BOSTON -- One of the hallmarks of all the contending Red Sox teams in recent memory was the ability to dominate at Fenway Park. In the early stages of 2014, manager John Farrell's team has lacked that invincibility, losing eight of the first 13 home games.
Perhaps this eight-game homestand, which kicked off Tuesday night against the Rays, will be a turning point.
"It comes down to our starters setting the tone for that," said Farrell. "And yes, we'd certainly like to perform better than we have here in Fenway."
The weather hasn't helped. Tuesday was another chilly evening, not exactly conducive to hitting the baseball off or over the Green Monster.
In the climate-controlled Rogers Centre in Toronto over the weekend, the Red Sox took two out of three.
"I've never been so happy to go play on turf," said first baseman Mike Napoli. "It was nice being able to sweat. But we're back out here tonight and it's going to be pretty cold, but it's something both teams have to deal with."
The one thing the Red Sox do have going for them is much-improved health. For the first homestand this season, the Red Sox have their full starting nine, including both Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks.
"The most important thing is that our lineup gets lengthened out," said Farrell. "To have Will in that bottom third, that presents a threat, that power threat. He was swinging the bat well before the injury. He came back and swung the bat well the series in Toronto. I think more than anything, it doesn't allow for that potential breather by a starting pitcher once they get through or into that bottom third of the order. We've done a better job of late with quality at-bats up and down the lineup, and [I'm] looking for that to continue."
Victorino had just two hits in his first 15 at-bats, but everyone knows what his return means to the team.
"It's nice. Vic's still kind of going through his Spring Training phase," said Napoli. "He's been out for a month. When he starts going, our lineup will be a lot better."
Bogaerts, Bradley a work in progress
BOSTON -- By going with two rookie starting position players for the first time in more than a decade, the Red Sox were prepared for some of the inconsistency they are getting.
Xander Bogaerts has been a solid performer on offense, while displaying inconsistency at shortstop. The opposite has been true of Jackie Bradley Jr.
"Well, defensively, he's certainly solidified the middle of the outfield there for us," manager John Farrell said of Bradley. "His reads and his routes are spot on. He gets an outstanding jump on some balls that are squared up into the gap."
But what about the offense? Bradley had a .230 average heading into Tuesday's game.
"Offensively, I think he's showing some signs of a more consistent approach, particularly with how it's been well-documented on how opposing pitchers are trying to attack him," Farrell said, referring in particular to pitchers pounding the left-handed hitter on the inner half of the plate.
"He's done some things to recognize it, to keep himself inside the baseball and use the whole field a little bit more. That was the case up in Toronto, and yet as he faces starting pitchers for the first time, it's more knowledge for him to keep in the back of his mind how they're looking to attack him."
Bogaerts, playing the critical position of shortstop, has made three errors while also being unable to capitalize on some other plays.
Bogaerts continues to do plenty of extra work with infield instructor Brian Butterfield, which leaves Farrell with confidence that there should soon be some improvement.
"Well, the continued work that he does with Butter, that's the one thing he can control," said Farrell. "The more experience he gets out there, and the ability to read swings, particularly against our starters, and our pitchers, as he gets familiar with all that is involved, there'll be a more ready ability to anticipate as that pitcher is locating to certain sides of the plate and begin to read some of those swings."
Pierzynski gets nod behind plate against lefty
BOSTON -- Though David Ross generally starts for the Red Sox behind the plate against left-handers, A.J. Pierzynski got the nod on Tuesday night against Erik Bedard.
One reason was the fact John Lackey was pitching for Boston. Lackey and Pierzynski have worked well together in their first few weeks as teammates. Another was that Pierzynski is starting to warm up offensively and belted a grand slam on Saturday in Toronto. And then there was the third reason -- Pierzynski came in as a .429 hitter (9-for-21) lifetime against Bedard with two homers and four RBIs.
"Yeah, they're coming off a couple of games in which they worked very well together," said manager John Farrell of Tuesday's battery. "You know, A.J. has had a lot of success against Bedard as well, and we're looking at ways to lengthen out the lineup as best as possible. That doesn't mean that David is going to find himself not playing against left-handed starters. Coming off the off-day, everyone's rested to go, and this is the combination."
In a much smaller sample size, Ross had also fared well against Bedard, going 2-for-4 with two homers.
Pierzynski is Boston's primary starter behind the plate, but Ross should continue to see more playing time than the average backup.