Notes: Defense leaving its mark

Notes: Defense leaving its mark

BALTIMORE -- Run prevention. It was a buzz phrase around the offices of Yawkey Way all winter, as the front office reconstructed a team that was successful last year, but flawed.

The Red Sox basically slugged their way to 95 wins in 2005, and they were stonewalled down the stretch when the offense wore down. This year, the blueprint changed, and the results, albeit early ones, are encouraging.

Consider Saturday's conquest at Camden Yards.

"This is a good win, this was a great win for us," said Red Sox ace Schilling. "I'd be real curious to see how many games we won last year scoring two runs."

By beating the Orioles, 2-1, in a thriller on Saturday, the Red Sox are now 2-0 in games in which they've scored less than three runs. Consider that a year ago, Boston's record was 3-22 in such games.

"Yeah, that's a testament to our pitching," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "I think that's what's going to matter in the long haul. It builds momentum to win those one-run games."

Defense and pitching seem to feed off each other, and they certainly did Saturday. Manny Ramirez went back to the wall to make a terrific catch in the second inning, stranding two runners and keeping Schilling's performance headed in a positive direction.

"Manny makes a phenomenal play early in the game, Mark [Loretta] makes a great play, those go overlooked when you win the game because people are looking at how you scored your runs and stuff," said Schilling. "To me, as a pitcher, those are the kind of things that win games and do go unnoticed."

They are the type of things that should become noticed more and more as people watch the Sox of '06.

"That's what arguably the best defense in the game and a deep bullpen will do for you, you can win games like that," said Schilling.

Rough debut for Pena: It can take months, if not years, to gauge the success of a trade. But the Red Sox got their first in-depth look at their most recent acquisition on Saturday, when Wily Mo Pena played right field and batted eighth against the Orioles.

It was the first start of the season for Pena, who was acquired for right-hander Bronson Arroyo on March 20.

Pena will surely have better days than this, as he struck out in his only two at-bats, swinging and missing six times at seven pitches.

He is making the transition of learning the American League, which features a whole batch of new pitchers.

"It's not difficult, because everyone is going to throw the same," said Pena. "They're pitchers, I'm a hitter. I just have to look for a good pitch and hit it."

Pena is one of the most intriguing players on the roster. An imposing figure at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Pena can put on a batting practice performance as prodigious as any player in baseball.

But the goal for both Pena and the Red Sox is for him to become an equal force during the nine innings that count. Though he still has plenty of developing to do, Pena has been a dangerous platoon player the last couple of years, clubbing an aggregate 45 homers and 117 RBIs in a span of 647 at-bats for the Reds.

When the Orioles went to right-hander Sendy Rleal in the seventh inning, Francona sent Trot Nixon up to pinch-hit for Pena.

Boomer on tap for Wednesday: Though the results were subpar for David Wells in his Friday night rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket -- seven runs and six hits over five innings -- the left-hander is still on tap to make his '06 debut on Wednesday at Fenway against the Blue Jays.

"He said he was kind of hit and miss," said Francona. "He left some pitches out over the middle of the plate, he threw a couple of cutters in that were good, he threw a couple of breaking balls that were good, a couple that weren't good. I think he was just trying to get his work in. I don't think he was too fired up about the outing. But he got to 90 pitches."

Stern's status: Outfielder Adam Stern is the only position player on the roster not to get a start. Francona conceded that Stern might not get one during his brief stint with the team.

Stern will complete his requirement as a Rule 5 player on April 19, and, at that point, will probably be optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket.

"It's not a lack of respect," Francona said. "We're trying to fulfill our obligation, because we think he has a chance to be a good player. We try to get guys in. It's been pretty well stated, we'd like to keep him in the organization -- everybody knows what the obligation is -- then let him go play."

With speed, a little pop and a strong throwing arm, the Red Sox think that Stern has the potential to develop into a pretty good player. But they also know he needs regular playing time to complete his development.

"I think this kid needs to get 400, 500 at-bats," Francona said. "I don't think anybody knows or can say with certainty what we have. I think there's a wide range of opinions. This kid can be anything [from] an everyday center fielder in the Major Leagues to a reserve outfielder. I think the best chance for him to obtain the everyday status is by going and playing. I'd just like to see him string some at-bats together and stay healthy and play. I'm one of the guys who thinks he's going to be a good player."

Coming up: Tim Wakefield, coming off a rough first start, will try to rebound on Sunday at 1:35 p.m. ET when he faces the Orioles in the finale of this three-game series. Baltimore counters with right-hander Rodrigo Lopez, who has been notoriously tough on the Red Sox the last couple of years.

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.