June 23, 2011

Aches, pains and a trip through the Senior Circuit.

Beware of injuries, the smothering murderer of countless potential playoff teams.

"60-day disabled list" is among the phrases most feared by fans and players, along with "tested positive for..." and "possible players strike." It's also among phrases most feared by owners and GMs, along with "$500 million lawsuit" and "represented by Scott Boras."

The Red Sox (also known as "the team with a winning percentage over .600") have been hit with a rash of dings and dents over the past couple weeks. Bobby Jenks has just begun throwing again, Jed Lowrie is off to seek a second opinion on his shoulder, Carl Crawford pulled a hamstring, and the back strain that Clay Buchholz has been fighting off for several starts has finally forced him to sit out.

That's a lot of talent eating Funyuns in the clubhouse, but it's not yet a serious problem. All those players are on the 15-day DL, and none are expected to be out all that long. Some need to rest a body part and others need rehab, but they all may be seeing action again by the first week of July.

And it helps that the Red Sox are playing gifted baseball right now. The lineup, in particular, has brought out a sense of confidence that's helped turn the Sox into a machine. Consider than, in the last 30 games, Boston has scored at least 14 runs six times. The 1-through-5 hitters have done most of that damage, and none of them have lost playing time to injuries, despite being constantly battered (see: Kevin Youkilis.)

Combined with pretty solid starting pitching and an encouraging debut from Andrew Miller, that's a recipe for taking two out of three.

If Miller's name rings a bell, it's because he is a former number one pick who was compared to Randy Johnson. Athletically, not in attractiveness. He was rushed up by the Detroit Tigers and pitched like crap, then he was traded to the Florida Marlins, rushed by them and pitched like crap once again. Finally, they traded him to the Red Sox, who finally slowly coached him with care and got some early signs of rebirth for their troubles.

The Red Sox are about to begin a nine-game road trip, which would sound daunting if two of the opponents weren't the Pirates and the Astros. Not exactly a death march.

Speaking of interleague play, it's time for another installment of "good idea, bad idea."

Good idea: Trying to get both Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz in the lineup for at least a few of the nine upcoming away games.
Bad idea: Moving a Gold Glove first baseman into right field and putting a designated hitter at first base for at least several of the nine upcoming away games.

Yes, they're actually talking about doing this. Normally a DH like Ortiz would be used only as a pinch-hitter in the late innings in a National League park. But Ortiz is having an All-Star season; his bat has become one of the most indispensable in the lineup. Sitting him could inadvertently cool him down, and that just wont do.

Ortiz is actually not as terrible with the glove as one might think. He is usually sound and has even been known to make a fine play here and there. In contrast, Jason Giambi was a first basemen who should have been a DH; defensively, he was just a notch below Stevie Wonder.

But what to do with Gonzo? The guy leads the AL in hits, batting average and RBIs; he's the early MVP favorite. Putting a former outfielder at first is one thing, but Gonzo in the outfield? He has very sure hands but almost no career experience in the outfield.

Even worse is his ability to cover ground, as Gonzo is one of the slowest runners in the game. Even when trucking at full steam, he appears to be practically going backwards. PNC Park, Citizens Bank Park and Minute Maid Park all have modestly sized right fields, but it isn't hard to envision a ball that JD Drew would've tracked down landing out of Gonzo's reach for a double or worse.

And what if he got hurt? It's unlikely -- and Francona probably would order Gonzalez to play it safe -- but it is still possible. The Sox can tolerate the injuries they have now, but losing their MVP would be a serious blow, not to mention an embarrassment.

Despite my trepidation, it is likely a necessary risk. You just can't sit Ortiz for nine games without throwing off his groove. Gonzalez will play right field a few times, even if Terry and I are holding our breath with every fly ball.

But if that's the biggest problem the Red Sox have now, then they can count the,selves fortunate.

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