Trading places doesn't yield dividends
Adrian starts in outfield, Papi at first, but offense turns up dry
PHILADELPHIA -- This move came under the broad, but not particularly heartening heading: "It was worth a try."
The Red Sox traded defense for offense in their lineup Wednesday night. Their defense did not suffer as a result, but then again, their offense did not improve.
The result was a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, making the Red Sox a discouraging 1-4 to date on their nine-game National League road trip. They have scored just 10 runs in these five games in Pennsylvania.
Measures were taken Wednesday night that were intended to improve this situation. Manager Terry Francona's lineup featured first baseman Adrian Gonzalez playing right field and designated hitter David Ortiz playing first base. Gonzalez had previously played one Major League game in the outfield, and that was six years ago.
Both general manager Theo Epstein and Francona said that a major concern was having Ortiz out of the lineup for a prolonged stretch in the midst of a highly productive season for him.
- 131 wins
- 121 wins
"It's actually more about getting David in there to keep him going and keep him from getting too rusty than it is about doing everything possible to win one game tonight," Epstein said. "We downgrade defensively at two spots in order to upgrade offensively at one. Depending on how the game goes, it might help you or it might hurt you. It does get David in there and does give us a good lineup."
There was, as Francona suggested, no ideal solution to the dilemma that Interleague Play, and an extended trip to the land of no DH, presented the Red Sox.
"It's not perfect," Francona said. "It can't be. Not playing David is not perfect. The defensive alignment we have out there is not perfect, either. But it's a small sample size and maybe David hits a three-run homer."
As it turned out, the three-run homer was not a real possibility in a game dominated by three young Philadelphia pitchers: starter Vance Worley for seven innings, reliever Michael Stutes in the eighth and Antonio Bastardo, the Phillies' fourth closer of the season, in the ninth.
The Red Sox managed only five hits and seven baserunners, thus wasting an outstanding outing by starting pitcher John Lackey. Lackey, in fact, drove in the only Boston run of the night with a booming double to center. It was his second career double and second career RBI.
But the rest of the Red Sox with the bats did not chip in, making the Ortiz/Gonzalez move something of a fascinating non-factor. Neither Ortiz nor Gonzalez presented any kind of defensive liability in this game.
Ortiz has a background at first, but had not played in the field since last season.
"I was just thinking about defending myself out there," he said with a smile. "I came out alive."
Gonzalez was forced to leap at the wall in right for what turned out to be a towering triple off the top of the wall. He didn't make the catch, but this was a catch that would have been at the very outside edge of human endeavors. The triple didn't score, anyway.
One of the reasons that the Red Sox could try this gambit was that they had willing participants. Gonzalez, who is having the best overall offensive season of anybody in the game, was typically unflappable when asked before the game about his new outfield adventure.
Perhaps he would hurt himself trying to make a long throw?
"I'm not going to try to make any long throws," Gonzalez said. "I'm going to try to hit the cutoff man."
That was the correct answer. Perhaps he would be injured in some other way.
"If you have fear of being hurt, you might as well not play," Gonzalez said.
Right again. Perhaps he would be hurt trying to make some sort of extraordinary play.
"I'm just going to try to catch the balls that are hit to me, stay in front of base hits and hit the cutoff man," Gonzalez said. "I'm just going to play the game. There's a lot of people who switch positions and nobody makes a big deal about it."
But those other people aren't playing like a Most Valuable Player for the Boston Red Sox. At the plate Wednesday night, Gonzalez was 1-for-4. Ortiz was 0-for-4, although one of those outs was very well struck, a liner to the edge of the warning track in right. At the plate, the Red Sox, who had been baseball's highest-scoring team before this road trip, continued to produce offense at an atypically slight level.
It was left to Lackey, the victim of non-support on this night, to put the matter in perspective.
"It runs in both directions," Lackey said. "You can't expect to get 12 [runs] every night. We've got a great offense, and they'll be back soon."
The overall record of this season strongly suggests exactly that. But Wednesday night, even making Gonzalez an outfielder for the second time in his Major League life was not enough to make a difference.
Ortiz said he would not be in the lineup for the series finale Thursday. This weekend, there will be three more games on this road trip. Those are against the Houston Astros. No matter what they do with Gonzalez/Ortiz, the Red Sox are supposed to win two out of three against those fellows.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.