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Dustin Pedroia finally gets the better of Dan Wheeler

02.21.11 at 5:55 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — It seemed like just another round of early-spring training batting practice, with Dustin Pedroia pitting his skills against Dan Wheeler. But, no. It evidently marked a much more significant moment.

Pedroia, you see, has faced Wheeler 10 times and has never managed a single hit.

That’s why when the Red Sox second baseman lined what would have been a base-hit into the outfield of Field 5 at the team’s minor-league training facility, it was a momentous occasion.

“I got one off of him! I got one!” Pedroia yelled, after notching the hit. “Finally!”

Wheeler knew exactly why such a seemingly innocuous moment elicited such a definitive reaction.

“You kind of know what’€™s going on, but you don’€™t really talk about. But he mentioned something to me that he was glad he’€™s on his team,” the reliever later said. “It was good fun.”

Nuggetpalooza: Clay Buchholz and ‘clutch’ grounders

02.21.11 at 3:22 pm ET
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You’re on the mound at Fenway in a tight game. Here in the sixth inning, you’ve walked one and allowed a one-out double, moving runners to second and third. Then you bear down, striking out the next hitter for the second out, moving to the brink of escaping the jam. You get the ground ball you’re after from the next guy, but helplessly watch it scoot through while two runs score. If that ball had been three feet in either direction, you’re out of the inning with no damage to the old ERA.

Groundball luck. It’s real. And it can be spectacular. Or a spectacular disaster.

In 2010, Red Sox pitchers induced 215 ground balls with runners in scoring position and two outs and allowed a batting average of .228 on those grounders, compared to just .196 in 2009. However, one Red Sox pitcher had tremendous luck in those spots, saving himself several ERA points in the process.

Here are the 10 pitchers who allowed the lowest average on “clutch” ground balls (RISP and two outs) last season (min. 20 such grounders allowed):

Over the last four years, only one pitcher has had a better “clutch ground ball luck” season than Clay Buchholz‘ 2010: The White SoxGavin Floyd allowed 20 “clutch” grounders in 2009 and NONE went for hits.

But here’s a caveat: This type of “luck” appears to be fairly random, at least beyond the defensive talent of the pitcher’s infield mates. In 2010, Floyd allowed a .242 average on “clutch” grounders, worse than average. So don’t be surprised if Buchholz (and the rest of the list above) don’t regress significantly in this category, costing them several extra ERA points in 2011.

So we’ve looked at the pitchers that saw the vast majority of clutch grounders turned into outs, so what about the ones that were victims of “seeing eye” balls at the worst times?  Here are the 14 who allowed the highest average on clutch grounders (same minimums):

I expanded that list to 14 because I felt there were some names between 11 and 14 that were notable. Even with Derek Jeter behind him, don’t expect Phil Hughes to have another season like that in 2011. In fact, these guys should all expect better ground ball luck this year.

This is a stat that I plan to track throughout the 2011 season and I’ll post updates from time to time.

Finally, I give you two more tables with 2010 results on “clutch” ground balls: 2011 Red Sox pitchers and 2011 Red Sox hitters:

I’ll be back soon with more nuggets!

Carl Crawford: Little Papi is ‘going to be a YouTube star’

02.21.11 at 2:22 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The biggest star of 2011 Red Sox spring training is the son of one of the biggest stars in team history.

D’Angelo Ortiz, the charming 6-year-old son of David Ortiz has been stride for stride with his Big Papi of a father everywhere the big No. 34 goes.

On Monday morning, with Ortiz taking his second day of live batting practice against Red Sox relievers, “Little Papi” donned the Red Sox away grays with the No. 34 on the back, below the name “Ortiz,” just like his father. And just like his father, made people smile ear-to-ear with his impersonations of Red Sox hitters current and past.

“He’s going to be a YouTube star,” chirped Carl Crawford, whose open stance was one of the imitations performed by the slugger to be. Crawford was also sitting next to Big Papi, who enjoyed informing the new Red Sox star of his son’s personality.

