BOSTON — The Red Sox have been playing with plenty of energy of late. They’re about to get another shot in the arm.
Outfielder Shane Victorino returned Saturday after missing almost two months with hamstring and back injuries. There’s no way to tell whether Victorino would have changed the Red Sox’s fortunes in that span had he been healthy, but his make-up makes him the perfect addition to a surging Boston club.
“Anytime we get Vic back in our lineup, it’s going to give us a boost,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said before Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park. “That’s not to short-change anyone else that’s here or has been here, but Vic’s defense in right field has been well-documented on how he plays it, the energy he brings, the intelligence on the base paths.”
Victorino impacts the game in so many ways that it’s hard to imagine him not becoming a key contributor in the second half if he remains healthy. The 33-year-old was one of the best defensive outfielders in Major League Baseball last season, which was of the utmost importance at Fenway Park, where right field can prove treacherous.
According to FanGraphs, Victorino saved 24 runs in 2013 and boasted a 25 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), both of which ranked second among major league right fielders behind Arizona’s Gerardo Parra. The Flyin’ Hawaiian frequently showed off his strong arm — evidenced by his nine outfield assists — and never met a wall he wasn’t willing to heave his body into. In fact, Victorino’s all-or-nothing style limited him to 122 regular-season games last season, though Boston would kill for that figure this season.
Victorino also changes the look and feel of the Red Sox’s offense. He lengthens out Boston’s lineup while providing an element of speed. Jacoby Ellsbury racked up the stolen bases last season, but Victorino was equally responsible for adding a certain level of dynamism that hasn’t been there in 2014.
“It’s hard to say what his production would have been over those two months (Victorino missed), but you take a Gold Glove right fielder who played probably to the peak of his career last year and it’s been a loss,” Farrell said. “All we can do is focus on today and going forward, and we’ve got a very good player back to us.”
One doesn’t even need to factor in the intangibles to see that Victorino’s return should help the Red Sox. But the veteran’s grit and infectious passion line up perfectly with what the Red Sox suddenly are showing after a lethargic start to their World Series defense. One must look no further than Boston’s June 9 game — when Victorino could be seen rallying the troops on the top step of the Red Sox’s dugout during the club’s come-from-behind win over the Chicago White Sox — to see the potential impact of his high motor alone.
“There’s been good energy. The final two games with Chicago, the trip down through Houston, Friday night. Yeah, there’s been an upbeat mentality,” Farrell said Saturday. “There’s, like I said, good energy throughout. We’ve come back in a couple of ballgames to win — a further example that this team doesn’t accept what’s going on inside a given night and plays to the final out.”
The Red Sox plan to monitor Victorino closely as he jumps back into big league action. His workload will be largely predicated on how responds physically after each game, and it’s possible he might not play more than five games per week right out of the gate.
The Red Sox are moving in the right direction, though. And Victorino should help the cause substantially.