ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A caller on a Boston sports talk radio station last weekend praised the play of Pedro Ciriaco in effusive terms.
“The Sox need more kids like this,” he said, a sentiment with which the hosts readily agreed.
If only he were a kid. Ciriaco turns 27 in September and this is his 10th season of professional baseball. The Red Sox are the third organization for which he has played and almost certainly won’t be his last.
But for now, Ciriaco has been a much-needed jolt of energy for a stagnant team that has lost eight of its last 11 games.
The infielder is 7 of 13 with two doubles, four RBIs, and two stolen bases in three games. On Saturday, Ciriaco so captivated the crowd at Fenway Park during the second game of a doubleheader against the Yankees that they started chanting his first name.
“It has been exciting,” Ciriaco said. “I never expected any of this. All you want is a chance to play and show people what you can do.”
More such opportunities are coming. On Thursday night, as the Red Sox gathered for an optional workout at Tropicana Field, manager Bobby Valentine said he planned to continue using Ciriaco at second base in place of the injured Dustin Pedroia.
“He’ll play a lot of games there,” Valentine said.
Valentine has witnessed this before. Plenty of little-known players get unexpected opportunities and make a significant impact for a short period before reality sets in.
Asked whether Ciriaco can continue his production, Valentine smiled.
“He can for a couple of days,” he said. “I think it’s more of a good stretch, a good opportunity and making the best of the opportunity. But there are some things he does and he does them pretty well.”
Ciriaco is an above-average defensive player with a strong arm and quick feet. Offensively, he has better power than you would expect from a middle infielder and the speed to put pressure on the defense.
A National League scout said a lack of plate disciple has kept Ciriaco from becoming a full-time major leaguer. He has a .281 on-base percentage in 254 career Triple A games. Ciriaco also has a reputation for taking too many unnecessary chances.
But over the short term, those flaws can be masked enough to make Ciriaco a productive replacement.
“It was to fun to watch,” infielder Nick Punto said during the Yankees series. “You like to see guys like that get a chance.”
Ciriaco started his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2003 after being signed out of the Dominican Republic. He spent nearly eight years with the organization but never got beyond Triple A.
Ciriaco and catcher Chris Snyder were traded to the Pirates at the 2010 trade deadline for righthander D.J. Carrasco, outfielder Ryan Church, and infielder Bobby Crosby.
The Pirates called him up in September and Ciriaco had an RBI double in his first at-bat.
“He’s a good athlete, one of those guys with a lot of tools,” Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen said earlier this week.
But Ciriaco never stuck with Pittsburgh. He played in 31 games over two seasons and got just 40 plate appearances, going back and forth from Triple A Indianapolis in 2011.
But while Ciriaco was good enough to fill in at the major league level on occasion, he was not considered a prime prospect. Pittsburgh used him as a second baseman, shortstop, and even as a left fielder in Triple A.
“I played a lot of positions but I think I’m mostly a shortstop,” said Ciriaco, who has good range. “I can play second or third. It’s not that different for me.”
Ciriaco was 10 for 33 (.303) for the Pirates with six RBIs last season. But he hit only .231 in Triple A with a low .543 OPS.
The Pirates designated Ciriaco for assignment last Dec. 7 when they needed room on the 40-man roster. The Red Sox signed him to a minor league deal a week later. Ciriaco was invited to major league spring training without the slightest fanfare.
Ciriaco did all he could to make the team, going 18 for 43 (.419) with eight extra-base hits, eight RBIs, and eight stolen bases in nine attempts. He played a variety of positions, too, and looked serviceable at all of them.
Valentine liked what he saw of Ciriaco, and for a few days it looked like he had a chance to make the team. But Ciriaco was not on the 40-man roster, and when camp broke the Sox reassigned him to Triple A Pawtucket.
“There was a time we thought he could make the team,” Valentine said. “He was playing awfully well.”
As was the case in Pittsburgh, the Red Sox developed Ciriaco as a utility player. He played 37 games at shortstop, 23 games at second base, and three at third. He also hit leadoff more days than not.
Ciriaco was hitting .301 for Pawtucket when the Red Sox called him up.
“He’s picked us up big time,” PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler told broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith. “He’s really had a fabulous year and is a lot of fun to watch play. He can beat you in a lot of ways, and he’s a great kid and works hard every day.”
Look for Ciriaco in the lineup on Friday night when the Red Sox face the Rays. Pedroia is expected to come off the disabled list next week and that could mark the end of Ciriaco’s usefulness to the Sox.
“I’m just happy to get a chance,” Ciriaco said. “Every day I’m here it’s a good day.”