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Why the Red Sox shuffled their lineup

04.20.12 at 1:29 pm ET

Bobby Valentine had all of spring training to concoct the Red Sox lineup. But never did he conjure anything along the lines of the batting order that he printed out on Friday for the contest against the Yankees.

Valentine inserted Ryan Sweeney in the second spot in the lineup, between leadoff man Mike Aviles and second baseman Dustin Pedroia. That approach reflects the fact that Sweeney is off to a spectacular start (he’s hitting .424, second in the American League) and the fact that he represents a good counterpart for Aviles.

Aviles (hitting .268 with a .318 OBP and .463 slugging mark this year) is typically an aggressive hitter, averaging 3.48 pitches per plate appearance in his career (below the major league average of 3.81 during that span) and 3.67 this year. The Sox want him to continue to approach his craft thusly while batting.

Sweeney (.424/.476/.624), meanwhile, embraces the virtues of patience by nature. He is averaging 4.11 pitches per plate appearance this year, a slight tick up from his above-average 3.95 for his career. Given the likelihood that Sweeney will work deep into the count (he has put a first pitch in play just 104 times in his career; he has never put a 3-0 pitch in play; and he rarely swings at 1-0 or 2-0 pitches), Valentine liked putting him next to Aviles in the lineup.

Doing so, the manager believes, will also benefit Pedroia. Pedroia (.271/.340/.521) is averaging 4.09 pitches per plate appearance, but while unquestionably become a more selective hitter, he still benefits from having the freedom to attack a first pitch in his wheelhouse. And so, in a way, the insertion of Sweeney into the second spot could allow both Aviles and Pedroia to feel comfortable with their natural approaches.

“Obviously Ryan’€™s been hitting the ball and being on base as much as anyone,” said Valentine. “The pitches it seems have been working for him, he might be in a more favorable position to get them. Mike’€™s an aggressive hitter. At times, he’€™s had very good at-bats where he’€™s extended the at-bat. I don’€™t want to take the aggressiveness away from him. Sweeney is a very patient guy so there’€™s not a problem with Mike having a quick at-bat with Sweeney coming up and taking a pitch and not having Dustin sitting there thinking he might be the guy to do that so that kind of grouping works a little, I hope.”

While the arrangement makes sense to Valentine, he admitted that it reflects the need to adapt on the fly to the realities now confronting the Red Sox, chiefly the fact that Jacoby Ellsbury is out.

“It wasn’€™t one of the ones I was planning in spring training, believe me,” said Valentine. “I had 33 games in spring training and this wasn’€™t one of the groupings I had thought about.’€

Read More: Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, mike aviles, ryan sweeney
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