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On Baseball

Red Sox’ younger players get a needed break

Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t the only young Red Sox player struggling at the plate.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File

Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t the only young Red Sox player struggling at the plate.

Jackie Bradley Jr. was out of the lineup.

Grady Sizemore was in center.

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Will Middlebrooks was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a broken index finger.

That’s how the transaction log read Saturday.

Even before Middlebrooks went on the DL he was close to not being in the Red Sox lineup anyway. He simply isn’t hitting.

Part of the recent problem — young guys underperforming — took care of itself with Middlebrooks’s injury and the determination by manager John Farrell that Bradley simply needed a break.

The addition by subtraction didn’t help the Red Sox Saturday night as Rick Porcello did what Max Scherzer did the night before — shut them down in a 6-1 loss.

Nonetheless, after Farrell read Bradley’s comments from Friday night in which he said he “felt lost” at the plate, that signaled the conclusion that Bradley needed a vacation.

There was no demotion to the minors, and it was passed off as a one-game mental health day. Farrell, who said he didn’t think Sizemore was a full-time center fielder anymore, may have to rethink that if Sizemore can at least make the routine plays.

There’s no question Bradley had produced as a defender, but his offense, especially against offspeed pitches, has been alarming to watch.

Bradley is hitting .122 against offspeed pitches. Overall with the bases empty, Bradley is hitting .127, and .040 on offspeed stuff. With no outs, Bradley is hitting .100, and 0 for 17 against offspeed stuff. In April against offspeed pitches he batted .207, but in May he was 0 for 20.

Bradley has been afforded 143 plate appearances to hit .200. Daniel Nava, on the other hand, was given 75 plate appearances to hit .149, but he had two home runs and was making far more contact.

Nava is hitting .273 in Pawtucket and would be worthy of a return to the majors, but we’ll see if the Red Sox are willing to make the Bradley-Nava switch. That would likely depend on how Sizemore plays in center.

But it isn’t just Bradley.

Xander Bogaerts, who homered Saturday night with nobody on, has had issues with men on base — .154 for the season. With runners in scoring position Bogaerts is hitting .118 and in May is 0 for 9. Before his home run Bogaerts had no RBIs in May in 56 plate appearances, the worst of any batter in the majors.

As Farrell pointed out before Saturday’s game, the Sox aren’t giving up on Bradley. Hard to do that when they have committed to him as their starting center fielder.

But Bradley has been killing them at the bottom of the order. On Friday night, Bradley came up with runners at first and second and nobody out in the bottom of the seventh. It looked like a perfect bunt situation, but they allowed him to swing away. He struck out.

There hasn’t been a lot of confidence in the bottom of the order. It’s hard for a team coming off a World Series championship to watch what’s taken place with this once-productive lineup.

And it’s starting to cause some tension.

A.J. Pierzynski was upset that he didn’t start Friday night because he was 11 for 33 against Max Scherzer. Farrell elected to go with David Ross because he works well with Jon Lester, but Farrell, while noting that it was difficult decision, has stated in the past that he doesn’t like the notion of a “personal catcher” for a pitcher. Yet Ross was Lester’s personal catcher.

Mike Carp has been upset about playing time, but on Saturday bench coach Torey Lovullo had to put out a fire with Carp when the lefthanded hitter was inserted in the lineup without much notice.

This staff prides itself in communicating with players — letting them know the night before whether they’re playing. For some reason, this didn’t occur.

So, there are stressful situations developing as a result of a lineup that hasn’t worked this season.

The return of Brock Holt, who had brought some energy to the team in his first stint a couple of weeks ago, is probably a good addition. Holt was sent back to Pawtucket when Middlebrooks came off the DL, much to everyone’s surprise because he had hit .348 (8 for 23 with four RBIs). Jonathan Herrera was kept because he was a better backup shortstop option, but the boost Holt seemed to give at the time was lost. Holt went 0 for 3 last night.

For the second time, the Sox decided to pass up third base prospect Garin Cecchini. Farrell indicated that the player development staff recommended that Cecchini (.306 with one homer and 17 RBIs) stay in Pawtucket to work on his defense.

What should help is having Shane Victorino in the lineup consistently. He missed a couple of days with swelling in his knee but was back Saturday, which should help. Victorino was 0 for 4 Saturday night.

If Sizemore can make solid contact and get a key hit here and there, that would trump anything Bradley has contributed to this point. But Sizemore went 0 for 3 and hit into a double play.

Young players create excitement and energy when they come up and give an organization hope. But when they fail there’s a deflating feeling and doubt sets in as to how good the players really are.

We’ve heard the argument that Dustin Pedroia struggled to start his first season and then turned things around. But not everyone can do what Pedroia did. He was obviously a special player.

In the weeks to come the younger players will continue to get their chances to prove they can be the next Pedroia.

And if they can, the Red Sox will be OK. But for now, a chance to regroup without them might be for the best.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.
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