|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.”
|03.12.11 at 8:55 am ET|
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:
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.
|03.12.11 at 7:04 am ET|
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.”
|03.11.11 at 10:15 pm ET|
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.
|03.11.11 at 2:53 pm ET|
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.
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