PAWTUCKET – Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t gallop out of McCoy Stadium on white horses. Still, it’s hard not to get all “wild, wild west,” sensing that the cavalry is heading toward Fenway Park – and not a moment too soon.
Once the second half gets under way, the Red Sox will begin the process of integrating one key piece after another. Buchholz and Ellsbury are first up as both could return as soon as next weekend in Tampa Bay. Carl Crawford, who mentioned Sunday that he’s on track to begin a rehab assignment with the Pawtucket Red Sox on Thursday, could be on his way back as well, though every bit of news associated with the outfielder these days stems from the status of his left elbow.
Dustin Pedroia and Andrew Bailey are two more injured Red Sox to keep an eye on with members of the organization no doubt crossing their fingers that one or maybe even both of the aforementioned players receive clearance by early August.
In short, the Red Sox are starting to take the steps that eventually will allow manager Bobby Valentine to work with the type of roster that general manager Ben Cherington and his baseball operations staff undoubtedly had in mind when piecing everything together back in the wintertime.
“We’ve got some key guys out, like (Ellsbury). He had a huge season for us last year, and he’s a threat in different ways, not just hitting but in the field, he takes away base hits from other guys, and that helps win games, too. Same thing with Carl. When he’s on top of his game, he’s one of the best guys in the league, too,” said Buchholz, who on Sunday tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings against Syracuse. “For me, it’ll be good to be back out there. It always stinks being on the (disabled list) and not being able to help your team when you’re sitting on the bench and seeing them go through a little bit of struggle.”
Buchholz then offered some words that should help alleviate any concern that Sox fans may have after watching their team spend the vast majority of the first half struggling to gain any sort of traction due to a slew of injuries. In short, Buchholz took a page out of Pedroia’s “down but far from out” playbook.
“There’s some key components that are going to come back after the break that are going to help this team big-time,” stated the right-handed pitcher.
The fact that the Sox are reshaping the roster on the fly should be viewed through the prism of the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, which is set for three weeks from Tuesday. To welcome a Buchholz or an Ellsbury back into the fold at this point of the baseball calendar should help Cherington & Co. get a jumpstart on deciding whether Boston will be active seekers or onlookers come the final day of the current month.
“I don’t think any player worries about the trade deadline,” said Ellsbury in an attempt to downplay the idea that the next few weeks are crucial for Boston. “All we’re worried about is getting wins and getting back (in the playoff chase).”
While some will look at the 43-42 record the Red Sox took into Sunday night’s final game of first half and suggest mediocrity, it’s also important to know that Valentine has had to depend on players who probably weren’t even on the radar at the season’s onset. Guys like Daniel Nava, Pedro Ciriaco, Justin Germano and Mauro Gomez headline a group of unheralded types who have gone from contributing at the Triple-A level to competing in a pressure cooker of an environment.
Rest assured that the efforts of the reinforcements have not gone unnoticed by the more acclaimed names.
“That’s the part of the game that’s real fun to watch – guys on a veteran team that aren’t expected to come in and be key parts,” mentioned Buchholz.
Added Ellsbury, “I could go through each position, but the guys have done a tremendous job just being ready when their number gets called.”
At the end of the day, the fate of the 2012 Boston Red Sox will depend on how Ellsbury, Crawford and the rest of the currently sidelined crew fare upon returning to big-league duty. Come later this week, the returns from the dark room will start to trickle in.
“I know guys have been working hard and excited to be back,” said Ellsbury. “It’ll be nice to have everyone back for the second half.”