|03.22.10 at 5:23 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was a busy day of baseball for the Red Sox, with the team flung all over Florida.
The most promising development for the big league club actually took place at the minor league complex, where John Lackey was dealing for five innings. Despite allowing a solo homer to left by Daniel Nava (the only run Lackey has allowed all spring), the big right-hander featured a nice arsenal of swing-and-miss pitches, including his sharpest slider of spring training. Of the 15 outs he recorded, seven were on strikeouts, and six were on grounders. He was particularly pleased with the fact that he hasn’t walked a batter this spring, suggesting that steering clear of free passes was an important component of success in the AL East.
The Grapefruit League action did not go quite so swimmingly. Most notably, Boof Bonser had a rough day both physically and in his line score. After a sharp 1-2-3 first inning, he gave up homers in both the second and third innings, and finished with a yield of five runs on six hits and two walks (with two strikeouts) in 2.0 innings (he allowed all three batters he faced in the third to reach).
According to manager Terry Francona, Bonser said after he left the game that he felt discomfort in his right groin.
“We hope it’s certainly not much,” said Francona.
Bonser, however, did not mention injuries in dissecting his poor performance.
“It was very frustrating, you know, to try to come in and get that last spot and go out and do something like that, that’s not fun at all. That takes its toll a little bit,” said Bonser. “They say one step forward and two steps back. I think I got my two steps back today.”
Francona, however, suggested that the Sox weren’t going to “penalize someone for two bad days.” He said that the team has been pleased with Bonser’s delivery and arm action, which they consider more significant than his 11.57 ERA.
The Rays continued to pound Sox pitching after Bonser left the game. For his second straight game against the Rays, Junichi Tazawa showed that he can get pounded if he leaves his pitches up in the strike zone. He allowed three homers, and both Scott Atchison and Joe Nelson — each of whom is competing for a spot in the Red Sox bullpen — allowed one.
“Those boys are real comfortable at the plate,” said Bonser. “I don’t want to say it but they need to get uncomfortable real quick.’
— Michael Bowden and a group of relatively obscure Red Sox pitchers fared little better against the Cardinals, losing 13-8. Bowden allowed four runs (three earned) in three innings on six hits. Still, the Sox were ahead, 7-6, entering the bottom of the eighth before St. Louis unloaded on Ramon A. Ramirez and T.J. Large for seven runs in a 13-8 win. Of some note was the fact that Bill Hall — trying to reacclimate to shortstop — committed a pair of errors at the position.
— Alan Embree threw a bullpen session, and will throw a minor league game later in the week.
— The Sox were trailing the Rays, 11-1, entering the bottom of the seventh. The team then erupted for eight runs in the next three innings, but with runners on second and third and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, highly regarded prospect Derrik Gibson had a comebacker to end the game in an 11-9 loss. Noteworthy in the comeback bid: Mark Wagner, who entered the game in the bottom of the seventh, launched a pair of triples. Wagner hadn’t hit a triple in a regular season game since 2007, when he was with Hi-A Lancaster.
Since 1920, only 64 big league catchers have hit multiple triples in a game. John Buck did so for the Royals last year, becoming the first catcher to accomplish the rare double since 2000. Here’s the list.
|03.22.10 at 3:58 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox starter John Lackey, in his fourth start of the spring, threw five innings in a minor league camp game. Facing an array of Sox minor leaguers (mostly from the Double A and Triple A ranks), Lackey allowed one run on three hits while striking out seven and walking none.
The run came on an opposite field homer to left by minor leaguer Daniel Nava. Lackey was able to take his first run of the spring in stride, however, considering that he had said after his last start that he didn’t want to leave all his runs this year on the table for the regular season.
“Got one out of the way,” Lackey joked. “Honestly, it’s kind of good, because it’s going to happen. It’s good to get that feeling, get back in the strike zone and get the next guy out.”
Lackey threw 68 pitches, 46 strikes. He said that his buildup this spring has been more gradual than in previous years, but that he wanted to scale back his spring workload somewhat after having started each of the last two seasons on the disabled list. He incorporated more sliders than he had to this point of the spring, and was able to use the pitch to record a couple of his punchouts.
“I was more happy with my breaking stuff today than I have been in the past,” said Lackey. “I got a few more swings and misses going for a couple strikeouts that I got. There are definitely some times in games when you’ve got to go get one. I was able to do that.”
The best indicator, Lackey said, of his effectiveness this spring has been the fact that he still has yet to issue a walk. Since the start of the 2007 season, Lackey has walked just 2.22 batters per nine innings, the eight-lowest total among AL pitchers with at least 400 innings in that time.
“That’s my game,” said Lackey. “Especially coming over here to the East, you can’t walk people. Guys are such good hitters, you’re going to give up hits. If you give them baserunners, that’s when those hits are really magnified.”
