PawSox third baseman Garin Cecchini makes contact during a recent game. Although bunting is no longer a big part of the game plan at the minor league level, itâ€™s still seen as a key element of being a complete player. Photo by Louriann Mardo-Zayat/lmzartworks.com
PAWTUCKET â€“ The PawSox devoted a portion of Monday afternoonâ€™s pregame experience to bunting â€“ a come one, come all session where attendance is not mandated but rather encouraged.
No, this often forgotten discipline at the minor-league level was done not in direct response to recent events involving the parent club.
A pivotal moment during Sundayâ€™s 3-2 10-inning loss by the Red Sox occurred in the seventh inning when Jackie Bradley Jr. bunted the ball directly back to Oakland reliever Francisco Abad. The game was tied at two with Xander Bogaerts representing the go-ahead run at third base.
Boston manager John Farrell called for Bradley to put down what he deemed â€śa safety squeeze.â€ť For some- one who has just two successful sacrifice bunts on his rĂ©sumĂ© â€“ both came with Pawtucket last season â€“ it seems fair to question whether the art of laying down a bunt was something that Bradley encountered during his rise through the Red Soxâ€™ system.
â€śWe get reps all the time. Itâ€™s some- thing that is stressed because theyâ€™re going to have to execute it when they get to the big leagues,â€ť said PawSox manager Kevin Boles, noting that when he skippered Double-A Portland, the players received bunting reps prior to every Sea Dogsâ€™ home game.
Three PawSox players were present for Mondayâ€™s practice session that was overseen by Boles. Of the group featuring Garin Cecchini, Dan Butler and Alex Hassan, only Hassan has a recorded a sacrifice bunt â€“ his came during his first professional season in 2009 with Single-A Lowell.
Hassan would have added to his total last August, but he fractured a finger on a bunt attempt during a PawSox game.
â€śThereâ€™s only so many situations in the game where it comes up, but thatâ€™s why you come out early and work on the mechanics of it,â€ť said Hassan. â€śEarly bunting is something weâ€™ve done during all three of my years here. Itâ€™s definitely an important skill and what theyâ€™re trying to emphasize is that itâ€™s something youâ€™re going to need if you get to the next level.
â€śEven if you practice it, bunting is not easy. The times you do bunt, itâ€™s real- ly a magnified thing,â€ť Hassan continued. â€śItâ€™s one of those things where you prepare as much as you can, but at the same time, itâ€™s a hard skill.â€ť
Added Cecchini, â€śBunting is one of those little things than can win or lose games.â€ť
The third baseman did shed some light on how the Red Sox convey the importance of bunting at the minor-league level.
â€śThey want me to learn to drive in runs, but weâ€™ll work on bunting on the side,â€ť Cecchini said. â€śI would like to work on bunting during the games. If weâ€™re called upon to do it, weâ€™re expected to execute. Itâ€™s definitely a pride thing.â€ť
Entering Mondayâ€™s game against Toledo, the PawSox have successfully executed six sacrifice bunts in 31 games. Of the current group at Bolesâ€™ disposal, Christian Vazquez and Mike McCoy each have two sacrifices.
â€śItâ€™s the first month of the season. We want guys to get acclimated and get their swings in. Theyâ€™re getting their timing down from spring training â€“ some of them went back and forth between major and minor- league camp,â€ť said Boles. â€śWeâ€™ve kind of played the short game, but for the most part weâ€™ve let them play and swing the bats. Itâ€™s definite- ly something weâ€™ll incorpo- rate as we move forward.â€ť
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03
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