Maybe it's time to cut Mark Teahen some slack.
Ever since he dropped a fly in left field to set up Matt Thornton's first blown save of the year on April 6, Teahen has done everything asked of him. He's hitting .280/.400/.440 over 30 plate appearances, including a pair of walks and runs that covered up strikeouts in his first two at-bats on Thursday. If a return to the utility role bummed him out, he hasn't shown it.
More surprisingly -- OK, bone-chilling-shockingly -- he's playing competent defense at third. In his last two games, he's made two plays that registered on the degree-of-difficulty scale. He made a run-saving diving stab to his left on Wednesday that would have made Joe Crede proud, and then played a nice hop over the bag at third on Thursday, making a strong throw (sans double pump!) to retire Casey Kotchman.
He's errorless at third, folks. Errorless! While that single stat may fall short for many players, it works for a guy like Teahen, who had trouble completing even basic plays last season. He committed four errors last April, and three of them came on routine throws.
This would be a helluva development if it's real, because that would basically allow him to meet the realistic, pre-extension expectations we had for him. The Kansas City version of Teahen was a below-average, awkward-looking defender at third, but he wasn't anything close to the Betemitian train wreck that horrified onlookers in 2010. Confidence was the issue, and that was evident not only in the wack throws, but the soft choppers that played him at bizarre times.
That Teahen isn't anywhere to be found right now. Over the first two weeks, he has blended in. That is perfect. The Sox don't need Teahen to be great - they acquired him in order to prevent an abyss from forming on the field. In previous years, the Sox had been burned by disastrous production at one or three positions for entire seasons.
Teahen was a big part of the problem last year. However, that ill-advised contract extension gave him time to pay his teammates back, and he's doing his part so far. I'm going to continue to hold my breath whenever a ball is hit in his direction, but it's great that my exhaling hasn't involved Teahen-related profanities. I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts, and it just might last a while longer.
What's great for Teahen isn't awesome for Brent Morel, but there's some silver lining for the rookie. Ozzie Guillen used him as a defensive replacement in the late innings on Thursday, so the manager hasn't been swayed by Teahen's explosion of adequacy.
Morel needs a boost, since Teahen took his place in the last three games of the Tampa Bay series, all against right-handed starters. Guillen is doing his part to help Morel as he works his way through a 1-for-18 slump:
"I want to give a break to Mo," Guillen said. "Mo swung the bat well [Monday]. But in the meanwhile, it's our job to try to protect the kid. I'm going to talk to him later on and tell him not to panic.
"When you're a kid and nobody is swinging well and we're not scoring and you're losing, first thing that goes through your mind is, 'Hopefully it's not me.' That's why I'm going to tell him to relax, and might give him back-to-back days off and give Teahen some at-bats. But I want him to relax and when he goes back in the lineup, maybe [Wednesday] or the next day, he's ready to play."
There's no real reason to be concerned about Morel yet. Based on his track record, he has a history of slow starts when starting at a new level. His 2011 line doesn't stand out against his first two weeks of action in the minors:
- 2011: .220/.235/.280
- 2010: .143/.176/.163 at Triple-A*
- 2010: .267/.312/.350 at Double-A*
- 2009: .241/.360/.333 at High-A*
(*OBPs are approximate due to lack of sacrifice information)
It also helps Morel that he's not the only one struggling. Gordon Beckham has fallen into a major rut, and Alex Rios hasn't gotten off the ground. The Sox were saddled with plenty of dead weight during their seven-game skid.
The day will come when he has to produce, and ultimately, it's a positive development for the Sox that Teahen is pushing him. If Teahen can justifiably take time from Morel, that means that Teahen genuinely looks like a third baseman. Last year, he looked completely puzzled by the hot corner, and Guillen took the position away from him.
At the end of the day, this is a contending team. While it would be heartwarming for a homegrown, plus-glove option like Morel to seize the day, it doesn't really matter who's producing as long as somebody is. Have at it, fellas.