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Lackey on start: ‘It’s a good place to start from’

03.06.10 at 1:42 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — John Lackey was scheduled to throw 30 or 35 pitches in his first outing of the exhibition season, but the new Red Sox starter, in his first game with his new club, proved more efficient than anyone had anticipated. Lackey retired all six members of the Twins he faced in two innings. He worked quickly and needed to throw just 20 pitches (12 for strikes) to finish his day.

He struck out the first batter he faced, Ben Revere, on three pitches, the last a fastball up and away on which Revere could not check his swing. He also recorded three groundball outs in his outing. Yet he identified another pitch as the best sign for his stuff on the day.

In the second inning, he fell behind Delmon Young, reaching a 3-1 count. He then threw a fastball down the middle, which Young fouled off.

“That means I had a little life on my fastball,” he said.

Lackey threw four-seam and two-seam fastballs as well as a few curveballs, but didn’t incorporate any sliders or changeups. Despite his low pitch count, he didn’t feel the need to throw any extra pitches in a bullpen session after the fact, feeling that there is plenty of time left in the spring for him to build arm strength.

Lackey said that he didn’t find it as easy to get loose for his second inning of work as his first, but he was pleased with where he is in the build-up towards the regular season. He has been mindful this spring of the fact that he started the last two years on the disabled list, but seemed comfortable with where he is now in working towards the start of the season.

“I feel pretty good. It’s a good place to start from,” said Lackey. “It’s always different when you have to sit down, get back up for that second inning. It was a little bit harder to get loose that second inning as opposed to the first, but overall, I felt pretty good, and we’ll keep moving forward.”

A couple of additional items he addressed:

— Even though Lackey spent the last several years as the ace of the Angels staff, he suggested that he had no reservations about ceding Opening Day honors to Josh Beckett or Jon Lester.

“If the roles were reversed, and I would have stayed in Anaheim and those guys had come over there, I would expect to still be going first,” said Lackey. “I think those guys have earned the right. They’€™ve won a lot of games for Tito, and to go in front of me, I’€™m alright with that.”

— The right-hander welcomes the idea that he, Lester and Beckett might push each other to achieve sustained success.

“I can definitely see that happening,” said Lackey. “I’€™m going to be the first one on the top step, pulling for them to do great. When it comes your turn, as for those guys, you don’€™t want to let them down, just keep the line going.”

— On the ease of getting acclimated to a new team:

“Honestly, it’€™s been pretty easy. It’€™s been easier than I thought it was going to be,” said Lackey. “Guys have been great. It’€™s a great group of guys, easy to fit in with. I thought it was going to be more difficult than it actually has been.”

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Red Sox Morning Notes: Saturday

03.06.10 at 11:21 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox have a split squad day, with one set of players remaining in Fort Myers to take on the Twins (the third straight day of competition between the city’s cohabitants), and another set heading up the Gulf Coast to Port Charlotte to take on the Rays. The group at City of Palms Park is headlined by John Lackey, who will make his first game appearance for his new club. The group that will take on the Rays will feature the entire starting infield of third baseman Adrian Beltre, shortstop Marco Scutaro, second baseman Dustin Pedroia and first baseman Kevin Youkilis.

Pedroia, in particular, seemed alarmed that the Sox would be engaged in another day of the Mayor’s Cup competition of the Twins without benefit of a full squad.

“We can’t do it by ourselves,” he said on his way to the team bus.

If it were a game with meaningful stakes (beyond, of course, the mayoral chalice), the Sox would consider it quite a thing to have Lackey on the hill. The five-year, $82.5 million deal to which they signed the big right-hander this offseason offers evidence of the high regard in which the team holds the 31-year-old. Of course, the team’s last impression of Lackey comes from Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Angels, when the pitcher shut out the Sox for 7.1 innings in which he allowed just four hits.

Suffice it to say that such performances made an impression.

“I’ve seen him over the last years. I know what he’s going to bring. That’s exciting,” said bench coach DeMarlo Hale, who is in charge of the group in Fort Myers. “[Lackey is] very competitive. I can remember being there on third base where you saw him in the moment. The moment wasn’t too big for him. No doubt, he’s had some success and made some big pitches in those big moments. … I’m glad Lackey is on our side this year, for sure.”

