NEW YORK -- You go to a football school like the University of Alabama, it’s bound to happen.
Josh Rutledge, the baseball player, has been called “Jeff” more times than he can recount.
“Happens all the time,’’ said Rutledge, who is making his first start at second base for the Red Sox Thursday night since coming to the team from the Angels in the Shane Victorino deal. “No relation.’’
Never mind that nearly 40 years have passed since Jeff Rutledge was quarterback of a Crimson Tide team that won the national championship in 1978 and three SEC titles. The name still resonates in the state, especially since Jeff Rutledge was homegrown (Birmingham) and in 2011 was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
Josh Rutledge is a native Alabaman as well. In 2007, he was the state’s Class A 5A player of the year while leading Cullman High to the state title, then accepted a scholarship to play in Tuscaloosa.
He hit .369 as a freshman to lead the team, and in 2010 was all-SEC.
“We always had decent teams,’’ he said. “We went to two [NCAA] regionals and my last year there, a super [regional], We weren’t great, but we always had good players.
“At a football school, we probably were overlooked a little bit, but it was fun. The football games were awesome.’’
Rutledge has some personal incentive to keep up with the sport. His wife, Laura, a former Miss Florida, is an on-air reporter for ESPN and the SEC Network (which came as a surprise to at least one baseball reporter who hadn’t made the connection).
Rutledge has gone to a couple of football games in the offseason. “But that’s also hunting season,’’ he said, acknowledging that hunting whitetail deer still takes precedence on occasion.
Rutledge was drafted by the Rockies in the third round in 2010 as a shortstop, and played almost exclusively at short until the Rockies began to move him around the diamond last season.
“I started a game at third base in Dodger Stadium,’’ he said. “It was the first time I had played there since high school.’’
He handled only one chance, but it was a satisfying one, diving to his left to glove a smash by, coincidentally, new teammate Hanley Ramirez.
His first three appearances in a Red Sox uniform came at third base, as he replaced Pablo Sandoval in games in which Sandoval came out with dehydration and was hit in the forearm by a pitch, then started in Sandoval’s place when the Sox elected to give him another day.
Thursday night, the Sox elected to sit Brock Holt against Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia. Holt, who has been playing regularly in the absence of Dustin Pedroia, is hitless in his last 14 at-bats, and his average has dipped from .306 on June 24 to its current .277.
In 31 games in that span, Holt is batting .233 (28-for-120), with just two extra-base hits, both doubles.
“He’s been pitched to,’’ Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He’s seen a lot of off-speed early in the count. Right-handers have been attacking him down and in. There has been a long stretch of games in which his bat path might not be as consistent. Like any player, he needs a break now and then.’’
Rutledge, 26, will be arbitration eligible for the first time next season and is under club control until 2019. If he is to stick with the Sox, he may well be in competition with Holt in the future.
“I think there’s a good place here,’’ he said. “I’m just working out there every day, trying to continue to get better at being versatile.’’