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Red Sox's countdown to Rusney Castillo accelerates as bats still flounder

With the Boston Red Sox offense struggling, Rusney Castillo may soon be promoted. Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

BOSTON -- Oh, Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo will be here by game time Friday night, barring a flight delay, temporary insanity in the Boston Red Sox front office, or the sudden realization on Castillo's part that there would be less pressure on him going back to Cuba than there will be in Fenway Park, where the mandate is to magically transform a Sox offense that is nearly nonexistent.

Castillo, back from the birth of his child, played Thursday night in Louisville for Triple-A Pawtucket. Delta Flight 3411 leaves Louisville at 8 a.m. Friday, connects to Flight 2523 in Detroit and arrives in Boston at 11:55 a.m. Plenty of time for Castillo to be in uniform for the game against the Los Angeles Angels, should Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick be ordered to spring into action. And a first-class ticket can be had for just over a thousand bucks, pocket change compared to the $72.5 million Sox owner John W. Henry spent on Castillo in August.

The Red Sox, mind you, have not yet announced that Castillo's promotion will come Friday. They don't have to. Losing Thursday night by a 3-1 score to the Texas Rangers, the 13th time in 19 games this month in which they have scored two or fewer runs, is the equivalent of the Red Sox hiring the Hood blimp to hover over Kenmore Square flashing the message, "Rusney's Coming."

"Whether or not there are roster changes, nothing is here to be announced in this moment," manager John Farrell said after his team was shut down by an opposing left-hander for the 12th straight time for two earned runs or fewer, this time by Rangers lefty Wandy Rodriguez.

"We'll take a look at every opportunity to see if an adjustment can be made," Farrell said, which according to the Google Translator meant: "Castillo is coming if I have to go get him myself."

Think about this for a second. The Red Sox have already played 17 games this season in which they have scored two or fewer runs. That would put them on pace for 67 games with an offensive output more suitable to Liverpool than Lansdowne Street. That would match the 1945 Sox for second-most times scoring two or fewer, only two shy of the club record of 69 set in 1926.

This collapse in production exceeds even that of the 2014 team, which was so inept that Henry decided his first order of offseason business was to invest $183 million in two hitters of substantial reputation, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. And for the season's first month, Ramirez dominated the narrative with 10 home runs, with Sandoval a more-than-acceptable supporting actor.

But this month? We're 19 games into May, and Ramirez is one of only three major leaguers who has been to the plate at least 40 times and has not produced a single RBI. The others are Oakland rookie Billy Burns and Oakland graybeard Coco Crisp, who missed all of April recovering from elbow surgery and now has a neck injury that reportedly places the rest of his season in jeopardy.

Neither Burns nor Crisp have the luxury of a lineup in which Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz hit ahead of them like Ramirez does, and yet he has not managed to negotiate a single runner across home plate this month.

Playing with a banged-up shoulder, injured when he crashed into the grandstand wall May 4, is undoubtedly a hindrance, and admirable in terms of wanting to fight through it. But if he can't be Hanley Ramirez, then he shouldn't be in the 4-hole.

He had two great chances Thursday night. He came up in the fourth with Pedroia on third with one out and a run in, meaning a well-placed ground ball would score Pedroia, too. Instead, Ramirez hit a squibber in front of the plate, and Pedroia decided he'd have a better chance of embarking on a suicide mission than a teammate delivering a hit with a runner in scoring position. The play wasn't close.

He came up again after a leadoff double by Ortiz brought the tying run to the plate with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth. Ramirez hit a high fly to short center field for the first out, and Texas closer Shawn Tolleson struck out Mike Napoli and Brock Holt in succession to end it.

The Sox were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position Thursday night. In their first home series of the season, against the Washington Nationals, they were 12-for-36 with RISP, helped by some audaciously bad Nats defense. In nine home dates this month, they are 8-for-70, a .114 average.

So while it's easy to single out Ramirez and his zero RBIs in May, the Red Sox lineup is currently littered with underachievers. Sandoval was given a second night off, ostensibly to give him more time for his sore left knee to recover after being hit by a Sam Freeman fastball Tuesday night. But it's guaranteed that Sandoval's knee would have felt a lot better if he wasn't 2-for-41 against lefties this season; indeed, he appeared as a pinch hitter in the eighth against a right-hander, Keone Kela, and struck out.

Shane Victorino, who hadn't started since Sunday and was being counted upon by Farrell against Rodriguez because he's one of the few guys having success against lefties, couldn't answer the bell. "General soreness centered around the left calf” was the reason offered by Farrell, which speaks to the tenuous nature of Victorino's contribution to the club. Farrell didn't see this one coming; he posted a lineup with Victorino in it, which he would have held off from doing if he suspected there was any chance the right-fielder couldn't go.

Ortiz grounded out three times against Rodriguez and is now 6-for-47 against lefties this season, a .126 clip. Daniel Nava is going so bad that he abandoned a spring-long experiment to bat just from the left side and took his hacks against Rodriguez from the right side. He struck out and was credited with a single when his ground ball hit baserunner Xander Bogaerts in the foot, an ill-timed stroke of fortune that cost the Red Sox a potential rally.

But even as bad as Nava is going -- "I don't think he's the most confident hitter right now," Farrell said -- the manager still preferred him to Jackie Bradley Jr., who was called up just 11 days earlier to help jump-start the offense but after 13 hitless plate appearances has been relegated to late-inning defensive replacement duty.

Napoli, who on Tuesday hit a big home run and said that he'd spotted a flaw in his setup, struck out three times, twice with runners in scoring position. On and on it goes.

Into this setting comes Castillo, the 27-year-old Cuban who had a double and RBI in six at-bats in an extra-inning loss to Louisville Thursday night but is batting .365 (19-for-52) in his past dozen games. The Sox felt he needed some minor league at-bats coming out of spring training, then he strained his left shoulder making a diving catch and was shut down for a while.

Now it is folly to waste any more of his time in the minor leagues, especially with the team needing help.

But it is equally folly to believe that Castillo can turn this thing around by himself.

"It's not like we're looking at one spot in the lineup that is a glaring hole," Farrell said. "We collectively have to continue to trust one another."

Farrell also sounded like a lineup shakeup was imminent. "I'm not ruling it out," he said.

Before the game, Farrell still expressed confidence in staying the course, clinging to the belief that past track records will ultimately show themselves.

As Ortiz said Wednesday night, "We've got to start hitting at some point ... right?"