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Francona talks about the Daisuke setback

03.13.10 at 4:58 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Following the Red Sox‘ 3-2 win over the Pirates, Saturday at City of Palms Park (which was ended with a 6-4-2-4 triple play) manager Terry Francona addressed the the situation regarding Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Matsuzaka was supposed to throw live batting practice for the first time this spring training, Saturday morning, but had to cancel the session when he felt a stiff neck after throwing five pitches in the bullpen. Here is what Francona had to say on the matter:

What happened? “He threw about five or six pitches and his trap or neck started spasm on him. He talked to John Farrell with Masa [Hoshino] there and decided to shut it down. We’ll go kind of day to day on it. I know he came and got worked on. We’ll wait and see how he shows up tomorrow and when he feels good we’ll repeat how he feels today.”

– He hasn’t had any issues with this before.

Will you be more conservative? “I don’t think it’s anything besides kind of a stiff neck. I don’t know if we need to be conservative along as he’s OK. But if he’s not comfortable that wouldn’t be a good thing so we’ll see where it goes away.”

Does this definitely rule him out to be on the team on Opening Day? “I don’t think Opening Day was the end-all, be-all. We just want to get him ready. I don’t think that’s the biggest decision right now. We just want to get him out on the mound and get him going so we can get him stretched out.”

Show again you can’t have too much pitching? “Things have a way of taking care of themselves, and if they don’t — I’m not trying to sound unfeeling but I would rather somebody be aggravated than not have enough pitching. We’ve sat down and kind of explained that to the guys how it normally works and sometimes you need to be patience. At the same time if you don’t have enough pitching it doesn’t work. On the good side of it is when something like this happens I don’t think we have to panic and run a guy out there when you’re not supposed to because that doesn’t help anybody.”

Bogar on Lowell at first: ‘He’s a natural at it’

03.13.10 at 2:58 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — According to Red Sox third base coach and infield instructor Tim Bogar, you would never know Mike Lowell’s previous professional experience at first base consisted of four minor league games in 1999.

“He’s fine. That transition’s not a problem for him,” Bogar said. “His big thing was working on picking balls in the dirt and footwork stuff. We did that a couple of days. He’s a natural at it. Great hands. Two days we’ve hit him buckets of balls at first base with low throws and stuff. He’s just professional. We had to talk about a couple of technique things, ways he likes to do things and way he doesn’t but other than that he took right to it.”

Lowell, Bogar, and Red Sox manager Terry Francona all said the plan right now is to have the infielder start his initial spring training game Monday at City of Palms Park, starting at first base.

The appearance will be a culmination of three weeks of work at first, that has included Bogar peppering Lowell with grounders and information regarding how to position himself on the other side of the diamond.

“Mikey doesn’t surprise me because he’s such a great fielder. His hands are so good,” Bogar said. “The other thing too is that he understands the game so moving a guy like that to a different position he understands what to do over there. It’s not like you have to explain a lot of things to him. There are going to be a couple of plays that are going to be foreign to him because he’s never seen it. But once he gets there and sees it in game situations it will be fine.

Perhaps the one thing that has yet to be determined is how improved Lowell’s range might be this year compared to last season. Without game action, Bogar points out that it is difficult to decipher exactly how mobile the 36-year-old will be, particularly at his new position.

“He’s moving better, obviously. And it looks as though he’s swinging the bat better, also,” Bogar said. “We haven’t tested him a lot because it’s one of those things where until you get in the game and see that’s when you’re going to have to make that judgment. But he’s moving fine. Coming to get balls he’s moving really good. When we do slow rollers and stuff like that he’s moving really well.”

Buchholz: ‘I want to be on this team for the duration of the season’

03.13.10 at 2:42 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Clay Buchholzouting Saturday afternoon was a looked at in a slightly different light than it might have been earlier in the day.

