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Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Quick hits: Sox offense, Koji, Mujica

By Gordon Edes

BOSTON -- A few quick hits from Fenway Park, where the Red Sox -- one of five teams in the American League East to begin play Tuesday separated by 1 games from top to bottom -- are taking on the Cincinnati Reds, and where the Sox crack PR staff notes that 99 years ago today, Babe Ruth hit the first of his 714 home runs, in New York’s Polo Grounds. Ruth pitched 12 1/3 innings that day and took the complete-game loss.

Some comparative stats on where the Sox offense ranks through 32 games this season relative to the same point in 2013:

* They’re down 25 runs in scoring (158-133), averaging 4.1 runs per game compared with 4.9.

* They’ve stolen a league-low 10 bases, while caught eight times, compared with 26 steals, nine caught stealing in 2013.

* Their OPS is 76 percentage points lower (.722 to .798 in 2013)

* They’ve hit nine fewer home runs (27 to 36)

* They’ve walked more (137 to 121) while striking out less (265 to 281).

* They’ve left 10 more men on base (246 to 236).

* Last season through 32 games, the Sox had seven players with an OBP of .350 or better, including four players -- Jose Iglesias, David Ortiz, Mike Carp and Dustin Pedroia -- over .400. This season, Mike Napoli (.411) is the only player over .400, and only two other players are over .350 (Xander Bogaerts, .394 and Will Middlebrooks, .365).

* Surprisingly, they have the same number of sacrifice bunts at this stage of the season -- two -- even though the Sox anecdotally have bunted with greater frequency this season. Jackie Bradley Jr. failed on two bunt attempt in key situations Sunday, and in a game last Thursday against the Rays, A.J. Pierzynski sacrificed with a runner on second and no outs in a tie game, and the Sox failed to score.

Manager John Farrell was asked if the lack of success bunting would cause him to rethink the strategy.

“If you look at runs scored overall, they’re down across the board,” he said. “Manufacturing runs, the way the game is intended to be played, probably comes back into vogue and is needed a bit more. Does that give you reason to manufacture runs? In my mind, yes it does. It doesn’t discard or eliminate the value of an out, that’s to be clear, but as the game has come back to [lower scoring], like I said, the one-dimensional offensive guy is not so much in the game anymore, there are situations where you’ve got to manufacture a bit more.”

* Farrell often talks about what a “comfortable” inning Koji Uehara gives the Sox in the closer’s role. Last season, Uehara made a one-inning appearance 24 times, and 16 of those he finished in a dozen pitches or fewer. He completed 16 of them in 10 pitches or fewer, including a five-pitch inning against the Yankees in the season opener.

On Sunday, however, Uehara’s ninth inning against Oakland was anything but comfortable. He threw 27 pitches, 16 for strikes. Last season, he had only two one-inning outings in which he threw at least that many pitches: he threw 29 in an inning against the Rays on May 15, and 31 against the Rays on June 18.

In two appearances spanning a week’s time before Sunday, Uehara gave up home runs to Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays and Yunel Escobar of the Rays. And after striking out 17 of the first 39 batters he faced, Uehara has fanned just two of the last dozen.

What does it mean? Considering Uehara had to take a couple of days off last month because of some shoulder stiffness, it might send up a red flag, but both the pitcher and Farrell insist he is healthy. It could also be a matter of Uehara falling beneath the incredible bar he has set for himself.

“Maybe [Sunday] was a little bit uncharacteristic of the overall efficiency,” Farrell said. “He threw some quality pitches that didn’t get called. I think we are also seeing a guy that has come through a point where the physical ailment he had is now fine. I think he is just looking to get back to the consistency that he has shown. We are also comparing it to a guy who was all-world last season. We are confident that he will get back to a level similar to that.”

Uehara was up with a number of his pitches Sunday, but Farrell didn’t read anything into that.

“I wouldn’t think that the pitches up are physically related because even in his best run, there are times he throws the ball up to change the eye level, because his split ends up being at the bottom of the strike zone,” Farrell said. “The last few times out, he hasn’t been as sharp.”

* Sox reliever Edward Mujica threw before the game and Farrell was confident that his sore oblique muscle will not keep him sidelined.

* Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton, arguably the fastest player in the major leagues, was not in the starting lineup Tuesday because of a sprained middle finger on his left hand, an injury he sustained making a headfirst slide last month and aggravated with a diving catch last weekend. Hamilton could be used in a pinch-running situation, but the Reds may be reluctant to use him in case they have to place him on the DL and would prefer to back-date that assignment. Hamilton stole 11 bases in April, the most by a major-league rookie since Vince Coleman stole 12 for the Cardinals in 1985.