Francona: Lineup tweak not permanent

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Francona: Lineup tweak not permanent

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

HOUSTON -- Matched against left-hander C.J. Wilson in Friday's season opener, the Red Sox starting lineup will feature Mike Cameron -- and not J.D. Drew -- in right field against the Texas Rangers.

Terry Francona made the announcement Thursday morning, revealing his batting order for Opening Day: Jacoby Ellsbury, CF; Dustin Pedroia, 2B; Carl Crawford, LF; Kevin Youkilis, 3B; Adrian Gonzalez 1B: David Ortiz, DH; Mike Cameron, RF; Jarrod Saltalamacchia C; and Marco Scutato, SS.

"I talked to J.D. about four or five days ago," said Francona, "and I kind of knew where I wanted to go there. I really didn't want J.D. to have to answer a bunch of questions. I talked to Cameron, also. He knew."

"We talked about it," said Drew. "We're in a good position in the outfield to have some guys like Cameron and Darnell McDonald to fill in against tough lefties. It's one of those situations for me, playing as long as I have, to kick back and watch those guys. It gives us an opportunity to win ballgames in those situations, so it will be good.''

"I'm very grateful for the opportunity," said Cameron. "I knew coming into this season, I was on a different perspective than I've been in throughout my career. When Tito called me into the office yesterday, I was kind of scared. I thought J.D. was hurt or something. I knew I was going to play some against lefties, but I wasn't expecting to play Opening Day, but the opportunity that I'm getting is very special. I'm looking forward to it.''
Francona emphasized this was not an indication that he intends to deploy a strict platoon throughout the season and that decisions on who plays right field against lefthanded would be on a case-by-case basis.

"This will not be a platoon," stated Francona. "J.D. knows that."

"This is a long grind throughout the year and it's one of those situations where he just wanted to get my feelings on it," said Drew. "Honestly, it's one of those things where I've been part of a lot of Opening Days and a chance to help this team win ballgames in whatever way it will be, it works out well.''

It's also likely that most nights, Gonzalez will be hitting fourth with Youkilis behind him at the No. 5 spots. But again, the presence of Wilson had Francona attempting to get more right-handed bats higher in the lineup.

"We'll try to keep as much balance as we can," said Francona. "If we swing it like we should, those types of decisions aren't that big. 'Common sense' is a phrase we hope we're using. It's not really that tactical . . . They're good hitters. They're going to be good hitters, whether they're hitting fourth or fifth."

Francona said he had this basic lineup in mind as soon as the Red Sox signed Crawford and traded for Gonzalez over the winter. The other decision came in evaluating Ellsbury's readiness for the leadoff spot after missing all but 18 games last season.

"He looked like he was ready," said Francona. "If it looked like he was scuffling a little bit, we could have moved him to the bottom of the order. When Jake is swinging the bat well, him leading off gives us a different look.

Francona also gave some thought to sitting David Ortiz in the opener, but thought that might send the wrong message given Ortiz's struggles against lefties this year and the attention the issue brought last April.

Wilson was dominant against left-handed hitters last season, limiting them to a .144 batting average against. Lefties slugged just .176 against him and he allowed just five extra-base hits -- all doubles -- in 153 at-bats.

"Wilson is so tough on lefties," said Francona. "He's tough on everybody. But he dominated lefties most of the time last year. We've got to make him throw a lot of strikes. If we swing early, he could have an easy time. We don't want to do that."

Drew, like his manager, warned not to read much into the moves.

"Opening Day is the excitement of the new season, a lot of fun to amp up andreally have an opportunity to reflect on what's coming up ahead of you," he said. "But for the most part, there's a lot of overmagnification for the fans, the media, even the players' standpoint. You tend to reflect on Opening Day and whether you've had a good day or a bad day, it can alter your thought process."

So he plans to take Friday in stride.

"It will be a lot of fun to watch.''
Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Despite still being owed more than $42 million after this year, Pablo Sandoval's days with the Red Sox appear numbered. So, it's no surprise that landing a third baseman at the trade deadline is a priority.

That's among the "major upgrades" the Sox are seeking by the July 31 deadline, MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand reports.

With Sandoval now on his second disabled list stint of the season - this time with an ear infection - after turning into what Feinsand calls "a horror tale for the Red Sox," and with fill-ins Josh Rutledge and Deven Marrero holding down third, it's apparent that the position is a glaring need.

"Sandoval is basically a non-entity at this point," a source told Feinsand. "They need to make a move there."

Feinsand mentions the usual suspects - Mike Moustakas of the Royals and Todd Frazier of the White Sox - as possibilities. Also, he wonders if former MVP Josh Donaldson could be pried away from the Blue Jays (if "Dave Dombrowski knocks their socks off") with an offer and if Toronto is still sputtering at the deadline?

Those other upgrades? "Boston is also looking for pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen," Feinsand writes. Again, no surprise there.

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

A look under the hood is not encouraging. A look at the performance is.

The sideshows for the Red Sox have been numerous. What the team’s success to this point has reinforced is how much talent and performance can outweigh everything else. Hitting and pitching can drown out a word that rhymes with pitching — as long as the wins keep coming.

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At 40-32, the Sox have the seventh-best win percentage (.556) in the majors. What they lack, by their own admission, is an intangible. Manager John Farrell told reporters Wednesday in Kansas City his club was still searching for its identity.

“A team needs to forge their own identity every year,” Farrell said. “That’s going to be dependent upon the changes on your roster, the personalities that exist, and certainly the style of game that you play. So, with [David Ortiz’s] departure, his retirement, yeah, that was going to happen naturally with him not being here. And I think, honestly, we’re still kind of forming it.”

To this observer, the vibe in the Red Sox clubhouse is not the merriest. 

Perhaps, in the mess hall, the players are a unified group of 25 (or so), living for one another with every pitch. What the media sees is only a small slice of the day. 

But it does not feel like Farrell has bred an easygoing, cohesive environment.

Farrell and big boss Dave Dombrowski appeared unaligned in their view of Pablo Sandoval’s place on the roster, at least until Sandoval landed on the disabled list. 

Hanley Ramirez and first base may go together like Craig Kimbrel and the eighth inning. Which is to say, selfless enthusiasm for the ultimate goal of winning does not appear constant with either.

Dustin Pedroia looked like the spokesperson of a fractured group when he told Manny Machado, in front of all the cameras, “It’s not me, it’s them,” as the Orioles and Red Sox carried forth a prolonged drama of drillings. 

Yet, when you note the Sox are just a half-game behind the Yankees for the American League East lead; when you consider the Sox have won 19 of their past 30 games, you need to make sure everything is kept in proportion.

How much are the Sox really hurt by a lack of identity? By any other issue off the field?

Undoubtedly, the Sox would be better positioned if there were no sideshows. But it’s hard to say they’d have ‘X’ more wins.

The Sox would have had a better chance of winning Wednesday’s game if Kimbrel pitched at any point in the eighth inning, that’s for sure. 

Kimbrel is available for one inning at this point, the ninth, Farrell has said.

A determination to keep Kimbrel out of the eighth because that’s not what a closer traditionally does seems like a stance bent on keeping Kimbrel happy rather than doing what is best for the team. The achievement of a save has been prioritized over the achievement of a team win, a state of affairs that exists elsewhere, but is nonetheless far from ideal — a state of affairs that does not reflect an identity of all for one and one for all.

Maybe the Sox will find that identity uniformly. Maybe they’re so good, they can win the division without it.