Lackey will throw two innings and throw 30-35 pitches on Saturday, according to Hale.

Here are the two lineups that the Sox will field: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: demarlo hale, J.D Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, john lackey

What’s New with the Red Sox: Friday

03.06.10 at 6:52 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Nothing fancy, just the facts.

Groundhog Day seemingly characterizes the start of the Grapefruit League schedule, not only because the unseasonable chill persists in Florida, but also due to the fact that the Red Sox and Twins keep playing one another. The Fort Myers-based combatants played for the second of three straight days on Friday, though the Twins offered evidence that, after losing the first contest of the best-of-five Mayor’s Cup on Thursday, they mean business.

Minnesota featured a stacked lineup that included Denard Span, Orlando Hudson, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jim Thome, Delmon Young and J.J. Hardy.

“I remember a long, long time ago when the Twins teams you used to see had all these big old horses walking up there in those big powder-blue uniforms,” Gardenhire said. “I was watching today all these big backs walking up to home plate going, ‘Wow, this is kind of like old school back in the day when I was playing against them in instructional league.’ Hopefully, that will be the case.”

That lineup jumped on Jon Lester for four runs in one inning, on a day when the left-hander struggled a bit with his control, throwing 16 of 33 pitches for strikes. Lester, however, said that he was just barely missing wide of his target, rather than bouncing pitches or throwing them off the backstop, and the fact that he felt physically good in his first start of the exhibition season allowed him to feel at peace with his outing.

Lester’s outing was not the most significant of the day, however. His performance was overshadowed by those of other pitchers. The details:

Tim Wakefield had a strong first outing of the spring, tossing a pair of shutout inning while allowing only one infield hit. The 43-year-old has shown thus far that he has no physical restrictions after undergoing lower back surgery to repair a bulging disc following the end of the season. As of now, he remains on a normal schedule, with his next start slated to take place on Tuesday.

Mike Lowell suggested to manager Terry Francona that he is feeling good, and would like to get in a game as soon as next Wednesday. Francona said that it was more likely that the team would wait until it returned from a trip to Florida’s East Coast before putting Lowell in a game, perhaps as soon as next Sat., March 13. Even so, the manager took it as a good sign that the corner infielder is pushing for expanded activity.

Daisuke Matsuzaka had what he and pitching coach John Farrell deemed an encouraging first bullpen session of the spring. Matsuzaka threw 58 pitches, with his catcher moving from a standing position to an intermediate squat and then finally to a crouch for the last 12 pitches. Farrell said that Matsuzaka, whose spring schedule was slowed by a mild mid-upper back strain at the start of spring training, is making steady progress, and shows the core strength to maintain a consistent delivery, something that was an issue last year. Matsuzaka — who will throw his next bullpen session on Sunday — said that he is in better shape physically than he was in any of his first three seasons with the Sox.

All of that said, neither Farrell nor Matsuzaka could say whether the pitcher will have finished the necessary steps to be ready to pitch come Opening Day. Of course, Matsuzaka need not pitch that early. Indeed, thanks to a boatload of early off days, the Sox could go without a fifth starter until April 18 — and that date assumes that there are no rainouts. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: casey kelly, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie

Post-Game Notes: Twins 5, Red Sox 0

03.05.10 at 4:13 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox traveling squad was shut down by Carl Pavano and a host of Twins relievers, and Jon Lester struggled with his control in Boston’s 5-0 defeat against Minnesota at Hammond Stadium. The Sox did, however, have a couple of positive signs. Foremost was the work of Tim Wakefield.

One would ordinarily expect a knuckleballer to be an incredibly frustrating opponent for hitters in the first week of spring training games, when players are still searching for their timing. Even so, Wakefield noted that he felt good physically, he was able to command the pitch and his movement was good. He allowed only an infield single in his two scoreless innings. Given that he was barely able to walk when he made his last start in September, Wakefield could not help but take satisfaction in his outing.

