EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 17, 2013

Time for Farrell to make a change

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — It’s time for Red Sox manager John Farrell to take a page out of his buddy Terry Francona’s book, and I don’t mean from “Francona: The Red Sox Years,” Tito’s book with Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy.

Take a page from Francona’s figurative book on how to make tough personnel decisions to win playoff games.

Hey, Farrell: Start your talented rookie just like Francona did for Game 6 of the 2007 American League Championship Series when he replaced a struggling Coco Crisp with hot, blue-chip prospect, Jacoby Ellsbury.

The Boston Red Sox lost 7-3 to the Detroit Tigers in Game 4 of the ALCS last night at Comerica Park. The best-of-seven series is tied 2-2.

There’s no doubt about it. It’s time for rookie shortstop/third baseman Xander Bogaerts to start in place of Stephen Drew at shortstop or Will Middlebrooks at third today. Right now, both Drew and Middlebrooks are dreadful to watch at the plate and one of them must sit out Game 5.

Take your pick. Drew is 3 for 28 (.107 average, .138 on-base percentage) with eight strikeouts this postseason. Middlebrooks is 4 for 23 (.174 average, .269 OBP) with nine strikeouts.

Yes, most Red Sox hitters are struggling this series, but Drew and Middlebrooks look the most lost.

Enough is enough, Farrell, with your unlimited loyalty to veterans, particularly your shortstop.

And why should Middlebrooks — who has a .294 on-base percentage in his two major league seasons — be owed a starting spot at third every game this postseason? It doesn’t make sense.

In 2007, Crisp was 5 for 31 (.161 average) between the ALDS and the first five games of the ALCS. Francona gave the job to Ellsbury, who went 9 for 24 (.375 average), scored seven runs, four doubles and four RBIs during the final two games of the ALCS and Boston’s World Series sweep of Colorado.

Bogaerts has stayed positive while riding the pine. He just turned 21 on Oct. 1 and said he’s learning a ton from this playoff experience.

“Seeing how we’re winning so much, it’s unbelievable,” Bogaerts told The Eagle-Tribune recently. “Who’d imagine I’d be in the big leagues? And now we’re in the ALCS. It’s weird how baseball is.”

Bogaerts hasn’t started a single game this postseason. He replaced Middlebrooks at third base yesterday after Mike Carp pinch hit for Middlebrooks during the sixth inning. Bogaerts doubled and scored in the ninth.

The rookie could be the spark plug the Red Sox offense needs to finally get on track against a dominant Detroit Tigers starting rotation. Yes, there’s a chance he might not provide the same momentum Ellsbury did in 2007, but you have to try something Farrell, don’t you?

Red Sox veteran John McDonald, who isn’t on the ALCS roster, has been helping Bogaerts with his defense.

“You just try to keep up with his energy level,” McDonald said. “He wants to take ground balls every day. He’s out here early every day. It’s good to see a young middle infielder that just really craves knowledge and is getting better.

“He’s got a real good sense of what he’s doing,” McDonald added. “It seems like in situations that are dialed up his heart rate goes down. He’s got a really good calmness about him. It’s going to serve him well. It’s going to get him through times when he may make a mistake.”

Bogaerts proved to be a game-changer when he came off the bench in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Rays. Pinch hitting for Drew with one out in the seventh when Boston trailed 1-0, Bogaerts drew a walk and scored the game-tying run. He then walked to begin the ninth and scored to make it 3-1 Boston.

McDonald was impressed with those two at-bats. He also was impressed with Bogaerts’ at-bat in Game 1 of the ALCS. Bogaerts entered as a defensive replacement at third base in the eighth and stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. He saw seven pitches and popped out to shortstop to end the game.

“He had a great at-bat,” McDonald said. “Baseball’s hard so sometimes you’re not going to get the result you want. Yeah, I’m impressed.”

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB