BOSTON – David Ortiz will begin a rehab assignment Thursday night with Triple-A Pawtucket as he makes his way back from the Achilles and heel ailments that kept him out of spring training games.
The Red Sox would like Ortiz to get four or five at-bats in four or five rehab games and then reassess his status.
“Going into this, [we] felt like a minimum of 20 at-bats were needed,” said manager John Farrell. “So that plan is still consistent.”
Ortiz was expected to play in an extended spring training or simulated game on Wednesday, but opted not to.
“As good as he felt, he didn’t want to risk maybe a little wildness coming from the mound, Farrell said. “Went through a workday and then traveled up here.”
-- Farrell said in spring training he could see switch-hitter Shane Victorino batting in the second spot against left-handed starters, with someone else, possibly switch-hitter Daniel Nava, batting second against righties. So far, in the season’s first nine games, Victorino has been in the No. 2 spot in all but two games – April 3 against Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda and April 5 against Blue Jays right Josh Johnson. In those games, Nava hit second.
“I think once we started the season, [Victorino’s] at-bats from the left side of the plate have been consistent,” Farrell said. “They’ve been fairly equal to the right side. And what Daniel’s done with providing protection behind Will [Middlebrooks] and really, in this short run, [Nava is performing] almost a middle-of-the-order type bat. Whether it’s getting an inning started with a walk or extra-base hit, it gives us the ability to lengthen out the lineup a little bit and the protection in the middle of the order.”
-- Nava entered Thursday night with home runs in three consecutive games for the first time in his career, with go-ahead home runs in the seventh inning on Monday and sixth inning Wednesday. Going back to last season, he has home runs in his last nine major-league games since Sept. 30.
“I think more than anything he continues to mature as a hitter,” Farrell said “He’s capable of driving with more frequency. Time will tell what that production will look like over a longer span, but you can’t deny the work that the guy puts in, whether it’s on defense or whether it’s a the plate. He’s doing a heck of a job.”
-- Heading into Thursday night, Red Sox pitchers had recorded at least 10 strikeouts in each of the last five games, with a season-high 14 on Wednesday. The five-game stretch of double-digit strikeouts matches the team’s longest such streak for the third time in history, and ties the longest such streak for any American League team. It was last accomplished by the White Sox from Sept. 24–28, 2011. Red Sox pitchers last did so from June 1-5, 2001.
“[I think] it’s a reflection of the type of stuff we have,” Farrell said. “I will say Ryan Demspter’s strikeout totals (15 over 10 innings in two starts) are a little more than expected. We were kind of joking about it earlier today that maybe we trade off three strikeouts for maybe another inning or two of work in that role. But he’s there to get outs and by virtue of the strikeout, we can’t argue about that. But I think overall it’s a matter of the talent that our pitching staff has. And the swing-and-miss ability and very good secondary pitches that they have.”
It’s also a fine line: pitching to contact and risking giving up runs vs. recording strikeouts and running up a pitch count.
“It’s a very fine line,” Farrell said. “And he’s going to use the stuff that he has. It’s not like he’s going to come up with an above-average sinker to automatically get a higher rate of ground balls. He’s going to pitch with a four-seamer and he’s going to pitch with a split and a slider. We don’t want him to try to reinvent himself for the sake of an additional inning. We do know that when we get through the month of April and he’s got four or five starts under his belt, that [his] pitch count limit will climb to give him the opportunity to get deeper in games. You can make the argument last night it it’s not raining or we’re not delayed that he goes out for the sixth inning. So I think in time that naturally will provide an opportunity for him to get deeper into games.”
-- Asked about the task force MLB commissioner Bud Selig is forming to study the shortage of African-American players, Farrell replied:
“The African-American athlete, I think, has migrated toward basketball and football a little bit more frequently or a little bit more readily . . . I don’t know why we’re not attracting as many African-Americans as we should. So I’m looking forward to the results of it as well, because there are far too many very good athletes that could be playing this game.”
-- Pawtucket’s home opener is Thursday night, as they host Rochester. The PawSox, who won the International League title last season for the first time in 28 years, will receive championship rings in a pregame ceremony.
-- The Sox are looking for their third series win tonight. They last started a season with three straight series wins in 1952.