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Red Sox pregame notes: Sox bullpen taxed but undaunted; why Daniel Nava is sitting; David Ortiz’s struggles; Xander Bogaerts’ maturity

10.19.13 at 7:45 pm ET
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There are times when the exhaustion is visible in the members of the Red Sox bullpen. Closer Koji Uehara acknowledged after Game 5 of the ALCS, when he recorded a five-out save in 29 pitches, that, yes, he was feeling a bit cooked by his workload. Craig Breslow likewise detailed in his playoff blog that he is “considerably more exhausted” after playoff starts than he was in the regular season.

But while Uehara and Junichi Tazawa have each appeared in seven of the Sox’ nine playoff games and Breslow has pitched in six of them, manager John Farrell‘s usage of them has hardly been to limit them.

“The thing that’s changing is we’re using them more,” said Farrell. “Each guy has rebounded and recovered well. I think there’s also an added adrenaline that flows right now that might not be there regular season. Not to say that they’re superhuman, but I think, much like will take place today, I’ll make my rounds in the outfield and just double-check with them, and I know they’re all going to say, yes, they’re ready to go. Again, because they’ve been so efficient, we’ve been fortunate where we really haven’t really overtaxed one guy, other than the number of outs have increased. But we haven’t blown up a pitch count for any particular guy that would say he needs multiple days off.”

Farrell noted particularly that Uehara has been good about making clear the nature of the workload he can handle.

“I fully recognize that these pitches have added stress to them. That’s all factored in, yet I trust what he tells me. And he’s been great about that,” said Farrell. “Jokingly, I’ve heard him, [after I'll] say, ‘Five, six outs,’ he’ll say, ‘Four.’ But you know, the other night he got loose very quick. We’ve called down and said, ‘It could be five tonight.’ ”

Still, as much as Uehara has proven resilient and capable of responding to the Sox’ needs, Farrell also acknowledged that he was aware that Uehara appeared spent after his five-out, 29-pitch save in Detroit. He planned to check in with his closer during batting practice. And the manager said he would be mindful of his closer’s feeling of fatigue as he determines his potential workload for Game 6.

All of that being the case, Farrell was asked, does he think that Uehara would be limited to just three outs on Saturday?

“Not in my mind,” said Farrell.

OTHER RED SOX NOTES

— The Tigers feature an all right-handed rotation. Prior to the series, that fact made it seem likely that Daniel Nava would be a staple of the Sox’ lineup during the American League Championship Series. Instead, for the fourth time in the series’ six games, Nava — whose .385 OBP ranked fifth in the American League this year — is once again on the bench, with Jonny Gomes getting the start against Max Scherzer in Game 6.

That decision by manager John Farrell reflects in part on the fact that Nava has struggled in his career against Scherzer (1-for-9). But it also attests to the fact that Farrell feels that Gomes changes the dynamic of the team, delivering energy both on the bases and in the field that Nava can’t necessarily replicate.

‘€œIt’€™s been very difficult [to sit Nava] because he’€™s a good hitter. He’€™s been an important part of this team throughout the course of the year and we’€™re also at a time of the year where I mentioned the environment is different,” said Farrell. “That’€™s not to say that he doesn’€™t perform in this environment. It’€™s just that, we have a different feel and a different personality on the field when Jonny is in the lineup. Call that a hunch, call it whatever you might. That’€™s what it boils down to. And it’€™s not easy to leave that left-handed bat out of the lineup.’€

Farrell said that Nava is aware of the fact that he has struggled in his plate appearances against Scherzer, something that has made the conversation about playing time a bit easier to navigate.

“The one thing you come to realize pretty quick is every player in there knows what he’€™s done against a given pitcher. They are well aware of it. you’€™ve got to be candid, you’€™ve got to be truthful and honest, as is he, with himself.”

Given that both Nava and Gomes (2-for-9 against Scherzer) have struggled against Detroit’s Game 6 starter, Farrell said he made his decision based on the fact that so much of the ALCS to date — in which four of the first five games have been decided by a run — has come down to execution of the game’s details outside the batter’s box.

“I think the smaller things, defense and baserunning, the way this series has unfolded, are integral and have huge impact in the outcomes,” said Farrell.