“It’€™s a big difference. I have my strength back on my front side right now. I’€™m making sure, right now, it’€™s building strength in my legs ‘€“ not that they’€™re weak, but it’€™s a matter of getting your pitch count up, getting your arm stretched out for five, six, seven innings and being ready to throw for the start of the inning,” said Wakefield. “I felt really good today. I felt like my timing was there, my rhythm was good. I was able to throw a lot of strikes and get outs quickly. I’€™m very pleased. … Obviously, this was a test. But I’€™ve been telling everybody that I feel fine, and I think I proved to myself when I got over here that everything was going to be good, and try to get ready for a long haul of a season.”

While the Sox had tried to measure expectations about how Wakefield might progress this spring. As manager Terry Francona pointed out, he started his offseason late after recovering from lower back surgery to repair a bulging disc. The Sox were prepared for the possibility that he might not be able to stay on the same schedule as the other starters.

To this point, however, those concerns have been erased. Wakefield has proven able to take part in every aspect of camp, and he is now slated to stay on his turn in the rotation, with his next turn coming on Tuesday in Jupiter.

“We didn’€™t want to rush him,” said Francona. “We want him to prepare at the pace that’€™s appropriate. He’€™s obviously doing okay. … He’€™s on the regular rotation. … If [a starter] needs an extra day [between starts], we can always build that in. I don’€™t see that happening with Wakefield.”

Jon Lester was only able to log one inning in his first outing of the spring. Some command issues — Lester said they were slight — resulted in a four-run yield in just one inning, as Lester allowed three hits, walked two and struck out one. Afterwards, he suggested that he was happy to have gotten his first start of the spring out of the way, and that there were some positives to be gleaned.

“I felt alright. Mechanically, I felt okay,” said Lester. “It wasn’€™t like I was throwing the ball off the backstop. Even though I walked two batters, it wasn’€™t like I was bouncing the ball, throwing the ball high. I was down in the zone. I was happy with that aspect of it.”

Mike Cameron said that he felt good in his first game of the spring. He led off the contest with a walk and then attempted a steal of second. He was called out, though Cameron said he was told by Twins second baseman Orlando Hudson that he was safe. He grounded out in his only other at-bat.

J.D. Drew went 0-for-2 in his first game of the exhibition season. After serving as the Sox’ DH on Friday, he will play the outfield on Saturday.

–One beneath-the-radar performance by a Sox pitcher was turned in by Randor Bierd. The non-roster invitee, who was acquired from the Orioles in exchange for David Pauley prior to the 2009 season, has turned in a couple of outings (the first on Wednesday against BC, and against in the third inning on Friday against the Twins) in which he has shown an effective two-seam fastball. He induced a pair of groundouts on Friday and struck out Denard Span.

–Twins manager Ron Gardenhire glimpsed his Red Sox counterpart after the game.

“Hey Tito,” Gardenhire yelled to Francona. “We’re 1-1, baby!”

That utterance reflected that the Mayor’s Cup series is now tied after two games between the teams. Francona could not hide his disappointment.

“That really hurt,” he said.

Clearly, the stakes of the rivalry have intensified, especially now that pitcher Boof Bonser has crossed Fort Myers after having been traded from the Twins to the Red Sox during the offseason.

“Yesterday, Boof Bonser was holding [the Cup] up in the dugout. I don’t know what’s wrong with that picture, but something is wrong with it, since he might have helped lose it,” grinned Gardenhire. “Dirty, no good … [The trophy] probably had a beer in there.”

Read More: Boof Bonser, Jon Lester, mayor's cup, randor bierd

Matsuzaka throws first bullpen session of the spring

03.05.10 at 11:04 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daisuke Matsuzaka, in his first bullpen session of the spring, threw 58 pitches of varying intensity. He had bullpen catcher Mani Martinez stand for the first 25 tosses, switch to an intermediate squat for the next 21, and then squat for Matsuzaka’s final 12 pitches.

Owing to a mild upper back strain at the start of spring training, Matsuzaka has been roughly a couple weeks behind the rest of the Sox starters, who have thrown three bullpen sessions and two live batting practice sessions. But the 29-year-old suggested that he feels as if he may be in the best shape of his career, and while he declined to speculate on when he would be ready for either spring training or regular-season games, he sounded an optimistic note about his overall health.

