The season may be too young to jump to conclusions about individual players, but it is not too soon to be reminded that 25 players aren’t enough to propel a team through a 162-game schedule.
In the finale of their six-game road trip, the Red Sox were smoked by the Twins, 8-0. (Recap.) Minnesota left-hander Francisco Liriano was nothing short of dominant in tossing seven innings of four-hit ball, striking out eight.
The Sox, meanwhile, played their worst game of the young season. In the field, they played sloppy defense. At the plate, their hitters struggled to execute their approach (in no small part because of Liriano’s excellence). On the mound, they got hit around the park.
These sorts of games happen, and teams move on.
Of greater significance to the Sox were the roster dynamics that came into play over the course of the day. In one area -- starting pitching -- the Sox came a step closer to dealing with a complicated surplus. In another -- the outfield -- the team is now dealing with an apparent shortage of healthy bodies.
Those two elements lead the way into the Five Things We Learned on Thursday:
-- Wanted: Outfielders
-- Ready for Daisuke?
-- David Ortiz isn’t the only struggling Red Sox
-- Embree opts to stick around
-- Victor Martinez will be under the gun
This spring, Josh Reddick and Jeremy Hermida seemed driven to one-up each other. The two enjoyed tremendous Grapefruit League seasons, with Hermida (.450/.500/.650) getting on base more frequently but hitting for less power than Reddick (.390/.413/.678 with 12 extra-base hits).
Reddick could not help but take stock of the situation.
“From what I’ve seen, we’re very similar — almost too much alike,” Reddick said late in the spring. “The righty [throwing], lefty [hitting] combo, we’re both young and I haven’t seen him walk a whole lot, either. It gives you second thoughts about what your chances are, but you’ve got to push that aside and keep working.”
Yet there is a decent chance that both Hermida and Reddick will see time in the Sox lineup in the coming days. That is because there is a good chance that the Sox will need to summon one outfielder and perhaps two from the minors due to health concerns for Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron.
Ellsbury suffered bruised ribs on Sunday in a collision with third baseman Adrian Beltre. While he initially thought he could return as early as Wednesday before he and the team pronounced a Friday target for his return, that goal appears in jeopardy after Ellsbury found it difficult to take swings off a tee on Thursday.
"I can't really take a deep breath without getting a sharp pain," Ellsbury told reporters. "If I can't breathe right, I don't know if I should be playing.”
Ellsbury will be reassessed in Boston on Friday.
Cameron, meanwhile, was a late scratch on Thursday with lower abdominal pain. Instead of flying back with the team, he went to an area hospital in hopes of ruling out appendicitis.
Cameron’s health scare forced the Sox to realign their outfield, with Jeremy Hermida (scheduled to get the day off against left-handed starter Francisco Liriano) added to the lineup, joining J.D. Drew and Bill Hall.
If either Cameron or Ellsbury is unavailable for the Rays series, the Sox would have little choice but to call up a player from the minors. Should they do so, the job description will be fairly straightforward:
Wanted: Short-term help from healthy outfielder with ability to play center. Left-handed preferred. Presence on 40-man roster desirable.
The only player in the Red Sox system who fits that profile is Reddick, currently in Triple-A Pawtucket. Should the Sox decide to file that help-wanted ad, the only hesitation that the team might have about summoning the 23-year-old is that he is struggling mightily for the PawSox.
Reddick has gotten off to a rough start in the minors this year. His 4-for-29 start (with one walk in 30 plate appearances) led to a day out of the lineup on Thursday for what Pawtucket manager Torey Lovullo told reporters was a “mental break.”
Still, Reddick would appear a better roster fit for the coming four-game set than fellow Pawtucket outfielder Darnell McDonald. McDonald is off to the better start (.393/.433/.750), but comes with a couple drawbacks:
-- McDonald isn’t on the 40-man roster, so the Sox would have to clear a spot for him, creating a risk of losing a player.
-- The Sox will face four straight right-handers for the Rays (Wade Davis, James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann), and would probably prefer to have a left-hander to take at-bats from Hall. Since the start of the 2008 season, Hall has the lowest average (.178) and OBP (.251) in the majors against right-handers (min. 400 at-bats).
-- The Sox consider Reddick a legitimate option to play center. McDonald, meanwhile, has played just eight of his 172 games since the start of 2008 in center. If Ellsbury and Cameron are out, the Sox will want their best defensive center fielder.
Of course, as much as Reddick would appear the better fit, the Sox won’t do anything that could jeopardize the young outfielder’s development. A year ago, he struggled over the final two months of the season while yo-yoing between Triple A and the majors.
If Ellsbury and/or Cameron remain out, the Sox may decide against calling up Reddick. But if they do so, it will be a reflection primarily of the long-term interests of his development, rather than the immediate needs of the club.
Given that choice, the team would clearly prefer to have Ellsbury or Cameron return to health. But even if the team does not have to plumb its minor league ranks as soon as Friday, the sidelining of the two starters serves as the first significant reminder that the Sox’ fortunes will be determined in no small part by their ability to find fill-ins capable of helping the team to stay afloat.
THE ROTATION SITUATION WILL SOON COME TO A HEAD
The Sox have stuck to the party line when asked what they would do when right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka was ready to conclude his rehab assignment and return to the majors.
