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Will Kevin Youkilis be cleaning up for the 2011 Red Sox? That’s a definite maybe

02.24.11 at 4:43 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — No, Red Sox manager Terry Francona didn’t announce his Opening Day lineup for April 1 in Texas on Thursday.

Nor did he announce who will be the first Red Sox pitcher of the 2011 regular season against the defending American League champions.

But in raving about Kevin Youkilis, Francona did provide perhaps a clue as to which way he might be leaning as it pertains to the middle of the order.

“He’s really taken it to another level,” Francona said. “I don’t know if I could sit here and tell you that in 2004, that spring training, that we’d see him be our clean-up hitter, and be thrilled.”

The Red Sox were certainly thrilled when Youkilis, who has batted in every spot in the order since breaking in during the 2004 season, embraced the cleanup role in 2008 and broke out with 29 homers and 115 RBIs. He followed that up in ’09 by belted 27 homers and driving in 94 runs. Then, in his injury-shortened season last year, he still batted .307 with 19 homers and 62 RBIs in 102 games.

He has been the cleanup hitter in 242 of his 730 career starts, accounting for almost exactly one-third of his starts.

Francona acknowledged that if Youkilis does this year what he did last year as the club’s cleanup hitter, he’ll have no problem letting him do so again in 2011.

“He never gives an at-bat away, ever,” Francona said. “He grinds out every at-bat, which not only leads to him being a productive hitter but how many times have you seen Youk have a long at-bat and the next guy come up and gets a pitch to handle because the [pitcher] is just frustrated. That happens repeatedly.

“He just never gives an at-bat away. He grinds and he grinds and he grinds and he swings at strikes, plus he’s a really good hitter. It’s a combination of a lot of things that makes him, in my opinion, one of the premier hitters in the league.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2011 Spring Training, Boston Red Sox, Kevin Youkilis, MLB

How Hideki Okajima found his way in Australia

02.24.11 at 1:49 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Hideki Okajima knew he needed a change, so the 35-year-old took action.

A few days ago, Okajima told Japanese reporters that he thought he had found something while working out in Australia in the offseason that could potentially change his fortunes around. What was it?

“It’s coming along well but you never know until you face live batters,” he said. “But up until this point it’s going well.

“I started pitching against batters in January. I tried it out then and it seemed to be working well so it really felt like something I could use when I came over here.”

In other words, he’s not going to get specific (yet).

But after talking in vague terms in regard to his new weapon, Okajima did get specific regarding how he fine-tuned his new approach. For the inaugural time in his professional career, the reliever brought in a professional hitter to face him during his Australian workouts.

“This was the first time I brought along a player from the independent league in Japan, so he’s a professional player who also played at the university level. He’s a very good batter, so that’s different than previous years when I only faced amateur players,” Okajima explained. “I was able to face a batter at the level where I could figure things out, so that was different this year.”

The reason for Okajima’s alteration was more than just looking for a higher caliber of hitter. He understood that perhaps his biggest problem throughout 2010 was an inability to get right-handed hitters out. Righties hit .340 against the southpaws, despite allowing just a .238 clip in Sept.

“Japanese batters, righties, are good at hitting the inside pitching,” he explained. “That was an area I had to work on, so that was an area I was able to test things out and see what could happen in the major leagues.”

Red Sox notes Thursday: Felix Doubront shut down for 10 days, Jon Lester and John Lackey get their orders

02.24.11 at 1:38 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Better safe than sorry is the approach the Red Sox are taking with lefty prospect Felix Doubront.

He will be shut down as a precaution over the next two weeks as he rests his throwing elbow. Red Sox manager Terry Francona said the 23 year-old Venezeulan pitcher complained of tightness in his elbow, causing the team to take the safe approach.

“Doubront has exhibited a little bit of a tight elbow, which he has had in the past,” Francona said. “We’re going to take a little bit of a cautious approach and shut him down for probably 10 days to two weeks so you won’t see him out there for the near future.”

Doubront, an amateur free agent signing in 2005, made his big league debut for the Red Sox in 2010, going 2-2 with a 4.32 ERA in 12 appearances, including three starts. Francona said the team examined his elbow and determined there was nothing seriously wrong.

“He was examined and everything structually is fine but he’s had this before and we’d rather not go three or four days and have him throw and nurse it through,” Francona said. “He’s too young, potentially too good. We’d rather take more of a cautious approach.”

Francona said slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez took 36 swings off a tee on Thursday morning after taking Wednesday off.