— Farrell took stock of the at-bats of David Ortiz, who is just 2-for-19 in the ALCS (albeit with one of the hits having been the game-changing Grand Slam in Game 2).

“He’s certainly been pitched to very effectively.  Guys haven’t given in to him, they’ve worked him backwards in some fastball counts. Look at what [Game 4 starter Doug Fister] did to him a couple of at’€‘bats, throw a baseball up and in on him with a 2’€‘2 count and then a good pitch with a breaking ball. He poses that threat every time he steps in the box. He recognizes that a lot of teams will pitch him carefully, and I think it’s important that ‘€‘’€‘ David is typically not a guy that gets frustrated with the attack plan of the opposition. To their credit, they haven’t thrown many pitches on the plate. When they did in a bases loaded situation, we know what he can do.”

— For the second straight game, Farrell has Xander Bogaerts in the lineup. For the second straight game, Stephen Drew is in the lineup and Will Middlebrooks is sitting. That decision to have Bogaerts at third (over Middlebrooks) instead of short (over Drew) reflects in part on the desire to avoid getting too right-handed against Scherzer (an overpowering pitcher against right-handers) and in part on Drew’s excellent defense at short. Indeed, he made a crucial play in Game 5, converting a 1-6-3 double play when Jon Lester nearly sailed his throw into center field.

“[Drew] did a great job of, before he anchored at second base, just to read the throw first. We’ve all see that Jon has had some challenges at times throwing the ball to bases. I think collectively we kind of held our breath,” admitted Farrell. “Thankfully, he got in the vicinity and turned a double play. Yeah, it was a key moment.”

— Farrell once again praised Bogaerts’ maturity. While the 21-year-old has said he’s experiencing nerves internally, nothing that he’s done on the field or in the dugout has betrayed that.

“I would hope he would be nervous inside.  That would only be, I think, a natural response.  But at the same time he’s able to control it and it doesn’t take him out of his approach or how he plays the game,” said Farrell. “It’s been really fun to see, actually.  The smile on his face never goes away.  There’s never the look on his face, there’s no deer in the headlights, any kind of those descriptions you might come up with.  He’s a very mature and poised young man.”

— On that subject, Farrell suggested that the variables for determining who to use in October do change based in part on the makeup challenges presented by the stage. There are players who thrive amidst the pressure and scrutiny of the environment and others who struggle with it.

“I think at this point in time gut feel comes into it a little bit more than numbers will tell you on a stat sheet or a given category,” said Farrell. “The way players respond under these circumstances in this environment has got equal weight, if not more, than maybe what the numbers might indicate or drive you to make a decision over the course of a regular season game or over 162. This is a different environment. And I think that’s why we’ve got to remain in tune with how guys are responding in those key moments, pressure’€‘packed moments.”

Jake Peavy, as expected, is available out of the bullpen tonight. Farrell said that Peavy represented something more than an option of last resort based on the way he pitched exclusively out of the stretch in a simulated game between the end of the regular season and the start of the American League Division Series against the Rays. That said, Peavy’s availability wouldn’t alter the late-innings relief dynamic, in which Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow have been constants in the bridge to Koji Uehara.

“I’€™d go to other guys that we’€™ve been going to, particularly in key spots, before we call upon him coming out of the bullpen,” said Farrell.

That said, Farrell was appreciative of the fact that Peavy is eager to return to the mound following his three-inning, seven-run sputter in Game 4 of the ALCS.

“He wants the opportunity to redeem himself so hopefully things unfold in a way that maybe that redemption will happen later,” said Farrell.

– Farrell said that, even though he typically doesn’t like to see alterations to baseball’s traditions, he is open to the idea of protecting catchers from injurious collisions, such as the ones that occurred between Miguel Cabrera and Sox catcher David Ross as well as between Ross (this time as the runner rather than the catcher) and Alex Avila in Game 5 of the ALCS.

“I’€™ve always tended to be on the side of tradition but when guys are kind of an exposed target, yeah, I would be in favor of some change that would protect them,” said Farrell. “I think a lot of the injuries can be avoided that do take place.”

Read More: Craig Breslow, daniel nava, jake peavy, Jonny Gomes
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