Through 34 games, not everything has gone according to plan for the Red Sox. While that has at times brought disappointment, there have been just as many examples that have been surprising in a positive fashion.
Look no further than Jason Varitek and Jeremy Hermida as Exhibits A and B.
Let's first look at the former. Anyone who spent the past decade paying attention to the Red Sox knows that Varitek's 2009 campaign was simply difficult to watch. Here was a guy who had done everything in a Red Sox uniform — getting huge hits, catching no-hitters and wearing the "C" on his chest — but was looking so lost at the plate that it defied description. It got a point where when the playoffs rolled around, it wasn't even a consideration of manager Terry Francona to pencil Varitek into the lineup card.
So when Varitek exercised his $3 million player option this past winter, very little was expected out of him in his new role as backup for Victor Martinez. Needless to say, he's shattered those expectations. He's rediscovered his power stroke, belting six homers in just 38 at-bats. His 6.33 at-bats per homer rate is simply out of control, and his .342 average is better than it was at any point last year.
Maybe it's the fact that he's much more rested when he plays, maybe it's the offseason shakes and shuttle runs, or maybe he's finally figured out what plagued him so badly last season. Whatever it is, there's not a Red Sox fan on the planet who would have believed in March that by early May, Varitek would lead the team in batting average and OPS while being second in homers.
"[I'm] just trying to contribute in my role and help us win games," Varitek told The Boston Globe after sending his sixth homer of the year over the Green Monster on Tuesday. "I'm not trying to prove any point or show people they were wrong or whatever. I'm just trying to play the best I can."
He also wasn't willing to try to make himself out to be some sort of savior behind the plate, even after Daisuke Matsuzaka turned in his best performance of the season.
"[Matsuzaka's performance] has nothing to do with me," Varitek told the Globe. "It has more to do with he's in his third start. I'm Victor's backup, and [Matsuzaka]’s gonna have good and bad starts with both of us."
Surprising as Varitek's re-emergence has been, he at least has a body of work that makes it easier to believe. The same can't exactly be said for Hermida. Though he's only 26 years old, a lot was expected out of him when he was drafted by the Marlins in the first round of the 2002 draft.
The environment was never exceptional (in his five seasons with the Marlins, the team was 403-406), but neither was Hermida. In his four seasons with regular playing time, he hit .264 and averaged 13 homers and 50 RBIs per season. That's why when Theo Epstein traded a pair of minor leaguers to Florida to acquire Hermida in November, not much was made of the move.
His career highs in power numbers are 18 homers and 63 RBIs (both set in 2007), but in a limited role with the Red Sox this season, he's on pace to shatter both marks. Stepping into a regular starting role because of injuries to Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury, Hermida's been better than even Epstein could have hoped. He's driven in 19 runs while hammering four long balls in his 26 games played. That has him on pace for 24 homers and 113 RBIs — numbers he's unlikely to be given the opportunity to earn once Ellsbury and Cameron return, but numbers that provide the perfect production from a fourth outfielder.
He's been clutch, too — just ask the Angels. His pinch-hit, two-run single on May 6 broke a 4-4 tie with the Halos in the fifth, and his bases-clearing double two nights earlier opened up an eighth-inning lead for the Sox. Knowing the that there is a reliable lefty bat available off the bench is a luxury for Francona.
For his part, Hermida is not getting caught up in his success with Boston.
"I don't want to look too far back or too far ahead," he told MassLive.com. "We've got a long way to go, but so far I'm satisfied."
Given the way both he and Varitek have performed this season, so too are the Red Sox.
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