MLB Insiders: Boston Red Sox

The Pirates open a three-game series with the Boston Red Sox on Friday night at PNC Park. Lefty Paul Maholm will be on the mound for the Bucs. The Red Sox will counter with lefty Jon Lester.

A nine-game interleague road trip poses some issues for the Boston Red Sox and their top two hitters.

The Red Sox will open a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday as Jon Lester tries for the second time to become the major league's first 10-game winner.

Adrian Gonzalez has paced Boston during a 14-4 run over the last three weeks. He's hitting .452 with 23 RBIs during that stretch and went 4 for 4 in a rain-shortened 5-1 loss to San Diego on Wednesday.

Boston (44-30) dropped the final two games of that three-game set, scoring five runs while stranding 20 runners. The Red Sox were averaging 8.0 runs in the previous 16 games while scoring at least 10 in six of those contests.

While Gonzalez continued his hot hitting in interleague play, raising his average to .548 in nine games against the NL and to a major league-leading .359 overall, David Ortiz went 0 for 8 in the final two games versus the Padres.

He's still second on the Red Sox with a .313 batting average, and now manager Terry Francona must find a way to get the designated hitter in the lineup during this trip.

Sitting Gonzalez doesn't seem like an option.

Not only is he hitting well in interleague play, but he batted .409 against the Pirates last year while with San Diego. Francona said one option is moving Gonzalez into right field while starting Ortiz at first base. Gonzalez has played only one career game in the outfield, making an error in right for Texas in 2005.

As Francona tries to manage a tricky lineup situation, one concern he probably isn't having is sending Lester (9-3, 3.70 ERA) to the mound.

Lester failed to become the majors' first 10-game winner Saturday, allowing four runs while striking out eight in eight innings of a 4-2 loss to Milwaukee.

This will be his first start against the Pirates (37-37).

Pittsburgh won the final two games of a three-game set against Baltimore, including a 5-4 victory Wednesday. The Pirates are 4-5 in interleague play after going 2-13 last season.

Pittsburgh will turn to Paul Maholm (3-8, 3.29) to open the series as he tries to snap a four-game interleague losing streak.

Maholm suffered his first loss in five starts after allowing four runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 5-1 defeat to Cleveland on Saturday. The left-hander had pitched 13 scoreless innings in his previous two starts.

Maholm, making his first start against the Red Sox, has a 6.98 ERA during his interleague skid.

This is the first meeting between these teams since 2005 and first in Pittsburgh since 2003. The Red Sox took two of three in both series.

While manager Terry Francona continues to wrestle with the idea of using first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in the outfield to give David Ortiz a few starts, the Red Sox have another issue as they begin a stretch of nine consecutive interleague games in National League ballparks.

For the first time all season, their pitchers will have to hit.

Thus, over the last few weeks, Red Sox pitchers have taken batting practice under the supervision of hitting coach Dave Magadan. The process began with hitting off a tee, and slowly but surely, they progressed to hitting in the cage, then taking full-fledged batting practice on the field.

Francona describes it as a "systematic approach" to getting pitchers ready for inter-league play. Over the years, Red Sox pitchers have had their problems with the added activity.

Last year, for instance, Josh Beckett's injury issues began when he hurt his back while taking batting practice, and Clay Buchholz missed nearly a month because of a knee injury suffered while running the bases in San Francisco.

"If a guy hasn't been hitting and then, all of a sudden they're taking swings, if you did the same thing, you're going to be sore in through here the next day," Francona said. "We don't need pitchers to be like that."

But Francona said he never would consider telling a pitcher to give up an out by merely standing at the plate with the bat on his shoulder. The Red Sox realize that pitchers must hit, or at least bunt, during inter-league play.

"Just basically using common sense is what we're trying to do," Francona said. "What you don't want is somebody taking a silly swing, getting caught up in the pitchers' BP and seeing how far they can hit it.

"Make sure they pay attention to detail and get loose. That's why somebody's always out there with them. Mags has been with them. They do some bunting during the game (in the cage), but somebody's always there."

Notes,Quotes

The Red Sox have pushed back right-hander Josh Beckett's next start a second time, the team announced Thursday.

He missed his turn in the rotation Tuesday due to a stomach illness, and he will sit out his Saturday turn as a result of the same ailment.

RHP Tim Wakefield will move up a day to pitch Saturday at Pittsburgh, and LHP Andrew Miller will pitch the series finale against the Pirates on Sunday.

