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Casey Kelly and Michael Bowden bullpen

02.20.10 at 6:33 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Pitchers Casey Kelly and Michael Bowden threw a bullpen session on Saturday at the Red Sox minor league facility.

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Jason Varitek press conference, 2/20

02.20.10 at 5:50 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jason Varitek spoke to the media for the first time this spring training. The captain discussed moving into the backup role, the starting rotation, and John Lackey (among other things). The 37-year-old participated in drills Saturday led by bullpen coach Gary Tuck.

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Merloni interviews Hermida, 2/20

02.20.10 at 5:00 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Lou Merloni interviewed new Red Sox outfielder Jeremy Hermida at the minor league facility.

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Varitek hoping to avoid boredom

02.20.10 at 3:00 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Victor Martinez may have supplanted Jason Varitek as the regular catcher of the Red Sox but it was somewhat telling on the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers that it was Varitek who held court and was still held in very high regard by his manager.

Terry Francona made it clear that Varitek still commands a great presence in the team’s clubhouse.

“That would never change, in my opinion,” Francona declared. “I think Tek is kind of a special guy. I think he’s certainly earned that right to wear that ‘C’ and if his playing time changes a little bit, I don’t see his role diminishing ever, [in terms of] what he can bring to a team, even when he’s not in the lineup.

“He’s a very strong influence on our team and he always will be.”

The veteran catcher known for his direct approach with teammates and the media spoke for just over seven minutes Saturday on the designated bench in front of the Red Sox minor league clubhouse.

“A lot of things are going to play its way out but for the most part, I’m here to support Vic as much as possible and take the load off him as much as possible,” Varitek said.

“It happened for the last two months of the season last year so this isn’t necessarily new for me. Is it different? Of course it’s different but I think that in that role that it was last year, toward the end, probably got me prepared for this. I still got prepared to take a heavy load because I’m sure exactly how that’s going exactly to pan out, if it’s going to be once a week, twice a week, three times a week, you just don’t know.  I’m just preparing to move forward and work with Vic.”

[Click here to listen to Varitek talk about how he plans to support Victor Martinez.]

One thing is for sure, Varitek – who turns 38 on April 11 – will likely have more gas in the tank throughout the course of this season as he is not being asked to be the everyday catcher.

“Sometimes, I can get caught up in the grind, I can tend to be a little quieter, trying to conserve energy and do different things,” he said. “Maybe it will open up more communication with Tito and the teammates and anyway I can help. Sometimes, you get bored from sitting there watching and you can figure out more ways to help.

“It’s going to be a work-in-progress on some things. Hopefully, I’m able to maintain strength. It’s a different transition for my body than anything else.”

In short, the captain said on Saturday he still plans on finding ways of leading the team.

“The biggest asset I’ve always had is to be out there,” Varitek said. “Whether you’re hitting well or not hitting well, things going well as a team or not, they could depend on [me] to be out there. That part’s going to be different. I know I might get a little bored but that might be a good thing. We’ll see.”

It was also somewhat fitting that one of the final questions asked of Varitek was how many more years he plans to play.

“I don’t know,” Varitek said. “Ask me at the end of this one.”

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Wakefield: ‘I think I’ll be one of the five’

02.20.10 at 1:14 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Tim Wakefield said that he expects to be a starter in the rotation when the season begins.

“My role in the rotation, I plan on being one of the five starters,” said Wakefield. “As long as I’m healthy during spring training and there’s no set backs, then when we start the season I think I’ll be one of the five.”

The 43-year-old said that he spoke with Theo Epstein, Terry Francona, and John Farrell to discuss mutual expectations for the season. After the meeting, he came away with the impression that the Sox’ views were in line with his own.

“I think Theo, Tito and John all feel we’re a better team with me in the rotation,” he said.

Wakefield was asked what might happen if the Sox were to break camp with a full complement of six starters.

“Does that ever happen?” he asked.

A transcript of Wakefield’s session follows: Read the rest of this entry »

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Audio: Lowrie back on ‘right’ path this spring

02.20.10 at 10:29 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — By his own admission on Saturday, Jed Lowrie did not take the best approach to healing his left wrist in 2009.

He played just 32 games and hit just .147 after having surgery on his left wrist on April 21.

