The Red Sox pitchers have been getting their hacks in lately. Interleague play will take them to three straight National League parks beginning Friday in Pittsburgh, where Jon Lester will be the first to step to the plate this year.
The preparation for this moment actually begins in spring training. Each pitcher gets to face live pitching of some kind, never taking a swing but just standing in the box to get a feel.
As the interleague slate approaches, hitting off a tee is incorporated. Then, when the time is right, the hurlers hit the cage.
While clearing the Green Monster in batting practice gives one plenty of reason to talk smack, there is an encouraged approach once it’s for real.
"When they can help us offensively, let them be hitters," said Terry Francona of his mindset with the pitchers. "When they're leading off an inning or something like that, try to see a few pitches. Don't take the bat out of the next guy's hands. To be honest, these guys haven't hit too much, but when the game calls for it, Lackey's a pretty good hitter. Beckett can run into one. Lester. So, hopefully, they will help us."
Essentially, it is a matter of doing what you can, but not doing too much.
That extra effort can be costly. American League pitchers have been known to pull rib cage muscles at the plate, and just last year Clay Buchholz had to go on the disabled list due to a hamstring strain caused by running the bases in San Francisco. Former New York Yankees right-hander Chien-Ming Wang suffered a bad leg injury crossing home plate in Houston a few years ago, and has never been the same.
It is scenarios like that which can create somewhat unfair circumstances in interleague play. NL teams can usually find a bat to fill in as the designated hitter in AL parks, but for teams like the Red Sox, who are built around the DH and whose pitchers basically pitch, it’s a major adjustment.
"Yeah, it's a bit of a worry," Francona said of seeing his pitchers in unfamiliar roles.
The manager stressed that the main thing is and always will be the bunt, which his pitchers will be called upon to execute.
Other than that, it’s about just doing the right thing. Don't pretend to be Babe Ruth. Don't pretend to be his ghost, either.
"We just tell our guys to hit the way they hit," Francona said.
Here is a look at the five pitchers expected to start the first five games of the trip, and how they have fared at the plate in their careers:
Jon Lester: 0-for-15 (.000), nine strikeouts.
Josh Beckett: 32-for-216 (.148), three home runs, nine doubles, 16 RBIs.
Tim Wakefield: 13-for-107 (.121), one home run, four RBIs, 43 strikeouts, three walks.
Andrew Miller: 4-for-68 (.059), three RBIs.
John Lackey: 3-for-35 (.086), one RBI.
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