String of righty starters dilemma for Farrell

April 12th, 2016

BOSTON -- A quirk in the early-season schedule for the Red Sox -- facing exclusively right-handed starters for the first 11 games -- has created a dilemma for manager John Farrell.

The Red Sox signed veteran outfielder Chris Young because of his prowess against lefty pitching.

In order to avoid Young building up rust, Farrell has been aggressive in going to the outfielder fairly early in pinch-hitting situations against lefties at the expense of starting third baseman Travis Shaw. Young has hit for Shaw twice in the sixth inning and once in the seventh.

Though Shaw is a left-handed hitter, he hit .329 with six homers, 16 RBIs and a .975 OPS in 85 plate appearances against southpaws last year.

"I like hitting lefties," Shaw said. "If you notice, every day in BP at home I hit off a lefty. Every day. I don't ever hit off a righty in BP at home. It's still early. It's the first week. I'm not reading too much into it. I know that's what Chris Young is brought here to do. It just tends to be my spot."

The Red Sox will finally be able to take full advantage of Young in their 12th game on Monday against the Blue Jays, when lefty J.A. Happ is expected to start. The last time Boston went 11 games to start the season without facing a lefty starter was 2002.

Once things even out, Shaw will probably stay at the plate more against lefties in the mid to late innings.

"That was even the reason to start [Young] against [Marco] Estrada in Toronto," Farrell said. "He's going to need at-bats to stay as sharp as possible. The opportunity to get him in against a left-hander [Monday] presented itself."

In the 9-7 loss in Monday's home opener, the decision to hit Young for Shaw in the sixth left Young to face a righty in the seventh. He struck out. Farrell's other option would have been to have Pablo Sandoval hit for Young against the righty.

"Knowing there's the likelihood that his at-bat has a chance to come back in the ninth inning against the left-handed closer, I was not going to make that move at that point, no," Farrell said.

The other challenge for Farrell has been finding playing time for Sandoval, a switch-hitter who performs far better against right-handers. Sandoval's only start so far this season has come against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. With Shaw, Hanley Ramirez and Brock Holt all off to hot starts at the plate, there hasn't been much of an opportunity to find starts of Sandoval.

"It's going to be a challenge," Farrell said. "A change of role will be a challenge for Pablo. The thing we continue to encourage and outline for him, his early work and pregame work is going to be critical. We communicate to him inside a game when those opportunities are going to present in a pinch-hit type situation, spot-start him occasionally to keep him in the flow of things. But this is a different spot for him.

"Travis Shaw won the job. Pablo's going to play a key role and contribute at some point this season. For the time being, it is a difficult spot, a different spot for Pablo to be in."