Nine innings: Carson Smith, we hardly knew you

Also: Craig Kimbrel owns the Red Sox' coolest single statistic

Carson Smith faced just eight batters this year for the Red Sox before requiring season-ending elbow surgery.
Carson Smith faced just eight batters this year for the Red Sox before requiring season-ending elbow surgery. –Tony Gutierrez/AP

COMMENTARY

Playing nine innings while hoping Jackie Bradley Jr. catches at least one DiMaggio

1. Can’t say the news that Carson Smith needed Tommy John surgery came as a surprise. He has one of the highest-stress deliveries I’ve ever seen, right there with young Kerry Wood, and it seemed inevitable after word came that his forearm bothered him for days after each of his three appearances this season.

But because it was foreseeable doesn’t make it any less of a bummer. He was such a welcome addition to the revamped Red Sox bullpen, a strikeout pitcher (11.8 Ks per nine last year with the Mariners) who would have been ideal as the bridge to Craig Kimbrel.

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Instead, like with Joel Hanrahan in ’13 and to a different degree Ellis Burks in ’04, we barely got to appreciate having him around before he was gone. Now the Red Sox will probably have to trade for relief help – they cannot overwork Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa again, and I don’t trust Matt Barnes to emerge. Too bad.

2. There are plenty of candidates for coolest stat of the Red Sox season so far, but here’s one that boggles my admittedly easily-boggled mine. Kimbrel has allowed just six hits in 19 innings, for a -get this — 2.8 hits-per-nine-innings ratio. After somewhat rocky start – he allowed two homers in his first 10 appearances, but it felt like he had  coughed up 10 homers because of their magnitude – he’s been virtually untouchable, allowing just one hit over his last 10 appearances.

3. One of these days, I’m going to go back and find all the Trade Bogaerts tweets some of you in the impatient minority sent me two years ago when the current AL batting leader and cornerstone shortstop was struggling as a 21-year-old. If I recall correctly, and I do, the common theme was that Ben Cherington holds on to his prospects too long, with Lars Anderson frequently cited as a Baseball America Darling Gone Wrong. First, though, I have to deal with my radio host friend who kept telling me they should trade Bogaerts for Cliff Lee.

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4. So much for that slow start. Mookie Betts is slashing .309/.364/.583 (.933 OPS) over his last 31 games beginning April 20, with 7 homers, 24 RBIs, and 33 runs. His OPS is now .826, higher than it was over the full and exceptional 2015 season (.820) when he finished 19th in the AL MVP voting. He’ll be a top-five candidate and the Red Sox’ WAR leader when the season is done.

5. Probably should have just kept Rich Hill, huh? In 14 starts since the Red Sox brought him back to the big leagues last September, the 36-year-old lefty is 9-4 with a 1.97 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 86.2 innings. Since the Red Sox didn’t retain him as a free agent, their find has become an enticing trade chip for the A’s. Wonder what it would take to get him back here. He sure looks like the No. 2 starter they appear to lack.

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6. Heard from a few Twitterfolk who were surprised the Red Sox brought up left field novice Blake Swihart rather than Rusney Castillo when Brock Holt went on the disabled list. Me, I was surprised anyone would be surprised. Swihart may be new to left field, but it’s not that tough to play at Fenway (sorry, Hanley – hey, good job at first base, though!) and he is an excellent athlete who played shortstop as an amateur. As a switch-hitter, he fills the lefthanded side of the platoon, while the righty Castillo is redundant with Chris Young.

7. Beyond that, though, Swihart is the far better option as a hitter. Castillo is 28 – he turns 29 in July – and has a .305 slugging percentage and .615 OPS in 30 games with the PawSox. As a 23-year-old last season, Swihart slashed .303/.353/.452 at the major league level in 168 second-half plate appearances while carrying the added catcher’s burden of learning the pitching staff. He wasn’t just the better option; he was the only logical option.

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8. You know Castillo is older than Betts, Bogaerts and Bradley. You may not know he’s older than Brock Holt, Craig Kimbrel, and Rick Porcello. Among the current top-10 WAR leaders in the majors, the only player older than Castillo is Jake Arrieta. I’m not saying Castillo won’t make it; he has had an unusual career path and deserves more time. But he needs to start making an impression soon.

9. Not sure if I wrote this anywhere, but I figured that if Bradley hit .260 this season with a .700-something OPS, that level of production combined with his stellar defense would make him a player you were happy to have in the lineup daily. So I have to ask now, while his OPS is above 1.000 and he’s streaking halfway to Joe DiMaggio: Has the bar moved? It has to, right? I’m not sure he hits .300. But .280 – with real power, perhaps even 20-homer pop – now seems like the low end of what he is capable of this year. That’s remarkable.

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