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Usage of platoons has become a one-sided debate

By Nick Cafardo
June 25, 2011

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PITTSBURGH — Every team loves to have a righthanded-heavy lineup against lefty pitchers and a regular lineup against righties.

But when does it reach the point where you say: My regular lineup is my regular lineup, and I’m sticking with it.

When Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald replace the lefthanded tandem of J.D. Drew and Josh Reddick in the outfield, it’s not always the best thing. In fact, McDonald and Cameron aren’t hitting lefty pitchers anyway.

Last season, Drew hit a woeful .208 against lefties and thus began the plan to have Cameron play against lefthanded pitchers. This year, Drew is hitting .206 against lefties, but Cameron, after going 0 for 3 against Pirates starter Paul Maholm in last night’s 3-1 loss, is at .150 (9 for 60). Drew is also a better right fielder than Cameron, who prefers to play center.

Many major league managers are stubborn when it comes to righty-lefty platoons. They’ll stick with it until it finally works, and that’s where the Red Sox appear to be.

Cameron and McDonald have always hit lefthanded pitching well.

Cameron has a career OPS of .856 against lefties, and McDonald hit .294 with four homers and 14 RBIs against them last season. But this season they’re a combined 12 for 88, a .136 average.

“I don’t know,’’ Sox manager Terry Francona said when asked whether he would go with his regular lineup against lefties. “I think we always look at the series and try to do what we think is right. Things change. Guys get hot. Guys got cold. I’m not sure it makes sense to think two weeks down the road.’’

Reddick had a pinch-hit single against a lefty last night and is 3 for 5 against lefties since being recalled from Pawtucket.

“He’s the one guy who has been hitting against lefties. When you’re swinging the bat good, it doesn’t matter. That was a tremendous at-bat,’’ Francona said.

McDonald, who batted fifth last night, ended three rallies. He also had a single in the eighth off a righthander.

The Sox scored a run in the first inning on a Kevin Youkilis ground out. With two outs, McDonald had Adrian Gonzalez on second base and couldn’t drive him in. In the third, the Sox loaded the bases with two outs and McDonald grounded to third. In the fifth, the Sox had two on with two outs and McDonald flied deep to center.

McDonald is just 3 for 28 against lefties this season. What gives?

“It’s the game of baseball,’’ he said. “Just try to have a good at-bat. You can’t control where the ball goes. It feels like I’m seeing the ball well. I’m not doing anything different against lefties. Hopefully things will turn around. I got a hit, so hopefully that gets me going. As far as my approach, I feel good. I’m just not getting hits. Those pitchers get paid to get you out. It’s not like I feel I’m out of synch. I’m swinging at good pitches. I want to get a hit against anybody.

“Things will turn around. I feel good at plate. It’s just a matter of time.’’

Cameron has just felt out of sorts all season. He’s a platoon player for the first time in his career and he’s not adapting well.

“I don’t have an answer,’’ he said of his struggles against lefties. “I guess there’s a few times where I have no luck. I’m not gonna worry about it. Just keep working and go into the game with a clear mind-set.

“It’s definitely different [as a platoon player]. Not much you can do about it. When you get in there, that’s probably gonna be the day you face a lefty. It’s been frustrating at times. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not good.’’

Cameron, who has made 24 starts this year, flied out to lead off the second and struck out to lead off the fourth and sixth innings. He also missed making a diving catch on Mike McKenry’s double in the third inning. “It just got a little bit under my glove,’’ he said.

Would the Sox have been better off with Drew and Reddick last night? Cameron was batting .433 (13 for 30) with three homers and nine RBIs against Maholm. McDonald was 2 for 4. Drew was 2 for 3 and Reddick had never faced him. So the Sox went by the book.

The way Cameron and McDonald are hitting lefties this season, the past means little.

Should the Red Sox pull the plug on their platoons and go with their best lineup? They don’t appear ready to do that yet. But rest assured, the clock is ticking and a change may be inevitable if things don’t turn around soon.

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

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