As new Red Sox center fielder Grady Sizemore hopes to take fans in a time machine in 2014 – and what a start with a home run and two hits in his first action in more than two years – new catcher A.J. Pierzynski has arrived as advertised.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I was opposed to Boston’s signing of Pierzynski from the moment it was floated as a rumor. Much of that rationale centered on his heavily-chastised personality and how that would mesh with a clubhouse previously built on unity and championship-winning chemistry but, to this point, there have been no complaints on that front coming out of spring training.
Equally worthy of concern, though, was the veteran’s recent plate prowess.
In 2013, Pierzynski batted a respectable .272 with a career-worst .297 on-base percentage. Why so low? He walked just 11 times, facing only 3.27 pitches per plate appearance. That ranked last in all of baseball among 254 players with at least 325 plate appearances. He’s a hacker, which generally goes against Boston’s organizational philosophy of taking pitches.
This spring, the catcher took part in 14 games and strolled to the plate on 42 occasions. He hit .262, and didn’t claim a single free base.
Whether or not you wanted the Red Sox to retain Jarrod Saltalamacchia – and I did, with his superior .338 OBP, 4.03 pitches per plate appearance (ranking 66th), and improving offensive production at 28 – it simply didn’t feel as though Pierzynski was the right overall fit.
In Monday's 2-1 season-opening loss to the Orioles, the 37-year-old Sox backstop singled in four at-bats and made contact every time, but faced a total of 11 pitches – by far the worst on the team.
Most glaring, with Boston down a run in the top of the eighth inning and two men aboard, Pierzynski fouled off two fastballs before grounding out softly to reliever Brian Matusz. To a man, the Red Sox left 24 runners on base, and the Sox’ newbie was responsible for a team-high five.
As you’d imagine, the fact Pierzysnki was at the plate at all was a popular postgame second-guess since both he and Matusz are lefthanders, and righty Jonny Gomes – 1-for-3 with a homer off Matusz in his career – was available to pinch-hit.
“A.J.’s gonna put the bat on the ball,” manager John Farrell said when asked about the decision. “Lefthander, righthanded, A.J.’s gonna put up a good at-bat. Still, we had a number of opportunities. The two-out base-hit was elusive.”
It’s true. Farrell’s club left a dozen men on base and went hitless in 10 chances with runners in scoring position. Pierzynski was hardly the only one to blame, though he was 0-for-3 with a man standing at second base.
Big picture, it was just one game. The sky certainly isn’t falling. Pierzynski’s struggles wouldn’t matter nearly as much had the Red Sox pulled out the win, but it remains worth noting how the aging vet’s lack of plate discipline and unwillingness to work pitchers deep into counts could impact the lineup throughout the season.
After a trip to the White House today to celebrate a third title in the span of a decade, it’s back to work for Boston on Wednesday in Baltimore. Pierzynski will get another opportunity, unless Farrell opts for David Ross.
I suppose all we can do is be patient. And hope Pierzynski is, too.
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