BOSTON -- The always-understated Shane Victorino went to Twitter Thursday afternoon to share the news that he would be in the Red Sox lineup for the first time this season that night.
Got your singing voices ready, Red Sox Nation? Back here tonight. @ShaneVictorino
Yes, Victorino and Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” (“Everything’s gonna be all right") will make their 2014 Fenway Park debut against the Yankees on Thursday night. Victorino has missed the team’s first 22 games with a strained right hamstring.
The Sox went 10-12 without Victorino in the lineup. Last season, they were 72-45 when he played, including 65-41 when he was in right field, where Victorino won a Gold Glove with a range factor of 2.69 that was highest in the majors and a defensive WAR of 2.2 that was second in the AL to Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain (2.9).
“This is something we’ve been waiting for for some time here, Shane’s return," manager John Farrell said Thursday. “We feel he helps solidify our outfield defense. In addition to that, the top of the order for us. Good to have him back in the lineup, no doubt about it."
Victorino will be back in right field and batting second in the lineup behind Dustin Pedroia, a combination Farrell sounded committed to keeping for a while.
“I’d like to think we’d take the current lineup and run with it for a while, to again create a little stability,’’ Farrell said.
Pedroia, one of five players Farrell has used in the leadoff spot while searching for a combination at the top of the order to replace Jacoby Ellsbury, will lead off for the fourth time this season. He was 3-for-14 in his previous three starts.
Until Victorino’s arrival, Pedroia had primarily hit in the No. 2 hole, until being dropped into the 3-spot. He has played 619 games as a No. 2 hitter, 230 as a No. 3, and 90 as a leadoff man. His leadoff slash line is .260 AVG/.323 OBP/.385 SLG/.708 OPS. That OPS is 128 percentage points lower than his OPS in the 2-hole (.836), and 92 percentage points lower than in the 3-spot (.800).
“With Pedey and Vic at the top of the order, our on-base should be higher at a more consistent rate, and I think stability is what this team needs now," Farrell said.
Victorino also should provide a jolt of welcome energy, Farrell said.
“Not only the on-field energy he brings, but it’s felt in the dugout, felt in the clubhouse," Farrell said. “He came in, it was almost like Christmas morning, knowing he was in the active lineup. A welcome sight for us."
Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, on the DL since April 6 (retroactive to April 5) with a strained right calf, played Thursday afternoon in Pawtucket -- his third game there on a rehab assignment -- and is expected to fly to Toronto with the team after the Yankees game. His activation could come as soon as Friday, which could give the Sox their full complement of regulars for the first time this season. That group now includes rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. in place of Daniel Nava, who was sent down to Pawtucket.
“You deal with what you have in the moment," Farrell said, “and knowing that players are going to come back to you, that’s always a positive outlook.
“But we don’t make excuses because guys have been injured or there have been some performances that have been a little less than [adequate]. We’re setting out to compete every single night, and sometimes that hasn’t been the case."