Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

First-rate at second

Bellhorn's been producing well

Just minutes after the Red Sox acquired him last December from the Rockies, Mark Bellhorn declared that he planned to wage an all-out effort to win the job as the starting second baseman. Little did he know the Sox would sign Pokey Reese a week later and all but hand Reese the job. And few observers seemed to believe that even if Bellhorn somehow supplanted Reese, he could help the Sox as much as Todd Walker did last year.

Funny how things have turned out. First, Bellhorn became the regular second baseman after Reese shifted to shortstop to replace the injured Nomar Garciaparra. Then came injuries to Reese and third baseman Bill Mueller, all but guaranteeing Bellhorn a daily spot in the lineup. And the switch-hitting Bellhorn has made the most of it by exceeding perhaps everyone's expectations but his own.

For all Walker's postseason magic (he led the Sox with five homers in the 2003 playoffs), Bellhorn has put up better numbers than Walker in the same number of games. Through 107 games, Bellhorn has hit .264 with 14 homers, 63 RBIs, 78 runs, a .377 on-base percentage, and a .450 slugging percentage. Walker, through his first 107 games last year, hit .276 with 9 homers, 59 RBIs, 68 runs, a .321 OBP, and a .407 slugging percentage. Bellhorn has made six errors, while Walker committed 12 over the same number of games.

Not bad considering the Sox are paying Bellhorn only $490,000 and control the rights to him for two more years. Walker, who became a free agent after the season, signed a one-year deal with the Cubs for $1.75 million, though he was seeking more from the Sox. The Sox acquired Bellhorn for a player yet to be named.

Thanks largely to Bellhorn, the Sox lead the American League in RBIs (80), on-base percentage (.367), and walks (73) from their second basemen. They are tied with the Orioles for most runs by second basemen (92).

Bellhorn, who turned 30 eight days ago, ranks among the league leaders in walks (72) and leads the league in strikeouts (130). He is on pace to break the Sox record for strikeouts in a season, set by Butch Hobson, who fanned 162 times in 1977. Yet Bellhorn has yet to even reach his personal high of 144 with the Cubs in 2002.

Pen pals
When Scott Williamson returns today for a medical evaluation, the Sox are likely to be reminded how much they have missed him. General manager Theo Epstein persuaded Williamson last winter to accept a one-year, $3.175 million contract to stay in Boston as a setup man rather than seek a better deal elsewhere as a closer. And when the righthander was healthy, he excelled, posting a 1.25 ERA in 21 appearances while letting batters hit only .097.

Williamson's absence (he has missed 72 games with elbow woes) forced the Sox to rely more than they wanted to on Mike Timlin and Alan Embree. They also acquired Curtis Leskanic, Mike Myers, and Terry Adams to help fill the void. And the results generally have been good as the bullpen has logged a 3.77 ERA, fifth best in the league behind the Rangers (3.41), Angels (3.48), Devil Rays (3.61), and Twins (3.72).

"We said it may take three guys to fill Williamson's shoes," manager Terry Francona said, crediting Timlin and Embree in particular. "Whether it's Leskanic or Myers facing some lefties, they've done their job even if they've been in smaller roles. It's all ended up to be pretty effective."

The pen has received a major boost from the starters, who have pitched more innings (821 1/3) than any other AL team but the A's (839 1/3 innings). Sox starters have combined for a league-leading 60 wins.

Another setback
While the Sox expect to add Byung Hyun Kim and Pedro Astacio to the roster in September, Rule V lefty Lenny DiNardo suffered a setback when he left the mound while pitching for Double A Portland Sunday with an injured biceps. DiNardo has been on the disabled list since July 5 with a blister on his left middle finger . . . Kevin Youkilis and David McCarty made rehab appearances last night for Single A Lowell. Youkilis became the first former Lowell Spinner to make a rehab start with the team. Youkilis and McCarty were scheduled to play again tonight for Lowell, then rejoin the Sox tomorrow . . . Johnny Damon, who leads the league with 102 runs, has scored more than 100 runs in seven straight seasons. The only active player who has topped 100 in more consecutive seasons is Alex Rodriguez, who is approaching his ninth straight . . . Manny Ramirez has knocked in more runs (1,237) over the last 10 years than any other major leaguer but Sammy Sosa (1,279) . . . Timlin needs three appearances for 800 in his career. He has appeared in more games than any other active American Leaguer. 

In Today's Globe
Friday RHE
Rangers 8 10 1
Red Sox 6 5 1
WP:Young LP:Wakefield
 Box score  Log  Scores
Next: Sun. vs. Tex., 2 pm
TV:NESN Radio: WEEI 850-AM
Starting pitchers:
BOS: Wakefield TEX: Young
 Fenway forecast
 Complete schedule  Sox stats
Pop-up Red Sox probable pitchers
Fri Sat Sun Mon
Tue Wed Thu Fri

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months