BOSTON -- Matt Albers was looking like the missing piece to the puzzle in the first half of the 2011 season, working admirably out of the bullpen and eventually earning the seventh-inning role, a job that was supposed to be held by Bobby Jenks.
Albers struck out 34 batters over 35 1/3 innings with a 2.55 ERA in the first half, but something's been off since.
His strikeout numbers are still there, and so is his velocity, which touched 96 mph in Friday's 10-0 loss to the Rangers. But Albers allowed three runs in an inning of work, serving up his fourth homer since the All-Star break and raising his second half ERA to 8.41.
"He's just had a bad, tough time," manager Terry Francona said. "There's been times he's been behind in the count and paid the price, and there's times he's made mistakes over the middle of the plate. When he's good, he's working ahead and allowing that two-seamer to come through the zone with some life, the occasional breaking ball. Right now, it's elevated a little bit -- and it's getting hit."
Albers has allowed at least one run in eight of his last 12 appearances, as he's seen his role change from a late-inning setup man to a blow-out mop-up guy.
"Physically, he's fine," Francona said. "Sometimes, for whatever reason, you go through ruts or things don't go well. ... If you look up at the end of the year and his ERA is a little higher because he had that one stretch, that doesn't necessarily mean he can't be that guy again that he's been for most of the year."
Cutter paying big dividends for Bowden
BOSTON -- Michael Bowden has had his share of chances with the Red Sox over the past few seasons, but Major League batters had knocked him around at a .323 clip or better each year.
Bowden had enough of that after the 2010 season. He ditched the curveball this year and added a cutter, a pitch he learned in winter ball and has yet to perfect. But the right-hander, who relies heavily on a mid-90s fastball with little movement, wasn't getting it done in the big leagues, despite having continued success with Triple-A Pawtucket.
The cutter -- which he throws the same way as the fastball, simply turning his grip a little bit -- has given the 24-year-old much more success. He struck out a career-high five batters over 2 2/3 innings in Friday night's 10-0 loss to the Rangers, lowering his ERA to 2.31 in 11 2/3 innings with the Red Sox this season.
"His velocity is starting to creep up there more a little more consistently," said manager Terry Francona.
Bowden's fastball has averaged 92.6 mph this season, the highest of his career.
"He's an interesting guy," said Francona. "He's a guy that's come through the Minor Leagues with pretty stellar numbers at times. For various reasons, he hasn't gotten the shot maybe he would have with other teams. But he's an interesting guy."
Now a full-time reliever after splitting time between the rotation and bullpen the last few years, Bowden lit up Triple-A hitters this season, posting 10.4 strikeouts/nine innings, the highest since his first season of rookie ball in 2005. He held righties in Triple-A to a .121 batting average (15-for-124).
"It's not something I try to do," Bowden said about his increase in strikeouts. "It's nice when it happens. I think that goes along with just throwing the ball more confidently. I have confidence in all my pitches in any count, where in the past, I didn't really do that."
Bowden has always felt he could get Major League hitters out.
"It was just a matter of being able to show that over a period of time," he said. "I feel like I'm a lot different this year. Once you're up here a little while, you start getting more and more comfortable, so you start going out there with a better, more comfortable approach and just pitch your game."
Scutaro gets second straight day off
BOSTON -- Marco Scutaro got his second consecutive day of rest Saturday, despite the right-handed Colby Lewis taking the mound for the Rangers.
While Jed Lowrie has continued to pound left-handed pitching this season with a .347 average, he's struggled mightily against righties, hitting .216 over 171 at-bats. Scutaro has hit righties at a .273 clip, but manager Terry Francona thought the 35-year-old shortstop needed another day off.
"Two days will really be good for him," said Francona, who will give Scutaro the starting nod Sunday. "He's a little beat up. When you try to look at things in advance, when he does have a tough time with somebody, it's a good time to do it."
Scutaro is just 1-for-14 lifetime vs. Lewis.
Lowrie had been playing mostly third base over the past couple of weeks, taking the place of Kevin Youkilis, who was on the 15-day disabled list with an injured back. Lowrie returned to shortstop when Youkilis was activated Friday night and couldn't handle a fairly routine grounder early in the game, though he was not charged with an error.
Scutaro has hit .280 since the All-Star break, while Lowrie has hit .250, lowering his season average to .265. But Francona wants to be sure Scutaro remains healthy down the stretch.
"He always makes himself hold up," Francona said of Scutaro. "He'll play. I just think it's our responsibility, also, to try to pick and choose -- even when they may not want to hear it -- and keep our guys healthy so they can be more productive."
Lowrie exits with left shoulder tightness
BOSTON -- Jed Lowrie was removed in the fourth inning of Saturday's 12-7 win over the Rangers due to left shoulder tightness and will likely be held out of Sunday's series finale, manager Terry Francona said.
Lowrie had started the game at shortstop, despite the right-handed Colby Lewis on the mound, and went for 1-for-2 with an RBI single before his departure. He was replaced in the bottom of the fourth by Mike Aviles, who roped an RBI single during Boston's eight-run outburst and finished the day 2-for-3.
"Jed's just stiff," said Francona. "I think probably from a little bit of fatigue. He's played a lot. He just grabbed me on the way up. I don't think we'll play him tomorrow, but he'll certainly be available, so we're OK there. That might be me overreacting a little bit. [I] just don't want to lose guys."
Lowrie missed nearly two months earlier this year with a left shoulder strain. The 27-year-old has yet to accumulate more than 300 at-bats in a season with the Red Sox.
Jason Mastrodonato is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.