CHICAGO - The Red Sox got a little boost from Will Middlebrooks and Daniel Nava, and now they need a big one from Ryan Kalish.
They need a homegrown prospect to add the spark that can help a team not only find its way out of the cellar, but give some hope for the future.
“It’s about the energy right now,’’ said the 24-year-old Kalish, who started in center field Sunday night against the Cubs. “Not looking to set a goal about how I want to field or how I want to hit. But I feel I can bring an energy to a ballpark that is good for a team, and that’s what I want to do. These guys are all about winning and that’s what I’m about.’’
The Kalish we last saw, in 2010, played with reckless abandon. It’s what got him into trouble. He missed the 2011 season, undergoing two surgeries in a matter of months. He had neck surgery in September, then in November had an operation to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
They were serious injuries for anyone. But for a guy who came up with the reputation that he would go through a wall for the team, it was devastating.
Bobby Valentine can relate. He had a similar mind-set as a young player and it cost him a long, more lucrative career because he couldn’t help himself from being reckless.
So, he’s curious to see what Kalish is all about.
“Just working with him in spring training, he’s a pleasure to have around,’’ said Valentine. “Reports on him are real good. Hopefully, he can help us win a ballgame. I’m looking forward to seeing him play.’’
Terry Francona gave Valentine the thumbs up on Kalish during their pregame chat. “He’s a pleasure to manage,’’ Francona said. “You’ll enjoy him.’’
It’s hard not to feel that way about Kalish, who got the call because Ryan Sweeney was placed on the disabled list because of a toe injury.
Was Kalish ready? Likely not. He is still affected by neck tightness and expects to feel some discomfort the rest of the season. He has to deal with it, and he will.
“Playing center field at Wrigley on Sunday night. What could be better than that?’’ Kalish said.
And he made the most of it, going 1 for 4 with an RBI single and also scored on a suicide squeeze by Daniel Nava during the Sox’ 7-4 win.
Kalish had perhaps the biggest hit of the night in the seventh inning when he poked a single to center off James Russell to break a 3-3 tie.
“That was a great at-bat,’’ said Valentine. “He thought I was going to pinch hit for him, but he hung in there against a tough lefty and got the job done, and that allowed us to keep the inning going.’’
Kalish got word of his promotion Sunday at 12:30 a.m. from Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler.
“That’s the crazy thing,’’ Kalish said. “Sometimes you think you’re starting to feel you’re doing well, but it doesn’t happen. Everybody wants to expect to be called up to the major leagues, especially here. It’s crazy, man. I’m sitting there not thinking about anything at all and I get a call. Wrigley then back to Fenway. I’m psyched to be here to help this team win ballgames.’’
After all the rehab, Kalish, who hit .252 with four homers and 24 RBIs in 53 games for the Red Sox in 2010, said of his return to the majors after so long, “I didn’t have any expectations, honestly. That’s kind of making this a little cooler for me. I just expected to go through the process of getting back into game shape, seeing pitching, taking good swings, and putting together quality at-bats. Obviously, the team is hurting right now and they need help and that’s why I’m here.’’
What he knows is that after two surgeries, it’s not a question of rehab and never looking back.
“Still trying to get back to it,’’ Kalish said. “That standard guideline that they throw out there - six months for shoulder, neck - was a quick thing. You always kind of feel like after those months it’s over, but it’s not over. It’s just getting started. There’s a lot of maintenance work that goes into this. I’m going to have to put in the time every day. It’s the learning process more than anything else.’’
You can tell he’s not over the pain.
“It’s something where I have to get it loose. Once it’s loose, it’s good,’’ he said. “My shoulder is now biologically different, so my body is getting used to it. And the more I do that, the better it’s going to get. But I feel very comfortable where I’m at. My arm strength is good. If I have to let it go, I’ll be able to.’’
The big question is, will Kalish play differently? Be less aggressive?
“I think I can still pick and choose my spots. I think that’s what I’m going to have to do now,’’ he said. “I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but I think I’m going to get a feel for it. Sliding headfirst right now is probably not something I’m going to do. Feetfirst is just as effective, so I’m not worried about that, but I haven’t dove for a ball yet in the outfield. But, I mean, if the time comes I’ll have to give it a shot. I think I’ll be fine. I’m confident about how I’m feeling. I think everything’s sturdier than I would think or anyone else thinks. If the time calls, I have to lay out for my team.’’
When reminded that there is brick behind the ivy at Wrigley, Kalish said, “The wall and I might not become friends, but maybe the grass and I will.’’
Kalish said he feels he’s in a good place with his hitting and overall play. Even though he hasn’t played much, he’s come to grips with who he is.
“I’m trusting what I’m doing,’’ Kalish said. “And that’s something that I feel as a baseball player is the biggest thing. If you don’t trust what you’re doing at the plate you don’t have a chance. Right now, I feel if I get out or not, I trust what I’m doing. I’m happy about that. The comfort is still coming. Lately, I’m chasing balls I don’t want to be chasing. So, that’s baseball. It’s a hard game. Those are obviously things I’m cognitive of and I want to change.’’
And there are those temptations to change.
“It was something I decided before I started playing, that I was going to do this and I’m going to stick with it,’’ Kalish said. “For me as player, I need to do something and stay with it. Obviously, there might be a minor adjustment, but I know guys who are swing changers and it may work for them, but it doesn’t work for me.’’
Kalish is a thoughtful young man whose presence has been missed in the Red Sox clubhouse. His energy level is always high. His demeanor is always positive. Despite the injuries and the long road back, it hasn’t defeated him.
Kalish said Valentine came up to him after he arrived at about 1 p.m. Sunday, and asked, “You wanna play?’’
“I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely,’ ’’Kalish said.
Would you expect him to say anything else?
You are what you are, and Ryan Kalish is the winner the Red Sox have been missing in their lineup.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.