BOSTON -- So, how do you calculate how many hours Xander Bogaerts worked to become the Red Sox shortstop? How many ground balls fielded, how many tutorials absorbed from infield coach Brian Butterfield, how much study, how much failure, how much improvement, how many assurances that he is the once and future shortstop of the team?
And then Xander Bogaerts came to the ballpark Tuesday afternoon. Only then did he learn that the Sox had come to an agreement for Stephen Drew to return. As soon as Drew is ready, Bogaerts was told by manager John Farrell, he would become the shortstop again. And Bogaerts would be moved to third base, the position at which he had made a critical cameo appearance in the postseason last October. But that was only supposed to be a temporary solution to a pressing need.
Shortstop, Bogaerts was told again and again, is where he would play, the Sox investing a tremendous amount of faith that at the age of 21, he could do for them what Derek Jeter had done at a young age for the Yankees. Handle the pressure. Excel at the job.
And that all came to a screeching halt. Do you really think it was necessary to ask the rookie if he was disappointed? He made two errors Tuesday night, airmailing a throw in the first inning, booting a routine grounder in the fifth.
“There was a lot going on today,” Bogaerts said. “I don’t want to make [any] excuses, but it definitely was a tough day today.”
He tried to keep his words measured, but his eyes told the story.
“My heart is always shortstop,” he said. “They felt that we’re a better team with [Drew], so that’s why they went out and got him. And I was just feeling so good over there, but they made the decision they had to make.”
It’s a decision the Sox maybe wouldn’t have made if Will Middlebrooks hadn’t fractured his left index finger Friday night. Bringing back Drew may have been more a referendum on how the Sox regard Middlebrooks’s future as on Bogaerts. With more confidence that Middlebrooks eventually will produce, the Sox might have tried to muddle through with Brock Holt, who incidentally played a terrific game Tuesday night, both at the plate and in the field.
Farrell insisted Tuesday that the Sox “anticipate” Middlebrooks will be here once he is fully recovered, but he also made a couple of references to how the team’s alignments will depend on who is still here. One major league scout said Tuesday that if the Sox give up on Middlebrooks, there will be plenty of teams that would be interested in his power. If it was him, the scout said, he wouldn’t give up on Middlebrooks, adding that he still believes Bogaerts’s future will be at short.
That’s the message the Sox delivered to Bogaerts too. But it’s debatable how much Bogaerts believes them at this point.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I come in here day by day and see where I’m playing. I’m just happy and thankful to have a jersey on with the Red Sox logo.”
The words of a mature young man, trying to take the high road. But he acknowledged there was frustration.
“I don’t know what to say on that one,” he said. “I worked so hard at being there and just now I started feeling comfortable out there. They did what they had to do.
“I definitely still view myself as a shortstop, and I [will] keep saying that every day.”
Farrell told Bogaerts the same thing Tuesday, that the Sox still view him as a shortstop. Drew, remember, was signed for just the balance of the season. But taking this step means that if Bogaerts goes back to playing short next spring, he will have to follow the same learning curve and likely endure some of the same bumps he already has experienced this season.
He thought that lately he’d been doing a lot better -- the weather was getting warmer, he was getting a better grip on the ball, he was learning every day. All, it seems, for naught. At least for the short term. Stephen Drew, who is as polished as Bogaerts was still a work in progress, will be back at short.
Bogaerts will be the third baseman. The team may indeed be better for the change. But it definitely reflects a change of course.
Did he now harbor doubts that regardless of what he has been told, his days of playing shortstop may be numbered?
“I’ve been told a lot of things coming up through the minors,” Bogaerts said. “I’ll always see myself as a shortstop and I’ll always keep working out to stay there.”