The Red Sox were built to win now, yet they are 12-14 after a 5-1 loss to the Rays Monday night and suffered another injury — to their best hitter, Hanley Ramirez.
Ramirez is day-to-day, with no disabled list stint planned, according to manager John Farrell, but the left shoulder sprain Ramirez suffered running into the wall in foul territory in left in the first inning could be problematic and require yet another alteration to the overall 2015 plan.
Of course, things haven’t been going according to plan, anyway.
The Yankees’ recent run, including a sweep of Boston, has them in the American League East lead at 16-10, and the Red Sox are hanging around at four games out.
But hanging around isn’t what they hoped to be doing.
When a team has big contracts and is committed to a philosophy (win via a great offense and decent pitching), it’s tough to change things so soon.
Ramirez, signed to a four-year, $88 million deal last offseason, had hit 10 homers and knocked in 22 runs as the Sox’ cleanup hitter. Farrell said he will know more over the next few days about the timetable for Ramirez’s recovery, but it sure sounds as if there’s a chance the Red Sox will have to put him on the disabled list so they can have a healthy player available to allow Ramirez to fully heal.
There was hope by the Red Sox that by moving Ramirez to left field from shortstop that he could hold off injuries and missed time. But less than a month into the season, the possibility of missing time is looking Ramirez square in the face, and it’s the same old song.
Since Day 1, Ramirez had played left field with much trepidation, trying to avoid contact with the very wall he crashed into Monday night. At times he had jogged after balls, again likely trying to avoid injury.
But James Loney’s slicing drive down the line wound up with Ramirez in a heap of pain on the field. By the time the trainers and manager John Farrell and teammates got out there, Ramirez was holding his left arm near his body. Allen Craig replaced him.
Ramirez caught the ball in fair ground, but the momentum of his 6-foot-3-inch, 245-pound body caused him to hit the wall hard, and the ball dropped out. It originally was ruled a hit and an error, but was changed to a double.
The Rays scored two runs to take an early lead and then added to it with Joey Butler’s two-run homer in the second inning.
One could say it’s a good thing the Red Sox have Craig, but only if he produces. They also have Rusney Castillo about to return from his injury and Jackie Bradley Jr. waiting in the wings.
The Red Sox already have lost their top two catchers, Ryan Hanigan until the All-Star break and Christian Vazquez for the year. Who knows how long right fielder Shane Victorino will be out.
The Sox being under .500 is alarming because the team’s payroll, depth, and roster would seem to indicate that it is capable of the postseason.
And what do you do when you think you have five solid pitchers, two of whom you signed to extensions (Rick Porcello and Wade Miley) before they even threw one pitch for you?
How long can the Sox hang in with the worst starting pitching in the major leagues? Clay Buchholz allowed four runs in the first two innings Monday night, settled down and pitched well in the middle innings, but fell to 1-4.
The Red Sox don’t believe this will last, but they’re also smart enough to realize that you have to do something if things don’t smooth out. What could that be?
It’s been obvious to some that the Red Sox needed an ace, a leader of the rotation to allow everything else to fall into place.
Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels is the easiest guy to get, but he’s not having a very good year at the moment (1-3, 4.14 ERA, a league-leading 19 walks, and eight homers allowed).
Hamels is more of what the Red Sox rotation is right now — unpredictable — though he has a better track record than any of Boston’s starting five.
The Brewers, who just fired manager Ron Roenicke, could be selling off pitchers such as Kyle Lohse (also off to an awful start) and Matt Garza if things continue to go badly. Whether they would be an upgrade over what the Red Sox have is up for debate.
The first thing the Red Sox might do is bring up Eduardo Rodriguez from Pawtucket. He is 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA in four starts. He’s allowed 19 hits in 24⅔ innings. He has struck out 22 and walked only two. There are some who believe Rodriguez would be a pretty nasty lefty reliever, like the man he was traded for, Andrew Miller.
Rodriguez could match Miller’s 97-mile-per-hour deliveries and his nastiness in the strike zone, but obviously doesn’t have the experience in tense situations.
Brian Johnson was throttled his last time out vs. Durham — 2⅔ innings, seven earned runs, and five walks. He had allowed only two earned runs in his previous 21 innings before flaming out. Yet the Red Sox like what they see with Johnson. In any given year a starter is going to have a couple of warts. That was a big one for Johnson.
Or the Red Sox could do something more drastic — they could transfer Justin Masterson and Joe Kelly to the bullpen and add Rodriguez and Johnson to the rotation.
The people in the Cardinals organization always thought Kelly would be a terrific closer because of his 97-99 m.p.h. fastball and because the role would create more clarity for him. No one is saying Kelly can’t be a fine starting pitcher, but coming out of the pen with that confidence and attitude, both of which are suited for late-inning relief, would be pretty impressive to see.
Masterson has been able to piece together three quality starts out of five as a starter, relying on his ability to trick people with the movement on his pitches — even though his fastball rarely hits 90. He would be effective against righthanded hitters late in the game, as they are hitting .194 against him.
With the Yankees having such an A-1 bullpen, it would be a good idea for the Red Sox to match it. Right now, that’s not happening. The Sox pen is starting to get overworked, and nothing good comes from that.
Starting pitchers hate to go back to the bullpen because it means lost income.
The other problem with the Rodriguez-Johnson idea is, it is once again building a team with a lot of youngsters. Blake Swihart, Xander Bogaerts, and Mookie Betts already are manning positions up the middle. That’s both exciting and scary.
The older players need to step up.
David Ortiz (.250) isn’t yet David Ortiz. A perceived change in the strike zone from last year to this year, is eating him up right now.
Betts is hitting .223 as the leadoff man. Ramirez, before slamming into the wall, and Pablo Sandoval are living up to their billing, and Mike Napoli, at .159, hit a three-run homer Sunday night against the Yankees but went 0 for 4 Monday night.
This should be a lineup that was built for Fenway, yet it’s struggled there. The Sox were 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position Monday night.
This should be a staff that keeps the team in games. Yet so often this season, it hasn’t. Buchholz settled down, but you can’t put your team in a 4-0 hole.
We’ll see whether Ramirez will have to go on the DL. He’s spent a lot of time on it in his career. He thought it would be different here, but as one Twitter follower tweeted, “The Dodgers have seen this act before.”
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.