BOSTON -- Red Sox manager John Farrell may not always be truthful. It’s part of his job to protect players, conceal bits of information and put out the message that he, and the organization, wants the public to hear.
However, you can take him at his word with one clichéd line he has uttered multiple times in this intriguing final week before the All-Star break.
“Right now the focus is day to day of what is tonight’s best chance to score runs and be on the right side of the scoreboard,” Farrell said prior to Wednesday’s 6-3 win over Miami, echoing lines from previous days when pressed on Mike Napoli, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez and all those affected by the revolving situation at first base.
The subject of some criticism when the team was flailing in May and parts of June, Farrell deserves credit for making bold decisions to help turn things around in July. It may just save the season, and if the players themselves can look beyond their personal preferences (easier said than done with millions of dollars on the line), they might recognize that it is now or never.
• That includes Napoli, who is on the outside looking in (he’s been out of the lineup the past four games) but may still have a role on a team that continues to sport some ugly numbers against lefties.
• That includes Ortiz, who told reporters on Wednesday he is not interested in an increased role at first base, a position he has played at Fenway in two of the past three games.
• That includes Ramirez, who will continue to shuttle back and forth between designated hitter and left field until the dust settles.
• It will include their lone All-Star, Brock Holt, who could return to the super utility role (now batting ... first baseman ... Brock Holt?) when Dustin Pedroia returns from the disabled list, perhaps this weekend.
• Throw into that mix Travis Shaw, who has no leg to stand on amid these big-time names but did make a bid for more action with a three-hit effort Tuesday night.
Each will see their name penciled in only if it suits their manager, who is rightly acting with a bit of desperation.
For the club to navigate through this positional quagmire, it has to be all hands on deck. “Whatever you say, Skip.” And if anyone has an issue with Farrell, they won’t have much ammunition -- the proof is in the pudding, with wins in nine of 12 games and a season-high four straight, the past three since Napoli was benched coming in inspired fashion.
Farrell said he would like to get the struggling Napoli (two hits in his past 27 at-bats) back in the lineup before the All-Star break, but he didn’t necessarily insist it would happen. Perhaps Saturday presents such an opportunity when the Yankees start Ivan Nova, against whom Napoli has two homers and two walks in 10 plate appearances. Maybe it is the day after, simply to get the veteran slugger a few reps before the four-day break. Or it could be that he is held out until the post-break trip to Anaheim, where he has often hit well. The Sox are in the midst of a stretch in which they face eight straight right-handed starters through the break. Maybe Farrell will wait until Napoli can get in there against a southpaw.
In a way, the position debate probably shouldn’t be so laser-focused on first base. The Napoli/Ortiz/Ramirez shuffle is really a convenient way for Farrell to get what he wants more than anything else right now, and that’s Alejandro De Aza in left field. De Aza’s energy and hustle alongside the same attributes in center fielder Mookie Betts and right fielder Shane Victorino give the club, with its pitch-to-contact staff and ability to thrive when aggressive, a bigger boost than it might get from a Napoli rebound.
The desire to play all three may be more pressing after the break.
“[De Aza’s impact] shows up more probably on the road, given that left field is restricted [at Fenway],” Farrell said. “But the space when we’re in some of the symmetrical parks, we’ve gotten much more coverage. I think back to a couple of plays De Aza made in Toronto. It’s three guys at positions that have above-average range and any time you can take away outs in the outfield you’re not only recording the out but you’re probably taking away multiple bases in a given hit, and that’s a huge impact.”
Napoli isn’t getting many extra-base hits. De Aza is occasionally taking them away, showcasing a higher gear most players do not have. In addition to batting .306 with 18 RBIs in his short time with the Sox, De Aza has been a pest for opponents. He slid head-first into first base (one of the few times it actually looked like the right move) for an RBI single in his lone at-bat Saturday against Houston and lured the Marlins into a pair of throwing errors in a trip around the bases in the seventh inning Wednesday.
Farrell was forceful earlier this week in declaring Ramirez his left fielder going forward. Perhaps that was one of the untruths managers have to throw out there once in a while, just to get through an awkward situation. His players should continue to follow suit, say what needs to be said, do what needs to be done, and appreciate that their manager is taking all measures to put the best team on the field on a day-by-day basis, regardless of what it does to their egos.