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A major step for young Iglesias

Defense is no problem for Jose Iglesias, who made a nice stab of the throw on Rajai Davis’s steal of second Tuesday night. Defense is no problem for Jose Iglesias, who made a nice stab of the throw on Rajai Davis’s steal of second Tuesday night. (Mike Cassese/Reuters)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 12, 2011

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TORONTO — Before making his first major league start at shortstop, Jose Iglesias was sitting in the Red Sox dugout last night, talking as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

This kid has ice water in his veins.

“You seem relaxed,’’ a reporter said to him.

“Yeah, I feel good,’’ said Iglesias. “It’s baseball. It’s what I do for a living. I’ve played baseball all my life.

“Do most guys get nervous before their first start?’’

“Ah, usually,’’ the reporter said. “But you don’t have to be like them.’’

Iglesias, a 21-year-old Cuban defector, tapped the reporter’s shoulder and made a gesture with his hand.

“A little bit,’’ he said. “A few butterflies.’’

Iglesias went 0 for 3 with a strikeout in last night’s 9-3 loss to the Blue Jays. “I felt comfortable out there, but I just couldn’t get a hit to help the team,’’ he said.

In spring training, Iglesias was still using an interpreter, but he is as confident in his grasp of the English language as he is in his baseball ability. He speaks clearly and confidently.

Iglesias has worked hard trying to blend into this culture. He wants to be as Americanized as possible, though he never will forget his childhood experiences in Cuba, the social and political things that shaped who he is and the baseball that got him to this point.

He asked what Yankee Stadium was like, since that will be his next stop. Until last night, his major league experiences consisted of a pinch-running appearance, a late-game defensive stint, and one at-bat in which he reached on a dropped third strike.

We saw the good Tuesday night, as he made a terrific grab on a throw by Jason Varitek to second base in an attempt to catch Rajai Davis stealing. The bad was not holding Davis on second tight enough, which helped Davis steal third, from where he scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly.

Infield coach Tim Bogar talked to Iglesias about it.

“It’s one of those things where I need to know the players in the major leagues more,’’ said Iglesias, “and that will happen when I’m in the league for a while.’’

Nobody scolded Iglesias, but it was one of those learning moments that he will file away. Those who have coached him and been around him say that you tell him something once and he picks it up.

He has been talked to about being too flashy with routine plays, often times making them harder than they should be. He has cut down on that considerably.

As manager Terry Francona pointed out yesterday, Iglesias always will be a flashy player. His movements are so graceful and effortless, resembling those of a young Omar Vizquel, that it’s clear he’s going to be different from anything we’ve seen in Boston at that position in a long time.

He got the start last night because Jed Lowrie was sick, but how long will it be before he is a fixture at shortstop? The Sox don’t believe he’s fully developed. Francona said it’s not only the offense that needs to come around, but he needs to learn things like the Davis play.

“The major leagues is a whole different ballgame,’’ Francona said. “They scout you in the majors. They try to get you out. There are nuances he needs to learn, but in terms of talent, he’s got plenty of that.’’

Everyone knows that. When you see it every day, you tend to take it for granted.

“The quick hands,’’ said reliever Rich Hill, who played with Iglesias at Pawtucket. “He’s like a magician out there. And then you see the range — the balls he gets to in the hole behind the second base bag and the strong arm.

“He made a play where he came in on a ball that was hit to the left of the mound, barehanded it, and made this throw from about an inch off the grass with some steam. He didn’t get the guy out, but just to have the confidence that he could make that play was amazing to me. Most guys don’t even attempt the throw.’’

Dustin Pedroia has no doubt that Iglesias will be very good and an easy partner to work with in the years to come.

“He’s got great ability, and like any young player, the more experience he gets, the more comfortable he’ll be out there,’’ said Pedroia. “He certainly can make all the plays, and every day he plays, he’ll learn. That’s true for everyone.’’

Iglesias is going to force management into interesting decisions down the road. For now, there’s a long season ahead, and Iglesias likely will return to Pawtucket when Marco Scutaro comes off the disabled list. Defensively, he’s on par with — or better than — most major league shortstops, but what he needs to get better at is his offense.

Iglesias said the organization is trying to get him to be more patient at the plate. His inclination is to be aggressive and swing hard — as he did in his first major league at-bat, when he hit three vicious fouls before striking out.

“They want me to see more pitches, and I understand that,’’ he said.

Iglesias hit .253 at Pawtucket, but he had heated up; he was hitting .306 over his last 10 games before the call-up.

In his first at-bat last night, the patience thing didn’t work so well. Iglesias grounded to short on the third pitch by Toronto starter Jesse Litsch. In the fifth inning, he grounded into a fielder’s choice at third base on the first pitch.

There will be growing pains along the way, and this current stay in the bigs isn’t permanent.

“This is quicker than I thought it would come,’’ Iglesias said. “This is where I want to be. This is what I’ve played for. And I will play my hardest and help the team any way I can.’’

Judging by his mannerisms, his comments, his calmness, it won’t take Iglesias long to feel he belongs.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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