March 2010

Victor, Papelbon, Oki and more

You think Victor Martinez is ready to play in a game that matters? In
his second at-bat, he took  an effortless swing and put the ball over
the wall in right for a two-run homer. In his next at-bat, he unloaded
for a grand slam to center. After that, he again hit one to deep
center, but his bid for a third homer landed on the warning track.

Jon Lester cruised today, giving up three hits and one run over seven innings.

Mike Lowell looked as good as he’s looked all spring, turning on two
pitches for doubles and showing a little hop in his step when he
covered second to complete a 6-5 double play. Lowell had been
over-shifted with lefty Luke Scott at the plate.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima got there work in today over at the Minor League complex.

Okajima
pitched for Class-A Greenville and gave up two hits and two runs
(unearned) over one inning, walking none and striking out one.

Papelbon worked his inning for Class-A Salem, giving up two hits and a
run over an inning, walking one and striking out three. He threw 26
pitches. Knowing the way Papelbon works, it was probably a little hard
for him to fully get it going without the adrenaline of a crowd of the
challenge of Major League hitters.

“It’s tough to come down here. It’s not easy,” said Papelbon to
reporters in Fort Myers. “It’s no normal circumstances that you’re used
to pitching under. It’s not an excuse. You’re dealing with a different
way of life down here, man. I felt like I was pitching in Zombie-land.
It’s definitely different.”

Lowell, Hermida, lineups, etc.

Quiet morning in Sarasota, where the Red Sox were preparing to play their final road game (excluding Saturday’s exhibition at Washington) of the spring.

One thing has become increasingly clear is that Mike Lowell is more  likely to start the season as a Red Sox backup instead of getting traded. Lowell is making the start today at third base. Manager Terry Francona credited the way he is handling his situation.

“I can only tell you how he’s been around me. he’s been professional, like he always is,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “I think the challenges start more when the season starts. again, you look up at the schedule here and you know when you’re playing or when you’re supposed to play. You’re trying to get ready. Quite honestly, I’m sure there will be some challenges presented. That’s part of it.”

Jeremy Hermida (tight right hamstring) is making progress and could play Friday at home against the Nats.

Does manager Terry Francona have his lineup combination in place for the start of the season? He seems to just about there, but is leaving some wiggle room in case he has a change of heart. For now, it is looking like Ellsbury-Pedroia-Martinez-Youkilis-Ortiz-Drew-Beltre-Cameron-Scutaro. Francona’s only hesitation with that combination is the way the lefties and righties are stacked up in the last five spots, But he also seems to think it’s his best combination right now. 

Beckett ready to go; Lefties not quite

Ace Josh Beckett made it clear Monday night that he’s good to go for Opening Day. The righty was sharp in his 94-pitch outing, scattering six hits and two earned runs and striking out eight.

“I thought he was strong,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “I didn’t think he was quite down as much as he was last outing. I thought he threw some real good changeups. I thought as he got into the game, he started throwing his breaking ball. I think he feels good about himself. He should. He looks strong — he looks ready to go.”

Beckett accomplished what he set out to do this spring, despite a bad cold/flu that weakened him for about two weeks.

“You want to progressively get better. I felt like I did that,” said Beckett.

Mike Lowell made a solid return to the lineup, lacing two singles to right over his three at-bats. It was Lowell’s first game since Friday, when he pounded a foul ball off his left knee.

Meanwhile, the battle in the bullpen is still going. Scott Schoeneweis, signed on Saturday, made his first appearance with the Red Sox. It started just fine, with two strikeouts. But then things worsened. The lefty gave up two hits and two runs over 2/3 of an inning, walking two.

“I thought Schoeneweis — I thought he was a little too amped up,” Francona said. “He’s had a week off. The ball was moving all over the place, but not necessarily in the strike zone. First two hitters struck out and then things kind of got away from us a little bit.”

Alan Embree, another veteran lefty who was signed on March 20. Unlike Schoeneweis, who had a full camp for the Brewers, Embree wasn’t pitching for anyone until he got that call from the Sox.