Just about 1 1/2 hours before Buchholz took the City of Palms Park mound for his second spring training start, Daisuke Matsuzaka was forced to cancel his first session against live hitters due to a stiff neck. So when Buchholz went out and turned in a solid three-inning outing against the Pirates, in which he allowed one hit and one walk while striking out two and throwing 28 pitches (17 strikes), the focus sharpened on what it might mean to the Red Sox‘ Opening Day rotation.

“That’s the least of my worries right now,” Buchholz said regarding worrying about how Matsuzaka’s set-back would affect the organization of the pitching staff. “I want to be on this team for the duration of the season. Two and a half months isn’t going to mean that much if something happens that I don’t do my job and end up in the same spot as last year. I’m going to keep working regardless how many starters there are in line right now and just do the stuff I have to do. Like I said a million times things will take care of themselves.”

The performance by Buchholz was a marked improvement over his first spring training start, in which the righty allowed three runs on five hits over two innings.

If Buchholz continues to go down a similar performance path he showed last spring training, and Matsuzaka (who was supposed to make his first spring start Wednesday) is pushed back because of the neck ailment, the questions regarding what pitcher out of the two and Tim Wakefield will be out of the equation will be answered … at least in the short term.

“I think the way last year ended, that stepping stone I took and pitching in the postseason and coming into spring training feeling good, being healthy for the most part and coming in and having confidence from last year, that sort of takes all the stress away from me,” Buchholz said. “I don’t want to do anything to get sent down to Triple A but that’s what I’m here working on. It’s always going to be what it’s going to be, that question mark about six guys when Daisuke gets back.”

As for the performance, Buchholz felt that while his two-seamer didn’t have the sink it had throughout the past few weeks, the chance to mix in his pitches, along with working with a few runners on base, made for a productive day.

“It was definitely an improvement from the last time out,” he said. “I felt really good and I might have felt too good for some of the pitches I was trying to throw. The two-seamer wasn’t sinking as much as it has been because I was getting through it a little bit too much. Other than that gave up a couple of hard-hit balls but they were early pitches in the count.

“I thought last time I threw a lot of good pitches, made a couple of mistakes and they got hit. There’s always going to be something to work on between each start here and throughout the rest of the spring and even during the season. In particular, maybe just making pitches more down in the zone rather than just throwing them over the plate for a strike. Off-speed pitches, I threw a couple of curveballs, a couple sliders, and mostly fastballs. It was a good day of work. Felt like I got work with every pitch.”

Buchholz said he went on to throw 18 more pitches in the bullpen after the start.

Some other Buchholz quotes after his outing:

What he was working on: “I said going into the last start that I wanted to focus on fastballs and changeups and I found myself in a couple of situations where I didn’t think I needed throw fastballs and changeups and went off of my plan. Today I got in a situation where I needed to throw sliders and curveballs and I got a couple of opportunities to do that.”

What has been his biggest improvement: “Control the game, that’s the biggest step I’ve taken. Being able to slow down a little bit when things are getting a little wacky out there, and taking control and throwing a pitch I need to throw at that situation rather than thinking about why is this happening or anything else. I think I’ve matured in that aspect of the game. I can still get better at it, but I think I’ve gotten better in the last two years.”

On working with Victor Martinez: “Since Day 1 he’s gelled really well with myself. He’s been that guy who came and haven’t been afraid to speak his mind and what he thinks. And that’s what I need because if you’re out there doubting something that’s only going to get you in trouble. He’s that guy behind it, making you be in the right frame of mind to throw that one pitch. He’s done that, and he did that a couple of times today where I shook off and he went back to that sign, I would step off and get back on and say, ‘OK, this is what I’m going to throw.’ Tek does the same thing. We’ve got two really, really good guys who can receive the ball really well behind the plate and that can help our offense. On Vic’s behalf, he’s been a really key part in my pitching development over the last year.”

On how he would compare himself as a pitcher to last year: “I feel about the same. I feel as confident as I did last year, knowing coming into spring training that I’m ready to go. It’s good for me to get in situations out on the field, with runners on first and second, nobody out, me getting out of it here and knowing how to do it and how to convert instead of thinking, ‘Oh God, here we go again’ to ‘OK, let’s get a ground ball and get two outs and go from there.’ I felt the same way last year, it just re-defines it this year, coming in and knowing that I’m ready.”

