Jonathan Herrera knows he could end up anywhere on the field at any time in the game.
It’s not an empty cliche. It’s his job description.
He’s played every infield position for the Sox this season. In April, when the Red Sox were trying to get through a 14-5 loss to the Yankees, he nearly found himself on the mound.
Manager John Farrell, not wanting to use a reliever to mop up in the ninth, found himself looking around the dugout for an “in case of emergency” options.
He looked at Herrera and Mike Carp.
“They told us, ‘Get ready, one of you two guys are going to pitch,’ ” Herrera recalled.
Farrell sent Carp to the mound. But Herrera was still in line if things went haywire, which it almost did — Carp walked five batters before retiring the side.
“They asked me if I had pitched before,’’ Herrera said. “Because something happened, two more hitters I would’ve been pitching.”
As utility players go, Herrera has been Johnny On The Spot no matter what spot the Sox have asked him to fill.
In the past two weeks, Herrera’s played hopped around the infield from third base to shortstop to second base. With the injury bug camping out at first base, biting Mike Napoli, Carp, and Ryan Lavarnway, he ended up playing there for the first time in his career last week against Tampa Bay.
“I was ready for any opportunity,” Herrera said. “To pitch. To play outfield. Third. Anywhere.”
On Saturday, he was back in the lineup at second with Dustin Pedroia out with a hand contusion.
With 25 games to his name this season, playing time has been sporadic for Herrera this season. But knowing that he could be asked to play anywhere at any moment, he never wants to be caught off guard.
“You never know what’s going to happen during the game or before or even after,” Herrera said. “So you need to just be ready and prepare yourself to play baseball and be ready to do anything. You don’t want to get surprised, you know? So I prepare myself every day to be ready for any opportunity the manager gives me.
Herrera still has options available, and with Stephen Drew finishing up his minor league assignment and Brock Holt emerging as a solid option at third and possibly in the outfield if needed, Herrera could find himself as the odd man out. But he knows the value of his versatility.
“As a utility player, you’re not going to come to the ballpark every day and be in the lineup. I’ve been doing that for the last few years in the big leagues. I like my role. I like the way that I play. It’s really fun for me. Just being out there and being part of my team and being ready for any opportunity to jump into the game.”
Herrera has already played more positions this season (five — he was also the DH for part of a game) than he has an any of his other four major leagues seasons. Last year with the Rockies, he maxed out at four different spots on the field.
“He’s a veteran that’s been in that utility role while in the major leagues and he stays prepared,” Farrell said. “He’s got an in-game routine that gets him ready for when he might be called upon for certain stages and he’s a true pro. He understands his role, he accepts it and that’s what’s kept him in the major leagues for as long as he has in addition to his talents.”
What Herrera’s .171 batting average entering Saturday doesn’t show is his eagerness to fill even the tiniest afterthought of a gap for the Red Sox.
At Tampa Bay last Saturday, with A.J. Pierzynksi at DH instead of catching, the Sox had two pitchers up in the bullpen. Bullpen catcher Manny Martinez was warming up one, Herrera put on some catcher’s equipment, lugged himself from the dugout to the bullpen and warmed up the other.
Herrera’s never caught a game in his career, and Farrell probably has no plans to use him behind the plate.
But if the Sox have even the slightest need — like someone to warm up pitchers between innings — Herrera will fill it.
“That’s part of my job,” Herrera said. “That’s the way that you need to be ready all the time.”
He laughed, though, when he considered his options on the mound.
“Just fastball,” he said. “Just fastball.”