Kevin Youkilis ‘€” who was also a subject of the younger Ortiz’s performance ‘€” gave names one-by-one, beginning with Adrian Beltre, now with the Rangers, then Marco Scutaro, Jason Varitek, followed by J.D. Drew, of course, his father, then Crawford and Youkilis.

In 2010, D’Angelo had to share the spotlight with another 6-year-old ‘€” Victor Jose Martinez, the son of then-Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez. The two were regularly seen before games chasing each other in the Red Sox clubhouse and keeping the mood light.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona would occasionally call the two youngsters into his office for a good-natured meeting about baseball and other things.

Oh, and one more thing: D’Angelo Ortiz was born on Saturday, July 10, 2004, exactly two weeks before the Red Sox beat the Yankees, 11-10, in a legendary late-July game that set the table for a late-season run that would end in the club’s first World Series title since 1918.

That’s reason enough to keep D’Angelo around a team looking for another title.

Read More: 2004 World Series, 2011 Spring Training, Big Papi, Boston Red Sox

Adrian Gonzalez cleared to swing away… off a tee

02.21.11 at 12:42 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox announced Monday that newly-acquired slugger Adrian Gonzalez has been cleared to hit off a batting tee after surgery on his right shoulder last October. The surgery was not reconstructive and the Red Sox traded for the first baseman in December knowing that he would be ready for the 2011 season.

On Sunday, Red Sox team doctor Tom Gill spoke with Mets team doctor David Altchek, who performed the procedure in October and a decision was made that Gonzalez was feeling strong enough and had done enough rehab to allow him to start swinging. On Monday morning before team workouts, Gonzalez took 20 swings off the tee and felt good.

“He’s going to hit off the tee the three days and then take a day and then we’ll see how he feels but he’s been coming along so well and Dr. Gill spoke with Dr. Altchek and there were no qualms about letting him proceed so we were thrilled,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.

“I’ll be excited when we win the World Series,” Gonzalez added.’€œTwenty swings, that’€™s all it was. It felt good.”

Gonzalez said Monday’s activity was a sign he was right where Dr. Altchek indicated he would be following the procedure on the labrum in October.

“They said four months to start swinging and today is four months plus a day so I’€™m on schedule,’€ he said. “It’€™s just like going into the offseason and not swinging a bat.’€

If all goes well, the Red Sox hope to have Gonzalez taking live batting practice at about the same time Grapefruit League games begin next week.

Just prior to Gonzalez and Francona speaking Monday, the Red Sox issued the following statement on the timetable and details leading up to Monday’s decision to allow Gonzalez to hit off a tee.

‘€œAdrian reported to Spring Training in excellent condition after working with the team training staff this offseason. He was evaluated on Friday [Feb. 18] at the time of his Spring Training physical examination by the team’€™s medical staff. At that time, he was noted to have full range of motion, no tenderness, and excellent strength.

“Based upon this examination, Medical Director Dr. Tom Gill spoke with Dr. Altchek yesterday, who performed the surgery, and it was agreed that Adrian could begin hitting off of a tee. Adrian will continue to work with Head Athletic Trainer Mike Reinold and the team’€™s training staff to work on his shoulder rehabilitation program, while incorporating more baseball specific activity as his progression allows.’€

Despite the aching shoulder, Gonzalez played in 160 games for the second straight season for the Padres in 2010. He batted .298 with 31 homers and 101 RBIs. He played in all 162 games in 2008 and 161 in 2007.

‘€œNumbers were good so it didn’€™t really affect me numbers-wise. It made me adjust my swing a little bit so I wanted to go up there and get back to my normal swing.’€ said Gonzalez, before admitting he was playing with pain. ‘€œOh yeah, it was a good amount of pain. I could deal with it.’€

The durable Gonzalez said there was no reason to hold back on Monday since he’s been building the strength in the shoulder all winter.

