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Gonzo/Papi, and other Sox thoughts

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  June 22, 2011 12:58 PM

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I can't think of a better way to lead off this blog's unofficial return to blabbing about baseball than by taking a brief moment to salute Dave Roberts. If it's not a commonwealth law that the author of The Steal, current Padres first base coach, and all-around swell guy must be given a standing ovation whenever he's within a Dwight Evans throw of Fenway, well, you know it should be.

I never thought I'd be chasing pucks and parades through half of June, and following this admirable Bruins team across the continent and back (times three) as it built what will be an enduring legend has been perhaps the most rewarding assignment of my career. But following the Sox isn't as fun from afar, and I missed 'em. So while it may be spitting rain at Fenway this afternoon, there will be no further delays here. Let's talk some Sox, finally and at last . . .

Thumbnail image for papifinn622.jpg The Gonzo/Papi situation: Dearest Tito: We've all heard about your anxiety and sleepless nights in trying to find a proper solution to a situation most major league managers would sacrifice their bench coach to have:

How do you dole out the playing time between Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz during the upcoming nine-game road trip through Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Houston.

Both have had sensational half-seasons, and Papi's bounce-back ranks only behind Josh Beckett's rejuvenation among pleasant surprises this season. Combined they've basically put together a vintage Manny Ramirez season with 32 homers, 116 RBIs, 102 runs scored, and a .335 batting average. Whoops, saw the twitch there. Forgot we're not supposed to mention Manny in your presence.

Anyway, Tito, the decision is really no decision at all. As important as Papi has been this season, you know better than any of us keyboard cynics do that you cannot take Gonzo out of the lineup for anything more than a day or two of rest, and you especially do not jeopardize his hamstrings, pride, or the wildly encouraging outlook for this team by sticking him in right field unless you are completely certain he can handle it.

If you do honestly believe he can and are convinced his willingness to do isn't masking any trepidation he might have about it, you play him in the outfield once or twice, perhaps a game in Philadelphia with Citizens Bank Park's Williamsport dimensions. But that's it. Then you give him that day or two off along the way -- maybe one against Houston, just to cut poor Millsy a break.

So that gets David -- have you ever noticed you're the only person in New England who calls him David? -- into the lineup three or four times. In the other five or six games, he becomes the most feared pinch hitter the National League has ever seen, up to and including Manny Mota and Matt Stairs.

Papi -- David -- may not like it, and he may mope for an hour or a day, but he'll come around, and it's the right thing to do. It will keep him from getting rusty, it will keep him from having to play the field more than a handful of times and putting stress his knees, and it will keep the hitter who must be in the lineup in there for at least seven of the games.

Is Drew through?: Come to think of it, putting Gonzalez in right field against Philadelphia would probably spare Drew from the ever-ready-to-throw-an-Everyready bleacher jackals who have vilified him since he refused to sign after Philadelphia chose him with the second pick in the 1997 draft.

The way he's going, however -- and WEEI.com's Alex Speier does a thorough job here of breaking down just how dismal his season has been -- the Phillies should want him in the Sox' lineup for their guaranteed World Series preview three-game set June 28-30.

I think I've made my admiration for Drew's varied and subtle skills apparent over the past couple of years. I also think I also have a discerning eye when it comes to determining whether an older player is in a prolonged slump or full-fledged decline. With Drew, whose bat has slowed to Troy O'Leary-in-2001 levels, it sure looks like the latter. You were my boy, Drew, but I'm convinced the Red Sox will and should have a new starting right fielder no later than July 31.

I should say I do not think it will or should be Josh Reddick. While he's been impressive in his short stint in the majors this season and has made progress in terms of patience (33 walks, 39 strikeouts at Pawtucket after going 25/73 last year), he was hitting just .230 with the PawSox, a sign that he still struggles to recognize the pitches he can drive.

Had Ryan Kalish not been injured, he's the one who would probably be the Red Sox starting right fielder by now. In terms of future value, Reddick is the David Murphy to Kalish's Jacoby Ellsbury.

Thumbnail image for naehringtimefinn.jpg Five other random thoughts while waiting for the tarp to come off the field: If Dr. Lewis Yocum's recommendation regarding Jed Lowrie's injured shoulder includes the word surgery, then it's official. Lowrie is the new Tim Naehring, a versatile infielder with legitimate offensive promise who will never fulfill his ability because of injury after injury . . .

Good thing Marco Scutaro is still around. To put it another way: Good thing the Red Sox didn't trade from depth simply because they had it. Stockpiling proven veteran talent is always going to be one of their crucial advantages as a big-market team . . .

Scanning Drew Sutton's minor-league numbers, it's curious why he hasn't received a legitimate shot elsewhere. He's produced everywhere he's been, and you'd think he'd have received a decent shot with the Astros given his multi-position versatility . . .

The Adrian Gonzalez deal has been nothing short of perfect from the Red Sox standpoint, but I hope it ultimately proves a win-win for both sides, and I think it will. Anthony Rizzo is a very easy kid to root for, and doesn't he remind you a little of Mark Teixeira at the plate? . . .

CBSSports.com has Jacoby Ellsbury on pace to bat .313 with 18 homers, 54 steals, 207 hits, 85 RBIs, and 117 runs scored. Take it for what it's worth considering the site also has him on pace to play 164 games, but even with some faulty math, the conclusion is obvious: Ellsbury is having a truly phenomenal season, and even if his .351 BABIP suggests he's due to come back to earth, he's playing at a level that even his most ardent fans probably didn't imagine coming off his lost 2010 season. I've been wrong about a lot of things, but I don't know if I've ever been more wrong about any one thing than I've been about what Ellsbury was capable of this season.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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