When the Red Sox put Kevin Youkilis on the 15-day disabled list midway through August, the timing was not great. The team had just finished a three-game, two-day homestand and was in the early stretches of a brutal eight-game road trip through the cauldrons known as Kansas City and Texas.
Also, the offense was slumping and the Yankees had moved into first place.
Somewhere, behind closed doors, manager Terry Francona must’ve been smiling. While the official diagnosis for Youkilis was a “lower back strain,” Francona knew that two weeks off would do wonders for so many of Youkilis’ other ailing body parts.
The roster move was almost a necessary evil if Boston was to have a healthy Youkilis in October. Francona said as much when Youkilis returned once September began.
“I’m sure he doesn’t feel like it’s the first game of the year, but [the down time] will do him some good,” Francona said.
Once Youkilis came back and became an everyday presence, Francona could then use the extra body to give others some needed down time. First up was Marco Scutaro, who sat not once but twice in a row during a crucial series with the Texas Rangers.
Observers wondered if something was wrong with Scutaro. Nope. Just another opportunity to rest another key player for the stretch run.
“Wanted to give him one more day, just to let him take advantage of having Youk back,” Francona said of Scutaro’s sudden absence. “I think these two days will be really good for him. Just think it will be good for him. A little beat up.”
When you have a rather sizable lead in the wild card race, you can afford to plan ahead the way Francona has been doing for the past several weeks. In the world outside of baseball, it is also important to have such foresight, whether it means cutting back on spending to prepare for a lull in earnings or simply taking a mini-break knowing that a tough week in the office lies ahead.
Some of Francona’s maneuvers have been remarkably successful. One glimpse at how Youkilis is moving around the field suggests he is no longer burdened by the back (as well as hip, ankle, thumb, etc.) pain. Scutaro became the team’s hottest hitter since he sat down for two days, batting .600 (12-for-20) with an astounding 11 RBIs in his first five games back.
Going back even further, David Ortiz was rested when his right heel acted up, right around the time Youkilis was placed on the DL. The club chose not to disable Ortiz, feeling that he would be ready before the 15-day period was up. Still, the staff was careful not to rush back the designated hitter. After nine games on the sidelines, Ortiz returned 100 percent (or as close as a player can be at this stage of the season) and proceeded to hit .519 (14-for-27) with four home runs in the final seven games of August.
All three players have been rested at one time or another, and each will get more rest if needed, as will all others on a roster. Francona said there is no set formula, but knows that it is a necessary practice when you’re preparing for another month of baseball.
“I think it’s our responsibility also to try to pick and choose [days off] even when they may not want to hear it,” Francona said. “Just trying to keep our guys healthy so they can be more productive … If they need it, it’s certainly important. We try to keep an eye on them.”
As the saying goes, preparation is the key to success.