy and throwing the ball well. I believe when you have quality people and they're healthy and maybe balls aren't hit at people -- whatever the hell it is that combined to have them not get W's and not do as well as we wanted to do in some of the games -- I think they will because they are healthy and they have qualities.

"A lot of the young guys we've had play are more established than they were early. Dan [Nava] is a more established player. Will [Middlebrooks] is a much more established player. Salty [Jarrod Saltalamacchia] has [19] home runs. Kelly [Shoppach] is working really well. The team has come along pretty well. I don't see things going backward."

He also singled out Mike Aviles as having "erased all doubts."

"He's played great defensively, made all the plays, he's been a iron man, and he's had a lot of big hits."

So there you have it: a team, by Valentine's reckoning, built to win.

And if it doesn't, who gets blamed? Hmmmm.
BOSTON -- Pregame notes from Fenway Park before the Red Sox take on the Blue Jays:

• Since returning to the lineup, Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury has played eight consecutive games, and having Saturday off was already in the plans, according to manager Bobby Valentine.

• Red Sox DH David Ortiz said his right Achilles strain is feeling better, but as of Saturday afternoon he hadn't decided if he would travel with the club on its next road trip or stay in Boston and continue to receive his treatment here. "I'm improving a little bit," he said. "Hopefully it's gets better every day and I can get back and play."

• Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is currently on the DL with a trapezuis strain, was able to throw on Saturday afternoon and Valentine said the right-hander is feeling better.

• Red Sox shortstop Mike Aviles was given Saturday off due to a bout of turf toe, which he suffered on Friday. "Those things can really get worse, so he's off his feet today, for most of the day," Valentine said.

Takeaways from the Trop

July, 15, 2012
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[+] EnlargePedro Ciriaco
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesPedro Ciriaco looked positively mortal Saturday against the Rays, particularly after fouling out to Jose Lobaton on a failed bunt.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A few takeaways from Boston's 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night:

The strategy questions

1. Why did Sox manager Bobby Valentine elect to have an intentional walk issued to Hideki Matsui by reliever Matt Albers in the seventh inning with runners on second and third, one out, and the Sox clinging to a 3-2 lead? Especially since Matsui was batting just .175 and is nearing the end of an illustrious career.

"He's a pro," Valentine said. "Figure take on the young guy and get a ground ball to get out of the inning, instead of going after a guy who has made his living driving in a lot of runs."

That decision backfired when Albers -- a sinkerballer who has induced seven ground-ball double plays, second-most in the American League -- walked the next batter, pinch hitter Jose Lobaton, forcing in the tying run.

2. Why didn't Valentine bring in left-hander Andrew Miller to face the next Rays batter, Elliott Johnson, who was batting just .169 against lefties?

Valentine was well aware of Johnson's lefty-right split and said he thought about it.

"I didn't want to bring in Andrew with the bases loaded," he said.

Miller has done a good job of harnessing the control problems that made him ineffective in the past, but he has been summoned into a bases-loaded situation just once this season, May 11 against Cleveland, giving up a run-scoring single sandwiched around a couple of outs.

Facing Albers, Johnson delivered a sacrifice fly, giving the Rays a 4-3 lead. Only then did Miller enter, striking out left-handed-hitting Carlos Pena to end the inning, but then giving up a home run to right-handed-hitting B.J. Upton in the eighth, the first homer he has allowed to a righty this season.

3. Why was Pedro Ciriaco trying to lay down a sacrifice after Jacoby Ellsbury's leadoff double in the eighth, with the Sox down a run on the road?

He wasn't. Valentine said Ciriaco was trying to bunt for a hit, and that third-base coach Jerry Royster made sure he knew the sacrifice wasn't on. Ciriaco, who had collected three hits in each of his previous three games but had whiffed twice and flied out into a double play against Tampa Bay lefty David Price, is a good bunter.

"I was on my own," he said, "so I was just trying to get something going or to get a base hit."

[+] EnlargeWill Middlebrooks
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesWill Middlebrooks connects on a two-run homer off David Price, giving the Sox a 2-1 lead in the fourth.
4. Why didn't Ryan Sweeney hit for Brent Lillibridge in the ninth, an inning Mike Aviles opened with a single?

Jarrod Saltalamacchia pinch-hit for Kelly Shoppach and whiffed, but the right-handed Lillibridge was allowed to bat. He, too, struck out.