“Bottom line, I just need to get healthy,” Lowrie said. “You can look at this season as a rebound season, but I’m looking to have a long career, I’m not looking at one season. Every year I come into camp, I want to be the starting shortstop. I don’t look at it as just looking at this year, it’s all or nothing. I’m going to look at it as I want to build a career.

“That’s why I want to make sure I fix this and get this right. I’m not looking at it as a one-year standpoint.”

[Click here to listen to Lowrie talk about his regrettable 2009 approach to his left wrist.]

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Lowrie looks to move forward

02.20.10 at 9:59 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. –By his own admission, the 2009 season was a challenging one for infielder Jed Lowrie. The 25-year-old admitted that the frustrations were numerous, beginning with the fact that he learned in April that the broken bone in his left wrist following the 2008 season had not fully healed and would require surgery.

Lowrie then had the ulna styloid completely removed — a procedure without known precedent for a major-league baseball player, since the small bone is more often repaired and screwed into place — leaving him out for several months. When he began his rehab at Triple A Pawtucket, Lowrie started well but then after a few games encountered discomfort and numbness on check swings and then, increasingly, in routine baseball activities.

“My wrist just wasn’€™t in shape last year. I just wasn’€™t ready to be an everyday player. I feel right now that I’€™m on that track and it’€™s getting better everyday,” said Lowrie. “I did everything I could to be on the field, and nothing worked. That was probably the most frustrating part, because we tried so many different things and nothing worked.”

He did return to the field late in the year, but the results suggested a player whose readiness to play was somewhat in doubt. In 32 games, Lowrie hit .147 with a .211 OBP, .265 slugging mark and .476 OPS, all a terrible disappointment given both the promise he had shown in his rookie year and his performance last March as arguably the top hitter in his team’s spring training camp.

On Saturday morning, Lowrie arrived at the team’s minor league training facility following an offseason spent under the supervision of medical trainers. He worked both with a hockey trainer in Toronto (where Lowrie was living with his fiancee) and a tennis trainer in the Tampa Bay area (where he worked out starting in mid-January), both of whom helped him to devise a treatment plan that might address the struggles of the previous year.

Lowrie suggested that he feels that he has a better sense of what he needs to do to stay healthy in order to get his career once again moving forward.

“I think we went down the wrong path last year. We never really figured out what was going on,” he said. “We never really got on a path that worked last year. I feel like I had a chance this offseason to kind of reset and find that way.

“I played all of 2008 with a broken wrist. I don’€™t feel like I need to prove I’€™m tough enough. I just need to get healthy.”

Yet whereas Lowrie succeeded in his opportunity to win the everyday job as shortstop over Julio Lugo last year (his performance would have won him the role even had Lugo not undergone surgery in mid-March), this year, there are no certain openings on the major league roster. Marco Scutaro was signed to be the everyday shortstop, with Sox GM Theo Epstein saying at the time that the team believed in Lowrie’s talent, but had to see him prove an ability to stay healthy at the big league level. There is the possibility of a reserve role for the versatile Lowrie, who has played short, second and third, and whose switch-hitting could also prove useful for a club whose starting infielders (Scutaro, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Beltre, Dustin Pedroia) are all right-handed.

But, the possibility also exists that the Sox could determine that the best thing for Lowrie, after last year’s lost development time, would be to play everyday in Triple A Pawtucket. Lowrie resisted saying whether he viewed that possibility as a better or worse option than a major league bench role. Instead, he said that he wanted to keep an “open dialogue” with the club to determine what would be better for his career, not just in 2010 but for the long haul.

“You can look at this season as a rebound season, but I’€™m looking to have a long career. I’€™m not looking to just have one season,” said Lowrie. “Every year that I come into camp, I want to be the starting shortstop. I don’€™t look at it as just this year, all or nothing. I look at it as, I want to build a career. That’€™s why I want to make sure that I fix this and I get this right. I’€™m not looking at it from just a this-year standpoint.”

Because of that broad view, Lowrie was able to find some hint of a silver lining from a 2009 season that otherwise challenged him in any number of ways.

“I never gave up. I could have easily just said, ‘€˜I’€™m done for the year.’€™ There were a lot of times when I felt that way, where my wrist just wasn’€™t responding. But I never stopped trying,” said Lowrie. “That’€™s what I’€™m most proud of last year. I kept to the grind and did everything I could to get back on the field.”

