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Right angle part of solution

Lineup has been backed into corner

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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 1, 2011

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PHILADELPHIA - The best hit yesterday for the Red Sox was when Adrian Gonzalez stroked a shot back at Cole Hamels, striking the talented Phillies lefthander toward the bottom of his nonpitching hand and ending his day after four scoreless innings.

That swing saved the Sox the embarrassment of being swept here. They head to Houston to open a weekend series tonight against the worst team in baseball. If they can’t right the ship there, they may not right it at all.

The Sox surprisingly struggled in interleague play after starting the nine-game trip in Pittsburgh with the most prolific offense in baseball. The lineups they put forth the last six games might have raised eyebrows, even in spring training. It was assumed they would be able to win even without David Ortiz in the lineup. They didn’t. Nor did they win when they put Ortiz at first and Gonzalez in right field Wednesday night.

Yesterday, the Sox began to address their poor production in right field by designating veteran Mike Cameron for assignment, much to the chagrin of many teammates who spoke glowingly of the 38-year-old. It ended a failed experiment by the Sox, who thought Cameron, proficient against lefthanders, would form an ideal platoon with J.D. Drew.

It was far from that.

Drew has gotten off to one of the worst starts of his career. If this is Drew’s final season in the major leagues, he’d like to go out better than what he’s shown.

Drew has earned the reputation of a guy who can get hot and carry a team for a month, and the right fielder, who continues to be heckled in the City of Brotherly Love after he failed to sign with the Phillies as a No. 1 draft pick in 1997, feels he might be turning the corner.

“I think I’ve found something the past week or so in my swing,’’ he said. “Just trying to simplify it and get back to basics and try to stick with it. I’m hitting some balls hard and before this I wasn’t even doing that. I know the results aren’t quite there, but I believe that if I can stick with it, some of those hits might start to fall in and we get going again.

“It’s been frustrating, sure it has. Nobody wants to start this way and go out and not be your best and I haven’t been my best, but I’ve been working at it.’’

Drew was humorous when asked about the booing. “I’m surprised they didn’t boo Drew Sutton. He plays on the Red Sox with the name Drew. Figure they’d hammer him, too,’’ he said.

But those light moments will fade fast if his batting average doesn’t start to climb.

General manager Theo Epstein has been very upfront about the team’s lack of production from right field. Drew will get every chance to work it out, especially with Cameron gone. Darnell McDonald and Yamaico Navarro will be the righthanded platoon in right with Drew, but Drew will likely be on a short leash because Josh Reddick keeps giving management every reason to keep him around, stroking two more hits yesterday to raise his season average to .444 (16 for 36).

“I think J.D. was making progress until his eye injury and hopefully he can continue on the right track,’’ Epstein said before leaving Citizens Bank Park last night. “I’ve talked about our lack of production in right field and we definitely need that production from J.D., who has given it to us in the past.’’

Epstein has had no problem admitting mistakes. He did it with Cameron yesterday and would probably do it with John Lackey at some point. He has to hope that Carl Crawford is not included in that group. When Crawford comes off the disabled list next week, he’ll be expected to produce.

One troubling aspect of Crawford’s injury is that it is a hamstring, which Crawford, 29, has never had problems with. As athletes get older, they become more susceptible to leg injuries. One saving grace for Crawford is that he’s a highly conditioned athlete who will work hard to protect himself.

The outfield production, other than Jacoby Ellsbury, has been dreadful. And while the rest of the lineup has picked up the slack, those corner outfield spots are traditionally RBI areas.

The Sox’ starting lineup yesterday was missing more than half its regulars. And though Dustin Pedroia hit a home run and Jason Varitek hit two in the 5-2 win, that type of production isn’t something you can count on every day.

The other positive for the Sox is that Jon Lester was dominant. Not all of his starts - and 10 wins - have been of this variety. And he ended a team losing streak. Very important for an ace.

On the negative side, Bobby Jenks continues to struggle to pitch up to his two-year, $12 million deal. That creates quite a burden on Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon. The Sox were hoping not to use Papelbon yesterday, but after Jenks allowed a leadoff single to Placido Polanco and Ryan Howard took him deep to make it a 5-2 game and a save situation, Papelbon was warmed and ready. He entered the game after Jenks walked Shane Victorino and got the final two outs.

Tonight’s game marks the halfway point of the season. It’s been a herky-jerky ride, a lot of starts and stops. The Yankees have been able to survive and thrive with some big names on the disabled list. The Red Sox had a chance to distance themselves in the AL East, but instead they allowed the Yankees to overtake them.

Maybe Gonzalez’s shot becomes the turning point. At least it was yesterday.

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

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