It was sad news Friday when manager Red Sox manager John Farrell announced he'd been diagnosed with lymphoma. While undergoing a procedure for a hernia during an off day in Detroit, the presence of cancer was discovered. A tough season for Farrell and everyone associated with the Red Sox now adds a layer of sobering reflection. Who knows how the team responds in the final months of the season. They never looked better Friday night when Boston had 21 hits (11 for extra bases) in a 15-1 win over Seattle.
Aside from the motivational fuel Farrell's announcement gives the players, the other element to follow in this is how interim manager Torey Lovullo handles the job. Lovullo, who was a bench coach for Farrell in Toronto and now here in Boston, will walk a fine line between now and the end of the season. He aspires to a top post – Lovullo most recently interviewed for the Twins job that went to Paul Molitor and the Texas job that went to Jeff Banister – but hates that the audition comes as the result of his friend facing the most serious challenge of his life.
During his audition the next six weeks, Lovullo will have decisions – both strategic and personnel – to make. Since Boston's fate in 2015 has been accepted, the organization has pivoted toward 2016 and what its roster might look like then. Lovullo will have to manage with next year in mind. Which is ideal for his audition. A team in the market for a manager in 2016 will be a team in transition, looking for someone to preside over an organization's prospects and near-term future. Countering Boston's youth movement is the presence of several well-paid, long-term veterans. How Lovullo navigates these forces, along with the media-market scrutiny that comes with the Red Sox managerial job, will be a challenge. The areas that will occupy Lovullo's attention include the starting rotation, a crumbling middle relief corps, the committee rotation that replaces injured closer Koji Uehara, and the playing-time mix between veterans and young guys.
The evaluation of younger players has begun in the rotation. Eduardo Rodriguez has been up for some time and is now joined by Henry Owens. Brian Johnson would have joined them, but he experienced some elbow trouble that the team is saying is not the serious kind of elbow injury. They'll be conservative with Johnson, but are hopeful he'll begin throwing and pitch again this season. These guys will get their shots, but also realize each is butting up against season-highs in innings pitched. And Johnson, needing a break, had a turn skipped earlier this season at Pawtucket. You'll also see Steven Wright once he returns from a stay on the 7-day concussion list. Wright has won two of his last three starts, averaging nearly seven innings per start.
The Uehara replacement is less certain. We got a sneak peek last Tuesday when Lovullo filled in for Farrell as he recovered from the hernia procedure. He went with Junichi Tazawa, who blew a save opportunity in what was not a good night for the entire bullpen. Lovullo cited the matchups that night, favoring Jean Machi in the eighth and Tazawa in the ninth. He still believes in Tazawa, but Lovullo has cited three guys that could save chances: Tazawa, Machi and Ryan Cook. Cook has been awful since joining Boston's staff, allowing two inherited runners to score along with five hits and four runs in 1.1 innings. It looks like Tazawa and Machi will be the main guys. The long shot would be Matt Barnes, who had a largely unsuccessful stint as a reliever for Boston earlier this season, but possesses a high-90s heater. The problem is that the fastball doesn't miss many bats.
How Lovullo manages Hanley Ramirez will be interesting. Ramirez has a bruised left foot that's kept him out of the previous five games. That's convenient right now because the Red Sox can give regular starts to Jackie Bradley and Rusney Castillo, both of whom have been hitting recently. Castillo, who left Friday's game after fouling a ball off his foot, has hit .339/.373/.518 in 16 games since being recalled in late July. Bradley is hitting .400/.483/.720 in the last seven. While Bradley has not hit major-league pitching very well in his previous stints, the Red Sox want to see how this recent offensive binge plays out. The outfield is several runs better defensively without Ramirez in the outfield.
There's been some talk of Ramirez playing first base – trading Mike Napoli freed up at-bats at that position – but is now a good time to be teaching him a new position? Probably not, but it wouldn't hurt to get him some training there. Long-term, it will help with lineup construction. For now, we should see a steady dose of Travis Shaw, who had a two-homer game Friday night. It was the second two-homer game for Shaw since joining Boston 18 games – George Scott in 1966 was the only other Red Sox player to accomplish such a feat. Brock Holt will continue to play second base until Dustin Pedroia (hamstring) is ready. Pedroia's recovery is taking longer than initially thought and won't begin baseball activities until late August. Holt's numbers have taken a dive since the All-Star break – .235/.267/.294 in 91 plate appearances – but the Red Sox aren't about to give Josh Rutledge everyday time. Blake Swihart should get the majority of starts at catcher, particularly that he has experience working with the young starters at Pawtucket. He wasn't a finished product when the Red Sox needed to call him up in May and still needs work defensively, but the average has slowly climbed. Swihart's hit .268 over his last 41 games.