“I think, for me, as far as I’m concerned, as far as I can feel, I might even be even better, in a better spot [physically] than I was back [in 2007],” said Matsuzaka. “Not just today but I think this whole time since I’ve gone back to throwing, I’ve felt great.”

Pitching coach John Farrell gave the session a favorable review, saying that Matsuzaka has bounced back well from all of his throwing sessions, a byproduct of his offseason conditioning. He said that his delivery is the same one he featured in 2007 and 2008, something that is sustainable because of his core strength.

“He’s making steady progress,” said Farrell. “Very good session for him today.”

Manager Terry Francona said before the session that Matsuzaka will follow a progression that includes more bullpens and then live batting practice sessions before he pitches in games. While Farrell said that the Sox won’t rush a pitcher back to the mound from an injury, there is little urgency for Matsuzaka’s progression, since the Sox might not need a fifth starter until mid-April.

Matsuzaka will throw first full bullpen session on Sunday. The team has yet to commit to a timetable for him to enter a game this spring, with Farrell saying that the team isn’t “pinned to a calender” about when the right-hander will pitch in the regular season. Farrell added that it was “too early to say” whether Matsuzaka would be ready for the start of the season, but said that he is on a positive course to be in the rotation, “whether it’s the first of April or sometime inside the month.”

For his part, Matsuzaka acknowledged the possibility that he might not be ready for the start of the regular season. If the team follows that route to give him more time to prepare, he suggested that he would not object to such a course.

“I think whatever has happened is really ultimately my responsibility. It might be the case that I won’t be ready quite for Opening Day, but my goal is always to be as ready as quickly as possible,” said Matsuzaka. “We’ll just have to see how it goes. If I can stay on track, maybe [Opening Day is a possibility]. But it’s tough to say.”

After his coming bullpen session, Matsuzaka will continue a normal progression before pitching in spring training games, including at least one live batting practice session.

“The on thing we don’t want to do is short circuit or take a side detour through that (progression) and shortcut it in any way,” said Farrell. “We know there are 30, 32 starts that every guy is going to make. We want to make sure that when (Matsuzaka) begins that, there’s no setbacks.”

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox,

Red Sox Morning Notes: Friday

03.05.10 at 9:23 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — It’s a big day for the half of the Red Sox‘ top six starters, as both Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield are scheduled to make their first Grapefruit League starts on the other side of Fort Myers against the Twins, while Daisuke Matsuzaka is scheduled to throw his first bullpen session of the spring.

In other health-related news, manager Terry Francona reports that Mike Lowell was politicking to get into next Wednesday’s game in Fort Myers.

“Obviously, he’s feeling good,” said Francona. “I still think that’s a little quick.”

Francona said that if all goes well, Lowell could more likely see his first game activity on Sat., March 13, after a pair of road games on the East Coast of the state. Ideally, Francona would like to use Lowell as a DH, but said that could present a logistical challenge, given the need to have David Ortiz get at-bats.

Here’s the Red Sox lineup for today’s game:

Cameron, 8
Hall, 9
Martinez, 2
Drew, DH
Lowrie, 4
Anderson, 3
Kalish, 7
Navarro, 5
Iglesias, 6

SP – Lester

Other developments in the Fort:

Dustin Pedroia, who was mentioned briefly as a possibility to play shortstop this year before the team signed Marco Scutaro, said that he hasn’t taken any grounders at short this spring. Indeed, he couldn’t recall the last time that he had taken grounders at the position, positing that he likely hadn’t done so since 2006.

Terry Francona had his Michael Jordan experience when he managed the basketball legend in the minors in 1994. Mike Cameron had his own memorable encounters with His Airness when both were White Sox minor leaguers. As it turns out, the Sox actually have three generations of people who had memorable baseball encounters with Jordan.

Casey Kelly recalled that he got to meet Jordan when he was a four-year-old scrambling around ballparks with his father.

“My dad was with Chattanooga. All the players asked me to get his autograph because they were too afraid to. I would just nonchalantly go up and say, ‘Hey Mike, would you sign this?'” Kelly grinned. “He always would.”

–Francona appears in a couple scenes in the movie “Major League.” He can be seen coming off the field from first base, wearing No. 24 for the Indians.

