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Adrian Gonzalez set to make Red Sox debut

03.12.11 at 8:55 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Most mornings, the act of checking the Red Sox lineup is hardly a noteworthy undertaking. But on Saturday, that was different.

There, in the No. 3 spot in the batting order and playing first base, was the much-anticipated event: Adrian Gonzalez is in the lineup for his first exhibition game as a member of the Red Sox. The 28-year-old, who has consistently been ahead of schedule throughout his rehab from offseason surgery to repair the torn labrum in his right shoulder, once again cleared a hurdle before his target date arrived. Gonzalez had been expected to be able to play by the third week of spring training, but he has beaten that projection after suffering no setbacks after progressing to batting practice on the field last week.

Gonzalez will make his Sox debut on Saturday against the team with whom he made his professional debut, the Marlins. (In an interesting act of symmetry, the day Gonzalez was introduced as the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Marlins, Florida was hosting the Red Sox in 2000.)

Gonzalez was cleared a couple of days ago by the medical staff to make his debut on Saturday, a sign, manager Terry Francona said, of the hard work he put into his rehab in order to accelerate his appearance on the field.

“We were probably viewing he would be later in spring, I thought, when he would get into games,” said Francona. “It’€™s another step for him. He’€™s worked hard. The fact that he’€™s already ready is a testament to how hard he’€™s worked. It makes it easier for us, because we’€™ve got a full, over two weeks, to get him ready for the season. That’€™s not going to be an issue. I know it’€™s a fun day for everybody involved. But just get him in, get him out, let him start trying to catch up with where everybody else is.”

The Sox want Gonzalez to get a couple of at-bats today, take Sunday off and then have a couple more at-bats on Monday night against the Yankees.

Here is the complete Red Sox lineup:

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

Lackey, SP

OTHER MORNING NOTES

–The Red Sox announced their first round of cuts on Saturday, shipping a number of players to minor league camp. Pitcher Stolmy Pimentel (4 runs, 3 strikeouts, 2 walks in 3 2/3 innings) and second baseman Oscar Tejeda (9-for-24; .375/.423/.667) were optioned, while catchers Ryan Lavarnway (3-for-8 with a homer) and Tim Federowicz (3-for-9 with a homer), infielders Brent Dlugach and Hector Luna, outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin (2-for-11) and pitchers Alex Wilson (3 runs, 4 walks in 2 innings), Kyle Weiland (6 runs, 5 strikeouts, 3 walks in 5 1/3 innings), Tony Pena Jr. (2 runs, 2 strikeouts, 4 walks in 3 2/3 innings), Clevelan Santeliz (1 run in five innings, four strikeouts, two walks) and Jason Rice (4 runs, 3 strikeouts, 4 walks in 4 2/3 inning) were among the cuts.

Tejeda was one of the more interesting performers in that group of young players. He remains a work in progress at second, but was impressive at the plate, especially given that the 21-year-old — the youngest position player in camp — has never played above Hi-A.

“He’€™s got a smile that’€™s about as infectious as you can get. He loves to play. We were really excited to get a chance to watch him,” said Francona. “He’€™s got a lot of work to do defensively. We told him that. there’€™s nothing wrong with that. he’€™s a young kid. He made a position change. But he’€™s got some thunder in his bat, his body is going to continue to get bigger and fill out. He’€™s a really exciting young player.”

Despite their struggles, Wilson, Weiland and Rice are viewed as potentially important depth options for the Red Sox pitching staff this year. As one Sox teammate after another approached the prospects to wish them well as they prepared to head down Edison Ave. to minor league camp, the big leaguers were mindful of that reality.

“Hey Willie,” Mike Cameron shouted to Wilson. “Good luck. Stay healthy. We’ll probably see you in Boston this year.”

–Cameron will be getting his first start of the spring in left field. Though he has played the position in just three big league games, Francona suggested that the veteran’s ability to play there is not a concern.

“He’€™s a good outfielder. That’€™s not going to be an issue,” said Francona. “They work out so much during the day in spring training out there, that’€™s not going to be an issue.”

–Francona said that the Sox have encouraged center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to assert himself as the leader of the outfield.

“We want our center fielder to run the show out there,” Francona said. “Everyone else moves off of him.”

On Friday, bench coach DeMarlo Hale praised Ellsbury for his assertiveness this season as the leader of the outfield.