Reason: Sweeney had tweaked a left hamstring the day before, something the Sox chose not to reveal before the game. Sweeney said it wasn't serious.

"I was ready [to hit]," he said.

Valentine elected not to push it, just as he didn't push it with Adrian Gonzalez, who is in the running for one of the season's weirdest injuries -- back spasms that came on, he said, when he bent over to greet a child in a stroller at the mall where the team's hotel was located.

Sweeney thinks he may have hurt his hammy because he's running a different way since an inflamed big toe on his left foot put him on the DL.

"I felt it the whole game [Friday]," he said. "Several times it seized up on me. Hopefully it will be better tomorrow."

OK, the nonstrategic takeaways:

5. A word about Aviles' error, with Jeff Keppinger on third and the Sox infield drawn in with one out in the fifth.

"That's a play I make every time," said Aviles, who has played a steady short but the night before was charged with a throwing error that led to a run. "I should have taken my time. I knew I had a chance at home. It wasn't a hard-hit ball. I had a little bit of time. I pretty much blew it."

6. A big swing from Will Middlebrooks: The rookie third baseman, who went 0-for-4 Friday night in his first game back after missing the last six before the All-Star break with a tight hamstring, hit an 0-and-2 fastball from Price for his 11th home run of the season. Of the players currently on the Sox roster, only Jacoby Ellsbury had taken Price deep in the previous 108 at-bats against him.

7. Daniel Nava hits the skids: The season's most unlikely success story has taken a turn for the worse. Since doubling and singling against the Braves on June 24, raising his average to .339, his on-base percentage to .452 and his OPS to .969, the Sox outfielder is batting .117 (7-for-60) in his last 16 games. His overall average has dropped to .264, his OBP to .386, his OPS to .789. And Nava is acutely aware that Carl Crawford has pronounced himself ready to return Monday, which could signal a return to the minors for a player whose performance helped keep the team afloat.

Cook makes quick work of M's in shutout

June, 30, 2012
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Aaron CookAP Photo/Ted S. WarrenAaron Cook celebrates his two-hit masterpiece with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
SEATTLE -- If the Red Sox are going to be competitive in the American League East, they are going to need competition among their starting pitchers.

If the past two games are any indication, they are getting just that.

Just 24 hours after lefty Franklin Morales threw seven shutout innings in what turned out to be a bottom-of-the-ninth 1-0 loss to Seattle, Aaron Cook came back and did him one better with a two-hitter in a 5-0 victory over the Mariners.

Cook's gem Friday night, combined with four homers in the toughest home run park in the AL, kept the Red Sox rolling with their 10th win in their past 13 games.

"That's a huge boost those two guys have given us," rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks said. "Morales came out last night and pitched great, and then Cookie comes out here and starts throwing that sinker.

"That's just what we need."

Cook, an All-Star with the Colorado Rockies back in 2008, has been battling injuries the past few seasons. He signed a minor league contract with the Sox just after the first of the year, then began the season in the minors.

[+] EnlargeAaron Cook
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenAaron Cook needed just 81 pitches in facing one batter over the minimum.
But on a team with three starters -- John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz -- currently on the disabled list (Beckett gets activated Saturday), being able to reach into the bullpen for Morales and into the minor leagues for Cook is huge.

"You can never have enough good pitching," manager Bobby Valentine said. "We're building competition here. We're building a good staff.

"We'd like to think we can give the ball to one of many guys and think we have the chance to win. Our pitchers have really gained a lot of confidence in our catching staff, especially with Jarrod [Saltalamacchia] and Kelly [Shoppach]."

While there is no guarantee that Cook will be a long-term member of the Boston rotation, the fact that he needed just 81 pitches to record his first shutout since 2009 suggests he will get multiple chances from Valentine to show it's not a fluke.

Injured much of the previous two seasons, Cook is healthy again and just salivating to get the chance to be the pitcher he believes he can be. His sinker was simply wicked, one reason Saltalamacchia kept calling it pitch after pitch.

The results were grounder after grounder. Only six of the 27 outs recorded by the Boston defense were hauled in by outfielders.

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia made the play of the game, smothering perhaps the hardest-hit ball of the night off a Mariners bat and turning that Dustin Ackley bullet into a 4-6-3 double play.

