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Come back, Shane, and quickly

Sports

Come back, Shane, and quickly

It’s a long season.

The Red Sox’ early offensive struggles probably say a lot more about the randomness present in a small sample of baseball games than the moves they made (or didn’t make) in the offseason or the players’ failure to bond without their signature beards. One trend that probably is meaningful, though, is the lack of production from rightfielders in Shane Victorino’s absence.

Victorino came to Boston before the 2013 season after seven productive years with the Phillies and a brief stint with the Dodgers. He hit .294/.351/.451 in his initial season with the Sox, but it was his tireless patrolling of Fenway’s spacious right field that made him perhaps the most valuable player on the championship team.

While Shane has been sidelined, first with a hamstring injury and then with a severe flu, John Farrell has given 69 rightfield innings to Daniel Nava, while Jackie Bradley and even Jonny Gomes have assumed backup duties. Nava has not only struggled with the bat, hitting .150/.227/.250 early, but is no match for Victorino with the leather. Nava made two early outfield errors and has never exhibited the range necessary to cover everything from the Pesky Pole to the distant bullpen area.

Furthermore, Farrell has often batted Nava in the top three spots in the lineup, taking precious plate appearances from players with better chances of getting on base and creating runs. Victorino is likely to lead off when he returns, and while Dustin Pedroia’s superior on-base skills suit him better for the role, Victorino sees a lot of pitches and stole 21 bases last season in 24 tries.

One might deduce from Boston’s inability to light up the scoreboard this April that the departed Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew have been sorely missed, but Grady Sizemore and Xander Bogaerts have filled their positions as two of the team’s offensive bright spots. Bradley or Sizemore could look awfully good in left when Victorino returns, limiting Nava’s and Gomes’s innings. If the rotation can keep up its early season effectiveness (102 strikeouts vs. just 24 walks), this team should win a lot of games.

A certain Hawaiian rightfielder will be responsible for a lot of those wins.