PHILADELPHIA -- Julio Lugo stood in front of his locker in the visitors' clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park talking less about the four hits he just collected, and more about what it might mean to his existence on the Red Sox.
Lugo might not be the starting shortstop, but Saturday night he sure acted like it.
"I haven't adjusted," he said following the Red Sox' 11-6 win over the Phillies. "I don't adjust to being on the bench. I just want to be ready for when he plays me. That's the only thing I can do."
Starting for the first time since June 5, Lugo was ready.
Coming off Friday night's pinch-hitting performance in which he ripped a single for his first hit this month, Lugo came out of the gate in the first inning and plated two runs in the Sox' five-run fifth with a single that skipped past Philadelphia center fielder Shane Victorino, allowing the shortstop to end up at third.
By the time his night was over Lugo had notched four hits in five trips to the plate, raising his average to .295 and increasing his value in the process -- whether it be for the Red Sox or a potential trade partner.
He might not like it, but Lugo knows what is going on in regards to his place on this team, a reality he recently discussed with Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.
"We talked, nothing happened," said Lugo, who has also had recent meetings with Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Everything is still the same. I'm here.
"We didn't talk about anything in particular. He just wanted to see how I was doing and how things were going."
Yet, even with the four-hit night, the shortstop pecking order most likely isn't changing, with Nick Green still playing well enough to warrant the regular spot atop the position's rotation.
"It hasn't been probably the best week for him," said Francona, who has given Lugo three starts in the past two weeks. "We've had a couple of conversations. Theo has actually talked to him. He's handled himself very professionally. He got in here last night, hits a ball, a liner. Plays tonight. Gives us a ton of offense. And again, that's the idea. Whoever we play, we want to win. We've tried to strike a balance we put our best team out there and sometimes that balance isn't every other day. We'll just continue to do what we think is right."
Knowing the situation, and having talked with the Red Sox' decision-makers, does Lugo think he'll be with this team much longer?
"You're asking the wrong guy," he said. "I'm going to think about the Red Sox right now while I'm here. If something else happens, then I'll think about it. There's nothing else I can do. I just want to play and not worry about other things.
"I feel good. I feel ready. The whole year I feel good. I've been working on my swing. I feel good. I feel good at the plate. I feel strong. I'm not going to let that go. I'm just going to stay with my game."
But, because he feels his surgically-repaired knee is "100 percent", and there is a confidence that believes nights like Saturday could be close to the norm, the frustration isn't going anywhere for Lugo.
"It's very tough," he admitted. "For me, it's very tough. I want to come to the field and play. For me it's very tough."
DAISUKE STILL SEARCHING
The 1-hour, 35-minute rain delay didn't help. But after Daisuke Matsuzaka spent a good amount of the post-game sitting and staring straight into his locker, the Sox starter knew his performance could be blamed on much more than having to come back out following the weather-induced break.
"I don't want to blame it on the rain," Matsuzaka said through translator Masa Hoshino.
Fair enough. But if not that, then what?
Matsuzaka finished his four-inning outing, giving up four runs on six hits while throwing 91 pitches. After being staked to a five-run lead after the first inning (which was the only frame played before the delay), Matsuzaka ran into trouble as Philly scored once in the third inning and three times in the fourth thanks to home runs from Raul Ibanez and Pedro Feliz.
The Sox starter wouldn't get a chance for the win, as Francona chose to pinch-hit David Ortiz for the pitcher with the Sox clinging to a one-run lead in the fifth.
"Daisuke had to sit around an hour and 40 minutes, that was difficult," Francona noted. "He went down and played catch to stay loose. Because of that, I really wanted to stay with him for as long as we could, but in good conscience, I couldn't send him bak out there when we have a pitcher's spot and he's at 91. I couldn't do that. I wanted to, I couldn't do that.
With the constant analysis of each start coming under heavy scrutiny because of the impending presence of John Smoltz in the rotation, it would seem the Red Sox would like to base their plan for pitching around Matsuzaka's latest outing. But because of the particulars, that was a difficult task.
"It's a horrible night to get a read," Francona said. "Their guy (Antonio Bastardo) didn't even go back. It's one of those nights where he gave us a lot. He was up later and he paid for some mistakes, but I don't know how. That's a tough night to pitch."
Matsuzaka wasn't as optimistic.
"It would be a lie to say that I'm completely stress-free, but I also know that I have to be patient," said Matsuzaka, who carries a 7.55 ERA. "At the same time, patience alone isn't going to get me out and do whatever I can to make some changes and get out of it."
Since returning from the disabled list on May 22, Matsuzaka hasn't seen the jump in performance the team had hoped for. In five starts his ERA stands at 6.20, with opponents hitting .352 against him.
Whatever the reason -- Japanese pitcher third-season jinx, World Baseball Classic, opponent's adjustments -- this isn't nearly the same pitcher that finished fourth in Cy Young voting a year ago.
"I feel fine," Matsuzaka said. "I don't have any problems with the shoulder or elbow and I think that makes it all the more irritating for me right now and I'd say that's where my stress is coming from right now, even though I feel good."
