Red Sox counting on new blood to restore old attack

Red Sox counting on new blood to restore old attack
March 15, 2013, 3:15 pm
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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Any number of factors contributed to the Red Sox' 93-loss season in 2012, led by the team's epic rash of injuries -- a staggering 27 different players visited the disabled list -- and the sheer ineptitude of the starting rotation (5.19 ERA).

But it didn't help that the team's offense, elite for the past decade, slipped in a big way, too. Traditionally among the game's most patient and relentless lineups, the Red Sox last season finished with a .315 on-base percentage, their worst in more than 10 years.

That number, of course, was impacted by the megatrade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in late August and the heel injury that sidelined David Ortiz for all but one game over the final two months.

But even before the second-half freefall, former hitting coach Dave Magadan was expressing frustration with the team's impatient approach at the plate. Walks were down, to the point that Adrian Gonzalez, who years earlier led the major leagues in walks, went more than a month without a single base on balls.

Now, with the lineup re-cast -- four everyday players are new to the team -- new hitting coach Greg Colbrunn is attempting to recast the Sox as a grinding, relentless offense.

It helps that the four new regulars -- Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino -- are all known to have good on-base ability. The front office helped Colbrunn even before spring training began.

"The guys they brought in are those type of hitters,'' said Colbrunn.

Colbrunn said the team's dip was somewhat misleading, since the lineup the Sox rolled out most days in the final two months was barely major-league quality, filled as it was with journeyman and not-ready-for-prime time minor leaguers.

"I think it had a lot to do with the personnel and the people who were thrown out there in the month after the trade,'' said Colbrunn. "You go back and look at [indicators like] the pitches per at-bat, it's pretty much the same. It was just injuries, people put in positions, guys not 100 percent.''

The downward trajectory - the team lost 20 of its final 27 games -- in the second half didn't help.

"When you're going out there, feeling like you have to score 10 runs,'' Colbrunn said, "guys putting pressure on themselves tend to be over-aggressive. You look at it that way [and the OBP decline] makes sense. If these guys just go up there and try to have a quality at-bat and not feeling they're carrying the team, all the pressure if off. You just go and be your normal self.''

It's Colbrunn's hope that the injection of more disciplined hitters like Gomes and Napoli can impact the lineup as a whole.

"Look at the game [against the Twins Thursday],'' he said. "We made [Minnesota starter Mike] Pelfrey throw probably 25-30 pitches in the first inning and we scored two runs. The next inning, here we go again -- Nap had a 10-pitch at-bat. He ended up striking out, but then Will [Middlebrooks] comes up and hit a three-run double. It's been fun to watch this spring.''

Even with the arrival of the four new players, a few free swingers remain on the roster, including utility man Pedro Ciriaco (a mere 8 walks in 258 at-bats) and Middlebrooks (who had just 13 walks in 75 games).

Former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein often said that a lineup could live with one or two aggressive hitters and Colbrunn seems to share the belief.

"You want to let them be who they are,'' said Colbrunn. "It's not so much (preaching patience) as much as reminding them to be themselves.''