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High anxiety, as owner Henry exhibits concern

David Ortiz and his fellow Red Sox batters have a lot to think about after an 8-2 loss to the Rays at Fenway Park. David Ortiz and his fellow Red Sox batters have a lot to think about after an 8-2 loss to the Rays at Fenway Park. (Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 20, 2010

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The Red Sox’ struggles are no longer a media/fan concern.

The concern goes much higher up.

“Of course I’m concerned,’’ wrote Sox owner John Henry in an e-mail. “We can’t dig ourselves too deep a hole. The Yankees and Tampa Bay are so strong.’’

All one has to do is look at the team that demolished the Sox this Patriots Day weekend, the Rays, who went 11-16 to start last season and never recovered. In the AL East, you just can’t be 4-9 after 13 games, 6 games behind the Rays and 5 1/2 in back of the Yankees, and think it’s going to be easy to come back.

That’s why it wasn’t too early to be concerned about David Ortiz after only two games of the season. It wasn’t too early to question whether Mike Cameron was a suitable replacement for Jason Bay. It wasn’t too early to wonder whether Victor Martinez could be the full-time catcher and still maintain his hitting.

And so we wonder, even though it’s still very early in the season, what can be done to shake things up?

Every day the players come to the park and hope this is the day they become what everyone thinks they should be — a 95-win team that makes the playoffs. The Sox were 2-6 last season, then won 11 straight and became that team. We understand the concept of slow-starting players because there are a ton in the majors, the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira (hitting .114) a prime example.

This start doesn’t have to be catastrophic, but Henry’s concern is legitimate. Even if the Sox claw back and end up with the third-best record in baseball, that won’t be enough because New York and Tampa Bay may well have the two best records in the majors. The 1996 Red Sox wound up being a pretty good team after a 6-19 start. In fact, they finished 85-77 and Kevin Kennedy did a pretty good job managing but got fired when he didn’t make the playoffs.

There are no such things as major shakeups in baseball because there are guaranteed contracts and it’s hard to sit a player making $12 million. Injuries certainly take their toll on any team, and the Sox have been without their leadoff hitter/igniter Jacoby Ellsbury. The Sox are 1-6 since Ellsbury exited the lineup after a collision with teammate Adrian Beltre last Sunday in Kansas City. They lost two out of three to the Twins, then were swept in four games by the Rays.

Henry wouldn’t comment on whether he believes there needs to be a shake-up, indicating that was more general manager Theo Epstein’s responsibility.

But here are 10 things to consider:

1. Teams have stolen successfully against the Sox 23 out of 24 times. The Rays were 10 for 10. The Angels may make veteran Mike Napoli available, but he’s an offensive catcher. And then what would you do with Martinez and Jason Varitek?

2. David Ortiz is down to .158 after an 0 for 3 yesterday. How much longer will the Sox stick with him? Will they make Mike Lowell the full-time DH at some point? As of yesterday, Ortiz hadn’t met with Ron Jackson, his former hitting coach, who is in town. When asked if he would call Jackson, Ortiz said he would. Not that that would be the cure-all for Ortiz’s ills, but when desperation hits, don’t you try anything and everything to get out of a slump?

3. Jon Lester has been terrible — 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA over three starts. He hasn’t run away from his poor start and nobody feels worse than he does. Teams have sent young starters — even those with track records such as Lester’s — back to the minors before. The Indians did it with Cliff Lee in 2007, and he came back the following year and won 22 games and the American League Cy Young award. The Sox likely would not consider something that drastic, but it would send a strong message.

4. Daisuke Matsuzaka to the rescue? Who knows whether Matsuzaka will add stability to the Sox rotation. Strange to see Tim Wakefield and trainer Mike Reinold going into manager Terry Francona’s office for a closed-door meeting, where Epstein and Ben Cherington also were sitting. Is something wrong with Wakefield?

5. Should the Sox consider Jermaine Dye? The Sox were interested in acquiring him a few years ago. Granted, his offense slipped the second half of last season with the White Sox and he remains unsigned after recent talks with the Nationals fell through. Dye hit .179 with 7 homers and 26 RBIs in his final 246 at-bats with the White Sox last season. He had hit .302 with 20 homers and 55 RBIs in his first 81 games. But Francona is familiar with him and he could add some righthanded power. The Sox, of course, currently don’t have a lot of room on their bench with Varitek, Bill Hall, Lowell and Jeremy Hermida.

6. It has to be a concern that Cameron has had such a tough start defensively and that he’s had a rough time physically with kidney stones and perhaps another ailment he was undergoing tests for at Massachusetts General Hospital yesterday. So far one has to question the swap of positions, with Ellsbury going to left, given that Ellsbury was prone to highlight catches and had knowledge of center field in Fenway. But UZR rules.

7. Might the bench be reconfigured a bit? Hall has had some defensive issues as the super utility player. Granted, he hasn’t played center at Fenway very often and hadn’t played short since his 35-homer season in Milwaukee in 2006. The Sox really don’t have a true backup at shortstop. This could become an issue.

8. There is lots of inconsistency in middle relief with Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, Scott Schoeneweis, and Scott Atchison leading up to Daniel Bard and Hideki Okajima. The plan was for the starters to go seven and hand it over to the setup guys and closer, but it hasn’t often worked out that way. That doesn’t mean it won’t.

9. Sometimes the advent of a young player with an attitude can help spark a team. Josh Reddick had a red-hot spring training, but he has had a poor start at Pawtucket, hitting .147 with one homer and four RBIs. The Sox have had him ready to come up with Ellsbury and Cameron’s physical woes and if there is something else wrong with Cameron, Reddick may be called on.

10. Sometimes it’s best just to do nothing, to just play it out and hope the damage isn’t too much to overcome. It’s tough to do sometimes, given the pressure put on by two divisional rivals. One can always look back to last season, when the Yankees went 0-8 against the Red Sox, then won 9 of 10 against them and won the World Series.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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