By Eddie Pannone

It is still early in the season, but after 39 games, the Pawtucket Red Sox boast the best record in the International League. They are 25-14 and 2.5 games ahead of the Buffalo Bisons. They have been hot of late, winning 9 of their last 11 and roughing up some good opponents. The PawSox hit Andy Pettitte well in his final rehab outing. They scored five runs off the veteran Yankee pitcher on 8 hits and 2 walks. Pettitte only went 5 innings, recording the loss. The Sox offense has been great all season long, leading many important categories around the league. They are first in the International league in runs scored (198), hits (345), homeruns (39), and RBIs (182). They are also top 5 in batting average, walks, and strikeouts allowed. Of course, no first place team can succeed without pitching, and the PawSox have had this as well. Their team ERA is 3.33, top 5 in the IL. While they don’t have dominating numbers in any pitching category, all of their pitching numbers are good. Pawtucket pitchers have thrown strikes and haven’t walked many batters. They have pitched the third most innings but given up the fifth fewest runs, a result of the strike throwing pitchers.

Many Pawtucket players have been called up in the past few weeks. Top Prospect Will Middlebrooks made his major league debut for the Red Sox, and delivered a spark to their offense. Middlebrooks had been Pawtucket’s best player, batting .333 with 9 homeruns and 27 RBIs. He has been very productive in Boston, creating questions about if he will ever return to Pawtucket. With Kevin Youkilis only about to start his rehab in the next couple of days, Middlebrooks has more time to make his case to stay in Boston. However, when Youkilis returns, Middlebrooks will be a man without a position. One of three things can happen with him. One, he can be moved to left field. I think this is the least likely to happen because he has already developed as a third baseman. For him to learn at the major league level how to play the outfield will only hurt him at this point. Option two is to trade Youkilis, who can be a free agent at the end of 2012. This could make sense for the Red Sox if they are ready to commit to the young Middlebrooks. Milwaukee has shown an interest in Youkilis as they could use him at first base. The Sox could be hesitant to do this given the fact that, when healthy, Youkilis has been an all-star player. The third option is to send him back down to the PawSox. I think this will be the road they take in two weeks. It will allow them to keep him in an everyday lineup, play third base, and let Kevin Youkilis play. If Youk struggles, then they may be forced to bring up Middlebrooks again and let him become the everyday third baseman.

Two of Pawtucket’s other key players have also been called up to Boston. Outfielder Daniel Nava made his return to the big leagues after a hot start for the PawSox. He was batting .316 with 3 homeruns, 17 RBIs, and 14 walks before his callup. He will be a solid player at what ever level he appears at because he is well rounded. He isn’t the best defender, but makes the plays. He isn’t the fastest guy, but can run the bases well. He doesn’t hit for a great deal of power, but can find the gaps well. Overall, he is a good fill in option for the Red Sox right now. First baseman Mauro Gomez also received his first big league call-up after a tremendous start to his PawSox career. Gomez leads the team in the biggest run producing categories. He is first on the team in homeruns with 10, and first on the team in RBIs with 33. Just last Thursday, Gomez delivered a big two out two run hit to give the PawSox the lead in the 8th inning. Replacing his bat will be hard, but possible due to the great depth Pawtucket has.

Two players all Red Sox fans should be keeping an eye on are Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias. Neither of these players are putting up superstar numbers, however they are still performing well. Lavarnway is batting .271 with 2 homeruns and 10 RBIs. While these don’t sound like great numbers for a middle of the order bat, keep this in mind: pitchers aren’t giving him anything to hit. He has walked 17 times on the year and the pitches he does see consistently get hit hard. Don’t worry about his totals right now, he is a major league ready bat that will be in the bigs before the end of the year. Iglesias’ numbers aren’t terrific either, but he is showing signs of improvement. While he is only batting .248 on the year, he is hitting .350 in his last ten games. This is much better than where he was last year, and he has plenty of time to keep developing. Mike Aviles is doing very well at shortstop right now in Boston, so there is no need to rush Pawtucket’s young shortstop into major league action.

Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka made his second rehab appearance for the PawSox on Saturday, and it was not an encouraging one. He did not look sharp in his bullpen session and it showed during the game. He was inconsistent all night long and got hit hard by the Columbus Clippers. Most hitters were making solid contact, even when he was getting them out. He was helped out by two double plays, but those were hit hard as well. He touched 91 MPH on the radar gun, about what he was clocked at in his last outing. His final line read 5.1 innings, seven hits, five earned runs, one walk, and two hit batters. The one positive note came in the fourth inning, when he struck out the side in order. Most Red Sox fans would say this is a fairly common thing for Dice-K. One inning he will be masterful, the next he will lose all command. This is the kind of pitcher he is, whether we like it or not. Don’t expect him to be any different than the past Matsuzaka we have seen. He will have two more outings with the PawSox before going to Boston, as he will be starting on the 17th and the 22nd.

With the organization’s outfield depth thin, the Sox acquired veteran Scott Podsednik from the Phillies. Podsednik has had a great deal of major league experience as well as success. He was an All Star in 2005 as well as a World Champion with the White Sox and has always been a solid player. He provides speed in the outfield with great base stealing ability. His contact is average and won’t hit for much power. If promoted to Boston, expect him to act as Joey Gathright did, base running purposes only. He could provide a few more spot starts than Gathright, but he will likely be a September call-up, limiting his at bats.

The PawSox are back in action tonight looking to stay hot. Brandon Duckworth (4-0) takes the mound against the Durham Bulls at 7:05.

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