“He’ll do the same thing again [Friday],” Francona said Thursday morning. “He’s building up volume as he goes. It’ll probably be 2-3 day increments and he did real well, tolerated everything.” Read the rest of this entry »

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

Adrian Gonzalez goes 3-for-4 for Red Sox

02.24.11 at 9:17 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — In his third day of testing the surgically repaired labrum in his right shoulder, Adrian Gonzalez hit off a batting tee for approximately 10 minutes on Thursday.

With trainer Mike Reinold looking on, he increased his load up to 35 swings just before 8 a.m. after starting out with 20 on Monday and 30 on Tuesday. Gonzalez took Wednesday off in what Red Sox manager Terry Francona termed was a “re-gen” day to let it rest and see how it responded after two straight days.

Hitting coach Dave Magadan, who observed his swings earlier in the week, was busy watching Jarrod Saltalamacchia also hit off a tee, a sign the Red Sox aren’t overly concerned about Gonzalez’s mechanics or his work load.

Gonzalez told WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford he felt comfortable and reassured with his first swing on Monday and has made progress ever since.

Francona, who said he has been very impressed with Gonzalez’s work ethic, has not placed a specific timetable on his return to live batting practice or participation in spring training games.

Gonzalez first felt pain in his right shoulder last May with the Padres and managed to play through the pain and finished with 160 games played, a .298 average with 31 homers and 101 RBIs.

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

With one swing, Adrian Gonzalez left his fears behind

02.24.11 at 2:32 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Adrian Gonzalez took the day off from swinging a bat Wednesday. Red Sox manager Terry Francona classified it as a sort of regeneration day for the first baseman, who had spent the previous two mornings hitting off a tee for the first time since undergoing shoulder surgery.

But along with the rest, Gonzalez also used the day for some reflection.

The lefty-hitting slugger admitted that there was some trepidation when swinging a bat Monday morning, wondering if the surgery would allow for a pain-free cut for the first time in more than a year. But after swing No. 1, the fear disappeared.

“It was a relief because I was able to finish without any pinching or discomfort, which last year I felt the whole time,” Gonzalez explained.

“You go into the first couple of swings thinking to take it slow to see if you feel anything. The first swing you take a 50 percent swing, you don’t feel anything, then you pick it up and by the fifth swing all of sudden you’re at full speed with a good finish and everything.”

While there were few signs of what was going through Gonzalez’s head that first day of swinging a bat, Day 2 allowed for some clarity regarding the situation.

“I’m sure it entered into his mind. He said it the next day,” said Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan, who was present for Gonzalez’s swinging sessions, along with head trainer Mike Reinold. “It was the second day he it and MIke Reinold asked, ‘How’s it feel?’ He said ‘It feels good. I feel like I’m really letting it go.’ [Gonzalez] said [Tuesday], ‘I had a little bit of jitters at the beginning wondering how it was going to feel and it felt great.’

“He didn’t show any limitations. His effort level was what I remember it being when he hit off the tee when I was in San Diego. So, I don’t see any issues at all.”

Gonzalez pointed out that while there was some natural reluctance heading into his return to the batting cage, he also carried an ample amount of confidence considering the progress he had made since undergoing the surgery shortly after the 2010 season.

“I felt comfortable knowing it should be healed and it should be feel better because I haven’t had any setbacks, or any point since the surgery that I might be this or that,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve always felt the better end of the way they said I should feel.

“I was always 10 degrees higher in range of motion than I should have been. There was never a feeling of any tenderness. Everything going into swinging the bat everything had been above and beyond what was expected so I knew going in I should be in a good spot.”

Gonzalez credits a past experience with finding his current lot in life. He admits that the memory of not properly rehabbing a surgically-repaired wrist following the ’02 season — allowing the ailment to linger for more than a year — was fresh in his mind throughout his recovery from shoulder surgery.

“I can honestly say I didn’t rehab it the way I should have and when I started playing it wasn’t right, and it felt like it wasn’t right. I allowed myself to be rushed and it took almost a year and a half to feel 100 percent with the wrist. It was definitely a lesson,” Gonzalez said. “Going into [the rehab from shoulder surgery], if they said I had to do rehab two times a week I would do it three times a week. It was a learning experience. You always have to go through it so that you can learn. It’s not that it stinks that I had to go through it, I’m kind of glad I went through it because now I know what it takes.”

Why these Red Sox are perfect role players to Terry Francona

02.23.11 at 3:43 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — You’d be hard pressed to find a Red Sox fan past infancy who doesn’t remember how the Manny Ramirez era ended in Boston in 2008.

