Mastrodonato: Red Sox can’t ignore Tzu-Wei Lin’s effectiveness
ARLINGTON, Texas — David Price had just finished running to first base to cover on a ground ball when he was approached by his 5-foot-9, 155-pound rookie third baseman.
Tzu-Wei Lin, just the 13th major leaguer ever from Taiwan and the fourth position player from the country to record a hit, figured Price could use a breather in the 90-degree temperatures on Tuesday night.
“Tzu-Wei went over and spent a couple of minutes just talking to him,” manager John Farrell said. “That’s a veteran move. .?.?. Despite Double-A experience, and despite a very short period of time here, he’s doing some things that really indicate that the baseball instincts are very good.”
The Red Sox are 6-0 when Lin is in the starting lineup. Some of the players have started calling it “Linsanity,” the term once bestowed upon the breakout NBA season by former Harvard grad Jeremy Lin.
“He didn’t expect to turn a double play with (Dustin Pedroia), the guy he was watching on TV when he was at home (in Taiwan),” said Mickey Jiang, a translator and coach at Portland who came up to the big league club when Lin was promoted last week.
There was no hype when Lin was called up. It was supposed to be Rafael Devers, widely considered one of the best third base prospects in baseball, who got the phone call. The Red Sox have ranked last in the majors at production from third base all year.
Lin, a natural shortstop, had played some third in the minors, but his promotion was a surprise. He had hit just .223 with a .580 OPS in Portland last year. He’s not ranked by any prospect reports in Baseball America, which is why his breakout season in Portland this year (.302 average, .870 OPS) was widely overlooked.
“There’s no secret behind that,” he said through his translator.
Added Jiang: “He says he’s just trying to enjoy every moment on the field and have fun. There’s no secret. Just enjoy and play free.”
Lin recorded his first career hit June 26. Since then, he’s 9-for-25 (.360), needing just 26 more hits to set the major league record for most in a career by a player born in Taiwan, currently held by Chin-lung Hu.
“When I first got called up, the first day, when I got into the clubhouse, the only thing that was in my mind about performance was, ‘How can I help the team to win a game?’?” Lin said. “I didn’t really worry about stats, numbers or how I performed. The bottom line is, ‘Will I be able to contribute anything from a different perspective to help the team?’?”
It’s no stretch to say Lin is soon to become the most famous baseball player to come from Taiwan, a country that considers baseball its national sport. At about 14,000 square miles, Taiwan is the size of Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined, with more than four times as many people.
“They’re happy for him, friends and family back home, his wife,” Jiang said. “There are not many position players from Taiwan who can stick in the show for an extended period of time. They want him to keep doing what he’s capable of doing.”
Lin said his career goal is “as anybody else, to play in the major leagues as long as possible.”
Andrew Benintendi played with him in Portland.
“I feel like he knows the strike zone,” Benintendi said. “He doesn’t strike out that much, he puts the ball in play. He can do a lot of things, he can bunt, hit-and-run. He’s got some power. All that stuff has helped him.
“He’s done really well. He’s come up, he’s just had open ears trying to learn.”
The Red Sox have noticed. And even though Brock Holt is rehabbing in Portland and Pablo Sandoval and Jhonny Peralta are auditioning at Triple-A Pawtucket, the club might be better off with its current platoon of Lin and Deven Marrero.
“It’s been a great boost,” Farrell said. “Tzu-Wei has injected a lot here. And he’s stepped in and he’s done a great job. But I can tell you that the energy in the dugout and some of the comments — whether it’s Linnie, Linsanity, whatever it might be — there’s a side thing that’s going on here that we can’t turn away from. We recognize it. We’ve had conversations about it as we’ve started to see who’s coming back to us on rehab assignments.Sometimes you don’t want to disrupt a good thing, and clearly he and Deven and what they’ve done at third base has given us a lot of momentum in that bottom third (of the lineup).
“When you inject new blood, it’s got a chance to do just what we’re experiencing. And no, we’re not going to turn away from — or at least (we’re going to) acknowledge — what has happened since Tzu-Wei got here.”