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Difference is striking to Drew

‘Expanded zone’ has him flustered

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / August 28, 2010

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The last time J.D. Drew stepped in against David Price is seared in the memory of most Red Sox fans. With the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series, the Rays rookie lefthander faced Drew with Tampa Bay ahead by two runs. Drew struck out.

Still, because the pair had never faced each other in the regular season, Drew’s line read 0 for 0 going into last night’s game. Then it was 1 for 1 when he singled off Price in the first.

While it didn’t make up for 2009, every hit counts for Drew in a season in which he’s struggled with the strike zone, struggled to get hits, struggled to get on base.

“I’ve questioned the strike zone a lot, just in different at-bats,’’ Drew said. “I feel like it’s definitely been a little bit expanded, and I understand, but that affects the way that I play the game a lot, too.

“When I’m up there in a 3-and-1 count and I feel like it’s ball four and it’s strike two, those things have been difficult.’’

Drew is not alone. There has been a lot of questioning of umpires and strike zones this season. David Ortiz recently called the strike zone “a joke’’ in New York.

The chatter from Drew, though, is particularly unusual. While other players are known for their frequent beefs, that has never been Drew’s way. He usually walks quietly back to the dugout. Not this year.

“I understand that everybody has discrepancies, but you know when the strike zone’s in question, sometimes you go up there and you chase pitches that you normally wouldn’t or you find yourself taking a pitch that you know is a ball,’’ Drew said. “Usually you are awarded first base and instead you’re battling and you ground out or whatever.

“So that affects your at-bat total, your on-base percentage, it affects a lot of things. It affects the way you approach the at-bats in the future.

“I found myself a lot of times chasing pitches that I normally wouldn’t.’’

Perhaps that’s the reason his on-base percentage, almost always .400, was at .350. That’s his lowest since he put up a .349 in 2002 with St. Louis, and the third lowest of his career.

His batting average, meanwhile, was at .261 after going 2 for 4 in the Sox’ 3-1 win last night — also the lowest since he batted .252 in 2002, and again the third lowest of his career.

Asked whether he has a handle on this season’s expanded zone, Drew said, “I’ll let you make a decision on that one. You see what it looks like whenever you watch replays. Those things are in question.’’

According to Drew, it’s not just one umpire. It’s across the game.

“As a hitter, you’re trying to get to 2-and-0 or 2-and-1 or 3-and-1 and get a good pitch to hit,’’ he said. “When it’s not there, 3-and-1 or something, you don’t want to swing at it, you want to turn it over to the next guy. We’ve been a good team that does that.

“When you start seeing those strike zones expanding, you’re kind of questioning if you’re wrong or right. You don’t really know. The next thing you know, you’re swinging at pitches all over the place. And that’s not how I like to play the game.’’

Cameron has surgery
Mike Cameron had surgery yesterday to repair his torn abdominal muscle, an injury that has plagued the outfielder all season. The Sox finally determined 10 days ago that Cameron would need surgery soon to ensure that the recovery would not affect his 2011 season.

Cameron played just 48 games this season, getting 162 at-bats, nearly all of them in pain.

According to manager Terry Francona, the surgery was a bilateral sports hernia repair and bilateral groin release.

“They stitched in the mesh and the adductor groin to kind of . . . take the pressure off a little bit,’’ Francona said. “And what they said was that it was very obvious he needed surgery.’’

Francona reported that everything went well and Cameron should be able to have a normal offseason.

Back in turn
After being skipped in the rotation, Daisuke Matsuzaka has been penciled in to start Thursday against the Orioles. “That way, we don’t have to have every starter wondering after they pitch what they’re doing,’’ said Francona. “I think we feel like that’s pretty realistic and allows him to pitch with confidence and it also doesn’t screw everybody else up.’’ Francona said Matsuzaka’s back first got sore Tuesday, then was tightening up as he threw on flat ground Wednesday. That led the team to move Jon Lester from Wednesday to last night (originally Matsuzaka’s turn) and insert Tim Wakefield into the nightcap Wednesday . . . Jason Varitek did well yesterday in sprinting and catching a side session from Hideki Okajima. “Asked him how he’s doing, he said he’d like to play tonight,’’ Francona said. “That’s not happening, but I think from his answer, it means he’s doing really well.’’

An OK session
Okajima, who threw 30 pitches in his session, was not activated last night, but Francona said he did “real well.’’ He’s likely to be added to the roster in the near future. Okajima has a 5.85 ERA and has been on the disabled list since Aug. 6 with a right hamstring strain . . . Both Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Eric Patterson began rehab stints for Pawtucket last night, with Saltalamacchia as the designated hitter and Patterson playing second base. The PawSox scored five runs in the top of the ninth to beat Rochester, 6-5, as both players went 2 for 5. Patterson had a double and two stolen bases, while Saltalamacchia hit two doubles. “He’s done really good,’’ Francona said of Saltalamacchia, who had an infection in his right lower leg. “He’s kind of raring to go. He did a good job of bouncing back.’’ Saltalamacchia and Patterson are expected to be activated when major league rosters expand Sept. 1. Outfielder Josh Reddick and reliever Dustin Richardson are also likely candidates to come up at that point.

Not haunted by past
Jonathan Papelbon made the ninth inning interesting by allowing two walks. He struck out John Jaso with men on first and third and two outs for the save. The second walk was to pinch hitter Dan Johnson, who faced Papelbon Sept. 9, 2008, and launched a memorable pinch-hit home run in the ninth that tied the game and helped the Rays win. “We’ve seen last time what Dan Johnson did,’’ Francona said. “We didn’t need a replay of that.’’ . . . Red Sox relievers have gone 15 innings over the last six games without allowing a run. Overall, the staff has a 1.93 ERA in the last six games . . . Sixty-nine of the Sox’ 129 games have been decided by two runs or fewer. They are 38-31 in those games . . . The Sox are 5-8 against the Rays this season but 4-3 at Tropicana Field.

Peter Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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