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Ellsbury: The new No. 2

02.20.10 at 9:17 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Those Jacoby Ellsbury No. 46 jerseys suddenly are collector’s items.

The new Red Sox left fielder has something else new this spring besides his position. He will be wearing his favorite number. He spoke about both at length on Saturday morning as he arrived with several other position players, two days ahead of the reporting deadline.

For the first time since high school, Ellsbury will be wearing the No. 2 when he takes the field for the Sox this season.

[Click here to listen to Ellsbury explain his switch from No. 46 to No. 2]

When bench coach Brad Mills left for the managerial job of the Houston Astros, Ellsbury got the number he was looking for. Ellsbury had actually planted the seed with clubhouse staffer Edward “Pookie” Jackson earlier in the winter and upon Mills’ departure, Ellsbury made sure that no one else was getting it.

“I talked to Brad when he was here but he wasn’t going to give it to me so I told Pookie that if the number ever came available, I would be the first one to jump on it,” Ellsbury said. “Right when I heard that Brad Mills had been [hired], [Jackson] was the first one I called. It was within two minutes of me finding out.”

And for the first time since 2007, when he filled in for the injured Manny Ramirez, he will be seeing plenty of time as a corner outfielder, starting the season as the team’s left fielder.

“That was the biggest thing [Terry Francona] emphasized to me, it’s not a demotion,” Ellsbury said. “It’s just he thought team would be better with me going to left and Cam [Mike Cameron] going to center.

“I took it as if it’s going to make the team better, I’m all for it.”

[Click here to hear Ellsbury’s take on his move to left field and the team’s explanation to him.]

One of Ellsbury’s most famous plays in a Red Sox uniform came as a left fielder when he caught the screaming liner off the bat of Colorado’s Jamey Carroll before crashing into the fence in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2007 World Series.

“I’ve never been a regular left fielder, but I know the year I came up, Manny was down for about a month so that was the most I’ve played in left,” Ellsbury said.

There are those who theorize that moving Ellsbury to left field will save his legs somewhat from covering as much territory as he normally would in center, perhaps increasing his already impressive stolen base numbers.

Last season, Ellsbury shattered the single-season team record for steals with 70, one season after swiping 50.

“I look back at some of the better base stealers in the league over the years and lot of them happen to be left fielders or right fielders,” he said. “So, I try to look for the best in it and I think it’s going to work out. I don’t think it should be a problem at all. They say it will save on my legs, but I’ll still be going for balls hard and still be running.”

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Spring Fortitude: Friday’s developments

02.20.10 at 6:24 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Get ready to see pictures like the one on the right about a billion times over the next six weeks.

After the team’s pitchers and catchers took their physicals on Friday morning, the Red Sox‘ three aces made their first joint appearances of the spring. John Lackey, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett — surely a pithy nickname awaits this trio, particularly given the common first initial of their first names — emerged at the minor-league training complex to play catch. Then, the threesome remained intact as they engaged in conditioning drills together. (For what it’s worth, there seems a decent chance that the season-opening rotation will fall in the same order as the pitchers concluded their initial shuttle run, with Beckett leading the pack and trailed by Lester and then Lackey.)

Clearly, the three pitchers represent a rare assembly of talent. The trio is expected to be the foundation for the Sox’ postseason ambitions, and with good reason. In 2009, Beckett (3.86), Lester (3.41) and Lackey (3.83) all finished with sub-4.00 ERAs. In the 10-year span from 2000-2009, just 15 American League teams had three starters who logged 162 innings with a sub-4.00 ERA. Of those 15 teams, 11 reached the postseason. (Also notable: all four of the teams that featured four qualifying starters with sub-4.00 ERAs made the playoffs.)

That being the case, it is hard not to be reminded of some of the elite rotations of recent years — the Braves of Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux come to mind as one such extreme example — while watching the interplay of the pitchers in activities as simple as a shuttle run. Whether those analogies are still drawn towards the end of the year remains to be seen.

–Newcomer Lackey is the owner of a shiny new five-year, $82.5 million deal. But the contract-related conversations on Friday focused instead on the status of Lester and Beckett. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jason Varitek sighting

02.19.10 at 6:16 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The captain of the Red Sox, Jason Varitek, appeared for the first time in Fort Myers on Friday. The 37-year-old participated in some stretching and running drills.

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