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Morales continues to impress

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / June 30, 2012
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SEATTLE — Manager Bobby Valentine thought in February that Franklin Morales could come out of the bullpen and start for the Red Sox. But that idea vanished when the lefthander pitched only 5 innings during spring training.

Morales was shut down early when his physical detected some weakness in his shoulder. Then he flew to Boston to be checked out for an irregular heartbeat.

In both cases, Morales proved to be fine and he broke camp as one of the relievers.

Two months later, Morales mentioned the idea of starting to assistant pitching coach Randy Niemann.

“Randy passed the information on to me and the rest is history,” Valentine said.

Morales has started three games and been impressive, allowing four earned runs over 18 innings while striking out 24 and walking three.

In Thursday night’s 1-0 loss against Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, Morales threw seven shutout innings. The Mariners won in the ninth on a walkoff single by John Jaso off Scott Atchison.

Morales allowed three hits — all singles — walked two, and struck out seven. He threw 109 pitches, 23 more than his previous start.

“Very impressed,” Valentine said after the game. “I don’t think anybody can pitch like that all season. He’s pitched extremely, extremely well.

“Aggressive in the strike zone; consistent with all three pitches in the strike zone; throwing them any time in the count [and] pitching in and out and up and down. That’s pretty good stuff. That’s what you teach.”

Valentine smiled when asked if it would be hard to take Morales out of the rotation.

“That’s not on my calendar of things to do,” he said. “We’ll take it one game at a time.”

In the seventh inning on Thursday, Morales faced Miguel Olivo with a runner on second and struck him out. Down, 2 and 1, in the count, Morales went with three straight changeups.

“I knew he was looking for something hard,” Morales said.

Watching from first base, Adrian Gonzalez was impressed with how Morales maintained his composure late.

“The fact that he saw those things and was able to recognize and go with his gut instinct is great,” Gonzalez said. “It was King Franklin against King Felix.”

Morales was a starter with the Rockies early in his career then went to the bullpen, his stuff deemed too inconsistent to start. Now 26, he’s getting an unexpected second chance.

“Bobby gave me the confidence and the opportunity to start and I’m trying to do the best that I can,” he said. “I have three good pitches I can use in any count. What I need to do is keep pitching.”

Ellsbury in action

Jacoby Ellsbury was 1 for 4 with a double and a walk for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox in his first minor league rehabilitation game. It was his first game since partially dislocating his right (non-throwing) shoulder April 13.

“Got through the performance without incident,” Valentine said.

Carl Crawford was 0 for 2 with two walks and scored from second on a single. Crawford is 2 for 11 in four games in the GCL with five walks and three strikeouts. He is coming back from left elbow and wrist injuries.

Scott Podsednik was the DH for Triple A Pawtucket in his first rehab game, going 0 for 3 with a walk.

Beckett back

Josh Beckett will be activated off the disabled list to start against the Mariners Saturday night. The righthander (4-7, 4.14 ERA) has not pitched since June 11 because of what the Red Sox termed “inflammation” in his right shoulder.

“If he’s healthy, I expect a good performance and it seems like he’s very healthy,” Valentine said.

Beckett was shut down to rest his shoulder. He has thrown only one bullpen session since and ostensibly should be over his shoulder issues.

“It’s hard for me to tell. I think he’s better than he was and he was pretty good when he stopped pitching,” Valentine said.

Wakefield to NESN

Former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, who retired in February after 17 years with the team, joined NESN as a studio analyst. His first game will be Saturday. “Tim Wakefield has been an integral part of the fabric of the Red Sox and the New England community for the past 17 years,” NESN president and CEO Sean McGrail said. “We are extremely happy to add Tim to our all-star lineup of studio analysts.” . . . Ryan Sweeney, on the DL with an inflamed left big toe, took batting practice on the field and looked good. “I’m a lot better than I was,” said Sweeney, who was having trouble running. “They gave me an orthotic to take some pressure off my toe.” . . . Clay Buchholz did what was termed a light workout at Fenway Park, his first since going on the DL with esophagitis . . . Seattle placed outfielder Franklin Gutierrez on the seven-day concussion DL.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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