Coming out of the All-Star break, Red Sox manager John Farrell was looking at the calendar thinking of when Shane Victorino could return to the lineup.
He wanted to see Victorino play back-to-back rehab games in the minors, preferably nine innings in each.
He wanted to see how Victorino’s body responded to diving, sliding, and running the bases after spending nearly two months on the disabled list with hamstring and back issues.
The sooner Victorino got back in the lineup, the better, Farrell figured, but he wanted to go through certain steps.
That didn’t stop Victorino from lobbying.
“He always finds a way to say his piece,” Farrell said on Friday prior to the Sox’ series opener against the Royals at Fenway Park.
After going 2 for 4 with Pawtucket on Thursday night, Victorino was back in the PawSox lineup on Friday. The 33-year-old right fielder, who played six innings in right field and went 1 for 4 with a double, could be activated from the DL as soon as Saturday, Farrell said.
“He came out of [Thursday] night in good shape physically,” Farrell said. “He ran the bases aggressively. He went first to third a couple different times. Slid headfirst. Couple of base hits. Made three plays, I believe, in right field, so [Thursday] was a very good night for him and we anticipate him getting through [Friday] in a similar fashion physically and there’s a scenario that has him active for us [on Saturday].”
Victorino landed on the DL on May 24 with a right hamstring strain, the same injury that sidelined him for 22 games at the start of the year. He started his rehab assignment on June 14, but five games in he was set back by a lower back strain.
A year ago, Victorino hit .294 with an .801 OPS and 21 stolen bases, batting second behind Jacoby Ellsbury. In 21 games this season, Victorino is hitting .242 with a .627 OPS and two steals.
“We’ve missed his energy, we’ve missed his talents,” Farrell said. “His in-game decisions, his instincts on the base paths, we’ve missed a very good player for the majority of the year.
“That being said, we’re very much looking forward to him getting back. We recognize that there have been a couple of start-and-stops along the way, so what kind of production he gives us immediately remains to be seen.”
Farrell had hopes of getting both Victorino and Will Middlebrooks back at the same time, but he was hesitant to say that Middlebrooks would be ready on Saturday. Middlebrooks has been on the DL since May 17 with a fractured finger and a jammed wrist that’s made it hard for him to get consistent reps while rehabbing with the PawSox.
Middlebrooks played the entire game at third and went 0 for 2 with a sacrifice fly and was hit by a pitch in Pawtucket’s 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Bisons. Farrell said it was possible Middlebrooks could return to the Red Sox when the team starts a seven-game road trip on Monday in Toronto.
“We’re hopeful that Will is fully healed over the things that he’s been battling — the wrist, the finger — and he gets back to us as a productive player,” Farrell said.
The Sox’ first half was their roughest in nearly two decades. With a 43-52 record, they finished with their lowest winning percentage (.453) at the break since 1997, when the Sox were 38-48 (.442).
This time a year ago, the Sox came out of the break with the most wins in baseball (58-39), but this season’s been completely different. Injuries, inconsistency, and inept offense helped sink the Sox to the bottom of the AL East.
“There were a different set of challenges thrown at us this year than a year ago,” Farrell said. “I think everyone benefitted by a few days off. We probably dealt with a little bit more frustration this year than we did a year ago if we’re comparing year over year. But I think everyone’s eager, energetic, and ready to go.”
Winning four out of five going into the break — and scoring 30 runs in that span — left the Sox hopeful about turning things around, particularly with an offense that ranks 24th in runs.
“We went into the All-Star break with some momentum, with the way we’d been playing, particularly with the way we swung the bat down in Houston,” Farrell said.
Following this weekend’s three-game set with the Royals, the Sox enter a potential make-or-break stretch with 13 straight games against AL East rivals. The Sox travel to Toronto on Monday, then Tampa on Friday. The following week they host the Blue Jays before the Yankees come to Fenway.
“So we have some things a little bit in our control,” Farrell said.
Farrell sees reasons to believe the Sox could find the consistency that was missing in the first half. The return of Mike Carp adds depth on the bench, Farrell said. Rookies Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez, and Jackie Bradley Jr. have injected energy into the lineup.
Because of those things, Farrell said, “We’ve played better.”
Case for Ranaudo
PawSox righthander Anthony Ranaudo has been making a strong case as a potential spot starter should the need arise in Boston. In 19 starts, Ranaudo is 10-4 with a 2.62 ERA and 91 strikeouts, and he hasn’t taken a loss since June 1. “He’s been talked about a lot,” Farrell said. “The reports have been strong. He’s been in the discussion if a starter was needed.” . . . By working in both games bracketing the All-Star break, Clay Buchholz is the first Sox pitcher to start consecutive games since Hideo Nomo in 2001 . . . Brandon Workman is scheduled to start for the PawSox on Saturday. In three starts with the Red Sox following his three-game suspension for throwing behind the Rays’ Evan Longoria, Workman went 0-3, allowing 15 runs (and five home runs) in 18 innings. In five starts prior to the suspension, he allowed just 10 runs in 28 innings. Since being optioned to Pawtucket on July 9, Workman’s goal has been to get back to what made him so effective: Commanding at the bottom of the strike zone. “Coming back from the time suspended and then the delay that was in there, he was having a little bit more difficult time getting to the bottom of the strike zone and we saw the home runs as a result of that,” Farrell said. “So that’s what we’re focusing on.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.