It was a hallmark moment for Keith Poole.
In between tasks at his Chandler, Ariz., workout facility, Keith Poole’s Training Zone, the former NFL player glanced up the television just in time to witness a familiar site for Red Sox’ fans this season — Dustin Pedroia hitting a home run.
“That,” Poole said, “was neat.”
Why would the wide receiver-turned-trainer take so much interest in Pedroia’s latest power surge? Well, Poole was one of the few who had an idea that this early season home run barrage might be coming. In fact, he could actually take some ownership himself in Pedroia reaching a home run mark (4) he didn’t accomplish until July 9 last season.
It was Poole who helped train Pedroia this past offseason, turning him into the 5-foot-8 power threat that has much of baseball marveling.
“I have to be honest with you,” Poole said. “When he first came in he looked like an old frog with these skinny arms and little body. But he changed all of that. Him and [Dodgers outfielder] Andre [Ethier], they worked hard at everything they did.”
Pedroia currently has the fourth-highest slugging percentage in the American League (.818) and is second in the league in RBI (10).
Pedroia’s career-high power output came in 2008 when he hit 17 homers and slugged .493. Last season he finished with 15 home runs while totaling a .414 slugging percentage. (Also, the most home runs Pedroia has ever hit in a month was six back in August 2008.)
So, what could the finished product this year end up at? Poole has an educated guess.
“He kept going around saying how he hit 17 bombs last season and he was going to hit at least 20,” the trainer said. “But I’m thinking if he hit 17 last year, why can’t he hit 27 this year? I think that’s very realistic.”
For reference sake, the most home runs ever hit by a second baseman was Ryne Sandberg’s 40 in 1990. That might be a bit much to ask. But breaking Bobby Doerr's record for most homers by a second baseman by a Sox' second baseman (27) is well within reach.
And if any doubt creeps in, Poole will be more than happy to encourage Pedroia’s wife, Kelli, to pull out the before and after photos the trainer had her take of the second baseman this past offseason.
“He definitely made a change this offseason,” Poole said. “People like my wife, who would see him only once in a while, watch him on TV still and say, ‘Wow, he looks good.’ He’s the whole package.”
Here are four more things we learned Wednesday and remembered Thursday …
THE (MOSTLY) UPS AND (OCCASIONAL) DOWNS OF SCUTARO
Marco Scutaro has come as advertised … sort of.
His offensive value has been unmistakable. He’s hitting .320 with an on-base percentage of .414, showing the kind of contact and patience that complements the rest of the Red Sox’ lineup perfectly.
Just one time this season has Scutaro swung at the first pitch, having taken a team-high 70 percent of the pitches he has seen. And when he does swing he doesn’t miss, having swung and missed on just one of his 35 cuts this year.
Another tremendous value Scutaro has offered has been his ability to slide into the leadoff spot in the absence of the injured Jacoby Ellsbury (who figures to be back from his rib injury Friday). Having manned the spot with Toronto for the previous 1½ years, the shortstop’s transition from the bottom of the order to the top has been seamless, hitting .444 at leadoff, including going 2-for-5 Wednesday.
Now the bad news.
While he has been solid overall, Scutaro isn’t having the kind of season defensively he did a year ago, when he was in the Gold Glove conversation up until August. On two different occasions Wednesday he failed to make two potentially pivotal plays that we can assume (gulp) Alex Gonzalez would have executed.
What Scutaro can hang his hat on is that he still has the one error (coming in Game 2), and his defensive metrics (I know it makes you cringe) aren’t all that bad. In fact, the Sox shortstop is ninth in the majors for range factor for nine innings, just three spots behind Gonzalez, and he is ahead of the Toronto shortstop in the much-discussed zone rating.
Oh, and in case you haven’t paid attention, Gonzalez has four home runs with the Blue Jays and is hitting .289. He even has one walk.
THIS IS WHY HE WAS DRAFTED SO HIGH
The Red Sox aren’t blind. They can see what Jeremy Hermida is doing. And that is why they are trying their darnedest to keep his bat in the lineup.
So far the task of finding time for the outfielder hasn’t been all that challenging, with Hermida filling in for injured outfielders now on three separate occasions (twice for Ellsbury, once for J.D. Drew). And on that game he subbed in for Drew, who was sidelined with a stiff neck, Bill Hall could have easily gotten the nod considering it was his day to play, but the opening for the big left-handed hitter’s bat was there, so the Sox took advantage.
