Friday, April 25, 2014
Quick hits: The gang's all here
By Gordon Edes
TORONTO -- Some quick hits from the Rogers Centre, where Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is scheduled to face the Red Sox Sunday on R.A. Dickey Bobblehead Day; where Jonathan Diaz, who went hitless in his only four at-bats for the Sox last season, will receive his World Series ring from John Farrell on Saturday, and where third baseman Will Middlebrooks returns to action after missing 19 games with a strained right calf:
• For the first time this season, the Sox will approximate the lineup they envisioned coming into the season, with Middlebrooks and Shane Victorino (1 for 5 with a double on his return Thursday night) both back. There is one notable difference: Jackie Bradley Jr. is here, while Daniel Nava was playing his first game for Pawtucket Friday night since his demotion Tuesday night, playing left field and batting third.
Middlebrooks was batting eighth Friday, between A.J. Pierzynski and Bradley. It was here in Toronto last April 7 that Middlebrooks tied a club record with three home runs, at 24 becoming the youngest player since 24-year-old Jim Rice did so in 1977.
"As we get into a little bit more of a daily rhythm, with our lineup, this is a welcome sight," Farrell said.
Bradley has established himself as the team's everyday center fielder, starting 14 of the last 15 games at the position, and with Victorino and Grady Sizemore flanking him, should anchor an outfield defense that will be a significant upgrade over the season's first three weeks.
Still, as much as the Sox value Bradley's defense in center, he's going to have to start hitting if he intends to make this a long-term relationship. Bradley came into Friday night's game hitless in his last eight at-bats, 3 for his last 19, and 4 for his last 30 with 11 strikeouts, posting a .133/.278./200/.478 slash line. That's not going to cut it for long.
• Anyone expecting Farrell to launch a paint-peeling diatribe in the wake of Thursday night's 14-5 fiasco will be disappointed. The Sox manager said a few things were addressed during the course of the usual meeting the team holds in advance of a series, but it was nothing out of the ordinary and had it been, he said, he would keep it in-house. Farrell is not one for meetings; as one player noted, he's far more apt to deal with players on a one-on-one basis in his office.
• Farrell said he was pleased at the change in the transfer rule, which essentially goes back to the original interpretation that it's an out when the glove closes around the ball and the fielder demonstrates he has possession, before he attempts to remove it from his glove with his throwing hand. Farrell applauded MLB's willingness to change on the fly. "I think it's great that they've shown the flexibility to do that," Farrell said.
The Sox benefited from a transfer call that went against Orioles shortstop Ryan Flaherty on Sunday that led to a two-run rally in a Sox comeback victory, then were penalized Thursday night against the Yankees, when Dustin Pedroia lost the ball on a transfer and was charged with an error in a three-run second inning.
• Farrell, asked directly if the Sox were contemplating dropping Felix Doubront from the rotation, said: "There's no anticipated changes at this point." Added Farrell: "When the time calls for it, we're fortunate that we have guys we can go to who have major-league experience, but that's not imminent."
Maybe it's not imminent, but the implication is that it's not off the table, either. Doubront's inconsistency has been a regular component of his time here, and Thursday night was the second time in four starts he has lasted just 2 2/3 innings. Against the Yankees, he crossed up catcher David Ross in the first inning, throwing a fastball off the mask of umpire Phil Cuzzi when Ross was set up for a breaking ball, and allowed the Yankees to run at will with three stolen bases, Brian Roberts swiping second standing up. He admitted afterward to a loss of concentration, and Farrell referenced how Doubront still must show an ability to make in-game adjustments.
"We're searching," Farrell said.
That search could eventually lead to pitcher Chris Capuano, the veteran left-hander and career starter who has yet to allow an earned run in 13 innings in relief, the most scoreless innings of any big-league reliever yet to be scored upon.
• Mike Napoli will be trying to reach base for a 20th consecutive game, third-longest active on-base streak in the majors. Jays slugger Jose Bautista has reached in 22 straight, while Orioles slugger Chris Davis has reached in 20 straight.