BOSTON -- A day after the Red Sox dismissed pitching coach Bob McClure and replaced him for the rest of the season with Randy Niemann, manager Bobby Valentine did his best to explain the move.
"Well, you know, Bob has been in the game a long time. He's a real good baseball guy," said Valentine. "A very good person -- a very good guy. Obviously, coming into a new situation, there were adjustments that he and I were making as the year went on. I thought we were making them. At this time, with six weeks to go, we thought just maybe a little different voice in the clubhouse would make a little difference."
Niemann, who was a bullpen coach for Valentine for several years with the New York Mets, had been working as Boston's assistant pitching coach. But he also spent time as pitching coach earlier this season when McClure left for a personal reason, as well as some time as bullpen coach when Gary Tuck took a brief leave of absence.
What will Niemann add as the new leader of the pitching staff?
"We're going to try to do things a little more on schedule and try to make things a little easier for those guys to understand, maybe, and be able to focus and be able to do what they're capable of," Niemann said."We all know they're capable of doing a good job out there. It's just a matter of going out and executing it. That's what we're going to work towards."
After Boston's 5-3 loss to the Angels, Niemann was measured in the way he spoke. This wasn't a time for him to celebrate a promotion.
"It's been a very tough day, a tough time. Somebody that was a good friend of ours I had to take over for, which I'm happy to do, and mainly today, I just met with all the guys," said Niemann. "I told them we're going to go forward, we're going to work hard, we're going to do some things a little different with each and every one of them individually, but mainly I'm going to be here for them. I'm going to work my tail off to make them better, and hopefully we can turn this thing around down the stretch and have everybody doing what they're supposed to be doing out there."
The Red Sox are 11th in the American League in ERA.
"I think we're better than that, yes," Niemann said. "I think we're better than that. I think the guys think we're better than that. And we're going to work hard this last month and a half to address that and make it better. Are we going to get it down to leading the league? I don't think we have time to do that, but we're going to make it better and we're going to work hard to do that. Like I told the guys earlier, I'm here for them. I'm going to be here early and I'll be here late. Whatever they need to make this work the last month, I'll be here to do that."
Valentine thinks that Niemann will move seamlessly into his new role.
"Well, he just has the common-sense approach to things," Valentine said. "He's worked with all the guys on rehab this year -- he's been totally in charge of that. I think that they understand that he understands the throwing motion. You know, he's been in the bullpen for a couple of weeks when Gary wasn't here, so the relievers got to know him a little bit during game situations. He was in the dugout for a couple of weeks when Bob wasn't here. I think what he brings is what is needed -- a nice, stabilizing force."
Valentine also disputed the notion that McClure was not his choice as pitching coach -- and that general manager Ben Cherington forced him into the staff. McClure had been hired by Cherington as a scout a few weeks before Valentine was named manager.
"The first time I saw him, I met him in the hallway downstairs," Valentine said. "I was going into Ben's office after I was hired. He was hired as a scout at the time. About three days later, we were putting together a list [for pitching coach]. I don't think he was on the first list. After we narrowed down the first list, he got on the second list, and then he came in and he interviewed with everyone.
"I liked the interview. I continued to interview people. Then we were running out of time, and he was the best candidate out there, I felt. And Ben felt [the same way], and whoever else was interviewing, they [also] felt that way. If that means he was my choice, he was my choice, yeah. I didn't have someone I was going to take over him."
The move to Niemann will ultimately be judged on how Boston's pitchers perform the rest of the way.
"It's not like we have somebody brand new coming in right now," said Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz. "We'll finish out the season with our staff here, and hopefully we can do something and get us on a roll, and us as a pitching staff go out and do our jobs, and hopefully it becomes contagious for the offense."
"I know Bob worked hard, and he wanted the best for those guys. We all did," Niemann said. "That's basically, going forward, that's what I'm going to do. I just think maybe sometimes you can tweak things, do them a little differently, and hopefully that works for the guys. I know they will be focused, and they're going to be ready to go."
After latest rehab start, Dice-K nearing return
BOSTON -- Daisuke Matsuzaka's best outing of the season anywhere came Tuesday night with Triple-A Pawtucket.
In his fifth rehab start on the way back from a trapezius strain, the Red Sox right-hander went seven-plus shutout innings, with seven strikeouts. That puts him in line to start with the big league club soon, perhaps on Sunday in Aaron Cook's spot.
"Much too early to figure that one out," manager Bobby Valentine said after Cook and the Red Sox lost to the Angels, 5-3, at Fenway Park on Tuesday. "We'll see what ... watch the film tomorrow, see Dice, see how he feels. Talk it over with everyone."
