McAdam: Youkilis defined by sweat he gave

801264.jpg

McAdam: Youkilis defined by sweat he gave

For many, the lasting image of Kevin Youkilis in a Red Sox uniform will be one of his sweating profusely, almost comically so.

And, in a way, that's entirely fitting. Physiological issues aside, Youkilis's extreme perspiration stood for something: the hard work it required for the infielder to become the player he was.

It's easy to think that any player who reaches the major leagues as supremely talented -- better, faster and stronger than the others who failed to reach the game's highest level. And, of course, major leaguers are blessed with a certain innate ability. They possess quickness, flexibility, and hand-eye coordination that most of us can only dream about.

But within the pool of professional players, only a fraction are good enough to get to the majors. Moreover, only the best of the best are capable of nine-year (and counting) playing careers.

For many, their first introduction to Youkilis was Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's obsession with him in Michael Lewis's best-seller, Moneyball. Beane infamously dubbed Youkilis "the Greek god of walks,'' for Youkilis's ability to get on base.

The nickname rankled Youkilis, who was neither Greek, nor happy about being defined cheifly for his ability to get bases on balls. Years later, Terry Francona playfully ribbed Youkilis about the nickname, observing: "I've seen him in the shower -- he's not the Greek god of anything.''

But Youkilis made himself much more than an on-base machine. In addition to his stellar .388 on-base percentage, Youkilis learned to drive the ball, and in the process, he became a slugger and run produer. From 2008 through 2010, Youkilis posted a slugging percentage of .548 or better and averaged 97 RBI, transforming himself from a player who managed to get on base to one who could do real damage in the middle of a powerful Red Sox lineup.

That transformation came from rigorous off-season work at Athlete's Performance Institute in Arizona and countless swings in the cage -- his feet positioned unnaturally close, his bat wiggling impatiently.

It came, in other words, from hard work.

An hour after he traded him to the Chicago White Sox Sunday Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington chose to remember Youkilis Sunday as someone who was transformed from "a good player to an All-Star through sheer force of will and hard work,'' and that's as good a description of Youkilis as could be imagined.

Even Bobby Valentine, whose public zinging of Youkilis created a firestorm in the first 10 days of the season, saluted Youklilis, praising "his work ethic, his dedication, (and) his ability on the field. He never came off the field with a clean uniform and he always gave everything he had.''

That applies to the defensive side of the game, too. Drafted and developed as a third baseman, Youkilis improved himself in the field, and after becoming a plus defender, moved across the diamond in 2006 when the Sox obtained veteran third baseman Mike Lowell. Youkilis took to first like a natural and earned a Gold Glove while setting an American League record for most consecutive chances at first base without an error.

Then, when the Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez a year ago, Youkilis again returned to third.

His departure leaves David Ortiz as the lone player who was part of the 2004 championship team, and as Nick Punto, perhaps Youkilis's best friend on the team noted Sunday, Youkilis is one of a handful of people who can say he was a two-time World Series winner with the Red Sox.

"We did a lot of winning during (Youkilis's) time,'' said Cherington. "On an individual level, I think his legacy is (that of) a passionate player who played every inning hard. He did a lot of good things for this organization for the bulk of the time here, really embodied a lot of things that we really believe in.''

Starting with good, old-fashioned hard work, represented by the beads of sweat that not only covered him at times, but came to embody him, too.

Wednesday's Red Sox-Rays lineups: Ramirez gets night off

red_sox_hanley_ramirez_072816.jpg

Wednesday's Red Sox-Rays lineups: Ramirez gets night off

Hanley Ramirez is getting a night off as the Red Sox look for their third straight win against the Rays tonight at Tropicana Field.

Travis Shaw will play first base, with Brock Holt at third.

Tonight's lineups:

RED SOX:
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Mookie Betts RF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Sandy Leon C
Brock Holt 3B
Travis Shaw 1B
Andrew Benintendi LF
---
Rick Porcello P

RAYS:
Logan Forsythe 2B
Kevin Kiermaier CF
Evan Longoria 3B
Brad Miller SH
Matt Duffy SS
Logan Morrison 1B
Steven Souza Jr. RF
Corey Dickerson LF
Bobby Wilson C
---
Matt Andriese P

McAdam: Buchholz is the relief the Red Sox need

McAdam: Buchholz is the relief the Red Sox need

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- This is the kind of season it has been for Clay Buchholz:

A little more than a month ago, he was merely taking up space on the Red Sox roster, having been summarily removed from the rotation after three months of poor outings.

He was in the bullpen, but the Sox were loathe to use him. Asked, memorably, why Buchholz hadn't been the choice to serve as a long reliever in a game in which the starter departed early, John Farrell candidly noted, in not so many words, that because the Sox still had a chance to win the game, Buchholz didn't make sense as an option.

Ouch.

But slowly, Buchholz became more effective in his new relief role. And when injuries struck the rotation, Buchholz got himself three cameo starts, during which he posted a 2.70 ERA in 16 2/3 innings, topped by Tuesday's beauty -- 6 1/3 innings, one run allowed, nine strikeouts recorded.

Just as Buchholz has straightened out, however, Red Sox starters are suddenly stacked up like jets waiting for clearance to land at Logan Airport. Steven Wright returns from a brief DL stint Friday, and Eduardo Rodriguez is not far behind.

When he pitched poorly, the Red Sox didn't have any other options.

When he pitched well, the Red Sox have plenty of other choices.

So, now what?

"As far as Clay goes,'' said John Farrell, "this will be, I'm sure, a conversation (had) within (the organization). But setting that aside, he's throwing the ball exceptionally well right now.''

That's indisputable.

But the question remains: In what capacity will he throw the ball in the near future?

There's been a suggestion to keep Buchholz in the rotation while moving Drew Pomeranz to the bullpen. That would give the Sox a dependable lefty in relief -- as opposed to, say, Fernando Abad -- while also serving the dual purpose of putting a governor on Pomeranz's climbing innings total.

Pomeranz, who has plenty of bullpen experience in the big leagues, has also thrown 140 1/3 innings this season, eclipsing his previous major league high by nearly 40.

But Pomeranz is 27, not 21. He's shown no signs of fatigue. To the contrary, he's 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts. The Sox shouldn't mess with his success.

Instead, Buchholz should become one of the team's high-leverage set-up weapons, available in the seventh or eighth inning.

True, Buchholz doesn't have the swing-and-miss capability you'd prefer to have in the eighth inning, where the fewer balls put in play, the better off you are. But he can get lefties and righties out, and, pitching out of the stretch full-time, he's greatly improved his command.

Buchholz would remain the best option for a spot start if one of the five Red Sox starters faltered or got hurt. But the bullpen remains the best choice for him.

Ironic, isn't it? When he pitched poorly, he remained in the rotation for several months. Now that he's pitching superbly, he can't earn a permanent spot.

It's been that kind of season.