June 3, 2012

On Baseball: Sox face decisions as outfielders get healthy

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON - When they appeared at the top of Boston's lineup the other day at Fenway Park, heads turned.

Scott Podsednik batting lead-off, followed by Daniel Nava.

Two guys who could not get out of Triple-A last year were now expected to help jump-start the Boston Red Sox.

Podsednik is batting .391 (9 for 23). Nava is hitting .315 (23 for 73) with a .453 on-base percentage, 10 doubles and two homers.

Two fill-ins whose performance may force the Red Sox to keep them.

Decisions about the Red Sox outfield are looming.

Ryan Sweeney (.321) and Marlon Byrd (.271) join Nava and Podsednik as the team's four active outfielders.

But others will soon be ready to rejoin the team.

Cody Ross, initially thought to be out for months because of a small fracture in his left foot, is now talking about playing this week, probably on a rehab assignment at first.

Darnell McDonald (oblique strain) is in Pawtucket on a rehab assignment that can't go beyond mid-June.

Likewise, Ryan Kalish is on a rehab assignment with the Portland Sea Dogs.

Then there are Jacoby Ellsbury (right shoulder) and Carl Crawford (left elbow), who are expected back in July.

So what will the Red Sox do?

The only active outfielder with minor league options is Nava, but it's silly to send down one of your hottest hitters because you can.

Third baseman Will Middlebrooks' ascension to the majors has left the Red Sox with even more decisions, because it would be rash to get rid of Kevin Youkilis unless they come across an irresistible trade.

With both Middlebrooks and Youkilis in the lineup, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez sometimes goes to right field. While the Red Sox continue that rotation, they don't need five outfielders.

Sweeney will stay. If Ross is healthy, he'll be in the lineup. Nava is just too valuable at the moment, and Podsednik, 36, offers a lot of intangibles (speed, fielding, a left-handed bat).

That would likely mean the popular McDonald and Byrd would have to be traded or released. McDonald burst onto the scene as a super sub in 2010, batting .270. His average dropped to .236 last year, and .179 this season.

Byrd was struggling when the Red Sox obtained him from the Cubs. He's now batting fine and is playing decent defense (some highlight plays, some misreads).

Byrd was acquired when Ellsbury was hurt because Boston needed a center fielder, along with Sweeney, who can play anywhere. But Podsednik also can play center.

When Kalish comes off the 60-day disabled list, a spot on the 40-man roster will have to be opened. But Kalish does not have to go to the majors because he still has minor league options.

And what happens when Ellsbury and Crawford are ready to return?

That's six weeks away. The Red Sox have enough decisions to make this month.

THE SEA DOGS added another prospect to the roster last week when left-hander Drake Britton joined the rotation.

Britton, 23, was put on the 40-man roster after last year to keep teams from taking him in the Rule 5 draft. He struggled last year in Salem, and again in the first month of the season. But he was 2-2 with a 2.10 ERA in May.

Britton's first Sea Dogs start is tentatively set for Tuesday, when the team returns to Hadlock Field for a 7 p.m. game against Bowie.

Britton was a top talent in the 2007 draft, but teams shied away from his salary demands. The Red Sox drafted him in the 23rd round and gave him a $700,000 bonus -- an example of how Boston operated under the old draft rules.

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

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: KevinThomasPPH

 

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