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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

Youkilis makes facial hair a public matter

03.07.10 at 2:52 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Kevin Youkilis is making his Opening Day facial hair a matter of public choice. Fans who donate at least $1 to his “Hits for Kids” charitable foundation can weigh in on whether he should sport a goatee, mustache, fu manchu or clean shaven look on April 3. (Click here for details.)

“If I have to look like Magnum, P.I., to raise some money for kids, I’ll do it,” said Youkilis.

Youkilis has already posed for his official team photo this year, sporting a goatee. Thus, there will be no repeat of the “Youk-Fu” look that graced scoreboards across the majors in 2009. In retrospect, Youkilis harbors no regrets about his facial hair in that photo, but he was chagrined about the fact that the photo made it appear as if he was sleepwalking.

“Everyone kept saying, ‘Man, what were you doing?'” he chuckled. “I just said, ‘7:30 in the morning.’ It looked like I was in a bad spot. I looked like I was a biker.”

Read More: Kevin Youkilis, magnum p.i.,

Postgame Notes: Red Sox 9, Twins 3

03.06.10 at 4:04 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — John Lackey doesn’t mess around on the mound.

As much as anything, that was the message of his first spring training start as a member of the Red Sox. Lackey retired all six batters he faced, allowing him to work exclusively out of the windup and maintain a steady rhythm on the mound that was not too far off from what a bullpen session might look like.

Even so, his get-it-and-go approach was achieved against the backdrop of another step of a build-up in intensity, and so Lackey would take satisfaction in his outing — which resulted in a strikeout, three groundouts and two fly balls — while also identifying room for improvement.

“Today I really felt like my delivery was on time, and in between pitches I was moving pretty quickly. I like to work fast,” said Lackey. “I felt like the rhythm part of it was pretty good today. That second inning, I wasn’€™t locating quite as well as I did in the first inning, so there’€™s still a long way to go.”

Lackey needed just 20 pitches (12 strikes), working primarily with his four- and two-seam fastball while also mixing in a couple of curves. For more on Lackey’s first outing of the spring, click here.

Some other noteworthy developments in the game, that gave the Sox a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-five Mayor’s Cup against Minnesota:

— The Twins suffered a bit of a scare when All-Star closer Joe Nathan left the game in the middle of his scheduled inning of work due to what he described as tightness and achiness in his right elbow. But Nathan said that he’d been told that such symptoms represented an expected “speed bump” following offseason surgery to remove a couple of bone spurs and some loose bodies in his right elbow.

“We didn’€™t want to push through anything. I think it’€™s more being careful than anything right now, taking things slow. We still have a lot of time. The good thing is that this is a norm for going through a surgery,” said Nathan. “Until tomorrow, until we get that evaluation, I don’€™t want to come to any assumptions that I’€™m going to be fine or not.”

Though Nathan said that he did not expect an MRI, he was not sure how the discomfort might impact his schedule this spring. Twins doctors and trainers planned to examine him after Saturday’s game to determine whether the injury is anything but minor. Nathan was escorted off the field by Twins trainers after pitching just one-third of an inning, walking two and striking out one.

Michael Bowden submitted a solid outing, allowing just a single and striking out two Twins in two shutout innings.

Brian Shouse struck out three while allowing a double and an unearned run in his inning of work. Shouse is in competition for one of the final jobs in the Red Sox’ bullpen.

Tug Hulett, who was supposed to get a look as a utility infielder but who has been unable to play the field due to shoulder soreness, hit the go-ahead three-run homer in the seventh inning. That resulted in an unexpected chant of “Tug … Tug … Tug” when he stepped to the plate in the eighth inning. He is expecting to be able to return to the field tomorrow, much to the relief of the 5-foot-10 player with one homer in 67 big-league at-bats.

“I’m not really your typical DH kind of guy,” said Hulett. “They were giving me a hard time the other day, playing Boston College. I was DH-ing. They said, ‘Papi went deep in the first game.'”

–Hulett homered after Jeremy Hazelbaker, the Sox’ fourth-round pick in 2009, lined a single. Hazelbaker struggled in his pro debut at Greenville in 2009 (.167/.280/.233/.513), but he was named the Sox’ top player in Fall Instructional League.

–The other part of the split squad suffered a 6-4 loss to the Rays in Port Charlotte. Justin Ruggiano hit a two-run, walkoff homer off of Kris Johnson in the bottom of the ninth. The Sox got solid pitching performances from starter Felix Doubront (2 shutout innings, 1 hit, 3 strikeouts) and reliever Kyle Weiland (six-up, six-down).

Read More: brian shouse, jeremy hazelbaker, Joe Nathan, john lackey

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.”

Read More: john lackey,

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
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