By the time the PawSox return home a week from Saturday, April will all but be a memory. With that in mind, here are some early-season observations/thoughts about the local club.
Josh Reddick saw his miserable start at the plate last season cost him a chance to get up to Boston far sooner than as a September call-up. As his batting average plummeted to unimaginable depths – it stood at .189 on May 30 – Reddick watched as Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish were summoned to the big leagues.
One of the goals Reddick set going into this season was to avoid falling into such a tailspin that would result in him spending the remainder of the season trying to recover. So far, so good, as the outfielder carried a .308 average into Thursday’s action, though a 0-for-3 day dragged it down to .291.
“I’m not trying to overswing too much,” said Reddick. “It’s easier to do when you’re not digging out of a hole and trying to carry the whole team.”
Reddick’s recent track record suggests that consistency at the dish has been his greatest adversary. He was able to overcome last year’s dreary start to post a .266 batting mark thanks in large part to hitting a blistering .351 after the All-Star break. The last respectable average he posted was .277, that coming in 63 games with Double-A Portland in 2009. Otherwise there’s been a steady stream of low marks – .169 with Boston in 2009 and .127 with Pawtucket, also coming in the same year.
Getting off to an encouraging start is nice, but Reddick knows it’s more important to maintain his swing throughout the season rather than go through a series of peaks and valleys.
“Over the years I’ve never been consistent for a full year. I’ve always started off great only to fall off in the end. Last year was the first time I started off bad and had to climb back up,” Reddick said. “At the end of the year, I’ve got to learn to finish strong.”
Regardless if he hits or not, Reddick is aware that he can’t let his offense affect his defense. On Sunday he made three noteworthy catches in aiding Kris Johnson’s bid for a win. He followed it up two days later with a laser throw from right field to third base for an out.
“You can’t take your at-bats out to defense because you’ll end up making the whole day worse,” said Reddick.
The greatest question coming into the season was whether the PawSox had enough starting pitching to get by. If the first two weeks have proven anything, the answer is an overriding yes.
The seven scoreless frames Brandon Duckworth tossed Thursday lowered the starters’ collective ERA to 3.03. From Andrew Miller to Kyle Weiland to Matt Fox and Johnson, the PawSox have been fortified by a starting staff that has given the team a chance to win virtually every time out.
“It’s become contagious,” said Duckworth, whose staff-leading 0.48 ERA is the result of yielding one run in 18 2/3 innings. “You want to live up to the guy who started before you and keeping matching it. I think everyone here brings good quality stuff to the table. Plus there’s a lot of experience, which pays dividends.”
Things continue to look up for the suddenly pitching-rich PawSox as lefty prospect Felix Doubront gets the nod Friday in Rochester. Alfredo Aceves, who was slotted to start the home opener for Pawtucket before getting called up, also figures to be included in the rotation mix upon officially rejoining the PawSox, which figures to come as early as Friday. A corresponding roster move will have to be made in order to get Aceves back on the 24-man roster.
Perhaps the greatest pat-on-the-back accolade a catcher can receive is a starting pitcher divulging without cue that he called a good game. Backstop Luis Exposito was the target of such plaudits earlier this week, as Matt Fox and Andrew Miller volunteered that their strong outings were attributed to Exposito’s game-calling skills.
Exposito shrugged it off when the subject was broached Thursday, saying he’s simply doing his job. Regardless, it’s still has to warm his heart that what he’s doing is being met favorably.
“It’s helpful to know that you’re doing your job right,” Exposito offered.
Exposito is new to Triple-A, meaning there’s an entire new pitching staff to learn the tendencies and preferences of. Comprehending a hurler’s repertoire is first and foremost, but so is deciphering what pitch to call in a given instance and have confidence that the decision is the correct one.
“You’ve got to work with the individual pitcher’s strengths and find the hitter’s weaknesses,” explained Exposito. “You try to find what’s working on a given night, but it changes from pitcher to pitcher. You’ve got to find that niche, but you’ve got to pay attention to detail.”
Since statistics are what those in baseball swear by, we present you this nugget: PawSox pitchers, both starters and relievers, have compiled a 2.51 ERA when Exposito is back there. That’s certainly a strong indicator that both pitcher and catcher are on the same page, but to actually hear a pitcher mention how influential Exposito is to the game’s execution, it’s something that can’t be quantified.
Tony Pena Jr. recalls what it’s like to spend time as a youngster in major-league clubhouses, his most vivid memories coming when his father, Tony Pena Sr., caught for the Red Sox for four seasons in the early 90s. That’s why the PawSox reliever has actively set out to provide the same privileges to his son, Tony Pena III, who was spotted in the home clubhouse earlier in the week.
“I’m just trying to do the same thing my dad did with me,” shared Pena Jr. “Being in baseball, you’re always traveling and you don’t have a lot of time to spend with your kids. It’s fun to be able to bring them in [before the game] and just play with them. Good times.”
To a youngster like Pena III, the clubhouse can give off the aura of an oversized playground. The landscape is calling out to be discovered with places to actively seek out for running and hiding purposes. There is a time when the frolicking must cease – players must prepare for the task at hand, after all. Pena III was more than prepared to let the grownups do their thing as an iPad grabbed his attention while sitting quietly at his dad’s locker stall.
“I would be in the [Fenway Park] clubhouse hanging out with (Roger) Clemens and (Frank) Viola. We would get tape and in the hallways start playing baseball with a tape ball. That’s what we would do during the entire game. The rules weren’t as strict then as they are now; I could stay in the clubhouse the whole time,” shared Pena Jr. “It’s one of those things that when you’re a kid, you don’t [completely comprehend being in a major-league dwelling at such a precarious age], running around and hanging out.”