|03.13.11 at 9:33 am ET|
|03.13.11 at 12:39 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Catcher John Buck had his antennae up when he arrived at the offseason.
He was a free agent coming off, by far, the best season of his career. Playing in the AL East with the Blue Jays in 2010, he had set career highs in average (.281), OBP (.314), slugging (.489), OPS (.802). homers (20) and runs batted in (66). The performance was certain to make him one of the most sought after catchers in a relatively thin free agent market that was headlined by Sox catcher Victor Martinez.
Naturally, Buck was curious, even hopeful, that the Red Sox would come after him if they did not re-up with Martinez.
“I was paying attention to Victor. For sure,” said Buck. “Who doesn’t want to play for the Red Sox? Being a kind of historian of baseball, regardless of all the money and all that other stuff, it would just be a cool place to play. That was definitely something I thought about.”
That said, while the Sox kicked the tires on Buck, negotiations with him never reached the point of being serious. Boston was still talking with Martinez, and with Jarrod Saltalmacchia on the roster, the Sox believed they had a viable in-house catching option should he depart.
Instead, it was the Marlins who made an aggressive play for the 30-year-old, giving him a three-year, $18 million deal in early November before any substantive negotiations between the Sox and Buck occurred.
“I know there was interest there [from the Sox]. But it never really got to the point where I had to say I got this on the table or this,” said Buck. “Any good team is going to have its hands in everything. I don’t think it ever got to the point where they were ever exchanging anything.”
Instead, Buck was happy to move quickly when the Marlins made their offer. He was drawn not just to the terms of the deal but also to what he saw as a Marlins team that has positioned itself to contend. Anchored by Josh Johnson — a pitcher whom Buck said reminds him of former Royals batterymate Zack Greinke — he viewed the young and talented Marlins rotation as offering a foundation that could allow him to compete.
“You’re getting to the point where you’re looking for that ring,” said Buck. “One of the reasons I signed here was because of the strength of the starting staff. [The Marlins] have an overall direction of where they want to go, what they want to do in the future with the new stadium.”
|03.12.11 at 5:24 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Left-hander Cesar Cabral has entered the Rule 5 spin cycle.
The 22-year-old, who had a 3.63 ERA and more than a strikeout an inning while splitting 2010 between Low-A Greenville and Hi-A Salem, was selected by the Rays in Dec. in baseball’s Rule 5 draft. Players selected in the Rule 5 draft (at a cost of $50,000, paid to their original team) must either remain on a major league roster or be placed on waivers before being offered back to their former clubs.
The Rays took a flier on the young southpaw at a time when they had almost no arms in their bullpen. He features a solid fastball that is typically in the 93-94 mph vicinity, as well as a slider that produces swings and misses; he also worked last year on a changeup that was viewed by the Sox as a work in progress. It was a mix that made him an intriguing candidate for a bullpen job when Tampa Bay was preparing to see one reliever after another head for greener pastures.
Since the Rule 5 draft, however, the Rays have acquired a number of talented arms in trades and through free agency, reducing Cabral’s candidacy for a bullpen shot to an extreme longshot. He allowed a pair of runs, struck out four and walked two in 3 2/3 innings in Tampa Bay’s camp, but with most teams making their first wave of cuts now, Cabral was placed on waivers.
However, the Blue Jays claimed him, and so now, Cabral will be entering the camp of another American League East team. He will have the opportunity to stick with the Jays, but if he does not, then he will once again face the possibility of relocation, either to the Sox (if no other team claims him) or another team.
|03.12.11 at 4:56 pm ET|
|03.12.11 at 3:56 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Edwin Rodriguez knew that the talent remained present. So, too, did the work ethic and the craving for success.
But while the potential of pitcher Andrew Miller was “obvious,” in the words of Rodriguez, it was just as apparent that it was going to be difficult for him to achieve success with the Marlins. Rodriguez, who was elevated from Florida’s bench coach to interim manager last June, was first-hand witness to the struggles of the 6-foot-7 lefty, who came to the Marlins (in the deal that shipped superstar Miguel Cabrera to Detroit) with enormous hype but was traded away this winter after having failed to live up to it.
Miller was 1-5 with an 8.54 ERA for the Marlins in nine big league appearances last year. His command (7.2 walks per nine innings) were a mess, a result of his having been pulled in any number of directions during his Florida tenure.
“They tried a lot of things with him. Of course, he would agree with everything they were doing,” said Rodriguez, who shed the interim title this offseason. “Everybody was pulling, is still pulling, for him. He’s a great guy. He cares and he works. He cares about going out there and performing well. It was a matter of performance. I think a change of scenery will hopefully help him.”
The very early returns on his spring suggest that might be possible. The Sox have asked Miller not to think about his mechanics this spring and rather to find a motion that feels natural and comfortable while trusting his stuff to get opponents out. Thus far this spring, that plan has been working. His fastball has effortlessly sat at 93-96 mph, though one scout noted that it has touched as high as 99 mph. His breaking ball has also looked good this spring.
