BOSTON -- When Daisuke Matsuzaka is activated from the disabled list Monday to start the series finale against the Kansas City Royals, it will continue a head-spinning Red Sox roster transformation that has taken place in the course of one weekend.
Matsuzaka will represent the sixth player not active when the Royals series began who will join (or rejoin, in this case) the active 25-man roster. Also in that group was first baseman James Loney, acquired in the mammoth deal with Los Angeles on Saturday, making his Boston debut in Sunday’s 8-6 win over the Royals. Right-hander Pedro Beato, recalled from Pawtucket earlier in the day, also made his first appearance in a Red Sox uniform, picking up a win in relief. Felix Doubront returned from the DL to make the start. Jose Iglesias watched from the bench, Junichi Tazawa from the bullpen. They were recalled Saturday.
Throw in Alfredo Aceves’ suspension and David Ortiz’s unavailability, and about one-third of the star-studded roster that opened the series is either gone or stuck on the sidelines, replaced by a collection of players who seem to have no business playing alongside one another.
Yet, in this game that sometimes makes no sense at all, the collection of players left wearing the home whites at Fenway Park has done some pretty nice things.
Without Gonzalez and Ortiz, the offense has scored 17 runs on 34 hits in two games since the trade became official. The mainstays such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Cody Ross are heating up, and the fleet of fill-ins surrounding them are doing plenty to help out.
“They’re coming in, being professional and playing the game the right way,” Pedroia said.
Among the most notable is Pedro Ciriaco. His story is not brand new as he has been up since before the All-Star break. But with each positive effort by the wiry infielder, it takes on a greater meaning. Ciriaco had three more hits Sunday, including a solo homer, and ranks second on the team in three-hit games, despite not coming to Boston until July 7. His average sits at .360 through 42 games.
Mauro Gomez followed up a four-hit night with two walks and two runs scored and Loney marked his debut with a game-tying RBI single in the fifth. Group their contributions with those of holdovers Ellsbury (9-for-20 in his last four games), Pedroia (batting .343 in August), Ross (5-for-9 with two RBIs in two games since the trade) and shortstop Mike Aviles (two homers, two doubles and six RBIs in five games) and you have an intriguing mix that seems to have the backing of a fan base that has shown more unbridled enthusiasm in the last two days than over the previous two months combined.
“Just really proud of the guys. They were tired today, no doubt about that. Big hit after big hit,” manager Bobby Valentine said. “Ciriaco beating out an infield hit, hitting one over the fence. Ells getting his two-out RBI, Mikey swinging the bat well again. They’re all contributing. They want to contribute. They want to be part of a good offensive team.”
The good offense was backed up by a pretty good bullpen Sunday, but again it had an alien look.
Because of the Aceves situation and several other relievers having been overused in recent days, Valentine (along with his coaching staff, as Valentine was ejected in the fifth inning) was forced to employ a strange brew of available arms to get to the finish line. Beato threw two scoreless innings before loading the bases with no outs in the eighth. Craig Breslow limited the damage in that frame and handed a two-run lead to Mark Melancon in the ninth.
And so, the man who was optioned to Triple-A in April with an ERA of 49.50 was entrusted with finishing the job. He did so, picking up his first save with the Sox.
Valentine admitted he had never even seen Beato before Sunday. He has had just a few weeks to get to know Breslow. And he likely began the series with no plans to use Melancon in a save situation. These things happen when your organization hits the restart button, but the schedule offers no breaks.
One apparent positive from a roster overhaul is the motivation it gives to those left behind. Take Ciriaco, for example.
“I try my best, try to survive and stay here," he said. "I don’t want to be jumping around [from team to team]. I want to be part of the team here.”
Or Melancon, who felt the rush of a save situation for the first time in almost five months.
“I can’t even explain that feeling," he said. "It’s so much fun.”
That’s not the kind of phrase you heard all that often from Red Sox players before this series began. Then again, that was before a roster restructuring of gargantuan proportions. Everything’s a bit different now.