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Red Sox are sorely lacking

By Nick Cafardo
April 19, 2012
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The Red Sox have played some of the elite teams in the league over 12 games and they have managed only four wins. And the Yankees come to town this weekend, so it doesn’t let up until they hit the road Monday in Minnesota.

With a rash of injuries to start the season, the only “hope’’ is to hang in there until players begin to come back.

But a 4-8 record following Wednesday night’s 6-3 loss to the Rangers isn’t really “hanging in there.’’

This has been a rough start to the Bobby Valentine era.

Four and eight isn’t 7-20, as in last season’s collapse, nor is it 2-10, as the Sox started last season. But already Valentine has had to deal with a player (Kevin Youkilis) getting upset over the manager’s public comments, another player (Dustin Pedroia) criticizing him for criticizing the player, and a few curious in-game decisions, including Wednesday night when he left Franklin Morales in a one-run game in the eighth inning.

Valentine considers Morales an all-purpose reliever who should be able to handle lefties and righties with a 95-mile-per-hour fastball, a good curveball, and changeup. And until Wednesday night, Morales had proven to be that.

Valentine said he was trying to instill some confidence in Morales and that he’s trying to get to know his pitchers and players to see what they can and cannot handle.

He acknowledges he will go through growing pains in that regard.

A few times, he has conceded that what he tried to do didn’t work. He has proven to be unconventional in his moves, and when they fail, it doesn’t look good.

He’s already hearing boos from the fans. And on Friday, it’s conceivable that the manager who oversaw the 7-20 collapse will get a nice ovation while Valentine, who has managed 12 games, will draw the fans’ ire.

Becoming even more pronounced are the glaring roster issues. This wasn’t the team Valentine thought he was inheriting.

The absence of top-level players is starting to be felt.

The Sox are sorely missing Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford.

Not that Crawford was necessarily an asset to this team a year ago, but he’s a superb athlete expected to have a better 2012. Of course, his wrist and elbow injuries have set that timetable back; the Sox expect to see him in Boston by mid-May.

Ellsbury was last season’s American League Most Valuable Player runner-up, and while he got off to a slow start, he was just starting to kick his game in gear when he suffered a subluxation of his right shoulder breaking up a double play.

The Red Sox will have to make do without him until around the All-Star break.

The Sox have been able to fill in with Cody Ross, Darnell McDonald, Ryan Sweeney, and Jason Repko - good players, though not necessarily everyday players.

They’ve gotten good play from shortstop Mike Aviles, who has taken over the leadoff spot.

But none of the aforementioned are Ellsbury/Crawford caliber - players who can ignite rallies and drive in runs. You’re talking about two of the fastest players in baseball, and two of the best defensive outfielders in baseball.

What you hope in these situations is to hold your own. You hope to replace those players by 75 percent and then get the rest elsewhere. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

Against a good all-around team like Texas, it tends to stand out.

Could you project Ellsbury getting on base, stealing a base or two, and manufacturing a run Wednesday night? Of course. Could Crawford have run down a ball in the gap and taken an extra base with his speed? Absolutely. And so with those types of possibilities missing from your lineup, you start to feel the absences.

General manager Ben Cherington said it’s difficult to replace players at this time of the year with trades. Teams are reluctant to begin trading so early.

You either have to rely on your bench or players from your farm system. The Red Sox turned to the veteran Repko after a one-day major league stint by Che-Hsuan Lin. Frankly, outfield is not a place where the Red Sox have major league-ready players, with Ryan Kalish still recovering from his offseason surgeries and likely not available until June.

The Red Sox reportedly have been scouting veteran outfielder Scott Podsednik at Lehigh Valley, but he’s not the answer and they know it.

They were not interested in Johnny Damon, feeling he could not be an adequate defensive outfielder, before he signed with Cleveland, where he’ll likely play left field and some center.

There really aren’t a lot of viable options.

Cubs president Theo Epstein would trade Marlon Byrd to the Sox in a heartbeat. Byrd is a veteran righthanded bat who can play center. But there’s no sign of any interest.

The Sox have tried to convert first baseman Lars Anderson in the hope he could be a serviceable left fielder, but we’re not sure anyone is convinced of that.

The injuries also affect the pitching staff.

The Sox lost their closer, Andrew Bailey, 72 hours before the season’s first pitch.

Their top lefty specialist, Rich Hill, is on the comeback trail, but his absence also has been felt. Bailey’s absence has forced relievers into different roles. Some have worked out, but others, like Mark Melancon, who was optioned to Pawtucket, have not.

Starter Daisuke Matsuzaka is coming back from Tommy John surgery. His ETA is likely late May.

The Red Sox have 10 players on the disabled list. And it’s starting to show.

Cherington knew that when he looked at the first 15 games, it would be challenging, no matter whether it was Dale Sveum or Valentine managing.

The good news is the Red Sox were 2-10 at this juncture last season. They’re two games ahead of that pace now.

“The season doesn’t end in April,’’ Youkilis said. “It ends in September and October.’’

The players in that clubhouse know that more than anyone.

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

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