The Red Sox start their third consecutive replacement Thursday afternoon when Justin Masterson makes his major-league debut in the three-game series finale against the Angels.
Daisuke Matsuzaka was a late scratch due to flu-like symptoms from Wednesday’s 6-4 Red Sox loss, forcing Jon Lester to start on short rest. Ace Josh Beckett, who has also been bothered by the flu, missed Tuesday night’s series opener and was replaced by minor-league call-up David Pauley in a game Boston rallied to win 7-6.
Along with Matsuzaka and Beckett, Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek and pitchers Manny Delcarmen and Clay Buchholz have all been affected by the flu bug. Making matters more difficult, third baseman Kevin Youkilis missed Wednesday night’s game due to a lower back injury.
“We’ll just continue to plug away,” manager Terry Francona said. “Doctors are doing what they can. Everybody’s trying to heed the best advice and also win a game at the same time and field a team.”
Despite the injuries and ailments, Boston (15-8) owns the AL’s best record and had won six straight games prior to Wednesday.
Hopes are high for the 23-year-old Masterson, whom the Red Sox selected in the second round of the 2006 draft. The 6-foot-6 right-hander was 1-0 with an 0.95 ERA in four starts at Double-A Portland.
“He’s one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet and I think his future is very bright,” Francona said.
The Los Angeles (13-9) outfield led the way Wednesday, combining for eight hits, four RBIs and three runs scored. Gary Matthews Jr. hit a pair of solo home runs, Torii Hunter went 4-for-5 with a double and an RBI to raise his average to .333, and Vladimir Guerrero chipped in two singles and a pair of runs.
“It’s good to see the home runs tonight, but we’re definitely not going to sit back and just rely on batter’s box offense,” Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said. “Against good pitching, you might not get those mistakes and you might not get the chance to drive the ball.”
First baseman Casey Kotchman added a solo homer Wednesday, increasing his season total to six - five fewer than the 11 he managed in 2007, his first full major league season.
“The biggest difference is the younger guys have a year of experience,” Matthews said. “As they gain experience, they get to know the pitchers better.”
The Angels, seeking their fifth win in seven games, will send left-hander Joe Saunders (3-0, 2.15) to the mound. Saunders had only 15 major-league wins prior to this season but has been a revelation in 2008, limiting opponents to a .196 batting average while pitching eight innings in three of his four starts.
His longest outing in 14 starts last season was 7 2-3 innings.
Saunders gave up a season-high four runs over eight innings last Friday against Seattle, but earned a 5-4 win.
He is 2-0 with a 2.41 ERA in three career starts versus the Red Sox, including a pair of wins last August.