Sports

With Stephen Drew returning, is Jose Iglesias caught in a Red Sox run down?

NEW YORK — Stephen Drew is quickly making his way back.

The Red Sox shortstop will be in Portland, Maine, Friday to begin a five-day rehabilitation assignment after suffering a concussion in March. By Opening Day at Fenway Monday, Drew could be ready to take his position back. This likely will not be Bledsoe-Brady, folks. Drew never has played a day for the Sox, but there are 9.5 million reasons why he will get his job.

That likely means a return to Pawtucket for Jose Iglesias.

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In two games, Iglesias has five hits in nine at-bats. He’s played superb defense. He hit .294 in 25 spring training games with seven extra-base hits, including a homer, and had eight RBIs. He doubled and singled in four at-bats hitting ninth Wednesday night.

He failed to move runners along in the second inning but it didn’t matter much as the Sox won, 7-4, over the hapless Yankees again.

It’s possible Iglesias may cool off by Monday and there will be justification to send him back to Triple A. As we sit here after two games, it’s hard to understand it.

Manager John Farrell was very clear late in spring training about Drew not losing his job because of an injury. And he didn’t change his tune after Wednesday night’s win.

“He’s doing an outstanding job,” Farrell said of Iglesias. “Early on, knowing how tough [Hiroki] Kuroda is on righthanded hitters, we put a sacrifice bunt on in his first at-bat and then he tries to bunt for a base hit.

“But after that, much like we saw in spring training, he’s back to that aggressive swing to the pull side. A couple of base hits inside the third base bag. Defensively, again, very strong night. Almost makes one highlight reel type of play on [Lyle] Overbay. He’s doing an excellent job for us.’’

But what happens when Drew returns?

“We’re certainly not taking away from what Jose has done, but we signed a premium guy in the offseason to be our starting shortstop and we’re not going to look at an injury to cause him to lose his job,” Farrell said.

He’s right. A player should never lose his job because he suffered a concussion and has had to go through quite an ordeal to get back to the point at which Major League Baseball will let him play again.

And when healthy, Drew is a good player. He produces at the plate and can make all the plays at shortstop. This is no indictment on Drew at all. He’s a good player and even a better person.

On the other hand, how do you tell someone who has done what you’ve asked of him to go back to the minors?

Fans love when kids excel after coming up through the farm system. It’s taken Iglesias a long time to get where he is. His whole approach has changed. He knew after last season that he had to improve at the plate. He spent four productive days at Dustin Pedroia’s house understanding what it takes to be a major leaguer, Pedroia style.

He took it to heart.

Iglesias is a Cuban defector who signed for $8.05 million. He’s still only 23 years old. He’s a wizard at shortstop with tremendous feet and hands. The Sox always have said he needs to show some semblance of offense to make the team. He’s done that so far.

On Opening Day he became the first player in 14 years with three infield hits, according to Elias.

He has played to his strengths — putting the ball on the ground and using his speed to beat out some infield hits. He got down a nice bunt as well.

Jackie Bradley Jr. is getting all the attention, but Iglesias is another rookie people are excited about.

The Red Sox are 2-0 and feeling good about themselves, and Iglesias’s five hits and solid defense have been a part of that good start. Maybe they can break that up without a hitch. Maybe it doesn’t matter if the No. 9 hitter relinquishes his job. Maybe this should just be a ho-hum move than none of us should question. And really, we’re probably jumping the gun. We have no idea if Drew will get through the next four or five games without a setback.

“I just want to be on a team that wins and that I can help to win,” Iglesias said.

He acknowledges the biggest change he’s endured is mental. He started to figure it out just when the Sox made the $9.5 million obligation to Drew.

“The biggest change is in my mind,” he said. “I just spent the entire offseason trying to put myself in this position to help the team and be in this position.’’

It’s tough for Iglesias to talk about his predicament. He doesn’t want to say the wrong thing. So he speaks in safe words and clichés.

“Every time I’m up, I’m thinking I need to get on first base, get on base and put a good at-bat together,” he said.

He doesn’t know what the future holds. “No I haven’t heard anything,’’ said Iglesias. “I’m just focused on playing the game one day at a time. It’s fun to be here. It’s fun to be a part of the two wins.”

Precisely the point. Bradley and Iglesias have injected some energy to a veteran lineup. It’s been, in part, their spark that has led to this good start.

“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I know what I got to do — move runners and be on base. I have my confidence back and that’s a good thing.”

That’s just it, he now has his confidence. Now what? Does he lose it if he has to go back to Pawtucket? Does he lose his momentum and rhythm?

The Sox are heading into a very tricky area. This kid is tough, though. This offseason when he found out Drew had been signed, he was disappointed, but it just made him work harder.

“I think he had something to prove a little bit after Stephen was signed here,” Farrell said. “The opening comes because of a concussion and he’s done a heck of a job.”

But probably not good enough.

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