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Epstein reflects on start

Pregame remarks express concern

THEO EPSTEIN A time for leadership THEO EPSTEIN
A time for leadership
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 21, 2010

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With the Red Sox in an unfamiliar position, near the bottom of the American League East, and having a horrific start to the season, general manager Theo Epstein sat down in the dugout before last night’s game and acknowledged what has been apparent to all those watching this season. The team has been simply awful.

“It’s certainly not the time for excuses or for sugar-coating it. We’ve played bad baseball,’’ said Epstein. “This is a bad stretch of play. When you do that at the start of the season, it looks even worse. But I don’t think this is about perception or optics, it’s just what it is. It’s bad baseball. We haven’t played well.

“There are no excuses for how we’ve played. We haven’t played smart baseball. We haven’t really played aggressive baseball. As [Dustin Pedroia] said last night, there are games we haven’t even showed up to.’’

Of course, two new players who showed up last night — Josh Reddick and particularly Darnell McDonald — helped the Sox put together the most electrifying night of the young season so far, but even Epstein couldn’t have had an inkling that such a win was forthcoming, given the team’s play to date.

The GM had seen the Sox lose six straight at home — part of a 4-9 start — and, to management, that simply is not acceptable.

“Have there been some games where it looked like we didn’t show up? Absolutely,’’ said Epstein. “Do we know why it’s looked that way? No. If we did, we would have fixed it.

“What we can do is look inward, work our [rears] off, and return to the principles that have made us a solid organization, and have made these players who they are.’’

Epstein met with manager Terry Francona, the coaching staff, and assistant general manager Ben Cherington yesterday afternoon.

As Epstein said, “Everyone takes personal responsibility for it, the whole organization. [We] all got together and went through just about every player and talked about every issue and put our heads together, see if there’s anything we can do. Ultimately it comes down to playing better on the field.’’

The Sox did shake up their lineup, moving J.D. Drew into the second spot in the order, Pedroia to third, Victor Martinez to fifth, and David Ortiz to sixth. The changes were designed to put the hot-hitting Pedroia (.346) into an RBI position, and to get the not-hitting Drew (.146) into a spot where he might see more fastballs.

But lineup changes are hardly enough at this point.

“This is a chance for us to try to stand tall,’’ Francona said. “We talked to the players in the very first meeting about our season, a lot of our season. How it will be defined is how we handle frustration. Are we going to be tough? Are we going to dig ourselves out of it? Are we going to make excuses? We’ll find out. This is a time for us to show what we’re made of. I believe that.’’

Last night notwithstanding, the Sox have shown little on the field. As Epstein said, “It shouldn’t be too hard for us to start playing better, ’cause really we haven’t been doing the little things well. We haven’t been doing the big things well.’’

It’s hard to argue with that.

“It’s not like we’ve lost faith in all of our players all of a sudden,’’ Epstein said. “That’s not the way it is. We believe in these guys. But, at the same time, you can be realistic about it and recognize that we haven’t been worth a [expletive] so far.

“The question is, does their track record make you feel better? Yeah. When we start playing better, it’ll make us all feel better.’’

The Sox have not hit well, coming into last night’s game hitless in their last 32 at-bats with runners in scoring position. They have not pitched well, coming into last night’s game with a 6.75 ERA from the starters. The Sox have not played defense well, coming into last night having allowed 22 of 23 runners to steal (and they gave up nine more steals last night).

“We haven’t really done anything well, to be honest with you,’’ Epstein said. “We’re not pitching, we’re not hitting, we’re not playing good defense, we’re not running the bases well. So take your pick.’’

Epstein said that, in April, there’s no priority to shake up the roster. Instead the team needs to play “good, smart, aggressive baseball.’’

There is still a belief that the Sox can win with their current set of players, that they can figure out what they’re doing wrong and correct it. That hasn’t shown so far, though.

Epstein said the team needs to show leadership. Only time will tell whether the Sox can correct their shortcomings and move up the division into contention.

“Having a tough April in Boston is not always an easy thing to go through, from the players to the manager to the coaching staff to the GM to the ownership to the bat boys,’’ Epstein said. “It can be an unsettling time. I think it’s important to show good leadership with the way we handle it. In other words, don’t panic, but don’t shrug it off, either.

“We believe in certain principles that lead to winning a lot of baseball games and doing it the right way. Those don’t go out the window after two terrible weeks. Demonstrating what we’re made of at times of adversity is a pretty fundamental part of being a good baseball player, a good manager, a good coaching staff, good owner, good anything.

“I believe all of what I just listed. It’s time to go out and demonstrate that and hopefully that can play some small part in turning this thing around, too.’’

Perhaps last night was a start.

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