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Red Sox Notebook

It's Show time for Masterson

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 24, 2008

Though he has yet to throw a pitch above Double A, Justin Masterson will get that chance this afternoon. In Boston.

With the team cycling through pitchers at an impressive rate - they have scratched two straight starters hours before game time - the Red Sox chose to bring in someone who hasn't been susceptible to the flu bug that has infected the clubhouse to take the mound in today's series finale against the Angels.

Masterson, a 6-foot-6-inch righthanded sinkerballer, has dominated in Double A this season, allowing just two runs on 14 hits in 19 innings. He has walked five batters and struck out 23, with a ground ball to fly ball ratio of almost 4-to-1. In his last start Saturday he threw five shutout innings and struck out 10.

"He's one of the nicest kids you'll ever meet," manager Terry Francona said. "I think his future is very bright. Hopefully we'll get a chance to glimpse some of that."

The pitcher has a well-developed sinker, putting him in the mold of Derek Lowe. He's continuing to work on his changeup and slider. Though he has started throughout his professional career, his future might be in the bullpen. Pitching coach John Farrell said in spring training that Masterson could have a chance to help the Sox out of the bullpen by midseason, but April was sooner than anyone anticipated for his major league debut.

Still, the 23-year-old will get a chance only a year after pitching for Single A Lancaster in the California League, where he put up good numbers in a hitter's haven (8-5, 4.33 ERA, ending his stay with six straight wins). Masterson was drafted in the second round in 2006 and began the season ranked No. 64 on Baseball America's top 100 prospects list.

"I'm just real excited," Masterson said, by phone, to the Portland Press-Herald last night. "It's hard to put into words.

"I just want to put together a quality performance."

Refreshing draft

When the Sox sent Tuesday night's spot starter, David Pauley, back to Pawtucket yesterday, they brought up reliever Craig Hansen. Joining Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, and Jed Lowrie, Hansen completes the quartet of the team's first four draft picks now on the major league roster.

Hansen was optioned back to Pawtucket to make room for Masterson. He pitched 1 2/3 innings and got the loss, allowing two hits, one a go-ahead homer by Casey Kotchman in the sixth. He struck out three, all on sliders.

"I thought he threw the ball great," Francona said. "He left one pitch up and Kotchman didn't miss it. He was rearing back and throwing with confidence, aggression. He was throwing his slider 88, 89 miles an hour with some bite to it. He pitched with no fear, wasn't nibbling. He just reared back and let his natural movement take over. Unfortunately he left one pitch up and it got whacked."

It was the first time Hansen had been with Boston since 2006, when he went 2-2 with a 6.63 ERA in 38 games. In eight appearances with Pawtucket this season, Hansen had allowed only one unearned run over 12 1/3 innings.

"It's a lot different because I've grown a lot, matured a lot," Hansen said. "I feel like I'm a totally different pitcher from when I first came up, but I feel the same as I did in college. So maybe that's a good thing, I hope."

Minor detour

Mike Lowell, who has been on the disabled list since April 10 with an injured thumb, will take the next step in his rehab this weekend. After taking live batting practice for the first time Tuesday, Lowell played catch on the field yesterday and plans to take ground balls today. He will play three games for Pawtucket starting tomorrow. The plan is to have him serve as the designated hitter tomorrow and Sunday, and play third base Saturday. He is expected to rejoin the Red Sox Tuesday. "I was really happy just to head outside the last two days," Lowell said. "Am I ready? Yeah, I think so. I think I'm more excited to get at-bats. Once I hit in the cage and I felt like it wasn't an issue, I didn't really think going from the tee to the toss was going to be an issue. I'm more enthusiastic to do that, to kind of get back in a rhythm." . . . Josh Beckett, who was scratched from his start Tuesday night because of a stiff neck, appears to be on track to make his scheduled start Sunday.

Cash's plate full

Kevin Cash will catch Masterson today, even though it's a day game after a night game. Jason Varitek "went out and did something and probably went backwards a little bit" in terms of health, according to Francona. But the manager said Varitek should be available today in an emergency situation, depending on how he feels this morning. Cash will also make his regular start tomorrow catching Tim Wakefield in the series opener against the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla. . . . David Ortiz hit his 211th homer with the Sox, giving him sole possession of ninth place on the franchise list . . . Dustin Pedroia extended his hitting streak to 12 games . . . Julio Lugo had two hits to run his hitting streak to nine games. He has four multiple-hit games in that span . . . Coco Crisp is expected to be in the starting lineup today against Angels lefthander Joe Saunders . . . Bartolo Colon (oblique) threw from 120 feet, even though he's also battling the illness that's going around. The tentative date he could make a rehab start is May 5 (one month from when he went down). Colon has an out in his contract as of May 1.

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