MIAMI -- Here’s an unsolicited suggestion to Red Sox manager John Farrell: Give Hanley Ramirez another day off to rest his sore left foot, and then buy him a first baseman’s mitt.
While you’re at it, why don’t you take one more game off yourself to recover from Monday’s hernia operation. Your work ethic is commendable, but no one is going to begrudge you another day, especially when your team has the worst record in the American League.
But back to Ramirez. Before putting his name back on the lineup card, which you said you intended to do Wednesday, let’s take at least one more look at what an outfield of Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo can do before Ramirez forces either Bradley or Castillo to the bench. There will be howls of scorn back in Boston if you elect to sit Bradley because a left-hander, Adam Conley, is pitching for the Marlins Wednesday afternoon.
Fans back home are paying attention. They know Bradley is batting .400 (8-for-20) against left-handers, and his past four at-bats against lefties have gone home run (Tom Gorzelanny), triple (Ian Krol), triple (Justin Nicolino), single (Nicolino).
He’s also made phenomenal catches in each of the past two games, including a fence-banging catch Tuesday night in left field that ranks as the best play by a Sox left fielder this season, and in his first-ever start at that position. But we already knew he could do that.
You said you wanted to see Bradley play every day, and now’s your chance. Let’s see if his recent surge at the plate has legs, and in the face of all the people who had given up on him, he forces his way back into the Sox future after all.
There’s no upside to sitting Bradley on Wednesday. None. There’s no reason to sit Castillo, either. With every passing day, he looks more comfortable, both at the plate and in the field. Tuesday night, he tripled in a run and lined out hard twice, made a nice running catch in right, and obviously loves to show off his strong throwing arm. Since his recall from Pawtucket, he’s batting .327 (16-for-49), and we’re all starting to see what the Sox saw in him when they signed him to a six-year, $72.5 million deal.
Castillo spent over half the season in Pawtucket, dealing with a series of nagging injuries and showing little his first go-round here. So now that he’s figuring it out, you’re going to sit him?
That’s a nonstarter.
As for Betts, in his first game back after missing 11 with a concussion, he delivers hits in each of his first three at-bats, steals a base and starts two rallies. Personally, we understand your reluctance to move him out of center field, but you have often said that players dictate by their performance what you do, and if Bradley keeps hitting, there is no justification for not playing him in center field, where he compares to the best the Red Sox have ever had.
If Betts was athletic enough to make the transition from second base to center field, then he can certainly learn to play left field.
Of course, there’s the rub: If you keep this outfield together, what do you do with Hanley? A week ago, both you and general manager Ben Cherington all but ruled out moving Ramirez to another position.
That was before Bradley injected himself back into the conversation, and on Tuesday night combined with Betts and Castillo to give the Sox an outfield of three plus defenders, three above-average base-runners and three prospective run producers. How much fun was it to watch all three track balls down, sprint from first to third and ply a last-place team with a needed surge of energy?
Cherington said it took courage for Ramirez to switch from shortstop to left field, a dubious proposition given the fact no team wanted Ramirez to play short. Well, maybe it’s time for the Sox to buck up and ask Ramirez to start taking ground balls at first base, where a shortstop’s hands remain useful and a shortstop’s range is not required.
If he’s afraid he might embarrass himself, don’t put him in a game until he’s ready. If he wants to play badly enough, he may catch on to the new position much faster than anyone is anticipating.
If Bradley fizzles, nothing has been lost. If anything, Ramirez adds a little versatility to his game before returning to left. If Bradley continues to thrive, the Sox have already discovered a solution to what they’ve identified as a major need, better defense.
John Henry has maintained in each of Boston’s two last-place seasons that once it became clear the team would not contend, he was indifferent to where the club finished in the standings, which is why he blew up the roster twice. Just as the club is learning what it might expect from its novice pitchers, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens, now is the time to see what they might have in their outfielders, too.
Those Sox fans who have been amusing themselves by chanting “Free Tom Brady” may soon have another cause to embrace. “Play JBJ” has a certain ring to it, too.