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Dan Shaughnessy

Questions about offense starting to drive them batty

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / February 26, 2010

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FORT MYERS, Fla. - You know the drill. The 2010 Red Sox didn’t land a big bopper and lost Jason Bay and his 36 homers and 119 RBIs. The Sox were too easily shut down by good pitching last year, so now there’s fear in the Nation that there’s not enough sock in the Sox.

Our last memory of the ’09 team was the way the bats were silenced in the three games against the Angels. In the wake of the sweep, Theo Epstein spent the winter working on pitching and defense. The mantra of “run prevention’’ has served to underscore fears about offense.

The Red Sox do not have a player on the roster who hit 30 homers in the big leagues last year.

So we worry about offense. Too many Marcos. Not enough Mannys. Where’s Dick Stuart when you need him?

The young men who step into the batter’s box are getting a little tired of the theme.

“You guys also predicted the Cubs to win the World Series last year,’’ said Kevin Youkilis before yesterday’s workout at the Red Sox’ minor league complex. “Predictions are predictions.

“You can’t worry about that stuff. No guy is out here going, ‘I’m going to prove all the writers wrong about this offense.’ It is what it is.

“You’ve just got to go out and play your game and you can’t really worry about it. There are some guys that are predicted to have great years and they might be a little less than that.’’

The Sox have plenty of punch at the top in Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, and Youkilis, but there is concern about the middle and bottom of the lineup. David Ortiz is coming off the worst season of his Red Sox life and Mike Lowell has been erased from the equation. Fans want more than 68 RBIs out of J.D. Drew, and new third baseman Adrian Beltre hit only eight homers in 449 at-bats last season. Mike Cameron is a .250 hitter who fanned 156 times last year.

“We’ll be fine,’’ said Pedroia. “We’ve got a lot of good offensive players. We’ve had two practices. I don’t think anybody can judge our offense until we get out there and start playing.

“I don’t even know what our lineup’s going to be, but wherever we’re at, we’re going to hit. We were third in the league [in offense] last year and we only had Victor for half the year. I know we lost Jason Bay, but everyone’s going to have to pick up the slack and we’re confident we’re going to do that.’’

Even without a 30-homer guy, the Sox are tough on enemy pitchers. Ellsbury’s speed gets the attention of all pitchers and Pedroia and Youkilis regularly work through eight- and nine-pitch at-bats.

“We’re going to have guys that grind out at-bats and work the counts,’’ said Pedroia. “That’s been our strength for a long time. We get starting pitchers out of games and get into the bullpens and have long games and long series. We’re still going to do that. That part of our offense hasn’t changed and that’s why we’re successful.’’

Cameron knows what it’s like to stand in the outfield when Pedroia and Youkilis are grinding.

“Tough outs,’’ said the center fielder. “Lot of long innings because of the battles. You think you’re winning, but the game isn’t over with these guys. They beat really good pitchers. That’s what I remember.

“Seeing the way they go about their business definitely heightens your senses to that and makes you focus a little bit better.

“There’s no 30-homer guys, but hopefully we’ll have a lot of 20-, 25-homer guys. Four, five, or six of them.’’

Epstein has admitted he’s worried about his team facing powerful righthanded pitching, but he thinks the stronger pitching and defense will make up for the diminished thump. The GM and manager Terry Francona have defended the offense throughout the winter, and now the lobbying has moved to the locker room.

“I think we’ve got plenty of offense,’’ said Ellsbury. “We’ve got situational hitters who can drive the ball out of the ballpark when they need to. I don’t think scoring runs is going to be an issue at all. Look at 1 through 9, it’s going to be solid.’’

“We’ve got guys that are hitting seventh and sixth that would be hitting third and fourth in maybe some other lineups,’’ insisted Youkilis. “We’ve got to prove ourselves, I guess, but that’s a good thing, too - proving to ourselves that we can do it.’’

“We’ve heard all about it,’’ said Pedroia. “We know. When the games come and we score 10 runs a couple of times, you guys will have to write something else.’’

Deal.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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