Dice-K took the win in a 3-0 home victory over Triple-A Rochester (Minnesota). He walked four, but two of those free passes came to his last two batters at the start of the eighth inning. He finished with 102 pitches, 59 for strikes.
In what is likely his last season with Boston, Dice-K is 0-3 with a 6.65 ERA in five starts. He's missed most of the season because of his recovery from Tommy John surgery and, subsequently, his trapezius. In four August starts for Pawtucket, the 31-year-old has a 3.10 ERA in 20 1/3 innings, with twice as many strikeouts (18) as walks (nine).
Cook gave up four earned runs in five innings Tuesday and has lost five of his past six starts, but he also has a 4.10 ERA in his past 10 starts since June 24.
The Minor League rehab clock for pitchers, 30 days, is not an issue for Matsuzaka because rosters expand Sept. 1.
Ellsbury starts at No. 3 spot for first time in career
BOSTON -- With Jacoby Ellsbury having a hard time jump-starting the Red Sox from his customary leadoff position, manager Bobby Valentine made a change for Tuesday's game against the Angels, moving his center fielder into the No. 3 spot in the batting order.
The way Ellsbury hit in 2011, he looked like a No. 3 hitter in the making, combining average, speed and power.
After missing 79 games with a right shoulder subluxation, Ellsbury has had a hard time finding a groove since his return on July 13.
In 42 games this season, he is hitting .250 with one homer and 11 RBIs.
"Just talking with the coaching staff, they feel like, in the past, sometimes he's been moved out of the leadoff spot and he's gotten a little more aggressive," said Valentine. "I took heed of that to see if we could get him a little more aggressive."
This was Ellsbury's first career start in the No. 3 spot.
Pedro Ciriaco was vaulted to leadoff, and Dustin Pedroia, who had been batting third of late, moved back to the two-hole.
If Ellsbury can return to form, it could make a profound difference in Boston's batting order, which has struggled of late with two key power bats -- David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks -- out of action.
"Just watching him come back, he's just mis-hit a lot of balls," Valentine said. "The fastball that's up and away that he takes a really good swing at often ends up behind home plate, and the breaking ball that it seems like he's right on seems like it's been a ground ball to second or first. To me, in the simplest form, means he's that much out in front of the breaking ball and that much behind the fastball. But maybe it's more than that.
"I can't make the comparison. They look like really good, full swings. He's hitting a little off the end, and they're going down to the right side of the infield -- or really good, full swings, and the balls are going straight back."
Red Sox activate Nava, Padilla from DL
BOSTON -- The Red Sox welcomed back a couple of players on Tuesday who have made key contributions at times this season.
Daniel Nava was activated to help fill the void for left fielder Carl Crawford, who will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery on Thursday.
And righty reliever Vicente Padilla was activated the first day he was eligible after a bout with right arm and groin tightness.
Nava was immediately installed in manager Bobby Valentine's lineup, batting seventh and serving as the DH. He had been out since July 29 with a left wrist sprain.
In 65 games this season, Nava is hitting .251 with four homers, 27 RBIs and a .373 on-base percentage. Earlier in the year, he was one of Boston's best hitters. His numbers started to decline around the time his wrist started aching.
"Regardless of whether [Crawford] was going to have this [surgery] or not, getting activated and participating and being able to contribute in some way, shape or form was what I was trying to do," said Nava. "I'm not trying to repeat what I was doing earlier. I'm just trying to go out and help the team win tonight or tomorrow."
The Red Sox will miss Crawford, who was a far better player in his short stint this season than he was in 2011.
"We'll miss Carl," said Valentine. "I'm really happy that Carl got the games in that he got in, and I'm really happy that he had the success that he had. I think Carl now can feel that at least he showed the fans in a small way, that in an everyday way, that he's a very good player. I think he needed to do that."
Padilla gives Valentine another right arm he can depend on in the late innings.
"Supposedly, he's over the hump with the little groin situation that he had, which kind of caused a little triceps-biceps strain," Valentine said. "They fixed the bottom, and I think they fixed the top."
To make room for Padilla on the roster, the Red Sox optioned third baseman Danny Valencia to Triple-A Pawtucket.
"Danny was in about as unfair a situation as I've seen anyone. He played a couple of games in 10 days," said Valentine. "We tried to throw him in the fire, and then he went to the bench. I'm hoping he can get some consistent at-bats in Triple-A and still help us this year."