For the second time in as many outings, he struggled, giving up two hits and four runs — three earned — over 2/3 of an inning. Embree walked two, but felt it was better than his first outing two days earlier.

“Alan just didn’t command very well from the very first pitch,” Francona said. “He was kind of up, down, so we’ve got some things to work on.  It’s been coming quick but he’ll come back Wednesday. Just trying to get him enough work and not too much.”

After giving up a leadoff walk, Embree was trying to get groundballs.

“Threw five groundballs. Leadoff walk is just a leadoff walk, flat out. Settled in, tried to get double play balls. Tried to get them to hit it on the ground. Made the pitches to make them hit it on the ground,” said Embree. “Most of the time I’ll take those groundballs. Tonight it didn’t seem to fall the right way.’

Embree and Schoeneweis will both pitch again on Wednesday in Sarasota against the Orioles.

Delcarmen getting closer

It was interesting that the Red Sox sent Manny Delcarmen to the Minor League complex for two innings on Monday so he could work on physical and mental aspects of his game. The righty is an important piece to Boston’s bullpen when he is going well, but he struggled mightily in the second of last season.

Delcarmen is a perfect example of how Spring Training statistics mean almost nothing to the way the club evaluates a player. In Delcarmen’s case, he has a 1.35 ERA in eight games, but the club has noticed him laboring.

Monday’s exercise seemed to do Delcarmen some good. But he is still a bit of a wrok in progress.

“He was better,” said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. “I thought there was better consistency to the command, and the location of the fastball was not down in the zone as much as we’d like to see. That’s more fundamental or delivery-related. There was more of a willingness and an intensity to his two innings of work here and the whole idea today was to allow him to go through 35 to 40 pitches of work, granted, the atmosphere and the intensity is not what we’re going to see of him or what he’s going to be involved with.”

Delcarmen was pitching through shoulder pain duiring his second half struggles, and might have lost some of his swagger. Farrell is trying to get Delcarmen to pitch with more confidence.

The righty will pitch his final Grapefruit League game on Thursday against the Twins.

“Talking to Farrell, he wants me to go out there and get that
attitude like, ‘you’re going out there and nobody can touch you.’ I took
that approach a little bit today, just threw some pitches inside and
like I said, I felt great,” Delcarmen said. “Hopefully this carries on to the next time I
throw and I’ll just keep going and attacking. John said, ‘I want you to get that fiery attitude back that you used to have.”‘

Delcarmen is one of Boston’s more versatile relievers in this sense: He can go multi-innings in the middle of a game or he can pitch later in the game for a batter or an inning. He can also get lefties out. If anything, Delcarmen said, he needs to get back to the point where he is dominating righties. Lefties hit .221 against Delcarmen last year. Righties hit .322.

“I’ve heard Tito say it a bunch this spring. I know from my numbers
last year, I felt like I couldn’t get a righty out for my life toward
the end,” Delcarmen said. “I kept getting lefties out. He said, ‘Manny has that ability
to get lefties out and when he’s on top, downhill, he can get righties
out.’ I see that as a plus, just stay healthy and whenever he needs me,
be ready to go.  I definitely want to attack righties more.”

There are also some delivery adjustments that should help Delcarmen.

“hen he separates his hands, when he’s on time in his delivery, he’s going to leverage the ball downhill with some giddy-up on it, with some life through the zone,” Delcarmen said. “I think he understands it better. You could see it today. he was trying to get it out there and get it done. When he does it, it’s good. I think it’s still a little bit sporadic. He threw some good changeups today. I think the two innings helps. He’ll go two innings again Thursday, which I think will help.”

Tito still plotting lineup

What will the Red Sox’s starting lineup be on Opening Night — which is one week from today — against the Yankees? Well, the nine players are a given, but manager Terry Francona said he is still trying to figure out the exact order.

One “A” lineup the Sox have had out there a few times this spring is Ellsbury-Pedroia-Martinez-Youkilis-Ortiz-Drew-Beltre-Cameron-Scutaro. But the one dilemma with that alignment is that the five-six spots are back-to-back lefties and the last three spots are all righties.