–Francona said that Tim Wakefield is positioned to assume a normal spring workload.

“He’s actually been throwing the ball great,” Francona said. “No reason for him not to pitch.”

–Francona said that Jed Lowrie seems to be feeling good, though his wrist fatigues after activity. The manager also thinks that Lowrie has been somewhat tentative in both his swing and while trying to backhand the ball.

“I think you’ll see a bit more bat speed when he gets more confident,” said Francona, noting that David Ortiz went through something similar when he returned from his wrist injury in 2008.

More to come shortly…

Read More: casey kelly, Dustin Pedroia, Michael Jordan,

Lineup for the big rematch

03.05.10 at 9:13 am ET
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News flash: Mike Cameron is leading off in the Red Sox‘ game against … you guessed it … the Twins. (That’s right, the same Mike Cameron whose career was helped shaped by Michael Jordan.)

The Sox’ lineup: Cameron CF, Hall RF, Martinez C, Drew DH, Lowrie 2B, Anderson 1B, Kalish LF, Navarro 3B, Iglesias SS, Lester P. Following up the Red Sox’ starter will be Tim Wakefield, followed by last year’s WBC closer for Team Puerto Rico, Fernando Cabrera, followed by a finalist for the reality show “Knight School,” Dustin Richardson, followed by one of the Ramon Ramirez‘ (The one with the ‘A’ in the middle), and finally Robert Manuel and Randor Bierd.

Carl Pavano, he of the one-year, $7 million contract, will start for the Twins. By the way, the Twins’ payroll at a surprisingly high $93 million this season.

As for Cameron, the last time he led off in the regular season game was in 2008, a season in which he manned the lineup’s top spot 13 times (hitting .204). Also of note: Drew has only been in the cleanup spot four times since joining the Red Sox, but is hitting .571 in the spot with four hits in seven at-bats to go with a remarkable five walks.

Web Site Of The Day: This allows you to plug in the spray chart for any player’s performance in a certain park and see how it translates to another park. For instance, if you want to see how Mike Lowell’s game last year at Fenway would play in Texas, this is the place to go. Click here to try it out.

What’s New with the Red Sox: Thursday

03.05.10 at 6:55 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Nothing fancy, just the facts.

The Red Sox commenced official Grapefruit League play on Thursday, renewing their spring crosstown rivalry with the Minnesota Twins. The Sox began their effort to build upon their three-peat in the Mayor’s Cup competition for exhibition season superiority with a 2-1 victory that was notable for solid pitching performances and the unseasonable chill in Fort Myers.

“Everything the Red Sox ever gave me,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, “I wore.”

Here are the news items to emerge from the day:

Josh Beckett gave up the only Red Sox run of the day, but he took satisfaction with his two innings of work. He noted that five of his six outs came via groundball (the other was a called third strike), suggesting that his spring focus on locating his fastball down in the strike zone is paying dividends. In 2009, Beckett recorded a career-best groundball-to-flyball ratio, and he is clearly hoping to stick to the approach that produced those results.

‘€œI think just keeping the ball down, you’€™re going to get more groundballs,’€ said Beckett. ‘€œThe top half of the ball is more exposed than the middle part and the bottom, so I think you’€™re just going to get more groundballs by keeping the ball down.’€

–Beckett went 17-6 with a 3.86 ERA in 2009, but given that he did become more of a groundball pitcher, and given the deficiencies of the Sox’ left-side infield defense last year, there is reason to believe that his down-in-the-zone approach could pay even greater dividends in 2010. Towards that end, Beckett seemed impressed by having Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro behind him on Thursday. Scutaro in particular made a couple of standout plays, including the initiation of a 6-4-3 double play.

Jonathan Papelbon made his first game appearance of the spring, throwing four splitters among his 13 pitches. Francona was pleased with the depth of the pitch, which everyone around the Sox considers a key element to making the closer more efficient after a 2009 season when, despite spectacular numbers (1.85 ERA, 38 saves in 41 chances), he sometimes had to labor through the ninth inning.

