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Looking for a power jolt: While Yankees added bats, Sox still searching for right-handed answers

08.17.13 at 1:50 am ET
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The Red Sox could use a power jolt from a right-handed hitter like Will Middlebrooks. (AP)

The Red Sox could use a power jolt from a right-handed hitter like Will Middlebrooks. (AP)

This time last month, when the trade deadline was rapidly approaching, much of the talk surrounded the Red Sox pitching corps. They had already acquired Matt Thornton, but was a deal for another reliever in the works? Should they stand pat with their rotation, hinging much hope on Clay Buchholz’ eventual return, or trade for a veteran starter?

In the end, they stuck with Thornton and brought Jake Peavy to Boston. Outside of speculation about the Phillies’ Michael Young, however, there wasn’t much worry with respect to the Red Sox lineup, which, granted, has spent much of the season as one of the most productive in baseball.

But half a month later, the Red Sox are suddenly 4-7 in the last week and a half — a mark that would look significantly worse if not for a pair of their trademark late-inning comebacks — and have watched their lead in the American League East shrink back down to a single game over the Rays. They are averaging 4.33 runs per game during the slide, about two-thirds of a run fewer than their average on the season, and that number, too, is harsher considering about a third of those runs came in a 15-run barrage against the Astros.

The focal point of the offensive struggles has been Mike Napoli’s well-documented slump, as well as the Red Sox’ ability — or lack thereof — to hit lefties.

Still, manager John Farrell is sticking by his team and its right-handed batters.

“Very confident in our team. We have a good team,” Farrell said. “And yet we’re going to go through some peaks and valleys. The right-handed bats we have here, I’m confident they’ll get the job done.”

Will Middlebrooks echoed that sentiment.

“We’ll get in a groove, there’s ups and downs,” he said. “You just ride the roller coaster and we’ll be fine. It’ll come back around.”

Nonetheless, the Sox hit 15 points lower as righties than they do overall, with that number expanding to 45 points in the OPS column. Those same right-handed bats are only marginally better against lefties (.261 average, .752 OPS) than they are against righties (.256, .723).

That was on display Friday night at Fenway, when the Red Sox fell to familiar southpaw Andy Pettitte — whom the Red Sox hit around for four runs in 6 1/3 innings July 19 — and the Yankees, 10-3.

Pettitte cruised through six innings before hitting a wall in the seventh, in the end allowing three runs — none of them earned — in 6 2/3 frames. The Yankees find themselves within striking distance of a playoff spot, 7.5 games back in the division and 5.5 back of the second wild card spot.

The difference for New York, of late, has been a pair of new righties of their own. Brian Cashman got in his time machine to put Alfonso Soriano back in pinstripes for the first time since 2003, and on Thursday he signed recently released all-or-nothing slugger Mark Reynolds.

Soriano has been on a tear, hitting .722 (13-for-18) with five homers and 18 RBIs his last four games. Reynolds, meanwhile, homered in his first at-bat as a Yankee Friday, sending a ball over the wall in left.

The team in the other dugout, the one that didn’t make any deals for a bat and doesn’t seem to have any good fits on the waiver wire, can’t say the same of their right-handed presences. The threesome of Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli and Middlebrooks seems capable of providing the pop the Red Sox could use, but the tangible results haven’t been their recently.

Seemingly the biggest hole, the No. 5 spot behind David Ortiz, in particular has been in a state of flux. Napoli occupied the spot for much of the season but was dropped lower by Farrell given his slump. Gomes has handled those duties for much of the week, but on the season he’s batting .219 and slugging .281 out of the five-hole.

The biggest wild card could be Middlebrooks, who is a .400 hitter (8-for-20) with a .455 OBP since his return to the big leagues six games ago. Farrell spoke highly before Friday’s loss of the third baseman’s re-focused plate approach, adding that he remains a possibility to hit fifth if he proves he’s up for the challenge.

“He’s going to tell us when he’s ready,” Farrell said then. “As we’ve seen of late, the bottom half of the lineup has some — we’ve fluctuated a little bit, try to ride a little bit more of the hot hand at times, and when the matchups might present themselves to be an advantage. So yeah, that can happen in time.”

Middlebrooks, who has batted only ninth in the last weeks, is down for that if Farrell wants to pencil him in higher in the order.

“Whatever they need me to do,” Middlebrooks said. “Whether it’s leadoff, it’s five-hole, it’s nine-hole, I just want to win. That’s what it’s about.”

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