MINNEAPOLIS — The Red Sox showed their faith in Mike Aviles to play shortstop when they traded Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies in January.
They reaffirmed that decision in March by naming Aviles the starter and sending defensively gifted prospect Jose Iglesias back to the minor leagues.
Another booster shot of belief came earlier this month when Aviles was picked to replace an injured Jacoby Ellsbury as the leadoff hitter.
Now comes the reward. Aviles helped the Red Sox to an 11-2 victory against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night, collecting two doubles, a home run and two RBIs. He also scored three runs and had a sacrifice bunt.
Once a utility player with the lowly Kansas City Royals, the 31-year-old Aviles has become an important piece for the Sox. Since Ellsbury went down with a shoulder injury, Aviles is hitting .395 with a .425 on-base percentage over nine games. He is hitting .333 with a .932 OPS on the season.
“It feels good to have somebody have some confidence in me,” Aviles said. “I know the type of player I am. I’m not saying I’m great; I’m not saying that I’m terrible. I’m in the middle. I know what I can and can’t do.”
On a team made up largely of well-compensated stars, Aviles stands out because of his unusual path to the majors.
He was not drafted out of high school in Middletown, N.Y., and attended Division II Concordia College.
Aviles was passed over in the draft as a junior then hit .500 as a senior with 20 doubles, six triples and 22 home runs in 45 games. That’s right, 48 extra-base hits in 45 games. He also drove in 65 runs.
This time he was drafted, in the seventh round by the Royals in 2003. But he didn’t even get enough to buy a car. Knowing Aviles had no leverage as a senior, Kansas City offered him $1,000. Take it or leave it.
He took it. Aviles hit his way onto the Royals roster in 2008 and started at shortstop that season. But he became a bench player and was traded to the Red Sox last July.
Now, somehow, he’s the shortstop and the leadoff hitter.
“We lose an All-Star center fielder and leadoff hitter and Mike has picked up the slack. He’s hitting the crap out of the ball,” Dustin Pedroia said. “He’s been unbelievable. He’s aggressive. I like the damage that he does, the extra-base hits. And he can run, too. He does a lot of thing that help us.”
When Ellsbury was injured, Bobby Valentine told Aviles to stay aggressive and not to change his style.
“I go up there trying to be aggressive until I recognize the pitch is going to be a ball. Then I’ll just let it go,” Aviles said. “If I go up there trying to take balls, then I find myself behind more often. I pretty much try and stay aggressive in the zone and try and get on base as much as possible.”
Said Valentine: “Michael’s been a godsend with Jacoby going down and all the questions surrounding our squad, to fill that void as seamlessly as he has with outstanding at-bats, production and playing great defense is a tribute to his athleticism and competitiveness. He’s a good player.”
A few postgame notes for you:
• Carl Crawford is going to get a second opinion on his sore left elbow according to Valentine. That sounds ominous. Valentine did not go into detail other than to say the injury does not appear to be major.
“He’s been a little concerned about his elbow, so he’s probably going to get a second opinion,” Valentine said. “He’s feeling so good with his hitting and his wrist right now that he doesn’t want to have any setbacks.”
• For all the early turmoil, the 6-10 Sox are three games out in the loss column. Every other team in the division is 10-7.
• The Red Sox used righthander Alex Wilson in relief for Triple A Pawtucket on Tuesday. He pitched the seventh inning against Scranton, allowing one run on two hits with one strikeout.
Wilson, 25, had worked only as a starter until Tuesday. A second-round pick in 2009, Wilson has been considered a potential closer by some in the organization because of a fastball that touched 96 miles per hour and a good slider.
In the past, the Red Sox have taken several weeks to prepare a starter to come out of the bullpen. That process usually includes having the pitcher start innings in relief, come in during innings and pitch on consecutive days.
• Free agency could be another avenue to improve the bullpen. The Red Sox are making inquiries about 33-year-old lefthander Mike Gonzalez, who appeared in 56 games for the Orioles and Rangers last season.
• Rich Hill pitched a scoreless inning for Pawtucket on Tuesday, allowing a hit and a walk and striking out one. He is scheduled to pitch again on Wednesday. Barring a setback, he could be activated by the weekend.
• Marlon Byrd is 3 for 9 with the Red Sox after going 3 for 43 with the Cubs. He also made two nice catches on Tuesday. “It has been a lot of fun to be on this team and around these guys,” he said. “It was a break for me to come here.”
• Michael Bowden made his debut with the Cubs tonight. He allowed a hit and two walks in an inning but no runs.
• Mark Melancon in three appearances for Pawtucket: 3.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K.