COULD SMOLTZ BE THE CAVALRY?
After turning in another successful rehab outing, Friday night, John Smoltz showed up at Citizens Bank Park to meet with Francona and pitching coach John Farrell to discover what his next step would be.
After a lengthy discussion it was determined that Smoltz would still have to wait a little while longer to see exactly when his first start with the Red Sox would be, with the only certainty being that the 42-year-old will make his next start Thursday — either for the Pawtucket Red Sox or Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox take on the Florida Marlins at Fenway Park Thursday, while the PawSox are home that day against Charlotte. Smoltz’ 30-day minor league rehab stint runs out Friday.
The Red Sox did announce that Tim Wakefield will pitch Tuesday, with Brad Penny going Wednesday, both going against the Marlins at Fenway Park. Following that series against the Marlins, which ends Thursday, the Red Sox take on the Atlanta Braves for a weekend series. Smoltz has said he would prefer that his first start didn’t come against his old team, the Braves.
“We’re going to leave those options open for the next week and see what happens. There’s a lot of off days. I’m tickled to death to be at this point versus struggling having to figure out when I was going to return. When I return is irrelevant to me because I know I’m on the cusp of throwing the way I felt like I could throw when I had surgery.
“Everybody is on the same page. I just met with Terry and John. Again, when I signed with Boston in the offseason the reality of me coming back was up in the air. Then the reality of five guys dealing, which makes this whole process a whole lot easier. I’m the type of guy who wants to contribute really bad, but I also know I want to be at the right time and the right place and the stretch drive is so important to me I can’t do anything to mess that up for me personally. To get up here and throw a game is not good enough. The timing of it, when it happens is really irrelevant. That’s how good I feel about the process. So you’re looking at a stretch run now of a bunch of off days, a bunch of options, some things yet to be determined. It could very well be another start in Pawtucket, or it could be another start here. Either way I’m preparing to start Thursday somewhere.”
On a side note, Smoltz said he threw out the option of pitching out of the bullpen, but the Red Sox pushed back on the idea. He also said that when he does start preparing for major league starts the only video he will watch is that of Josh Beckett’s outings.
More from Smoltz…
“I’m so confident with what they’ve got going on for me. I’m fine with what decision comes about. It’s really an ongoing plan. It could change tomorrow, it could change two days from now.”
“I’m very upbeat. You’ve got to understand is that when I’m pitching in the middle of the season I still think I can do better each time out. There are still things I want to grind out, still things I want to do better."
“(The Red Sox) just in a rare, unique and great position, and I’m in a unique and great position. The way I’ve approached this and the way they’ve explained it to me has been so clear I don’t have any qualms about anything, and that has made it really, really easy for me.”
“I don’t think I can say I’m fully back. I don’t think ‘fully back’ will ever be something I ever say because that would just be wishful thinking. I think the fact that I’m commanding the baseball is more important to me than any radar gun or even really the results that come out because I know that if you command the baseball you command the game.”
PENNY ISN'T BACKING DOWN
Speaking after the Red Sox' win, Brad Penny addressed Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi’s assertion Friday that he threw at Alex Rodriguez on purpose in the Sox’ win over New York, Thursday.
“Why is he bringing it up a day later? Why not talk about it Thursday?” Penny said. “The game’s over with. I think he’s just frustrated that we have a good team and a good lineup. It’s not like this (season's) over. It’s far from over.”
Regarding the pitch that hit A-Rod, Penny responded, “I don’t care what [Giardi] thinks. I didn’t hit him intentionally. I’m just pitching. We don’t go back and say they hit us intentionally. We’ve got games to worry about, not that (stuff). I don’t give a (care) what he says. He needs to worry about managing and let the league and the umpires take care of their job and he an take care of his.”
The Sox starter said, unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox haven’t filed complaints to the league when similar situations have come up involving their hitters. “And they called the commissioner’s office. Come on. Let’s play baseball. What’s over’s over. It wasn’t intentional. Let’s move forward.”
Girardi had addressed the situation before his team's game Friday, telling reporters, "Penny's control was pretty good. I thought it was on purpose. That's all part of baseball, I guess."
JACOBY ELLSBURY MIGHT HAVE HAD THE BEST-ROUNDED GAME OF HIS CAREER
It would be difficult to find fault with the night that Jacoby Ellsbury had the plate. In fact, it is far easier to identify the areas of excellence in both his performance and Saturday and this month.
Ellsbury, starting (over the white-hot J.D. Drew) in spite of the fact that left-hander Antonio Bastardo was on the hill, did a little of everything. He started the first Sox rally by drawing a walk -- his first of a career-high-tying three on the night -- stealing second and racing to third on a throwing error by catcher Carlos Ruiz. He collected two hits, including his second homer of the year (and first off a left-hander, former Sox teammate J.C. Romero).
Ellsbury set a career high by reaching base five times in a game. He is now amidst his best stretch of the year, better even than he was at any point during the 22-game hitting streak. In nine games starting May 31, when he was taken out of the leadoff spot, Ellsbury is 12-for-33 (.364) with a .475 OBP. And the homer he hit last night was one more than he hit during all of his run in May.