Read More: adrian gonzalez, alex wilson, Jacoby Ellsbury, jason rice

The future can wait for Mike Cameron

03.12.11 at 7:04 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Decision can wait.

Since he signed his two-year, $15.5 million deal with the Red Sox in Dec. 2009, Mike Cameron has dropped hints that this could be the final contract of his career. The 38-year-old, who is now 20 years into his professional career and who will enter his 17th major league season, makes no secret of the fact that he has had a long career that is closer to its end than its beginning.

Coming off a 2010 season in which he was limited by the brutal pain of a sports hernia that would not let him have a normal life (he could not sleep through the night because of the excruciating pain), he suggested at the end of last year that he would let his physical condition this season dictate his thoughts on whether the 2011 campaign would be his last. On that front, Cameron has been quite pleased with the early returns this spring. Following surgery to repair his abdominal wall at the end of last season and an offseason of rigorous rehab, he has been moving freely in a way that was never possible in the 2010 campaign in which he played 48 games while hitting .259 with a .328 OBP, .401 slugging mark and .729 OPS.

That being the case, it seemed fair to wonder whether he has drawn any conclusions about his playing future beyond 2011.

“Not this spring,” Cameron said. “I won’t make that read in the spring.”

It will take more time, he said, for him to get a read on his physical condition, and whether that will have him wanting to play in 2012. Still, early returns have been positive.

Though he sat out a few games this week with what was described as mild tendinitis in his left knee, he returned on Thursday and went 1-for-4 against the Rays (a performance that could have yielded three hits but for a pair of spectacular defensive plays by shortstop Reid Brignac) and felt good on the field. Overall, it is difficult to understate how much better he feels now than he did last year.

“Everyone knows what I went through last year. Actually, they don’€™t, but they seem to want to think they do know,” said Cameron. “There was a lot of stuff I couldn’€™t do that I wanted to do. … There were times I couldn’€™t even get out of bed, let alone play a baseball game. At least it felt like that. But you know, everything is better now.”

Yet he is mindful that, as good as he feels now, that could change at some point during the year. Moreover, he is also aware of the idea that he is entering a different phase of his career, and he does not yet know how he will handle the transition.

For the first time, the outfielder is preparing for what will be (barring injury to Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury or J.D. Drew) a reduced role. After spending his entire career as an everyday player, he is positioned to be a valued reserve for the Sox in 2011, getting at-bats against left-handed pitchers and spelling the Sox’ three starting outfielders when they are either injured or need rest.

Cameron, who is 6-for-15 (.400) this spring with a double and a stolen base, has bought into that job description. He has taken a team-first approach to the idea of diminished playing time, something that is all the more noteworthy since, if Cameron does want to return for the 2012 season, this year is a contract year that will serve as a platform that helps dictate his earnings as a free-agent after the year.

The veteran shrugs off such concerns, suggesting that he is motivated by the chance of a ring rather than his future income.

“To look at it as a contract year, maybe five years ago, four years ago, [that would be a concern]. Right now, it’€™s not time for that for me. I don’€™t look at it like that,” said Cameron. “I don’€™t worry about stuff like that. That’€™s No. 1. You start worrying about stuff like that, and I won’€™t be able to focus on whatever I need to focus on.

“If the situation calls for me to do what I’€™m doing now, I need to do it the best damn way possible I can do it and not be so concerned about contracts or anything else. First and foremost, I want to be part of a really good baseball team and do the part that was designed for myself. … If I was playing for [an uncompetitive team], nothing against them, but it’€™s totally different.”

That being the case, Cameron is focused this spring not on issues of playing time or his future, but instead on understanding what it will take to be an effective contributor as a part-timer.

“Now is the time for me to get ready and be the best I can possibly be to help this team and understand what’€™s going to take place over the course of the season,” said Cameron. “Everything [from a health standpoint] is good. As of right now, other than just trying to get through this little nagging [knee] thing right here, this spring training, I’€™m looking at this for me to get an understanding of how to approach this.

“It’€™s really uncharted for me. I really don’€™t know what’€™s expected or how my position is going to fill out on a baseball team. how will I perform? I have a lot of optimism about sitting three, four days and playing, knowing that day when I do play, I have a lot of energy. I need to learn how to maintain and control that type of stuff. That’€™s why when I play these games, I’€™m trying to get a real good working feel for what’€™s going on.”

