No baseball game? No matter.
Rain may lead to the cancellation of a ballgame, but it can do nothing to prevent an education in Five Things on the eve of a day-night double-header between the Red Sox and Twins.
JOIN THE CLUB, NICK GREEN...AND BE CAREFUL, FOR SHORTSTOP IS A DANGEROUS PLACE IN BOSTON
The everyday shortstop role for the Red Sox has been something of a hot potato. Since the start of the 2004 season, nine different players (Orlando Cabrera, Alex Cora, Cesar Crespo, Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Gonzalez, Jed Lowrie, Julio Lugo, Pokey Reese, Edgar Renteria) have manned the position for at least 25 games.
No other team has endured such a merry-go-round at the position. So it shouldn’t come as a great surprise to see more flux at short.
Lowrie underwent wrist surgery on Tuesday, involving a repair of the scapholunate (S-L) ligament and the removal of the fractured ulnar styloid bone that had caused his strength loss as a left-handed hitter.
Manager Terry Francona said that the surgery went as well as the doctors had hoped. Lowrie will remain in a splint for roughly the next 10 days, at which point his stitches will be removed and a rehab program can commence.
The Sox are hopeful that Lowrie can begin swinging a bat again in roughly six weeks. Doing so would be in keeping with the estimates that he might be able to return in June or July, prior to the All-Star break.
Lowrie, of course, inherited the starting shortstop role last year when Lugo tore his quadriceps muscle. Now, it is Lugo who soon will inherit primary domain over the starting shortstop role thanks to Lowrie’s injury.
Lugo reported to Triple-A Pawtucket on Tuesday to commence his rehab assignment. The plan had been for Lugo to play on Tuesday and Wednesday, take Thursday off (an off-day for the PawSox) and then play again on Friday through Sunday. At the conclusion of those five games, Lugo was scheduled to be reassessed to see if he was ready to return to the big-league roster.
That plan, however, was forged before Tuesday night’s game in Pawtucket was rained out. It remains to be seen whether the timetable is tweaked as a result.
Regardless, it would appear that Nick Green will be the starting shortstop through at least Sunday. That being the case, with eight games at short thus far this year, he stands an excellent shot at becoming the 10th Sox player to reach the 25 games mark at shortstop since the start of the 2004 season.
THE KEVIN YOUKILIS DEAL IS A GREAT ONE FOR THE RED SOX
First, the disclaimer: Kevin Youkilis has every reason to be happy with the four-year, $41.125 million deal he signed this winter. The 30-year-old first baseman is likely to spend the next four – and perhaps five, assuming that the Sox pick up a team option in 2013 – seasons in a city where he loves to play, for an organization that fulfills everything that he seeks in a franchise.
He’s happy with his deal, and has had no regrets since signing it.
“(With a long-term deal) you have the luxury of going out there and not worrying about stats or anything like that,” said Youkilis. “You just go out and play the game to play the game.”
A player should never be criticized for “leaving money on the table” so long as he desires the security of a long-term deal and is happy with the contract that he signs. Youkilis fits both categories. That said, if there was any question about whether the deal was a good one for the Red Sox, it evaporated on Monday.
Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman signed a long-term deal that, in many ways, mirrors the one that Youkilis signed with the Sox. Zimmerman inked a five-year, $45 million deal. More relevant for the comparison with Youkilis, Zimmerman will receive a total of $41.175 million for his final two years of arbitration eligibility and his first two years of free agency. Youkilis’ contract guarantees him $50,000 less ($41.125 million) than that sum over the final two years of his arbitration eligibility and first two years of his free agency.
Zimmerman is a fine player, and still considered a potentially elite talent. The 24-year-old has a career .282 average, .341 OBP and .462 slugging mark, and he’s averaged 21 homers and 94 RBIs per 162 games through the first few years of his career. In his coming prime years, he could well develop into an All-Star, perhaps even an MVP candidate.
“He’s a good player. From what I’ve heard, he’s a great third baseman and he can hit. And he’s young,” said Youkilis. “He could be an MVP.”
But that assessment relies on projection. Youkilis, on the other hand, has already performed to MVP-worthy levels.
Youkilis has a Gold Glove to his credit, and he entered this year with a career .285 average, .385 OBP and .479 slugging mark, all superior marks to Zimmerman’s. He has career 162-game averages of 19 homers and 91 RBIs, and has emerged since the start of last year as a legitimate cleanup hitter.
Moreover, the Sox were able to secure a team option to retain Youkilis for his third year of free-agent eligibility. The Nats received no such concession from Zimmerman.
Again, all parties are happy: the Red Sox and Youkilis expressed great satisfaction with their deal, just as the Nationals and Zimmerman were all smiles at their press conference on Monday. Even so, it is hard to overlook the fact that with the same money, the Sox locked up a player who has already proven he can be one of the best players in the game, while the Nats signed someone whom they hope will develop to that level.
