TORONTO -- When the Red Sox acquired Ryan Sweeney from the Oakland Athletics, they knew they were getting a plus defender and a line-drive hitter who still had room for growth. But one of the underrated parts of Sweeney's game is the way he can hit with the game on the line.
The Red Sox have seen it twice already. In the top of the ninth inning on Opening Day at Detroit, it was Sweeney who ripped a game-tying two-out triple in the top of the ninth. And when Boston won its first game on Monday, it was Sweeney who placed the go-ahead single into right field in the top of the ninth.
Over the past three seasons, Sweeney's .338 batting average in the ninth inning or extra frames is fourth in the Majors behind Ryan Braun, Joey Votto and Justin Upton.
"Definitely. Everybody wants to be in that situation," Sweeney said. "[A media member] told me yesterday that weird stat about ninth-inning hitting. I had no idea about it, but I guess that's a good thing to have."
Of course, Sweeney hasn't just been hitting in the ninth inning during the early portion of this season. He entered Tuesday night's game against the Blue Jays with a .467 average.
"He's played really well for us," said manager Bobby Valentine. "The last four games of Spring Training, he started to feel his swing come around and he took it right into the season, getting big hits late in the game. [He's] swinging well against left-handers and hitting the ball all around the ballpark -- playing good defense while he's at it."
Sweeney has also never played with an offense that has as many weapons as the Red Sox, which could be a benefit.
"I think anybody would like to hit in this lineup," Sweeney said. "I said at the beginning of spring, 'Put me somewhere at the end of the lineup and let me just try to do little things to help this team win.' Obviously we have [David] Ortiz and Dustin [Pedroia] and [Jacoby] Ellsbury at the top of the lineup that are going to get on base. It's our job to try to get them in and do little things to help the team score a couple runs."
In particular, being able to observe so many talented left-handed hitters up close is a benefit for Sweeney.
"I've been working with the hitting coach and just talking to Adrian [Gonzalez]," said Sweeney. "It helps me a lot being able to watch Adrian and Ortiz and just the way they go about it and approach certain pitchers. The guy today, I haven't faced him, so just kind of learning the game plan. Just having a game plan going up there is the main thing rather than changing anything mechanically."
Health permitting, this could be the year Sweeney puts everything together.
"I think he has an upside," Valentine said. "I think if we keep him healthy, because he had some little nagging situations, especially with his lower body that have kept him from really putting good strings together, I think if we keep him healthy, I think he can be a good run producer for us."
Bobby V. second-guesses himself after loss
TORONTO -- If you're second-guessing Bobby Valentine for leaving in untested lefty Justin Thomas to face a right-hander with the bases loaded and nobody out in a two-run game, you aren't alone.
Nobody is second-guessing that move -- which resulted in a two-run single by J.P. Arencibia -- more than Valentine himself.
After the Red Sox suffered a 7-3 loss to the Blue Jays, Valentine was clearly stewing over the fact he left Matt Albers in the Red Sox's bullpen in that spot rather than bringing him in the game.
The moment happened in the sixth inning, the Red Sox down 3-1. Thomas came on and walked Eric Thames to load the bases.
Arencibia hit a 2-1 changeup up the middle to give Toronto a 5-1 lead.
"I should have brought in Albers with the bases loaded. It might have still been a 3-1 game," Valentine said. "We get a great ground ball there and maybe we would have won that game."
So why didn't Valentine bring in Albers?
"Just a dumb move," Valentine said.
Later in the interview, Valentine expounded a little more on his reasoning.
"I didn't know him well enough," Valentine said. "I thought maybe he'd get a changeup and maybe the changeup would be just as good as the sinker. He got a changeup, hit it off the end of the bat.
"Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Go with the sinker, try to get a ground ball. Go with the changeup, and they got the changeup off the end of the bat. I just felt right there I should have gone the other way. I was hoping. I don't like to hope. I was actually thinking he'd get the left-hander out and we'd be able to walk him. It threw the thing into another action plan. Changeup looked like it was working for the left-hander. I'm learning."
