Don’t worry about a thing. Every little thing is gonna be all right with Shane Victorino — whose absence from the Red Sox lineup on Saturday is nothing more than a routine day off, according to manager John Farrell, as the right fielder continues building strength after beginning the season on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.
“Three games in two days,” Farrell explained prior to Saturday’s game, which came on the heels of Thursday’s doubleheader and Friday’s series opener against Oakland. “Still looking at the shortened spring training, the number of games missed coming out of the start of the season. He’s available for defense or pinch-hit duty later today, and will be back on the field tomorrow.”
With Victorino on the bench, and “Three Little Birds” subsequently silenced, Xander Bogaerts took his streak of successfully reaching base and slid up to the No. 2 hole in the Sox order, while Grady Sizemore got a start and batted sixth against Athletics left-hander Tommy Milone.
Defensively, Sizemore shifted into center field for just the second time since April 8, with Jackie Bradley Jr. relinquishing that position in order to fill Victorino’s role in Fenway Park’s expansive right field. Bradley had started 22 of Boston’s previous 23 games in center, but Farrell said his staff decided to move him Saturday because of his arm strength, his range, and where those might be most useful with Jon Lester pitching for the Sox.
“The arm strength of Jackie in right field is a factor in that,” the manager said. “Still feel like right field might be the most important position in this ballpark. His range lends to that.”
*Talk of Mike Napoli tends to focus on his power and his ability to drive up a pitch count, but perhaps lost amid his career-high 93 RBIs last season was the fact that defensively he led all major league first basemen in Ultimate Zone Rating, at 9.7, despite having never before played the position full-time.
In Los Angeles and Texas, Napoli was also a catcher, but Farrell said the success of the transition is a testament to the work he’s done with coach Brian Butterfield as well as Napoli’s natural talent.
“It’s as much natural athleticism and reaction ability; you’re not going to emulate those plays in a practice session,” Farrell said. “He’s done such great work with Butter. His willingness to learn and work has allowed his abilities to play out as they have.”
*The Oakland lineup featured only one left-handed hitter (Josh Reddick) against Lester, even though lefties have had better success against the Sox southpaw than righties have this season. Entering his seventh start, Lester had yielded a .290 average and .340 OBP to lefties this season, compared to a .257 average and .288 OBP to righties.
Likewise, lefties also have better numbers off the left-handed Milone, which may have made it easier for Farrell to slot Sizemore in the No. 6 spot despite his own struggles against pitchers tossing from the south side. Still, it illustrates that when Victorino needs a day off the Red Sox will be forced to use at least two left-handed hitting outfielders (in addition to Jonny Gomes), at least until Daniel Nava earns his way back to the bigs.
Nava incidentally, has been making progress in that regard. He hit a grand slam on Friday in Pawtucket, and began Saturday hitting .333 with two homers and a 1.039 OPS through 29 plate appearances at Triple-A.
*The Red Sox honored the Autism Speaks organization prior to the game, with right-hander Jake Peavy — whose foundation supports the charities — catching a ceremonial first pitch from Zack Zorn of Bedford.
*Unsolicited, Farrell said, “Root for Tapiture” in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. As of gametime, the horse was a 38-to-1 shot. Asked about Wicked Strong, Farrell said that horse would be in his trifecta.