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A Monday morning of Red Sox stuff

03.08.10 at 10:17 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — After a round of clubhouse access, and Terry Francona’s debriefing with the media, here is the latest (while, of course, awaiting the arrival of Albert Pujols, but not Julio Lugo):

– Francona said there are no new updates with Mike Lowell, and that the infielder would like to shoot for the end of the week to get in games.

– The plan is for Josh Beckett to get about three innings in against the Cardinals.

Daisuke Matsuzaka’s next bullpen session might have to be pushed from Tuesday to Wednesday because of the team’s travel schedule and subsequent availability of pitching coach John Farrell.

– Outfielder Zach Daeges is being sent back to minor league camp, where he will be able to treat a troublesome lat muscle that hasn’t allowed him to swing in camp.

– There’s a chance Jason Varitek could be back with the team Monday night after tending to a personal issue.

– Talking about outfielder Josh Reddick, Francona said he has improved his plate discipline compared to last spring training. “When he learns to swing at strikes,” the Sox manager said, “he’s going to be pretty successful.” Comparing Francona to another young outfielder in Sox camp, Ryan Kalish, Francona noted that Kalish might have the ability to steal a few more bases than Reddick and that the comparison to Trot Nixon was a pretty solid one.

– On working with the new coaching staff, Francona said it’s “Actually been kind of fun … Enjoyable.” He also noted regarding the practice of coaching third base — which is now Tim Bogar’s duty — “If you don’t get guys thrown out than you’re probably making some mistakes.”

John Lackey said that after taking time to work on his changeup for the past few spring trainings, he isn’t going down that route and will prioritize his primary pitches.

Dustin Pedroia said he feels the best he has in any spring training, noting that he feels as though if the season started today his timing is where it needs to be to be successful. Pedroia also explained that physically he feels better than in past years, having taken a slightly different approach to lifting in the offseason.

– And, finally, Jacoby Ellsbury offered what he believed was his most impressive feat of athleticism. “Doing a reverse, 360-degree dunk in college,” the outfielder said. Ellsbury said he first dunked a women’s basketball as a 5-foot-8 8th-grader. For the best video proof of Ellsbury’s athleticism, check out the following segment, put together by Nike:

Red Sox soak in west coast vibe

03.08.10 at 9:21 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox begin this week of two (always uncomfortable) Florida east coast games (Jupiter, Port St. Lucie) with a Monday afternoon game at City of Palms against the St. Louis Cardinals. The lineup for the Sox is as follows: Scutaro SS, Pedroia 2B, Martinez C, Youkilis 1B, Ortiz DH, Drew RF, Cameron CF, Hall LF, Sanchez 3B, Beckett P.

In case you were wondering, Victor Martinez has caught two Josh Beckett bullpens this spring, after only catching one — on one of the off days leading into the first American League Division Series — last season.

Much more to come after Terry Francona’s debriefing …

The Big Day

03.07.10 at 7:20 pm ET
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Dateline: my living room.

Please forgive the diversion from the usually scheduled programming. We pause to give you: the Oscars riff.

For reasons that are unclear, my wife and I have made the Oscars one of the central events of our calendar year. I am no longer in Fort Myers, in fact, because of the import that we place on the event (coupled, incidentally, with the need to attend some doctor’s appointments during her final weeks of pregnancy).

For roughly the last five years, we have engaged in the maniacal consumption of movies over roughly a six-week span. We largely ignore the cinematic landscape for the other 46 weeks of the year, but once the list of Nominees is announced, it’s go time. In past years, we’ve averaged more than one Oscar-nominated movie per day. This year, with mobility somewhat diminished by the alien life form that is inhabiting my wife, we were limited, but nonetheless got a chance to see a respectable 26 of 43 nominated films (a .605 average), covering 90 of 121 nominations (.744).

Why? All for the sake of having one evening in which we can sound informed about pop (and not-so-pop) culture. That being the case, it’s worth jumping on the proverbial soapbox not merely to make up for my deficient height, but also to say my peace about this year’s movie class.

Synopsis: Almost to my chagrin, there is no question that Avatar was the most important movie to come out this year. It will change the way in which films are not just watched but seen. Arguably, it is the most significant movie to emerge since Star Wars cemented the action blockbuster as the defining production mode in Hollywood. Even so, it’s far from the best movie. The idea of James Cameron sitting around the set and talking smugly in his funny little invented language, telling everyone, “I see you, my brother,” is rather tedious.

Avatar is an important movie, and technologically, it has no equal. But it’s no more a great movie than was Titanic. (Tangent: one of the darker periods of my life was spent as a travel-guide writer in Orlando. There, not only did I confront the great oddity of having to attend things like Disney parks and insipid dinner theatre by myself, but I also had to navigate schlock like Titanic: The Museum … which still interested me more than the movie. End rant.)

