Commentary

On Darnell, Pedey and more

Updated: April 25, 2010, 2:06 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- A Sunday sampler, Sox style:

• For undistinguished pedigree, the Red Sox starting outfield Saturday night of (left to right) Jeremy Hermida, Darnell McDonald and Bill Hall revived memories of the '97 combo of Jeff Frye-Darren Bragg-Rudy Pemberton and the '96 alignment of Dwayne Hosey-Milt Cuyler-Jose Malave.

[+] EnlargeDarnell McDonald
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonDarnell McDonald and Bill Hall were two-thirds of the Red Sox's nondescript outfield Saturday.

McDonald, however, may be the closest thing the Red Sox have had to a Bo Jackson-type since Jackie Jensen. McDonald rushed for more than 6,000 yards in leading Cherry Creek High School in Colorado to three straight state championships. In the 1996 title game, he ran for 333 yards and five touchdowns, and was on the verge of accepting a scholarship to play football at the University of Texas before the Orioles signed him to a $1.9 million contract.

That wasn't McDonald's last chance at putting on the pads, though.

"Might have been in '02," he said. "The Cleveland Browns called me. Butch Davis was there, he'd recruited me to go to Miami [out of high school] so he called me. They wanted me to be their emergency running back and return punts and kicks their last three games. That was the first real consideration, like 'I'm going to do this,' but the Orioles were, 'No, uh-uh. You do that, we're not going to pay you."'

McDonald doesn't dwell on the might-have-beens of choosing baseball over football -- the money the Orioles offered him right out of high school was tough to turn down.

"Looking back on it, there's really not a price you can put on being able to mature and experience. I wish I had experienced the college experience and lifestyle. It's like you're part of something forever, when you go to school."

• The experiment of moving Dustin Pedroia into a middle-of-the-order spot -- Terry Francona had him hitting third -- was placed on hold Saturday.

Pedroia was batting .091 (2-for-22) out of the 3-hole, one of the reasons he was restored to his usual No. 2 spot. "I thought Pedey was trying too hard," Francona said.

Pedroia's five home runs in his first 45 at-bats, which gave him the most home runs by any Sox second baseman in April, have deflected attention from the fact that he came into Saturday's game batting just .121 (4-for-33) on the homestand, including going hitless in his last 15 at-bats. Overall, he was batting just .174 (8-for-46) at Fenway Park this season.

Back in the 2-hole, Pedroia singled and doubled in Boston's 7-6 win over the Orioles.

Part of Pedroia's funk has been due to some bad luck: His batting average on balls in play (.241) was below his .297 BABIP and well below the .331 BABIP he had in his MVP season, 2008.

But he also has been striking out at a much higher rate than we're accustomed to seeing. Last season, Pedroia was the hardest player in the big leagues to strike out, whiffing just once every 15.87 plate appearances, the best ratio in the league and the best by a Red Sox player since Wade Boggs in 1992. Pedroia had just 45 strikeouts in 714 plate appearances last season.

This season, he already has struck out 10 times in a league-leading 80 plate appearances, a rate of 1 per 8 PAs. While his whiffs have gone up, his walks have gone down in the early going; the percentage of walks per plate appearance has dropped from 10.4 percent in '09 to 6.3 percent.

There's plenty of time for a market correction, of course, but the numbers would suggest that there's some merit in Francona's assertion that Pedroia has been trying too hard to compensate for a teamwide offensive malaise. So far, pitchers have also been throwing him fewer fastballs and a lot more cutters and curveballs.

• The contention that playing in Fenway Park would have a restorative effect on Adrian Beltre's power has not been borne out yet. Beltre, who did not play Saturday, has 13 singles and three extra-base hits (no home runs), leaving him with a cringe-inducing slugging percentage of .322. At Fenway, it has been even worse, as he has just one double in his first 37 at-bats, a .297 slugging percentage. Unless the power returns, the suspicion will remain that his multiple shoulder surgeries have had a lasting effect.

