ARLINGTON, Texas — Three issues the Red Sox need to deal with going forward:
1. David Ortiz’s foot injury has definitely slowed him down. When he told ESPN.com last week that he’s in a lot of pain and how much he has to do to get ready for a game, it’s not far-fetched to start thinking about life without him. Whether the foot issue results in more rest time for Ortiz certainly affects the Sox lineup, of which he is still the most important cog.
It’s easy to see that about two weeks ago, Ortiz suddenly had trouble running the bases. In April and May, Ortiz was moving pretty well, able to go first to third with no problem and even hustling out doubles. But now everything seems to be a chore.
Whether the foot will improve is anyone’s guess. But Ortiz is going to face physical struggles in his final season, which is an indicator of why this is indeed Ortiz’s last season. It’s just getting too hard for him to play and get prepared for games, even though his numbers show that he still may be the most productive hitter in baseball.
Ortiz goes through all sorts of pregame therapy. It’s not quite as bad as Bill Buckner with the 1986 Red Sox, but pretty close. Buckner would spend two hours attending to his chronic ankles, which involved soaking them in ice for an hour and doing all sorts of flexibility exercises to be able to play a full game at first base. He was one of the most courageous players I ever covered. What Ortiz is going through now is pretty tiresome. But he does it because he wants to go out on top.
2. Whether or not the Red Sox pull off a deal for a starting pitcher, it still falls on Clay Buchholz, Eduardo Rodriguez, and perhaps Joe Kelly to provide the team with quality starts.
Buchholz is back in the rotation. Sure, he is in the process of building himself back up in a starting role again. But he needs to be good, not just mediocre. Believe it or not, the scouts who come to watch the Red Sox are watching Buchholz closely. There’s still a prevailing thought, hunch, guess, that Buchholz could become available in a deal. Buchholz needs to be able to be a consistent, dependable starter.
The Red Sox need that for two reasons — because they need him to fill a big spot in the back end of the rotation and pitch consistently, and to improve his trade value if the Red Sox get into position to trade for a starter or a strong bullpen piece.
As for Kelly, it would appear the next role for him will be in the bullpen. As the Sox bullpen starts to tire and get exposed, they need a reinforcement. And while Kelly is on record as saying he doesn’t like working as a reliever, it’s the role the team needs him to play. The Red Sox need to find out once and for all whether the relief role is a good one for Kelly. If he can come into a game and throw 98 miles per hour for an inning or two, that’s better than nothing.
Of course, if Buchholz and Rodriguez don’t improve enough to be counted on, then Kelly likely gets another turn in the rotation.
3. The Red Sox bench needs more productive veteran players. I kidded David Murphy, who was at the ballpark Friday night while being honored by the Rangers, that if he had decided to keep playing he’d be Boston’s starting left fielder right now. Murphy said he thought the same thing. Murphy opted out of his Red Sox contract and signed with the Twins. Just as the Twins decided to bring him up from Triple A Rochester, he made the decision to retire. You almost expected Dave Dombrowski to barge into Murphy’s news conference and offer him a contract. But of course that didn’t happen.
It’s great that the Red Sox bring guys up from Pawtucket to fill the spots. Bryce Brentz has had a long wait to get big league playing time due to self-inflicted injuries (a gun shot) and other leg issues the past three seasons. He’s here now, but is he the answer to injuries sustained by Brock Holt (concussion) and Chris Young (hamstring)? The Red Sox have Marco Hernandez as their extra infielder, but he should probably be playing every day in Pawtucket. The Red Sox just sent Deven Marrero back after a brief stay.
The one guy who has performed well is backup catcher Sandy Leon, who is known for his defense but has hit over .500 and had a terrific 11-pitch at-bat to set up Mookie Betts’s tying homer Friday night. Leon will likely head back to Pawtucket when Ryan Hanigan is ready, which should be any day. He’s the one player who deserves to stay.
So what do the Red Sox do?
It appears they will wait for Holt’s concussion symptoms to clear and plug him back into left field, though ideally he’s suited to be the superutility guy. That’s when his value was highest. If the Red Sox could come up with a veteran hitter to play some left field, it would free Holt to be that player again. There are many lefthanded bats available, including Jon Jay of the Padres, who might be ideal for that role.