SAN FRANCISCO - About 45 minutes before Wednesday's game, Mike Cameron stood next to a tee. He put a fresh baseball on top and took a swing, sending the ball shooting into the net with a most satisfying thwack.
He did it again, and again, each time making that perfect sound of summer. Cameron, who was not in the lineup that night, was not pleased.
Something wasn't right. He needed to fix it.
So he swung over and over, all while explaining what was wrong with his motion and the mechanics that it took to get bat to ball in just the right fashion. He saw what he wanted to do and needed to do, a glimpse into the reasons the center fielder has lasted 16 years in the major leagues.
With that in his head, Cameron stepped to the plate Thursday night and cracked a warning-track out, followed by a two-run double that gave the Sox the lead. He added a diving catch on an Ian Stewart liner in the fourth inning, looking more comfortable in the field and at the plate than he has in quite some time.
"That's what I was looking for," Cameron said yesterday. "The difference is I haven't been able to get extension out of my body. Which comes when it wants to. But [Thursday] night was a good feeling. Not only [Thursday] night, but just swinging in general. It's good progress, although I haven't gotten all the results that I wanted, but progress of the swing was there."
Cameron said he felt stronger and was pleased with his ability to get the ball in the air. But everything is not perfect. Manager Terry Francona had said he wanted Cameron to play Thursday and last night, but he was not in the lineup for the series opener against the Giants. Francona said the change was made because Thursday's game went long and he wants Cameron in the lineup tonight.
Yet, it remains a concern that Cameron can't play nearly every day.
"We're trying to pick our spots," Francona said. "He actually wanted to play. Though the way we're situated right now, try to use some good judgment. We didn't get in until about 4 [a.m.].
"I thought he swung the bat great [on Thursday]. That was part of the reason we wanted to play him, and I know he wanted to play. I don't ever want to slow somebody down from getting hot. But at the same time, we play him and he comes up hurting, we're already kind of beat up. That wouldn't seem like it makes sense."
So, especially on the days he has down, Cameron, recovering from abdominal woes, continues to work, taking those swings off a tee, anything to return his body to a position from which he can play as much as possible.
"He's been working to do everything," Francona said. "He's been busting his [behind] to try to do everything. He's been terrific . . . We're not trying to get in his way, but we're trying to work with him because we don't want him to hurt himself."
That leaves the Sox catching their breath every time Cameron dives for a ball. . And it leaves Cameron working to get his body to do what he wants it to do, to perform the way he wants it to perform.
"Fighting," Cameron said. "My body is fighting. It's trying to protect itself. I'm trying to push it."
The Sox have been particularly pleased with Scott Atchison
of late, with the reliever able to provide some needed stability in the bullpen. "He's actually been terrific," Francona said. "I think probably back a couple weeks ago, maybe the last time we called him up or sent him down, I said this guy has a role more than maybe what people realize. He's been kind of forced into pitching maybe more than he should, some bad situations. He can pitch and he doesn't shy away from situations where the game's on the line. We've thought all along that he can help us. We just got forced into some roster moves where he's the one that had to go. But we think he can help us. Got that cutter, he's got poise, he's quick to the plate, he competes. There's a lot of things to like, throws strikes." Atchison gave up one run in 1 2/3 innings Thursday night, serving as a bridge on a night when the Sox were flying through their bullpen. That was following a performance in which he struck out a career-high five in three innings June 18 against the Dodgers . . . Asked about Hideki Okajima
, who allowed three earned runs in two-thirds of an inning Thursday as the Sox allowed six runs in the sixth inning, Francona said, "When he's able to pitch when the game's on the line, he's a different pitcher and we recognize that. It's just sometimes the way the numbers are and usage, we have to cover the innings. I think he's at a point in his career where he really wants that adrenaline and it helps him a lot. I know his back's been bothering him for a couple weeks. We know that, but we can't wait for everybody to be perfect and he understands that. Like I said [Thursday] night, I thought he looked great . . . When he comes in and commands, he doesn't get hit."
Ellsbury in limbo
There was a minor update on Jacoby Ellsbury
(broken ribs) yesterday, though the Sox didn't have the final word from the doctors. Francona said the center fielder is still not ready for baseball activities, though he has improved. "So do we keep him out there? Does he come back to Boston?" Francona said. "We don't know yet, and all the votes aren't tabulated." . . . With their bullpen spent after five innings from the relievers Thursday against Colorado, the Sox were forced to make a roster move. Boston recalled Fabio Castro
from Pawtucket on his scheduled day to start to provide length in the bullpen, and optioned Josh Reddick
back to Triple A. The Sox had two relievers unavailable last night (Manny Delcarmen
and Jonathan Papelbon
), and another group that was only available for short stints . . . As for Reddick, the outfielder flew with the team to San Francisco, then rejoined Pawtucket. "He gave us a lot of energy," Francona said . . . J.D. Drew
(hamstring) remains on track to start today for the first time since June 18 . . . Josh Beckett
(back) will pitch a simulated game today in preparation for facing hitters back in Boston Thursday . . . The Giants scratched Madison Bumgarner
from his scheduled start for Triple A Fresno yesterday, in case he was needed to pitch today for the big league club. Joe Martinez
was originally scheduled to pitch today for the Giants, but was available if pressed into action last night.
Giants change starter
The Giants have made a pitching change for tonight's game, throwing lefthander Madison Bumgarner
instead of Joe Martinez
. . . Daniel Nava
walked twice extended his streak of reaching base safely to 12 games. That's the longest streak to begin a career as a member of the Sox since Mo Vaughn
had a 12-game streak from June 27 to July 11, 1991. George Scott
went 26 games in 1966. Scott's run was the longest since 1952.
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.
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