“I didn’€™t hold back, I took good healthy swings and I felt fine,” he said. “You’€™re waiting to see if you feel something different and I didn’€™t so it was a good sign.

“I’€™ve been ready to swing. It was just a matter of getting the clearance. First, it was today that I was supposed to see a doctor and then it was pushed back to a couple of days later and he still hadn’€™t reported down to St. Lucie, so we didn’€™t know exactly what day it was going to be so we just kind of turned it around and had Dr. Gill give him a call. He checked me during the physicals. On his take, I was good so we went ahead with it.’€

Read More: 2011 Spring Training, adrian gonzalez, Boston Red Sox, MLB

For $2 million, Daniel Bard could have been a Yankee

02.21.11 at 10:23 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daniel Bard is now arguably the most important member of the Red Sox bullpen. He emerged as one of the most dominant relievers in the game last year, forging a 1.93 ERA and striking out more than a batter an inning over 73 appearances. Manager Terry Francona used him in almost any pivotal situation that arose prior to the ninth inning, and the 25-year-old had no problem with attacking lefties or righties, whether for three outs or more. He is a young and inexpensive weapon with few peers.

All of that makes it intriguing to wonder how close he came to becoming a Yankee.

Bard was already a highly regarded pitcher in high school thanks to his easy mid-90s velocity. No projection was needed to wonder if he had a big league fastball, and he also featured a curve and change. He was named the North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior, and so would have been viewed as an early-round draft pick had he wanted to turn pro.

But Bard, at that time, wasn’t that interested in life in the minor leagues. He had a scholarship offer to the University of North Carolina, where he would be able to enter the starting rotation immediately. And so, when he was eligible for the draft in 2003, teams were in no rush to waste a draft pick on him.

More than 600 players were selected before Bard’s name was finally called. The Yankees selected the young right-hander in the 20th round. Conversations with New York were brief. Bard did not rule out turning pro, but it would take a big dollar figure for him to sign with the Yankees. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2003 draft, Daniel Bard, jeff karstens, Jonathan Papelbon

The @Bradfo Bag, and a little bit more from Red Sox land

02.21.11 at 10:16 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — You asked, I’ll answer (or at least try to).

I figured a good lead-in would be video from two years ago when our good friend Gar Ryness (you know him as Batting Stance Guy) came down to do his thing in The Fort. Daniel Bard jumped into the fun, a moment he reminisced about Monday morning, leading to me do my imitation of Phil Plantier (and then proceeding to have quad cramps for the next 15 minutes).

Anyhoo, here we go …

@MikeGiardi asks: “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

This just in: The woodchuck has been shut down due to a sore shoulder.

Speaking of which, talked to Jason Bergmann this morning. The righty pitcher hasn’t thrown for the last week due to a sore right shoulder, and coming up short when undergoing the strength tests for the shoulder. The plan is to re-test Bergmann in the next couple of days and go from there. The hurler, who underwent an MRI when signing his minor-league deal with the Sox, had been throwing off a mound for a few weeks and reported he felt improvement over the past few days.

@tmurph207 asks: “If Its and Buts were Candy and Nuts would every day Really be Christmas?”

No, but it would be President’s Day.

Speaking of “its” and “buts,” asked John Lackey today if felt any different pitching without almost 15 pounds (I know, bad segue). He reported that he couldn’t tell a dramatic difference, but did say that he felt a bunch better this spring training than a year ago.

“I feel better at this point than I did last year at this point,” he said. “I feel I’m a little further ahead than I was at this point last year. Last year I was just trying to get through spring training healthy, because I hadn’t done it the two previous ones.”

One thing I remembered about Lackey last spring training was that he didn’t walk a batter until the very end of spring training last season.