Stiff neck forces Daisuke to cancel BP session

03.13.10 at 11:48 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daisuke Matsuzaka was forced to scratch his scheduled batting practice, in which he was supposed to throw to batters for the first time in spring training, due to a stiff neck. Matsuzaka experienced the stiffness while warming up in bullpen, having thrown just five pitches before stopping.

Matsuzaka had been behind schedule due to a back ailment at the outset of camp, but was tentatively scheduled to pitch in his first spring training game Wednesday, at City of Palms Park against the Mets.

In other news, Mike Lowell and Terry Francona said that the plan is to have Lowell play first base in his spring training debut Monday.

Buchholz and Comedy Central gold

03.13.10 at 9:18 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Check out this bit from the Comedy Central show ‘Tosh.O” in which Clay Buchholz takes the mound against the show’s host. A tea party is involved. (A hat-tip to the Herald’s Michael Silverman):

Tosh.0
Web Redemption – Phillies Fan
www.comedycentral.com
Web Redemption 2 Girls, 1 Cup Reaction Demi Moore Picture

Boof would have welcomed a chance to close

03.13.10 at 9:06 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Boof Bonser isn’t a Twin anymore, but if he was his spring training might have a bit more intrigue these days.

Since Minnesota closer Joe Nathan is out indefinitely with a torn collateral ligament in his pitching elbow, Bonser’s former team is left scrambling to find a replacement. If Boof was still there… who knows?

“It might have been fun,” said Bonser. “I would have definitely mentioned something about it. I’m not over there, so it’s one of those could-have, would, have-have, should-have situations.”

Bonser has never notched a major league save, having been presented four save opportunities (giving up three runs in four innings). The combination of his demeanor and stuff would appear to have at least put the 28-year-old in position to be in the conversation.

Right now the candidates include Pat Neshek, Matt Guerrier, Francisco Liriano, Jose Mirajes, and Jon Rauch. (For an in-depth look at the candidates click here.)

“I don’t see them having much of a problem filling that spot,” said Bonser, who talked to Nathan the day before the injury occurred, during which time the closer said he was feeling great. “There’s a lot of guys. I’m reading Liriano might have a chance, Neshek, and Matt G, look at him. He’s been doing the set-up role so I don’t know why he couldn’t go right into closing.

“But I would have definitely raised my hand.”

A great story on Iglesias’ journey

03.13.10 at 8:40 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — If you’re looking for the best story regarding Red Sox prospect Jose Iglesiasjourney from Cuba to the Red Sox look no further than the one written by MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez. (To read it click here.)

Here is an excerpt:

Iglesias grew up in Havana, the capital of Cuba but still an impoverished part of town for its locals. Thanks to his baseball talent, Iglesias said he didn’t quite feel the financial toll most Cubans experience, so he never really considered leaving the country.

Until one night, when there was simply no food on the table for his family to eat, and he felt the frustration in his father’s face.

“My dad told me, ‘Man, things are looking ugly here,'” Iglesias recalled in Spanish from the visitors’ clubhouse during a soggy Friday afternoon. “And then I remembered the older players who told stories about how they had such a hard time in Cuba. And I said, ‘This is not going to happen to me.’ So I left.

“It was that day that I told my father, ‘Dad, I’m going to get out of here. I’m going to fight for a better future.'”

So Iglesias, along with current Royals pitching prospect Noel Arguelles, took advantage of his opportunity while playing in a tournament in Canada and defected from his team.

But his journey to freedom wasn’t over.

While he waited for his paperwork to get finalized, Iglesias, as a formality, had to spend 15 hours in a Shelby, Mont., jail — which sits just south of the border between the U.S. and Canada — with several local criminals.

“I remember in the morning, they opened the cells, and then when I went outside, all those people with all these tattoos looking at me,” Iglesias said. “I was scared.

