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Red Sox notebook

Better grasp helps in clutch

Bay believes he's improved hitter

Jason Bay admires his latest three-run homer, in the sixth inning last night. Jason Bay admires his latest three-run homer, in the sixth inning last night. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 9, 2009
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After Jason Bay would watch then-teammate Jason Kendall, the young outfielder would ask the catcher about his hitting. He rarely learned what he wanted to, the cryptic response from Kendall not seemingly helpful.

"I was like, 'How do you do that?' " Bay recalled before last night's game. " 'How do you hit a certain pitch in this situation?' All he would ever say was, 'You'll figure it out.' That was it. I was like, 'That's the most BS answer I've ever heard.' But I kind of understand what he meant as far as I think it's more of the experience - the more you're around, the more you get those at-bats, you face guys and you see pitches and all those things are kind of working together. I don't want to say you get it, but you understand it.

"Once you kind of have something to draw on - you've been good, you've been bad, you've been all of that stuff - I think that has a lot to do with it."

Bay has been very good this year, which included a three-run homer in the sixth inning in last night's 7-3 victory over the Rays.

Each of Bay's last seven home runs have come with men on base. His last three, and four of his last five, have been three-run shots. The only solo homer for Bay came April 11 against the Angels.

But the stat that most stands out is his eye-popping 2.343 on-base plus slugging percentage in close-and-late situations, when the teams are separated by a run or fewer and/or the tying run is up or on deck in the seventh inning or later.

Such production obviously is unlikely to continue. Not only is it an absurd number, leading all of major league baseball, but it's far above his career average in such situations. Bay has five home runs in 14 close-and-late at-bats.

Bay thinks he's a much more mature hitter at this stage of his career.

"I think in years past I probably haven't been real good in those situations," he said. "I don't know the whole numbers. I've just kind of been, I don't want to say lucky, but I mean I feel like I'm a little bit better hitter.

"Maybe in those times kind of bearing down a little bit more might be the difference. Maybe subconsciously you go up there and it's a little different. There's a little bit more edge.

"You get 700 at-bats in a year, not every single one of them is going to be [great]. In theory, it should be, but it doesn't happen like that. So maybe given the magnitude of those ones, maybe it helps you concentrate a little more. It's not something that I preach or that I'm practicing."

Bay wasn't such a star in close-and-late situations with the Pirates.

"I don't know what it is," he said. "It's just worked out that way. I can't complain."

Part of it, surmised Bay, is that he has become more intelligent at the plate, better able to handle the pressure and the pitchers.

No thanks to Kendall, with his "You'll figure it out."

"That was all he ever said," Bay said. "I was like, 'You got anything else? You got something better than that?' He was like, 'Don't worry, JBay, you'll figure it out.' I definitely haven't figured it out, but I understand a little bit of what he said."

Kotsay to travel
While John Smoltz will get a trip to extended spring training in Florida instead of a West Coast jaunt, Mark Kotsay will be on the plane after tomorrow night's game, headed for Anaheim, Calif. Because he will be able to participate in baseball activities, Kotsay will work on rehabbing his strained calf with the team as he works toward being activated for the first time this season.

"It's been, what, four days? It's coming," he said. "I don't have a timetable right now. It's disappointing any time you have setbacks and it's not anything to do with the back [for which he underwent offseason surgery]. The back made its timetable, but the calf just happened to become a problem, and we're dealing with it. That's part of coming back from an injury, you don't really know how your body is going to respond. Here we are, in the situation we're in, and fortunately it's a short-term thing and not another long-term thing."

Kotsay said the calf had been responding well to treatment, and that it has been a "very good test of the patience. I set a timeframe for myself and I expect to meet it and was going to meet it. This is just one of those things that gets in the way and you can't let it completely get you down. You have to look at the big picture. Even if it's June 1, it's still four months of a season to be had. It's a long year."

Smoltz will throw again today, then will throw a side session in Fort Myers, Fla., Tuesday. He might work an inning or two Friday in a game there, though that is tentative.

Youkilis out today

Kevin Youkilis will not be in the lineup today, manager Terry Francona confirmed after last night's game. Youkilis is dealing with tightness in his lower left side, and will miss his fifth straight game . . . Francona tied Bill Carrigan for the third-most games managed in franchise history at 489 . . . The comeback win was the Sox' eighth of the season . . . The four-hit game for Dustin Pedroia was his second of the season. Over his last eight games, Pedroia has 16 hits in 33 at-bats (.485) with 2 doubles, 5 RBIs, 11 runs, and 6 walks . . . David Ortiz (stiff neck) and Jacoby Ellsbury (hamstring) both were back in the lineup . . . Jed Lowrie (wrist) will not go on the West Coast trip . . . The Sox honored Dom DiMaggio, who died early yesterday at age 92, with a giant No. 7 mowed into the grass in center field, along with a moment of silence. "He was such a great man," principal owner John Henry said. "He loved the Red Sox. He spent 70 years with this organization. After he stopped playing he was still a part of this family, spoke of them often. I spoke with him just less than a month ago about what we're going to be doing here shortly. We're going to be honoring him here shortly. It's so tragic that he isn't going to see that. Just a great part of the organization. He would always call me with advice and tips. I think he watched virtually every game. He will always be a part of Fenway Park." . . . Asked about the suspension of Manny Ramírez, Henry said, "No, we made a statement [Thursday]. The less I say, the better off everyone is."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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