"You know [the Mariners] are going to be aggressive, but I got into a really good rhythm early," Cook said. "I depend a lot on my defense, and they played great tonight.

"It's good to be feeling healthy and making my pitches again."

Asked about the fact that he needed just 81 pitches to get 27 outs, Cook laughed and blamed it on a "short attention span."

Saltalamacchia had trouble believing the game he was catching.

"I felt like I'd caught five innings," he said, "and I looked up at the board and it was the seventh inning. Cookie was going right after them.

"When you look at what Morales and Cookie have done the last two nights, that's a big bonus for us. There aren't too many teams that go through the season using just five [starting] pitchers. We're going to need these guys, and they're stepping up."

For the first 13 innings of this series, the Mariners' pitchers were stepping up, too. No Boston baserunner had crossed the plate Thursday against Felix Hernandez or in the first four innings Friday against Hector Noesi.

Middlebrooks changed that with one swing, launching his 10th homer to lead off the fifth. In the space of eight batters, Boston would hit four homers and a double, good for all five Red Sox runs.

"He hung a slider," Middlebrooks said. "It's as simple as that."

Once that one was in the books, Cody Ross, Daniel Nava and Saltalamacchia all contributed bombs to the Red Sox total.

Middlebrooks works out at shortstop

May, 31, 2012
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BOSTON -- A few weeks ago, Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine inquired with upper management whether or not rookie Will Middlebrooks could play another position other than third base.

The manager was told the prospect was strictly a third baseman.

That could change, however, now that Dustin Pedroia remains sidelined with a thumb injury. Middlebrooks was taking ground balls at shortstop Thursday afternoon at Fenway Park. He was also working out double-play feeds with regular shortstop Mike Aviles at second.

"(Middlebrooks) was also a good high school shortstop," Valentine said with a smile. "He can play another position and if something happens he's going to take a grounder at shortstop because Mike has played second."

When Red Sox veteran third baseman Kevin Youkilis went on the disabled list with a lower-back strain on May 2, the club promoted Middlebrooks from Triple-A Pawtucket.

The 23-year-old infielder has been solid both offensively and defensively during his time in the big leagues, posting a .316 average with six homers and 21 RBIs in 24 games with the Red Sox. Because of his success, it's been an extremely difficult decision for Valentine to remove the youthful spark from the lineup.

Since Youkilis was activated on May 22, he's played both third and first, while Adrian Gonzalez has played right field, too, all to keep Middlebrooks in the lineup. He's not playing in the series finale against the Detroit Tigers Thursday night at Fenway Park, and Valentine said it was a difficult decision, especially since Middlebrooks went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs on Wednesday.

"It's all kind of tomfoolery," Valentine said.

Then the manager explained that, since the Red Sox will play a three-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays on artificial turf this weekend at Rogers Centre, Gonzalez won't play all three games in the outfield and he will need to play first at some point during the upcoming series. Also, Youkilis won't play all three games because of the surface, too.

Plus, Valentine credited outfielders Ryan Sweeney and Scott Podsednik for playing well of late.

"We're trying to keep everyone fresh, and mix and match the best we can," Valentine said.

Aviles ejected, Pedroia upset with ump

May, 18, 2012
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[+] EnlargeMike Aviles
Kim Klement/US PresswireMike Aviles wasn't pleased after getting tossed for the first time in his career.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- For the second consecutive game, the Boston Red Sox were visibly upset with the umpiring crew during a two-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez spoke his mind after Wednesday's 2-1 loss, saying it's tough to put together a professional at-bat when the plate umpire is inconsistent.

During the Sox's 5-3 win on Thursday, Gonzalez's teammates Mike Aviles and Dustin Pedroia also took exception to certain calls, and manager Bobby Valentine had their backs, too.

"You can't fight the umpire and the other team," Valentine said. "We're a highly competitive team and I'd like to be given a chance. A lot of guys had complaints tonight and I was with them. We've got to fight through it, that's for sure. We're trying our hardest and I think they're trying their hardest, too."

In the top of the seventh inning, Aviles was ejected for arguing with plate umpire Dan Bellino after he struck out looking. It was the first time in his career Aviles has been ejected.

"It was just frustrating, I guess," Aviles said. "I really wasn't questioning if it was a ball or strike on the last one. It was more of the fact that he had called two [other pitches] very similar balls, so I kind of shut off that pitch and when it got called a strike, I thought he gave me the hook prematurely, but at that point I definitely lost my cool and I apologize for that. It was definitely a little frustrating."

