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Red Sox pregame notes: Sox’ historic opposition to intentional walk; some platoon decisions

10.08.13 at 8:50 pm ET
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John Farrell explained why he did not want to have Clay Buchholz intentionally walk Evan Longoria. (AP)

John Farrell explained why he did not want to have Clay Buchholz intentionally walk Evan Longoria. (AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There was a great deal of conversation about whether or not the Red Sox should have walked Evan Longoria in either of the two situations in which the slugger stepped to the plate with runners on and first base unoccupied. Yet in retrospect, it should come as little surprise that the Sox elected to pitch to the Rays’ best hitter.

After all, the Sox issued just 10 intentional walks all season, easily the fewest of any team in all of baseball. (The second fewest intentional walks were issued by the Nationals, who had 17; the second-lowest number issued by an AL team was the 21 by the Royals.) Indeed, the Sox demonstrated more reluctance to employ the intentional walk than virtually any team in baseball history. Not since the 1974 Dodgers issued nine intentional walks had a team so infrequently called for pitches outside the strike zone.

So when did the Sox issue intentional walks this year?

Yr# Gm# Date Pitcher Opp Batter Score Inn RoB Out
1 1 2013-04-11 Koji Uehara BAL Chris Davis down 2-3 t7 -23 2
2 1 2013-05-05 Koji Uehara @TEX Lance Berkman tied 3-3 b7 –3 2
3 2 2013-05-05 Clayton Mortensen @TEX Lance Berkman tied 3-3 b9 -2- 2
4 1 2013-06-08 (1) Franklin Morales LAA Albert Pujols down 2-3 t7 -2- 2
5 1 2013-06-14 Ryan Dempster @BAL Chris Davis down 0-2 b8 –3 2
6 1 2013-06-23 Alex Wilson @DET Miguel Cabrera down 4-5 b8 1-3 1
7 1 2013-08-11 Drake Britton @KCR Salvador Perez down 3-4 b8 -2- 1
8 1 2013-08-13 Junichi Tazawa @TOR Adam Lind tied 2-2 b9 -2- 1
9 1 2013-08-14 Brandon Workman @TOR Edwin Encarnacion tied 3-3 b10 –3 1
10 1 2013-09-18 Franklin Morales BAL Steve Pearce tied 3-3 t12 -23 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/8/2013.

In each instance, the team used the intentional walk in the seventh inning or later, either when tired or trailing. The team did not issue a single intentional walk with a lead. In each instance where the Sox issued an intentional walk in a tie game, the go-ahead run was already on base. That being the case, the fact that the Sox elected to have Clay Buchholz pitch to Longoria (who hadn’t homered against him in any of his 40 plate appearances) with two on and two out in the bottom of the fifth inning — a decision that came under scrutiny when Longoria hit his game-tying three-run homer — in retrospect came as little surprise given how Farrell managed this year.

Farrell said that he’s not hostile to using the intentional walk, but that he doesn’t like to confine his pitchers by forcing them to work without an open base.

“In last night’s situation, Clay’s success against Longoria, putting him in a bases-loaded situation with no room to maneuver, I didn’t want to do that with Clay,” said Farrell. “Even though [Wil Myers] is behind him, that’s a good fastball hitter and you put him in a situation where he’s got to throw the ball on the plate. I’d rather have Clay have that freedom to maneuver through it.”

Farrell did say that he’s comfortable with a pitcher working outside the strike zone in such a situation and trying to get an opposing hitter to chase. Indeed, Buchholz may have had that very intention.

“I really felt like that’s the way he was going about it last night. He had success pounding him in. He gets the first-pitch sinker where, as a pitcher you’re trying to get the hitter’s front hip to fly, to pull off. He does it in the first pitch with his sinker, goes in with a changeup behind it. The read to the hitter would be, OK, here’s the same pitch, but with an off-speed pitch with deception. He got to the area. It was just elevated a little bit,” Farrell observed. “He wasn’t trying to give up a three-run homer.”

– Farrell said that the decision to start Daniel Nava over Jonny Gomes represented a desire “to keep not only continuity, but the availability of Jonny Gomes, being able to selectively use him in the later-game situation.”

Nava is 2-for-13 with a .154/.214/.154 line in 14 career plate appearances against Hellickson. Gomes is .333/.333/.667 with a 3-for-9 line and a homer against the Rays Game 4 starter.

– Farrell also faced a decision on Monday about whether to leave Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the game when left-handed reliever Jake McGee entered the game in the eighth. The catcher stayed in, batting right-handed, a side from which he hit .218/.309/.319 this year. Backup catcher David Ross (who hit .259/.322/.481 against lefties this year) would have been a pinch-hitting option, but Farrell opted to stick with his starter.

“We had just used Gomes the hitter before, so [the decision was made] knowing that if we get into a little bit of an extended time, they’re going to come at us right-handed from that point forward. It becomes situational, where you are in the game, who is available,” said Farrell. “Probably depends on the time of the game. We’re not carrying three catchers. You have to be a little bit careful with that. I don’t want to say it’s something that would prohibit us or prohibit me from making the decision earlier in the game, but you kind of balance all that.”

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