DETROIT — You know why this could turn around for the Red Sox? Because at some point they’ll have all their players back. At some point David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, who came back after a stint on the disabled list, will consistently do what they did Sunday night — hit home runs.
At some point the Red Sox will get better hitting with runners in scoring position — 1 for 11 before Ortiz slammed his 14th homer into the stands in right to put an emphatic end to the five-game losing streak and send Boston away with a 5-3 win.
Napoli was the first back. Shane Victorino may be back by the end of next week.
The next step for general manager Ben Cherington is to make a trade. Get an outfielder. Jackie Bradley Jr isn’t hitting and he’s overmatched.
The reason for the biggest optimism would be the return of Clay Buchholz.
At this time a year ago, Buchholz was 9-0 and the Red Sox had won 11 of his 12 starts. This year, the Red Sox were 4-6 in his starts before he was placed on the disabled list late last month with a hyperextended knee (and general lousiness).
The assumption here, after he threw a three-inning simulated game at Comerica Park before Sunday night’s Red Sox-Tigers game, is that he will eventually get his new mechanics on his delivery to the point where they will be second nature and effective.
Maybe this is assuming too much, but Buchholz, whether he knows it or not, can do wonders for a team. He got Boston off to a great start last season before he missed three months with neck and shoulder issues. But the Sox were able to withstand it.
Buchholz is Boston’s most talented pitcher. His fellow pitchers and the catchers can all agree to that. So what if you get him back in 10 days and he’s healthy the remainder of the season and he gives you those quality three months that he missed a year ago?
As one Sox player said, “When he comes back like he was last year, it gives this team a bigger boost than any trade they make here. When he was dealing last year, we felt so confident as a team. And that’s not to say we weren’t confident with other guys. But he’s special when he’s on. As an offense, you don’t press because you know that Clay isn’t going to give up more than two or three runs when he’s dealing.”
The thing with Buchholz has always been, when will he realize how important he is?
He’s always been on the sensitive side when it comes to his career. Jon Lester and John Lackey are older and considered the team’s go-to pitchers, but talent-wise Buchholz can be a stopper with five pitches he can throw for strikes.
His velocity had returned to his comfortable 92-94-mile-per-hour range, but he had definitely developed bad habits in his return from injury. And once those bad habits become second nature, it takes a lot of work and mental focus to get rid of them. And that’s what Buchholz is working on right now: Take those good mechanics into the game and repeat them over 100 pitches.
And really that’s what this trip to the DL was all about. This knee injury wasn’t the Hellenic Flu, but close to it.
The good Buchholz is worth a lot to this team.
Then we come to another positive — Brock Holt, who played his first game in left field. He went 4 for 5 with a triple and made an acrobatic catch near the wall.
Right before Ortiz hit the home run, you had to wonder — is he doing enough to get this team turned around offensively? The answer was no, until he uncorked.
John Farrell pinch hit for Stephen Drew in the eighth but let Bradley hit with Jonny Gomes available against lefthander Phil Coke.
Certainly the Tigers would have countered Gomes with Al Alburquerque, but I would have taken my chances with that matchup over Bradley/Coke.
The Red Sox need to solve the Bradley issue soon. He struck out three times Sunday night and has 11 Ks in his last 27 plate appearances.
Scouts who have watched Drew, who is 1 for 14 with an RBI after going 0 for 3, say he looks rustier in the field than at the plate. Drew hasn’t shown his usual smoothness, fielding as if it is spring training after such a long layoff.
On Drew’s RBI single off Max Scherzer on Saturday night, one scout commented that, “He took a good swing at that ball. He’ll improve gradually and hit righthanded pitching like he always has. His glove work isn’t quite there right now, but I doubt it’s because he’s lost and more a product of the layoff.”
As one reader pointed out, the Red Sox have to win 62 more games to get to 90 victories. With 100 games left that seems like a daunting task.
But look at what happened this weekend, with the high-flying Blue Jays losing two straight to the Cardinals, and the Yankees and Orioles both losing twice.
“Nobody is down in the clubhouse. We know what we have to do,” said Victorino, who escalated his baseball activities Saturday. “We’ve won a bunch of games in a row already so we can repeat that. Go out and take series like we did last year.”
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.