Pedroia, who went 2-for-5 with three strikeouts, was called out looking in the top of the ninth inning and gave Bellino the stare-down, too.

"They have a tough job," Pedroia said. "It's not easy. The game speeds up and I thought it might have sped up a little tonight, but it happens. It's tough, these games because we're fighting, trying to play well and facing some good pitching. It definitely affects your at-bats, but it's not an excuse. We are trying to have quality at-bats and hopefully the bat doesn't get taken out of your hands."

Youk plays catch; Dice-K's return nears

May, 11, 2012
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BOSTON -- One of the first signs of activity at Fenway Park on Friday was a rather ordinary sight. It was Kevin Youkilis playing catch at around 3 p.m. in shallow right field. Given the situation Youkilis is in, however, that qualifies as something notable. Not jaw-dropping, but notable.

The brief game of catch, during which Youkilis twisted and turned in order to limber up his back, was the first dose of baseball activity that the veteran third baseman has had since going on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain.

The next step may involve picking up a bat. When that occurs remains to be seen.

"Seemed like he could swing but they're delaying him," said manager Bobby Valentine.

Youkilis is eligible to return Monday. That appears to be a stretch at this point in time.

In other clubhouse news:

• Daisuke Matsuzaka is still on schedule to make his fourth rehab start Saturday in Pawtucket. It will be his second start at the Triple-A level. He threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings for the PawSox on Monday and is almost major league-ready.

"I would say he's very close," Valentine said. "He's done everything except string the innings together. He's worked on all of his pitches. He's happy with his pitches, he's happy with his velocity, his strength, his ability to field, pitch out of the stretch, the windup. If there's a checklist he's checked off a lot of those things and now it's just stringing innings together."

Barring anything unforeseen or a particularly rocky inning, Matsuzaka will throw about 90 pitches.

• Shortstop Mike Aviles is out of the starting lineup for the first time in over a month. The only game Aviles has missed was April 10 in Toronto.

Valentine said he was going to wait until Sunday to sit Aviles since that will be the halfway point of the team's current stretch of 20 games in 20 days, but he chose not to.

• Marlon Byrd is also out of the starting lineup for the first time since his debut with the Red Sox on April 23. That gives Ryan Sweeney his first start in center field with Boston and allows Valentine to have two left-handed hitters in Sweeney and Daniel Nava against Cleveland righty Ubaldo Jimenez.

"Byrd's been playing an awful lot and I want to see what this alignment looks like now that we have another left-handed hitter here," Valentine said.

10 observations after Sox lose marathon

May, 6, 2012
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BOSTON -- Roughly one hour after the Orioles-Red Sox game on Sunday, someone dressed as a ram mascot with an unidentifiable blue jersey on was running the bases at Fenway Park with a video crew in tow and Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" blaring overhead. And that wasn't even close to being the oddest sight at Fenway Park on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeMatt Wieters, Chris Davis
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireChris Davis' sour day at the plate (0-for-8, 5 K's) was sweetened when he earned the win by pitching the final two innings.
In the longest Sox game in terms of innings and time (17 innings spanning 6 hours, 7 minutes) since 2006, Baltimore outlasted the reeling hosts by a 9-6 margin. It was the kind of game that would best be summed up in a "War and Peace"-sized recap. But that's ridiculous. Here is your Cliffs Notes version, 10 observations taken from a wild one at Fenway:

(1) It is so rare to see a position player pitching. It is even rarer to see a position player pitching in a tie game. It is like spotting a unicorn to see position players for both teams squaring off at the same time in a tie game. Such was the case as this one boiled down to Orioles designated hitter Chris Davis and Red Sox designated hitter Darnell McDonald in a matchup for the ages. Or the aged, as the case was by the time the game ended.

Davis got the win with two scoreless frames, showcasing a heater that reached the low 90s and some off-speed stuff that did not look all that bad. Just ask Adrian Gonzalez, who flailed at what looked like a changeup to strike out with two men on in the bottom of the 17th.

(2) That strikeout was part of an awful day at the plate for Gonzalez. He seemed to have broken out of a slump with back-to-back three-hit efforts, but this one will be tough to get past. Gonzalez, who did not speak with reporters, became the first Red Sox cleanup hitter ever to go 0-for-8. Included in that performance were two strikeouts and one double play. He made first-pitch outs in the 10th, 12th and 15th.