Miller has turned in shutout appearances in three of his four relief outings this spring, and most notably, in 5 1/3 innings, he has struck out five and walked none (though the scout did note that, in his last outing on Thursday, he struggled with his command, falling behind in counts but ultimately coming back to retire the Rays batters he faced). The Marlins have noted his performances, and enjoyed them from afar.
“He cares. He’s not afraid to work. That’s why everybody is pulling for him,” said Rodriguez. “It was just one of those situations where you change places, and maybe everything starts clicking. It seems like it’s happening for him. Good for him.”
|03.12.11 at 3:36 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was a good day for John Lackey.
First, there was his own performance on the mound. The big right-hander sailed through 4 1/3 innings against the Marlins, allowing just one run on six hits while issuing no walks and striking out three. He got up and down for five innings to take a step forward in building his stamina for the regular season, and he felt good about both his pitch mix (there was satisfaction in throwing a backdoor cutter to a lefty for a punchout, as well as some good changeups) as well as the way in which he mixed his pitches.
“Today I pitched more like I would during the season. I incorporated a lot more pitches today as opposed to the first two times, I was pretty fastball-heavy,” said Lackey. “Today was more like a regular season start and I was able to throw some off-speed pitches behind in the count and do some things that I need to do in the season.”
But part of the excitement for Lackey had nothing to do with his own performance, and more to do with the shape of the lineup. The Sox featured eight of their nine expected Opening Day players (only Carl Crawford was missing, with Mike Cameron getting a start in left), and laid the hammer on Marlins ace Josh Johnson on a day when Adrian Gonzalez made his first appearance of the spring and both Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia went 3-for-3.
Sox pitchers are excited about the prospect of what kind of support they might get from a deep and powerful batting order, feeling that the opportunity for W’s could be plentiful.
“We’re deep. We’ve got some really good players hitting in that bottom third of the lineup,” said Lackey. “It’s going to be a fun place to be this year. It’s going to be a situation, I think, [where with] the starting pitcher kind of outlasting the other the guy, you might run into several wins.’
|03.12.11 at 1:17 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Well, that was quick.
Gonzalez stepped to the plate for the first time as a member of the Red Sox in the bottom of the first inning, greeted by a warm round of applause by the fans at City of Palms Park. After starter Josh Johnson threw once to first to hold Dustin Pedroia (on base following a run-scoring single), the big right-hander fired a fastball up and away. Gonzalez immediately jumped on the pitch, lining it to left field for a single, flashing the remarkable ability to drive the ball to the opposite field that has made him such a dangerous hitter.
“Josh Johnson is a guy who has a great fastball so you can’t give him anything,” said Gonzalez. “My game-plan was just to go up there and look for a fastball that I could get on top of and I was able to execute that first pitch.”
In the top of the second, Gonzalez stepped to the plate again with runners on the corners and one out. After falling behind Johnson, 1-2, he lined a pitch to centerfielder Dewayne Wise (best remembered for making the incredible catch to preserve Mark Buehrle‘s perfect game in 2009) on which the outfielder made a sliding catch. Gonzalez was credited with a sacrifice fly.
“My game plan was to be ready for the fastball,” said Gonzalez. “I was going to consciously swing through any offspeed pitch and if he made a good pitch, be ready to recognize it and take it. But I was gearing up for the fastball the entire at-bat.”
That was it for Gonzalez, who was replaced at first base by Drew Sutton for the top of the third inning after his 1-for-1 day. The game represented a satisfying check mark for the first baseman in his recovery from the surgery. He had answered some questions when his shoulder responded pain-free to batting practice, and he answered more on Saturday when thrust into a game situation.
“It feels good. [Batting practice] the first couple of days I made a conscious effort to let it go and swing hard to see how it would respond. You can’t take it easy and swing hard in the game and then you feel something. You’d rather swing hard in a more controlled environment in a sense,” said Gonzalez. “It responded well, so I went to more of a game mentality today and yesterday and made sure to put good swings on the ball.”
This was one test, but others remain. For starters, he saw only fastballs in his two at-bats against Johnson, and so he is eager to see breaking balls and changeups to gain his timing against the full spectrum of pitches.
Other aspects of his progression will have to wait for the regular season. For instance, he switched from his usual 35 inch, 33 ounce bat last year to a 34/31 in deference to his shoulder. He continues to use the lighter bat, though anticipates switching back to his heavier model in the regular season. Defensively, he plans to take precautions to protect his surgically repaired shoulder.
“I’m not going to be able to [dive] until the season. I’m not diving. I’m staying away from it, not putting any stress on it,” said Gonzalez. “Hopefully I’ll put myself in the right position where the ball is hit at me, instead of to my left and to my right.”
Even so, while his rehab is still in its finishing stages rather than complete, Saturday represented a significant milestone. The 28-year-old said that he woke up excited about the prospect of getting into a game with his new team. And as he took another step forward in a process that he has maintained all spring will have him ready for Opening Day, Gonzalez was able to enjoy his Sox debut.
“It felt great,” said Gonzalez, who will have Sunday off before returning to the lineup on Monday night against the Yankees. “It was really good to be out there.
“Everything is coming along and there’s nicks like everything else, which I would have had even if I was 100 percent. It’s been a great process up until now. I’m still planning to be ready for Opening Day.”
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