Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Panic button within reach
As midnight approached late Wednesday, there was no palpable angst in a Red Sox clubhouse best described as “routine.” Conversations were quiet, while the TVs were off and the stereo was silent — as usual when the home team loses. But nothing about the scene would’ve suggested that the home team had just lost its sixth game in a row. Least of all the comments of the players.
“Too many good players, and too many guys that have done it for too long, for it to stay like this,” said A.J. Pierzysnki. “It’ll turn. And, when it does, somebody’s going to pay.”
The catcher’s confidence was echoed by a few teammates, too, who similarly expressed their belief that things will get better. That the hits will start coming with runners in scoring position. That the club will begin playing better at home. That the starting pitching — which faltered again Thursday, when Jon Lester was rocked early — will return to its earlier form.
But while the players profess that there’s a long way to go, and that things will level out, management has been subtly sending a message in recent days that there’s an increasing urgency to the Sox situation. And as things seem to keep getting worse on the field, the higher-ups need to be careful not to let that urgency turn into panic, because that’s when the season could really slip away.
Both John Farrell and Ben Cherington have continued to say the right things over the past few days, publicly stating their confidence in the roster and professing a degree of patience. But more than their words, consider the actions they’ve taken since the beginning of the week.
They began Tuesday, when, just two days after the general manager voiced support of Xander Bogaerts as a shortstop, the Sox agreed to pay veteran Stephen Drew roughly $10 million to play that position for most of the season’s final 100 games or so.
Later that night, Farrell twice ordered sacrifice bunts with his team trailing by three in the late innings — later admitting that he did so because the Sox have hit into so many double plays and have struggled so much to convert scoring chances. Not only did the strategy fly in the face of the club’s organizational philosophy, but they were called to set up RBI situations for one guy then hitting .206 (Jackie Bradley Jr.) and another then hitting .167 (David Ross).
When things defy logic like that, it reeks of desperation.
So did the Sox lineup Wednesday. With the team at that point just 10-19 against right-handed starters, Farrell shuffled the deck. He moved Grady Sizemore to the leadoff spot, despite his .103 average there. He slid Shane Victorino down to sixth. He bumped Bogaerts to eighth. Only David Ortiz hit in the same spot that he had a night earlier.
And finally, on Thursday, the manager opted to go with Pierzynski over Ross behind the plate. Yes, Pierzynski had hit .409 lifetime against Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle — but only three of the 24 at-bats comprising that sample had come since 2003. That seems a less-than-compelling reason to sit Ross, who offensively prefers hitting against lefties (like Buehrle), and who defensively has developed a nice rapport as Lester’s receiver.
That’s a minor decision, obviously. But when considered in conjunction with the rest of the tinkering and tweaking that came before it, it becomes more conspicuous. And when adding a week-long losing streak into the equation, it strongly suggests that the attitude has changed.
As well it should’ve. Almost a third of the way through the season, the Sox are a team in need of a spark, and after building last year’s success on consistency, on showing up every day to win, and on daily attention to detail, anything done for the purposes of reiterating the importance of every game is a good idea.
But at the same time, the Sox must be careful not to go too far. Not to get too desperate too soon. And not to panic, because that’s when brush fires become full-blown infernos, when issues become irreparable problems, and when teams begin to bury themselves under the weight of their own desperation.
So while the Red Sox clearly need to do something in order to be better than they’ve been lately, the brass has to be careful about how it goes about facilitating that — and the message sent through those decisions. The standings say a mediocre division is still very much there for the taking. And, even amid their worst struggles in more than a year, the inhabitants of the clubhouse continue to maintain they’re good enough to capitalize on that opportunity eventually.Which leaves Cherington and Farrell in charge of finding a way to initiate all that — without interfering.
Dave D’Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.