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Yankees raised money for Red Sox first base coach Johnson’s daughter

03.03.11 at 7:51 pm ET
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Dan Barbarisi of the Wall Street Journal wrote a touching story about the generosity of Yankees players in support of Bridget Johnson, the daughter of Red Sox first base coach Ron Johnson. Bridget Johnson, 11, lost her leg after a car ran into her while she was riding a horse near her home in Tennessee last year.

Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long had played for Ron Johnson in the minor leagues in the 1990s and, while few New York players had a personal connection to the Johnsons, at Long’s behest, they nevertheless collected what the story describes as “significant checks” in support of the Johnson family as they struggled with medical bills.

From the story:

“We got out of the hospital, we got home, and one day this package showed up from the Yankees,” Johnson said.

Johnson opened it, curious, his wife Daphane nearby.

“I said, ‘Huh?’ And it was from Kevin. With a little note, saying ‘I never forgot what you did for me, and I hope this helps.’ It was incredible. I showed it to Daphane, she started crying,” Johnson said.

Since then, some Yankee players have kept up on Bridget’s progress, prodding Long for updates, Jorge Posada said.

Joe McDonald of ESPN.com also detailed the Yankees’ generosity, noting how grateful Johnson is that the competition between the two clubs does not extend off the field.

“Yeah, it’s a rivalry, but it makes everything so much clearer that there’s baseball and then there’s the human aspect,” Johnson said. “I know there’s stuff that happens on the field, but they’re human beings, and it’s real neat [what they did].

“As I’ve seen more than anybody, the support I’ve had from the Red Sox organization is unbelievable. This was just another piece — a phenomenal deed. Amazing.”

Read More: bridget johnson, kevin long, Ron Johnson, Yankees

David Ortiz: ‘I enjoy baseball now. What a difference.’

03.03.11 at 4:15 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Speaking prior to the Red Sox‘ spring training game against the Phillies Thursday at City of Palms Park Thursday, David Ortiz explained that a big reason for his early success is that his “mind is free right now.” The Sox’ designated hitter went on to explain that he prioritized taking care of “personal stuff” in the offseason so that nothing would be a distraction heading into 2011.

“I haven’t felt like this for a while,” he told WEEI.com. “There were a lot of things that I had to correct, and I did in the offseason.

“It wasn’t anything related to baseball. When you’re playing baseball you can’t be thinking about some other things. Baseball is a very complicated business so you have to make sure your mind is clear so you can think about what you’re doing. So this offseason I tried to fix everything that I could think of.”

Ortiz, who came into Thursday’s game having gone 5-for-8 with a home run but went 0-for-3 against the Phillies, wouldn’t specify what alterations he made in the offseason, simply saying, “I just needed to dedicate time to it. By the time I got to Fort Myers I had peace of mind.”

The DH explained that he has continued to be distraction-free, noting while talking that he didn’t even have his cell phone near him, a departure from his usual morning clubhouse routine.

“I can enjoy baseball now. What a difference,” he said. “I don’t even have my cell phone with me. That’s your No. 1 enemy, your cell phone.

“People sometimes don’t realize we have another life outside of baseball, and that life needs to be taken care of. You have family, you have kids, you have friends. A lot of stuff.

“In a situation like ours sometimes you don’t pay attention to little things and they accumulate slowly. It’s like when you have a car and the mirror breaks. You say you’ll fix that later. Then the window breaks, and you say I’ll fix that later. Then the next thing you know, the engine is screwed up. Next thing you know you have 20 things to fix at once, but you don’t have time to fix all 20 things. You’ve been accumulating things for years and then next thing you know you’ve got all that on top of you. Then people look at you and it seems you have a big old monkey on your back. Not anymore.”

For more spring training coverage, see the Red Sox team page at weei.com/redsox.

Ruben Amaro believes the Red Sox are the team to beat

03.03.11 at 1:32 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — If Red Sox fans were looking for how the rest of the baseball world viewed their team, they might want to have sat in on Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro’s meeting with the media prior to his team’s game against the Sox Thursday at City of Palms Park.

“This is the best club in baseball, I think,” Amaro said. “The combination of speed power pitching bullpen, they’re a hell of a ballclub. Don’t have a whole lot of holes.”

Amaro’s team, of course, is no slouch, either. With addition of Cliff Lee to a rotation that already included Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Thursday’s starter, Cole Hamels, many believe the Philadelphia is the team to beat in the National League. But, evidently, the Phils’ chief decision-maker believes his club still has some catching up to do if they’re to be lumped in with the Red Sox.

