Friday, June 5, 2009

Tough start for upbeat Penny

David Ortiz has a Post-It note stuck to the top corner of his locker with, if the label is to be believed, the cell phone number for Pokey Reese. You have to wonder if Brad Penny has the urge to sneak over and dial that number before his next start.

Penny had induced seven ground balls and just two fly balls through four innings on Friday. Not surprisingly, those were four of his most efficient innings of the season.

"His first four innings were as good as we've seen," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He was throwing the ball really, really well."

Said Penny, "My curveball was pretty good, and my fastball had a lot of life to it. I could tell warming up that I had a lot of power. I felt pretty good."

But he allowed an infield single between third base and shortstop to get things going in the fifth inning and a sharp single to right field to put runners at first and second with one out. Two batters later, Elvis Andrus hit a sharp ground ball under the hurdling Marlon Byrd and somehow through the glove of Julio Lugo into left field to score the first run of the game.

One reporter asked Penny if he was frustrated with Lugo for not fielding that particular ground ball. Penny, though, heaped the blame on himself, pointing out that he'd allowed an 0-2 count to turn into a 3-2 count and thus forced himself to groove a pitch to Andrus.

"No, no, no -- that had nothing to do with Julio," he said. "That was me. I left the ball up to a guy I think I should get out."

And that's when things started to get away.

"I sped the game up instead of slowing it down," he said. "I got ahead of myself and started thinking about not one pitch at a time, but the second or third pitch I was going to throw."

He missed twice to Ian Kinsler and came back with a fastball directed toward the outer half of the plate. Instead, it tailed back over the middle of the plate -- and Kinsler hammered it over the Green Monster for a three-run home run.

An inning later, Penny walked the first hitter on four pitches and saw Nelson Cruz hit a pitch on the screws -- though straight at Jason Bay in left field. When he struck out David Murphy, he was an out away from getting out of the inning unscathed.

But that's when he snapped off a curveball that Marlon Byrd grounded up the middle -- right past the outstretched glove of an almost stationary Lugo.

Six pitches later, Chris Davis hit the ground-rule double that knocked Penny from the game.

(Reliever Daniel Bard then got out of the inning when his second pitch, a 97-mile-an-hour fastball, flew to the backstop but ricocheted straight back to Jason Varitek, whose relay beat Marlon Byrd to the plate. "That's a designed play," Varitek said solemnly after the game, touching his finger to the tip of his nose to demonstrate a signal.)

Penny finished the game having allowed five earned runs in 5 2/3 innings; his ERA climbed back from 5.63 to 5.85. On paper, it wasn't the type of outing prospective suitors would have liked to see.

But save that pitch to Kinsler and despite a couple of ground balls that could have been handled, it wasn't all that bad of an effort.

"When he's good, he can throw the ball downhill with some pretty good momentum," Francona said. "That's what I think we're starting to see more and more of."

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