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Drew’s picking the right spot

Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre adds to the cause by throwing out Julio Lugo at first base in the seventh inning. Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre adds to the cause by throwing out Julio Lugo at first base in the seventh inning. (Barry Chin/ Globe Staff)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 4, 2010

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When he’s hitting like this, there’s probably no other swing in the game you’d rather watch.

We have seen J.D. Drew carry the Red Sox offense before. In June 2008, for example, when he hit 12 homers and knocked in 27 runs and hit .337. Like the end of last season, when he hit .329 in August and .352 from Sept. 1 on.

And if Drew’s getting hot again, tremendous. What a time. What a place.

It’s funny, in a season where outfielders have dropped like flies, Drew has been the rock. He’s been out there most days grinding away. Oh, he missed a game recently with a stiff neck, but when he came back Friday, his swing was healthy as well with a pair of home runs. He followed that up with a three-hit, two-RBI game in last night’s 9-3 win over the Orioles.

If you haven’t noticed, Drew is hitting .286 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs, with an OPS of .877, rebounding extremely well from a horrid start, hitting .197 through April.

We know the story of this extraordinary team.

For all that the Darnell McDonalds and Daniel Navas have done, the need is great for the remaining healthy veterans to carry the offense. It could be damaging if David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro, Kevin Youkilis, or Drew went into slumps. The Sox are weathering the storm of having Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, and Jacoby Ellsbury being out for a prolonged time.

Drew, 34, remains essential because he is one of the best right fielders in baseball and plays the position at Fenway extremely well. While Drew has always been criticized for his easygoing nature, it is that personality trait that appears to keep him out of prolonged droughts.

Last night was the 12th anniversary of his signing with the St. Louis Cardinals as the fifth overall pick of the 1998 draft, out of Florida State. And Drew had four extremely good plate appearances, doubling in two runs in the first inning, walking in the third, singling to left in the fifth, and singling to left in the seventh.

He hit fifth in the order, behind the red-hot Youkilis and in front of the dangerous Beltre. But really, it doesn’t matter where he bats when he’s hitting.

During that torrid stretch in June 2008 he hit mostly third. But this season he’s seen his most at-bats from the No. 5 spot, where he’s hitting .397 with four homers and 15 RBIs. The only other spot where he has been more productive is third, hitting .419 with two homers and seven RBIs in 31 at-bats.

The Sox have never really found a true lineup spot for Drew, considering him the type of hitter they can plug in anywhere based on matchups and need. Drew batted seventh early on this season, but once the injuries mounted for the Sox, Drew moved all over the lineup, including leadoff and No. 2.

Drew has said in the past he doesn’t mind where he bats as long as he’s in the lineup. His career numbers favor the No. 5 spot (.973 OPS in 197 games), yet he’s started more games in the No. 3 hole (378), where he has a .967 OPS. His worst spot is No. 2, where he’s started 213 games with an .808 OPS.

Over the last two games, Drew is 5 for 6 with four RBIs. He’s hitting .405 (15 for 37) over his last 14 games and .441 with 13 RBIs in 10 games against the Orioles’ woeful pitching in 2010.

He has had waves of greatness, but for the most part Drew has had a very steady career. Since 2004 he ranks among major league leaders in on-base percentage (.399) and walks (530).

In times like these, Drew becomes extremely valuable when he expands his usual offensive role. And with his great skills, his fluidity and great mechanics to his swing, you always wonder, why isn’t he better? But he’s now had 13 seasons of being who he is — a very good ballplayer who will give you an honest day’s work, sometimes give you a spectacular play on offense or defense, and help you win a game.

He is a subtle player, but for the last two nights, he’s been superb at a time the Red Sox need him most.

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