Coming into spring training, it was impossible for Red Sox manager John Farrell to look this far ahead.
He didn’t envision the Sox being 19 games over .500, sitting atop their division with the best record in the American League.
He thought only about the tangible things in front of him.
“I think there was a genuine feeling that we would score runs,” he said. “To the tune of leading the league? You never know how that’s going to unfold. I think there was the makings of a strong rotation by track record and yet guys needed to do some things to get back to what they had previously done in terms of their performance on the mound.
“But to sit in spring training and project on July 4, that’s far too ahead of ourselves.”
After sweeping a three-game set with the San Diego Padres with an 8-2 win Thursday at Fenway, the Sox closed a nine-game homestand at 8-1. They now hold a 4½-game lead in the AL East, and they’re riding a wave of momentum heading into a 10-game swing through the West Coast that Farrell knows will be daunting.
“This will be another good test for us,” Farrell said. “I think it’s important to have that momentum going into the break. You never want to go into a stretch where you start to slide back from the confidence that has been built or the wins we’ve been able to amass.”
The Sox open with three games against the Angels, who recently won seven straight, move on to four games in Seattle, and finish up with three against AL West-leading Oakland.
“We’re going to be challenged,” Farrell said. “Not only in terms of the teams we’re playing, obviously the Angels are playing better now than when they were in town last. Oakland is having a very strong year in their own right, and the fact that we go out west, which presents its own set of challenges, this will be a tough trip.”
Bailey is clean
Andrew Bailey pitched a 1-2-3 seventh, his first clean inning since April 24, a span of 14 appearances. He had allowed at least one run in each of his previous five outings.
Bailey came on in the seventh with the Sox up, 7-2. He struck out Logan Forsythe looking at a cutter and then Will Venable swinging at a fastball before getting Carlos Quentin to fly to right field.
“As important as anyone in our bullpen right now is to get Andrew on track,” Farrell said. “It was good to see him use his whole pitch mix rather than just rely on velocity.”
Bailey hadn’t pitched since June 28, when he struck out two Blue Jays but then gave up a game-tying home run to Edwin Encarnacion. The results were similar Thursday, only the fly ball he gave up didn’t leave the park.
“I’m not going to get away from who I am, of challenging guys and being aggressive in the zone and that day [Encarnacion] got me,” Bailey said. “Today I was able to get Carlos to pop up.
“It’s great for me that I went out and threw a clean inning, but I don’t think I ever got away from who I am and I don’t see that happening. Just keep on going out there and throwing when my name’s called.”
Farrell looked at the scoreless inning as a step forward for the former closer.
“I think with a zero put up on the board, in his case, it’s a little bit of a building block and a step in the right direction,” Farrell said. “I think it started with his last outing and continues to be so.”
With hopes of pitching off a mound as soon as this weekend, Clay Buchholz continued his rehab program by throwing on flat ground from 90 feet. The next step, Farrell said, is to throw from 105 feet, and the ultimate goal is to reach 120 before pitching off a mound.
Buchholz will travel on the West Coast trip.
“We expect the same type of intensity with a little bit more distance,” Farrell said. “[Friday] is a planned no-throw day or a real light catch day. Most importantly is how he is feeling this morning after a good work day yesterday.”
Still hampered by a strained right hamstring, shortstop Stephen Drew did more running. Farrell hopes Drew can return to the lineup this weekend.
“We’re thinking Saturday might be a day in which he’s back in the lineup if he continues to progress as he has the last couple of days,” Farrell said. “He’s moving in the right direction.”
A brief break
With the Sox up five runs going into the eighth inning, Farrell rested right fielder Shane Victorino, who has dealt with nagging injuries to his hamstring, ribs, and back this season. “He’s a little banged up,” Farrell said. “Like most guys, he’s dealing with some nagging things and just get him off his feet for a couple innings, that was the reason” . . . Jose Iglesias’s 2-for-4 day was his 20th multihit game in 41 games with a plate appearance this season . . . Jonny Gomes has reached base safely in a season-high six straight games. He has driven in a run in five of those games . . . Dustin Pedroia is hitting .486 (18 for 37) over his last 10 games.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.