March 6, 2011

On Baseball: A wealth of talent allows tinkering with Sox lineup

By Kevin Thomas
Staff Writer

Lineups. Everyone is talking lineups.

In Boston, do you bat the lefties (Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez) back-to-back? And how much do you platoon?

In St. Petersburg, Fla., where do Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez fit in?

Should Derek Jeter still lead off for the Yankees?

Let's look at the Red Sox.

The first five batters should be obvious -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis.

There should be no worries about the two lefties together because Gonzalez hits lefties fine (.337 against them last year, although he shows more power against right-handers).

Crawford has been OK against lefties throughout his career (.270), although that average dipped to .256 last season.

How about the next four players in the lineup?

Against right-handed pitching, it's pretty easy to pencil in David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Marco Scutaro.

And while Manager Terry Francona has stated that he won't automatically bench Ortiz and Drew against lefties, their numbers -- .222 and .208, respectively, against left-handers last season -- suggests some shifting.

Here is an occasional bottom four against left-handers: Mike Cameron (RF), Darnell McDonald (DH), Jason Varitek and Jed Lowrie.

While both catchers are switch hitters, Saltalamacchia's career splits (.273 vs. right-handers, .206 vs. lefties) are the opposite of Varitek (.250/.279). Varitek hit .202 against right-handers last year.

Scutaro does OK against left-handers (.273), but Lowrie, a switch hitter, hits them well (.324 in his career).

There also will be times when Lowrie can play third or first, with Gonzalez and/or Youkilis as the DH.

When injuries decimated the Red Sox last season, Francona worked magic with the lineup just to stay competitive. Now his challenge will be to use the wealth of talent at his disposal.

THE RAYS no longer have Crawford and first baseman Carlos Pena, but they do have Damon and Ramirez. They are likely to bat second and fourth, respectively, with catcher John Jaso leading off and franchise player Evan Longoria batting third.

Jaso struggles against left-handed pitching, so former Sea Dogs catcher Kelly Shoppach will platoon as much as possible.

Shoppach, once traded to the Indians in the Coco Crisp deal, was acquired by Tampa Bay before last season. He batted .196, which led to Jaso's emergence.

Shoppach, 30, reportedly, is in his best shape this spring, having hired a personal trainer and a chef for healthier meals.

"I still know there's an everyday ability that I have," Shoppach told the St. Petersburg Times. "And I'd just love to showcase it."

AT THE YANKEES' spring training camp in Tampa, Fla., several eyes are on Jeter, 36, who batted a career-low .270 last year.

That has Jeter working on a new approach with hitting coach Kevin Long, who is attempting to eliminate Jeter's leg kick, keeping the left foot on the ground.

"This will be a process," Long told reporters in Tampa. "It's something he's trying to change that he's been doing for 16, 17 years after doing it one way. I can tell he isn't comfortable."

The Yankees could use baserunners (i.e. Jeter and Brett Gardner), to set up the big three: Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano.

SCOTT BORAS is no long Teixeira's agent. Teixeira told the New York media little about the break, except to say "at times I was Mark Teixeira, Scott Boras client, instead of Mark Teixeira, baseball player."

Boras' influence is great. And his clients almost always seek free agency rather than re-sign an extension while playing for a team. That's important to know because Ellsbury is a Boras client.

Ellsbury will be a free agent after the 2013 season.

THE QUOTE of the week from spring training was uttered by Josh Beckett, a day after he suffered a mild concussion when struck in the head by a ball.

Ino Guerrero, a coaching assistant, wanted to send a ball in from the outfield during batting practice. Instead of throwing it, he used his fungo bat, and the ball hit Beckett.

"At first I was (mad)," Beckett said. "I knew he didn't do it on purpose. It's one of those deals. Was it stupid? Yes, it was very stupid. I think he realizes that now."

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:


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