Issues in the outfield aren't improving

June, 4, 2014
Jun 4
1:06
AM ET


CLEVELAND -- Well, at least we can say with some confidence what the Red Sox strategy should be in Thursday’s draft: Choose outfielders, early and often. Don’t worry about how well they field; you can train them to catch the ball. Look for hitters; minimum requirement is that they can hit their weight, stay healthy for more than half an hour and put an occasional ball in the seats.

Doesn’t have to be a future Williams, Yaz, Rice, Lynn, Evans or Tony C. We’re not greedy: We’d love a Trot Nixon or Mike Greenwell, but anyone better than a Joe Lahoud and Roman Mejias would do. At this stage, Darren Lewis and his .240 batting average looks like a hitting machine.

Two nights in Cleveland can make a man start pining for Markus Lynn Betts, who was a second baseman until just a couple of weeks ago but has tried his hand at center field and was just promoted from Double-A Portland to Triple-A Pawtucket because all he does is hit. Crazy to think a 21-year-old who was in the Sally League at this time last year might offer hope, but you look at the damage 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts is currently inflicting on pitchers, and Mookie starts looking like a better option every day.

Two straight losses to the Indians, and the Sox are 7 1/2 games out of first place again in the American League East. The offensive woes that were a staple of their 10-game losing streak have surfaced again, as they’ve scored a total of five runs in two nights in Progressive Field, and Bogaerts has either scored or knocked in four of them.

Last week’s seven-game winning streak offered a temporary respite from what has ailed the team, but in case you didn’t notice, only once in the past seven games have the Red Sox scored more than four runs. That doesn’t cut it in the American League, even if scoring is down all over the majors.

[+] EnlargeAlex Hassan
AP Photo/Tony DejakAlex Hassan, who was hitting .217 before his call-up from Triple A, struck out four times Tuesday.
The root of Boston’s struggles at the plate are in the outfield, where the Sox were willing to sacrifice Jacoby Ellsbury (who just had his worst month since July 2008) but weren’t planning on having the other two-thirds of last season’s outfield missing in action in June.

Shane Victorino has been out the past 11 games with a bad hamstring after missing 22 games at the start of the season with the same issue; his absentee rate is over 50 percent, and his presence has been sorely missed.

Daniel Nava has morphed from a .300 hitter into a full-blown mystery, a guy so lost at the plate he looks like he never advanced beyond washing other guys’ uniforms in college. The Sox thought he would be their leadoff hitter; now they act like they’ve lost his phone number.

• Rookie center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has done nothing to show that the Red Sox were wrong in judging him not ready for the bigs at the start of the season, summoning him only because Victorino was hurt. Bradley plays a wonderful outfield, but after 173 at-bats this season, he is batting .202. Only one Sox outfielder in history finished a season with a lower average with at least that many at-bats: That was Joe Lahoud, who hit .188 in 1969 and was traded to Milwaukee.

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Grady Sizemore, who has made the last out in each of the losses to the Indians, is down to .225. A five-game hitting streak last week -- the first time this season he had hits in more than two straight games -- offered some hope that maybe he was finding his way again after a two-year estrangement from the game, but so far the Sox have lost that bet.

• Boston’s best hitting outfielder at the moment, Jonny Gomes, has struck out five times in the past two games, is batting just .171 against right-handed pitching (12-for-70) and is batting .231 overall.

• Rookie Alex Hassan, the local kid who had a nice moment Sunday with his first major league hit, struck out four times in four at-bats on Tuesday, probably not a huge surprise given he was hitting .217 at Pawtucket before his call-up and was at .156 in his past 10 games in Triple-A.

Collectively, the Sox outfield is batting .214, the lowest average in baseball among big league outfields and the lowest for the Sox in the 60-plus years that Baseball-Reference.com can track such things. And help isn’t exactly just over the horizon.

Victorino isn’t close yet to a rehab assignment, manager John Farrell said Tuesday afternoon. Nava’s confidence is shot, along with the team’s confidence in him. Farrell is talking about giving Brock Holt some playing time in the outfield, but his nice little hot streak might have limited shelf life. Realistically, Betts almost certainly needs some time to grow up.

And the draft, alas, is built to address future needs, not today’s.

The Sox might have no choice but to trade for an outfielder, although any meaningful upgrade this far in advance of the trading deadline is going to cost them more in prospects than they’d like to give up.

The guess here is they’ll try to muddle along for the time being, hoping that Victorino can stay healthy, praying that Bradley will start to hit and employing some rotating version of Gomes, Sizemore and Holt in left field. It’s not a formula for winning; it remains to be seen whether it qualifies as a way to survive.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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