“Any time you bring tha kind of talent to your club, they did a heck of a job,” Amaro said. “They already had a great team except for a whole hell of a lot of injuries. For them being in the race, to hang around as decimated as they were, they were decimated every bit as much as the Mets were a couple years back.”

Red Sox morning notes: Josh Beckett makes Ino Guerrero a crossing guard

03.03.11 at 10:48 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Josh Beckett felt “really good” according to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who said the pitcher is slated to pitch a three-inning simulated game in the bullpen at City of Palms Park Friday afternoon. The plan is to have the starter make his next regularly scheduled start Tuesday.

Beckett has been recovering from a mild concussion after being hit in the head with a baseball during batting practice Monday. He had participated in long-toss Wednesday.

“He’s going to have a normal day today. He feels really good,” said Francona during his morning meeting with the media.

“I think we thought he was OK, but when you start talking about concussions and things like that ‘€¦ But he looked clear-eyed right from the beginning. I know he had that headache, but he never seemed cloudy or anything like that.”

Beckett brought some levity to the situation, walking out to left field where the team was stretching wearing a white t-shirt over his uniform top. In front of the entire group the pitcher proceeded to present an orange construction vest, along with a yellow baseball hat, to batting practice pitcher Ino Guerrero, who had been the one who hit the ball that struck Beckett’s head.

Other early-morning notes ‘€¦

- Felix Doubront still hasn’€™t begun throwing, and said he thought he would be undergoing an MRI soon. Francona noted that team medical director Dr. Thomas Gill will be arriving in town Friday, at which time Doubront would most likely be examined. The lefty did say he felt significantly better.

- Francona talked about a few of the seven catchers the Red Sox have in camp, noting that Tim Fedorowicz is a bit more advanced that Ryan Lavarnway defensively, although the 23-year-old Lavarnway was ‘€œreally advanced’€ offensively.

- The subject of Daniel Nava came up, with Francona noting, ‘€œHe has the tools to be a better outfielder than he showed at times.’€

Francona didn’€™t think there would be a designated seventh-inning and eighth-inning reliever in the Red Sox’€™ bullpen, but the plan would be according to availability, match-up and other factors. Francona did single out one part of the bullpen equation. ‘€œThere’€™s no secret, if the game’€™s on the line and he’€™s rested, we want [Daniel] Bard to pitch,’€ the manager said. ‘€œHe’€™s a weapon. But you can’€™t do that every day.’€

- With the Phillies in town the subject of Cliff Lee came up. Regarding his thoughts when it was learned Lee would be heading to Philadelphia, Francona said, ‘€œI was glad. I think everybody thought it was a forgone conclusion he was probably going to the Yankees, and if he didn’€™t go to the Yankees he was going to Texas. Both are in our league, and one is in our division, so I was really glad. Facing Cliff once in interleague is a lot better than facing him four or five times.’€

- Here is the Red Sox’ lineup Thursday against Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels: Marco Scutaro SS, Dustin Pedroia 2B, Carl Crawford LF, Kevin Youkilis 3B, David Ortiz DH, J.D. Drew RF, Mike Cameron CF, Jarrod Saltalamacchia C, Lars Anderson 1B, Stolmy Pimentel P.

Jonathan Papelbon believes he has the secret to future success

03.03.11 at 7:40 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ Jonathan Papelbon can remember the exact moment he made the commitment to his new pitch.

‘€œI remember being in Yankee Stadium, throwing a few of them to [Mark] Teixeira and one to [Derek] Jeter,’€ the Red Sox closer said. ‘€œI remember throwing one to Jeter and he check-swung. He got the call ‘€“ even though it was a strike ‘€“ but I remember him specifically looking at me and looking like he was thinking, ‘€˜Where did that come from?’€™ From then on I said I am going to start using this pitch any time, all the time.’€

The pitch Papelbon refers to his is slider, and he insists it will be a difference-maker this season.

‘€œThis is the most confident I’€™ve felt about a breaking pitch,’€ he said. ‘€œIt’€™s right where I want it to be. I’€™m going to throw it as much as my split. I’€™ll have three pitches I can throw from 0-0, to 3-2.’€

Last season, Papelbon threw the pitch 111 times, compared to the 202 occasions he utilized his back-up plan pitch, the splitter. Against the slider, hitters managed a .154 batting average, compared to a .240 clip vs. the split.

