Extra Innings: Lowrie helps out BoSox

Bonus notes from our MLB on Fox broadcast of the Twins-Red Sox game on Saturday…

On top of all of the other rain-delay zaniness Saturday, the Red Sox were worried about third baseman Jed Lowrie, who had a touch of the flu.

Lowrie’s status was in question during the 2-hour, 7-minute delay, but the Sox needed him to continue almost as badly as they needed right-hander Clay Buchholz to return to the mound.

Buchholz threw several times underneath the stands to stay loose, and his five-inning effort was necessary because the Sox’s two long men, righties Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves, had pitched the night before.

The infield was almost as thin. Marco Scutaro started at shortstop for the Sox, Kevin Youkilis at DH. If Lowrie had left the game, Youkilis would have moved to third, forcing the Sox to lose their DH in the third inning.

At that point, the pitcher would have hit cleanup. Manager Terry Francona would have pinch-hit repeatedly, further depleting his pitching staff.

As it turned out, Lowrie made a diving stop and doubled off Twins catcher Rene Rivera at first to end Buchholz’s fifth and final inning.

Francona ended up losing his DH anyway, but much later in the game. He pinch-hit J.D. Drew for Scutaro during the Red Sox’s two-run eighth, then moved Youkilis to third and Lowrie to short for the ninth.

Scutaro likely will be placed on the disabled list Sunday with an injury to his left rib cage, according to the Boston Globe. His replacement will be Jose Iglesias, the Sox’s top shortstop prospect.

 

Score on for Country Joe

 

Players, coaches and managers frequently express dissatisfaction with umpire Joe West, but give "Country Joe" credit when credit is due: As crew chief Saturday, he acted shrewdly and decisively to ensure that the game was completed without further delay.

West, after consulting with Red Sox groundskeeper David Mellor, ordered the tarp to remain on the field after the initial rain stopped. The radar indicated that a second set of showers was not far behind.

Next, West ordered the game to resume even as rain continued to fall; the radar indicated that the showers were about to stop and that the window until the next storm could be as short as 90 minutes.

The scene was borderline ludicrous as Buchholz returned to the Red Sox bullpen to warm up in a driving rain, and the Sox feared that they would lose him to another delay before play even resumed.

But the radar — and West — proved correct at each turn. Minutes after the game ended, another downpour ensued. Well-played, "Country Joe," well-played.

 

Sox’s catch as catch can

 

While the Red Sox have made contact with free-agent catcher Bengie Molina, they are not yet ready to move on him, according to major-league sources.

Molina, though, could grow more appealing, assuming he is in reasonable condition. He is strong fundamentally, a good game-caller and a veteran of four postseasons.

The Sox’s No. 1 catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is showing improvement, but still has moments defensively when the game moves too quickly for him.

Meanwhile, the trade market remains thin.

The Sox are cool on the Nationals’ Ivan Rodriguez, the Royals’ Jason Kendall is on the 60-day DL and the Pirates would rather trade the more offensively oriented Ryan Doumit than Chris Snyder, sources say.

The Angels’ Jeff Mathis, who is believed to be available, is a strong defender but career .199/.262/.311 hitter.

 

Twins’ middle-infield needs persist

 

Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka likely will move from second base to shortstop after he returns from a fractured left tibia. But that doesn’t mean he’s the answer at the position for the Twins.

Nishioka told the Twins in spring training that he preferred to play second and scouts doubt that his arm is strong enough for him to make the throw from the shortstop hole.

Yet, what choice do the Twins have?

Alexi Casilla drove manager Ron Gardenhire nuts with his poor instincts at short, particularly on cutoffs and relays. Trevor Plouffe struggled on defense in spring training, and is unlikely to gain Gardenhire’s trust quickly.

Granted, second baseman Orlando Hudson and shortstop J.J. Hardy grew too pricey for the Twins; Hudson went to the Padres on a two-year, $11.5 million free-agent contract, and Minnesota traded Hardy to the Orioles rather than pay him $5.85 million in arbitration.

Still, it remains to be seen whether Nishioka will be worth the nearly $15 million that the Twins paid for him in salary and posting fee.

You know who the Twins miss? Veteran infielder Nick Punto, who signed a one-year, $750,000 free-agent contract with the Cardinals after spending six years in Minnesota.

Punto, 33, is offensively challenged and frequently injured. But he would have given the Twins a competent stopgap at one of the two middle-infield positions.

 

Sox’s Crawford: Climbing out of it

 

Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford finally is showing offensive life: After batting .155/.204/.227 in April, he has hit safely in all seven games in May, going 11-for-27 with two doubles.