Hermida’s latest positive impression came in the eighth inning Wednesday when he picked up three more RBI with a bases-loaded double that added just the insurance the Sox needed. It put his slugging percentage up to .786 and his batting average to .357 (5-for-14). All of this after hitting .450 with a .650 slugging in spring training.
It keeps going …
Hermida is 3-for-4 from the seventh inning on, 2-for-3 with runners in scoring position, and has a hit in his only pinch-hitting appearance.
It’s easy to look at Hermida and surmise that everything that Florida scouts saw when tabbing him with the 11th pick in the 2002 draft is finally coming to the surface on a major league level. But there is still work to be done.
Hermida has had only one at-bat this season against a left-handed pitcher (managing a double), and considering he is a .239 battter against lefties for his career the jury is out when trying to decipher his everyday effectiveness. Oh, and April has also typically been the outfielder’s best month.
But for what the Red Sox need – a productive bat off the bench who can show enough potential to enter into the conversation regarding getting regular playing time – Hermida has fit the bill.
PITCHING POSITIVE (STARTERS)
The Red Sox are currently 13th in the majors in starters’ ERA, and for that they can thank Wednesday’s starter John Lackey and Tim Wakefield, who gets the call Thursday.
After earning his first win in a Sox uniform with a 6 2/3-inning, two-run outing, it would appear as though Lackey is on pace to become just what this team ordered (albeit at considerable cost). While Jon Lester and Josh Beckett continue to find their way through what has been historically a tough month for both, Lackey gets the ball, throws the ball, gets outs, gets the ball back and then throws the ball again.
It seems that simple, and these days the Red Sox like simple.
One thing Lackey (and really most of the Red Sox’ staff) is taking advantage of is the improved Red Sox’ defense. Lester has seen 78 percent of his outs come on the ground, while Beckett stands at 62 percent, and Lackey 58 percent. What does that matter? As our stat man Gary Marbry pointed out the other day, coming into Wednesday the Sox had held their opponents to a .159 batting average on grounders (third in the majors), compared to the .244 clip of a year ago (which was 22nd in the bigs).
Marbry also points out that the Red Sox’ best two years in this regard since 2004 came in ’04 and ’07, when they finished fourth in the category. Bodes well, you would think.
PITCHING POSITIVE (RELIEVERS)
Wednesday saw Hideki Okajima at his best, which was a welcome sight for the Red Sox’ bullpen.
With two outs, the Sox clinging to a one-run lead, and Minnesota’s Golden Boy [Joe Mauer] at the plate, Red Sox manager Terry Francona called upon Okajima to replace Lackey. After a passed ball, and an intentional walk to Mauer, the lefty stared down the Twins’ other Face of the Franchise with the bases loaded.
Okajima did the job, getting an infield pop-up from Justin Morneau to end the inning. It was just the elixir the Sox needed, in more ways than one.
In the short term, the moment kept the Red Sox in command until they added three runs of insurance in the following half-inning. In the long-term? It offered some hope that this team could continue to rely on their relievers in such situations.
After Wednesday the Red Sox relief corps had allowed five of 13 inherited runners to score (17th in the majors). Okajima is now 2-for-4, Daniel Bard has let both of his inherited runners score, Scott Atchison has let just one of five come across and Scott Schoeneweis has stranded each of the two inherited baserunners he has come across.
Another reminder we were offered Wednesday was in regard to Bard’s workload. The righty came on for the sixth time this season, giving up a run in his one inning of work while throwing 12 pitches. And while he is tied for the major-league lead in appearances, Bard is only 35th in number of pitches thrown among relievers.
Both Okajima and Bard have shown they are the proper bridges to get to closer Jonathan Papelbon, but it is of the utmost importance that the Red Sox keep them that way. If the production (or health) of either reliever drops off, the team will be thrust into the undesirable trade deadline fray in terms of securing an eight-inning set-up guy instead of just a complementary seventh-inning solution. And, as the Sox have discovered in the past, there is a big difference in cost and commitment (see Eric Gagne).
FOR SOME REAL LESSONS …
Stat Man Gary (aka Gary from Chapel Hill) really is out to educate. For an in-depth statistical look at Wednesday’s Red Sox box score, click here.