On Baseball

Reserving judgment on bench moves

By Nick Cafardo
August 11, 2011

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MINNEAPOLIS - Even when the Red Sox lose it’s easy to think they should have won.

The Sox took a respectable two of three games against the Twins, but last night it was easy to think they should have swept the series. Are the expectations so high that even winning a series leaves some disappointed?

Some might be disappointed because Jon Lester pitched and when the All-Star lefthander pitches the Sox should win more often than not. When he’s in a 2-2 game into the seventh inning it’s expected the offense will pick up the slack, the bullpen will slam the door, and it’s off to Seattle for the weekend.

But such wasn’t the situation in last night’s 5-2 loss.

It was first surprising that the Sox could do very little against Nick Blackburn, who hadn’t been dominant before last night’s outing. The Sox didn’t score until the sixth, but they had a fighting chance when David Ortiz blasted his 23d homer to deep center to tie the game.

Lester didn’t start the eighth very well and he departed when Jim Thome smacked the go-ahead double to left-center. That brought in Alfredo Aceves, who has been good this season. But Aceves was hit pretty hard and before you knew it the game was out of hand and Joe Nathan retired the Sox in order in the ninth inning.

Every so often the Sox play a game like this when it seems that things are a little bit off.

Terry Francona is always trying to make sure his players get rest. Before this series, he had decided to give each of his infielders a game off and last night it was Dustin Pedroia’s turn.

Now Sox fans never understand why Francona rests key players such as Pedroia. While Mike Aviles took his place at second base and reached base his first three plate appearances, what most will remember is when Pedroia finally got into the game as a pinch hitter for Josh Reddick in the eighth, Francona elected to move Aviles from second base to right field.

The Sox are determined to make Aviles an outfielder, and we’re just not sure he is.

Trevor Plouffe’s long fly ball in the eighth went over Aviles’s head. It was grossly misplayed. Why didn’t Francona go to Darnell McDonald as a defensive replacement? Well, because Francona and the front office want Aviles to learn to play the position. But at what expense?

Francona didn’t seem too angry about Aviles’s mistake, making the normal apologies for the player who is used to making his living as an infielder. The Sox did not obtain a righthanded hitting outfielder at the trade deadline. Aviles can hit lefthanded pitching and can play anywhere in the infield.

Aviles made one start in right field last week and got away with it. Last night, however, the ball found him.

As for Aceves, he’s not a magician, but to this point had done a good job keeping games close. Francona went long with Lester, hoping to rest his bullpen as much as possible with Matt Albers, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon working hard Tuesday night. So the night was left to Aceves and the righty just didn’t have it last night.

It shows that while the Sox are a very good team, they have flaws. What team doesn’t?

Francona’s method of resting players has worked superbly through the years. Sometimes the timing is questionable. For instance, after Marco Scutaro had just come off a stretch where he had seven straight hits, he got the night off Tuesday. He returned to the lineup last night and went 1 for 5. Did that day off benefit Scutaro physically or is he now a little bit off the momentum he had built up? Again, hard to question a manager who has won two World Series championships.

What’s also interesting is how Francona is reacting to Josh Reddick. He definitely thinks a lot of the right fielder, but he’s not so sure when it comes to the rookie’s ability to hit lefties. Reddick is in a 1-for-12 slump and last night against lefthander Glen Perkins, Francona sent Pedroia to pinch hit.

Francona uses everybody on his roster. He doesn’t like to see bench players sit for too long. Remember when Roger LaFrancois had 10 at-bats the entire 1982 season but was on the roster the entire year? You’ll never see that now. Why rest Scutaro or Pedroia now of all times? Well, it’s because Francona is willing to take the longer view. And if he feels if you’re wearing a Sox uniform, whether or not you’re a starter, when your name is in the lineup you should be producing.

That philosophy has served him well.

Sometimes, though, it’s important to stick with Pedroia because even if he’s a little tired, he could produce something big. And with today’s offday why couldn’t he play? It’s hard to see MVP-type players sitting. And players such as Pedroia hate being on the bench.

It’s just one loss, but it left many with the feeling that they should have won.

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

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