Don't forget us: Sox bottom of order coming through

Don't forget us: Sox bottom of order coming through
April 30, 2014, 12:00 pm
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BOSTON - With all the focus on the Red Sox' issues at the top of the lineup -- using five different leadoff hitters in the first month of the season; a disappointing .277 on-base percentage from the top of the lineup, next-to-worst in the American League -- it's been easy to overlook what's taking place at the bottom.
     
Since welcoming back Shane Victorino from the disabled list last Thursday and Will Middlebrooks from the DL last Friday, the Red Sox finally have the full lineup they envisioned when the season began.
     
And while the top of the batting order is still rounding into shape -- Victorino, the No. 2 hitter, broke out with four hits and a sacrifice fly in Tuesday's 7-4 win over Tampa Bay -- it's been the lower third of the order that's starting to make noise.
     
On Friday in Toronto, the trio of A.J. Pierzynski, Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr. combined to go 8-for-11 with four RBI and five runs scored.
     
Then, in the homestand opener Tuesday night, it was more of the same: the same three players were 5-for-11 with four runs scored and another four knocked in.
     
Maybe it's coincidence and maybe it's not, but since Victorino and Middlebrooks have returned and lengthened the lineup from top to bottom, the Red Sox have scored seven runs in three of the last four games -- something they managed to do just once in the first 23 games.
     
Victorino was expected to provide energy and some on-base ability to the top of the lineup, and has. But equally important has been the offense generated from the lower third.
     
Having players who can do damage from the 7-8-9 spots -- as Pierzynski, Middlebrooks and Bradley have done -- has ensured that opposing pitchers don't have a hiding place, the way they might with some National League lineup that feature a weak-hitting infielder and the pitcher's spot.
     
The Sox' trio has been able to extend innings, turning the lineup over and grinding out at-bats to drive up pitch counts.
     
On Tuesday night alone, the lower third helped continue to the team's relentless approach at the plate, forcing starter Erik Bedard to throw 104 pitches in the first five innings.
     
"Anytime we can get production from that bottom third," said John Farrell, "it's good. It was good to see the (consistency) of the at-bats from No. 1 through 9."
     
All three players in the bottom third have gone through some challenges in the first month.
     
Pierzynski, now with his third team in as many seasons, has focused largely on getting comfortable with the pitching staff. After little offensive output in the first three weeks, he's begun to deliver of late, with seven RBI in his last five games.
     
Bradley, who was about to lose a roster spot to Grady Sizemore in the spring only to be given a last-minute reprieve with Victorino's injury, took full advantage of his opportunity and nailed down the starting center fielder's spot with his defensive play.
     
More recently, Bradley has hit with more consistency, too. Twice in the last four games, he's had multiple extra-base hit games and is hitting .286 over the last eight games.
     
Finally, there's Middlebrooks, who saw his season interrupted after just four games played and missed the next three weeks. He's collected four hits in his first four games back -- three of them for extra bases -- and knocked in four runs.
     
"That way," said Bradley, "I feel like you're getting production from the whole lineup and when the whole lineup's producing, it gives us a better opportunity to win."
     
To say nothing of the responsibility it helps to share with the rest of the batting order.
     
"The guys at the top of the lineup aren't going to be able to do it every night," warned Mike Napoli, "so we're going to need guys to step up and have nights like that. We all know they're capable of doing what they've been doing lately, so if those guys get going down there, it's a huge plus."