Coming out of Spring Training, two players that hadn’t impressed me were Mike Carp and Craig Breslow. Carp did not distinguish himself at the plate, and it was said he would be kept on the roster to cover back-up roles at first base and the outfield. Breslow did not show the control he has found and was banged around a few times in the Spring.
Here’s where you find out that management knows what it’s doing, when they bring these two guys to Boston, instead of some promising rookies. Carp showed he could come off the bench with timely pinch hits like the bleeder he fought into left field Wednesday night, and Breslow found the corners of the strike zone around mid-season and now has about 20 consecutive innings of scoreless relief under his belt.
At one point in the season I favored starting Carp and benching Napoli, and I still think they could be platooned effectively. Carp looks pretty sharp in the field, so nothing is lost substituting him for Napoli, who is no prize against right-handed pitchers. Now that Napoli appears to have broken his hitting slump, there is even a better case for alternating the first basemen. Increasingly you see right handed pitchers dominating the Red Sox, but faltering against their lefty hitters. Bud Norris was mowing down the righties last night, but Drew and Saltalamachia managed doubles and scored against him. to So I have come 180 degrees with Carp and now think he should have more playing time.
Breslow seemed like a good addition to the bullpen a year ago, but he was touched for a few home runs early in the season. You never like to see that from a guy coming out of the bullpen. Junichi Tazawa seems to have the same problem centering the ball on occasion, and you don’t have confidence in him coming in with the game on the line.
But in August Breslow found his groove, and he dominated the Dodgers last weekend. He works fast and moves the ball around the plate with authority. It’s great to have a lefty equivalent to Uhehara, when you think about the post-season. You pay dearly for small mistakes in location in the post-season.
I don’t mind eating a little crow, when two players begin to show what their coaches knew they could do, especially late in the season. Already I’m thinking about the tight playoff situations and whom I would want pinch hitting or coming in to pitch in the eighth. Carp and Breslow have come sharply into that picture, and I’m glad I was wrong about them.
The Red Sox have traditionally been tripped up by the trip west, and the abrupt 24-hour turnover from Boston to Anaheim does not favor their success. But the Red Sox have also adopted strategies this year that can play well on the road. If they remember them during the West Coast swing, they can hope to extend their dominance before the All-Star Break.
- Take what the pitchers give you. Ellsbury, Pedroia and even Papi are most successful when they hit the ball where it’s pitched, rather than yanking it. Going to the opposite field means getting on base and the Red Sox line-up is strong enough to get base-runners home.
- Be patient, but not predictable. It’s one thing to take pitches when a pitcher demonstrates poor control, but good pitchers try to get the Sox hitters behind in the count. If you are fed a steady diet of first-pitch strikes, it might be smart to go after them.
- Keep runners in motion. In Fenway the Sox ran aggressively, sometimes running into outs, but aggressiveness pays off even more in the bigger West Coast parks where outfielders are challenged to throw runners out. Likewise hustling base runners can avoid double plays and their lead runner getting picked off.
- Getting ahead in the count is a no-brainer, but pitchers like Demptser, Dubront, and Webster are much better when they start with a strike. John Lackey is the role model here. He has lowered his pitch count by going after hitters and relying on his defense to close the gaps.
- Keep the starters on a short leash. Farrell has been pretty good with this, but the Red Sox have not been grand coming from behind on the road. Farrell needs to keep games close, even if he has to yank a starter in the early innings. If they need a deeper bullpen, they might consider bringing back Aceves and playing with fewer position players.
- Mike Carp at first base. Napoli is the weak link in the infield and lately his bat has not been making up for it. Maybe he needs rest, certainly against right-handed pitchers.
The Red Sox have done all these things better this year than in 2012, so perhaps the advice is gratuitous. On the other hand, the Red Sox often become a different team on the road, not playing with confidence, not aggressive at the plate or on the base paths. Teams like Baltimore and Texas come swaggering into town expecting to take every series. They score early and hold their lead by using their bullpens. On the road the Red Sox have lacked this swagger, too willing to play like visitors.
It would be nice to see the Fenway swagger on the road again.