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Thursday, June 30, 2011
Updated: July 3, 11:58 PM ET
J.D. Drew's leash just got shorter

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

PHILADELPHIA -- When you're the right fielder and you've had just two extra base hits in the past six weeks, you can hardly be surprised that your team elects to make a change.

But despite his zero doubles, zero triples, two home runs and a .296 slugging percentage since May 10, J.D. Drew still has a job. Mike Cameron, who was supposed to be Drew's right-handed complement but was playing even worse, is the one who is out of work, designated for assignment before Boston Red Sox's 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday.

J.D Drew
J.D. Drew said Thursday he thinks he may be coming out of his prolonged slump. He better hope it happens soon.

Cameron's departure signaled Boston's decision to no longer tolerate the status quo. That cannot be good news for Darnell McDonald, who is living on borrowed time, his average plunging to an inconceivable .115 after he went hitless in three at-bats Thursday. Of players with at least 50 plate appearances this season, only one big leaguer is hitting for a lower average: Roy Halladay, the Phillies' pitcher, who is batting .073 (3-for-41).

When outfielder Carl Crawford is activated, after he is evaluated when the team returns home Monday, McDonald is the leading candidate for dismissal. The Sox just promoted Yamaico Navarro to audition as a right-handed hitting corner outfielder, and Josh Reddick (.444 in 14 games, including Thursday's triple that was his seventh extra-base hit since his call-up) not only has earned a spot as a backup outfielder, but is making a strong case that he deserves more.

That brings us to Drew, the 35-year-old outfielder standing in Reddick's way. The Sox keep saying they're waiting for Drew to embark on one of his customary hot streaks, but as they proved with Cameron, another player the Sox say they were waiting on to get untracked, patience has its limits.

No one has been a more ardent defender of Drew than GM Theo Epstein, the man who gave Drew a five-year, $70 million contract and has pointed to his production and defense as validating that deal. But in listening to Epstein extol Reddick's skills here this week, you couldn't help but think the clock is ticking for Drew, too.

"Josh has played really well,'' Epstein said. "More so than any stats, it's just really nice to see his maturation, especially with his approach at the plate. He's a guy from the day he signed [who] had plenty of bat speed to hit in the big leagues. Just a matter of refining his approach at the plate more, give him a little more discipline, a little more selectiveness without taking away the aggression, which is a big part of his game. He's really made that adjustment on his own.

"He's really locked in right now. Whether he ends up playing a really big part on the team in the coming months, or whether he ends up contributing later on, all that remains to be seen, but it's just a great sign he's been able to mature as a hitter. No doubt about it.''

Reddick is no longer this inexperienced kid. He has had more than 2,000 plate appearances in the minor leagues, and Thursday was his 70th game in the big leagues, scattered over three seasons of periodic call-ups. He's 24 years old, or two years older than Drew was when he made his big league debut for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998.

Here are some of the 24-year-old outfielders currently getting regular playing time in the big leagues: Jay Bruce, Mike Stanton, Justin Upton, Andrew McCutcheon, Logan Morrison, Colby Rasmus, Jason Heyward and Austin Jackson. Is Reddick talented enough to be a part of that group? Maybe not, but isn't it about time the Red Sox find out?

Josh Reddick
With Josh Reddick hitting .444 in limited action, will it only be a matter of time before he takes the lion's share of playing time in right field?

Drew has been out of the lineup since a freakish batting-cage accident in which he fouled a ball off his eye Sunday in Pittsburgh, one that has left him with a big-time shiner. "Looks like natural eye black, doesn't it?'' he said.

He entered the game as a pinch hitter Thursday, lining out. He remained in the game in right field and singled in his final at-bat, then expressed hope that he may be onto something.

"I've just got [to] get some hits, get rolling, get some confidence,'' Drew said. "My first at-bat, it feels good to hit the ball good, you'd just like to see it drop in. I think I've found something I'm going to stick with, try and keep it simplified. I feel really good in BP, and it seems to be working well in games.

"I've been hitting balls hard the last couple of weeks, which I haven't been doing. Hopefully, that'll pan out into some multi-hit games. We'll see.''

If not, expect to see more of Josh Reddick, with Drew sliding into a secondary role. That's not Boston's preference, but if that's the best avenue to winning, it's a move they will eventually make.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.