Blake Swihart wasn’t even supposed to be here.
The 23-year-old rookie backstop was thrust into the spotlight in April, when multiple injuries to the Boston Red Sox’s expected catchers created a void. One of the top prospects in the farm system, there were high hopes, but lower expectations.
In stretches Swihart has met those expectations — exceeded them, even — and in others he has fallen a bit below the threshold. But he’s learning and developing every single day in the big leagues, and that experience is invaluable.
The problem for Swihart is that Christian Vazquez still is here and Ryan Hanigan is under contract for 2016. Demoting Swihart to the minors won’t do him any good in 2016. His bat is ready for the majors, and his catching skills aren’t far behind.
He’s earning the praise of his pitchers, too, as evidenced Wednesday during Rick Porcello’s terrific outing. But Swihart should be playing every day next season, and if Vazquez takes over at catcher it leaves the Red Sox with a bit of a conundrum — though it’s a nice one to have.
It’s no secret that Swihart has been taking ground balls at first base, working alongside Hanley Ramirez to learn the position from David Ortiz and third base coach Brian Butterfield.
With the Red Sox in full-on audition mode for 2016 — mixing and matching players at different positions to get a look along the way — could we see Swihart at first before the end of the season?
Ask Red Sox interim manager Torey Lovullo, and you’d think you were asking to take the field yourself. He made light of the question in his pregame press conference before answering a resounding “no.”
“Blake is a great athlete, we all know that,” he said. “And he?s going to be a great player for a lot of years for the Boston Red Sox. But him playing first base has not been discussed.”
We’re not talking about an ultimatum position switch here. Just a looksee.
This is the team that played Hanley Ramirez in left field for five months. They also played David Ortiz at first base in an American League game for the first time in nearly a decade, called upon Rich Hill to make his first starts in six years, moved their every day center fielder Mookie Betts to right over the final month of the season (among other outfield swapping), had utility guy Brock Holt make an All-Star team after playing every position but pitcher and catcher, and are using the bullpen to start at least one game — if not two — down the stretch.
So is Swihart playing first, when he’s been taking reps at the position, really that unreasonable? Obviously there’s a logjam on that corner of the infield as well. Travis Shaw has looked pretty great in his 50+ games there and whenever Ramirez is healthy he’ll get some licks in too.
But if there’s potential that Swihart could move down the line anyway, as his practice reps imply, there’s no reason not to give him a try. This is the time to do it.
— Jean Machi got ejected in surprising fashion Wednesday.
Machi replaced Noe Ramirez with one out in the top of ninth and immediately gave up a home run to Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera — the 100th of Cabrera’s career and a shot that clanged off of Pesky’s Pole in right field.
His next pitch? A ball that sailed over the head of a ducking Steven Souza Jr., and one that got him ejected by home plate umpire Bill Welke quicker than Cabrera’s home run left the park moments before.
There certainly didn’t seem to be any intent, and Lovullo promptly made his way out of the dugout to contest the questionable call.
Lovullo said after the game he had no idea why Machi was kicked out.
“Bill Welke felt like his explanation was that the ball was in an area that could?ve caused harm and it wasn?t necessarily the speed of the pitch or the type of pitch but the direction of the pitch and I disagreed,” Lovullo explained. “Obviously wasn?t happy with the call — (it’s just) a guy throwing a slider that got away from him. It didn?t merit an ejection from the game. It?s now in the league?s hands, and they?re going to probably address it and we?ll see what happens from here.”
— Xander Bogaerts extended his hit streak to 12 games in the bottom of the ninth inning, plating Mookie Betts on an RBI base hit.
It was a gift from the baseball gods for Bogaerts, who is having the best season of his young career in 2015. He finished 1-for-5 in Boston’s 6-2 loss. His previous career-long hitting streak came earlier this season, when he went for 11 straight games in May.
Bogaerts entered the game having recorded two hits and a run scored in each of his previous four games, the longest such streak by a Red Sox shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra (five games) in 2003.
— Mookie Betts also set a new career mark Wednesday with his first inning single. Betts now has reached base safely in 26 consecutive games, the longest on-base streak of his career. It’s the second-longest active streak in the majors, trailing Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer’s 42-game streak.
With three hits Wednesday, Betts also raised his batting average to .293, a remarkable number for the 22-year-old leadoff hitter. He also stole his 20th base of the season.
Betts, who saw his average hover around .250 for most of the first three months of the season, has risen his batting average 19 points this month already. He’s been red-hot in September, batting .410 in 19 games.
Thumbnail photo via Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports Images