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Red Sox Notebook

Lineup shuffle does not flip out Lowell

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / July 28, 2009

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The shuffling has one purpose. To somehow, someway make the offense go, not necessarily keep Mike Lowell on the bench. And the decision to leave Lowell on the bench and play recently acquired Adam LaRoche last night paid off. LaRoche doubled in each of his first two at-bats.

Yet, it leaves Lowell - a starter throughout his career - out of the lineup far more days than he’s ever been. Although Lowell feels great, as he made clear, a platoon seems in order at the moment to jump-start the Sox’ bats.

“I think we’re trying to find what’s the best combination for us to win ballgames,’’ Lowell said. “I guess I could be satisfied with the fact that I’ve swung the bat well since the All-Star break [.381 average]. I got to believe we want to put as many guys as we can in the lineup to score as many runs as we can. So we’ll see how this plays out.’’

For Lowell, the concern lies far more with the offense as a whole than with his position, even though he has been on the bench the last two games and has played just six of 10 games since the break.

“We keep playing like this, there’s going to be major changes in our lineup,’’ Lowell said before last night’s 8-3 win over the A’s.

As manager Terry Francona said, “We’re not really scoring runs in bunches.’’ So he put LaRoche in against a pitcher with far better splits against righthanders. LaRoche went 2 for 4 with two doubles and an RBI.

“I’m trying to let these guys string together as much at-bats as they can,’’ Francona said. “Sometimes that means sitting more than one night also.’’

With the Sox breaking out of their slump last night with 14 hits, and LaRoche hitting so well, that could mean more time on the bench for Lowell.

“I was told that what we’re going after will get me, I guess, the flexibility of having more days off than normal,’’ Lowell said. “I told Tito I can’t argue with that philosophy. [LaRoche has] been here three days. Not going to worry about anything right now. We’ll see how things go. The world’s not coming to an end.’’

Backing for Smoltz
Francona maintained he’s convinced John Smoltz will right himself. Although Smoltz’s numbers are dismal - 1-4 record, 7.04 ERA - Francona went back to the refrain that Smoltz’s slider was excellent Sunday. His fastball was the problem.

“We want the results badly, that’s why we’re here,’’ Francona said. “But we can’t get so caught up in a frenzy to almost assassinate some pitcher, let alone get rid of him, that we lose sight of what we’re trying to do. This guy, he’s got plenty to win. He’s missed a lot of time because of injury. He’s made mistakes with his fastball that have cost him runs and us games. If we just take the results, I think we’re going to make a mistake. I think there’s a guy there that’s going to win for us.’’

Smoltz remains on track to pitch Friday against the Orioles.

The here and now
Clay Buchholz will return to the Fenway Park mound tonight for the first time since Aug. 17. He went just four innings in his last outing. “It’s been a while since I’ve been on the mound out here,’’ Buchholz said. “It’s a great place to be when things are going good. You can feel like the smallest person in the world when things are going bad. I’ve been to both extremes.’’ Buchholz said he’s been keeping calm with the trade deadline approaching. “It’s a business, that’s what I keep telling the family members that do call and ask,’’ he said. Asked if he thought he’d still be in Boston after Friday’s deadline, Buchholz said, “Pretty confident I’m here for at least a little bit longer.’’ . . . Tim Wakefield was scheduled to play catch yesterday, but that was canceled by the medical staff. “They won’t let me throw today,’’ Wakefield said. “I feel fine. It’s getting better. Feel like I could have thrown today.’’ That came perhaps 15 minutes after Francona had said Wakefield was “having a pretty good day . . . He’s got some marked improvement today, which is good.’’ Although Wakefield was silent on the subject, it appears he is not going to return to the rotation Aug. 2, when he’s eligible. A better target date might be the middle of August . . . . . . Daniel Bard has not allowed an earned run in 11 1/3 innings, covering nine games, and has allowed just three hits in that span. Of the 34 outs in that period, 20 have been strikeouts . . . Even when the A’s got a rare hit early in the game, things turned weird. On an infield popup caught by first baseman Adam LaRoche, Eric Patterson, who had singled, overslid the bag, then stepped over it as he ran back to first, resulting in a 3-1-4 double play . . . The Sox’ 14 hits were their most since June 30 at Baltimore, when they had 16 . . . Pitching coach John Farrell got smoked by a foul ball off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury. “Right in the knee,’’ Francona said. “With our support, my support in specific, he’ll be OK. Lot of sympathy going on in there.’’ . . . Ellsbury is 9 for 18 with four extra-base hits in his last four games . . . Dustin Pedroia homered for the first time since July 9.

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

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