SARASOTA, Fla. -- Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine isn't ready to announce who will be his starting right fielder, but Ryan Sweeney knows he needs to take advantage of every opportunity to show he's worthy of the job.
"Everyone wants to be a starter and that goes for me as well," said Sweeney, who was obtained from Oakland in December.
With Carl Crawford recovering from his injured wrist and likely out until mid-April, Sweeney is determined to make the most of a good spring and a healthy dose of playing time when the regular season begins.
"You don't wish anyone to be hurt, but baseball is all about opportunities and being in the right place, right time," said the 27-year-old Sweeney, who has just 14 home runs over parts of six seasons with the White Sox and Athletics. "Some guys don't ever get a shot. You just have to capitalize on the opportunity. With Carl being out, it's an opportunity to play right field every day and you just have to look at it as an opportunity to play every day and make the most of it."
Sweeney, who was a second-round pick by the White Sox in 2003, is eager to show he is a high-caliber player after a disappointing 2011 campaign in which he started just 65 out of the 95 games he played, his lowest total since 2007 when he opened the season with Chicago before being sent down to the minors.
"Last year was frustrating for me in a sense backing up, but a positive side to it was that it allowed me to see the other side and how mentally tough it is and how to get prepared as a back-up,” said Sweeney, who played in a career-high 134 games in 2009 with the Athletics and had 142 hits with 31 doubles and 53 RBIs in 484 at-bats. “Everyone wants to play every day, but you have to have someone ready if someone can't play and the Red Sox hopefully see that in me as well."
Part of the equation involves another newly acquired outfielder in Cody Ross. When Crawford returns, a platoon system has been bandied about by Valentine, although not officially endorsed.
"Not sure," Valentine said when asked when he would decide on a starting right fielder. "We'll see how it goes. [Sweeney] has been consistently getting better. His defense has looked good. His offense, his timing is not yet right for his swing, but he looks like a good player."
Sweeney finally has begun taking steps to showcase him skills after going hitless in eight at-bats prior to Sunday’s contest against the Orioles, although he did begin the spring with a 4-for-5 performance that included a home run and five RBIs against Northeastern. In the first inning of the 6-1 win, he provided the Red Sox with their first run with a hard-hit single to center to score Nate Spears from second.
In the bottom half of the inning, Sweeney made an impressive defensive play in right when he tracked down a ball hit down the line by Orioles catcher Matt Wieters and threw a strike to Mike Aviles covering at second for the out.
“Obviously, I want to get results but my swing feels great,” Sweeney said. “It’s nice to get a hit, even if it wasn’t the hardest one hit. I’ve been hitting the ball well. I’ve had springs where I've hit .400 and started out slow and I've had spring trainings where I've hit .200 and started out fast. You just never know. I think everybody's different.
"I was just talking to [Dustin] Pedroia, and he said in 2008 he had a terrible spring training and then he went and won the MVP that year. Spring training is kind of one of those things where you have to find your swing and feel good about it going into the season.”