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Red Sox notebook

Positive spin from Wheeler

He throws strikes but is getting hit

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / May 4, 2011

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The early struggles of Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks have been magnified by the size of their free agent contracts and the attendant expectations.

It’s a different situation for Dan Wheeler, who was signed to a comparatively modest $3 million deal. But his transition to Boston also has been rocky.

The 33-year-old righthander from Rhode Island has a 9.90 ERA through 10 appearances after giving up three runs Monday night.

He has struck out eight without a walk in 10 innings but has given up 16 hits, three of them home runs.

Opponents are hitting .356 against him.

“That’s what I do, I throw strikes,’’ Wheeler said. “That’s the thing that’s kind of frustrating because it can be good or bad. I’m aggressive and I try and get you out early. If that doesn’t happen, something bad can happen.’’

Pitching coach Curt Young isn’t too concerned.

“I like what he’s been doing because he’s throwing strikes,’’ Young said.

“His stuff has been fine. It’s a matter of getting consistent outings where he can sharpen up his game. We’ve had to put him in some positions he’s not used to.’’

To save Jenks or Daniel Bard from unnecessary use, the Red Sox have used Wheeler in several low-leverage situations.

On Monday, as an example, he started the eighth inning with the Sox ahead of the Angels, 9-2. His job was to throw strikes.

He did, and Vernon Wells belted one for a two-run homer.

“I’ve been going out there in those situations,’’ said Wheeler. “It’s part of the job. I have to pitch no matter what the situation is. There’s no excuse.’’

Terry Francona said that despite Monday’s misadventure, Wheeler has looked sharper in recent outings.

“He’ll eat up innings,’’ said the manager.

“When guys start out slow, that’s why we don’t want to run from them. You can make some bad mistakes. You want to pick your spots with them a little but until they get on a run. The idea is to get them feeling comfortable as opposed to not pitching.’’

Wheeler, who is in his 12th season, isn’t looking at his statistics very often.

“I feel confident where I’m at,’’ he said. “The numbers don’t look good, but I feel good. There’s nothing as far as my health. I feel strong as ever.’’

Youkilis scratched Kevin Youkilis was taken out of the lineup 30 minutes before the first pitch because he became ill.

“He was really sick, we’ve got it going around,’’ Francona said. “Youk was lightheaded before the game and struggling. He wanted to try it and then it wasn’t going to happen.’’

Jed Lowrie moved to third base. Marco Scutaro played short and was 2 for 4 in a 7-3 victory over the Angels. Francona hopes Youkilis will recover in time to play tonight.

Different results Jacoby Ellsbury started the season as the Sox leadoff hitter, then was dropped down after hitting .143 for five games.

The center fielder returned to the top of the order April 22. In the 11 games since, he is 18 of 47 (.383) with eight doubles and 12 runs. He has hit safely in 12 games overall.

Francona has not seen any dramatic changes in how Ellsbury has swung the bat, however.

“You’re seeing success,’’ said Francona. “I don’t know about the approach. You’re seeing him hit balls he didn’t hit earlier in the season. He’s getting to pitches he didn’t get earlier in the season.’’

Beckett’s turn Josh Beckett (2-1, 2.65) faces the Angels tonight on six days’ rest, the Sox having given him some extra time after some taxing starts. There are no plans to restrict his pitch count. “We always look at their workload, but he’s OK,’’ Francona said . . . Carl Crawford’s single in the third inning was the 1,500th hit of his career. Crawford is one of three players in modern history to reach 1,500 hits, 400 steals, and 100 triples before the age of 30, joining Ty Cobb and Eddie Collins. Crawford is 6 for 11 the last three games and 11 of 34 in his last eight . . . Red Sox starters have allowed five earned runs in 43 2/3 innings against the Angels this season. Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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