Saltalamacchia gives Valentine some relief

June, 17, 2012

CHICAGO -- Discouraged by a run of injuries that with Josh Beckett now means the Red Sox have placed 18 players on the disabled list?

Bobby Valentine gave it his best, "What, me worry?'' response.

"I'm too busy trying to work out a plan to put the thumb in the dike,'' Valentine said Saturday.

[+] EnlargeJarrod Saltalamacchia
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhDespite a sinking average, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was moved up in the batting order and hit his 12th homer run.
That plan Saturday included the placement of Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the cleanup spot for the first time in his career, and while Saltalamacchia came into the game with 11 home runs, second only to David Ortiz's 15, the timing seemed a bit odd: Saltalamacchia was one of five regulars batting under .200 -- .161 to be precise -- during an 11-game funk in which the Sox had won just three times.

Score one for weird science. Saltalamacchia hit a two-run home run, doubled and walked in Boston's 4-3 win over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night. For good measure, he also threw out Darwin Barney attempting to steal.

Valentine acted surprised afterward to hear that Saltalamacchia had never batted cleanup.

“In his whole career?’’ he said. “Little League?

“Sometimes crazy times ask for crazy measures. Actually, I think he’s been hitting the ball really well and hitting into lousy luck.

“He knows that I totally believe in him. He saw his average drop from .280 to .250-something (.247 coming into Saturday night, from .281 on May 31), the team’s losing, he’s dragging his head a little. I thought that was the way to make him understand I believe in him, to tell you the truth, if you really want to know.’’

Will Middlebrooks, who replaced Kevin Youkilis in the starting lineup at third, also singled home a run, and Scott Podsednik, the wildly improbable solution to what the Sox do in the leadoff spot until Jacoby Ellsbury comes back, singled home Mike Aviles (double) with what proved to be the deciding run in the seventh.

That was just enough offense for the Sox to survive a three-run home run by journeyman Luis Valbuena, which threatened to spoil a strong outing by Jon Lester. The Red Sox left-hander, winless in his last four decisions, took a shutout into the inning but gave up a bloop double to Jeff Baker before issuing his first walk of the game to Wellington Castillo after a prolonged duel. That prompted a visit from Valentine but that may not have been sufficient for Lester to regain focus, as he grooved an 0-and-1 fastball into the left-center field seats.

Like the manager, Lester said the team could not dwell on the growing injury list, even as Beckett will miss at least two starts.

“Can’t worry about it,’’ he said after an outing in which he struck out eight and walked one before departing with two out in the seventh. “That’s stuff you can’t control. This game is full of stuff you can’t control. If you let it eat at you it creates an even longer season. I just hope those guys come back shortly, we grind some games and win some more.’’

The Red Sox profited from some outstanding defense too, Dustin Pedroia turning an unassisted double play with his leaping catch of Starlin Castro's liner to snuff out potential trouble in the first, and Daniel Nava, just inserted into the game for defensive purposes, making a shoestring catch of Barney's liner in the eighth.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum persuaded the umpires to discuss the call among themselves. A slow-motion TV replay showed Nava just getting the ball under his glove and making the catch.

“He did?’’ Valentine said with a big smile. “I didn’t see the replay.’’

Closer Alfredo Aceves gave up a single to pinch-hitter Steve Clevenger to open the ninth, but struck out pinch hitter Bryan LaHair and induced Castillo to ground to Middlebrooks for a game-ending double play for his 16th save.

Scott Atchison got the last out of the seventh and Vicente Padilla pitched a scoreless eighth before Aceves wrapped it up. The Sox bullpen has thrown 9 1/3 scoreless innings over the team's last five games.

Gordon Edes

ESPN Staff Writer



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