There are some fine movies in this class — some beautifully made, others compelling for various reasons. I have no problem with the expansion of the best picture nominees to 10 films — but I am appalled that Blind Side was included in that list, over other, far better movies (most notably “A Single Man”). One other thing of which I’ve become convinced: of all the ways in which one can spend two hours in a movie theater, there may be none better than the slate of live-action and animated shorts.

Anyhoo, a few thoughts on the categories before the red carpet hoopla shifts from E! to ABC…

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Reaction from a day Casey Kelly won’t soon forget

03.07.10 at 5:10 pm ET
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Following the Red Soxcome-from-behind, 5-4 win over the Orioles — in which Mark Wagner hit the game-winning homer in the ninth inning and Casey Kelly got the win in his hometown of Sarasota — Terry Francona, Kelly and Wagner all spoke to the media.

FRANCONA

On Buchholz: ‘€œYou know what, Gave up the home run and then walked the next two hitters. That would be the one thing that OK, give him something to talk to Johnny [Farrell] about tomorrow. I thought his stuff was fine. Up a little bit.’€

On Kelly: ‘€œVery good. Poise. Threw all his pitches. He threw a 3-2 breaking ball. He’€™s trying to use all his pitches. You see him follow the catcher, which is nice. Even the umpire, between innings, was like, how old is that kid? Very mature, stays in his delivery, uses all his pitches and he stays down. It’€™s a good combination.’€

On Boof Bonser: “He’€™s got a nice, clean delivery. For a guy who has gone through some things with his shoulder, he likes to pitch. He doesn’€™t look scared. He’€™s a really interesting guy. We’€™ll try to build him up and see where it will take him. I think as he builds up and gets some of that velocity back, he gets a little bit more interesting.’€

On Daisuke Matsuzaka’s bullpen session: ‘€œCommand was a little bit spotty, which I’€™d think you’€™d expect. But health-wise, I think Daisuke felt good about it. Johnny [Farrell] felt good about it. We will re-evaluate tomorrow on the next couple of days, if it’€™s a day in between or two days in between.’€

On Wagner: “It’€™s fun to watch these young guys because you forget that they’€™re probably so excited. He got the double the first time and you forgot the score and we were losing and he tries to take off on a ball up the middle but it’€™s good, because it gives you something to talk about. Then he stays on a ball enough to get it out of the ballpark. And he throws really well. Yeah, it was exciting.’€

KELLY

On nerves: “I was trying to get the nerves pitching out of the way in your hometown and build on my last outing, try to calm down and get in the strike zone early.”

On number of tickets left: “I only left six or eight tickets, a bunch of friends and all these other people, I saw in the stands.”

Was he glad to pitch in hometown, or was it overwhelming: “No, it was really exciting to be able to pitch in front of your hometown and pitch in front of your family, so it was a fun time?”

What he was working on: “Last outing, I just tried to establish my fastball, get ahead in the count early and pound the zone. I got a couple of ground balls and the defense made good plays.”

In his mind he was going against better hitters than last time: “No, because that’€™s when you start to psych yourself out, I think. All I concentrate on is what I have to do. I feel like if I locate my fastball and throw it in the zone, good things will happen.”

Was it good to work from the stretch (after issuing a walk): “I wasn’€™t planning on doing that at all but it was good to get somebody on base and get in the stretch, do a couple of pickoffs, having a guy on second, just working on that was good.”

On keeping things in perspective: “I’€™m kind of staying one day at a time, focused on what I have to do to get better every day. Being around all the guys here is just unbelievable, watching them and how they go about their business and maybe take it to help my season this year.”

WAGNER

‘€œI just like playing man, I like playing in general. It’€™s fun to get in there and show what you can do in front of the guys. Hopefully meld good with the teammates, it always helps when you come along and get a big hit every now and then, so.”

On Kelly: “Excellent. He was very composed, and his normal self, which is obviously pretty solid.”

On giving Kelly advice:  “No, well, I had a question for him because there was this girl I met the other night, and we were on the mound and I was like, ‘€˜Dude, I don’€™t know what to do.’ No, it was good. When he goes out and throws his game, there’€™s nothing you even need to talk about. It was good.”

On the home plate umpire asking about Kelly: ‘€œActually, the umpire behind the plate was asking about him. He’€™s like, This kid’€™s only like 20-something?’€™ He shows a lot of composure out there, and you wouldn’€™t even recognize that he’€™s a young pup like he is. That’€™s what makes him so good already.”

Hometown boy Kelly gets the win for Red Sox

03.07.10 at 4:49 pm ET
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Top pitching prospect Casey Kelly returned to his hometown of Sarasota, Fla., and earned the win by pitching two shutout innings in the Red Sox’ 5-4 win over the Orioles Sunday afternoon.

