Yoenis Cespedes entered Tuesday’s game against the Rays with a major league-leading 15 outfield assists. His strong and accurate right arm is no secret. So, why Yunel Escobar attempted to score from second base on Ben Zobrist’s single to left with one out in the third inning isn’t completely understood. And when Cespedes threw Escobar out at the plate it wasn’t really a surprise.
It was Cespedes’ fourth outfield assist since joining the Sox at the trade deadline. That aspect of his defense has been as advertised.
His ability to play left field in front of Fenway Park’s wall, though, is still uncertain, as he demonstrated in the Rays’ five-run eighth inning.
The Sox entered the top of the eighth with a tenuous one-run lead, and with Clay Buchholz cruising through the first seven innings. With two outs and runners on first and second in the top of the eighth, Ben Zobrist drove a ball to the wall in left. Cespedes went back and appeared to jump too early as the ball sailed over his head and caromed off the wall as both runners scored.
That opened the floodgates as Buchholz unraveled, unable to get the third out as three more runs scored in the inning as Tampa Bay batted around, on the way to a 6-2 Rays win.
“A play we’ve seen Cespy make a number of times,” said manager John Farrell. “It looked like he jumped a little bit premature. Ball carries over his head for the two-run double, and then things kind of got away from us for the remainder of that inning.”
Cespedes has been charged with two errors since joining the Sox, in 87 chances for a .977 fielding percentage. Of the two fielding errors, just one was committed at Fenway.
“The wall is something that every new outfielder, every new left fielder that comes in here has to contend with," Farrell said. "And through games played and repetition and understanding his space in left field, we're confident that that ‘ll continue to gain some comfort with it. But, unfortunately, it was timely tonight. But his defense in left field has been, I think, adequate, and even better than that."
The Sox need Cespedes to be more than adequate in left field, especially at Fenway. It’s a position that has intimidated and confounded even the best fielders. Cespedes has at times seemed tentative and uncomfortable out there. Some evaluators have pointed out what appears to be his lackadaisical approach in the field.
After the Sox initially acquired Cespedes on July 31 in a trade with Oakland for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes, there had been talk of using him in right field, a position he has never played since the A’s signed him in 2012. That was scratched for this season, but remains a possibility for next season, depending on several factors, including the health of Shane Victorino and how well he can come back from back surgery, and the Sox’ off-season acquisitions.
The Sox will have many questions to answer this offseason. How and where Cespedes, who is signed through next season, fits into the lineup will be one of them.