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April 23, 2008
BY STEVEN KRASNER
Journal Sports Writer
BOSTON – Is competition bringing out the best in Julio Lugo?
It was clear over the winter and in spring training that the Red Sox think very highly of young shortstop Jed Lowrie, and there’s no doubt the 2005 draft pick from Stanford was nipping at the heels of Lugo, who had a weak first season offensively and defensively for Boston in 2007.
An injury to Mike Lowell prompted the Red Sox to recall Lowrie from Pawtucket on April 10. Since arriving in the big leagues for the first time, Lowrie generally has sparkled. He has played three infield positions and he has stuck in a few clutch base hits along the way.
Lugo, meanwhile, already has committed six errors. And nine games ago, when Lowrie was beginning to make a favorable impression, Lugo was batting .238.
Maybe Lugo was feeling the heat. Maybe it’s just coincidence.
But since then, Lugo has fashioned a nine-game hitting streak, including an RBI single in the second inning that boosted his average to .333 (25 for 75). He wound up going 2 for 3, raising his average to 338.
He even has mixed in an outstanding defensive play or two. Last night he made a diving play to his left, something he rarely does. He got up and threw out the baserunner. He also made a strong relay throw, cutting down a runner at the plate in the second; turned a short-hopper up the middle into a nifty 6-3 double play; started a routine 6-4-3 twin killing, and made a fine play in the hole.
And how well is Lugo going right now? He drifted back for a major league popup hit by Vladimir Guerrero and dropped it. He calmly recovered, though, picking up the ball and throwing to second for a forceout.
It wasn’t a totally great night for Lugo, though. He fouled a ball off his left foot in the sixth, and was hobbling around a bit thereafter.
For the last two seasons, the Angels generally have tried to get David Ortiz out with offspeed stuff – sliders, curveballs and changeups.
They mix in the occasional fastballs. It depends, naturally, on who is pitching and what stuff that pitcher may have. But the Angels pitchers have used the fastball as kind of a “show me” pitch while attacking him with the breaking stuff.
The problem with that philosophy, though, is that if you hang a breaking ball, even a struggling Ortiz can feast on it, which is what happened in the fifth inning.
Jon Garland hung a 74 m.p.h. curve on the inner half of the plate and Ortiz ripped it into the first row of seats in the right-field corner for a game-tying two-run homer.
The pattern changed in the seventh. Right-handed reliever Justin Speier, keeping the ball away from Ortiz, threw six pitches to the Sox’ designated hitter – all fastballs – and walked him.
The headfirst slide into first base is not a universally accepted concept, partially because not everyone is convinced you get to the base faster that way, and also because there’s the fear of injury, such as a separated shoulder.
There’s a different feeling when it’s used to avoid a tag. It’s more accepted, but still the injury fear is there.
Last night, Dustin Pedroia beat out a grounder to deep short in the fifth, sliding wide and reaching out with is left hand to tag the base as he slid by in his successful effort to avoid the tag of Casey Kotchman, who had to come off the bag to the home plate side to catch the throw from shortstop Erick Aybar.
Pedroia, who missed time in training camp in 2006 because of a slight separation of his left shoulder, appeared to be injured in the same way as he got up from the bag. Trainer Paul Lessard and manager Terry Francona checked on him. Pedroia stayed in the game, and scored when Ortiz laced his tying homer.
Kotchman’s baserunning mistake cost the Angels at least one run in the second inning.
Kotchman was at first and Jeff Mathis was at second base with one out. On Jon Lester’s 1-and-1 pitch to Maicer Izturis, Mathis got a good jump and broke for third.
In such a circumstance, the runner at first has to be aware of what the runner at second is doing. So when the runner from second takes off for third, the runner at first should take off for second because normally, if the catcher makes a throw, it will be to third base, leaving a safe move to second virtually guaranteed.
But Kotchman didn’t recognize soon enough what Mathis was doing. So while Mathis was safe at third, Kotchman remained at first base. He acknowledged his mistake by tapping his chest in a “my bad” gesture to first-base coach Alfredo Griffin as he returned to the bag.
Izturis crushed the next pitch into the gap in left-center for an RBI double. Had Kotchman been at second, as he should have been, he would have romped home, too. Instead, he was running from first.
When Manny Ramirez bobbled the ball in the outfield, Angels third-base coach Dino Ebel waved home Kotchman. Good relay throws from Ramirez to shortstop Julio Lugo and then Lugo to catcher Kevin Cash easily nailed a sliding Kotchman at the plate.
So instead of a 3-0 Angels lead with a runner at second and one out against a struggling Jon Lester, it was only 2-0 with two outs and a runner at second. The Angels did not score again in the inning.
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Posted by Steven Krasner at 10:57 PM | Permalink