Welcome to another edition of Red Sox Mailbag. Thanks for all of the great questions!
I'm questioning the future for Kevin Youkilis in the Red Sox organization. How many times can they send him back down to the PawSox? I'm worried that the Sox are going to run out of options for him and be forced to either promote him permanently to the big leagues this season, or to waive him. I can't imagine at this stage of his career the Sox plan to give him up, as he seems to be a legitimate option at third base or first base. He still lacks the true slugging ability that most teams like to see out of their corner infielders, but I would like to see him as a staple of Red Sox lineups in the near future. -- Dustin, Springfield, MA
The Red Sox have not enjoyed repeatedly sending Youkilis back down this year as they agree that he is a Major League player. However, with the presence of Bill Mueller, the team hasn't had enough playing time for Youkilis, and, because he still has options, he winds up being the odd man out when there is a roster crunch. Mueller is a free agent this winter, which means there's certainly a chance Youkilis could become the third baseman in 2006. Whether it is in Boston or elsewhere, Youkilis figures to have a pretty solid career.
Is there any chance that the Sox would be interested in getting Derek Lowe from the Dodgers? As someone who has been able to watch most of his games, he has pitched a lot better than his record indicates. And it seems like all of his teammates like him, which seems to be missing somewhat in the clubhouse this year. -- Kathryn M., Saugus, CA
I'd be shocked if that happened. The Red Sox had the chance to sign Lowe last winter and chose not to. They didn't think he was worth the contract the Dodgers gave him. With three full seasons still left on that pact, I don't see the Red Sox changing their mind about Lowe's value. I agree that he was well-liked in the clubhouse, but I think that this year's group, much like last year, has plenty of good chemistry.
Why does everyone have so little faith in Mark Bellhorn? He is a solid second baseman, with a respectable number of errors ... so he strikes out a lot! Whenever anyone else struggles a little, fans don't scream for their removal from the lineup. Why doesn't everyone love Marky Mark as much as I do? -- Becky A., Hartford, CT
I'm sure Bellhorn would get a kick out of you referring to him as Marky Mark. All kidding aside, the Red Sox have shown a tremendous amount of faith in Bellhorn, throwing him out there every day even as his struggles continued. I think even Bellhorn would admit the team gave him plenty of chances to get hot. But with the recent addition of Tony Graffanino, it might be hard for Bellhorn to get a lot of at-bats when he returns from the disabled list. It is a situation that bears watching. The Red Sox were hoping that Bellhorn's trip to the DL would allow him to clear his mind, and maybe get back to being the kind of hitter he was last year when he returns. We'll see.
Do you think there is room on the Sox bench for both Gabe Kapler and Adam Stern? They seem too similar for the Sox to want to carry both of them? -- Tim R., Chelmsford, MA
Think back to last October, when the Sox had both Kapler and Dave Roberts on the postseason roster. This would be a similar scenario. Kapler gives the team a right-handed bat with speed and a strong arm. Stern is a speedster from the left side with good defensive ability. I think they would complement each other very well.
Jason Varitek is having a great year for the Red Sox, but I was looking at his split stats, and I saw that as a right-handed hitter he is batting .400 with a .479 OBP and .767 SLG. These numbers indicate that Varitek is a better right-handed hitter. Might Varitek's right-handed skills override the advantage he has hitting lefty against right-handed pitching? Have the Red Sox ever considered at least trying him out as a permanent right-hander and seeing what happens? -- Ben D. Newport, RI
It's funny you mentioned that. I was thinking along those very same lines earlier this season during one Wednesday afternoon game against the A's in early May. I even brought it up to a couple of my cohorts in the press box. Do you know how the Red Sox won that game? Varitek hit a walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth ... batting left-handed! After that, I sort of figured the idea was not worth pursuing. The bottom line is that Varitek's numbers are better from the right side, but he's also a good left-handed hitter. He's been hitting lefty his whole life, so it would be an adjustment for him to all of a sudden not be a switch-hitter. The team would never force something like that on him.
What are the chances the Red Sox will try to acquire Jason Schmidt and/or Billy Wagner? -- Marty D., Oklahoma City, OK
Considering Wagner and Schmidt have two of the most electric arms in baseball, I'm sure the Red Sox would pursue both pitchers if they became available. But it's unclear if they are available. The Giants have an option for Schmidt in 2006 at a reasonable price, so even if they don't make it back into contention this season, they have next year to think about. The Phillies are still within striking distance of first place, so they might not want to deal their closer.
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Why don't the Red Sox start acquiring more right-handed hitters to come off the bench. With the short left-field wall, it would seem to be a no brainer. The Sox have too many lefty hitters and everybody knows lefties have a lot of trouble with southpaw pitching, unless your name is Boggs, Mattingly or Ted Williams. -- Timothy H., New York, NY
While what you are saying is conventional wisdom, the numbers prove that Fenway Park is actually a more favorable park for left-handed hitters. Right-handers have a tendency to be too pull happy at Fenway. Lefties who have compact strokes use the wall to their advantage by slapping the ball off the wall. But with Kapler returning this weekend, that does give the Sox another right-handed hitter for the late innings. And by the way, Johnny Damon, like several of the left-handed hitters you mentioned, also feasts on left-handed pitchers.
I was just wondering, what is the difference between an earned run and an unearned run? I've always been somewhat confused on the difference of the two. -- Hilary B. Methuen, MA
An earned run is charged to the pitcher because it came on a series of legitimate hits or walks that came against that pitcher. An unearned run occurs when a run scores due to a fielding error either on that play or earlier in the inning. That run is not the pitcher's fault so it shouldn't be charged to his ERA.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.