Commentary

Red Sox need bats to keep clicking

David Ortiz and Mike Aviles key uprising against Twins, but can they stay hot?

Updated: April 25, 2012, 9:12 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Memo to David Ortiz and Mike Aviles:

Stay hot, fellas, because neither Jacoby Ellsbury nor Carl Crawford will be walking through that door anytime soon.

Ortiz, the American League's leading hitter, had two more hits, including a showroom home run, and Aviles had four hits, including a home run, a double and two singles, in the Boston Red Sox's 11-2 win over the pitching-starved Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night in Target Field.

But the easy win was tempered by Bobby Valentine's admission after the game that Crawford was planning to seek a second opinion on his troublesome left elbow, which has limited him to DH duties in extended spring training games.

Crawford had wrist surgery in January that was expected to sideline him until the beginning of May, though he had stirred some hope of beating that date at the start of spring training before sustaining a setback.

But with May just a week away, it's now obvious that the Red Sox left fielder won't be back by the start of the month. Crawford returned to Boston more than two weeks ago, when he underwent an MRI that showed he had an elbow strain, he said. He'd begun experiencing discomfort in the elbow, he said, even before the team broke camp in Florida on April 2.

"I tried to start throwing and I felt it," Crawford said at the time. "I was working on it for a while and they decided to have me come up and get it checked. It was a little surprising, but I guess that motion where I flick it at the end was what really was causing the pain."

Crawford returned to Boston for another exam last week and a followup had been scheduled Tuesday. It was then, according to Valentine, that the decision was made to seek a second opinion.

"He's feeling so good with his hitting and his wrist right now he doesn't want to have any setbacks," Valentine said. "I think he's getting someone else to confirm that the [elbow] is what we think it is, which is just a little soreness.

"I'm not going to medically describe what it is."

Tendinitis?

"I'm not going to term it," Valentine said.

Is it serious?

"It's always serious, the way I look at it," he said. "It doesn't seem major, if that's what you mean."

[+] EnlargeMike Aviles
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesMike Aviles, who had a home run among four hits Tuesday, has been a godsend filling in for Jacoby Ellsbury in the leadoff spot, manager Bobby Valentine said.

It is not clear how much throwing Crawford has done since undergoing the MRI -- the Red Sox appear to be purposefully vague about the injury -- but he has not played in the field since reporting the condition.

Crawford, who signed a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Red Sox as a free agent prior to the 2011 season, had a miserable first season with Boston, batting a career-low .255 with an OPS of .694, his lowest since his rookie season of 2003.

With Ellsbury sidelined for more than a month after partially dislocating his shoulder, the Sox had hoped Crawford's return would be sooner than later. Now, it is clear that they will be forced to make do with an outfield far different from the one they once envisioned.

Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney, who had been expected to platoon in right field, both are playing every day, while Marlon Byrd, who turns 35 and was batting just .070 (3-for-43) when he was acquired from the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night, is playing center field. Darnell McDonald plays primarily against left-handers.

McDonald (3-for-28, .107) is off to a slow start, but Ross leads the club with five home runs and has knocked in 14 runs, second only to Ortiz's 15 RBIs, while Sweeney is batting a robust .392 while hitting safely in 13 of his 14 games with the Sox.

On Monday night, Ross hit a game-tying home run in the seventh and a game-winning home run in the ninth. Hitting tying and winning home runs in the seventh inning or later is something no Sox player had done since Dwight Evans in 1990. J.D. Drew, who manned right field for the five seasons before Ross arrived, hit four ninth-inning home runs for the Red Sox, including his last homer in the uniform on June 8, but none won or tied a game.

Byrd, meanwhile, has as many hits (three) in two games with the Red Sox as he did with the Cubs, and he also made a nice running catch in center field Tuesday night.

The Sox had 18 hits in all Tuesday night, but Ortiz -- off to his best start ever with 28 hits, the most he's had in any April -- and Aviles, who had a game Tuesday night unlike any Ellsbury has had as Sox leadoff man -- were the driving forces.

"He has been? I didn't even notice," Aviles joked when someone asked him about how hot Ortiz has been. "I keep telling him to keep his head up because they're going to start falling for him one of these days."

Ortiz had little tolerance Tuesday night for being reminded that in three Aprils of recent vintage -- 2008, 2009 and 2010 -- he heard considerable chatter that his career was in decline. Seem like a long time ago?

"It does now," Ortiz said. "That's life. You got to take it day by day, man. Put attention to stuff, go by the business."

Ortiz, who has lost 25 pounds while following an unusual diet, had predicted in the first week of spring training that he expected to have a big season.

"It paid off. You put in the work."

He brusquely said, "No," when asked if this is as locked in as he has ever been at the start of the season, until a smile worked its way across his lips.

"Maybe," he said.

"Early in the season, take what they give you and move on. I didn't learn how to hit yesterday. I've been doing this for years. It's all about taking what they give you.

"Try not to do too much. A lot of us get caught in that, trying to do too much, and it doesn't work that way."

Valentine, whether he realized it at the time, had provided Aviles with an extended dress rehearsal for the leadoff spot when he used him there frequently in spring training.

"Michael's a godsend," Valentine said. "With Jacoby going down and all the questions surrounding our squad, to fill that void as seamlessly as he has with outstanding at-bats, production and playing great defense is a tribute to his athleticism and his competitiveness.

"He's a good player."

Aviles walked just 13 times in 91 games split between Kansas City and Boston, which would seem to make him less than an ideal candidate to lead off.

"I told him not to change a thing," Valentine said. "It doesn't matter where he hits in the order. His aggressiveness, if he stays aggressive, he'll take pitches. He'll also hit them pretty hard when he gets his pitch to hit, and that's what he's been doing. I just didn't want to take any of the aggressiveness away from him because that's not his style of play."

For better or worse, four players who were not with the Sox at the start of last season -- Aviles, Sweeney, Ross and Byrd -- will help to dictate whether the runs continue to come in abundance as they try to move the chains for the core of the order -- Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and Ortiz. There has been a feast-or-famine aspect to the offense so far this season -- eight games of three runs or fewer, five games of nine runs or more.

And nine runs, as they had demonstrated in blowing a 9-0 lead Saturday against the New York Yankees, is no guarantee of winning.

"We had the one at home and we let it get away," Valentine said. "I don't think that's going to be allowed again."

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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