Jon Lester might have had a down year in 2012, but the Red Sox still view him as an ace. And that’s why the lefty will take the ball at Yankee Stadium on Monday for Opening Day.
After weeks of speculation, manager John Farrell finally made it official on Wednesday morning. Lester will be Boston’s first pitcher out of the gate for the third consecutive season.
The news was revealed just hours before Lester got ready to make his final start of Spring Training against the Miami Marlins.
“The way he was lined up, he was probably targeted all along,” said Farrell. “At the same time, we didn’t want that to be a focal point. His work that was needed and the adjustments that he’s continued to reinforce and repeat on the mound were the priorities. We felt like it was important to focus on the needs of Spring Training for every pitcher, including Jon, before we got into the rotation [order].”
In his first five starts of Grapefruit League action, Lester went 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA, looking a lot more like the pitcher who dominated in 2008-11 than the one who stumbled last year.
“He’s gotten back to a delivery that was similar to what he had in the past,” Farrell said. “I think he’s executing pitches with the consistency we saw before that made him one of the top left-handers in the game. He’s had a very strong Spring Training. “
Right-handers Clay Buchholz and Ryan Dempster will follow Lester in New York, pitching Wednesday and Thursday respectively. Left-hander Felix Doubront and righty John Lackey will round out the rotation, pitching the first two games in Toronto.
Buchholz is on tap to pitch the Home Opener on April 8 against the Orioles.
Lester was 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA in 33 starts in 2012.
“I didn’t really like what happened last year as far as me and the way I pitched,” Lester said earlier this spring. “That’s solely on me – that’s not on anyone else, that’s not on the revolving door of pitching coaches, that’s not on our manager, that’s not on anybody but myself. I want to prove that last year was a fluke and it’s not going to happen again.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell didn’t hide the fact that he was giving prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. a key test on Sunday to make sure he’s ready for the challenge of being on the Opening Day roster. In Sunday’s road game against the Phillies, Bradley started in left field on a day the Red Sox were facing Cliff Lee, one of the toughest lefties in the Majors.
So what did Bradley do? In his first at-bat, he belted a three-run homer to left-center.
This as also Bradley’s first time starting in the same outfield as Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino. Bradley played two innings in left on Friday in Dunedin but this was his first start there since his freshman year of high school in 2005.
No decisions have been made, but the possibility seems to be growing by the day that Bradley will head North with the Red Sox and help fill the void left by David Ortiz Stephen Drew, who are all but certain to start the season on the disabled list.
“This is probably the best environment we could put him in on the road, away from our ballpark, going up against a very good pitcher. This will be a good day for him,” said Farrell.
Farrell can’t help but recall similarities to another spring he saw a top prospect win a job out of camp, helped by an injury to a key player. When Farrell was the Indians’ farm director in 2005, Grady Sizemore was optioned down to the Minors during Spring Training. However, Juan Gonzalez suffered in injury later in camp, and Sizemore broke camp with the Indians and became a star for many years, before injuries derailed him.
What does Farrell remember about Sizemore in the spring of 2005?
“That he was ready. As is the case many times, it’s out of the players’ control. But an injury opened up a spot for him.”
And that could again be happening in 2013.
The Red Sox will have some decisions to make early next week when it comes to some of their veterans who are on the bubble.
Lyle Overbay, who is competing to be the backup first baseman, has an opt-out clause in his contract that he can activate on Tuesday. Outfielder Ryan Sweeny can become a free agent on Thursday. Both those players might exercise their rights to become free agents if they don’t have assurances they will make the team.
“We certainly try to communicate with everyone as respectfully and professionally as we can, as we get close to those decisions,” said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. “Of course, they’re not all on the same day. We’ll have plenty of conversation between now and next week. But right now, there’s baseball still to be played in Spring Training. We’ve got to keep watching.”
The Red Sox play the Phillies under the lights tonight in Fort Myers, and it’s a pretty good pitching matchup. John Lackey for the Sox, and Cole Hamels for Philly.
Look at the lineup manager John Farrell has posted for today, and it could be the same one you see on April 1 in New York.
Stephen Drew is on his way to visit the head of the University of Pittsburgh concussion program, Micky Collins, on Tuesday. Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, who’s been hampered by a pair of concussions of his own, had some advice for the Red Sox shortstop.
“I’d say he’s going to see a great guy, I think that it’s a scary situation,” Roberts said. “And I would tell him to trust his instincts, to trust what he’s feeling. And know that there is an end in sight. But the in the midst of it it’s a really tough place to be.
“I think the hardest part of that injury is that people don’t have any idea what’s going on because they can’t see it.”
