One of Bobby Valentine's strengths as a manager is looking at the 25 players on his roster on a given day and figuring out who can help him win the game.
It was a way of life when he managed the Rangers and the Mets. But it was fair to wonder how that would work with the Red Sox, a team with more talent and seemingly more stability.
That changed with all the injuries. Valentine has drawn up 39 different batting orders in 48 games this season. Yet the Red Sox are second in runs in the American League, second in hits, fourth in on base percentage, third in slugging and third in OPS. It's remarkable.
In spring training, we wondered which players would get plucked from obscurity by Valentine and become valuable contributors. Here's who they are:
Mike Aviles: This guy was a backup player in Kansas City. But he has played all but one game this season and has 22 extra-base hits, 31 RBIs and 29 runs scored. His play at shortstop has been far better than expected, too. Aviles doesn't walk very often and he might not hit for average over 500 at-bats. But he is hitting .356/.380/.578 with runners in scoring position.
Ryan Sweeney: He was a fourth outfielder for Oakland, a team in desperate need of outfielders. But for the Red Sox he has hit .325/.353/.460 and started at all three outfield spots. Sweeney has yet to hit a home run this season but his OPS (.814) is 12th among American League outfielders.
Scott Atchison: A non-roster player in spring training, the righthander got in 17 games all last season. Now he leads the AL in relief innings and has a 0.98 ERA.
Felix Doubront: On Feb. 11, before spring training had even started, Valentine mentioned watching the Doubront throw in the bullpen and said how impressed he was. He backed Doubront all through spring training and you can see the lefthander's confidence growing with each start. Doubront is 5-2 with a 3.86 ERA and the team is 7-3 in the games he has started. Nobody saw that coming.
Andrew Miller: Credit his inexplicable rise to pitching coach Bob McClure, who advised Miller to return to the mechanics he used in college. But credit Valentine for putting Miller in positions to succeed. That was something no other manager figured out. That the tall lefty has a 0.62 WHIP is astounding given his history.
Matt Albers: Less is more. That was the lesson learned last season and Valentine obviously realizes it.
Vicente Padilla: He came to camp as a candidate to become the No. 5 starter and said several times in two languages that he had little interest in relieving. But here he is, one of the best set-up men in the game.
Daniel Nava: He forced his way back into the majors (and onto the 40-man roster) by hitting in Pawtucket. Once he arrived, Nava has been a force offensively (.278/.431/.481) and helped settle an unsettled outfield.
Kelly Shoppach: Do you realize he's hitting .288/.382/.525? It's only 70 plate appearances, but still. There's an art in figuring out when to use your backup catcher and Valentine has been right far more often than not.
Obviously the players deserve the bulk of the credit for their performances and Ben Cherington has proven adept at making small moves that pay off. But in this most unsettled of seasons, the manager has been crafting combinations that work.
As the Red Sox try to get over .500 for the first time tonight, they are 4.5 games out of first. In April, it was fair to wonder how much excitement there might be at Fenway Park this summer. Now it looks like this team — whatever that team is on a given day — is well worth watching.