Red Sox-Twins Preview

The Boston Red Sox have gone from struggling at the league’s

oldest ballpark to showing signs of settling down at the newest

venue.

In the finale of what has become a successful six-game trip, the

Red Sox face the Minnesota Twins on Thursday to close out the first

series at Target Field.

Boston (4-4) had a tough opening series at Fenway Park, losing

the final two games of a three-game set with AL East rival New

York. The Red Sox then opened their current trip with a loss to

Kansas City, but have since bounced back to win three of four,

scoring six runs or more in each of the victories.

That stretch includes a 6-3 win over the Twins (6-3) on

Wednesday. Boston lost the first game played at the Twins’ brand

new ballpark 5-2 on Monday.

Leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury has missed both contests due to

bruised ribs, and manager Terry Francona said he won’t play until

returning home Friday against Tampa Bay. The speedy left fielder

was hurt in a collision with teammate Adrian Beltre while chasing a

foul ball Sunday during an 8-6 win over the Royals.

With Ellsbury out, shortstop Marco Scutaro has been productive

in the leadoff spot, collecting two hits in each of his last two

games.

Slugger David Ortiz, though, continues to struggle, striking out

twice to bring his season total to 13. Ortiz is batting .154, but

Francona wants to keep him in the lineup so he can work through his

troubles.

“It’s not fantasy baseball, and it’s not like chess pieces,” he

said. “Guys need time to settle in. If I don’t let them settle in,

it’s just going to prolong what we’re going through.”

A matchup with the Twins’ Francisco Liriano (0-0, 4.50 ERA) may

not help Ortiz, who hit .212 versus left-handers last season.

Liriano had an underwhelming first start, giving up three runs

and walking five in six innings as Minnesota beat Chicago 4-3 in 11

innings Friday night.

Liriano, who went 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA last season, won the

fifth spot in the rotation with a strong spring training. He’s 0-2

with a 13.50 ERA in two career starts against the Red Sox.

Boston will counter with Tim Wakefield (0-0, 2.57), who gave up

two runs and struck out six in seven innings of a 4-3 loss to the

Royals on Friday night. It’s a promising start for the 43-year-old

knuckleballer, who had offseason back surgery.

The right-hander is 14-5 with a 4.16 ERA in 23 starts and three

relief appearance against the Twins.

Joe Mauer is 5 for 12 with a homer against Wakefield. The

reigning AL MVP is batting .400 with RBIs in three straight

games.

Mauer had one of Minnesota’s two hits in 12 opportunities with

runners in scoring position Wednesday. Still, the Twins were able

to keep it close.

“We were in the game,” center fielder Denard Span told the

Twins’ official Web site. “I think it’s a good sign. … In the

past when we play the AL East, it always seemed like we got

crushed. So to play a Boston Red Sox team this tight, I think it’s

a good sign for us.”