Tomase: Arroyo biding his time, prepping for playoff impact


Getting swept over the weekend by the Yankees clearly wasn't part of the plan for the Red Sox, and it definitely doesn't help Christian Arroyo.

The presumptive starting second baseman for the wild card game -- if there is a wild card game -- Arroyo finds himself in a strange no-man's land as the final week dawns. Waiver wire pickup Jose Iglesias has been starting and thriving at second base, and the Red Sox need his bat and glove to reach October.

But because Iglesias joined the organization after Aug. 31, he's not postseason eligible. Manager Alex Cora is therefore painted into a corner. He needs to play Iglesias until the playoffs are secure, but he needs to get Arroyo at-bats so he's ready to go by next Tuesday.

For his part, Arroyo understands.

"I talked to AC and we know exactly what's going on," Arroyo said on the field at Fenway over the weekend. "How are you going to take a guy out of the lineup that's hitting .380? He's playing great defense. He's been a huge help for our team and he's come through in the clutch. He's just been a phenomenal addition. The first step of playing in the postseason is you've got to get there, and the way Iggy's been playing, he's helping us get there. That's really all I care about."

Arroyo has lived a strange existence in 2021. He battled Michael Chavis for the final roster spot, and then three days into the season became the starting second baseman when injuries forced Kiké Hernández into center field.

He thrived in the role, but injuries kept interrupting any sustained success. He spent three weeks on the injured list in May with a hand contusion after being repeatedly hit by pitches, returned in June to slam two game-tying homers and one game-winner in the span of a week, went back on the IL with a knee injury after an outfield collision, returned in July to hit .300 with a .944 OPS, went back on the injured list after hurting his groin stretching for a throw in his debut at first base, finally took the field for three games in late August, and then spent a month on the sidelines with COVID.

Whew. Got all that? Now he is trying to regain his timing not just from COVID, but the groin injury. Since rejoining the club last week, however, he has only gotten four at-bats, which is less than ideal for the one player on the roster who could start at second in the wild card game and allow Hernández to stay in center, where he has played Gold Glove-caliber defense.

"It's been a year of ups and downs, but that's kind of how baseball goes anyway," Arroyo said. "I'm trying not to put too much pressure and go with the flow. I don't know necessarily that I feel the responsibility of it. I just see it how it is. My responsibility is picking up my teammates."

The obvious question is how Arroyo can ready himself for the playoffs without consistent at-bats. He went 1 for 11 in three games at Triple-A Worcester before rejoining the Red Sox. Arroyo and the club saw the benefit in being around big league coaches and trainers, and he believes he recently made a breakthrough in the cage with assistant hitting coach Peter Fatse.

"I think the timing will come back quick, just because I've been playing baseball my whole life," Arroyo said. "It's just the jitters, the anxiousness of getting to play again."

Arroyo has overcome adversity before. A first-round pick of the Giants in 2013, he flamed out without meeting expectations. Since joining the Red Sox last summer, however, he has consistently exceeded them while demonstrating a flair for the dramatic and a penchant for delivering in the clutch.

His OPS's in high leverage (1.193), close and late (1.144), two outs and runners in scoring position (1.124), and tie game (1.022) situations suggest a player who embraces the moment. They won't get any bigger than next week's wild card game, and the Red Sox can only hope they're there and Arroyo is ready.

"I think the path builds character," he said. "It's weird how that works. In my darkest times, I felt like I had an ease, a peace of mind in some senses. I've been through so much worse. Whatever's in front of me, I'm going to tackle the challenge with wide-open arms and I'm going to go at it with head-on force. I'm not going to shy away from it."

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