John Farrell Explains Surprising, Game-Changing Decision to Pinch Hit Xander Bogaerts for Stephen Drew

Xander BogaertsIn a game dominated by pitching, John Farrell threw the biggest curveball of the night.

Farrell called upon rookie Xander Bogaerts to pinch hit for Stephen Drew versus lefty Jake McGee with one out in the seventh inning and the Red Sox trailing 1-0 in Game 4 of the ALDS on Tuesday. The move was in direct contrast to Farrell’s decision to stick with Drew versus McGee in the eighth inning of Monday’s Game 3 — a decision he later defended following Monday’s loss.

So what changed in a day?

“Well, I reserve the right to change my mind,” Farrell said shortly after the Red Sox defeated the Rays 3-1 in Game 4 to advance to the ALCS. “And given some of the struggles that Stephen has had, you know, we had talked about this leading into the series, and I felt like at the moment as tough as left‑handers have been on Stephen, I felt like we had to try something different. And for a young guy that’s been sitting for quite a while, obviously, [Bogaerts] showed tremendous poise and almost ice in his veins and scored two runs of the three we had tonight. But in the moment, we felt like we had to get something started.”

Farrell’s decision not to go to Bogaerts in Monday’s game raised some eyebrows, as it seemed like a perfect spot to use the talented rookie. Drew hit .196 (30-for-153) with a .585 OPS versus lefties during the regular season — compared to a .284 average (82-for-289) and .876 OPS versus righties — while Bogaerts hit .467 (7-for-15) against southpaws upon being called up from Pawtucket in August. But Farrell decided that since McGee actually has slightly better numbers against right-handers this season, sticking with Drew was the right move.

“No, McGee has been dominant against right‑handed hitters,” Farrell said Monday when asked if he considered pinch hitting Bogaerts for Drew in Game 3. “He’s almost a right‑handed reliever in some ways because of the strong reverse splits he has. Stephen is a good fastball hitter. We know McGee is going to come at us with 95 percent fastballs, if not more. There was no hesitation to leave Stephen at the plate.”

Monday’s decision, while debatable, at least made sense based on that explanation. Left-handers hit .235 (19-for-81) with a .678 OPS versus McGee during the regular season, while right-handers hit .217 (33-for-152) with a .648 OPS. The problem was merely that it didn’t work out, as Drew popped out with the potential go-ahead run on second base.

Tuesday’s decision to go with Bogaerts, however, worked out perfectly for the Red Sox. The 21-year-old showed tremendous poise while working a six-pitch walk in the seventh inning. He then went from first to third when Jacoby Ellsbury singled into right-center field, and raced home from third base with the tying run when Joel Peralta unleashed a wild pitch with Shane Victorino at the plate. Bogaerts later led off the ninth inning with a walk and scored Boston’s third run when Dustin Pedroia lifted a sacrifice fly to right field.

“Last night did play into [the decision]. I’ll be honest to you. If I told you it wasn’t, I’d be lying to you,” Farrell admitted after Tuesday’s win. “You look at how guys are responding to certain situations. McGee is a hell of a reliever. And the way Bogie came off the bench to work out the walk. He gets a fastball thrown by him and he doesn’t expand the zone. He doesn’t chase. He’s patient and he’s very much under control emotionally inside a given game. And proved out to be a pivotal moment with his at‑bat.”

Bogaerts’ two walks and two runs in Tuesday’s series-clinching victory not only speak to his much-improved plate discipline and maturity, but it also speaks to the Red Sox’ overall depth as they head into the ALCS. Farrell clearly isn’t afraid to unload his bench on any given night, and after seeing him change course in Tuesday’s game, it’s also apparent that he isn’t going to be stuck in his ways when something doesn’t work out the first time around.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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