March 2011

Tito still mulling over Opening Day lineup

Usually an Opening Day lineup is pretty simple for a manager. You put your best nine players out there in the order you expect them to hit in for most of the season.  But Terry Francona is faced with a bit of a different situation this year, in that his team is going against Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson.

How good is Wilson against lefties? Well, last year, they hit .144 against him with no homers and 12 RBIs. Yes, that is filthy.

“It’s not just the lefty, it’s who the lefty is,” Francona told reporters today from City of Palms Park. “This is something, that’s why I’ve been so hesitant to talk about the lineup. C.J. Wilson is one of those lefties, where on normal days, if it’s July, that’s the day you give your righties a shot. Now, it’s Opening Day. There’s some thought that needs to go into that.”

Here is a breakdown of Sox lefties lifetime vs. Wilson:  Crawford 2-for-12, 1 HR, 4 RBIs; Ortiz 1-for-10, 1 RBI; J.D. Drew 1-for-6, 0 RBIs; Jacoby Ellsbury 0-for-1; Adrian Gonzalez 0-for-1.

So Francona has several dilemmas: Does he hit Ellsbury leadoff or put him at the bottom of the order? Does Drew start, or does Tito insert Mike Cameron?

Even though Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a switch-hitter, is going to be the primary catcher this season, does Francona give Jason Varitek the honor of starting Opening Day? His motive in that situation, aside from Varitek’s strong history with starting pitcher Jon Lester, is that ‘Tek is a stronger right-handed hitter and Salty is better from the left side.

What order do Youkilis and Gonzalez hit in? Does he hit Youk fourth and Gonzo fifth or vice versa?

The roster is final, time to play ball

So the roster is officially set. Hideki Okajima and Alfredo Aceves had options, and were sent to Triple-A Pawtucket. Matt Albers and Dennys Reyes did not have options,  and therefore they made the team.

So here is the roster you will see on Opening Day in Texas.

Catchers: Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek. Infielders: Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Marco Scutaro, Jed Lowrie, Kevin Youkilis. Outfielders: Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew, Mike Cameron, Darnell McDonald. Pitchers: Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, Tim Wakefield, Dennys Reyes, Matt Albers.

That said, what are your main concerns with the season gets ready to start. Please chime in here with any and all comments.

Sorry there was a lag between blog entries. We were in the middle of installing new software.

Reyes decision looming

The Red Sox must tell Dennys Reyes if he is on the team by today, so he can decide whether to exercise his opt-out clause and become a free agent.

Reyes is in competition with Hideki Okajima, Matt Albers and Alfredo Aceves, as four pitchers are going for the final two spots in the bullpen.

“We’re still working on it,” Reyes said. It’s going to happen during the day today. my agent and them, they’re talking. I don’t know. But I have to wait and see what’s going to happen during this afternoon.”

“They’re talking, they don’t know yet. They’re still thinking, to make the best decision for the team. And I’m going to wait to see what they decide to do.”

He has already extended his opt-out deadline by 24 hours once. Would he do it again?
“We’ll see. We’ll see. That’s something, I and my agent have to talk about it. I just want to wait and see what they say.”

Why is the decision taking so long? “I think it’s easy to see, they have great pitchers competing. It’s a hard decision. Even for me, to decide is going to be hard. it’s a hard thing for them too. We’re going to have to wait.”

All things being equal, he’d  like to be with the Red Sox. “Yeah, I signed over here because I wanted to play for a contending team to be in the playoffs and I think this team is in a good position to do that.”

Battle for final two bullpen spots

If you work under the assumption that Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler and Tim Wakefield are the 10 pitchers who are sure to make the team, that leaves two spots open.

There are a barrage of lefties in the mix for those spots, including Hideki Okajima, Dennys Reyes, Andrew Miller and Rich Hill. Righies Alfredo Aceves, Scott Atchision and Matt Albers are also in the competition.

With so many pitchers going for so few spots, the Red Sox will huddle after Tuesday’s game to determine how best to utilize the innings for the final week the team is in Fort Myers.

“After the game tonight, I think [pitching coach] Curt [Young] and I, and [general manager] Theo [Epstein] and some guys from the front office will kind of sit and talk and not just talk about how we feel about things, but maybe map out the next couple of days. We’re getting to a point where innings are going to be at a premium so certainly there are going to have to be some innings at the minor league complex and innings in big league games. we’ll sit and map that out tonight.”

Francona isn’t sure exactly when the pitching staff will be finalized.

“I’d rather do it right than have to set an arbitrary deadline,” Francona said.

Red Sox split up for final time this spring

Friday is the last day this spring that the Red Sox will be divided between two games. They host the Tigers at home at 1:05 p.m. ET, and a second group plays the Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla., at 7:05 p.m.

