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This should be easy to field

Adrian Gonzalez has been a hit in more ways than one in his short time with the Sox. Adrian Gonzalez has been a hit in more ways than one in his short time with the Sox. (Jason Cohn/Reuters)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 26, 2011

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PITTSBURGH — Adrian Gonzalez in right? David Ortiz at first?

When I wrote last week that it wasn’t a good idea because of risk of injury to Gonzalez, probably the best hitter in baseball, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for Red Sox manager Terry Francona to push that button.

“I’m kind of on the fence,’’ Francona said before last night’s game. “Since I am, I’m not sure I know what’s right, but I am sure of what’s not right. Until I’m positive that this is something to do, I’m going to stay away. That’s how I feel. I’ll probably stay away tomorrow. Re-evaluate on the way to Philly. If we put Gonzy out there and he got hurt, I’m just not ready to do it. Maybe three, four games into this road trip, maybe I will. We’ll see.’’

There was a time last week when I thought they were going to do it. Gonzalez was taking fly balls. Ortiz was taking ground balls.

But the momentum has slowed. It looked like it might happen once in Pittsburgh and once in Philly, smaller right fields that Gonzalez might be able to handle. With the team in a bit of an offensive slump, losing its fourth straight with last night’s 6-4 defeat to the Pirates, the time to get both guys in might be today. But Francona said it won’t happen.

This is a manager and a team that always take the long view. Just like with their right-field platoon. His two righthanded hitting outfielders are hitting .136 against lefthanded pitchers this season, but Francona said yesterday he needs to make use of those two players and the best way to use them is vs. lefties because they’ve hit southpaws in the past.

Any time Francona has shown patience — David Ortiz, for one — it’s been rewarded.

But moving Gonzalez to right and Ortiz to first, even if for just a couple of games? Francona admitted it’s one of the toughest decisions he’d had to make as a manager.

“I’m concerned that if something happened to somebody, you can’t go back. In theory, it sounds great and I’m excited by having David and Gonzy both in the lineup, but if [Gonzalez] went out there and did something, I can’t call time out and undo it. It’s a little bit of an anxiety.’’

Francona said that the organization is also torn about which way to go and has left it to him to make the final call.

“Everybody would love to see the at-bats in the lineup. We’re all together on that, but there are some ramifications and we’re all in it together. I told Theo [Epstein], until I’m sure, I’m not doing it and I think he’s completely on board with that.’’

Francona is the pilot. He has to live with the consequences, good or bad.

He hates the fact that Ortiz might have to sit for nine games. He hates the fact that any rhythm Ortiz has built up might be lost.

In Friday night’s game, he had Ortiz up in the eighth inning in a key pinch-hitting spot. Men on base, a chance to tie the game or take the lead. Ortiz grounded out. Last night, Ortiz and Gonzalez came up in the ninth, but neither got the job done. Ortiz grounded out and Gonzalez struck out swinging to end the game.

Ortiz doesn’t particularly like playing first base. It makes him feel uncomfortable and he’s said all along that taking Gonzalez’s bat out of the lineup isn’t smart at this stage. It wouldn’t be shocking for Francona to compromise by having Ortiz play first to start a game and then bring in Gonzalez for defense and for an at-bat or two.

It will take a lot to change Francona’s mind and throw caution to the wind. It may be easy for guys watching at home. When you’re the man at the switch, it’s a whole different game.

Said it then, said it now: Don’t do it.

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

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