Read More: mike cameron,

Ex-Red Sox prospect Anthony Rizzo reassigned to minor league camp

03.11.11 at 10:15 pm ET
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First baseman Anthony Rizzo, one of three top prospects whom the Red Sox traded to the Padres in exchange for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, was reassigned by San Diego to minor league camp after a very impressive performance as a non-roster invitee to big league camp. In 20 plate appearances, Rizzo was 8-for-18 (.444) with a .500 OBP, a homer and three doubles (.778 slugging) as well as a couple of stolen bases.

“He came in as advertised, on the baseball field and as far as his makeup and work ethic,” Padres manager Bud Black told MLB.com.

As a 20-year-old in Hi-A and Double-A last year, Rizzo hit .260/.334/.480/.814 while leading the organization with 25 homers and driving in 102 runs.But with the Sox acquiring a first baseman whom they expect to keep for years in Gonzalez, Rizzo was an obvious trade chip to use given that he would most likely be blocked at his position.

Read More: adrian gonzalez, Anthony Rizzo, Padres,

Postgame notes: Lester aces return to mound, Papelbon stumbles

03.11.11 at 2:53 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox starter Jon Lester, making just his second start of the spring after missing his previous outing while recovering from the flu, tossed four dominant innings against the Twins on Friday afternoon. He gave up four hits (all singles) and no runs, eliciting a pair of double-play grounders, walking none and striking out five.

One of the punchouts came against Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who was making his first appearance in a big league contest this spring after having missed the second half of last year while recovering from a concussion. While it seemed a daunting challenge for Morneau’s first exposure to that caliber of pitching in eight months, he welcomed the opportunity to face the Red Sox ace.

“He’€™s as good as there is as far as left-handers go, he’€™s a tough at bat and you can learn something from every at bat, and I think that’€™s good. You’€™re focusing on trying to figure out the at bat,” said Morneau. “Instead of trying to figure out what you’€™re doing, it’€™s more about the pitcher-hitter game and it kind of gets your mind off the other things.”

Lester featured a full complement of pitches, most notably a terrific curveball. He proved efficient, needing just 57 pitches (41 strikes) to make it through his four frames. Lester, who had established a goal of cutting down on his walks this spring, has been pleased with his attacking approach thus far. In six Grapefruit League innings, he has yet to walk a batter.

“I’€™ve been pleased with how I’€™ve been throwing the ball as far as attacking and not giving in. I’€™d rather give up a base hit than walk a guy, make a guy earn it regardless of whether it’€™s 3-1, 3-0 or whatever,” said Lester. “I’€™d rather have a guy hit himself on than walk him. I’€™ve been happy with where we’€™ve been on that, and trying to continue to get better with it.”

Lester, of course, has emerged as the anchor of the Sox pitching staff after three straight dominating seasons. As things currently line up, if the Sox stay on rotation, the 27-year-old would be the team’s Opening Day starter on April 1 in Texas. What, he was asked, should he read into that?

“Absolutely nothing,” he shrugged. “Obviously I’€™d be very honored to take the ball that day, but if I’€™m not, we’€™ve got four other guys in that clubhouse that I have no problem with taking the ball. It’€™s not something I’€™ve even counted into or figured out. A lot of things can happen from from now until then. We’€™ll worry about it when that day gets here.”

–While things were all roses for Lester, not so with closer Jonathan Papelbon, who followed the starter into the game and managed to record just one out in the fifth inning. Over 29 pitches (13 strikes), he walked three batters, hit another and gave up a double and three runs.

He struggled with  command, up in the zone. I still thought he had some life and I thought he threw some splits that had some good action,” said bench coach DeMarlo Hale, who was managing the Sox’ split squad team against the Twins in Fort Myers, while manager Terry Francona made the long journey to Kissimmee to oversee the other Sox group that was facing the Astros. “He was just up in the zone. I think it’€™s something he can look back on and say, I had some bite to my split. A little adjustment back in the zone with his fastball.”

Papelbon, who had not allowed a baserunner in his first three outings of the spring, declined to talk to reporters after the outing.

–Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury continued his strong spring start. In three plate appearances (all against left-handers Brian Duensing and Dusty Hughes), he collected a pair of singles. He is now hitting .364 with a .391 OBP this spring, and after missing nearly all of last year, he has shown no evident rust in his return.

