BALTIMORE — It used to be that baseball executives were concerned about having too many young guys in a lineup.
Too much breaking-in time. Too many mistakes.
A veteran, established team can’t have young guys messing things up. No more than one young guy a year; that was the way it used to be.
But the Red Sox don’t have to be concerned about that. They’re looking to blow up conventional wisdom a year after winning the World Series.
They tried to re-sign veteran Stephen Drew, but he rejected their $14.1 million qualifying offer. That opened the door for Xander Bogaerts — the second-youngest player in baseball behind Bryce Harper — at shortstop, which meant Will Middlebrooks would start at third.
If Drew had accepted the offer, Bogaerts would be at third and Middlebrooks would have been on the bench or at Pawtucket.
In Thursday night’s 4-3 victory over the Orioles, Bogaerts and Middlebrooks combined for five hits and three runs.
With his comeback, Grady Sizemore won the center field job over Jackie Bradley Jr., but Sizemore was given Thursday off and Bradley contributed two hits and an RBI and scored all the way from first base on David Ortiz’s bloop single to left in the third inning after Nelson Cruz butchered the play.
The three youngest players on the active roster helped the Sox leave Camden Yards with a series win.
Bogaerts also fielded his position flawlessly, including handling a couple of popups in the outfield and making a nice play in the eighth when he backhanded a ball in the hole and retired Adam Jones on a force out at second base. If Bogaerts hadn’t made that play, the Orioles would have had runners at first and second with one out in a one-run game.
“He’s played the game comfortably, to say the least,” manager John Farrell said. “He’s been on base multiple times, played very good defense, especially on the backhand on the force play. He’s doing an outstanding job for us.”
Middlebrooks never thought of himself as having an issue at the plate even after going hitless in the first two games.
“It was two games and I had some frustrating at-bats. This was nice to break out of it, but I never thought I was in anything, certainly not a slump,” said Middlebrooks, who drove in a run on a double-play grounder in the second, singled as part of a run-scoring rally in the fourth, and doubled in the sixth on a 3-and-0 pitch.
Bogaerts thought he was swinging well the last 10 days of spring training and feels his hot start — 5 for 9 — is a carryover.
“That’s the type of guy I am. I try to take advantage when things are going well,” Bogaerts said.
Bogaerts was happy to see Bradley record a pair of hits, knowing that Bradley would come out of his doldrums after losing the center field competition and earning a quick recall from Pawtucket when Shane Victorino went on the disabled list Opening Day.
“He’s a good hitter, in my eyes,” Bogaerts said. “Some guys have trouble finding themselves early on. I played with him from High A on for three years now. I know what Jackie can do.”
Bradley batted ninth. He reached on an infield single to second base in the third inning, and knocked in a run with single to center in the sixth. After his first hit, he was leading off first base with two outs when Ortiz sent a bloop single to left that Cruz dived to catch. The ball got by the left fielder and that gave Bradley the resolve to keep running hard and score.
“I started off, I got a great jump,” Bradley explained. “I saw Nelson trying to make a diving play so I put my head down and I knew it was going to be close. I was going to go the whole way. If [third base coach Brian Butterfield] tried to stop me, I still would have tried. I knew it wasn’t hit very hard and I saw the way Nelson was running after the ball. Then it was off to the races. I got two steps past second base and I saw he was still on the ground. He’d have to make a pinpoint throw to get me.”
Bradley understands that he may be heading back to Pawtucket when Victorino is healthy, but as he said, “I just need to make the most of my opportunities when I get the chance. Today was a good day. I focused on today and now today is over with. I’m definitely seeing the ball come out of the pitcher’s hand better and now I’m just trying to handle those pitches.”
For Bradley, there is no surprise at how Bogaerts has started his first full season.
“He’s a natural hitter; very special to see him work at such a young age,” Bradley said. “He’s only going to get better. I’m scared for other teams.”
And Middlebrooks, the veteran of the group at 25, was happy for both of them.
“Yeah, that’s big for Jackie. He feels a lot of pressure to do well to help us. Xander — three hits — pretty normal nowadays,” Middlebrooks said.
Bogaerts said he feels comfortable at shortstop because of all the work he did with Butterfield in spring training, and so far that’s been evident.
The Red Sox are also committed to Middlebrooks at third and hope his 30-plus-home run power emerges. They have Garin Cecchini in Pawtucket to remind Middlebrooks that his time is now.
Bradley was given his own wake-up call when Sizemore beat him out.
They will all have chances to become everyday major league players at some point. And the Red Sox do not fear it. So far, they have embraced it.