Lineup tweaks likely vs. Wakefield
Rays beat knuckleballer in 2008 using right-handed-heavy order
BOSTON -- Tim Wakefield will start Game 4 of the American League Championship Series for the Red Sox. In the past, a victory would have been a mortal lock for the Red Sox, but not so much any more.
The Red Sox knuckleballer has 19 career wins against the Rays, none of which has come this season. In three 2008 starts against the Rays, he is 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA. The Rays did particularly well the last time they faced him on Sept. 17 at Tropicana Field, when they touched him for six runs in 2 1/3 innings.
Of note in that game, Rays switch-hitters Dioner Navarro, Willy Aybar and Fernando Perez hit right-handed against the right-handed Wakefield. Aybar and Perez each homered.
Given the Rays' success in that last contest, Rays manager Joe Maddon said he had a lot to review in regard to matchups against Wakefield. So it's likely the lineup might not be reflective of the normal Rays lineup against right-handed starters.
"I'm debating that," Maddon said. "I've got to review all the numbers against him with our guys in general. I know some of our switch-hitters have done well hitting right-handed against him also. And we would not walk away from that. If I feel good about that, you might see that, too."
So it's likely Cliff Floyd will not be used at DH. Aybar will probably DH, and Perez could be the starter in right rather than Gabe Gross.
Aybar said he feels good hitting right-handed against Wakefield and would be up to the task if inserted in the lineup for Game 4. Perez said he felt more comfortable hitting right-handed against Wakefield because he is a natural right-handed hitter and with all of the late movement of the knuckleball, he has a better chance of making contact from his natural side of the plate.
Another check in Perez's favor when considering whether he should start in Game 4 is the speed factor. Perez is either the fastest player on the team or the second-fastest behind Carl Crawford. The chances of stealing bases against knuckleball pitchers are always better due to the reduced speed of the pitch and the difficulty the catcher has of making a clean catch of the unpredictable pitch.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.