May 2012

Getting healthier in the outfield

The injury-ravaged outfield of the Red Sox could get a reinforcement as early as Monday, assuming Ryan Sweeney comes off the disabled list the first day he is eligible. Sweeney suffered a mild concussion last week.

“Hit, run, throw, field — all baseball activities to get ready to see if he’s going to be activated for tomorrow,” manager Bobby Valentine said of Sweeney’s Sunday morning activites. “He’s doing it as we speak.”

Sweeney was idled for a few days as he let the concussion symptoms subside.

“It’s just getting that baseball feeling back now,” Sweeney said.

Darnell McDonald will likely come back on Tuesday as he is over the nagging oblique injury that kept him sidelined. McDonald will play at Pawtucket Sunday and Monday. He opened his rehab there Friday and took a day off on Saturday.

Damon gets his due

A very nice moment unfolded during the Mother’s Day home game against the Indians on Sunday, one that, in my humble opinion, was long overdue.

Between innings, as the Indians were getting ready to hit, the Red Sox placed one of their memorable moment montages on the scoreboard in center field. With Johnny B. Goode playing on the sound system, the highlights of choice came from Johnny Damon’s monster Game 7 against the Yankees in 2004. Damon had two homers — including a grand slam — and six RBIs in that game helping the Red Sox complete their historic comeback from 0-3.

After the highlight was over, the Jumbotron camera panned to Damon standing in the Indians’ dugout. The fans gave a nice applause and Damon actually stepped out of the dugout and waved to the fans.

It was a great moment — one that was not possible in 2006 when Damon took a better offer from the Yankees and left Boston.

Damon received boos at Fenway during his entire time in New York. When he came back with the Tigers in 2010, he had an injury and didn’t play. Last year, Damon was back in town several times with the Rays — another division rival — and continued to get boos, though not as hash as the ones he received in New York.

But with the Red Sox celebrating the 100th anniversary at Fenway this season, people can’t help but get a little nostalgic. One of the central figures from the most memorable season in team history is Damon, and I think fans are finally feeling that again. There were two players who drastically changed the culture of the clubhouse in the middle of the last decade. They were Damon and Kevin Millar. Players like that loosened everyone up and played a huge role in the success of the team. And while Millar was a nice player for those teams, Damon was one of the most valuable. He always played, no matter what injury he had. He worked great at-bats. He came through with hits when needed. But it just ended so badly for him when the market dried up for him and the one team that offered him a big deal happened to be the Yankees, who trumped Boston’s 4-year, $40 million contract with a 4-year, $52-million deal.

Damon truly appreciated the kind gesture by the Red Sox on Sunday, and the nice reaction from the fans.

“That was very special. It’s the first time since I’ve been back that they’ve given me recognition for what I did with the Red Sox. It’s the first highlights that I’ve seen of me doing something good. It was definitely very special,” Damon said. “Obviously, I would like to thank the Red Sox for putting it up and I’d like to thank the fans who did applaud me, the fans that really appreciate how I go about my business and play baseball.

Damon doesn’t dispute the notion that playing for the Yankees — and maybe even the Rays — prevented such a display of gratitude before Sunday.

“Possibly. I knew there were hard feelings on both sides for a while,” Damon said. It seems like everything is getting back to normal. I really wanted to come back here when I became a free agent. They failed to sign me. Unfortunately, the only other option was New York, but I’m still happy I had that experience, because I think I know better than anybody now how both sides are. I’m just very appreciative that I’ve been able to play for both sides and also to be able to be playing on my seventh team right now.”

Thanks to MLB.com Indians scribe Jordan Bastian for the quotes from Damon.

The developing debate at the hot corner

The Red Sox have an old-fashioned quarterback controversy developing here. Well, make that a third base controversy.

Will Middlebrooks, the prized prospect, is hitting the cover off the ball. Kevin Youkilis is on the disabled list, resting his ailing back.

So what happens when Youkilis comes back? The earliest Youk can play is next Monday at home against the Indians. Given that he had just started a walking program the other day, it sounds ambitious that he would return that soon.

In other words, Middlebrooks will get a chance to keep proving himself, like he did Monday night, when he put on a Tour De Force of power at Kauffman Stadium. He curled one around the RF foul pole. He smashed one off the wall in center. He clanged one off the LF foul pole. For those keeping score at home, Middlebrooks has nine RBIs in the last two games.

To take it a step further, Youkilis has nine RBIs in 64 at-bats. Middlebrooks has had 21 at-bats.

Can Youkilis revert back to the star he was before injuries started taking a toll on him in August of 2010? In his last 143 at-bats dating back to Aug. 1 of last season, Youkilis is hitting .203 with four homers and 15 RBIs.

But what happens when scouting reports start to develop on Middlebrooks? Does he then tail off or does he adjust quickly?

There is a lot to think about for the Red Sox. Youkilis obviously doesn’t have a lot of trade value at the moment, given his $12 million salary for this season. He is a free agent following the year, and the Red Sox hold a $13 million option on him with a $1 million buyout.

Could a situation develop where Youkilis is the veteran stuck on the bench, like Mike Lowell in 2010?

Or do the Red Sox deal Youkilis, in which case they will likely have to eat a lot of the salary.

This is yet another tough decision for Ben Cherington to be faced with in his first season as general manager.

Middlebrooks and the Red Sox are back out there tonight in an 8:05 p.m. ET contest at Kauffman Stadium.

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