Notes: Offense in a groove
Several players in lineup are on pace to better '06 statistics
BOSTON -- It's well known by now that the Red Sox ownership change of 2002-03 ushered in new management, embodied by general manager Theo Epstein, that favored statistical analysis as a management tool.
Followers of the new approach downplayed strikeouts as a detriment to the offensive game. The Red Sox teams of 2004-06 all finished among the top five in the American League in strikeouts and, with the exception of last season, scored the league's most runs.
My, how things have changed. The first-place Red Sox, who entered Friday night's game against the Orioles as the Majors' third-best run-scoring team, have struck out 190 times in 2007. Only five teams -- the Dodgers, Twins, Angels, Cardinals and Mariners -- have struck out fewer.
"It shows an ability to make adjustments, to me, which is always good," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
One of the men leading the charge is red-hot second baseman Dustin Pedroia. The Red Sox rookie scuffled through the month of April with a .182 average, but he has caught fire with a 10-for-20 streak since May 1.
Through it all, Pedroia has put the bat on the ball, striking out only seven times in 75 at-bats while walking 12 times. His healthy .368 on-base percentage is reminiscent of another former Red Sox second baseman, Mark Bellhorn.
Unlike Pedroia, Bellhorn struck out. He struck out so many times in 2005 -- 109 times in 283 at-bats -- that had he stayed in the lineup for a full, 600-at-bat season, he likely would have challenged the 195-strikeout single-season record set by Cincinnati's Adam Dunn the year before.
Yes, things have changed in 2007. First baseman Kevin Youkilis, who struck out 120 times last season, is currently on a full-season pace for 83 strikeouts. Third baseman Mike Lowell has nearly homered as many times (seven) as he has struck out (eight).
"I think [new hitting coach Mike Magadan] has worked hard with guys on approach," Francona said. "Taking what they give you -- things like that. And being prepared."
"When you have an idea how guys are going to attack you," he added, "I think that helps."
Hansack to Minors: Right-hander Devern Hansack was optioned back to Triple-A before Friday's game and was replaced on the active 25-man roster by left-hander Javy Lopez.
The goal, Francona said, was to get Hansack more opportunities to throw. The 29-year-old Nicaraguan will start on Saturday against Toledo.
"We were just a little concerned that because of the way our staff has thrown the ball, there weren't the innings there that could've been there," said Francona. "And we've got a chance to maybe do him more harm than good by having him sit around."
The Red Sox want to leave open the possibility that Hansack can enter the starting rotation later in the season.
"If he goes and starts, he can do either when he's recalled," Francona said. "If he just sits, then he can only do one thing, and that's not good."
Pena to play: Francona inserted outfielder Wily Mo Pena into the lineup to face Baltimore rookie left-hander Brian Burres on Friday night. Right-fielder J.D. Drew got the day off.
The last time Pena faced Orioles pitching, on April 26, he hit a clutch eighth-inning grand slam off Baltimore closer Chris Ray, solidifying Boston starter Josh Beckett's fifth win of the season.
Pena has only 37 at-bats so far this season.
"I think when you look up again, he's going to have a significant amount of at-bats," Francona said. "It may not be consistent like every two days or three days. Maybe a week in a row when somebody's nicked up a little bit. That's probably the way it goes. But he'll get a lot of at-bats."
Lowell's power surge: A day after Lowell hit his seventh home run of the season, tying him with four players for sixth in the American League, Francona said he noticed a difference between his third baseman's hot starts in 2006 and this year.
"I do think the ball is coming off his bat better," Francona said. "I mean, he hit a ball last night, breaking ball down. He stayed through it. That pitch is just asking to be hit to shortstop for a double play. And he stayed through it so well."
On that pitch, Lowell sent a third-inning breaking ball from former Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay over the left-field wall at Toronto's Rogers Centre. Lowell is now batting .303 with 28 RBIs, fifth in the league. At his current pace, he would hit 34 home runs and drive in 137 by the end of the season.
On deck: Curt Schilling will get the call for the Red Sox against Baltimore's Steve Trachsel on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET. On April 25, Schilling held the Orioles to one earned run in seven innings.
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.