• Francona has used 13 different batting orders in the first 18 games, but already used his three outfielders in the 7-8-9 spots in the order a half-dozen times. Before this season, the last time Sox outfielders hit 7-8-9 was Sept. 1, 2007, when Bobby Kielty, Coco Crisp and Brandon Moss comprised the bottom third of the order.

• The Orioles' 2-16 start is evoking memories of 1988, when Baltimore lost 21 straight to start the season.

"You couldn't do that again if you tried," said former Orioles pitcher Mike Boddicker, who later was traded to the Red Sox in the Brady Anderson/Curt Schilling deal, in an interview with the Baltimore Sun.

Boddicker was the best pitcher on that '88 team. "We'd look at our lineup and say, 'How can this possibly be happening?'" he said.

"It was bad. It was ugly. Every game, guys would look around and think, what's going to happen now? Who's going to screw up today?"

Jon Lester took the Sox catchers off the hook Friday night when he caught Cesar Izturis attempting to steal, ending a string of 34 consecutive successful steal attempts against the Sox.

The Sox entered play having caught just 2 of 39 base-stealers, a percentage of 5 percent. Seattle was next worst at 11 percent, but Mariners' opponents had attempted just nine stolen bases, with one caught.

The league average is 24 percent caught stealing (56-of-179).

J.D. Drew was out of the lineup Saturday, though he has shown some flickering signs of life with hits in four of his last five games. Still, the Sox right fielder has been a mess offensively so far, his average against right-handed starters (.139, 5-for-36) even worse than his average against all left-handers (.150). Because he takes so many pitches, Drew tends to strike out a lot, but this season he already has 20 whiffs in his first 57 at-bats. If he matches last season's 452 at-bats, that puts him on a pace to strike out a career-high 159 times.

• The Red Sox had two hits with runners in scoring position Saturday night, and they were both three-run home runs, the first two they've hit all season. They're hitting just .222 with RISP. The big-league average was .241 beginning the night.

[+] EnlargeMarco Scutaro
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonMarco Scutaro improved his team-best average with runners in scoring position with a home run in the seventh inning Saturday.

With his three-run home run Saturday, Marco Scutaro has the Sox's best average (.375) and most hits with RISP (6), the first that was not a single. He had knocked in just two runs with RISP before Saturday.

Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury had combined to go 0-for-12 with RISP before they were hurt, while David Ortiz is at .125 (2-for-16) with eight whiffs after striking out as a pinch hitter just before Scutaro connected. Beltre and Drew have knocked in the most runs with RISP, seven apiece.

The Orioles, meanwhile, are beyond-belief bad with runners in scoring position. They began play Saturday batting .150 (18-for-120) with RISP, .095 (6-for-63) with RISP and two outs. They were 5-for-15 with RISP Saturday night.

• How rare was that bases-loaded walk by Beltre that forced home the winning run Friday night? Research by baseball-reference.com shows that Beltre has walked 14 times in 191 plate appearances with the bases loaded. Here's the link: http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/5584

• When the Orioles scored in the second inning Saturday night, that made it nine out of the last 10 games in which the Sox had to play from behind. The Orioles, by the way, were 0-8 in games in which their opponents scored first.

• Horse racing writer Bill Christine did some further checking and discovered that Zippy Chippy, Darnell McDonald's vanquisher in a 50-yard race, did not have an imminent date with the equine version of the grim reaper, though some of his stablemates at Old Friends Farm were spared a certain death by owner Michael Blowen. Check out the site at http://www.oldfriendsequine.org/.

• Frank Malzone, the Red Sox Hall of Fame third baseman, is home recovering from a fractured right shoulder he sustained in a fall during spring training. Malzie is doing fine, according to Sox VP Dick Bresciani.

• The worst development of the week for the Sox was the eight-game winning streak by the San Diego Padres, matching their best April winning streak since the '98 Padres won eight straight en route to the National League pennant. The Pads have been led by Adrian Gonzalez, the slugging first baseman coveted by Boston. Gonzalez hit his fifth HR Saturday, has a dozen RBIs and was batting .322. First-year GM Jed Hoyer will have a fan -- and clubhouse -- mutiny on his hands if he deals Gonzalez, a San Diego native, while the team is in contention.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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