When I asked Crawford about his April, he said, "The whole month felt like rock bottom. Everything that possibly could go wrong, did go wrong. Even when I felt like I would get something going, there was just nothing.

"The most frustrating thing is when you get to the point where you say, ‘I don’t know what else to do.’ When you get clueless, that’s when it gets bad. Any player you ask, that’s a frustrating place to be."

Crawford also said that he will treat the season like a seven-round boxing match — one round for each month of the regular season, plus another for the playoffs.

"I lost the first round," he said. "I can’t lose no more."

 

Laser show interruptus

 

Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, mired in a 7-for-57 slump, feigned irritation when fans near the dugout clamored for his autograph before Saturday’s game.

"I’ve got to focus on the game!" Pedroia protested as he began to sign. "I haven’t gotten a hit in three weeks! I’m grinding! Don’t boo me!"

Pedroia’s frustration was evident after he made outs; he could be heard shouting at himself in the dugout. Still, his trademark confidence is not lacking.

"It’s a game of runs," he said. "I’m going to get hot. And when I get hot, it’s going to be ugly."

 

Duensing: A left-handed Radke?

 

Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson compares left-hander Brian Duensing’s demeanor to that of former Twins righty Brad Radke — a high compliment in the Twins’ world.

Duensing goes out, doesn’t say a lot, just does his job. Gardenhire was asked over the winter which one of the Twins’ six starters would be the odd man out of the rotation. His reply: Not Duensing.

In 28 career starts, Duensing is 14-4 with a 2.94 ERA.

 

BIG PAPI OR BIG OPPO?

 

David Ortiz’s percentage of opposite-field hits the past three seasons: 26.4, 27.1, 25.8. His previous high was 22.5 in ‘07; clearly, Ortiz has learned to go the other way.

"I have to, man," Ortiz said, smiling. "That’s how they want to pitch me — away, away, away. I should have started doing this five years ago. I might have 3,000 hits by now."

Ortiz says pitchers throw him anything and everything away — 3-2 changeups, 2-0 splits, you name it. But the fact that pitchers work him in such fashion actually is a good sign: They still fear that Ortiz is quick inside.

 

Around the horn

 

• The Red Sox grabbed free-agent right-hander Matt Albers quickly after the Orioles declined to offer him a contract; the Sox also were looking at Joel Peralta on the non-tender market, but Peralta signed with the Rays.

Jared Porter, the Sox’s assistant director of professional scouting, scouted Albers last season and recommended the pitcher partly because of his improvement in the second half.

Albers throws 94-95 with above-average sink, and has filled the role the team originally envisioned for righty Dan Wheeler, who is now on the disabled list.

One concern: Albers’ weight. He is listed at 6-feet, 225 pounds, but needs to watch himself carefully.

• Twins shortstop Trevor Plouffe was contemplating wearing a pair of pink, high-top spikes on Mother’s Day in honor of his mother, Diane.

Plouffe, describing the spikes as "pretty outrageous," said he wanted approval from some of the team’s veterans first. No problem, first baseman Justin Morneau said.

Diane Plouffe has been in remission from breast cancer for six years, and now works as a nurse in the oncology department of Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, Ca.

• Red Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald purchased a framed photograph of Willie Mays’ catch on Vic Wuertz on Friday in honor of Mays’ 80th birthday.

McDonald said his own favorite players growing up in Colorado were Barry Larkin, Ozzie Smith and Eric Davis, but that his parents always talked about Mays.

• Saltalamacchia’s wife, Ashley, gave birth to the couple’s third daughter, Sloan, on April 12. Salty’s other daughters are Sidney, 4, and Hunter, 3.

The family is enjoying Boston, but recently on a warm day Sidney forgot where she was.

"We’re not in Boston anymore," Sidney told Salty. "It’s not cold."

• Sox infielder Jed Lowrie is engaged to a foreign diplomat — his former Stanford classmate, Milessa Muchmore.

Muchmore earned her Master’s Degree from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and currently is a vice-counsel at the U.S. consulate in Canada.

The two don’t see each other much during the season, but are set to be married in November.

• Twins catcher Drew Butera said he received 26 text messages from friends and family after catching Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter.

Butera acknowledged that he started thinking about a no-hitter in the seventh inning, but was "trying to talk myself out of it."

Liriano told Butera he wasn’t aware that he had a no-hitter until after the eighth inning ended.

"I’ve heard guys are so locked in, they don’t even know what’s going on," Butera said. "But I have a feeling he knew earlier."