ST. LOUIS — The Red Sox on Thursday optioned outfielder Mookie Betts back to Triple A Pawtucket. The 21-year-old started two of five games after being called up last Friday.
The Red Sox replaced Betts on the roster with 32-year-old utility player Kelly Johnson. The move was about getting Betts more playing time.
“It’s directly related,” manager John Farrell said. “He’s a developing player and in the two stints that he’s had here with us, you can see the improvements defensively. But we didn’t want to stall that development further.”
Betts has been on the active major league roster for 21 games and started 11 times. He started for Pawtucket on Thursday.
Johnson, who was acquired from the Yankees in the Stephen Drew trade on July 31, was activated off the disabled list. He was out with a groin strain.
Johnson has hit only .227 with a .690 OPS the last three seasons. But he offers defensive versatility, having started major league games at first base, second base, third base, left field and right field.
Johnson played for Farrell in Toronto in 2011-12. He is familiar with the manager and many of the coaches.
“It helps to change sides and already know some familiar faces,” Johnson said. “There are a couple of guys I played with and coaches I spent a lot of time with. That makes it more comfortable.”
Johnson will slide into the role vacated when Mike Carp was designated for assignment on Aug. 1.
“Pinch hit, able to play first, third, left field. Kelly’s aware of the role he comes [into]. We’ll pick those spots accordingly,” Farrell said.
Farrell said Johnson could play shortstop “in a pinch.” But Johnson has not played shortstop since a minor league game in 2005.
David Ortiz was in the original lineup, playing first base and batting third. But he was scratched about 40 minutes before the first pitch because of wet conditions. Ortiz pinch hit in the eighth inning and lined out to left field.
The start of the game was delayed for 1 hour and 4 minutes by heavy rain and the Red Sox were concerned about Ortiz slipping. He has played only three games in the field this season.
It was expected that rookie catcher Christian Vazquez would be strong defensively and he has been. The 23-year-old, who went 1 for 4 with an RBI Thursday, has ALSO handled himself fairly well at the plate, hitting .255 with four doubles and 11 RBIs in 18 games.
He has walked seven times and struck out only eight times in 64 plate appearances.
“He has had a number of not only quality but productive at-bats,” Farrell said. “When you look at his approach at the plate, he’s not a pull hitter.
“In situations where there are runners in scoring position, an opposing team might look to attack a younger hitter with breaking balls. But the bat head doesn’t travel in and out of the zone and he has good plate coverage away.’’
Holt now a focus
Brock Holt was hitting .327 with an .834 OPS prior to the All-Star break. Since then, going into Thursday, he was hitting .197 with a .513 OPS.
Opposing pitchers are starting to figure him out.
“I see kind of an approach against him. They’re forcing the extremes with him in the strike zone. From fastballs up and away to some breaking balls [at his] back foot,” Farrell said.
“The pitch on the outer half that’s been up a little bit, that’s the one he’s either fouled off or there’s a swing and miss there.
“He’s getting game-planned against. When you hit leadoff every day, there’s a clear-cut plan that is going to be formulated against him. Overall he’s done an excellent job.” Holt went 1 for 5 Thursday.
Joe Kelly, who was given several ovations by Cardinals fans on Wednesday, collected his fan mail at Busch Stadium before the game and spent about an hour fulfilling autograph requests . . . Catcher Dan Butler, who was called up from Pawtucket on Saturday, is lined up to make his first start Sunday in Anaheim against the Angels and lefthander Hector Santiago . . . Ryan Lavarnway turned 27 on Thursday. He is recovering from left wrist surgery and is on a rehabilitation assignment with Pawtucket . . . Jackie Bradley Jr. was 0 for 3 and is hitless in his last 27 at-bats . . . Allen Craig will travel to Charlotte, N.C., on Friday to have his left foot examined by Dr. Robert Anderson, the specialist who saw him last season. Craig has been on the disabled list since Tuesday.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.