A reporter noted that Valentine seemed to take this loss particularly hard. The manager didn't dispute the notion.
"Oh, I don't like being dumb, you know? I like doing what I'm supposed to do," Valentine said.
Youkilis trying to find groove after rough start
TORONTO -- Kevin Youkilis, who has been one of the best all-around hitters in the game the past few seasons, was in a clear early-season funk entering Tuesday night's game against the Blue Jays.
Youkilis went hitless in his first 12 at-bats of the season. He batted fifth in manager Bobby Valentine's lineup on Tuesday night.
"His BP today, at the beginning of his BP, he looked closer," Valentine said. "He just hasn't felt, talking with him, it just seems he hasn't felt it all spring, yet. Ball's not getting as deep as he'd like it to."
Youkilis finally found the hit column Tuesday, going 2-for-4 in Boston's 7-3 loss to Toronto.
"The key is good at-bats," Youkilis said. "When you're going good, sometimes, you're hitting things that are over your head, below [the strike zone], and they're falling in. When you're going bad, you're hitting balls at people and not having good swings on the pitches you should. For me personally, I've just got to get through it. If I can just keep seeing pitches and feeling comfortable in the box, it will all come around."
Youkilis doesn't think that the time he missed at the end of last season is helping him now. Valentine has been doing a lot of research to determine what might be holding his third baseman back from his usual consistency.
"I've read enough to go cross-eyed," Valentine said. "I've talked to all of our coaches who were here with him. I've talked to some of the people across the field. There's all kinds of theories out there, but I have no idea what the cause and effect is. I'm hoping he's going to hit that one ball that just snaps him out of it."
Valentine has no current plans to move Youkilis to a lower part of the batting order.
"Sometimes it's just a bloop over the first baseman's head by a right-hander that drives in three runs and you're off to the races," Valentine said. "I like his competitiveness. I know he's still a force in the lineup. I'm glad he's healthy enough to go out there every day. I think he's good where he is right now."
Aviles has mild ankle strain; Punto at short
TORONTO -- Shortstop Mike Aviles suffered a mild left ankle strain in Monday's game against the Blue Jays, and that led to Nick Punto getting his second start in the past three days.
Punto filled in for Kevin Youkilis on Sunday in Detroit and produced three hits and three RBIs in the leadoff spot. Punto batted ninth on Tuesday.
Aviles has three hits over his first 15 at-bats. All the hits were in Sunday's game.
"Mike sprained his ankle a little going out of the box yesterday in that second at-bat, I guess," said manager Bobby Valentine. "He says he's fine. He always says he's fine. I guarantee he's going to say he's fine every day this year. I thought Nick playing such a good game the other day, it was a good way to get him back in there."
Crawford still on course after elbow check-up
TORONTO -- Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford, who is on the disabled list thanks to left wrist surgery, had another health concern pop up on Tuesday, when he flew to Boston to get his left elbow examined.
There is good news on that front. Red Sox doctors didn't find any significant injury, and Crawford's plan to DH in extended spring games in Florida at some point this week remains intact.
"He had his left elbow checked, and [it's] just a little minor tendinitis," manager Bobby Valentine said. "Soreness, a little minor soreness in his elbow. It will not keep him from having his at-bats as scheduled."
Valentine said Crawford will hold off on throwing for about a week.
Dice-K looks strong in Florida rehab outing
TORONTO -- Daisuke Matsuzaka continues to look like a pitcher who will be able to help the Red Sox this season. The righty fired three strong innings in an extended spring game in Florida on Monday, hitting 94 mph and throwing 49 pitches.
"Real good changeup, not great feel for his slider," said manager Bobby Valentine.
Lefty Rich Hill pitched another inning for Class A Greenville on Monday, and, in the pitcher's words, felt "awesome."
Lefty Andrew Miller is also coming along. He has thrown two scoreless innings in two outings for Greenville and will join Triple-A Pawtucket next.