Told Drew’s concussion was suffered on a pitch that didn’t make the most direct impact possible with his helmet, Roberts said his second concussion was similar because he did not directly hit his head when he dove: “Oh I know, I got the same thing.”
“I hit myself in the head obviously and my second one I dove headfirst in Boston, I didn’t hit my head on the ground. But your brain it basically just sits in there. And all that needs to be done is juggled a little bit. Doesn’t have to be a helmet to helmet collision in football for it to happen.”
“I hurt for him, I feel for him because I know what it’s like. But I think the thing you got to realize you got to be careful it’s the rest of your life, it’s your brain, make sure that you’re right before you do anything. I think the biggest thing is he sees so many cases, he’s done a lot of research. He knows that everyone is different but they also have a way of understanding what part of the brain has been affected, and how to help rehab that.”
Roberts has only the highest praise for Collins and what Drew is about to go through in Pittsburgh.
“They do a battery of testing,” Roberts said. “They do the obviously one which is the ImPACT test on the computer, but then there’s a whole bunch of other things that they do there at the facility that most people don’t see or don’t know. A bunch of other testing to find out, like I said, what area of the brain has been affected and what needs to be looked at. What needs to be rehabbed.
“There’s a little bit of everything, they’ll do some ocular testing, some vision testing. So there’s numerous areas of the brain that can be affected.”
— Evan Drellich
Fourteen pitches, seven strikes and one inning thrown in a Double-A game Wednesday led Alfredo Aceves to some pitching ruminations.
There’s long been a belief in baseball that you can’t try to throw hard, that if you’re tense and trying to throw a ball 180 mph, you won’t even hit 90 mph. That may not be a revelation for anyone in the game or even for Aceves himself, but the Red Sox right-hander gave credit to that philosophy for his elevated velocity in 2012.
Aceves averaged 94.7 mph on his fastball last season, a jump from 93.4 mph, according to BrooksBaseball.
“It was more maña than fuerza when I get 98,” Aceves said after the backfield outing at Fenway South. “My mind tell me to relax my body and let my body do it. … Maña es mejor que fuerza.”
The rest of the Major League Red Sox were off on Wednesday.
Before Wednesday, Aceves had last pitched six days ago, going three innings for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. He’s set to start Saturday on the road against the Rays, and he feels the Classic hasn’t set back his regular-season preparation.
“The only thing is we travelled four hours and a half to Phoenix,” Aceves said. “Everybody is doing the little things that we have to do to maintain ourselves.”
— Evan Drellich
Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is not putting on a happy face. Being shut down from baseball activities with three weeks before Opening Day is not his idea of a good time.
But the DH knows that his long-term outlook for 2013 is more important than a now unrealistic goal of trying to be ready for the first game.
“I’m going to be back as soon as I’m good to go,” Ortiz said. “Right now, I’m just going to try to work on getting the inflammation out of there and it will take a little bit of time.”
Everyone wants to play on Opening Day, but that’s not happening for Number 34. Not this year.
“Of course. Everybody wants to be there for Opening Day, but it is what it is,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz wasn’t surprised that the MRI revealed inflammation in his heels, instead of the Achilles tendon he injured last July. “I know it wasn’t the Achilles. We have an MRI in December and my Achilles looked pretty good. We have an MRI right now and my Achilles is not the issue. It’s just inflammation right behind it. We’re going to work on that now,” said Ortiz.
However, Ortiz did admit there is some peace of mind to getting the reading from the MRI. “Yeah, I knew it was something, it was not normal. I was getting pain four or five hours after I was finished with my workout and I know something wasn’t right. We had that communication between me and the doctors, the trainers. They agree with getting an MRI just to see what was going on. It’s not anything crazy, thanks God. But it’s going to take a couple of weeks to get fixed.”
Ortiz did not get a shot, but he is taking anti-inflammatories. “Yeah, we started that up now after we saw the MRI, they started giving me some anti-inflammatories.”
At a time of spring when the other players are starting to ramp up for Opening Day, Ortiz will work under a modified time-table. “Yeah, it’s not a good feeling. I’ve been working really hard this offseason just to make sure I’m good to go for the season. It’s happened. It’s not me being me. I know you guys have noticed that. Like I said, it is what it is and things happen for a reason, right? The one thing that we’re really working on is that when I’m back, I’m back. It’s not just coming back for a couple of weeks and then going back and doing the same thing. They’re trying to fix the whole thing. That way when I get back in the lineup, it’s going to be there, and be there for the season.”