The closer didn’€™t unleash any sliders in his first spring training outing, in which the reliever threw just six pitches. But he has been breaking it out on a regular basis during his bullpen sessions.

They have been practice pitches his fellow relievers have taken note of.

‘€œWe throw every day so I see a lot of it,’€ said Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard. ‘€œIt seemed at times he would get on the side of it and it would have that Frisbee action and it wasn’€™t an effective pitch for him. The one he’€™s throwing this year, I don’€™t know if he’€™s gripping it different, but it’€™s got depth, it’€™s late. It looks like a plus pitch the way he’€™s throwing it right now. It looks like something has changed a little bit. It’€™s a later and sharper pitch than it was last year.’€

It wasn’€™t as if Papelbon didn’€™t have a slider in his repertoire before. In ‘€™09 he threw the pitch 107 times, it was just that hitters managed a .273 batting average when facing it. And he also had integrated into his arsenal during his days as a starter, both in the minors and then briefly in spring training of ‘€™07.

But this time, according to Papelbon, it’€™s going to be different.

‘€œI had a good slider. I had an awesome slider,’€ he said. ‘€œI was throwing a slider, I was throwing it a lot, but then I stopped throwing it for four years. You lose the feel for it. I’€™m excited about it.’€

David Ortiz goes 3-for-3 and even steals a base but Braves beat Red Sox

03.02.11 at 4:03 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — David Ortiz went 3-for-3 and drove in Boston’s only run as the Red Sox fell to the Braves, 6-1, Wednesday afternoon at City of Palms Park.

Two of Ortiz’s hits were smashes through the teeth of the shift, line drives that landed in short right field. He drove in Jacoby Ellsbury in the first inning as the Red Sox jumped out to a 1-0 lead.

Following his line drive single in the fourth, he stole second base while the Braves played the infield back with one out. Ortiz is now 5-for-8 this spring with a homer and four RBIs.

[Recap and stats from Wednesday.]

Former Red Sox shortstop Alex Gonzalez tagged starter John Lackey for a long homer to left field in the second inning as the Braves tied it.

Lackey threw 41 pitches, 25 strikes, over two innings, allowing one run on four hits. He struck out one in his 2011 spring debut.

Lackey faced an Atlanta lineup full of regulars, including Jason Heyward, Martin Prado, Gonzalez, Dan Uggla, Eric Hinske, Freddie Freeman and David Ross.

The Red Sox lineup featured all regulars, except for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Marco Scutaro, Kevin Youkilis and the rehabbing Adrian Gonzalez. They faced Tim Hudson in the righthander’s first spring start. Hudson allowed the one run in the first but retired the Red Sox in order in the second.

Atlanta scored once in the fifth to break the 1-1 tie and tacked on three more in the seventh to improve to 3-1 in Grapefruit play. The Red Sox fell to 2-2.

The Red Sox host Philadelphia on Thursday at City of Palms before heading up I-75 for a Friday night showdown with the Yankees at Legend Field.

Read More: 2011 Grapefruit League, 2011 Spring Training, Alex Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves

John Lackey ‘just tired of talking about last year’

03.02.11 at 3:06 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — After turning in his first spring training out of the season, John Lackey reiterated that he is solely focused on the 2011 season and not concerned what transpired in ’10.

“Honestly, I’m just tired of talking about last year,” said Lackey after pitching two innings against the Braves at City of Palms Park Wednesday, allowing a run on four hits. He threw 41 pitches (25 strikes), one of which former Red Sox Alex Gonzalez hit for a solo homer. “I’m ready to move forward and work on this year.”

Lackey explained that he threw all fastballs in the outing in an attempt to build up arm-strength. He did make an alteration in his approach compared to last spring training, when the righty didn’t walk a batter until his final outing of the spring.

“I threw a bunch of two-seamers last year during spring training, trying to pitch more to contact,” he explained. “I think I threw one two-seamer today and the rest were four-seamers. I’m trying to get my arm strength and I’m ahead of schedule for where I was last year.”

As for his assertion that he feels markedly better at this point in the exhibition season compared to a year ago, Lackey said, “Last year coming into spring training I basically wanted to make it through spring training healthy because I hadn’t done it for two years before. I think it will be a fine line of pushing it a little more this year and still making it through healthy.”

Lackey, who was followed up by reliever Scott Atchison, said his plan is to work on his cutter before his next start, which will most likely be Monday at City of Palms Park against the Orioles.

For more spring training coverage, see the Red Sox team page at weei.com/redsox.

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