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Red Sox notebook

Martinez gets dished another assignment

Jacoby Ellsbury gets kudos from Terry Francona after scoring during the Sox’ six-run fifth. Jacoby Ellsbury gets kudos from Terry Francona after scoring during the Sox’ six-run fifth. (Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)
By Amalie Benjamin and Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / September 24, 2009

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The last time Victor Martinez caught Josh Beckett, it didn’t quite go as planned. Jason Varitek had been a late scratch in Toronto, and Martinez was thrown into his first start with the Sox ace at the last minute. The duo bombed, with Beckett allowing seven runs in 5 1/3 innings, though the Sox eventually pulled out the win.

Since then, Varitek was behind the plate in each of Beckett’s starts, following manager Terry Francona’s initial plan that Varitek would catch Beckett and Jon Lester, even after Martinez’s arrival. Then Lester’s starts began to fall to Martinez. And yesterday, Martinez’s name was in the lineup for a Beckett start for the second time.

Francona said the team is just “trying to cover everything.’’

But last night’s move raises the possibility that the Sox would like Martinez to be behind the plate for Beckett’s starts in the postseason. Francona has not shied away from the fact that the Sox lineup is significantly more of an offensive threat with Martinez than Varitek, who has a .153 batting average since July 10.

“Not taking anything for granted, but if we get to a certain point in the year, I just think we kind of owe it to us to be able to - I’d hate to get to some point in the season and go, I wish I would have thought of this,’’ Francona said. “We’ve obviously thought about it a little bit. Just want to kind of cover all the bases.’’

It went far better than it had the first time, as Beckett earned the win after allowing two runs over six innings. He did, however, give up a season-high 12 hits and acknowledged he is still working to find comfort with Martinez catching him.

“It was fine,’’ Beckett said. “We’re still feeling each other out. Obviously, you can’t expect him to go out there and he and I be like me and Jason have been for three years now. It was good.’’

By making sure that Beckett can succeed with Martinez catching, the Sox open up more offensive possibilities with Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell, and David Ortiz. While Varitek has been slumping offensively, Martinez entered last night with a 21-game hitting streak and had batted .333 since joining the Red Sox after the trading deadline.

“Josh, he has great stuff,’’ Martinez said. “I’m not saying like difficult to catch. He’s way more fun to catch a guy like him than face him. I faced him a couple times, and he’s not a fun guy to face. He’s a lot more fun to catch.’’

But not easy, either.

“I think Josh is stubborn,’’ Francona said. “Remember his first year here? I remember even saying, there’s going to be a day when we say that fondly. And we do now. He’s a stubborn kid.

“There’s a lot to be said - that’s why Tek has gotten all the accolades from us because it’s important. There’s some guys, maybe it’s more important than others. Josh is one of them.’’

The numbers point to a rapport between Beckett and Varitek, as Beckett came into last night at 0-2 with an 11.25 ERA in the three starts he had made with catchers other than Varitek. With Varitek behind the plate, Beckett is 15-4 with a 3.16 ERA.

“Because he’s kind of stubborn, I guess I think between the time they’ve been together, when Tek puts something down, Beckett throws it with conviction,’’ Francona said. “Even if it’s the wrong pitch, if you’re throwing 96 with a good curveball and actually a pretty decent changeup, even if it’s maybe the wrong pitch on the scouting report, if he’s throwing it with conviction, it’s probably the right pitch. I think Beckett moreso than a lot of people. When he throws it with conviction, he’s OK.’’

Wakefield pitches in
Tim Wakefield, after hobbling through only his third start since the All-Star break Monday night, will pitch Tuesday against the Blue Jays. The appearance will allow rest for the Sox’ front-line starters and flexibility for Francona in aligning the playoff rotation.

The Red Sox’ magic number to clinch the American League wild card is five, and they are six games behind the Yankees in the AL East. With 11 games in 11 days remaining, they could begin to map out their plan for the AL Division Series. One key to it all was penciling in Wakefield.

“It opens up’’ everything, Francona said. “We can do whatever we really want to do, which is kind of what we’re trying to accomplish here.’’

Beckett will pitch Monday to kick off the final week of the season. The Red Sox would then have several options in play for Beckett depending on three factors: How much rest he needs, whether they want him or Jon Lester to pitch Game 1 of the ALDS, and which date their ALDS starts.

Under the weather
Clay Buchholz said he will make his start as scheduled tonight despite fighting what he called a “head cold.’’ Buchholz came down with the illness Tuesday, when he felt as if his head “exploded.’’ Feeling miserable yesterday, Buchholz worried about how the cold would affect him tonight. “I’ll pitch,’’ Buchholz said. “It’s how I pitch is the question.’’ Buchholz is in the midst of the best stretch of his young career. The Red Sox have won his last seven starts, and he is 5-2 with a 2.64 ERA over his past nine.

Green not ready
Instead of joining the Sox when they head to New York this weekend, Nick Green will stay in Boston. He will continue to work with rehabilitation coordinator Scott Waugh, as he still won’t be doing baseball activities at this point, though the original diagnosis of a potential disk issue has not changed. The Sox will reevaluate Green when they return to Boston next week . . . While the Sox haven’t yet used Billy Wagner in back-to-back games, they may need to do so in the postseason. Francona said he did not feel the need to try out the scenario in the regular season, however . . . The Sox reached 90 wins for the third straight season and seven of the last eight years. They have reached 90 nine times in the last 12 years, just one fewer than the Yankees, who have the most in that period . . . The win also tied Francona with Mike Higgins (560) for second place on Boston’s all-time list. Joe Cronin leads the franchise with 1,071 . . . With David Ortiz reaching 25 homers, it marks the first time since 2003 that at least three Sox have hit 25. Jason Bay (36) and Kevin Youkilis (25) are the other two. In 2003, Manny Ramirez, Ortiz, Nomar Garciaparra, Trot Nixon, Kevin Millar, and Jason Varitek all topped 25 homers . . . Both Martinez (22 games) and Dustin Pedroia (15) extended hitting streaks last night. Martinez’s streak ties Denny Doyle for the longest in the last 50 years by a player who changed teams in midseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Doyle did it in 1975 for Boston . . . Francona was a guest at Kansas City Chiefs practice yesterday. Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli had visited the Sox clubhouse Tuesday. “It was a different hour,’’ Francona said. “I wish I could have stayed more, it was fun. It was a different mentality than we’re used to. I really enjoyed it.’’ Asked how it was different, Francona quipped, “Well, they’re 300-pound men trying to kill each other in practice. We’re taking grounders getting ready for a game.’’

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

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