Boston starts 10-game trip burdened by injuries
The floor of the Red Sox clubhouse was filled with black equipment bags as players packed for their 10-day West Coast trip. Amid the clutter, the stuff that revealed the team's current condition was still hard to miss.
The protective boot on Dustin Pedroia's broken left foot. The splint on Victor Martinez's fractured left thumb. The crutches leaning against Jason Varitek's locker, and the boot on his broken right foot.
Battered physically and beaten in eight of the last 11 games, the Red Sox flew across the country Sunday night to face the Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels.
It's a crucial stretch for the Red Sox to stay in contention, but to Boston manager Terry Francona it's just another road trip.
''I feel like I always feel,'' he said after Sunday's 4-2 home loss to the Texas Rangers. ''Pack our bags and go play. I don't think that ever changes. I don't know if I really feel any different than ever. I hope they have good food on the plane.''
His team's troubles are no laughing matter.
The offense sputtered in losing three of four games at home to Texas in the club's first series since the All-Star break. They were outscored 21-11 and outhit 40-25.
The Red Sox dropped from a half-game behind the AL East-leading New York Yankees on July 3 to 6 1/2 games off the pace after Sunday's loss - a span of just 15 days. Going into Monday night's game against the A's, who were riding a five-game winning streak, the Red Sox trailed Tampa Bay by 3 1/2 games in the AL wild-card race.
Boston can't afford to fall much further back before the ailing players return.
That process starts this week with Clay Buchholz set to pitch Wednesday in the finale of a three-game series at Oakland. Josh Beckett is expected to return Friday for the second of four games in Seattle if all goes well during an extended bullpen session on Tuesday.
Buchholz (10-4) was named to the All-Star team but has been on the disabled list since July 5 with a strained left hamstring. Beckett, who began the season as the Red Sox No. 1 starter, went on the DL on May 19 because of a lower back strain and is just 1-1 with a 7.29 ERA in eight starts. He allowed three runs in four innings during a rehab start for the Pawtucket Red Sox on Saturday night.
''I threw 80 pitches (Saturday). I felt like I still had gas in the tank,'' he said. ''I'm ready to start Friday.''
The offense is a bigger concern.
Pedroia is to be re-evaluated in late July after a CT scan Friday was encouraging, meaning he will probably miss the entire trip. Varitek's recovery is going slower. Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury has played in only nine games because of broken ribs and hasn't appeared in any rehab games yet. Martinez played catch Sunday for the first time since being hurt on June 27, but Francona called it ''a baby step.''
In their places, Boston has used Eric Patterson, Daniel Nava, Darnell McDonald, Bill Hall, Kevin Cash, Dusty Brown and other little-known players.
Backup outfielder Jeremy Hermida has been sidelined since June 10 with fractured ribs, but he could play in Seattle. Infielder Jed Lowrie, coming back from mononucleosis, has played in rehab games, and third baseman-first baseman Mike Lowell, with hip problems, could return to action this week.
Meanwhile, the roster keeps changing. From Friday through Sunday, the Red Sox promoted or demoted eight players.
''Every day there's something new going on, so I try to stay away from it,'' Kevin Youkilis said. ''When guys come back, guys will be back. For me, I've just got to go out there and focus on getting myself prepared every day.
''You can't worry about who's coming back, who's coming up, all that, because it's going to be crazy for the next month.''
Youkilis has missed just four games and is one of the Red Sox few productive hitters since the All-Star break. On Saturday night, he hit a tying double in the ninth inning and a winning sacrifice fly in the 11th for a 3-2 victory over Texas.
''You can't say enough about this club,'' said John Lackey, who allowed two runs in seven innings in that game. ''We've got a lot of things going against us right now. We kept battling. We keep grinding.''
When, or if, all the injured players are back, the Red Sox should have a dangerous lineup. Even with the recent slump, they lead the majors in runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and doubles. Boston is second in homers and on base percentage, and fifth in batting average.
With the speedy Ellsbury leading off, opposing pitchers would likely throw more fastballs to No. 2 hitter Pedroia to keep Ellsbury from stealing. They're followed by David Ortiz, Youkilis and Martinez. Then come J.D. Drew, Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro.
Martinez's thumb was still sore and painful on Sunday, but he took a positive step.
''I tried to squeeze the glove, but at least I was able to put my hand in the glove,'' he said. ''It's definitely a lot better.''
By Aug. 15, the Red Sox would still have 46 games left and, possibly, all their disabled players back.
''We haven't played well since the break,'' center fielder Cameron said. ''If we don't play good baseball it doesn't matter when they come back.''