By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Staff Writer
Spring training brings hope to all, and despite the fact that it seems temperatures in the 40’s on a daily basis are simply an oasis in this seemingly never ending winter, hope is alive in the Hub as we await the return of the Boston Red Sox. But there is uncertainty surrounding this team as well.
Who – if anyone – will step up as the starting pitcher to play the role of ace of what seems to be a substandard staff? Will Xander Bogaerts play to his potential and prove he is the shortstop of the future that he seemed to be in 2013? Will the new additions to the line up, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, revive an offense that was just plain offensive in ’14?
Amidst all these questions, one thing seems certain. It won’t end well for Shane Victorino in Boston this season.
The Flyin’ Hawaiian has seemingly been on the mend since he signed with the club prior to the 2013 season for the ages. He was a leader on a team that did things no one thought possible, and his “Three Little Birds” Bob Marley walk-up song ignited Fenway Park in harmony during the postseason, on the way to an utterly unforeseen World Series championship.
Too bad it didn’t end there.
Victorino turned 34 last November, but his body seems to be much older than that. Entering his 12th season in the league, the former spark plug is sputtering, whether it is his surgically repaired back that is balking on him, or the general body soreness he felt after playing just one spring training game a couple weeks ago, there is something that is not right with the Sox right fielder.
Now, on a team desperate for left handed hitting bats, Victorino has announced that when it comes to which side of the batters box he will be occupying solely this season, that every little thing is gonna be all right.
Manager John Farrell tried to explain the reason for the switch for the former switch hitter saying, “You want the most productive at-bats, regardless of what side they come from, and in Vic’s case it was starting to take its toll, just the reps he was going through to try to get that swing productive. I think at the point of the work, it was starting to become counterproductive on the way he was feeling physically. That’s the rationale behind him going right-handed.”
I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet, but if a guy is feeling it by simply taking batting practice from the left side of the plate, I would say it doesn’t bode well for him staying healthy over the course of a 162 game season.
That, my friends, leaves his manager, and the club, in a bit of a pickle heading into the season.
Prior to the start of spring training – before Farrell tried to appease the veteran by saying, “If Shane Victorino is fully capable and fully healthy, he’s our right fielder.” – almost every pundit surveyed predicted an outfield of Ramirez in left, Rusney Castillo in center, and Mookie Betts in right field. And while Castillo’s somewhat trumped up oblique injury paved the way for Victorino to begin the season patrolling the most spacious part of the Fenway outfield in April while simply sliding Betts over to center in the Cuban rookies absence, Victorino’s inability to stay on the field, coinciding with Castillo’s return to health, spells what should be the end to the veteran’s claim to the position to start the season.
This seems obvious to most observers except the ones that matter most, Farrell and Victorino. Farrell is loyal to his veterans to a fault – Can anyone say Stephen Drew? – and most likely that will be the case with Victorino. That wouldn’t be a big issue if the formally Flyin’ Hawaiian could stay on the field, but given the trouble he has doing so in the 80 degree weather in Florida, one would be hard pressed to believe he will be able to do so in Boston, where 2 feet plus of snow still sits in the stands at Fenway Park.
The truth is the kids have proven with their play – albeit limited by Castillo because of the club holding him back due to his “injury” early this spring – and their presence in the line up likely gives John Farrell’s team the best chance to win when the games count for real in April.
Yet, most likely, it will be a bandaged Victorino to start the season for the Sox in right. For how long that lasts is anyone’s guess. But given his track record when it comes to injury, especially during his time here in Boston, it is only a matter of time until his body breaks down and he is no longer fending off the kids from taking their rightful positions in the Red Sox outfield.
The best guess is when/if the Flyin’ Hawaiian gets stapled to the bench for Boston, he will fly off the handle and make his displeasure well known. That is when things could get as ugly as that gray pile of snow that is frozen at the end of our driveways.
Much like that concrete-like crustacean found throughout the roadsides of southeastern Massachusetts, this situation isn’t going anywhere soon, barring another injury to the fragile right fielder. And just like how it might take until the middle of May for the mess to go away, go away it will.
And likely so will Victorino’s time here in Boston. But odds are, you can bet on it being as unattractive as the last snowbank in the city melting in May, and just as slow and painful to watch.
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan. Email @ firstname.lastname@example.org.