Francona said he recently had assistant director of baseball operations Zach Scott do some statistical research for him, so he is waiting for some answers on that.

“Tthere’s probably going to be some things in our lineup where either you’re going to set it up for the beginning or the end. I don’t know that there’s a way to set it up where it works perfect. We have a few more right-handers then we’ve had in the past,” Francona said. “They may line up together. I don’t know. We’ll see. That lineup we’ve used so far this year, we’ve had 7-8-9 have been right-handed, five and six have been right-handed. I don’t know that that sounds perfect.

“At the same time, there’s other things we’re trying to account for also so we’ll see. The one thing I don’t want to do is put a lineup out there for Opening Night because it’s [CC] Sabathia that’s not our lineup. I think sometimes that can get overdone. We’ll see.”

Marco Scutaro has the ability to hit at the top or bottom of the order, and Francona has enjoyed the shortstop’s attitude.

“He’s really good about it,” Francona said. “He goes, ‘just put me out there, I’ll play.’ He’s really good about that.”

In other news:

Phenom Casey Kelly will make a one-day return to Major League camp on Tuedsay when he starts against the Rays in Port Charlotte. Tim Wakefield will stay back in Fort Myers that day and throw three innings in a Minor League game, and then come back on three days rest and start the exhibition game against the Nationals in D.C. on April 3.

Kelly’s workload is being monitored closely, similar to Jon Lester in 2006, because his innings will take a significant jump this year. At any rate, it will be fun to watch him pitch again.

“I think it will be a nice day to let him start,” Francona said. “It will be fun for us to get to watch. I think it will be a good experience for him.”

Kelly is expected to throw 60-65 pitches.

Corner infielder Mike Lowell dodged a bullet with that foul ball he nailed off his left knee on Friday. Lowell seemed to be moving around well before Sunday’s game and should play third base on either Monday or Tuesday.

Monday will be a busy day for Francona and his staff. Boof Bonser, Manny Declarmen and Daisuke Matsuzaka will all pitch in the Minors in the afternoon, and Josh Beckett, Scott Schoeneweis and Alan Embree are all on tap that night at home against the Rays.

Outfielder Jeremy Hermida is fine, a day after tweaking his right hamstring. He should return soon.

Big game today, as the Red Sox can clinch the vaunted Mayor’s Cup Trophy with a win against the cross-town Twins.

No fifth year for Beckett?

If Red Sox ace Josh Beckett can avoid free agency and sign a new pact with the team he has pitched for since 2006, it apparently won’t be for the same length as the five-year deal John Lackey agreed upon back in December.

ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Edes, citing a source with “knowledge of the negotiations”, reported Saturday night that the Red Sox won’t go past four years in their negotiations with Beckett.

However, the sides are still believed to be negotiating, as the Red Sox would like to keep Beckett and the right-hander has a desire to stay in Boston long-term.

Both Beckett and the club have stood by their vow to keep all negotiations private. There have been no public words from either side about the status of talks that could prevent Beckett from reaching free agency for the first time in his career following the 2010 season.

Beckett will start for the Red Sox in the first game of Major League Baseball’s 2010 season – on the night of April 4 at Fenway against the New York Yankees.

Though it has been Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein’s policy not to go five years for a free agent starter, he made an exception on Lackey, in large part because A.J. Burnett had set a bench-mark of sorts when he signed for that length with the Yankees in Dec., 2008.

According to the ESPN report, concerns about the long-term health of Beckett’s right shoulder is the main reason the Red Sox are hesitant to go five years.

Beckett, who turns 30 on May 15, is 65-34 with a 4.05 ERA in 122 starts for the Red Sox. In his career, he is 106-68 with a 3.79 ERA. The righty forever notched a place in Boston’s postseason lore by going 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in October of 2007, lifting the Red Sox to a World Series championship. Beckett was equally heroic in leading the Marlins to a World Series title in 2003, firing a shutout against the Yankees on three days rest in clinching Game 6.

