, Gloucester, MA

August 29, 2013

Sox skipper Farrell has more to prove

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — The difference between this year and last year for the Boston Red Sox is night and day. A big reason is the difference between John Farrell and Bobby Valentine is night and day.

If the 2013 season ended today, Farrell would win the AL Manager of the Year.

But it doesn’t end today. And down the stretch Farrell has much more to prove beyond just making the right in-game decisions.

He hasn’t always made the right decision. There was his questionable choice to use reliever Brayan Villarreal instead of closer Koji Uehara with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a tie game last week against the Giants.

Just as important is Farrell’s tough lineup and pinch hitting decisions involving veteran players without the fear of offending them or disrupting the mood of the clubhouse.

Tuesday was a perfect example. Boston won 13-2 over the Orioles here at Fenway Park behind a career-high seven RBIs for Shane Victorino, so there’s no reason to be negative.

The win was a terrific one against a talented division rival. And with the Red Sox playing 17 of their final 29 games at home, it would take a significant collapse for them not to make the postseason.

But it’s not just about making the playoffs. Boston needs to win the AL East to avoid the dreaded do-or-die one-game Wild Card playoff. Second-place Tampa Bay is breathing heavily down Boston’s neck so every decision is important (and tough) from now until the final day of the season.

Farrell had one of those tough decisions last night.

The Red Sox faced tough Baltimore southpaw Wei-Yin Chen, who entered his start having held left-handed batters to a .191 average. Despite this, Farrell put left-handed hitting shortstop Stephen Drew (.198 average vs. southpaws this year) in the lineup and right-handed hitting Xander Bogaerts — who had a .452 on-base percentage against southpaws for Triple-A Pawtucket — on the bench.

Going against right-handers today and tomorrow, it seemed like the ideal game to play the young Bogaerts.

“I’m not going to turn away from Stephen Drew,” Farrell insisted. “Probably game seven after he came back from the DL until now he’s been one of our most consistent hitters. He’s been a very good shortstop defensively for us. And I just don’t want to let the splits of a given starter cause us to turn away from a guy who has been very good for us.”

Drew has hit better against lefties this month with a .257 average. But that also includes 11 strikeouts in 35 at-bats.

“To sit here and say he (Drew) has earned the right to start against lefties would be short-siding an awful lot that he’s done over a long period of time,” Farrell said.

A long period of time? Drew didn’t show any consistency at the plate until this month.

Drew isn’t owed anything. He’s hitting .246. It doesn’t matter if he’s an eight-year major league veteran who is earning $9.5 million. What matters is the Red Sox are in a heated race with Tampa and Farrell must play whoever gives his team the best chance to win that day.

Still, Farrell’s trust in his players has helped the Sox succeed this year.

Former skipper Terry Francona was the same way. He was the definition of a “player’s manager” and still is now with Cleveland. But even Francona pinch hit Mike Lowell for David Ortiz in 2010 when Ortiz was struggling brutally against southpaws at that time.

Ortiz wasn’t happy about it but he accepted the decision.

We’re seven games into the Bogaerts Era and the 20-year-old has started two games. He’s here to help. Let him help. He should be playing at least one or two games each series unless he begins to struggle. That one game this series should have been last night.

Give Bogaerts some starts at third base, too. Like Drew, Will Middlebrooks certainly isn’t owed anything. He’s 3 for his last 15.

Overall though, you have to be impressed by this team and by Farrell.