|Jacoby Ellsbury made his point with his team-leading fourth homer of the year. (Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff)|
Okajima flying high after callup
It is one of the more difficult things Terry Francona says he has to do as manager of the Red Sox — having to inform players at the end of spring training they have not made the Opening Day roster.
This year, it was compounded when he had to tell lefthanded reliever Hideki Okajima, a former All-Star, he was being optioned to Triple A Pawtucket.
Okajima rejoined the team before yesterday’s 9-1 victory over the Blue Jays, called up from the minors, with Felix Doubront optioned to Pawtucket.
“The last week’s hard because there’s a lot of guys, they make it that far, they know they have a chance to make the club,’’ Francona said before the game. “It’s a little different when you’re doing it through an interpreter. In a normal conversation with these guys, they can tell a lot of how I feel or how [general manager] Theo [Epstein] feels by the tone of your voice. That’s difficult, like the day with Okie, because you’re relying on translators. It’s hard.
“The message isn’t fun, anyway.’’
When Okajima reported to the Sox clubhouse at 8:30 a.m. yesterday, he checked in with Francona in his office and was trailed by his interpreter, Jeff Cutler.
This time, however, less translation was necessary. It was evident Okajima was happy to be back. He first had been greeted by traveling secretary Jack McCormick with a bow and some quick instructions on the team’s travel plans for its 10-day trip to the West Coast.
About his initial reaction when sent down, Okajima said, “I was shocked. I’m so happy to be back with the team and I want to do whatever I can to help them continue winning games.’’
Said Francona, “When we optioned him out, instead of going and pouting and feeling sorry for himself, he threw the ball pretty well and got a lot of people out.’’
Okajima said he focused on his cutter as an out pitch against righthanded batters, against whom he struggled a year ago. Righties batted .340 against him; lefties hit .284.
“I believe it is a pitch I can use up here,’’ Okajima said. “Being able to get lefties out is a given in my position, but being able to get righties out is also important . . . that’s an area I needed to prove to [Francona] and myself that I could continue doing.’’
Doubront had allowed two earned runs in 2 2/3 innings over three appearances. The lefthander was called up after coming off the 15-day disabled list April 8.
“When we called Doubront back up, we fully knew he wasn’t in midseason form. Saying that, we love this kid,’’ Francona said. “We’re carrying one lefty and he’s certainly not a guy we want to get up and down — a lot. The other thing is we can go and let him get stretched out as a starter [in Pawtucket], in case of some obvious depth reasons.’’
Francona said bringing up Okajima was a logical move.
“Rather than wait till we get out to the West Coast, we decided to do it today, where Okie can go with us and Doubront doesn’t have to fly back and miss a day,’’ he said.
But when he reached second base, the crowed treated him to a standing ovation. “It felt good,’’ Crawford said. “Fans were really supportive. Teammates have been supportive. Everybody around me has been supportive. It felt real good to feel the support like that.’’
Asked for his reaction, Francona said, “Thrilled. Everybody was. Everybody in the dugout was. I was happy to see the ball he hit [the at-bat] before because of his good approach.’’
Francona was referring to the well-hit fly to left Crawford hit in his third at-bat. “You certainly want to see somebody rewarded for it — would’ve liked to have seen that one sneak through, too,’’ the manager said.
Asked if that third at-bat was perhaps a harbinger, Crawford chuckled. “At this point, I didn’t feel no hits coming, but I definitely felt better about my at-bat and I’m just trying to put together a consistent streak of at-bats.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.