It’s a busy two-day stretch for the Sox, who have three games in the next 24 hours.
“Our travel schedule here is not real conducive to sometimes getting our work done, and it’s not a complaint, just stating the facts,” manager Terry Francona said Friday morning. “We spend a lot of time on buses because of where we’re located. So we try to do our fundamentals periodically, when we have like a couple home games, we’ll spend a little bit of extra time doing stuff like that.”
After Boston plays the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., on Monday, Francona said more cuts are likely.
Friday’s lineups were split relatively evenly:
Afternoon lineup
Scutaro SS
Pedroia 2B
Gonzalez 1B
Youkilis 3B
Ortiz DH
Varitek C
Cameron RF
Kalish CF
McDonald LF
Buchholz SP
Night lineup

Ellsbury CF
Crawford LF
Drew RF
Lowrie SS
Nava DH
Navarro 3B
Spears 2B
Sutton 1B
Wagner C
Wakefield SP
— Evan Drellich

The season will open with Lester

The news is hardly surprising, but it is fitting. Jon Lester, Boston’s best starting pitcher and one of the best in baseball, will pitch Opening Day on April 1 against the Rangers in Arlington.

Josh Beckett pitched Opening Day for the Red Sox the last two years, but Lester has been Boston’s most productive starting pitcher since 2008.

Still just 27 years old, you wonder how many Opening Day starts are in Lester’s career. Quite a few, I’m sure.

Last season, Lester became an All-Star for the first time. He finished 2009 with a 19-9 record and a 3.25 ERA. Lester has notched 225 strikeouts in each of the last two seasons.

He has been a machine over the last three years, averaging 17 wins, 207 1/3 innings and a 3.30 ERA.

Since entering the Major Leagues in 2006, Lester is 61-25 in 124 games, all but one of those outings starts.

Lester’s rookie season came to an abrupt halt when he was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma. After undergoing six chemotherapy treatments, Lester was declared cancer free in Dec., 2006.

He fired a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals on May 19, 2008.

And now he can add an Opening Day start to the list of his already impressive accomplishments.

Dice-K on mound for Victor reunion

Major League managers don’t worry about the same things as the general public when it comes to Spring Training. For example, the fact that Daisuke Matsuzaka has given up 10 earned runs over his last two Grapefruilt League starts isn’t keeping Terry Francona awake at night.

“I’m not real concerned about anyone in camp,” Francona said. “We want to leave here healthy and have guys feeling good about themselves. I haven’t looked at anyone’s ERA. I know Daisuke got hit around a little bit the other day. I know if we took Daisuke out of the rotation tomorrow, I wouldn’t want to play for me. We’ve got to let these guys get ready.”

Matsuzaka will take the ball on Tuesday afternoon against Victor Martinez and the Detroit Tigers.

The Red Sox look forward to seeing Martinez again. In particular, Francona looks forward to seeing Martinez’s son Victor Jose, who was a regular in the clubhouse throughout last season.

“I’m actually looking forward to seeing Victor Jose. I’m hoping he’s going to be there. If you see a little kid walking around naked wearing shower shoes, that’s Victor Jose,” laughed Francona.

As for Victor Jose’s dad, the Red Sox fully appreciate what he brought to the table during his year and a half as the team’s primary catcher.
“All the things people said about him came true in a hurry,” Francona said. “Great kid, solid professional, really good hitter. That won’t change because he went to another team.”

Jarrod Saltalamacchia won’t be on tomorrow’s trip, but he enjoyed his short time as teammates with Martinez.

“It was fun,” Saltalamacchia said. “The guy plays the game every single day. He never took a day off. He worked hard, loved the game. it was cool to actually see a guy like him do that.”

And once Martinez accepted Detroit’s offer over Boston’s, it opened up a starting job for Saltalamacchia.

“I think it worked out,” Saltalamacchia said. “He went over to Detroit. I don’t know how much catching he’s going to do, but he’s set as far as knowing where he’s going to be for the next four or five years. That’s good for him and obviously it will help me out here.”

Gonzalez debut is a hit

Upon arrival into the Red Sox clubhouse today, the security attendant at the door said, “Pretty nice lineup today.”

So I glanced and there it was, Adrian Gonzalez batting third, and playing first base.

Recovering from right shoulder surgery, Gonzalez had yet to play an exhibition game this spring.

But on his first pitch of the Grapefruit League season, Gonzalez ripped a line single to left. And it was against one of baseball’s best — if most underrated pitchers — in Josh Johnson.

Here is the full lineup. Aside from Cameron in for Crawford, it’s a lot like what you will see on Opening Day in Texas:

Ellsbury CF
Pedroia 2B
Gonzalez 1B
Youkilis 3B
Ortiz DH
Drew RF
Cameron LF
Saltalamacchia C
Scutaro SS

Lackey SP

Damon unplugged

It’s always good to catch up with Johnny Damon, who is now with, believe it or not, his sixth Major League team. Damon is playing for his hometown Rays, ironically taking Carl Crawford’s place in the lineup.