“Going into camp I felt great. I felt ready to go and I worked so hard in the offseason. I only took a couple days off once the season ended. I got back to doing what I needed to do to be ready for the first day of spring training and we’€™re seeing that work pay off thus far in spring training,” said Ellsbury. “I’€™m ahead of where I’€™d normally be in spring trainings past. There’€™s a lot of spring training left, just keep progressing until Opening Day.”

–The other Red Sox squad that faced the Astros in Kissimmee claimed a 9-3 victory. Dustin Pedroia went 2-for-3 with a double and two runs batted in, while catcher Mark Wagner had a pair of triples. After starter Kyle Weiland was tagged for three runs in 1 1/3 innings, the Sox bullpen tossed 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball. That effort was turned in by Dan Wheeler (1 1/3 innings), Lenny DiNardo (1/3 inning), Dennys Reyes (1 inning), Matt Albers (1 inning), Rich Hill (1 inning), Michael Bowden (2 innings) and Clevelan Santeliz.

Read More: Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Justin Morneau

Morning Red Sox notes: No first base for Youkilis or Saltalamacchia

03.11.11 at 10:35 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — In the past, the versatility of both Kevin Youkilis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been an essential trait. Both secured their spots in the big leagues in no small part because of their ability to play multiple positions. Youkilis emerged as a uniquely valuable player in part because he could seamlessly cross the diamond between first and third. Saltalamacchia secured his first toe-hold in the majors because the Braves (and then the Rangers) would move him to first when he wasn’t behind the plate.

This spring, however, first base isn’t on the agenda for either player in spring training. With Youkilis — who has been an everyday first baseman for most of the last five seasons — making the transition to everyday third baseman, and with Saltalamacchia expected to serve as the Sox’ primary catcher, the team wants both players to focus exclusively on those positions this spring. There are no designs to have them play first in spring training, nor are there any visions of having them play first base in the regular season.

“I think you look at Youk moving over to third base, we want him to concentrate on that. Salty, at his position of catcher, we want him to concentrate on that. It’€™s more important for him to work with the pitchers,” said bench coach DeMarlo Hale, who is managing the Sox’ split squad team that will be playing the Twins in Fort Myers, while manager Terry Francona takes the long bus ride to Kissimmee in charge of the group that will play the Astros. We have enough first basemen here with [Larry] Sutton, [Nate] Spears is over there, Lars [Anderson], we have enough to cover that position. I think when you look at Youk, he’€™s a third baseman. Concentrate on that. Salty, you’€™re the catcher. Concentrate on that.”

What is true in spring training for Saltalamacchia and Youkilis will also remain true in the regular season. Hale noted that Jed Lowrie has made strides in his work at first base (a position he will play today against the Astros) to the point where the Sox will have him serve as Adrian Gonzalez‘ backup there, rather than maneuvering Youkilis around the diamond. Lowrie, meanwhile, is viewed as a key member of the team because of his ability to back up everyone in the infield, his versatility representing a critical element in the Sox’ roster composition.

“Right now, Youk’s a third baseman, Jed is the guy who can go play first and move around,” said Hale. “You look at Jed, he can play all four [infield positions], he’s a switch-hitter, his bat plays at different positions in the lineup. You don’t have a dropoff. You’re talking about a very solid utility guy that has some offensive potential with the bat and is a switch-hitter. He started playing first a little bit last year. You see him reacting better, as well as understanding that he can go in the middle of the diamond at short and second. He’s a huge part of this team in what he can do, whether it’s giving [Dustin] Pedroia a day off, [Marco] Scutaro, Youkilis, Gonzalez. There is some playing time for him.”

OTHER NOTES

–For the Twins, Justin Morneau will be making his much-anticipated return, playing first and batting cleanup in his first big league exhibition game of the spring in an important step forward from the concussion that sidelined him early last season. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, Hideki Okajima, jarrod saltalamacchia, Justin Morneau

Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima await word from relatives in Japan

03.11.11 at 10:06 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima have been able to contact some, but not all, of their relatives in Japan in the aftermath of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that have hit the country. Matsuzaka said that his parents are fine, but he still awaits word on his grandmother, who resides in the prefecture of Aomori in northern Japan.

‘€œIt was definitely shocking waking up and hearing the news. But just receiving an e-mail and reading it, I wasn’€™t able to take in exactly what it was,” Matsuzaka said. “But once I turned on the television and saw what was going on, it was quite shocking and very scary to see that.’€

Okajima’s parents, who reside inland in Kyoto, are also safe, but the reliever expressed concern about wife’s family, which resides in the Kanto region, closer to the east coast of Japan.