Given all that, Bobby Valentine was quick to point out that Gonzalez was offering up his services in the event the manager needed anyone to pitch beyond McDonald.

(3) The silver lining again was the bullpen. Taking out McDonald's one inning, Red Sox relievers threw 12 1/3 scoreless innings. They threw 13 1/3 innings over the first two games of the series. When asked if a move is necessary to survive the upcoming series in Kansas City, Valentine was non-committal. But it seems almost impossible to begin that set without adding a fresh arm. The only pitcher Valentine said was definitely not available was Scott Atchison, who threw 23 pitches one day after throwing 35.

[+] EnlargeMarlon Byrd
Darren McCollester/Getty ImagesThe Sox would have won it in the 16th if Marlon Byrd had been safe on this play at the plate.
(4) When a runner is thrown out at the plate, especially in a big situation, it always seems like a mistake. Why did they send him, the masses will scream. However, it is hard to blame the Red Sox for trying to score Marlon Byrd from first base on a Mike Aviles double in the 16th. When you haven't scored in seven innings and you haven't won since Tuesday and you get a ball in the gap with two outs, why not? The Orioles made a great relay to nail Byrd by several steps. One hesitation or extra bounce in the outfield and the Sox are mobbing Byrd at home and Aviles at second.

(5) In large part because of its quirky dimensions and the close proximity of fans, Fenway Park has so often played into the hands of the Red Sox. Few places in all of sports boast such a distinct home-field (or home-court or home-ice) advantage. The club wins 50 games here on a yearly basis just by showing up.

Not anymore. After dropping 10 of their final 14 games at Fenway last season, Boston has dropped 10 of its first 14 this season. For those of you without an abacus, that's an 8-20 stretch at the Fens. You don't need any adding machines to recognize that as an extreme departure from the norm.

(6) Amid the wonderful performance by the bullpen were two standout jobs by lefties Andrew Miller and Rich Hill. Miller got the last out of the fourth inning after taking over for Clay Buchholz and then struck out the side in the fifth. Consider that in his 10 appearances for Pawtucket, Miller had just two perfect outings.

Also consider the fact that Hill, just four games into his return from Tommy John surgery, worked into a third inning of relief. He never managed an out in that third frame, walking the leadoff man and getting yanked, but the fact that he was sent back out for more was a tad surprising. Don't expect him to be working Monday in Kansas City as well.

(7) Pretty incredible how things are developing between the Sox and O's. With Sunday's win Baltimore is back in first place in the American League East, 7½ games ahead of last-place Boston. And this was a rivalry once so one-sided that the Sox were 64-25 against the Orioles from 2005 through 2009.

Baltimore's sweep is its first of the three-game variety at Fenway Park in nearly 18 years. Yikes.

(8) The term "rookie mistake" was uttered several times after Will Middlebrooks failed to run out a ball that bounced fair down the left-field line in the bottom of the 11th. His lapse in judgment turned a sure double into a single, and with two outs in the inning it loomed large.

However, Valentine is 100 percent correct in referencing the odd wind patterns in that part of the field and how it can fool players who are not accustomed to it. A handful of times every season a left fielder overruns a ball that blows back into fair territory behind him. Nine times out of 10 it is an opposing player. The 10th time it is Jeremy Hermida, or at least it was in 2010, when he made a mockery of such plays.

(9) Just in case you need to be reminded, the winning pitcher was Chris Davis, who also struck out five times and grounded into a double play, and the losing pitcher was Darnell McDonald, who pinch-ran for David Ortiz in the eighth. That's the kind of game it was.

(10) Felix Doubront has yet to last into the seventh inning in eight career starts. With a bullpen in tatters heading to Kansas City, now's the time, Felix.

Aviles gets first look as leadoff man

April, 14, 2012
4/14/12
10:45
PM ET
BOSTON -- On the first day following Jacoby Ellsbury’s right shoulder injury, Mike Aviles found himself in Ellsbury’s customary spot atop the Red Sox order. But both he and manager Bobby Valentine insisted it was not necessarily a permanent position. Aviles expects he could be batting at the top of the lineup or at the bottom.

In a 13-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday, he was in the middle of everything.

