Commentary

Lackey a pinch hitter?

Red Sox pitchers show off their free-swinging sides

Updated: June 28, 2010, 11:31 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The Red Sox will be missing an unexpectedly productive component of their offense when they meet the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night in the first game of a quick two-game set in Fenway Park.

That's right, with interleague play over, Sox pitchers have stashed their bats, not to be used again until October at the earliest, and that's only if they advance to the World Series.

Sox pitchers, obliged to bat in National League parks during interleague play, collected five hits, the most of any American League team. The only other AL staff with more than three hits was Texas, with four. The pitchers on two teams, the Mariners and Tigers, went hitless.

ESPN researcher Jeremy Lundblad notes that Sox pitchers, who batted .313 in interleague play (5-for-16), have half as many hits as Dodgers pitchers in 104 fewer at-bats (the Dodgers were playing the Giants Monday night).

Dobbs We're giving [Buchholz] take, take, take, because he hasn't hit a ball hard in batting practice, and he hits one through the hole. Whatever. Just stay out of the way.

-- Red Sox manager Terry Francona

The Sox's achievement might have to come with an asterisk. While it's true that John Lackey had two hits, matching Daisuke Matsuzaka for the team lead, one of those hits came as a pinch hitter, when he batted for another pitcher, Ramon Ramirez. So technically, that second hit should not be credited to Lackey as a pitcher.

It was understood why manager Terry Francona didn't want to use a position player to hit for Ramirez when he batted for him in the top of the fifth. The Sox had a short bench. What wasn't as clear is why Francona elected to bat one pitcher, Lackey, for another.

"Lackey's actually a really good hitter,'' Francona said, rendering a judgment that clearly was independent of Lackey's career performance as a hitter (1-for-30 entering this season).

"And Ramon, naah, Ramon stinks. He's a good pitcher, but remember that at-bat he had in Washington to finish the game?''

Francona apparently was referring to an at-bat Ramirez had in one of the two exhibition games the Sox played against the Nationals just before the start of the season, but in fairness to Ramirez, a check of both box scores did not show him with an at-bat -- of course, maybe it was so bad, the official scorer couldn't bring himself to assign it to history.

Francona acknowledged that using a pitcher to hit raised a valid question about the risk of injury, especially since Clay Buchholz, who had the other hit by a Sox pitcher, and in that game, strained a hamstring running from first to second.

"We told him, 'Take a strike, then when you hit it use some judgment,'" Francona said. "He did a good job.''

Lackey rolled out to short and jogged down the line.

Buchholz admitted he was supposed to take a strike, too, but swung away.

"He's a dumbass, too,'' Francona said with mock irritation. "He swung right through the take sign. Really, [pitchers] shouldn't be good hitters. It's amazing to me, actually, that they can do what they do. It really is.

"We're giving [Buchholz] take, take, take, because he hasn't hit a ball hard in batting practice, and he hits one through the hole. Whatever. Just stay out of the way.''

The best-hit ball by a Sox pitcher came Sunday, when Jon Lester fell just short of hitting a grand slam off Tim Lincecum, the Giants' two-time Cy Young Award winner.

Francona said that when he called on Lackey to pinch hit, Lester and Tim Wakefield were lobbying to hit, too.

"Lack's running to get his spikes,'' Francona said, "and Lester is coming up to me, and Wake wants to know if he's going to bunt, and Lester is saying, 'If you bunt Wake, I'm going to kick your ass.'

"But it's good. Guys are into it. That's not a bad way to go about it.''

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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