August 15, 2013

On Baseball: Still grinding in Pawtucket

By Kevin Thomas
Staff Writer

PAWTUCKET, R.I. - With Jose Iglesias traded and Will Middlebrooks promoted, Xander Bogaerts suddenly becomes important to the Red Sox for his glove as much as his promising bat.

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Xander Bogaerts may not quite be ready for the Red Sox, but he's learning in a hurry and if something else happens to Stephen Drew, just may get that call to be the shortstop.

2013 Press Herald File

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Jackie Bradley Jr. played last season with the Sea Dogs, jumped to the Red Sox to start this year, and now has settled at Pawtucket, where he has gone through ups and downs.

2013 Press Herald File

"He's playing a little more third base now that Will is gone," said Pawtucket Red Sox Manager Gary DiSarcina, "but he's still a big league shortstop in my mind. The organization still has 100 percent confidence that he's going to be a shortstop. The (Red Sox) are just protecting themselves."

If Middlebrooks is hurt or goes into a prolonged slump, Boston could call on Bogaerts. But there is another scenario to consider, especially since Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew already has spent two stints on the disabled list.

"You never know what's going to happen. If something happens to Steve, (Bogaerts) better be ready," DiSarcina said.

Bogaerts, 20, is one of several former Sea Dogs now playing for the Triple-A PawSox. Bogaerts played 56 games this season in Portland (.311 average, six home runs). He finished his 56th game for Pawtucket on Wednesday (.297, eight home runs). His OPS (combined on-base and slugging averages) is .853.

With every game, Bogaerts looks closer to being major league-ready.

But DiSarcina said Bogaerts needs to improve on certain areas, including his bunting and his baserunning.

"Xander understands he has work to do," DiSarcina said.

But there was no talk of bunting when DiSarcina spoke after Wednesday's game. Bogaerts crushed a home run into the wind over the McCoy Stadium wall in left-center.

"That's big-league pop," DiSarcina told the Providence Journal. "That's raw power. That's what everyone's excited for with Xavier."

Still, DiSarcina is also cautious in his praise.

"He's progressing fine," he said. "It's at a slow rate. It should be at a slow rate. He's a young kid."

Here are some other former Sea Dogs at Pawtucket: 

JACKIE BRADLEY JR. ended last season in Portland and began this year in Yankee Stadium for the Red Sox opener. When Bradley came down to Triple-A he dominated, batting .419 in May.

But injuries and slumps have slowed Bradley. He's batting .275 although his OPS is .869.

"He's been steady in his progression as far as getting better," DiSarcina said. 

BROCK HUNTZINGER is not a name mentioned when talking about pitchers in Pawtucket, although his numbers are impressive.

Since moving up to Pawtucket on June 15, Huntzinger has a 1.82 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP (walks/hits per innings pitched). In 292/3 innings, Huntzinger has struck out 30 and walked 13.

The Red Sox have used 25 pitchers this season with several shuttling back and forth from Fenway Park to McCoy Stadium.

Huntzinger, who is not on the 40-man roster, has not been one of them.

"I try to stay away from thinking about that kind of stuff," Huntzinger said. "I don't want it to affect what I'm trying to do. I don't want to go out there and try to press."

Huntzinger, 25, is still using the low 90s fastball, plus a slider and change-up.

"Even when we were wobbly with our pitching staff, he was our one mainstay we could count on to give us two solid innings," DiSarcina said. "He did it with nothing over 91, 92 mph. Aggressive demeanor on the mound. Comes out of the bullpen and throws strikes, and that's what you want."

The Red Sox need to make a decision on Huntzinger. If he isn't put on the 40-man roster soon after the season, he becomes a minor league free agent.

"I'm kind of nervous about that," Huntzinger said, "but it's all about getting the opportunity." 

ALEX HASSAN isn't a name often talked about, although he's on the 40-man roster and batting .315 with a .430 on-base percentage (.891 OPS).

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