Kelly didn’t allow a hit, struck out one and walked one in pitching the seventh and eighth innings for the Sox. The Red Sox were able to come back for the win thanks to three runs in the eighth inning and another in the ninth.

Catcher Mark Wagner went deep for the Sox in the ninth — proving to be the game-winner — while Jed Lowrie chipped in with two hits. Also pitching for the Sox were Clay Buchholz (2IP, 5H, 3R), Scott Atchison (IP, H), Boof Bonser (2IP, H), Daniel Bard (IP, 2H, R) and Robert Manuel, who pitched a scoreless/hitless ninth, striking out a pair, in earning the save.

Buchholz on rotation’s competition: ‘It’s awkward’

03.07.10 at 4:07 pm ET
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After his first spring training outing, Sunday in Sarasota against the Orioles, Clay Buchholz addressed the challenges that are going with vying for a spot in the Red Sox‘ rotation, which would appear to have six pitchers going for five spots.

“It would be awkward for anybody,” he told reporters. “I guess there’s four guys, regardless what happens, that will be on the staff. The other two, three guys, yeah it’s awkward. Got to basically do what I did last spring, do what I did to finish the season last year, and I think everything will take care of itself… I can’t do anything about it regardless of what I think so I might as well not think about it, and put any added pressure, added stress.

“I’d rather win a spot than let it be given to me. It’s whatever. I knew regardless of how I pitch in spring training I have to do good, I have to show them during the season I can pitch under pressure in Boston, all that stuff. I’m going to be as relaxed as I can be.”

Buchholz ran into some trouble in his two-inning stint, giving up three runs on five hits, striking out one and walking two. The righty was, however, encouraged by the progress he has made throughout his time in spring training thus far.

“Whenever I needed to put a ball on the ground, I thought I did a good job, just a couple found holes, scored a couple more runs off of that,” he told reporters. “Things I’ve been working on the side, throwing bullpens, slowly coming together. Like I said, first outing of the spring, a little jumpy on a couple of pitches. Other than than that felt like I had good stuff, good movement on the two-seamer. The changeups, when I threw them right, were good. And I threw a couple of good curveballs. Just have to put it all together. It’s really early in the spring for me. I’ve got a couple more outings before we think it’s anything bad.”

Here are some more quotes from Buchholz following his outing:

“For most part I was down, the home run was up  and I think the single ‘€“ second hit of second inning ‘€“ was a little up. Felt good with most of location. That’€™s basically all I’€™ve been doing, putting it down in the zone and work both sides of the plate with it.”

“It’€™s any pitcher, it’€™s easier to work from down up, then it is up to down, especially with a fastball. Everything you throw comes off your fastball, so if your arm slot and release point is good with your fastball, it’€™s going to be good with your other pitches also. It’€™s the first pitch that you have to put your trust in and know where your throwing it and pick good locations to throw it.”

“I feel heavier. Not necessarily stronger. I feel better.”

“I’€™ve always set the bar high, regardless if it’€™s spring training or in season. I want to do good job every time I go out. I know you’€™re going to have rough days, sub-par days and really good days. Have to shift them, mix them in. not necessarily concerned with  the pressure right now, I want to go out there and do good, I don’€™t want to show them that I’€™m not trying. I’€™m going ot go out every inning and try to do the things I’€™ve been working on and dow well.”

“That first game, always good to go out there and get them out of the way regardless if it’€™s good or bad. I felt fine with it ‘€“ the two walks, like I said, I didn’€™t care much for those things. Other than that, I felt good.’€™’€™

Matsuzaka could make spring debut March 18

03.07.10 at 12:26 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona told reporters prior to his team’s spring training game against the Orioles in Sarasota that the rough estimate is to have pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch in a game for the first time this spring on March 18. The date is an off day for the Red Sox, so Matsuzaka would be most likely facing hitters at the minor league training facility if that schedule does hold up.

Jason Varitek has also been away from the team with an excused absence, tending to a personal matter. “We just told him to handle what he needs to and we’ll make adjustments,” Francona told reporters. “He knows he has our blessing to do what he needs to do.”

Mike Lowell, who visited with surgeon Dr. Michael Kelly, may have a plan mapped out for his integration into spring training games by Monday. Francona was scheduled to meet with trainer Mike Reinold regarding the matter.

How Michael Bowden changed his delivery

03.07.10 at 12:13 pm ET
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If you thought Michael Bowden’s delivery looked different this season, there’s a reason: It is. And Alex Speier points out in his column today exactly how the pitcher went about altering the execution. Here is a snippet from the piece:

That delivery has always made talent evaluators do a double take. Because it has appeared somewhat robotic, it has led to heightened skepticism about his skills.