Aviles shook off some early issues with a tie-breaking solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning and added a double and run scored in the nail-in-the-coffin, five-run rally in the eighth, part of his second three-hit effort of the young season.

Aviles insisted he would not change his aggressive approach just because he’s batting leadoff. The fact that he is hitting in front of some of the game’s best hitters may make it easier for him to go up hacking, even if it isn’t what one envisions when they think of a leadoff hitter.

[+] EnlargeMike Aviles
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesAlthough his tie-breaking homer in the seventh earned more congratulations, Mike Aviles also was pleased with an at-bat that ended with an out.
“It gives you an opportunity to hit leadoff right in front of Pedroia, Gonzo, Papi and Youk,” Aviles said. “It gives you the chance to get something to see, and I was fortunate enough to get a couple good pitches to hit.”

Prior to the game, Valentine made a point of saying that Aviles can be dangerous “if he gets that pitch.” On Saturday, that happened to be a flat slider from reliever Burke Badenhop to begin the seventh that Aviles deposited over the Green Monster. The swing snapped a 5-5 tie and set in motion an offensive onslaught that saw the Red Sox produce eight runs on nine hits and three walks over their final two innings at the plate.

Aviles' teammates credited his aggressiveness for turning the tide in a game that Tampa Bay once led 4-0.

“He did a great job today,” Dustin Pedroia said. “He’s real aggressive. He put some good swings on balls today. The homer and the double, those balls were hit real well. He’s got to keep it rolling.”

The Red Sox shortstop got one of his three hits to lead off the first, beating out a dribbler. However, he was picked off moments later, not the sort of result one wants in a table-setter. In the fourth, he had a chance to make amends when he came to the plate with the bases loaded and worked a 3-0 count on Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson.

Hellickson then threw one fastball over for strike one. He threw another that Aviles fouled off. Then another. And another. And another. Aviles fought off each of them before lining the eighth pitch of the at-bat to deep right field. It died in the glove of Ben Zobrist, but the fight he put forth was notable.

“Michael had a very good game. The bases loaded at-bat with a line drive to right was as good an at-bat he had the whole night,” Valentine said. “He was determined to do well and did a good job, no doubt.”

Despite the final result, Aviles ended that encounter with a significant degree of satisfaction.

“To tell you the truth, I think I liked that at-bat because the fact of the matter is it was 3-0 and I wanted to say I saw six, seven, eight pitches or so, somewhere in that range,” he said. “Everybody knows for me to see that many pitches, it’s definitely a good thing. … That time it just didn’t work out for me, but I was fortunate enough that later in the game I got something better.”

A month ago, there was still plenty of uncertainty as to whether Valentine would be using Aviles or hot prospect Jose Iglesias as his primary shortstop. That’s a nonissue at this point, especially with Aviles doing a perfectly suitable job defensively, where Iglesias shines.

The club is taking note of a rather complete player who can make the plays with his glove and arm and also hurt opponents with his bat.

“Mikey’s good, man,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who started the scoring binge with a two-run bomb in the second. “When we got him last year in the trade, everyone underestimated him a little bit, but he’s a good player. He goes hard every day. He can put good wood on the ball.”

Whether Aviles puts good wood on the ball batting first or ninth remains to be seen. What is becoming clear is how central he could be in whatever the Red Sox accomplish going forward.

Aviles moves into leadoff spot -- for now

April, 14, 2012
4/14/12
3:03
PM ET
BOSTON -- Shortstop Mike Aviles is batting leadoff for the Red Sox the day after Jacoby Ellsbury went down with a right shoulder injury.
But nobody is etching Aviles’ name in stone atop the order.

“We’ll always have a leadoff hitter. Every single day.” manager Bobby Valentine joked when asked how he will handle filling Ellsbury’s spot in the lineup. “I guarantee it.”

Aviles, who was given some looks in the leadoff spot during spring training, has hit either eighth or ninth through his first six games in 2012. However, he is a .318 (64-for-201) career hitter in 45 games atop the order, all with Kansas City.

Fully aware that the batting order could be in a state of flux for the foreseeable future, Aviles has no intention of altering his plan of attack.

“I know the pitches I can hit,” Aviles said. “I’ll go up there and try to be aggressive in the zone and I feel like for me, personally, I feel better about myself when I’m aggressive in the zone. Once I get out of the zone, I’m not helping myself. I’m not helping the team.

