Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The Red Sox have had their share of struggles scoring runs in the early going as last season’s highest-scoring team ranks 24th in runs scored through the first few weeks of the 2014 season. However, the Red Sox could be due to get a good deal of production back this week as Shane Victorino is nearly ready to return to Boston’s lineup.
Victorino suffered a hamstring strain in spring training and was sent to the disabled list on the first day of the season. Since then, he has missed the first few weeks of the season but is just starting his minor league rehab assignment. Yesterday he made his first appearance with Triple-A Pawtucket in the first game of a double-header and went 0-3. More importantly, however, Victorino reportedly felt no discomfort and was able to run full speed without hesitation.
That’s good news for the Red Sox as Victorino’s speed his perhaps his most valuable tool for the Red Sox. With Jacoby Ellsbury having left, the Red Sox have virtually no speed in their lineup and Victorino will be one of the team’s only sources for stolen bases going forward. That speed also helps Victorino defensively, where he was among the best defensive outfielders in baseball last season and won a Gold Glove for his efforts in right field.
In his place, the Red Sox have been using a combination of Grady Sizemore, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava in right field and Victorino’s return will bring an end to one of the more interesting story lines of the Red Sox’ early season: who will go down to Triple-A when he returns. The end to that argument does, however, look like an easier decision than it did a few weeks ago as Bradley Jr. has regressed from his hot start (now hitting just .220/.339/.280) and will likely be sent back down to Triple-A.
It is still interesting to ponder what John Farrell will do in the Red Sox’ outfield, however. Victorino will likely cover right field, where he had so much success in 2013, but Grady Sizemore has not yet proven that he is still an effective center fielder. It’s early, but he already has posted a -3.3 UZR, which translated over 150 games to a staggering 70.7 runs allowed in center field for Sizemore. Sizemore has also cooled down at the plate after a hot start and while Victorino’s return will bring an end to the debate for now, Bradley Jr. will likely return before long and keep the debate raging.
While the defensive debate will rage on, there’s no debate that Victorino will help the Red Sox’ lineup though. Victorino will likely slot in near or at the top of the order and should help to provide some life into a lineup just beginning to turn around a slow start. Let’s hope that it happens as soon as Thursday.