For Red Sox manager John Farrell, the impact of having Will Middlebrooks and Shane Victorino back in the lineup after spending much of the month on the disabled list went beyond what they added to the lineup individually.
It meant a trickle down in the quality of at-bats the Red Sox would see throughout their lineup, particularly the bottom third.
Seeing his seven-eight-nine hitters combine to go 5 for 11 with three doubles, four RBIs, and four runs in the Red Sox’ 7-4 win over the Rays on Tuesday night only made it more evident.
“We’re in a stretch here, probably the last eight, 10 games where the at-bats have become more consistent,” Farrell said. “I think it’s just guys getting to that point in the first month where they’re gaining some comfort, they’re gaining some confidence.
“Any time we can get production out of that bottom third . . . it was good to see that evenness to the at-bats one through nine,” Farrell said.
A.J. Pierzynski went 2 for 4 with an RBI and a run in the seventh spot. Middlebrooks went 1 for 3 with a walk, two runs, and an RBI double from the eight-hole.
Since coming off the DL last week, Middlebrooks is hitting .286. Five of his seven hits this season have gone for extra bases.
“He’s laying off the breaking ball down and away,” Farrell said. “If there’s one thing, you could say he’s seeing the ball better and he’s not expanding the plate away. So when he’s taken some good pitchers’ pitches, it’s gotten him back in the count and he hasn’t missed many pitches over the middle of the plate. He’s not missing his pitch in the zone.”
Jackie BradleyJr., who went 3 for 4 in the win over the Blue Jays on Friday, gave the Sox a lift again from the No. 9 spot, going 2 for 4 with two doubles and two RBIs.
“It feels good to be in there and to be able to help the team win,” Bradley said. “Obviously when you’re playing every day, it feels good and you’re able to take your lumps and still get back in there to redeem yourself. That’s what I’m proud I’ve been able to do so far.
“In certain situations that they could’ve brought in certain hitters, them having the confidence in me to at least attempt to get the job done, it gives me a lot of confidence knowing they have confidence in me.”
That potency throughout the order made it hard once Rays manager Joe Maddon reached into his bullpen in the sixth.
“That way, I feel like you’re getting production from the whole lineup,” Bradley said. “When the whole lineup can produce, it gives us a better opportunity to win.”
Field work needed
For as much poise as Bogaerts has shown at the plate, there’s progress still to be made in the field.
His .278 batting average is the team’s second best among regulars behind Mike Napoli . He was had been riding a 10-game hitting streak that saw him bat .324 with four doubles, a home run, five RBIS, and five walks before Tuesday’s 0-for-3 night.
“The consistency to his approach, even when he’s squared some balls up that have not fallen in, he hasn’t tried to overswing the bat to make up for it,” Farrell said. “He does a very good job of keeping every at-bat an individual event and not letting a previous at-bat leak into the following ones. He’s best when he’s got an all-fields approach, which we’ve seen him drive some balls into right-center field. He’s done a good job for us.”
But the 21-year-old is still learning the nuances at shortstop. Bogaerts played nine of his 17 regular-season and 11 postseason games at third base last season after playing all but 10 of 116 games at short in the minors. The more he plays, Farrell said, the more his range is likely to improve.
“The more experience he gets out there and the ability to read swings, particularly against our starters and our pitchers as he gets familiar with all that is involved — I think there’ll be a more ready ability to anticipate as that pitcher’s locating to a certain side of the plate and begin to read some of those swings,” Farrell said.
“He’s done a very good job with balls at him. I think the area that you probably see to the eye-test is to the glove side. That first-step quickness towards that direction is where the work continues.”
Pedroia heating up
With an 11-game on-base streak, Dustin Pedroia has gotten into a rhythm at the plate after receiving a cortisone shot April 15 to help ease inflammation in his left wrist.
He is 16 for his last 51 (.313), with five doubles, five RBIs, seven walks, and nine runs.
“There’s been more ability to the pull side, so what that tells us is not only is the aggressiveness there, he’s feeling pretty much freed up mentally,” Farrell said. “So much was made last year when he had the thumb issue that base hits or extra base hits were less than [normal]. That’s come back into play, so he doesn’t complain of anything with the wrist. He’s 100 percent full to go.”
Four on the floor
Victorino put up his 14th career four-hit game and his second with the Red Sox. After spending the early weeks of the season on the disabled list with a right hamstring injury and getting a quick three-game rehab assignment in with Pawtucket, Victorino went 2 for his first 15. But he was constantly on base on Tuesday, adding a missing dimension to the offense. “We knew it was going to take a couple of games for him to get his feet on the ground, which it has,” Farrell said. “He does give us a completely different dynamic in that two-hole. When we can set the table for that middle of the order, we’ve got a chance to score some runs.” . . . With a five-run lead, Edward Mujica came on in the ninth looking to tie a bow on the Red Sox’ win. Instead, he gave up two runs on two hits in two-thirds of an inning and Koji Uehara had to come in to record a three-pitch save (his sixth of the season). Mujica’s given up a run in five of his past six outings and still hasn’t found the rhythm that helped him save 37 games for the Cardinals a year ago. Part of the reason, Farrell said, is that Mujica’s role with the Sox is different. “He was in a clearly more defined role last year,” Farrell said. “So there was more frequency of use, he got on a little bit of a roll last year and carried it throughout nearly 40 saves last year.” . . . A heavier dose of offspeed pitches and a tendency to reach for balls outside of the strike zone were the short explanation for Grady Sizemore’s slump at the plate over the past 10 games, Farrell said. Sizemore is hitting .081 going back to April 15 with 11 strikeouts. With Victorino returning after sitting out the first 23 games with a hamstring injury, Farrell said he will rotate Sizemore with Bradley and Jonny Gomes. “There’s been a willingness by the opposition to throw a little bit more offspeed at him,” Farrell said. “We’ve got a chance to rotate him in a little more now with Vic being back. I think it’s been more offspeed and some elevation of some fastballs where he’s chased at times.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.