Looking at John Farrell's decision to pinch-run for Mike Napoli, and not pinch-hit Jonny Gomes

Rob Bradford
March 31, 2014 - 3:38 pm

BALTIMORE -- The season officially began, and so did the dissection of every potential difference-making decision. John Farrell's first in-game tests for the 2014 campaign presented themselves during what turned into a nip-and-tuck affair at Camden Yards Monday. And after his Red Sox came up on the short end of a 2-1 decision to the Orioles, the debate started gaining momentum. The first decision in question came in the eighth inning with the Red Sox trailing by a run. After Mike Napoli reached second via a walk and subsequent ground out by Mike Carp, Farrell chose to lift the first baseman for pinch-runner Jackie Bradley Jr. Even though Napoli is considered one of the team'€™s better baserunners, Bradley Jr. was deemed a better shot at scoring on a close play at home. It was a decision Napoli didn't disagree with. "€œJackie is going to beat me in a race every time," he said. "Line drive to the outfield, he'€™s going to have a better chance at scoring." "Yeah, that'€™s going to be one that you open yourself up to," Farrell said of taking out Napoli. "But knowing that [Tommy] Hunter was going to be closing things out, left-handers have had much more success against him, there was a willingness to do it a little bit more in that situation. We'€™re trying to scramble to scratch out a run and tie things up. Not second-guessing the move."€ After a Grady Sizemore strikeout, Xander Bogaerts walk and A.J. Pierzynski threat-ending ground out to the pitcher, the focus then turned to Napoli'€™s spot in the batting order. Normally, it would seem to be a lock for Jonny Gomes -- he of the 1.405 OPS and four home runs as a pinch-hitter last season --“ to step in if the opportunity arose. Asked after the game if he also thought that would be the progression, Gomes said, "I'€™m always anticipating." But in this case the pitcher on the mound in the ninth was Hunter. The righty was absolutely lethal against righty hitters in '€™13, limiting them to a .145 batting average. So when the Red Sox found themselves with runners on first and second with two outs in the ninth against Hunter -- with Will Middlebrooks having been hit by a pitch and Dustin Pedroia claiming a single -- Farrell chose to stick with the lefty-hitting Bradley Jr. The decision, of course, left Gomes on the bench, having already been bypassed in the starting lineup in favor of the lefty-hitting Carp against Baltimore starter Chris Tillman. "€œI don'€™t think I have a role. I've been pinch-hit for, I've pinch-hit. I've hit against left, against right, hit in the bottom of the order and the top of the order. I've got one job and that'€™s to be ready," Gomes said. "We'€™re the defending world champs and we've got a lot of good players. Whether you're young, old or in between, the only way to succeed is opportunity. We'€™re deep. That'€™s fine." The move didn't work out for the Red Sox, with Bradley Jr. stranding their 11th and 12th runners of the game by striking out looking. "€œAfter he got down 0-2, he did lay off some borderline pitches off the plate away," Farrell said. "Put himself back in a hitter's count and borderline pitch up in the top of the strike zone that the home plate umpire rings him up on it. Again, everyone is going to focus on that final out made but there were a number of opportunities that we did create but just didn't cash in." "It's the first game of the season," said Bradley Jr., who said he didn't feel the first called strike, or the 2-2 elevated fastball he was rung up on, were strikes. "I felt like I was really battling up there, saw a lot of pitches and I felt like I worked hard that at-bat. I wish I had something to reward me for it. But that's just the way it is. You've got to move on and get ready for tomorrow."