“At that moment, I wanted to go back with my mom and dad.”

What’s new with the Red Sox: Friday

03.13.10 at 7:42 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Often fancy, often factual.

The rain came down, there was no baseball, but there was some entertainment… and evolving pitching plans.

The Sox’ team bus got all the way across the state to Jupiter (about a three-hour ride) only to discover that their game with Cardinals had been postponed to March 23 due to downpours. The lone regular position player to make the trip was Kevin Youkilis, with Clay Buchholz having to push his start to Saturday, with Michael Bowden following in the game against the Pirates.

After the major league game vs. Pittsburgh, the Sox will hold a ‘B’ intra-squad game on the City of Palms Park field, which will feature relievers who need to get work (Daniel Bard, Hideki Okajima), along with such minor leaguers as Casey Kelly, Kyle Weiland, Robert Manuel, and Kris Johnson.

Also of note is that Daisuke Matsuzaka will throw to live hitters for the first time, on a back field at approximately 11:30 a.m. He is slated to see game action for the first time on Thursday. Mike Lowell is also still on pace to make his spring debut Monday against the Orioles.

As for the entertainment, that came in the form of the clubhouse of regulars who remained behind getting into some good-natured back-and-forth with Dustin Pedroia regarding his presence on the cover of Baseball America. That, of course, opened the door for Pedroia — who shaved his head at the suggestion of former teammate Alex Cora — to get some one-liners back at his teammates.

It was the kind of scene that has left an impression on some of the newcomers, such as Mike Cameron, who called Pedroia the best trash-talker he has ever seen.

‘€œNothing, but his mouth is a lot bigger than I thought it was,’€ said Cameron when asked if there was anything about Pedroia’€™s game that surprised the 16-year big league veteran. ‘€œBut he backs it up. He talks a lot of (crap), but he goes out and does it. He’€™s not one cent short of confidence. I thought (Bret Boone) was the all-time greatest, but (Pedroia) tops him by far. I’€™ve never, ever seen anyone talk as much (crap) as he does.’€

– Speaking of Pedroia, he, and his teammates, have noticed a big difference in the second baseman’s mobility thus far. It isn’t by accident, as Pedroia took it upon himself to work with former NFL player Keith Poole to get his legs in better shape after his march to surpassing 20 stolen bases (he had 14 through the first three months) was curtailed by heavy legs and a groin injury.

‘€œI just feel like I’€™m running better,’€ he explained. ‘€œI feel strong, I feel fast. That’€™s what I worked on. I changed everything in the offseason, my lifting. My main goal was to get faster and get quicker and I think I did that.’€

‘€œI don’€™t know if he’€™s faster, but he’€™s moving better,’€ said Red Sox strength and conditioning coach Dave Page. ‘€œI know that was a focus for him in in the offseason and you can tell it has paid off. He’€™s usually pretty intuitive with that stuff.’€

Here is the hard work:

And here is the payoff for all the hard work:

– Wondering how much putting up numbers in Fenway Park for a year went into Adrian Beltre signing with the Red Sox instead of Oakland, which had offered him a three-year deal at comparable numbers. He said not at all.

‘€œI thought the team had a real good opportunity to win the World Series. I focus on the team, not the place I’€™m playing,’€ he said. ‘€œI had an early offer from Philadelphia, so’€¦ I don’€™t play for numbers. I don’€™t focus on numbers.’€

Beltre also pointed out that his subpar numbers at Fenway (.179 batting average in 16 games) was more due to the pitchers he was facing rather than anything else. He was especially pleased he didn’t have to face Tim Wakefield anymore, having gone 0-for-16 against the knuckleballer in his career.

Pedroia has the need for speed

03.13.10 at 7:16 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The line of questioning to Dustin Pedroia stemmed from a few home-to-seconds, and second-t0-homes.

Do you feel faster this year?

“Yes,” the second baseman said with a one-word exclamation.

Do you think you can steal 30 bases this year?

“Maybe. I don’t know. If those situations present themselves 30 times, then yes,” he said.

