Red Sox pregame notes: Farrell-ball has caught on; Will Middlebrooks could hit fifth; David Ross catching back-to-back full games with Pawtucket
|08.16.13 at 6:55 pm ET|
John Farrell, it would seem, is a man of his word.
“I truly believe in an up-tempo, aggressive style of play,” the Red Sox manager said at his introductory press conference last October. “It will certainly take into account the strengths of our roster — that’s a given. I think to play that style of game creates an attitude [that] I think is critical to win at the major league level, and that’s to be relentless.”
With a month and a half to go in the regular season, that has certainly come to fruition. That aggressive style of play Farrell spoke to when he was hired has became a trademark of the 2013 Red Sox, most notably on the basepaths.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino have played no minor role in giving the Sox that reputation. Ellsbury has stolen a major league-best 44 bases in 48 attempts, while his outfield cohort has nabbed 17 extra bags in 20 tries.
Dustin Pedroia is right behind Victorino with a 16-of-21 success rate.
“They’re smart. They’re smart baserunners,” Farrell said of the top pair’s success. “They spend time studying the pitcher on the mound at the given moment. We’ve got some reminders that run through [first base coach Arnie Beyeler] at first base to what they might trigger on as a key.
“They pay attention, in addition to their physical abilities. And it’s not an accident that they’re as successful as they are.”
Being aggressive on the bases is a philosophy the Red Sox have tried to implement a number of times over the years, but without as much success.
The 2007 team featured Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp, often batting near each other. One year later, Ellsbury and Lugo batted back-to-back on Opening Day. When Carl Crawford signed before 2011, he had more than 400 stolen bases — an average of 50 in each of his eight full seasons — and a career 82 percent success rate.
Now, though, Farrell and the Sox seem to have found a recipe for success. Ellsbury is on pace for his second-best season as a big leaguer stolen base-wise, and as a team the Red Sox have stolen 93 bases and been caught only 19 times. That 83 percent success rate is tied with the Royals for the best in baseball.
Even David Ortiz has gotten in on the fun with four swipes, double his total from the last five seasons combined.
Farrell said he looks for individuals to be successful 75 percent of the time. The top runners, like Ellsbury and Victorino, generally know when it is and isn’t the right time to go, but the coaches do put up the red light at times.
The team has, after all, run into quite a few outs on the bases as a result of their aggressive style.
“I think we’ve achieved it to a certain extent,” Farrell said of the implementation of what he called for when he was hired. “We’ve run into some outs at times, but that’s part of being that aggressive nature on the basepaths. The month of July probably worked against us in some cases, but as long as we remain aware of the game situation — and when [it is] an appropriate risk to take — I think we come out on the right end of it. “
OTHER RED SOX NOTES
– As one would expect, Farrell was mum when it came to Alex Rodriguez.
“We’re all certainly well aware of the situation he’s in, and clearly is within his rights to appeal, and that’s really all I’ve got to say about it,” Farrell said. “He’s taking advantage of the process that is clearly his right, so we’ll see how that all plays out.”
– The question of when Mike Napoli will emerge from his slump remains unanswered, and in the meantime the Red Sox lack an ideal No. 5 hitter. Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes have split the duties this week, but Farrell suggested Will Middlebrooks is a candidate to fill that slot in the future, if he can prove he is ready.
Since returning to the big league team last Saturday, he has collected at least one hit in each of his five games while batting .389 with a .976 OPS. A small sample size, sure, but there are other signs Middlebrooks is returning the form that made him so successful in 2012.
“He looks more relaxed in the box. That’s probably the biggest thing that stands out right now,” Farrell said. “Prior to he being optioned back [in June], I think there was a tendency to try to make up for some previous at-bats. That’s not the case. He’s playing with a little bit more free of a mind. He’s taken a number of good passes while at the plate, and he gives us the potential to lengthen out the lineup with a power bat in the bottom part of the order.”
Middlebrooks has hit ninth in each of his five games back in the majors, but Farrell said the possibility very much remains for him to move up.
“He’s going to tell us when he’s ready,” Farrell said, “Yeah, that can happen in time.”
– Catcher David Ross, who is with Triple-A Pawtucket while working his way back from a concussion, is scheduled to catch nine innings Friday night and nine innings Saturday night.
Although Ross is still shaking out some cobwebs, the plan remains for him to rejoin the team sometime during its six-game road trip to San Francisco and Los Angeles this week.
“[Ross is] kind of in a spring training mode,” Farrell said. “He’s getting back into it … working to get his timing while he’s at the plate. He threw out a speedy runner the other day, so he’s getting the necessary reps behind the plate.”
– Left-handed reliever Franklin Morales was activated from the disabled list last Saturday but has yet to get into a game. Farrell cited myriad factors — starters going deep and other relievers being able to work multiple innings among them — as the reason.
Farrell said he will continue to look for a low-leverage situation to get Morales some work.
One reason the team hasn’t had to rely on Morales is because Craig Breslow, his fellow southpaw, has been so effective. Farrell hasn’t shied away from using Breslow in a variety of different situations, from multi-inning stints to one-batter appearances.
Breslow has pitched in six of 14 games this month.
“He finds himself in those tight spots because one, he’s one of our more consistent strike-throwers, particularly from the left side,” Farrell said. “He’s got a longer track record than the other lefties that are out there. He’s trusted. … When he’s available, there’s no hesitation on calling him, whether it’s the sixth or the ninth inning.”
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