BOSTON There havent been many silver linings to be salvaged from this lost Red Sox season of 2012. From an inordinate number of injuries, to a record number of players used, to poor performances on the field, to off-field dysfunction and distractions, the bright moments in this season have been hard to find.
No question, said David Ortiz. Its another year were not in the pennant race. A disappointing year. Hopefully, it gets better the following year.
Because of all the issues swamping the team, though, younger players and those who werent expected to have a role at the beginning of the season were given a chance to prove themselves. Players like Pedro Ciriaco and Mauro Gomez, virtual unknowns in spring training, to Junichi Tazawa and Will Middlebrooks, who in the course of the season went from prospects to players who have been relied on to contribute.
I saw a lot from Pedro Ciriaco in spring training and now once hes been here, hes been amazing, Ortiz said. Hes got a lot of talent. And Tazawas been unbelievable. Hes been tough and very impressive. I could mention a whole bunch of them who are doing a really good job and Im sure the front office next year is going to keep a really close eye on them.
Ciriaco began to open eyes in spring training when he hit .419 playing shortstop, second base, third base, and center field. In 70 games this season, he is hitting .289 with two home runs and 19 RBI, playing third base, second base, short, and all three outfield positions. He has 15 stolen bases, getting caught twice. He began the season with 15 consecutive steals before being caught for the first time Saturday. It was the second-most successful steals this season without being caught by any major league player, behind 19 by Detroits Quentin Berry.
Middlebrooks was in the American League Rookie of the Year conversation before being shut down by a fractured wrist on Aug. 11.
Hes legit, said Ortiz. Thats my boy, man. He got injured. He came in a couple of months after the season started and he showed everybody he belonged here. So hopefully his hand gets better and he comes back next year and does what he was doing. Hes a young guy who Ive tried to teach everything I know, and he listens and thats what we need around here, guys like him.
In his last 12 outings since Aug. 31, spanning 11 innings, Tazawa has allowed just one run on three hits with a walk and 16 strikeouts although he has allowed 10 of 26 inherited runners to score, a 39-percent rate, above the team rate of 30 percent. Tazawa, who began the season continuing to recover from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in March 2010, is second in the AL among pitchers with at least 40.0 innings pitched with a 1.54 ERA, behind only the Rays Fernando Rodney (0.63). Since 1916, only two other Sox pitchers (Jonathan Papelbon, 0.92 in 2006 and Calvin Schiraldi, 1.41 in 1986) have posted a lower single-season mark, with a minimum of 40 innings. Tazawas 8.60 strikeout-to-walk ratio is best in the majors this season among pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched.
Hes been near perfect, said manager Bobby Valentine. Hes been as good a pitcher as Ive seen in this league. Hes continued to get better. His split-finger now is devastating, throwing it 90, 91 mph. His control is impeccable. He has nerve. Throws strikes. Hes everything you want in a pitcher.
Gomez has been among the more intriguing players this season. As close to a complete unknown as a player could be in spring training, he was named the International League MVP with Triple-A Pawtucket, while also being named an IL All-Star. In 34 games with the Sox he is hitting .290 with two home runs and 17 RBI. He also has two triples, tied with Ciriaco, one behind team leader Dustin Pedroia. The right-handed hitter is batting .340 with two home runs against righties (just .233 against lefties), playing first base, third base, and serving as the designated hitter.
Gomez, who turned 28 on Sept. 7, made his big league debut this season. After signing as an amateur free agent with the Rangers in 2003, spending eight seasons in the Texas organization and two in Atlantas, a big league call-up was never a given.
Always I worked hard to get to the big leagues, Gomez said. That was my goal. I was so excited when they called me up here. I called my family in the Dominican. They were so happy. I just wanted a chance to play. Every time they put me in the lineup I tried to do my best to help my team to win.
At the beginning of the season I started hitting the ball good. I was playing winter ball in the Dominican. So when I came to spring training I was ready. And when the season started I was ready. It was a good year.
When they give me the MVP award, when they told me, I was excited. Thats good because I work hard every day and try to get better and better. Thats an accomplishment. I was happy.
Gomez is a good hitter, Valentine said. Can hit right-handers, left-handers. I think the more at-bats he gets, the more power factor he can have. If he plays winter ball, Id like him to play some left field for value.
I havent seen him at an extended period at first base. I hear he catches everything that gets to him, thats around him. At third base I can see it being a bit of an issue because he hasnt had a lot of reps.
Gomez, along with Ciriaco, is among several Sox players planning to play winter ball. Gomez will return to Leones del Escogido, where he played last season. This year, he will focus on playing third base and left field, along with some first base, working on his defense. The Sox havent given him any information for next season, beyond being ready for spring training.
They told me, in Dominican winter ball, they want me to play third and left, be ready for spring training, and we never know, he said. Just be ready for spring training.
With just six games left in this lost season, thats all any Red Sox players can do. Given full health Middlebrooks will be the starting third baseman. Tazawa should have a spot on the staff. Less known is the role players like Ciriaco and Gomez will have. They werent expected to play in as many games as they did. So, just be ready for spring training.
Thats all that can be salvaged from this season.