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The somewhat confounding X-Factor: John Farrell explains usage of Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts

10.08.13 at 7:23 pm ET
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Xander Bogaerts saw his first action in the playoffs as a pinch-runner for Will Middlebrooks on Monday. (AP)

Xander Bogaerts saw his first action in the playoffs as a pinch-runner for Will Middlebrooks on Monday. (AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As he prepared to meet with a small group of beat reporters, John Farrell leaned back in his chair and smirked.

“So last night . . .,” he cracked and then trailed off, knowing that the lion’s share of inquiries he faced would relate once again to some of his Game 3 managerial decisions. Yet Farrell suggested he hadn’t had a change of heart since the previous evening’s contest concluded, while also offering insight into his outlook on a number of questions related to his lineup for Game 4 on Tuesday.

Most notably, asked whether he felt it was important to remain consistent to the managerial style and decisions that he employed while navigating the Red Sox to the postseason, Farrell suggested that while there is value in such an approach, the decisions he made in Game 3 were “not just based on the intangible of trust or faith.” Specially, he suggested that he remained convinced of the “sound reasoning” behind letting Stephen Drew hit against left-handed reliever Jake McGee in the eighth inning, rather than using Xander Bogaerts for such a situation.

“To me, there’s sound reasoning behind not pinch hitting for Stephen Drew in that situation. I know everyone calls for the fact that just because he’s a right-handed hitter, it’s an automatic base hit,” said Farrell. “I wish that were the case.”

Farrell noted that the flame-throwing McGee throws his high-octane fastball almost exclusively, without the killer breaking ball that typically characterizes a left-on-left specialist. Indeed, McGee threw Drew nothing but fastballs in the eighth-inning at-bat between the two. As such, given both Drew’s familiarity with the Rays lefty (Drew was 0-for-5 with a walk and two strikeouts against him) and the lack of familiarity by Bogaerts against the left-hander, not to mention the fact that McGee has been just as effective against righties as he’s been against lefties, and the decision, to Farrell, was relatively clear.

It’s also worth noting that Farrell acknowledged that Bogaerts remains, at this point, an unknown quantity as a pinch-hitter.

“That’s not his fault,” said Farrell. “It’s just at-bats.”

Farrell did acknowledge that he gave some thought to giving Bogaerts a start at third base for Game 4 on Tuesday, knowing that third baseman Will Middlebrooks is 1-for-12 with eight strikeouts against Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson. (Indeed, Middlebrooks has struck out more against Hellickson than against any other pitcher in his career; the second-most punchouts he’s had against a player is the five against Hiroki Kuroda.) Moreover, he noted that Middlebrooks — who is 2-for-10 with a double, a pair of walks and two strikeouts in a dozen playoff plate appearances — has been inconsistent in demonstrating the approach that yields his greatest likelihood of success.

“There’s been a tendency to pull off a little bit,” said Farrell. “Looking back to when he rejoined us in Kansas City, he’s gone through some stretches where it’s been a pretty level bat path through the zone and there’s times where he’s looking to do some damage in the swing where he’s vacating the outside part of the plate. The other night, in Game 2, he gets a solid base hit to right field. When he stays in the middle of the field, that’s when he’s at his best, and that’s what he continually works on.”

 

Given that combination of factors, why the decision to have Middelbrooks start over Bogaerts, who is 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts against Hellickson? Farrell noted Bogaerts’ lack of exposure to right-handed pitchers who lean heavily on changeups even when throwing to right-handed hitters.

“That’s a different animal for a young guy, and at least there’s a handful of at-bats by Middlebrooks,” said Farrell. “And at third base, still feel like Will is the better defender.”

All of that said, Farrell suggested that the Sox still “have a very high view of [Bogaerts] and a very positive outlook for [him].”

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