Notes: Big day for Okajima
Reliever receives award, new interpreter arrives
BOSTON -- On Wednesday, one day after Jonathan Papelbon stretched himself thin during a rare, 35-pitch blown save, the first-place Red Sox went about business as usual at Fenway Park. Few teams can boast of a closer who blows his first save in May. Few teams enjoy a security blanket like "Everyday" Hideki Okajima.
In his pregame press conference, manager Terry Francona indicated that he did not plan to use Papelbon in the finale with Oakland. Here was a man with options, and as usual, the 6-foot-1 Japanese lefty with a rainbow curve stood out from the rest.
"Okajima might go six," Francona joked.
It was a big day for Okajima, who won American League Rookie of the Month honors for April. Even better, the former Yomiuri Giant and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighter, a 12-year veteran of the Japanese League, welcomed to Boston his friend and newly hired interpreter, Jeff Yamaguchi.
Previously, Okajima had communicated through Sachiyo Sekiguchi, who will now coordinate Boston's two main interpreters. Daisuke Matsuzaka's interpreter, Masa Hoshino, has been with the team since the middle of Spring Training.
In previous efforts, Red Sox coaches had struggled devising ways of communicating with Okajima, particularly in tight spots. Before Okajima's lone save of the season, on April 20, Francona had planned to discuss detailed strategy with the native of Kyoto but decided instead to let him pitch.
Nonetheless, Major League Baseball restricts the access of interpreters to most areas of the stadium during games, including the dugouts. Yamaguchi cannot walk to the mound, for example, the next time catcher Jason Varitek wants to go over signs with Okajima.
Francona said that it was important from a team unity standpoint, too, to discourage an over-reliance on the interpreters.
"I hate to use the word 'crutch,' " he said. "We want us to have a team here [and] start working on relationships."
Full strength? Right fielder J.D. Drew was back in the lineup on Wednesday after missing Tuesday's game with viral symptoms. Francona learned through head trainer Paul Lessard that Drew "was feeling much better" after a day of rest.
"I think it's probably a good idea what we did," Francona said. "Get some meds in him and get him out of here last night."
Pedroia out: Second baseman Dustin Pedroia sat out on Wednesday night in favor of the left-handed Alex Cora. The Red Sox had planned the move several days in advance because Oakland starter Chad Gaudin has been stingy in his career against right-handers, never more than this season.
Gaudin, a 34th-round draft pick in 2001, has held righties to a .154 average in 15 1/3 innings while striking out 19.
Pedroia, for his part, continues to languish under the Mendoza line despite hitting the ball harder of late. Athletics third baseman Eric Chavez snared a rocket off Pedroia's bat on Tuesday night.
"[If] that ball skips by him, Pedroia certainly feels better about himself," Francona said. "But you know what, though, that's part of playing in this league."
On the farm: Red Sox über-prospects Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden continued to dominate Minor League hitters, combining on 18 strikeouts and no walks in 13 shutout innings on Tuesday night. Buchholz threw six perfect innings for Double-A Portland before finishing with a one-hit, seven-inning, nine-strikeout start. Bowden fanned nine while giving up five hits in six innings for Class A Lancaster.
Assistant general manager Jed Hoyer was in Portland watching Buchholz pitch and wasted no time relaying his thoughts to his manager.
"Said he was phenomenal," Francona said.
On deck: Matsuzaka will get his rematch against the Seattle Mariners in Thursday's makeup of an April 12 postponement. Matsuzaka threw a quality start against Seattle on April 10, getting the better of countryman Ichiro Suzuki in five at-bats and allowing three runs in seven innings. Fortunately for the Red Sox, Mariners starter Felix Hernandez, who bested Matsuzaka with a one-hitter that night, remains on the disabled list with a forearm strain. Horacio Ramirez will get the call for Seattle at Fenway Park at 7:05 p.m. ET.
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.