Sunday, April 26, 2009

Kevin Youkilis: Shortstop?

The Red Sox optioned infielder Gil Velazquez back to Triple-A Pawtucket today to make room for pitcher Michael Bowden. The way the Red Sox have had to use their bullpen in the last two days made Bowden a necessary insurance policy in the event of an extra-inning game tonight.

Without Velazquez, though, the Red Sox will play the game with just four infielders -- the four infielders who will start the game. In the event of an injury to a corner infielder, Jeff Bailey will be available. In the event of an injury to a middle infielder, well, that's when things get dicey.

Kevin Youkilis spent part of batting practice taking ground balls at shortstop just in case he's needed there.

"It won't happen," the corner infielder said, nodding toward shortstop Nick Green. "We've got a tough guy over there."

Youkilis played shortstop growing up -- "We all played short here; if you're in the major leagues and you're righthanded, you played shortstop at some point" -- but it's a little different in the big leagues. Shortstop and third base take similar skills, but there's definitely an adjustment to be made.

"You've got to get momentum going toward first a little bit," Green said. "At third base, it's such a reaction position; you sometimes end up stepping back and catching the ball. You don't do that at shortstop. You've got to get going through. But it's a little different throw, too, because the angle is a little bit different."

Youkilis does have experience making that throw -- he lines up at shortstop when the Red Sox go into a shift against lefthanded hitters.

"It's like playing short in the shift where you've got to turn double plays," he said. "If I had to play it, it's not a big deal, right? You catch the ball and throw the ball. If you don't do that, you stink."

And Youkilis doesn't stink.

"I know he can do it," Green said. "He can do everything else."


Bowden, for his part, caught an early-morning flight from Pennsylvania; the PawSox had been playing the Lehigh Valley IronPigs over the weekend. He was in bed watching TV when Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson called him a little bit after midnight last night. He had to get his equipment from the IronPigs' ballpark and catch a shuttle, but he made it to Fenway Park on time.

He show up, in fact, before 3 p.m. -- he was the first player in the locker room.

"I was here like a half-hour before people started showing up, so it wasn't awkward," he said with a smile.

(In case you're wondering if we're using every available opportunity to reference the IronPigs, you are exactly right.)

He's upgraded his digs a little bit, too. A year ago, he had a freestanding locker against a pole, but his temporary locker tonight is right next to that of David Ortiz.

"I couldn't ask for a better neighbor," he said.

He'll be out in the bullpen tonight, ready to pitch in an emergency.

"It's a very comfortable change," he said. "I know all the guys -- I saw them a couple of weeks ago in spring training, so it's nice."

The 6-foot-3 righthander has one big-league appearance under his belt; he made an emergency start last August and threw five solid innings in an 8-2 win. He's come out of the bullpen just three times in his 82 minor-league appearances, but he's done plenty of pitching out of the bullpen in spring training.

Through three starts with the PawSox this season, he has a 0.64 ERA. He's even struck out better than a hitter an inning.

"I worked out some kinks in spring training," he said. "My mechanis feel very comfortable out there and I'm repeating them well."

He was supposed to start for the PawSox on Monday. With his call-up, if he doesn't pitch tonight, he'll likely pitch on Tuesday in Syracuse "or Rochester," he said. "I don't know where we go." (It's Syracuse. But with the whirlwind he's on, it's hard to blame him for not knowing.)

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