“It’€™s not a good situation, to say the least,” said Okajima. “It was a big one. I’€™m definitely worried.”

Red Sox staff members and with family in Japan as well as the Japanese reporters who cover the team have been able to contact many of their family members through email and the internet to receive word of their safety.

For more Red Sox coverage, visit weei.com/redsox.

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima,

Nuggetpalooza: Friday Baseball Nuggets

03.11.11 at 8:58 am ET
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Folks, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty much ready for opening day! But since we’ve got to get through three more weeks of spring training, here are a bunch of random baseball nuggets that will perhaps knock about five minutes off the wait.

Besides, where else are you going to find an “Oil Can” Boyd reference today!

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* – Tim Wakefield has not walked the first batter in any of his last 72 starts dating back to September, 2007. He has not done it in a start at Fenway since 2005 (66 home starts).

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* – From 2008 through 2010, while Wakefield didn’t walk ANY first batters in a start, Daisuke Matsuzaka walked the first batter 14 times (tied for second most in the majors in that span) and Jon Lester did it 13 times (tied for fifth most).

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* – Over the last four seasons, Dice-K has allowed multiple walks in the first inning of 17 different starts, the most in the majors in that span:

17 – Daisuke Matsuzaka
16 – Dontrelle Willis
15 – Scott Kazmir
14 – Barry Zito

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* – So which team pitched the most 1-2-3 first innings in 2010? I’m sure you guessed the Mets, who did it 64 times. Two other teams did it 60 or more times, Philadelphia (62) and Toronto (61).

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* – Jonathan Papelbon has allowed four home runs to pinch hitters in his career, tied with Jeff Reardon for the most such homers allowed by a Red Sox pitcher (since 1974). Derek Lowe faced the most pinch hitters without allowing a HR as a Red Sox (99). Active Sox pitchers who have not allowed a pinch homer (and faced at least 10 PH) as members of the Red Sox are Tim Wakefield (44 PH faced), Jon Lester (11), and Daisuke Matsuzaka (10).

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* – One more pinch hitter note: Pinch hitters are 7-for-11 (.636) against Josh Beckett since he came to Boston, but they are just 2-for-22 (.091) against Daniel Bard.

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* – In his career, opponents are 4-for-40 (.100) against Papelbon when the bases are loaded, the lowest such average in the majors since at least 1974 (min. 40 bases loaded opponent at bats):

.100 – Jonathan Papelbon (4-for-40)
.118 – Ryan Franklin (9-for-76)
.119 – Tom Gorzelanny (5-for-42)

His on-base percentage allowed with the bases loaded (.143) is the second lowest ever (same minimums), trailing only old friend Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd.

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* – Opponents have hit eight grand slams off of new Phillies’ co-ace Cliff Lee in just 67 career at bats. That’s 11.9 percent, the highest career percentage allowed by any pitcher since at least 1974 (min. 50 such at bats):

11.9% – Cliff Lee
10.7% – John Henry Johnson
10.4% – Brian Boehringer

It’s well known that former Orioles’ ace Jim Palmer faced 213 batters (184 at bats) in his career with the bases loaded and never allowed a grand slam. Here are the active pitchers with the most bases loaded at bats faced without allowing a slam:

113 – Matt Morris
94 – Freddy Garcia
84 – Juan Cruz
77 – Ervin Santana
72 – Ian Snell

I don’t see any of those guys threatening Palmer’s mark.

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* – Look I know that the Red Sox’ 1967 season was as exciting as all get out, but I didn’t know this: The ’67 Sox went 12-10 from June 14 through July 7, and ALL 10 LOSSES WERE BY ONE RUN. That’s the longest such streak of one-run losses (not in a row) in the majors since 1950.

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* – The Houston Astros never hit three home runs in any of their 81 road games last season, becoming the first team since the 1994 Phillies to turn that trick.

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* – The Red Sox had scored three or more runs in 10 straight games (or more) at least once in every season from 1998-2009, but that streak was snapped in 2010.

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* – Boston lost despite scoring eight or more runs five times each in 2010 and 2009 and six times in 2008. It’s the first time they’ve lost more than two such games in three consecutive years since they began tracking the stat in 1950.

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