So you are going to go 30-and-0 when it comes to steal opportunities?

“Never know. The UConn women’s basketball team went 72-0, so anything is possible,” Pedroia said.

Joking aside, improved mobility is the one thing that Pedroia feels has truly been added to his game this time around. In 2009 he noted that his legs felt heavy for much of the season. The Sox’ No. 2 hitter was well on his way to surpassing his career-high of 20 steals — having notched 14 in the first three months — but then a groin injury slowed him down and once again Pedroia had to settle for 20 swipes.

So this offseason he took it upon himself to change things up, training with former NFL player Keith Poole and focusing on his legs more than anything.

“I just feel like I’m running better,” he explained. “I feel strong, I feel fast. That’s what I worked on. I changed everything in the offseason, my lifting. My main goal was to get faster and get quicker and I think I did that.”

“I don’t know if he’s faster, but he’s moving better,” said Red Sox strength and conditioning coach Dave Page. “I know that was a focus for him in in the offseason and you can tell it has paid off. He’s usually pretty intuitive with that stuff.”

The payoff has come in the first few games, when Pedroia has been noticeably quicker around the basepaths. The satisfaction has come from both how he has felt sprinting from base to base, along with his teammates’ observations.

[Kevin Youkilils] hit a ball in the gap, I went first to home and I felt like I was moving,” he said. “I get in the dugout and Jacoby [Ellsbury] was like, ‘Man, you’re running really good.’

“It will translate into a lot more things. Speed kills. Speed never takes a day off. Never does.”

Beltre didn’t make decision on the park

03.12.10 at 1:03 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Part of the perception as to why Adrian Beltre chose the Red Sox‘ offer of one year guaranteed at $10 million, rather than that of Oakland, who came in with a three-year proposal at comparable money was because of Fenway Park.

Even though Beltre’s numbers at his new home park are not good — .179 batting average in 16 games — it is suggested that over the course of an entire season Fenway’s dimensions will be conducive to the third baseman’s right-handed swing. Last season, six of Beltre’s eight homers went to left field, and he has spent much of his career identified as primarily a pull hitter.

Still, according to Beltre, Fenway was not a factor in making his choice.

“I thought the team had a real good opportunity to win the World Series. I focus on the team, not the place I’m playing,” he said. “I had an early offer from Philadelphia, so… I don’t play for numbers. I don’t focus on numbers.”

As for his lack of production in his previous visits to Fenway, Beltre said it had little to do with the park (or the way approach the Red Sox took), and more to do with who was throwing the ball. He has a point. Here are his numbers against some of the Red Sox’ starters over the past few years:

Josh Beckett: 4-for-23, .179

Tim Wakefield: 0-for-16, .000

Daisuke Matsuzaka: 2-for-15, .133

Jon Lester: 4-for-11, .364

Jonathan Papelbon: 0-for-7, .000

“I can’t say exactly (they approach him differently), but you face Beckett, you face Lester, I hated facing Wakefield, I couldn’t even touch him,” Beltre said. “It’s not only how they pitch you, but the kind of pitcher that you face. Most of the time we face these guys it’s the kind of guy we face every time, Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, those guys really give me a hard time.

“It’s going to be different because I used to play against these guys. For of all, I’m not going to be facing this pitching staff, which is a plus, and playing with a team that has a really good chance to win. The fact also that we’re going to go the ballpark that’s sold out every day, it gives you a little bit of a edge. Every day it feels like you’re playing for something.”

Then there is the other part of Beltre’s new ballpark that he will be dealing with: the field.

“It’s not the best, but it’s been better the last couple of years,” Beltre said. “I haven’t seen it this year yet, so I can’t comment on it now. I hope to learn the first couple of weeks to see how it’s going to play. Hopefully it’s good because when you have a field you feel comfortable in it makes you feel better. Seattle is really good. I’ve played in two ballparks that are really good. To me, the best in the business was L.A. Their stadium is unbelievable. Seattle was also really good. Fenway ‘s not close to those, but I hope it will be OK.”

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