Valentine shuffles lineup; Middlebrooks sits
BOSTON -- Ever since Jacoby Ellsbury went down in early April, Mike Aviles has slid seamlessly into the leadoff spot for the Red Sox and drawn positive reviews, hitting .278 with a .321 on-base percentage. The Red Sox have been third in the Majors with 102 runs scored since Aviles took over.
But that hasn't stopped manager Bobby Valentine from shuffling his lineup here and there, and it was no different on Saturday afternoon vs. the Orioles.
Valentine had originally sketched a lineup with Ryan Sweeney (.360 average, .395 OBP) hitting out of the leadoff spot and Aviles back to No. 5, where his power could be more utilized. But third baseman Will Middlebrooks was a late scratch with left hamstring tightness (Middlebrooks said he feels fine) and Valentine again opted to change the lineup, giving Nick Punto (.174 average, .333 OBP) the leadoff position.
Valentine originally said Sweeney made sense at the top of the order because "he'll work the count and get on base. It's not much different than the No. 2 spot. It's one away." Sweeney has a career .345 OBP and, though he doesn't have the speed of a typical leadoff hitter, could be a good fit with his patient approach at the plate.
Instead, Saturday's 8-2 loss to the Orioles marked the second game this season Punto has hit No. 1, having gone 3-for-6 the first time around. He saw nine pitches from O's starter Jason Hammel during his first at-bat before striking out swinging. Punto finished 0-for-4.
"I just wanted to do that," Valentine said after the game about batting Punto leadoff. "I thought maybe he could spark us at the top of the lineup. I was hoping. He had a big, long at-bat leading off the game. I thought we'd get a lot of him."
Young fan hit by flying bat at Fenway Park
BOSTON -- A child was hit by a bat during Saturday's 8-2 loss to the Orioles and eventually taken to Children's Hospital Boston, according to Fenway Park medical personnel.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Nick Punto chased a high-and-away fastball from Orioles starter Jason Hammel and lost control of his bat, which flew into the stands near the Red Sox dugout and appeared to strike a young boy. Punto appeared concerned and walked over toward the dugout, repeatedly looking into the crowd, before finishing the at-bat. Hammel also displayed visible concern as the young fan was tended to.
The First Aid team could not provide any additional information, and a Red Sox official did not respond to an interview request by phone.
Valentine not buying Fenway struggles
BOSTON -- After the Red Sox couldn't hang on to three different leads against the Orioles on Friday night, eventually losing, 6-4, in 13 innings, their record at Fenway Park this season fell to 4-8.
They've lost a series, 2-1, to the Oakland A's, were swept in three games by the Texas Rangers and lost both games of a rain-shortened series against the Yankees, blowing a 9-0 lead to the Bronx Bombers during one of the losses. The only series the Sox won at home was a three-game sweep of the Rays in April.
But manager Bobby Valentine believes his team is actually playing quite well in its home park, despite the won-loss record.
"We have played well, we just haven't won the games," said Valentine. "I thought yesterday was a good game. We had a couple leads, came back, pitched well in the bullpen for lots of innings -- that's a pretty good game. [We] just didn't get the bloop or ground ball that eluded their infielders. And they cleared a ground ball that eluded ours."
In the American League, the Red Sox rank second in home batting average (.279) and on-base percentage (.344), while leading the league in slugging (.487). But their team ERA of 6.11 is worse than every team in the Majors at home, even the Rockies (5.35), who play their home games at the homer-friendly Coors Field.
Starters Felix Doubront (6.00 ERA), Clay Buchholz (7.32) and Jon Lester (11.25) have particularly struggled at Fenway this year, allowing a combined total of 11 home runs in 42 2/3 innings. But Valentine said he isn't concerned.
"You have to look at the little victories when you play well," he said. "What are you going to do, discount the little things that went well and say, 'Oh well, we lost, so all the good things don't count?'
"I think a lot of good things happened, and guys have to not lose sight of that. Just keep doing the good things."
The Red Sox entered Saturday's game in fifth place in the AL East, seven games behind the division-leading Rays, marking the furthest behind the Sox have been all year.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, recovering from Tommy John surgery, is still on schedule to make his third rehab start on Monday night for Triple-A Pawtucket. He's 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA and 10 strikeouts in his two rehab starts thus far.
Valentine said Alfredo Aceves, who threw 2 2/3 innings (38 pitches) of scoreless ball with six strikeouts Friday, would likely be available for Saturday's game if he was needed.
Valentine said he talked to injured left fielder Carl Crawford on Friday, and Crawford said he was feeling good. "It's just a little thickness in his elbow," Valentine said. "As soon as that thickness goes away ... he'll be ready for baseball activities."
Kevin Youkilis (back tightness) had an MRI, but as of Saturday morning, the Red Sox had not gotten the results. Valentine isn't yet sure if Youkilis or Crawford will travel with the team to Kansas City for a three-game series that starts on Monday.
Jason Mastrodonato is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.