John Farrell on Dale & Holley: Red Sox' search for lineup stability may subside with return of Shane Victorino

April 23, 2014 - 11:25 am
Red Sox manager John Farrell , in his weekly interview on WEEI's Dale & Holley show, confirmed that the Sox informed Nava last night that he was being optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket. To listen to the interview, visit the Dale & Holley audio on demand page. After hitting .303 with a .385 OBP last year, Nava has struggled to a .149 average and .240 OBP. "That's never a fun conversation. I think he was certainly disappointed by the news he was going to be optioned back. He was a big part of this offense last year, particularly as a left-handed hitter. But we've got to get him back on track. The at-bats and the consistency of at-bats is not there right now as it was a year ago. There's a need for a little bit more of a consistent two-strike approach, and he needs to go back and continue to get reps as a right-handed hitter," said Farrell. "We feel like he's going to contribute to this offense before the year is out. We've just got to get him back hitting with confidence and just the overall game played with more confidence." Nava will be replaced on the roster by right-hander Alex Wilson on Wednesday, but Shane Victorino is expected to return as soon as Thursday. While the 33-year-old has struggled during his minor league rehab assignment (1-for-11, an infield hit), Farrell believes that Victorino will immediately change the team's dynamic. "He will have an impact I think the day he walks onto the field for us. One, physically, he feels good. That's the biggest question that we had to answer, just the ability to go back-to-back days. The durability, that is there," said Farrell. "His defense impacts every game he plays in right field. So, first and foremost, where we've had some balls that have come back to bite us a little bit in right field, that will be the impact on the defensive side. "Timing-wise at the plate, we know that will continue as he gets at-bats here at the big league level," he added. "Saying that he's going to step back in and he'll be a .400 on-base guy, that's not the expectation. But I think we miss the defense. We miss the energy that he brings, and the overall attitude he adds to the edge of this club once we take the field." Victorino's return could help bring the Sox a measure of lineup stability that has been absent. The loss of Victorino -- the primary occupant of the second spot in the Red Sox batting order last year -- and the departure of leadoff constant Jacoby Ellsbury in free agency has left the Sox in a state of some lineup disorientation, with five different leadoff hitters and 19 different lineups -- none of which has been featured more than twice.  (The lineup featured by Farrell on Wednesday will be the Sox' 20th of the year.) Now, with Victorino almost back, Farrell is hopeful that the duo of Victorino and Dustin Pedroia can restore order at the top of the lineup. "Even after Jake signed with the Yankees, we didn't set out to replace Jacoby. We set out to become a top-five offensive team, knowing that we were going to integrate some young players and that would be a challenge in its own right, so there's an experience curve that we're going through with some of the younger guys while we try to get their feet on the ground," said Farrell. "Right now, [Grady Sizemore] will continue to hit leadoff tonight. I think when Shane comes back, we want to put him at the top of the order, whether that's the leadoff spot or whether that's the two-hole, that remains to be seen. We could see in the past that Dustin has had more success in the leadoff spot than Vic; Vic is a very good two-hole hitter, as is Pedey. But I think that dynamic of those two to give us some base running capability, the ability to steal a base when needed, is evident with those two guys at the top of the order, and that might put Grady down in that 5-6-7 spot, in that range, depending on who we're facing on a given night. Lineup continuity, believe me, is a priority. Even though for the vast majority of the season, we've had a number of moving parts, that's been hard to accomplish. But that's a goal we're getting closer to." Farrell said that he hadn't given much consideration to the idea of having Xander Bogaerts hit at the top of the lineup. "I think our approach with younger players, and Pedey might be the exception to this when he first came up in '06 and then in '07, I still think Xander's going to be a run-producing bat. This is a guy that, maybe the expectations have been so high based on what he did in 45, 50 at-bats last year, but I still think for him to get established, for him to get set, still in that six, seven slot, down there with him, is the right place to be right now," said Farrell. "That doesn't say that in time he doesn't migrate north in the lineup, but that's the approach right now." Farrell also discussed other difficulties that the roster has encountered, including the overall defensive shortcomings, A.J. Pierzynski's transitional challenges in Boston and the team's need for its starting pitchers to lead it through its current rut and give the team an opportunity to play with a lead. As part of that conversation, Farrell took stock of Clay Buchholz's early season struggles. "He's still in an arm-strength building phase. The natural question might be, 'Well why didn't that take place in spring training?' Well, I think it's proven over time that a lot of starting pitchers will get that mid-season arm strength sometime late-April, middle of May is when it starts to kick in, and I think we're seeing that from Clay now," said Farrell, who summarily dismissed the notion that Buchholz's decision to sleep at Fenway Park (in a designated sleeping room for players) prior to Monday's game had anything to do with his poor outing that day. "He has the stuff [to compete], yes. Now, is his velocity down a little bit this year compared to where it was last year? Yes it is. But at the same time, I outlined there was a progression being made between the first and second start, the second and third. He takes a step back. What it means, though, right now, is that his location has got to be a lot more consistent and relentless with that. He doesn't have the margin for error to miss with his pitches in the middle of the plate."