As Opening Day nears, it is time to revisit the five biggest questions facing the Boston Red Sox going into Spring Training that were posed in a column here a month ago. The answers have not been good.
Can Hanley Ramirez handle first base?
When the idea of Hanley Ramirez playing first base was first floated about near the end of last year, fans guffawed. Hanley couldn’t handle having three or four balls hit his way in left field per game, so now you want him to be even more involved defensively by playing first base and handling grounders, pop ups, and throws? All eyes were on Hanley heading into the exhibition games. Now everyone is saying, “I knew Hanley would be okay at first base.” Surrrrre.
He has handled the transition to first base adequately. Having Dustin Pedroia playing along side him in the infield has helped. More importantly, it looks like Ramirez is having fun and is a lot more relaxed. Maybe now that Hanley doesn’t have to worry about embarrassing himself in the field, he can focus more on his hitting and revert to his old self.
Will Pablo Sandoval’s weight hinder his performance?
Pablo Sandoval leapfrogged Hanley Ramirez as the biggest question mark/headache this Spring. He showed up at camp heavier than ever, despite what owner John Henry might say. Earlier this week, manager John Farrell revealed the third base starting job to be an open competition between Sandoval and Travis Shaw. Shaw has hit .450 this Spring with two home runs. Sandoval, meanwhile, has committed four errors in the twenty chances he has had in the field. Now comes word that Sandoval will miss the next few days with a stiff back sustained diving for a ball in his last game. Could the weight have been a contributing factor? Surely, it didn’t help. The Red Sox may use this “stiff back” issue as an excuse to give Shaw a chance to steal the third base job. Don’t be surprised if this “stiff back” is a recurring, nagging “injury” this season for Sandoval. It will be used to mask his bruised ego.
How will the rotation shape up after David Price?
The Red Sox were counting on Eduardo Rodriguez to join David Price atop the rotation, but Rodriguez is likely to start the season on the disabled list with a nagging knee injury. That is not good for a rotation that has a lot of question marks beyond Price. Clay Buchholz has had control problems (7 BB in 10 IP) this Spring. Joe Kelly has looked good (1.38 ERA), but he hasn’t been able to put it all together for a full season yet. Rick Porcello? How does 12 runs and 19 hits in 9 innings make you feel? Henry Owens hasn’t shown that he is ready to fill in for Rodriguez while he is sidelined. Brian Johnson has struggled after missing the end of last season with a nerve problem in his throwing arm. Anybody excited about Steven Wright and/or Roenis Elias as a starting pitcher? This rotation is in trouble.
Is Rusney as big a flop as Sandoval and Ramirez?
Similar to Sandoval, the Red Sox are making left field an open competition. Rusney Castillo was handed the job going into the Spring, but now the two-headed monster of veterans David Murphy and Chris Young is threatening to take Castillo’s job away. Castillo has “flop” written all over him. Castillo said he worked on shortening his swing during the offseason, but he is hitting only .231 this Spring against many pitchers who won’t be in the majors when the calendar flips to April. Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told WEEI’s Rob Bradford that John Farrell has the mandate to play players based on merit, not on the basis of their contracts. That’s bad news for Castillo, as well as Sandoval.
How good is Carson Smith?
The answer has been pretty good. Carson Smith wasn’t scored upon in his four innings of work while striking out four batters this past month. The bad news is that Smith felt tightness in his right forearm in his last outing and is now sidelined indefinitely. The Red Sox are hopeful that the injury isn’t serious.
Today came news that former closer, turned set-up man, Koji Uehara is battling “general soreness” and will miss a few games. The once promising, dominant bullpen is beginning to disintegrate.
So let’s recap: the starting rotation behind David Price is weak and the bullpen is slowly falling apart. Who’s excited for Opening Day?