By Jeff Louderback
The legend of Pedro Ciriaco is popular in these parts of Red Sox Nation. It’s a story about an unheralded rookie who opened eyes with an impressive spring training only to be dispatched to Triple-A Pawtucket before leading his team to victory on a Saturday night in early July against the despised New York Yankees. Ciriaco’s tale grew even more captivating over the weekend when his clutch hits spurred the Red Sox to wins at Yankee Stadium on Saturday and Sunday.
Ciriaco, who is batting .349 with a .820 OPS in 63 at-bats for Boston, belted an RBI triple that was misplayed by Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson in the top of the ninth inning on Saturday. That gave the Red Sox a 7-6 lead in a game they would capture, 8-6. On Sunday, with the Red Sox and Yankees tied at 2-2 in the top of the 10th, Ciriaco blooped an RBI single off David Robertson. It proved to be the game-winning RBI in a 3-2 Red Sox triumph.
Not only did Ciriaco’s timely hits help the Red Sox return to .500 at 51-51 and remain in the wild card race, but they also created a debate about who should start at shortstop.
Ciriaco is a favorite of Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. So is Mike Aviles, who is the current starting shortstop. Aviles, though, is battling a toe injury and struggling at the plate (and he has looked shaky at times in the field).
Over his last 10 games, Aviles is hitting .114 (4-for-35). On the season, he has a .251 average and a ghastly .275 on-base percentage, though he does have 10 home runs and 51 RBI.
In a smaller sample size, Ciriaco has a .349 average (22-for-63) with a .359 on-base percentage and a .820 OPS. He has no home runs, and does not posses Aviles’ power, but he is a better on-base guy than Aviles, and he plays better defense at shortstop.
At a time when the Red Sox need to start winning each series they play, there are interal options to upgrade the lineup. Starting Ciriaco at shortstop, placing Aviles on the disabled list to mend his injured toe, and calling up 22-year-old Jose Iglesias (who is a defensive whiz at shortstop) is a decision general manager Ben Cherington should immediately make.
The Red Sox could acquire a starting pitcher by Tuesday’s trade deadline, and they expect to get David Ortiz back from the disabled list at some point in the next week. Those two moves can bolster the roster. Like Will Middlebrooks, Ciriaco has given the Red Sox a spark while Aviles has provided little help in recent games at the plate or in the field.
It’s time to start Ciriaco, call up Iglesias and either send Aviles to the DL and package him in a trade to another team. The Red Sox will be better as a result.