Beckett is 6-2 with a 1.86 earned run average. He last pitched on June 15, when he threw a complete-game shutout against Tampa Bay.

RHP Bobby Jenks will start a rehab assignment with Class AA Portland (Maine) on Saturday. He has been out since June 8 due to a strained back muscle after missing a month earlier this season because of a right biceps strain.

RF J.D. Drew continues to struggle in the final year of his contract, prompting questions about whether his playing time should be reduced. Drew has recorded one extra-base hit in his last 76 plate appearances, batting .200 during that span. He's also batting .204 with runners in scoring position, and he has a .326 slugging percentage. Meanwhile, OF Josh Reddick, also a left-handed hitter, has four hits in nine at-bats since being recalled from Class AAA Pawtucket last week.

LHP Jon Lester hasn't been lights out, but the Red Sox ace does share the league lead with nine victories. Lester's next start will come Friday night in the opener of a three-game inter-league series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lester has never before faced the Pirates during his career. After a rough May, in which he posted a 5.50 ERA but nevertheless went 4-1 in six starts, Lester is 2-1 with a 2.86 ERA in three starts in June against the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers. In his most recent start, last Friday night against Milwaukee, he allowed three runs on seven hits, including three home runs, in eight innings of a 4-2 loss.

1B Adrian Gonzalez answered plenty of questions this week as he faced his former team, the San Diego Padres. Among the most recurring topics: The difference between hitting in cavernous Petco Park and cozy Fenway Park. Gonzalez insists he hasn't changed his approach to suit his new ballpark. If playing at Petco for five seasons taught him anything, it's that tailoring your swing to fit your ballpark isn't an effective way to hit. "I don't pay attention to the parks," Gonzalez said. "I've learned the best way to be is just go out there, put a good at-bat, and if the end results are good, then you're happy with it. If you're at a place that's better to hit, you're going to have more good end results. You don't hit to the park, you don't change anything."

3B Kevin Youkilis continues to swing a hot bat, despite nursing a sore right ankle. In Wednesday's loss to the San Diego Padres, Youkilis went 2-for-4 and has hit safely in 11 of his last 13 games. During that stretch, Youkilis is 19-for-51 (.372), and over his last three games against San Diego, he was 8-for-13 (.615) with three RBI. No wonder manager Terry Francona wants to make sure Youkilis in the lineup for as long as his ankle allows. "I think it hurts; I don't think it's something that will keep him out of the lineup," Francona said. "If it did and tomorrow was a day game after a night game or something, OK, maybe. We'll see. I just think that ankle is just grabbing at him a little bit."

By The Numbers: 2—Red Sox prospects selected to play in the annual All-Star Futures Game, to be held July 10 at Chase Field in Arizona. 3B Will Middlebrooks will play for the U.S. team, while OF Chih-Hsien Chiang will play for the World team.

Quote To Note: "He's a monster, man. He's something very special. This is one-of-a-kind guy that makes it look so easy. He's pretty smart, he's got that great swing, and his approach is unbelievable." —DH David Ortiz, on 1B Adrian Gonzalez, who leads the majors in hitting (.359) and RBI (69).

Medical Watch:

RHP Josh Beckett (stomach illness) missed his June 21 start, and he was scratched from his June 25 start.

LF Carl Crawford (strained left hamstring) went on the 15-day disabled list June 18. The Red Sox are hoping he will be able to return after only 15 days.

SS Jed Lowrie (sore left shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list June 17. Lowrie underwent an MRI exam on June 17, and he was seeking a second opinion from Dr. Lewis Yocum during the week of June 20-26.

RHP Clay Buchholz (lower back stiffness) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 17. The Red Sox are hoping he will be able to return after only 15 days.

RHP Bobby Jenks (strained back muscle) went on the 15-day disabled list June 8. He was throwing on flat ground in mid-June, but there was no timetable for his return. Jenks threw a longer side session June 22, and there was a chance he could be activated within a few days, manager Terry Francona said.

LHP Franklin Morales (left forearm strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 26. He began a rehab assignment with Class AAA Pawtucket on June 11.

RHP Junichi Tazawa (Tommy John surgery in April 2010) went on the 60-day disabled list March 26. He began a rehab assignment with Class A Salem on May 20.

RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (sprained right elbow) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 17, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on June 3. He had season-ending Tommy John surgery June 10.

LHP Rich Hill (sprained left elbow) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 2. He had season-ending Tommy John surgery June 9.


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