<
>

Golden sombreros trending in record numbers

NEW YORK -- When Red Sox first baseman Allen Craig struck out four times Wednesday night, he was one of four big leaguers who whiffed four times in a game on that day.

The others were David Wright of the Mets (in five at-bats), Ian Desmond of the Nationals (in seven), and J.D. Martinez of the Tigers (in four). Coincidentally, it was the most four-K games on a single date since the same number whiffed four times on March 31, the first full day of the season.

But the frequency in which big-league hitters earn the golden sombrero, the term inspired by hockey's "hat trick," is greater than at any time in the game's history.

Entering play Wednesday night, 147 non-pitchers had whiffed four or more times in a game this season. Four -- Jay Bruce with the Reds, Nolan Reimold with the Blue Jays, Carlos Gomez with the Brewers, and Shin-Soo Choo with the Rangers -- have struck out five times in a game.

At this rate, major leaguers are on a pace for 174 4-K+ games, easily eclipsing the record of 151 set last season.

Obviously, the stigma once associated with whiffing with regularity is not what it used to be. And it evidently signals a shift away from what once had been the philosophy of placing a premium on putting the ball in play, even if it meant adjusting a batter's two-strike approach.

Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, regarded as one of the game's most prolific hitters, is one of two big leaguers who have had five four-K games so far this season. The other is Houston's George Springer, the Astros' slugging rookie.

Sox players have had 10 four-K games this season, two by Will Middlebrooks in the span of eight days. The others are Craig, Jackie Bradley Jr., Brock Holt, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew (Drew and Napoli did it in the same game), Jonny Gomes, Alex Hassan and Dustin Pedroia.

The trend is a recent one. It wasn't until 2007 that MLB had its first season of 100 or more four-whiff games, when it spiked from 93 in '06 to 112 in '07. It dropped to 103 in 2009, but has climbed ever since, from 107 to 127 to 129 to 151 in the last four seasons.

This season's rate will be more than double the 1999 rate of 75 times. In 1990, it had happened only 46 times. In 1975, 37; 1950, seven; 1941, two.

Middlebrooks and Craig were both back in the lineup Thursday night to face Yankees left-hander Chris Capuano, the West Springfield (Mass.) native.

Before the game, manager John Farrell addressed Craig's struggles to date with the Sox, which has resulted in only four hits in 36 at-bats and 15 strikeouts.

Farrell was asked about the possibility of Craig needing surgery for the Lisfranc fracture in his left foot he sustained last September, something the manager had referred to last month. Had the team gained any further clarity since then?

"At this point, no," Farrell said. "The comment at the time [suggested the possibility] if he experienced any further discomfort, if he experienced any further physical ailments, which he has not experienced. And despite some of the struggles he's had offensively, Allen doesn't use the previous injury as an excuse.

"We're working through some things fundamentally to try and get him on track, and this isn't a matter of focusing on something physical, that it's going to need a repair, at least in this conversation here and now."

Farrell said Craig's issues were more related to how he is being attacked by opposing pitchers.

"Right now with his setup, he's getting pitched in quite a bit, [which has] caused him to commit to some pitches [fastballs] early, and when the breaking ball shows up that's where some of that early commitment has resulted in a checked swing or expanded the plate away and down and off the plate. We're just trying to get him back to some consistent at bats and timing."

• Farrell says he expects Pedroia back in the starting lineup when the team returns home Friday to face Toronto. Pedroia took part in batting practice Thursday.

"One final medical exam tomorrow," Farrell said, "but at this point things are looking like he will be on the field and in the lineup tomorrow."