When Jacoby Ellsbury went down with a rib injury April 11 in Kansas City, the Red Sox were forced to shuffle the lineup. At the top of their priority list was finding someone to fill the leadoff role vacated by the banged-up left fielder.
Enter Marco Scutaro, who batted leadoff all of 2009 in Toronto, refining one of the skills necessary for the job. If it's not a strike, don't swing.
While with the Blue Jays last year, Scutaro ranked seventh in the American League in walks with 90. It helped him become one of 12 players in the Junior Circuit to score 100 runs, and served as proof that a walk is as good as a hit.
"It helps everybody," Scutaro said of drawing walks. "It helps the whole lineup. It helps myself."
It's a good thing Scutaro understood the team's philosophy before entering the fray.
The Red Sox have preached patience and discipline at the plate since 2003, or thereabouts. In every year since the shift in strategy, the club has finished either first or second in the American League in both walks and on-base percentage. The year prior to the change, the Red Sox were sixth and third, respectively.
At the forefront of the initiative has been one of the men charged with driving in guys like Scutaro and Ellsbury. Kevin Youkilis, dubbed "The Greek God of Walks" while a minor leaguer, came up through the organizational ranks as the model of Moneyball. He has had tremendous success following the team's plans (career .390 on-base percentage), even though he needed no prodding to begin with.
"I've always understood [the importance of taking a walk] from a young age," Youkilis said. "You gotta understand that you're trying to score runs and it's not always about getting a hit all the time. It's about getting on base, any how, any way."
Not every player is made for the job. It takes a certain mindset. But the Red Sox, as an organization, do their best to get everyone on the same page coming up through the ranks.
"They've been really strict on that since 2004, 2003," said Youkilis, who made his Red Sox debut in 2004. "When I was up in the major leagues, that was when they started to really crack down on it."
To exemplify the power of the free pass, the Sox enter play May 4 against the Angels ranked sixth in the AL in walks with 93. They also are sixth in runs scored with 114 in 25 games.
Scutaro and Youkilis are among the team leaders in drawing walks. But several new faces have made the transition to an OBP-friendly team a difficult one.
"It sounds easy, but it's not," Scutaro said.
Like Youkilis did at a young age, you have to take the first step.
Learn how to "take a walk" can be good for anyone. Join the Beth Israel Deaconess Walking Club. Find free tools and information at www.bidmc.org/walking.