“These things have a way of working themselves out,” the oft-uttered statement has gone.
Yet the time for self-governing outcomes is running shorter.
Tim Wakefield pitched dodged harm through the first four innings and kept his team in the game even as Liriano was finding his groove. The Sox trailed, 1-0, entering the bottom of the fifth. But the game quickly got away from the knuckleballer, who allowed five more runs while recording just four more outs to see his record drop to 0-1 on the season.
Meanwhile, pitching in his second game with the Pawtucket Red Sox, Daisuke Matsuzaka allowed just three hits and no walks while striking out a pair over six scoreless innings against the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. The 29-year-old, who threw 86 pitches (57 strikes), has now delivered 11 shutout innings on his rehab assignment.
While Red Sox manager Terry Francona suggested at the start of the season that the right-hander would likely need at least three rehab outings, the 29-year-old felt otherwise.
“I think I’ve thrown enough pitches at this point to be ready to pitch in the big leagues,” Matsuzaka told reporters in Buffalo. “When compared to the second time I went on the DL last year, it took me a really long time to have that feeling. You can’t even compare them right now. I’m confident I can pitch in the big leagues.”
Clay Buchholz (1-0, 5.40), meanwhile, will have his second start of the season on Saturday against the Rays, a team that should present an interesting test given the pressure that they normally exert on the bases.
The team still has a little bit of time before it needs to sort out a plan regarding the three hurlers. The team could opt to give Matsuzaka one more rehab start, even though his first two appearances have done little to suggest that he isn't ready for the majors. Even so, before the end of the homestand, the Sox will likely have to define a course of action with their six potential members of the rotation.
DAVID ORTIZ IS NOT ALONE IN HIS EARLY SEASON STRUGGLES
It was a tough draw for J.D. Drew, who probably would not have been in the lineup had Ellsbury been healthy.
Drew often gets the day off against tough lefties. Even though he has a .390 OBP against southpaws since the start of the 2008 season (nearly matching noted lefty-killers such as Jason Bay (.393) and Manny Ramirez (.392)), the Sox anticipated prior to the season that they would be able to have Bill Hall give Drew a rest when the team faced pitchers like Francisco Liriano, whose slider is a nightmare for left-handed hitters.
But with Ellsbury and Cameron out of the lineup, the Sox had to feature all three of their able-bodied outfielders, including Drew. Drew punched out three times in his four plate appearances, his first three-whiff game since last June 27.
Drew is striking out at a staggering rate in the early going, having fanned at least twice in six of his eight starts this year. He is now hitting .143/.226/.250/.476, numbers that are actually slightly worse than those of David Ortiz (.154/.241/.269/.511).
After being held out of the starting lineup on Sunday due to a stiff neck, Drew had a dreadful series against the Twins. He went 0-for-9 with six strikeouts and never hit a ball out of the infield.
EMBREE OPTS TO STICK AROUND
Though reliever Alan Embree had an April 15 opt-out date in the minor league contract he signed with the Red Sox last month, a source familiar with discussions between the sides expects the pitcher to stay with the Sox for “a few more weeks.”
Embree made his third appearance for Triple-A Pawtucket on Thursday, tossing a scoreless inning of relief while getting a pair of flyouts and a groundout.
Embree has tossed shutout innings in three of his four appearances, though he struggled badly while allowing three runs in one-third of an inning in his other outing. In his four appearances, Embree has allowed three runs on two hits and five walks in 3.1 innings while striking out three.
The veteran left-hander has not exhibited dramatic splits over the course of his career, and so the Sox view him as more of a full-inning option should he reach the majors. Certainly, Embree would appear unlikely to displace Scott Schoeneweis as a left-handed specialist in the immediate future.
Though Schoeneweis has allowed two singles and a double in his 11 at-bats against left-handers, he has struck out six of the southpaws he’s faced, including reigning AL MVP Joe Mauer on Thursday. Right-handers, however, have gone 2-for-5 with a homer and double against the 36-year-old.
VICTOR MARTINEZ WILL BE UNDER THE GUN
For the second straight game, the Twins didn’t attempt a steal against the Sox and catcher Victor Martinez. And so, the Sox no longer claim sole ownership over the title of worst team in the majors at stopping stolen bases. The Yankees now have joined Boston in having allowed 12 steals in 13 attempts.
But there would be an excellent chance that the Sox’ break from stolen base threats will soon come to an end. Over the course of their forthcoming four-game set at Fenway, the Rays are almost certain to run early and often.
A year ago, Tampa Bay stole 31 bases (in 35 attempts) against the Sox. Jason Varitek was the most frequent victim of that approach.
Now, it is Martinez who will have primary responsibility for stemming that tide. While Martinez didn’t have any stolen bases, he continued his alarming pattern of firing high and wide of second base, having done so on a ball in the dirt on which the runner (Michael Cuddyer, hardly a burner) advanced.
Of course, part of the responsibility for the stolen base attempts does not belong with Martinez. With opponents reaching base at a formidable .362 clip (13th of 14 AL teams) thus far against Sox pitchers, there have been plenty of opportunities to create havoc.