‘€“Mike Cameron appears set to play centerfield on Friday against the Twins, barring any setback. Cameron is wearing No. 23 this spring, a number that he has not worn since the minor leagues, when he spent an extraordinary time as a teammate of another No. 23: Michael Jordan. As a 21-year-old, Cameron had a rare opportunity to hang with the NBA legend during his experiment as a minor league baseball player.

‘€œWe’€™d hang out all the time,’€ said Cameron. ‘€œI’€™d say, ‘€˜I just want to hang out with you, see what it’€™s like.’€™’€

For more, click here.

J.D. Drew is still slated to be the designated hitter on Friday. Daisuke Matsuzaka will throw a bullpen session on Friday morning. Tim Wakefield will get the start for the Sox, who will invade the Twins’ park of Hammond Stadium in Round 2 of the five-game Mayor’s Cup. Wakefield appears to be progressing well this spring, and showing few lingering effects from his offseason surgery on his lower back. ‘€œHe’€™s a unique pitcher,’€ said Francona. ‘€œHis three sides coming into this game, he’€™s been great. Ball’€™s all over the place. ‘€¦ I think he’€™s right where he’€™s supposed to be.’€

–Francona said that while it can be difficult to move all over the diamond for a player like Bill Hall, he praised the role player for embracing the responsibility. ‘€œHe knows our intentions are to get him at-bats,’€ said Francona. Hall is slated to get starts in the coming days at both shortstop and in right field.

Casey Fein, who was claimed on waivers by the Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon ‘€” just three days after the Sox claimed him from the Tigers ‘€” barely had time to make introductions and unpack his bags before changing clubs again. ‘€œThat was a quickie,’€ said Francona. ‘€œHow you doing and thanks for coming.’€

Casey Kelly will be making his next start against the Orioles in Sarasota on Sunday. That happens to be Kelly’€™s hometown, and so his outing will no doubt be a significant event for the young pitcher. Francona thought that pitching coach John Farrell had tried to draw up the schedule to permit just such an outcome. For his part, Kelly is looking forward to the outing.

“It will be a lot of fun,” said Kelly. “I’ll probably have a bunch of people from my hometown come to watch. It will be exciting. … I’m sure I’ll get as many [tickets] as I can, and then have people buying out the stadium.”

–Francona joined the chorus of those praising Jose Iglesias for his adjustment to the culture, in particular, his advanced knowledge of English, which he speaks without an accent. ‘€œHe says he watches a ton of TV [to learn the language],’€ Francona chuckled. ‘€œSo do I. It doesn’€™t help.’€

Ryan Kalish‘€™s aggressiveness on the field drew praise from the skipper. On Wednesday night, Kalish advanced from first to third on a ball that never left the infield, sprinting hard for the extra base when the ball was bobbled.

‘€œWhenever he plays, he’€™ll be one of the manager’€™s and coaches’€™ favorite guys,’€ said Francona. ‘€œHe’€™s like an animal out there.’€

Kalish said that he finds a natural affinity with the aggressive and intense style of play of both Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.

For more on Kalish, the promising outfield prospect who turns 22 later this month, click here.

Read More: Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis

Post-Game Notes: Red Sox 2, Twins 1

03.04.10 at 9:29 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — For Josh Beckett, the success of his first start of the Grapefruit League season was easy to measure. Beckett allowed a run on two hits in two innings, striking out one, walking none, and throwing 19 of his 27 pitches for strikes. Yet he defined his effectiveness with another gauge.

“I feel like I kept the ball down well. There were five groundballs [and] two hits ‘€“ one a line drive, the other a groundball,” said Beckett. “Things we’€™ve been working on the last two weeks, I’€™m getting there.”

That Beckett would now measure the success of his performance in terms of grounders represents an interesting evolution of his approach. In 2009, he matched his career best groundball-to-flyball ratio (0.91 to 1, compared to a big league average of 0.81-to-1) and set a new career standard by producing 1.28 groundouts per flyout (more than 20 percent better than the MLB average of 1.06-to-1).

The 29-year-old says that he has not been trying to redefine himself as a groundball pitcher, but that the area of emphasis in his game over the last two seasons has lent itself to a development in that direction. He has incorporated a two-seam fastball that has become as much a swing-and-miss pitch as a groundball-inducing one. As much as that two-seamer with both tail and sink, his ability to work down in the strike zone with his four-seam fastball (the primary pitch that he featured on Thursday) has been a huge factor in his increasing talent for keeping the ball on the ground.