“It’s no different than batting ninth. The only thing is I don’t run off the field and get my stuff on and go hit right away, but honestly it’s really no different.”

In addition to offering vague information as to how he will deal with the leadoff spot, Valentine hinted that it might not even matter much. He suggested that people place too much emphasis on needing a prototypical leadoff hitter in order to have success, citing past examples of teams doing just fine without one. Valentine referenced Rickey Henderson as perhaps the only true leadoff hitter he has ever managed.

This spring Valentine expressed confidence in Aviles as a top-of-the-order bat, and reaffirmed that stance Saturday.

“Mike is a dangerous hitter,” Valentine said. “If a pitcher gets careless, he can do damage. He’s developing into an offensive player, really concentrating on his defense right now. I’ve seen him where, if he gets that pitch, possibly as a leadoff hitter, with those guys coming up next, I don’t know, we’ll see if he gets that pitch -- and then he’ll be a good leadoff hitter if he does.”

Aviles entered Saturday hitting .227 (5-for-22) with a double and three RBIs. Aside from Ellsbury, infielder Nick Punto is the one other Red Sox player to hit leadoff this season. He went 3-for-6 with three RBIs in that role against Detroit on Sunday.

Here's the rest of the Sox lineup:
Mike Aviles, SS
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Kevin Youkilis, 3B
David Ortiz, DH
Cody Ross, CF
Ryan Sweeney, RF
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
Darnell McDonald, LF

Doubront excels in 6 IP vs. Marlins

March, 24, 2012
3/24/12
6:25
PM ET




JUPITER, Fla. -- After Felix Doubront’s last start, Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said the left-hander lacked a “killer pitch” and didn’t attack hitters. Those grumblings were not heard after Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Miami Marlins.

In his longest start of the spring, Doubront went six innings and allowed one run. He lowered his spring ERA from 3.38 to 2.70. In total, he has struck out 11 and walked six in 18 2/3 innings.

Basically, he’s been a serviceable back-of-the-rotation starter.

“He’s progressed as well as anyone in camp,” Valentine said. “He’s done what we asked for.”

With an open debate about Daniel Bard’s lack of a third pitch and Alfredo Aceves' struggling in Saturday’s split-squad game in Fort Myers, Doubront’s fairly clean, 78-pitch outing looks a little better.

He walked one, struck out two and allowed five hits, including a Gaby Sanchez double that just caught the left-field line and a solo homer to Austin Kearns. Doubront finished off several 1-2 counts, induced two double plays, threw his curveball for strikes and reached 94 mph with his fastball.

“He kept his composure and he pitched well. It was a positive outing,” Valentine said.

Catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who was 2-for-3 with an RBI single off Marlins starter Wade LeBlanc, has spent parts of four seasons with Doubront in Boston’s farm system. He said it was one of the lefty's better games.

“I don’t want to limit him and say that was his best, but he threw the ball tremendously today,” Lavarnway said. “He was aggressive from the start. He filled up the strike zone with all four pitches. He went right at guys. I haven’t seen him throw that well in a long time.

“You can see that look in his eye that he means business. He wants to not only pitch in the big leagues, but be successful and be in the Boston Red Sox starting rotation.”

* Valentine played along with a joke that Pedro Ciriaco might skip Fenway and head straight for Cooperstown. The 26-year-old infielder, who played second base next to Jose Iglesias, went 2-for-3 with a double and run scored. That raised his already gaudy batting splits to .441/.457/.676.

With Iglesias, Mike Aviles and Nick Punto ahead of him, Ciriaco isn’t a candidate for a roster spot. But Valentine clearly enjoys having him around.

“How about Ciriaco,” he said. “I’m telling you. Everyone’s talking about the shortstop situation ... he’s a very good player. I’m telling you.”

Lest anyone think he was ready to move Ciriaco up the depth chart, Valentine tempered his enthusiasm: “Well, he’s played very well. He has very good talent, and he’s played very well.”

* Lars Anderson went 0-3, dropping his numbers to .357/.457/.567.

* There was no pregame lineup card exchange between Valentine and Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen. The managers left those duties to coaches Joey Espada (Marlins) and Jerry Royster (Red Sox). Reporters sitting in the press box were unable to see if the managers waved at each other from their opposing dugouts.

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