This injury for Ortiz has lingered in some form or fashion since July 16, 2012. “Well, we’re humans. Nobody wants to be injured. Me, I was going 120 percent this offseason working with this injury and the good news is it had nothing to do with my Achilles like it used to. That made me happy at least, knowing that my Achilles is doing fine.”
But perhaps the inflammation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
“It’s a process where when you’re going at it, you pretty much use everything. It’s not like you can get picky with the things you want to do. Not being formally doing things for like six, seven months, it’s like starting all over. It happens.
Ortiz is clearly dejected that he won’t start the season on time.
“Well, Opening Day was my goal. You guys heard me talking about it when I first got here. I was feeling good and pushing things the way I was being told. Right now, Opening Day seems like it’s not the case. The case is get me healthy for five or five and a half good months. That’s what we’re looking for now.”
If the Red Sox are to be the team they want to be this season, Ortiz’s injury — particularly if it’s short term — shouldn’t derail them too much.
“We have a good team,” Ortiz said. “We have good players. We’ve got some good players. I’ve been talking to a lot of them, and the one thing I keep on telling them is just try to do what you do at your best. Don’t try to do more than that. You’re going to bump into some tough times. Just learn how to deal with it, and everything will be taken care of.”
With David Ortiz not making the progress he had hoped with his right Achilles injury, the Red Sox sent the slugger out for a precautionary MRI on Saturday. The team should have the results later today. Interestingly, Ortiz had images on both heels.
He hasn’t been ruled out for Opening Day yet, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it eventually heads in that direction.
“He’s undergone an MRI on both his heels and that’s where he’s been feeling the discomfort,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “It hasn’t been in that right Achilles specifically, it’s been overall in both heels. Just to rule everything out, he’s undergone that imaging here today. I think the one thing that we still hold in all this is that while the timing might not be what was maybe initially expected, the bigger picture is he’s still making progress. He’s been able to run the bases – as we know – on the days that he has. He’s been taking BP every single day. There’s progress, yet, maybe not as fast as he might have anticipated or hoped. Like I said, we’re ruling everything out but at the same time we acknowledge that there’s progress being made.”
When would the Red Sox officially rule Ortiz out for Opening Day?
“Well, we’ll see how this week goes,” Farrell said. “We don’t have a date earmarked. Our goal is to have David in our lineup for the greatest number of games that we can throughout the course of the year. It’s not like April 1 is a drop-dead date for an entire season. We’re not going to rush to any decision where we’re saying, you know what, Opening Day is out.
The Red Sox will only start examining alternative plans for the lineup once they know for sure Ortiz will start the season late. Could there be an option in which Jackie Bradley, Jr. starts the season on the active roster, with an outfielder — say Jonny Gomes – serving as the DH?
“That discussion is yet to be had. Regardless of who would fill out the 25-man roster, you know what, I can’t sit here today and say that’s not an option that wouldn’t be discussed. Keep in mind that we fully expect Jackie to begin the season in the Minor Leagues. So we’ll see – we’ll work through the combinations that exist here in camp and, again, we haven’t ruled out David either.”
Jackie Bradley, Jr. has arguably been the best story in camp, making things happen whenever he takes the field. However, barring an injury to one of Boston’s main outfielders, Bradley is all but certain to open the season in the Minors.
“Likely,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell . “But you never want to put a limit on anyone, either. He’s making the best of the opportunity, and he’s making a very strong impression.”
Bradley, who is not in tonight’s starting lineup against Puerto Rico, is hitting .471 in 17 at-bats.
In other news, David Ortiz ran the bases today, marking the first time he’s done it in consecutive days. He is planning on running again tomorrow. If all goes well, Ortiz could be in Boston’s lineup by some point this weekend.
Daniel Bard, fresh off an encouraging inning in a simulated game on Monday, is scheduled to pitch in a game in Thursday, which would mark his first Grapefruit League appearance in 10 days.
Red Sox slugger David Ortiz took another encouraging step forward in his recovery on Monday, running the bases. Ortiz went home to first a few times, first to third a couple of times, and second to home.
“I ran today better than the last time I ran,” Ortiz said. “Everybody was pretty happy about it. I’m happy about it because nothing bothers me when I was running. That’s a plus. That is telling me that I’m going in the right direction, you know what I’m saying?”
Ortiz is confident he will be in the lineup when the Red Sox open their season at Yankee Stadium on April 1.
“Oh, I want to play way before that, you know what I’m saying? Of course, that’s why we’re doing all this stuff so I’m good to go for Opening Day,” Ortiz said. “The main goal right now is to make sure I get to play down here. If I play down here, that means I’m good to go, you know what I’m saying?”