McDonald earned a winter vacation
Darnell McDonald played winter ball in Mexico last year. In previous years, he had gone to Venezuela. But when this season ends, the only place he is heading is home to Arizona to spend time with his family.
The 31-year-old outfielder, a journeyman minor leaguer for most of his career, has played in 102 games and had 318 plate appearances for the Red Sox this season. He is going to relax and enjoy his success this time.
“I still sit back once in a while and think that I played in Yankee Stadium for the Red Sox and faced Mariano Rivera,’’ McDonald said. “That is pretty special. I’ve said this before: It has been a dream come true to be in the big leagues for an entire season.’’
McDonald is hitting .276 with a .346 on-base percentage, both well above the league average. Only five players on the roster have been in more games than he has.
“This year has allowed me to relax and play my game,’’ McDonald said. “I’ve always thought I could play at this level. It’s satisfying to be able to prove it.’’
The Sox nearly designated McDonald for assignment in late May but decided at the last second to keep him on the roster when Jacoby Ellsbury reported that he was unable to play through the pain of fractured ribs and returned to the disabled list.
McDonald has been secure since. Now he is hoping the Sox will offer him a contract for next season.
“I know how the game works better than anybody,’’ he said. “But they gave me a chance to play here and I like it here.’’
General manger Theo Epstein did not discount the idea.
“Sometimes for a player like Darnell, who has ability, having the confidence of the organization and the manager can make a difference,’’ said Epstein. “He has been a very valuable player for us, somebody we hit on by bringing him in.’’
Against contenders, most teams try to use their best lineups to maintain the integrity of the pennant race. For the next six games, however, there could be extra at-bats for players such as Yamaico Navarro, Josh Reddick, and Lars Anderson. Francona also might be more willing to see what his rookie pitchers can do.
“Some of that’s going to depend on the health of our team, who we’re playing, how we’re playing,’’ said the manager. “Always try to do what’s right for the organization. Regardless of who plays, we’re going to try and win. This isn’t Triple A. I’m not crazy. We want to see some of the younger guys play a little bit. We’ll see.’’
At the same time, Francona wants to strike a balance.
“Guys that have played all year and given at times more than they should, you don’t just sweep them to the side and [say], ‘Thanks for the effort,’ ’’ he said.