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Red Sox postgame notes: Darnell McDonald ‘belongs on this team’

03.23.12 at 4:53 pm ET
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SARASOTA, Fla. — Spring training numbers mean nothing. That doesn’t mean that spring performances can’t be impressive. And to date this spring, no one in Red Sox camp has been more impressive than outfielder Darnell McDonald.

McDonald went 3-for-3 in the Red Sox’ 6-5 loss to the Orioles, and he ripped a pair of hits to left and lined a single to right against Brad Bergesen. The performance was par for the course for McDonald during this Grapefruit League season, in which he now has 11 hits in 22 at-bats, including two homers and five doubles.

“He’€™s a hitting machine. Just a flat-out hitting machine. What’€™s he hitting, .700?” wondered Sox manager Bobby Valentine. “Is it five? Well, I’€™ve never seen anybody hit that high. That’€™s why it seems like seven, I guess. He’€™s swinging, and the ball’€™s finding holes and jumping off his bat or hitting off of walls. He’€™s swinging really well.”

For the Red Sox last year, McDonald was chiefly an outfield platoon option who got at-bats against left-handed pitching. This spring, he’s been doing plenty of damage against right-handers as well, having gone 10-for-19 against them.

Valentine suggested that McDonald has shown not only that he deserves a place on the Red Sox roster again, but also that he is making a case for an expanded role.

“He hasn’€™t hit much against left-handed pitching down here and he’€™s hitting .500. I think he knows there’€™s a potential Opening Day… There’€™s some spots, some room,” said Valentine. “He wasn’€™t happy with last year. He’€™s proven that he belongs on this team. I like everything I see.”

OTHER NOTES

Clay Buchholz could have stopped his outing after four innings, but the pitcher chose to get in another inning of work to build his pitch count to 86 (56 strikes) and, more importantly, to get used to working deeper into games. A year ago, Buchholz did not have a single spring outing of more than four innings. This year, he has already turned in a pair of five-inning games.

“After the fourth inning, they said, ‘€˜Hey that’€™s good work for today.’€™ I know that I need to get my pitch count up because I wasn’€™t ready for my first couple starts last year, so it made me want to go back out there for that fifth inning,” said Buchholz. “I don’€™t think I threw enough innings in spring training [in 2011]. My pitch counts were up there, but pitch counts don’€™t normally mean anything because it’€™s how many times you get up and down off the bench after long innings and going back out there pitching and throwing 20 pitches and sitting down for five minutes and going back out. Three and two-thirds and throwing 80 pitches doesn’€™t really work with getting your legs underneath you. The innings numbers are more important than the actual pitches.”

That being the case, Buchholz was pleased with his outing, having logged five innings while allowing five runs on seven hits and two homers (one of which was an only-in-spring-training opposite-field pop-up by Nick Markakis that just kept carrying in the wind), walking one and striking out three.

“It was good work,” said Valentine. “His stuff was good.”

– Reliever Mark Melancon, pitching in back-to-back games for the first time this spring, allowed one run on three hits while striking out a batter, less than 24 hours after tossing a scoreless inning on Thursday night against the Yankees.

“He’€™s getting close with these last two outings,” said Melancon. “He’€™s pretty close to what we need to see.’€

– Right-hander Matt Albers worked two scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out one while also picking off a runner.

“He said it was the first pickoff of his life or something,” said Valentine (though it’s worth noting that Albers was credited with a pickoff in 2011). “Pretty good pickoff move, I thought. Should have used it more often. I guess they don’€™t get on against him very often.”

Albers has been built up for the season as a multi-innings reliever. Friday’s two-inning outing came three days after he recorded five outs against the Blue Jays, and he’s also had a two-inning appearance in a minor league scrimmage against the Orioles as well as a two-inning outing in a “B” game against the Twins.

That reflects the fact that Albers takes on more of a workload than the typical reliever. Since the start of the 2008 season, he has 82 appearances of at least four outs, tied for the second most in the American League. A year ago, he had nine two-inning appearances.

If the Sox move Alfredo Aceves into the rotation, having Albers as a multi-inning weapon — particularly if he can be more like the Albers who was dominant through the first four months of 2011 than the one who stumbled over the final two months of the year — could prove particularly significant.

Read More: Bobby Valentine, Clay Buchholz, darnell mcdonald, matt albers
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