PAWTUCKET – Nearly seven months have passed since Stephen Drew last appeared in a major-league game.
Naturally, the goal is to see as many pitches as possible following such a lengthy layoff. Given that this is considered spring training for Drew, something he acknowledged prior to going 1-for-3 with two strikeouts in Pawtucket’s 3-0 victory over Gwinnett at frigid McCoy Stadium on Wednesday night, there’s also a sense of urgency on the shortstop’s part.
Drew saw a total of 18 pitches in his three at-bats. He was lifted after seven innings. The plan is for him to return to the PawSox on Thursday and serve as the club’s designated hitter for all nine innings.
“It’s about coming in and getting games in. That’s the total key right now,” Drew said. “Where I am right now is trying to get my body as many reps as fast as can so I can play nine innings every day. I think I’ve prepared as best as I can. Playing games and nine innings, I think that’s the key to getting back up there.”
Drew struck out on a 3-2 pitch in the first inning before collecting what was ruled an infield single that initially bounced off Gwinnett starter Yunesky Maya. His final at-bat came in the sixth and consisted of him taking strike three.
“He said he was seeing the ball well, which was a good sign to hear,” said PawSox manager Kevin Boles. “It looked like he was right on the ball and was moving around well at short and down the line.
“It sure looked like he was looking for pitches and trying to get his timing down,” Boles continued. “He had coverage of the plate. I thought it was pretty impressive given the amount of time he missed.”
Drew said his mindset doesn’t change just because he’s shifting from the Single-A ranks to Triple-A ball. His quest to rejoin the Red Sox officially took flight over the weekend with Single-A Greenville. With the Drive he went 3-for-8 with two doubles and two RBI.
“I’m trying to see as many pitches as possible so I can mimic everything and be able to pick things up in the limited number of at-bats I’m going to have,” said Drew, who signed a one-year, $10 million contract with Boston last week.
Since he was optioned from Boston, Drew must remain in the minors for 10 days. The earliest he can get called up is next Monday.
Asked if he knows whether he will be joining the PawSox when the team heads to Norfolk for a four-game series that begins Friday, Drew simply shrugged his shoulders.
“All I can do it take it one day at a time,” said Drew.
The opportunity to return to a ballclub that certainly knows him is a best-case scenario that works in Drew’s favor.
“It was either (Boston) or someone was going to pick me up in June,” said Drew. “To be in the clubhouse with the guys, it was good to see their faces again. It’s a new year and I’m looking to get my body in shape to play nine innings”
Drew was officially added to Pawtucket’s roster after Alex Wilson was called up to Boston to replace Clay Buchholz, who Boston placed on the disabled list.
Boles couldn’t say enough good things about Chris Hernandez, who turned in seven shutout innings where he permitted just three hits. The lefty struck out eight and walked three.
All of the game’s offense came in the seventh inning. Shannon Wilkerson doubled in Pawtucket’s first run with Ryan Roberts providing some insurance with a two-run base hit on an evening where the temperature at first pitch was 49 degrees.
Garin Cecchini extended his hitting streak to five games with a sharp single in the third inning. All games have come with the third baseman hitting in the No. 2 spot in the lineup.
“They didn’t say anything. They just moved me to the two hole,” Cecchini said. “I don’t mind. It doesn’t matter where I hit.”
The decision to elevate Cecchini from the No. 6 spot, which is where Boles has generally placed him since the start of the season, is pretty self-explanatory. He has been Pawtucket’s top hitter since Day 1, as witnessed by the team-best .288 batting average he carried into Wednesday’s game.
“The plan out of spring training was for him to hit sixth. Now that he’s settled in and has a month of Triple-A ball under his belt … we trust his ability as a quality hitter,” said Boles. “It profiles that if the leadoff guy gets on, it opens up the right side of the infield for him. Now it’s time to make a push for him and so far he’s settled in well.”
The Red Sox have a track record of having their minor-league prospects bat in the lower half of the lineup upon reaching a new level for the first time.
“We want to make sure they have a little bit of protection and coverage. Now the time is right as far as (Cecchini) settling in. He’s seen a few of the teams and we trust him,” Boles said.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03