Will he play for the Orioles and Blue Jays, allowing him to say he’s played for all five AL East teams. “No, I really don’t think so,” Damon said. “I go into every year hoping that I’m stuck with my last team. Hopefully that’s the case for me.”

The situation: “It’s great for me. I actually love the fact that I’ve actually now, this is my sixth team. You get to see how organizations are run, how important it is for teams to have signings that work. Tampa’s not a team that can afford to lock up a guy and not have it work out because that sets teams back. Probably just the Yankees and Boston can get away with something not working. Every other team would be hurt for a few years.

What’s it like being on the Rays with Manny while Crawford is with the Red Sox? “It’s weird. When I was a younger player I never thought I’d be on this many teams. I figured three teams or so, and here I am now. still enjoying it, though, still getting after it. Hopefully it will be another good year to make me want to come back next year.”

Having fun with Manny again? “Nothing of the press conference was rehearsed or anything. We were just two guys having a good time and enjoying being each others’ teammates again and bringing our talents to the St. Pete area. “

Any changes in Manny? “He’s always been great. There was never a question with myself or the team that we were on. Everyone knew what our places were. We enjoyed his company as a person, and obviously we enjoyed him getting the big hits for us.”

What will Crawford’s time in Boston be like? “Only time will tell. We couldn’t really define my time in Boston until we won a championship. Same in New York. Championships are what people remember you for. I was on a pretty good team, pretty stacked team. I’m sure there’s going to be at least one somewhere in his stay there.

Handling big market after playing in a small market? “I think you just have to handle it the right way. if you keep trying to run from it, that’s where you run into talking to one guy here, another guy there, that’s when your whole day is gone. But if you learn how to manage, it’s so much better.

Count Damon among those impressed by Boston’s bullpen: How many closers do they have there? You have Bard, you have Jenks, you have Papelbon. That’s pretty solid. And their starters are really good. They can shorten a game very quickly, kind of like the Yankees of the late ’90s. Pitchers gave them five or six innings and it was game over.

On Jenks: “He’s real good. I’ve always had trouble hitting off of him. Hopefully this year will be a little bit different. But their team definitely went in the right direction. Obviously, on paper, they’re the team to beat. Who knows how many games it will take to win the East? Baltimore’s gotten better. Maybe 90 games and wild card comes from somewhere else? That’s how stacked the division is.

Happy to be back in the AL East? “Absolutely, I enjoyed playing in Detroit, and actually was hoping to get back there. That was a big reason for vetoing the trade. If I would have known at the time that they weren’t going to bring me back, I would have showcased myself for the upcoming free agent year. But I knew then that Tampa was going to be a strong possibility for me, because I knew then that they couldn’t keep Crawford.”

So he would have gone to Boston last August  if he knew the Tigers weren’t going to keep him? “I wanted to stay there for the right reasons. Those kids were very fond of me. They loved the experience factor. Boston was seven games out at the time. At the time, I think a big thing was being able to play. They didn’t give me any indication. The ownership loved me. The fans loved me. So I thought it was close to being a slam dunk. But to find out on the last day of the season.

How perfect a setup is it playing for the Rays, being that he’s a Central Florida native? “Yeah. I was hoping someday it would be great. Obviously, ’98, I was still with the Royals in my fourth year, and the team I grew up rooting for was the Royals. At the time, you think you can play your whole career in one place. Then that first time you get traded, you’re like, ‘Whoa, alright, all bets are out the window.’ That’s why I didn’t mind moving around throughout my career, try to put myself in a great situation, not only for myself and a chance to win but also for my family.” 

Gonzalez targets next week for debut

Adrian Gonzalez went through a full round of batting practice on the field at City of Palms Park today and anticipates playing in his first exhibition game by next week, though he did leave wiggle room to get in there a little sooner.

“Tomorrow I’ll hit again on the field if everything feels good tomorrow morning and see how it responds hitting back-to-back days,” Gonzalez said. “Right now, the plan is to take it easy on Thursday. I don’t think I’m going to be off, but I’m going to back off and give it a rest so I can start planning out for some kind of game action next week sometime, maybe even earlier, I don’t know. Maybe next week sometime.”

One thing Gonzalez wants to make clear is that the injury and subsequent surgery should have minimal impact on his offensive performance.

“The biggest change for me to be able to dive after a ball on defense,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the biggest plan because I could hit last year, no problem. But I was limited in diving. That’s the biggest reason I had it. It wasn’t for my hitting. After I did it three or four times and everything flared up, it wasn’t feeling good. You teach yourself to stop diving.”