Forget the platoon.
The Red Sox have been engaged in an outfield timeshare with Carl Crawford on the disabled list. Manager Terry Francona has described it as a mix-and-match approach.
The Sox have fielded left-handed hitters J.D. Drew and Josh Reddick in the outfield corners when facing right-handed pitchers, as they did last Tuesday when facing Mat Latos. Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald have been the options of choice when confronting southpaws, as was the case Monday against Wade LeBlanc.
Of the four corner outfielders who are working their way in and out of the lineup, exactly one has been making an impact. And the time seems right for him to start getting more consistent playing time, at least for the duration of Crawford’s stint on the DL.
Drew, Cameron and McDonald all are struggling offensively. Reddick, meanwhile, is a player with a reputation for being streaky who appears to be amidst his most sustained peak in the big leagues.
The 24-year-old is turning heads on the field, both for the increased maturity of his approach and for his tools. Some talent evaluators suggest that his play merits increased playing time at the expense of the Sox’ other outfield options (including regular right fielder Drew).
Reddick, batting ninth, tripled to deep right and scored the first Sox run in the third inning on Tuesday, and later slammed an RBI double to center field. He also made a diving catch on a ball in and to his right. The effort wasn’t enough to forestall the Sox’ 5-4 loss to the Padres (recap), but it continued Reddick’s case for an expanding role.
“I’ve always felt within myself that I deserve to be here,” Reddick said. “The numbers haven’t really shown it, and that’s pretty much what they go by. So, hopefully this is a sign for me and them that I feel like I belong here. Hopefully they realize that as well, and hopefully they can keep me up here.
“The consistency is a lot better,” Reddick added. “In big situations, like tonight, I feel like I got the dugout going a little bit with the double and the leadoff triple.”
The matter is not necessarily a pressing one for the Red Sox. Even with Tuesday's loss, the Sox are enjoying an exceptional stretch (42-19 since mid-April), and so if the team did not feel compelled to change the mix of its lineup, that would be understandable. Nonetheless, as the Sox work to build the strongest club possible going forward, based on a very small sampling of games this year, Reddick is making his case that he should be a part of it.
The outfielder has made steady contributions when in the lineup. In 25 plate appearances spanning eight games this year, he now has four extra-base hits, seven runs scored and seven runs batted in. He’s hitting .429 with a .480 OBP, .667 slugging mark and 1.147 OPS, numbers that are leaps better than those of his colleagues.
Plate discipline has been an issue throughout Reddick’s career, yet in 2011, he seems to have a better handle on the approach that the Sox expect their young players to have. He has already walked more times this year in Pawtucket (33 times in 231 plate appearances, good for a 14.3 percent rate) than he did all of last year (25 times in 481 plate appearances; 5.2 percent).
Meanwhile, in 25 plate appearances in the majors in 2011, he has as many walks (3) as he had in his 125 combined plate appearances in 2009 and 2010. His improved selectivity has resulted in more consistent results. Reddick is squaring up balls, and his hits come with a soundtrack.
“I think he has matured. I think he's come a long way,” said manager Terry Francona. “He's a little streaky about plate discipline, but it's better than being bad. He's getting better. When he swings at strikes, he's got a little thunder in that bat.”
Reddick produced big power numbers and high averages in spite of his low walk rates early in the minors. However, his free-swinging ways started to catch up to him in Double-A in 2009, and became pronounced in Triple-A.
Now, however, he feels as if he has evolved as a hitter. Though he had a low batting average (.230) in Pawtucket this year, his walks have helped to achieve a .333 OBP, while his 14 homers have fueled a .508 slugging mark and .841 OPS.
“My dad taught me see the ball, hit the ball. You’re a lot better off getting the pitcher out of the game by hitting the ball hard, scoring runs, than you are by seeing pitches and taking walks,” Reddick reflected. “That had been my philosophy up until about the middle of last year. But this year, I’ve really put [discipline] into my game, shown myself that I can do this, and it’s just making my game that much better.
“Me and [teammate Lars Anderson] have talked about it all the time this year. I’m not just the guy going up there and hacking at the first pitch whether it’s a fastball or a curveball just because it’s over the plate,” he added. “This year, I’ve really put [discipline] into my game, shown myself that I can do this, and it’s just making my game that much better.”
Reddick is viewed as an above-average defender capable of playing all three outfield positions. While his power and defense suggest someone who can, at the least, be a good fourth outfielder, Reddick is trying to demonstrate that he can be something more than that, as the end of Drew’s five-year contract with the Sox brings a job opening in right field closer.
Most viewed Reddick as having fallen behind Ryan Kalish on the organization’s depth chart after 2010, when Kalish spent the final two months of the season as an everyday player with the Sox. However, with Kalish sidelined since mid-April first by the partial tear of his labrum and then by a neck strain (Kalish is scheduled to take batting practice on Wednesday to help gauge how close he is to game action), Reddick is trying to capitalize on his big league opportunity to make his case.
“I feel like the job is not anybody’s yet. It’s always up for grabs,” said Reddick. “My argument is, they’ve already got two guys out there who can steal a lot of bases. That’s what Kalish is, a speedy guy.
“Not taking away anything from my speed, but maybe they’re looking for someone who can drive in a little more runs, hit the ball over the fence. In the past, my numbers have been a little cut above in that category than his. I just feel like you don’t need a third guy in the outfield to just steal bases like [Jacoby Ellsbury] and [Carl Crawford] do. That’s kind of been my perspective, and I need to continue to do what I’ve been doing.”
Drew’s contract expires after this season, and at age 35, he’s showing aspects of decline in his game. Cameron, too, is in his last year under contract with the Sox at age 38, and he’s struggled to produce consistent results while transitioning to a part-time role. McDonald, 32, has found it difficult to make an impact while playing infrequently.
Reddick, however, is offering signs that he may be ready (or at least close to ready) for a more sustained trial in the big leagues – whether as a role player, or even eating into some of Drew’s time as a regular. Whereas his teammates must fight the effects of Father Time, Reddick (based on his age) should be on the upswing of his career.
He has found a routine, he suggests, to permit him to remain sharp when he plays. He prepares for games in the same fashion everyday, regardless of whether he is in the lineup. To date, the process has yielded promising results.
While the stretch is insufficient to draw sweeping conclusions about Reddick’s future, the Sox can use Crawford’s recovery from injury to get a better handle on what they have in the 24-year-old outfielder. And if he does not fit into their plans, then the trial can also serve as an opportunity to showcase the outfielder to other teams.
That is a reality of which Reddick is aware. He does not want to leave a Sox organization that drafted him in the 17th round in the 2006 draft, but increasingly, he seems convinced that it is time for his big league career to begin.
“Being here is a lot more fun coming to the ballpark,” said Reddick. “The game’s still fun wherever you’re at. But you just get that heightened sense of adrenaline up here. It’s a totally different ballgame up here and it drives you a little more.
“Now that I’ve added [discipline] to my game, I feel like it’s just that much more ready to be here,” he continued. “I’d love for it to be with these guys, but whether it be here or somewhere else, I can be happy playing the game whether it’s here or there.”