@DrJeffLo asks: “Question For Gary Tuck – who does Salty remind him of? Fisk? VMart? Yogi? Bench? and what is Salty’s greatest attribute? ”

Fortunately Tuck was available just before heading out to his “catching lab.” When asked who Jarrod Saltalamacchia reminded him of he said. “Nobody, that was the goal. He’s so different than anybody else, physically.”

Saltalamacchia noted that he didn’t even start catching full-time until he was 12 or 13-years-old, having decided to commit to being a backstop after his brother (a former catcher) moved to third base. (Note: He actually served as Kason Gabbard’s catcher in high school as a freshman.) The catcher said that he really hasn’t patterned himself after anybody in particular, although he did admire the hard-nosed way Jason Kendall approached the game.

When asked who he wanted to ultimately be compared to, Saltalamacchia said, “I want to be myself. I don’t want to copy somebody. I want to be me. I want to be my own player.”

@ALargeRegular asks: “Why is he called JD when his first name is David?”

Straight from J.D. Drew this morning: His dad’s name is David so he was initially called Jonathan to avoid confusion, and that morphed into ‘J.D.’ But when the abbreviation really took hold was when the scouting director for Florida State baseball asked him what name he wanted on all the correspondence, and subsequent Seminole-related items. The answer was “J.D.” There you have it.

@DTufts asks: “Name of the new Ball Park set to open in 2012 (Lee County/Ft.Myers)?”

No name as of yet, but rumor has it that Blu Sushi in Fort Myers cut back on offering its traditional $14 All-You-Can-Eat lunch special in an effort to take a run at the naming rights.

@Pete_Morrison asks: “Which player’s physical conditioning has surprised you the most this spring? Good or bad.”

Lackey is the obvious choice, but other than him nobody really jumps out. Jose Iglesias looks a bit more muscular. One player who doesn’t really look any different, but is moving better is Marco Scutaro.

Scutaro, who didn’t play Winter Ball for just the second time in his professional career, explained this morning that he can actually raise his arm high enough to throw a baseball without just simply flipping it, as was the case for much of the second-half of last season. He also reports that the plantar fasciitis he had been saddled with prior to last season is a thing of the past.

“Not really. It gets a little tired but nothing like last year,” said Scutaro when asked if he could feel any discomfort in his right shoulder. “It’s fine. I couldn’t do any of this stuff last year.”

Got to go, but keep the questions coming either at rbradford@weei.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/bradfo.

How Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux and two Superstations influenced Bobby Jenks

02.21.11 at 10:06 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Change is never easy.

But Bobby Jenks has made a career out of it. The former fifth-round pick of the Anaheim Angels in 2000 came up through their system as a starter, cut from the same mold as Roger Clemens: big, strong and intimidating.

The new Red Sox, who will share the late innings with Daniel Bard behind Jonathan Papelbon, acknowledged Monday that he was a big fan of Clemens and Greg Maddux when he broke into baseball as a starter.

“When I was younger, I was a starting pitcher and I looked up to Roger Clemens a lot and I used to watch him and Greg Maddux a lot because I grew up a huge Braves fan,” Jenks said. “You’re either a Cubs fan with TBS and WGN so I had TBS and Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens were the two biggest guys that I watched.”

[AUDIO: Listen to Bobby Jenks talk about Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux and his right elbow.]

But one elbow surgery and rehab was all it took to change the course of his career.

Jenks ran into elbow problems in 2004 in the Angels system and was waived before being picked up by the White Sox in 2005.

“It was a combined decision in ’04 after I had my elbow surgery to try to keep less innings and less stress on the elbow so the year before, in talking with the Angels, I knew I might be going into the bullpen in that ’05 season with the Angels but I ended up getting picked up by the White Sox and it just worked out the same way,” Jenks added.

Jenks appeared in 32 regular season games for the 2005 White Sox before leading his team to a World Series title with two saves apiece against the Red Sox and Astros in the ALDS and World Series.

Read More: 2005 World Series, 2011 Spring Training, bobby jenks, Boston Red Sox
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