There was the perception that he cared more about his own career than winning a third World Series title with the Red Sox. It was ultimately that perception that clouded the clubhouse and made life so difficult for manager Terry Francona that the Red Sox dealt him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-way trade that brought Jason Bay to Boston minutes before the July 31 trade deadline.

Francona didn’t mention Ramirez by name on Wednesday but when he was asked indirectly about one of his least favorite subjects – how a particular player might fit into the batting order – he talked not about the lineup but team chemistry and unity.

“You can have some guys that maybe don’t always have the team’s goals the same but they better really be good. And we’ve had that sometimes in the past,” Francona said. “It’s not a perfect world but it certainly makes for a much better atmosphere when you have guys that care about winning.

“It sets the tone for young guys better buy in. It’s a heckuva a lot easier for me to make examples of people when you have veterans running around working harder than anybody in camp.”

Ramirez hit .312 and belted 274 homers in a Red Sox uniform, winning the 2004 World Series MVP. Clearly, he put up some of the biggest numbers in club history and was arguably the greatest right-handed hitter to ever play for the team. But eventually, he became a distraction that no one could manage, not even Francona.

Last Friday, when GM Theo Epstein addressed reporters at the Red Sox player devolopment complex, he recalled not Manny being Manny but a far more subtle and far less recounted example of team chemistry gone bad. And in this case, Epstein DID mention the name.

Jay Payton played just 55 games with the 2005 Red Sox – primarily as a fourth outfielder behind Ramirez of all people. After a confrontation with Francona in late June about the way he was being used, he was designated for assignment and eventually dealt to Oakland on July 13 for reliever Chad Bradford.

Where will he hit Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez? Can he really get around have two lefty batters back-to-back? Is Jacoby Ellsbury better at the top or bottom? What about J.D. Drew?

And on Wednesday, it was “What about David Ortiz?” How easy will it be for him to hit wherever Francona decides to bat him in the order?

“Again with David, I don’t think you’ll see a role change,” Francona said. “The batting order will take care of itself. Anytime you have good players that want to place the team’s goals first, that makes for a real good atmosphere, that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Read More: Boston Red Sox, David Ortiz, J.D Drew, jason bay

Clay Buchholz doesn’t have anything to prove, just refine

02.23.11 at 3:22 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jarrod Saltalmacchia couldn’t resist.

He is catching Josh Beckett in Sunday night’s Grapefruit League opener against the Twins at Hammond Stadium. Coming on in relief will be Clay Buchholz.

So, on Wednesday morning Saltalamacchia – who before Wednesday hadn’t caught Buchholz this spring – was giving the fourth-year pitcher some grief for his new role.

“I haven’t even thrown to him yet,” Buchhholz said. “I was just joking around. He was calling me names earlier because he said he only catches real starters because I’m piggybacking Beckett on Sunday.”

But Buchholz certainly doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone in the majors. The man who threw a no-hitter in his second big league start is coming off an All-Star season, during which he was 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA, second only to Felix Hernandez in the American League.

He has established himself as a starter with four legit big league pitches, a fastball, a hammer curve, a devastating change-up and slider. This time last year Buchholz was working on a two-seam with sink to get down and in on right-handed batters. Last year, he showed he can mix them all in. This year, he has nothing to prove, just refine.

“He doesn’t need to add more pitches,” said his manager Terry Francona. “He’s a very successful major league pitcher just trying to find ways to get better.”

“It’s all trying to refine, just trying to stay inside the delivery and throw every pitch with the same effort and just basically go from there and not trying to do too much with any particular pitch,” Buchholz said.

That refining process begins in earnest Sunday night across town from City of Palms.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it, just knock the rust off,” Buchholz said. “I’ll probably be a little anxious, a little pumped up to get out there. I think after the first couple of pitches, I’ll settle down and see how it goes from there.”

As for his joker of a catcher, Buchholz said he’s looking forward to learning Saltalamacchia.

“It’s all going to be a fun process,” Buchholz said. “Obviously, he’s a talented guy. He definitely wouldn’t be in this organization or his position if he weren’t. I think everybody is looking forward to it.”

In 2010, Buchholz worked hard to find a comfort level with Victor Martinez. Buchholz said that process will be just interesting and productive with Salty in 2011.

“Vic was good,” Buchholz said of Martinez. “I learned a lot from Vic but I think that just made me better as a player and made me know what I wanted to do out there on the mound rather than sort of feeling dumbfounded out there and not knowing what I should throw in a particular position. He taught me a lot but going forward I think I’ve learned enough now it really doesn’t matter who’s catching me. As long we’re on the same page, I think we can make the game flow a little bit better and go from there.”

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