“I think just keeping the ball down, you’€™re going to get more groundballs,” said Beckett. “The top half of the ball is more exposed than the middle part and the bottom, so I think you’€™re just going to get more groundballs by keeping the ball down.”

–Of the 13 pitches that Jonathan Papelbon threw in his first inning of Grapefruit League action, he estimated that he threw four splitters. That, of course, is a pitch that Papelbon has prioritized this spring in an effort to present opponents with a broader mix of pitches for which they must account.

Though the pitch didn’€™t result in any swings and misses on Thursday, Papelbon seemed pleased with the action of his splitter, including one that resulted in a foul ball straight into the ground and another that produced a called strike.

Papelbon suggested that he has taken a greater focus into spring this year. He is not shy about saying that his goal is greatness, and that after some struggles in 2009 (and a season that ended on a note of disappointment, when his 0.00 ERA in the postseason finally took a hit in Game 3 of the ALDS), he is driven to make the needed adjustments.

‘€œI think the day I stepped foot in a big league uniform I’€™ve always strived to be a great athlete,’€ said Papelbon. ‘€œBut I’€™ve also said too [that] to be a great athlete comes with a lot of hard work and a lot of challenges and a lot of adjustments.

‘€œI feel like right now, I’€™m just in a phase in my career where I’€™m having to make adjustments and having to realize the challenges ahead of me and evolve my game. I see how it is ‘€“ it’€™s very simple when you look at it. It’€™s just an evolving time for my game and who I am and what I do.’€

–The double play tandem of Marco Scutaro and Dustin Pedroia got its first unveiling in a game, and the results were solid. In particular, Beckett praised the pair for turning a double play when Scutaro ranged to his right on a hard-hit ball by Michael Cuddyer to start a 6-4-3 double play.

‘€œThat was a great double-play on a 3-and-1 pitch. That’€™s the pitch I’€™ve been talking about since day one of spring training. You don’€™t have to make a perfect pitch. You make a decent pitch, and the guys behind you pick you up,’€ said Beckett.

‘€œI don’€™t think [the pitchers] have talked about [the defensive improvement], but I think it’€™s just known. Obviously the defense is really going to help us with not having to make the perfect pitch. They’€™re bad situations for us when we’€™re behind in the count with guys on base, but I feel like you can just make a good pitch, and if the ball is put in play, you’€™ve got a good chance of getting some outs.’€

–Catcher Mark Wagner delivered the game-winning hit for the Red Sox after entering the game in the top of the eighth inning. He lined a single to left with Josh Reddick (who lined a leadoff double to right) on third to break a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the eighth. Reddick’s ball had surprising carry to right field on a chilly night, and Twins right fielder Rene Tosoni misjudged it, thus permitting it to sail over his head.

–The Sox bullpen combined to produce seven shutout innings. Scott Atchison got the win with a scoreless eighth, and Joe Nelson had the save by putting up a zero in the ninth.

Read More: Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, josh reddick, marco scutaro

Beckett and Papelbon are in the books

03.04.10 at 7:59 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Both Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon made their first appearances of the exhibition season. Beckett turned in a pair of innings, allowing a run on two hits while striking out one. He threw 27 pitches, 19 of them for strikes. He relied chiefly on four-seam fastballs, including one to produce a 6-4-3 double play (the first twin killing produced by Marco Scutaro and Dustin Pedroia) at the end of the first, and he froze Jacque Jones with a fastball on the inside corner for a called third strike in the second inning.

Papelbon then entered the game for the third inning, during which he retired the Twins in order (no strikeouts in that mix). He threw 13 pitches, 10 for strikes.

Beckett said that he was pleased with his outing, noting specifically that he did a good job of driving the ball into the bottom half of the strike zone to produce groundballs.

“I feel like I kept the ball down well. There were five groundballs [and] two hits ‘€“ one a line drive, the other a groundball,” said Beckett. “Things we’€™ve been working on the last two weeks, I’€™m getting there.”

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