THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Red Sox Notebook

Pedroia has yet to hit on a solution

Jacoby Ellsbury connects for a two-run infield single off Roy Halladay during the sixth inning. Jacoby Ellsbury connects for a two-run infield single off Roy Halladay during the sixth inning. (Tom Mihalek/Associated Press)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 24, 2010

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PHILADELPHIA — Before yesterday’s 8-3 Red Sox win over the Phillies, as he walked over to hit in the cage with bat in hand, Dustin Pedroia made reference to his recent difficulties at the plate. He joked that the cage is the only place where he can get a hit.

That’s all too true, at least at the moment.

Pedroia is mired in a deep slump, which now stands at 0 for 19 after he went hitless in four at-bats yesterday, though he did walk and score in the ninth. His last hit came Wednesday in his first trip to the plate. And while Pedroia certainly has hit some balls hard, he has sent just four out of the infield since that last hit.

“[Saturday] night, his last two at-bats, he hit two balls right on the nose,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “I just think that every player goes through periods where you’re up and down a little bit. The good side is when he doesn’t get hits, he probably plays better defense.

“If there ever comes a point where he needs a rest, we’d certainly give it to him. But that’s just the type of player he is — even when he’s not getting hits, I think we feel real comfortable playing him because you know you’re going to get every ounce of energy and he’s going to play the game. As cold as he gets, he’ll get just as hot.’’

The second baseman’s last similar slump came just about a year ago, when he went 0 for 22 from June 7-12.

“I’ve hit some balls hard,’’ Pedroia said. “[Saturday], I was a foot away from having three hits, and had none. That stuff happens. You go through spurts like that. Hopefully I’ll find a couple holes tomorrow out there.’’

Asked if he felt normal at the plate, Pedroia said, “I don’t know. I feel a little weird up there. We’ll get back going.’’

His average is down to .261, though his slump has been less of a factor because of the recent offensive success of Kevin Youkilis, Victor Martinez, and J.D. Drew. And he has continued to make outstanding plays in the field.

“Good players, they go through tough stretches,’’ Francona said. “I guess it’s a huge compliment that even when a guy is going through a stretch like that, we’re not running to get him out of the lineup. If he needs a day off, we can always do that. But he’s a good player. He’s not just a good hitter, he’s a good player.’’

Trying it again
Coming off two wins against the Phillies — and five wins in their last six games — the Sox head to St. Petersburg, Fla., to meet the Rays. Tampa Bay still has the best record in baseball (32-12), by a fairly wide margin, as it demonstrates that it can do just about everything right, from hitting to pitching to fielding.

“In ’08, they got on that run, and it was probably the first time they’d had success,’’ Francona said. “You could see it kind of building. I think coming into this year it looked like they expected to be good. We saw enough of them this spring, I remember thinking they’re going to be good. They’re athletic, they catch the ball, they have different options.’’

The Sox did not fare well in their initial meeting with the Rays this season, losing all four games at Fenway Park April 16-19. That, though, was when the Sox were having a brutal start to the season. Boston is well-positioned this time, with Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester pitching the first two games at Tropicana Field, each starter coming off an excellent outing.

Varitek praised
Jason Varitek was outspoken Saturday night about the Sox not needing to assign personal catchers, saying, “I need to play when [Martinez] needs to not play, and it doesn’t matter who’s on the mound.’’ Francona agreed yesterday. “I think that’s a healthy way to look at it,’’ he said. “It’s probably healthiest for our team. I believe that. I think Tek does too. I know he’d like to catch more. I don’t blame him.’’ Francona also praised Varitek for the way he’s been able to shift roles in his first full season as a backup after starting for a decade. “I think he’s done a terrific job of being a leader, which I think I said from Day 1 we fully expected and knew that would happen,’’ the manager said. “But he’s certainly fulfilled that.’’ . . . The Sox were still undecided after the game as to whether Mike Cameron would join them for the series against the Rays, but Cameron made a big statement playing center field for Double A Portland. He homered in the bottom of the 10th to give the Sea Dogs a 7-6 win over Trenton, going 3 for 5 with a double and two runs. “He had a heck of a day,’’ Francona said. “I don’t think Arnie [Beyeler, Sea Dogs manager] wants him to leave.’’ Francona did say if Cameron comes to Tampa, it would be to join the active roster.

Drew fights through
Drew felt a little stiff before the game but stayed in the lineup. “Little strain in my hip flexor, little bit tight,’’ Drew said. “Off and on for about a week, but really kind of the other night when I grounded out against [J.C.] Romero [Friday] running to first, a little tight after that. I woke up pretty stiff.’’ Drew had a single and a double against Roy Halladay. He said he is bothered most when he’s running. “He’s done a good job,’’ Francona said, citing the inability to give Drew a day off with Cameron and Ellsbury out. “He’s done a pretty good job. At the same time, regardless of who you have available, you don’t want to run somebody into the ground and hurt them where one day turns into three or four.’’ Drew came out before the ninth, with Darnell McDonald pinch hitting for him . . . Josh Beckett, on the disabled list with a back injury, threw from 120 feet yesterday, with the next step a bullpen session . . . Jacoby Ellsbury seemed to demonstrate that his ribs are OK with a play in the seventh inning, making a diving catch on a ball hit by Raul Ibanez. He also had an infield single in five at-bats. Francona didn’t rule out the possibility that Ellsbury would need a day off in the near future, after having been on the DL for nearly six weeks . . . Each of the Sox’ last five games has been played in less than three hours. Yesterday’s game lasted 2:38.

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmalieBenjamin.

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