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Jennings: John Farrell better stick with Hanley Ramirez in his crowded Red Sox lineup

August 31, 2017 GMT

TORONTO — Too much of a good thing. That’s the way Red Sox manager John Farrell tried to dismiss his upcoming lineup dilemma.

And if he were correct, it would be a great problem to have. So many right answers, he can’t possibly go wrong.

But that’s assuming all his options are good ones, and that just hasn’t been the case this season.

With Dustin Pedroia likely to come off the disabled list this weekend in New York, Farrell will have to decide, day by day, what to make of fading rookie Rafael Devers, supposed-to-be platoon masher Chris Young, new offensive energizer Eduardo Nunez, Gold Glove first baseman Mitch Moreland and under-performing slugger Hanley Ramirez.

There won’t be room for all of them, so Farrell will have to decide who gets at-bats and who slips into the background. And with that daily dilemma, the unique importance of Ramirez comes front and center.

Despite how bad he’s been, Ramirez needs to play.

Not strictly against lefties. Not three or four times a week. Not splitting time with someone else. Ramirez needs to be in there nearly every day, and the past two nights he’s shown why. He’s hit home runs in back-to-back games for the first time since April.

“His importance to us against both lefties and righties can’t be overstated,” Farrell said after the Sox’ 7-1 win last night.

Shuffle the other pieces, but don’t give up on Ramirez. His power is unmatched on this roster. Nothing could boost the Red Sox’ offense quite like their only prototypical clean-up hitter getting on a roll.

To be fair, it’s going to be complicated.

Pedroia could be back as early as tomorrow. If he’s at second base, Nunez will have to move to either designated hitter or third base, with perhaps occasional turns at shortstop.

If it seems third base is blocked by Devers, it’s worth noting the rookie entered last night hitting just .128 with 12 strikeouts in his past 10 games.

If designated hitter seems obvious, remember Nunez at DH would push Ramirez to first base every day, which would leave no room for Moreland, who’s been excellent against right-handers and is clearly the Red Sox’ best defense at the position.

Remember, too, that Young is supposed to be an impact designated hitter against lefties, but he’s struggled against them this season, and taking him out of the equation would give up on the potential of Young’s platoon bat.

And what about Rajai Davis, who has hit leadoff against lefties the past two games? There won’t be room for either Young or Davis in the outfield once Jackie Bradley Jr. comes off the disabled list this weekend.

And how often can Pedroia play, anyway? Even with his knee issues, Pedroia’s been one of the Sox most consistent hitters — especially against lefties, and particularly with runners in scoring position — but he’s also played just one game this month, so he might need to sit from time to time.

Good or bad, it’s going to be tricky balancing all of these players. If it becomes too much of a good thing, great, but that’s not what it is right now. Right now it looks more like too many players who are supposed to be good, but haven’t been. At least not all the time.

Foremost in that group is Ramirez.

His OPS is basically 100 points lower than last season with 20 fewer extra-base hits and fewer than half as many RBI. The Red Sox have had trouble with left-handed pitchers this season, and Ramirez has been a big part of that problem.

“This isn’t to put it on any one or two guys,” Farrell said. “But the two guys who had big years for us against left-handers are both (Young) and Hanley.

“When you plan for similar production, and your roster reflects that type of production, it leaves you a little bit less, I don’t want to say equipped, but it leaves you less productive. That’s why you don’t pin this on any one guy. We collectively have to continue to execute in key moments.”

How can Farrell sit a guy like Moreland, Devers or even Nunez in favor of Ramirez, who’d hit just two home runs in his past 25 games heading into Monday night?

Because there has to be a recognition that Ramirez can be a difference maker unlike anyone else on the roster. In his career, Ramirez has shown an unmistakable trend of putting up his best numbers in the final month.

He has a career .850 OPS in the first half, but an .856 OPS in July, .876 in August and .934 in September. He hit 11 home runs last September, and his postseason numbers are similarly impressive.

A down-the-stretch surge from Ramirez would change the makeup of this lineup. It would lengthen the batting order, provide an actual home run threat in the middle, and make the Red Sox less station-to-station.

Nunez, Devers, Moreland and Pedroia need to play. They deserve to play. The most recent numbers suggest they might even deserve to play more than Ramirez.

But Ramirez is dangerous with every at-bat. To have too much of a good thing, he’s going to have to be involved.