Ryan Sweeney's bright Hollywood smile said more about the outfielder's excitement to be back in the Red Sox lineup than any of his postgame comments on Monday.
After missing the past eight games due to a minor concussion, and being placed on the seven-day disabled list last Monday, Sweeney returned to the order with a bang against the Tigers.
Boston utilized some timely hitting from Sweeney, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and shortstop Mike Aviles to take an early lead and eventually defeat Detroit 7-4 at Fenway Park on Monday. Sweeney's bat may not have been the loudest during the Memorial Day matinee, but it certainly had the most pop.
Sweeney went 3-for-4 from the dish in his return and, even from the No. 7 spot, provided a much-needed spark for the Red Sox offense. Getting his 15th double of the season and scoring a pair of runs on the afternoon, Sweeney was not only a catalyst for the offense but also a welcome addition to an injury-riddled Red Sox outfield.
With players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Cody Ross still mending on the disabled list, Boston has been playing with an outfield heavily bandaged with minor league replacements. The reinsertion of Sweeney's .325 average, 15 doubles and 12 RBIs is a pretty pronounced addition to another middling Red Sox lineup.
Manager Bobby Valentine appeared extremely relieved to have Sweeney rejoining the roster Monday, explaining that the outfielder's absence seemed a lot larger than it actually was.
"It seems like a month he's been out," Valentine said of the outfielder's eight-day absence.
Obviously, the Red Sox' thin bench is a glaring problem and an area of concern as the season moves forward. But the re-emergence of players like Sweeney should help bolster an offense that, even amid so many injuries, still ranks third in the league in runs scored.
Sweeney may in fact be but a small piece to the Red Sox' ultimate World Series puzzle, but for the time being, he serves a major purpose in keeping the Boston offense burning up opposing pitchers.