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Twin bill on tap for Red Sox

Twin bill on tap for Red Sox

In a perfect world, Daisuke Matsuzaka would have spent Friday night's game in the dugout observing the tendency of the Braves' hitters in preparation for his start on Saturday. But when rain is involved, things are seldom perfect.

The postponement meant that Matsuzaka is now pitching the opener of this three-game series, which will kick off with a day-night doubleheader on Saturday.

Red Sox Nation is gearing up for another Matsuzaka outing after his masterpiece against the Tigers on Friday. In that one, the right-hander went the distance, allowing six hits and a run while issuing no walks and striking out five.

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This will be Matsuzaka's entry into the world of Interleague Play.

After steamrolling over American League opponents for the better part of the last six weeks, the Red Sox, who own the best record in Major League Baseball, will now try their luck against a National League foe.

J.D. Drew, who returns to the lineup for Saturday's opener, knows all about the winning machine that resides in Atlanta. Drew played for the Braves in 2004.

"I think a lot of it has to be credited to Bobby Cox," said Drew. "He's a great players' manager. To be completely honest with you, you feel bad when you lose when you play for Bobby. You lose a game and you feel like you let Bobby down, because he pulls for you so hard. He always does a good job with their pitching staff. They have some great players in Andruw [Jones] and Chipper [Jones] who have been mainstays and that's put them where they've been."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona used to see way too much of the Braves when he managed the Phillies.

"They've been so good for so long," said Francona. "They've got a lot of good people making good decisions. They're a different team, but they can still play."

In the nightcap, Devern Hansack will step in for the injured Josh Beckett (avulsion on right middle finger) and make his first start of the season. John Smoltz counters for Atlanta.

The last time Hansack started a game at Fenway Park was Oct. 1, 2006, and it was memorable. Pitching in the regular-season finale against the Orioles, the righty out of Nicaragua pitched five innings of no-hit ball in a game that ended at that point because of rain.

Sox catcher Jason Varitek, who went to Georgia Tech and spends his offseasons in the Atlanta area, knows full well the kind of tradition the Braves have built.

"They're another very good team that we're getting ready to play," Varitek said. "I've got to get through my homework and get that done to really get ready for them."

However, the Braves aren't the strangers to the Red Sox that a lot of NL teams are. With the exception of 2003, the teams have squared off in each year of Interleague Play.

"We have played them quite a bit over the years," said Varitek. "It's almost like playing some of the [AL] Central teams. We play them usually six times a year. It gives us something to be familiar with."

The Red Sox were dominant in Interleague Play last year, reeling off 16 victories in 18 games.

Pitching matchup
Game 1
BOS: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (4-2, 4.17 ERA)
Well, Red Sox fans may finally know what they've got with Matsuzaka, Boston's prized free-agent acquisition of the offseason. The answer might surprise: He's more BMW than Corvette -- a model of efficiency and a strike-throwing machine. That is, if things continue to work out. In his past two starts, Matsuzaka has thrown 16 innings, allowing just two runs, 11 hits and three walks.

ATL: RHP Anthony Lerew (0-1, 6.52 ERA)
Lerew threw 38 of his 74 pitches for strikes and allowed five earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings against the Pirates on Sunday afternoon. The easily excitable right-hander will have to handle his emotions while pitching in front of a packed house at Fenway Park. His first Major League start came last Tuesday, when he limited the Padres to two runs over six innings. If he's able to consistently get ahead in the count, his sinker can be a valuable weapon.

Game 2
BOS: RHP Devern Hansack (0-1, 13.50 ERA)
The right-hander impressed the Red Sox in two late-season starts last year, going 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA. He's pitched just once for the Red Sox this season, and it came in relief. Hansack is 1-4 with a 3.89 ERA in four starts at Pawtucket.

ATL: RHP John Smoltz (5-2, 3.19 ERA)
Smoltz suffered a dislocated right pinky finger in Monday night's loss to the Nationals. But he still hopes to make Saturday's start against a Red Sox team that he's found success against in the past. In nine career appearances against them, he's worked 24 2/3 innings and allowed just three earned runs. Each of those were accounted for last year, when he provided a strong seven-inning effort against them. Before Monday's loss, he had won four straight decisions and three straight starts.

Player to watch
Varitek is hitting .385 (15-for-39) in his last 11 games.

Interleague by the numbers
All-time club record in Interleague Play: 94-80
All-time record vs. Braves: 16-23

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WRKO-680 AM, Spanish Baseball Network (Español)

Up next
• Sunday: Braves (Tim Hudson, 5-1, 1.77) vs. Red Sox (TBA), 2:05 p.m. ET
• Monday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 4-4, 2.41) at Yankees (Mike Mussina, 2-2, 5.64), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Tuesday: Red Sox (Julian Tavarez, 2-4, 5.59) at Yankees (Chien-Ming Wang, 2-3, 4.54), 7:05 p.m. ET

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

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