Pedroia healthy, happy upon return

It was pretty clear that Dustin Pedroia had no ill effects from the left wrist he strained on Tuesday. After making his return to the lineup, the little second baseman was clearly in a good mood in the clubhouse.

As John Lackey was holding court across the way, Pedroia couldn’t resist doing some chirping.

“He would have signed for five years at the league minimum to come here and not to have to face me [anymore],” Pedroia said.

Lackey was swift with his rebuttal, clearly re-playing a scene that the two players have had at times when the media has not been in the clubhouse.

“I’m scared of singles to right,” chuckled Lackey. “He’s been saying that for two weeks. Don’t give him credit for that.”

In truth, the humor that Pedroia displayed was only another example of what a non-issue his wrist is. The Red Sox gave him three days off because it’s Spring Training, making it a perfect time to be conservative with a nagging injury. Pedroia went 1-for-4 on the day.

“I got on the ground a few times and dove, so it was fine,” Pedroia said. “Swinging, I was fine. My first at-bat, I was just getting my timing back. He kind of blew the ball by me a little bit. But my next three at-bats were good, hit the ball on the barrel, so that’s the only thing I was trying to do today, make sure it felt great and see some pitches.”

Pedroia felt that his last at-bat, when he flew out, was probably his best of the day.

“My last at-bat, that was good. I felt good,” Pedroia said. “He was throwing me some pretty good pitches on the corners and I was fouling them off and it was good.  I was seeing a lot of pitches. I saw a lot all day which was good.”

In other news, Jeremy Hermida left the game with minor soreness in his right hamstring.

“It just didn’t seem like a good thing to keep him in the game,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “He just came up and he said, ‘I feel it.’ I said, ‘that’s enough.”

Hermida didn’t seem the least bit concerned about the ailment after the game.

One pitcher who isn’t quite in sync at the moment is reliever Manny Delcarmen, who has been battling his mechanics for a couple of weeks. The righty got two outs and didn’t give up any runs on Saturday, but he’s not quite there yet.

With that in mind, the Red Sox will pitch Declarmen for a couple of innings in a more controlled environment on Monday, in a Minor League game.

“That’s still a work in progress,” Francona said. “I think we’re going to take him down to the minor league side on Monday and give him a couple, try to get him enough reps where [he's more comfortable]. Still watching his warm-ups, he’s not driving the ball downhill yet. We’ve got to stay on that.”

Saturday subjects

Jeremy Hermida left todays’ game with right hamstring tightness. Will follow up with more when I get more.

Back in Fort Myers this morning, Scott Schoeneweis arrived, Kevin Frandsen arrived, and Mike Lowell discussed the foul ball that nailed him in the left knee and knocked him out of Friday’s game.

Manager Terry Francona said it’s hard to know just when Lowell will be ready for a return to action.

“He’s tender, but not horrible,” said Francona. “Pretty tender. He kind of popped his head in before we left. I don’t know when he’ll play. We’ll see. I guess not as bad as it could have been but again, I kind of come back to what I told you guys – you guys saw the same thing I did. It was painful.”

“When I saw that yesterday, he went down in a hurry. You know he wanted to play. We’ll just keep an eye on him. He’s in there today and he’ll do what he can do.”

As for Schoeneweis, he is fully into his spring routine, having just been released by the Brewers a few days ago. The Red Sox will try to get a quick read on him and determine if he is a fit.

“We’ll see, we’ll just try to cover everything,” Francona said. “We have Alan [Embree] here. We know it’s going to be kind of a short look. That’s why we’re trying not to mess around and prolong it. We want him to be able to get out there and pitch a few times so we can make some good decisions.”

MLB.com’s Maureen Mullen was among the reporters who spoke with the lefty in Fort Myers this morning.

Schoeneweis is excited that the Red Sox have given him a chance. He has gone through a lot in the last year, with his wife dying suddenly last May. His kids will spend time with him in Florida this week.