For what it’s worth, through the initial days of the 2009 season, Youkilis is second in the A.L. in average (.469) and first in OBP (.559) and fourth in slugging (.776). Zimmerman is off to a .273 / .310 / .455 start.
THE RED SOX SHUFFLE THEIR BENCH
The Red Sox have placed Rocco Baldelli on the disabled list, replacing him with first baseman/outfielder Jeff Bailey. Bailey had been one of the top hitters for the Sox this spring, when he hit .355 with a .456 OBP and .600 slugging mark.
It was understandably disappointing for Bailey to receive the news that he would not break camp with the Sox, but he absorbed it quickly and performed well while back in Triple-A Pawtucket. Bailey hit .255 / .407 / .511 with four homers for the PawSox, and was the obvious choice for a call-up to replace Baldelli’s right-handed bat in the lineup.
“There was a need (on the major-league roster at the end of spring training). I didn’t fill that need. Now I do,” Bailey said of the shuttle. “It’s always nice (to get called up). It’s the big leagues.”
“I told Bails, ‘This is a lot more fun than the last time I saw you,’” said Sox manager Terry Francona.
There seems a decent likelihood that Bailey could be in the lineup against Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano in the night-cap on Wednesday. Bailey said that he’s faced Liriano several times in the minors, and recalled homering off of him once on a snowy day in Rochester.
As for Baldelli, the discomfort from a left hamstring strain was sufficient that Baldelli agreed that being shut down for a couple of weeks was the right course of action. There didn’t seem to be much concern that he would be out for longer.
While the Sox feel confident in Bailey’s ability to hit against left-handed pitching, he is not close to Baldelli’s defensive equal. Baldelli was serving as the backup centerfielder, a position that Bailey cannot play.
For now, J.D. Drew is the alternative to Jacoby Ellsbury in centerfield, though it is conceivable that the Sox could make another roster move in the coming days to have a true backup centerfielder.
BRAD PENNY MUST HAVE MORE SHOW, LESS TELL
After his last start – a three-inning, eight-run dud against the Orioles on Friday – Brad Penny suggested that he felt fantastic. The radar gun suggested as much, with Penny pumping consistent 93-95 mph octane into the strike zone.
But the results suggested an inability to find or command in the strike zone. Penny turned in one of the worst lines of his career, allowing six hits, five walks and eight runs in just three innings.
Though Penny put his club in a 7-0 hole, the Sox bullpen and offense bailed out the starter. When he takes the mound for the second-half of a day-night doubleheader on Wednesday, Penny likely won’t have that kind of safety net.
Unless Tim Wakefield logs a second straight complete game in the first half of the doubleheader (something he has done six times in his career, but just once since 1997), the Sox bullpen will be without some of its arms in the nightcap. On Friday, Boston leaned heavily on four relievers to navigate the game’s final six innings. It seems unlikely that the team will have that luxury in the back end of a double header.
That being the case, the Sox would benefit greatly if Penny can turn in a performance more in line with his first start of the year (when he lasted six innings) than his second.
“I think he’s looking forward to (Wednesday) night’s start for himself,” said Farrell. “He felt very good about his physical abilities against Baltimore. Probably the strongest he’s been in quite some time.
“But he realizes too that there was a tendency to let the emotion get the best of him in that setting, being his first start here at Fenway. As long as he can harness that type of power, much like he did in Anaheim, we’re looking forward to every time he walks to the mound, as we are with every pitcher.”
The Twins have been kind thus far this year to pitchers trying to harness their power. Eight of the 14 starters whom Minnesota has faced have recorded quality starts (6 or more innings, 3 or fewer earned runs). Entering yesterday, that total was tied for the highest in the majors.
DAISUKE MATSUZAKA HAS BEGUN THE ROAD BACK
On a day when nary an official pitch was thrown by a member of the Red Sox, a noteworthy event took place for one of the club’s pitchers. One week after he was placed on the disabled list with a mild right shoulder strain, Daisuke Matsuzaka made 30 flat-ground throws from 60 feet.
Matsuzaka seemed encouraged by the session, and suggested that this trip to the disabled list is less serious than the rotator cuff strain that sidelined him for a bit more than three weeks last June.
“I felt good. It's been days since I last threw, but I felt fine,” Matsuzaka told reporters in Japanese. “What's big is unlike last year, I didn't hurt any place. That is huge for trying to come back.”
The Sox will proceed gradually with the pitcher’s return. Pitching coach John Farrell said that his shoulder inflammation still needs to subside and that Matsuzaka needs to continue strengthening before he progresses to a bullpen session.
Still, the Sox pitching coach suggested that Matsuzaka might be able to throw off a mound either this weekend or early next week. That would precede a minor-league rehab assignment (“How many starts is yet to be determined,” said Farrell) that will set up his return to the majors.
Matsuzaka is not alone in taking a step forward in his return to the majors. John Smoltz, still at the Sox’ extended spring training facility in Fort Myers, will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. Depending on how that goes, he will either face hitters for live batting practice on Saturday, or throw two innings in an extended spring training game that day.