One talent evaluator, for instance, suggested over the offseason that his mechanics would leave teams skeptical about his results until he proves that he can translate his minor league success to the big leagues. Certainly, the perception of Bowden took a step backwards last year. Evaluators described him as anything from a No. 4 starter to a likely bullpen candidate.

Even the Sox have had their concerns about his delivery in the past. The team sent Bowden to the American Sports Medicine Institute (headed by Dr. James Andrews) in Birmingham, Ala., after he entered their system to make sure that the pitcher’€™s unorthodox delivery wasn’€™t putting undue stress on his arm. They determined that he wasn’€™t, but even so, the way in which he got the ball to the plate was abnormal.

Of course, there is a reason for Bowden’€™s unorthodox delivery.

‘€œMy first pitching coach was in my first full season in Greenville,’€ said Bowden. ‘€œI never had money to work on mechanics growing up, my family didn’€™t have that money. So it was all natural, whatever felt natural for me.’€

This offseason, Bowden worked with Farrell and minor league pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel to make his delivery more fluid. The three watched video of other pitchers, with Bowden identifying elements that he can incorporate into his delivery. The pitcher then went to Boston during the offseason to work with Treuel and Farrell, who seemed pleased with the results.

Now, in games, the difference is apparent. Bowden has looked like a different pitcher in two spring outings of work, one against Boston College, and also in his two shutout innings against the Twins in which he fanned a couple.

The extra hitch in his leg lift is gone. His drop step has gotten better direction to the plate, the result of his upper and lower body working in greater concert. While he is using the same release point that has made it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball from his hand, his arm swing to get to that release point is now longer and less halting.

‘€œThere’€™s a lot more movement in my windup to get more rhythm and fluidity. That was my main goal this offseason. I just wanted to relax, look more fluid, be more natural,’€ Bowden explained. ‘€œNow it’€™s more one motion.’€

Ellsbury: No long-term talks with Sox

03.07.10 at 10:31 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — A year ago at this time, the Red Sox were working to finalize a five-year, $30 million deal with pitcher Jon Lester. He joined Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis as players who had reached long-term deals with the club in a span of less than four months.

Lester and Pedroia both had a bit more than two years of service time before they reached deals that bought out all of their arbitration years as well as the first year of their eligibility for free agency. That made it natural to wonder whether the Sox might approach outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury — who, like Lester and Pedroia after the 2008 season, has accumulated just over two years of big-league service time, but is not yet arbitration-eligible — with a similar proposal.

But Ellsbury said that he had had no such conversations with the Sox to this point. Asked whether he and agent Scott Boras had any conversations with the Sox about a long-term deal, Ellsbury said that there had been no such talks.

The 26-year-old did not rule out a willingness to consider a long-term deal, but he also made clear that he will not be concerned about whether he goes year-to-year in his contract, or whether he might sign a long-term deal.

“I’€™m going to play this year. When the Red Sox talk with my agent, I guess that’€™s when that ball starts rolling. As a ballplayer, you don’€™t want to get caught up in the numbers right now,” said Ellsbury. “I think it’€™s fine [that there have been no long-term talks]. I’€™d like to get one more year under my belt, but if they come with something tomorrow, then it’€™s a totally different ballgame. But I’€™m not really worried about that right now.”

Ellsbury hit .301/.355/.415/.770 while stealing a major league leading 70 bases in 2009.

Read More: Contract, Jacoby Ellsbury,

What’s new with the Red Sox: Saturday

03.07.10 at 3:16 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Nothing fancy, just the facts.

Or at least mostly the facts, with no more than a bit of fancy.

John Lackey, in his first exhibition game in a Red Sox uniform, was certainly a just-the-facts-and-no-fancy type of pitcher. He motored through an efficient 20-pitch outing, throwing 12 strikes and retiring all six batters whom he faced. He used primary four- and two-seam fastballs, mixing in a couple of curveballs. He also worked tremendously quickly, taking little time between pitches, a fact that was helped by the fact that he was able to work exclusively out of the windup without having to deal with any baserunners.

“Solid start. Commanded the baseball, had the ball down in the zone, mixed in his secondary pitch. I thought he was real good,” said bench coach DeMarlo Hale, who was acting as the manager of the Sox’ split squad team against the Twins. “I think defensively when you’re playing behind a pitcher like that, that’s going to dictate the pace, it’s positive for your defense. You look to see it and most guys like to play behind pitchers like that.”

For Lackey’s thoughts on the outing, click here.

–Two pitchers who are likely to give the Sox starting major-league depth in Pawtucket submitted sharp outings. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: brian shouse, Daisuke Matsuzaka, felix doubront, Jacoby Ellsbury
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