“They have spring break next week and they’re going to come out and hang out at the beach,” Schoeneweis said. “That takes the sting of having to be this far away. Most guys would rather be without their family in Spring Training. My situation’s a little different. I feel much better with them around. So it took the sting out of having to leave so suddenly, and come out here to Florida. So it’ll be fun for everybody.”

He has thrived throughout his career at Fenway, and used to attend games there as a kid.

“It’s a special [place] for me,” he said.  “Came to Fenway as a little guy, all through my life growing up. It’s always been a special palace. I’ve always pitched well there, and I think it’s just because I love it so much. I’m an East Coast guy,anyway. I enjoyed my time in New York [with the Mets], bought a house in Connecticut. I like the weather in Arizona, but with everything else I’m an East Coast guy. So, this should be pretty special.”

The Red Sox will do as much evaluating as they can over the next few days. With that in mind, they will break up their pitching on Monday. Boof Bonser, who had a minor groin injury during his last start, will pitch in the Minors that day, and so will Daisuke Matsuzaka. Josh Beckett will start the Monday night game, with both Embree and Schoeneweis pitching out of the bullpen that night.

After breaking camp on Friday, the Red Sox will play one exhibition game on Saturday afternoon in the nation’s capital against the Nats. Tim Wakefield and Dice-K are expected to pitch in that one.

Beckett for Openers; Frandsen, Schoeneweis on board

Josh Beckett will get the ball on Opening Night (April 4), when the Red Sox open the 2010 season against the Yankees at Fenway Park. Jon Lester will pitch the second game of that series two days later, while John Lackey draws the finale on April 7, making his first start in a Boston uniform.

Veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield will pitch the season’s fourth game, on April 9 at Kansas City. Beckett will pitch the second game of that series and Clay Buchholz, Boston’s No. 5 starter to open the season, will pitch the finale of that three-game set against the Royals. Lester will slide in again after that, and the pitchers will stay in their regular order from there.

In other news, the Sox have made a depth move, acquiring utilityman Kevin Frandsen in a trade with the Giants. The Sox will send a player to be named or cash.  Frandsen, a close friend of Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, will report to camp on Saturday.

And there was another transaction recorded by busy general manager Theo Epstein shortly thereafter, as veteran lefty Scott Schoenewis agreed to terms on a Minor League deal that included an invite to camp. The Red Sox signed Alan Embree last week, and released Brian Shouse this morning. The battle is on for the final spots in the Boston bullpen.

For what it’s worth, Schoenweis has thrived at Fenway in his career, holding opponents to a .168 average and 2.59 ERA.  He is the cousin of Red Sox special advisor Jeremy Kapstein.

Lowell limps off

Mike Lowell was finally starting to get back on a normal playing schedule, but that came to a halt on Friday afternoon, when the veteran had to leave the Grapefruit League contest against the Blue Jays after fouling a ball off his left leg. The official diagnosis is a left knee contusion. It happened in the bottom of the first inning during Lowell’s first at-bat.

Upon contact, Lowell immediately fell to the ground and appeared to be in considerable pain. He eventually got up and limped off the field with the help of trainer Mike Reinold and manager Terry Francona.

Lowell was still recovering from right thumb surgery at the start of camp, and played in his first exhibition game on March 15, 12 days behind the rest of the team.

He has been playing at both third base and first base this spring, the latter position a new one for him. Lowell hasn’t had the same mobility since undergoing right hip surgery in October, 2008, so the versatility of playing first base figures to make him more valuable to the Red Sox or another team if he is traded.

The Red Sox nearly traded Lowell to the Texas Rangers for catching prospect Max Ramirez in December, but the deal fell through when it was determined that he needed thumb surgery.

The World Series Most Valuable Player in 2007, when the Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies, Lowell was Boston’s starting third baseman the last four seasons.

Even after the deal with the Rangers didn’t happen, the Red Sox went out and signed free agent Adrian Beltre to be their starting third baseman.

If Lowell winds up staying with the Red Sox, he will be used at both corner spots as well as designated hitter.

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