Lackey said that he would like to extend to six innings in his next start, and then scale back his workload in his final spring training start. He feels that he is where he needs to be at this point in the spring, as he prepares for his first year with the Red Sox.
|03.22.10 at 1:13 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘ Once again, the Red Sox‘ catching situation beyond this season is front and center. Joe Mauer won’t be walking into the Red Sox clubhouse. That makes all the more significant the future of Victor Martinez, who has told the Sox that he is open to negotiating a long-term deal this spring, but says that the club has not taken him up on that offer.
Amidst that setting, it was intriguing to ponder the parallel universe in which a player who visited the Sox’ spring training home on Sunday could have been the team’s solution behind the plate following this season.
When the Astros visited Fort Myers, they brought with them heralded catching prospect Jason Castro. The rights to the 22-year-old were briefly held by the Red Sox five summers ago.
The Red Sox took him in the 43rd round of the 2005 draft, but Castro said that he was uninterested in turning pro. There was never an opportunity for substantive talks between the two sides.
‘It was obviously an honor to be drafted by the Red Sox out of high school, but my decision was already made,’ said Castro. ‘They called me, let me know I had been drafted. At that point, I had already made my decision to go to school. It wasn’t something that I had a real hard decision over.’
He instead accepted a scholarship to play at Stanford. The opportunity to get an education at an elite academic institution was compelling for Castro. But there was more to the decision than just academic opportunity.
‘I don’t know if I was ready yet, actually, at the time to come out of high school,’ said Castro. ‘I thought I made the right decision: get the right combination of education and the experience to allow myself to mature a little bit more.’
When Castro was preparing for the ‘08 draft, he did have some contact with the Sox. Boston thought that there was a slim chance that he could slip to their pick, the 30th overall in the first round.
That didn’t happen, nor would it have mattered. To the surprise of many, Castro ‘ on the strength of a breakout performance on the Cape in the summer after his sophomore year and a huge junior year ‘ was taken by the Astros with the 10th overall pick. Even had Castro been available with their top pick, however, the team still would have selected Casey Kelly.
Kelly is regarded as perhaps the top prospect in the Red Sox system. Castro was given the same designation by Baseball America this offseason, less than two years removed from having signed with the Astros for a bonus of $2 million and having zoomed through the Astros system.
Already, Castro has cemented himself as Houston’s catcher of the future. In his first full pro season, he excelled at two levels, hitting .309/.399/.517/.916 in the hitter’s paradise of Hi-A Lancaster, then hitting .293/.362/.385/.747 with Double-A Corpus Christi. He’s in big league camp, a reflection of the possibility that he could be in the majors as soon as this year.
‘It was a fortunate situation for me that it worked out like it did,’ said Castro. ‘It’s a great opportunity [this spring]. I’m trying to take the most advantage of it.’
|03.22.10 at 12:28 pm ET|
Joe Mauer and the Minnesota Twins came to terms on an eight-year contract worth $184 million and a full no-trade clause for Mauer. The deal leaves Martinez as the undisputed biggest-name catcher without a long-term deal in place.
“Man, it’s great,” Martinez said on Monday morning of Mauer’s deal. “He deserved every penny he got. I think he’s going to be fine for the next eight years. He really deserved every penny. Obviously, he’s a great guy, a great player.”
[Click here to listen to Martinez’s comments on Mauer’s signing.]
A three-time American League batting champ and reigning AL MVP, Mauer was locked up by the Twins as an anchor of their franchise moving into the new Target Field in the Twin Cities. Martinez, while with Cleveland, played against Mauer regularly as the two were rivals in the AL Central.
“I got to play against him a lot when I was in Cleveland,” Martinez said. “It’s fun. The way he goes about his business, play the game. It’s always fun to watch a guy like him play.
“When you talk about catching, you just look at Joe Mauer. He’s a great player. Everything he has done so far, he really deserves everything he has got right now. Just worry about myself, keep myself healthy and see what happens.”
So does Martinez have an idea of what kind of financial windfall he’s going to run into as a result of Mauer’s signing?
“Can’t really answer that question,” Martinez said. “I don’t really know. We’ll see what happens now. I can’t control anything else. Just keep myself healthy and on the field.”
|03.22.10 at 10:57 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Terry Francona understands the knee-jerk reaction to a baseball player getting $184 million over the next eight years. He knows some fans are just going to assume another big-market team is scooping up the best available talent in the game.
“I think it’s really good for the game,” Francona offered on Monday morning, hours before Mauer’s scheduled press conference across town at Hammond Stadium.
The Red Sox manager, like every baseball fan, has heard the theory that baseball’s growing problem of mega-contracts is destroying balance in the game. He then offered perspective.
“Unless you have a way to fix it, it’s easy just to have comments, ‘Well, this is wrong, this is wrong,’ and because we’re not the NFL where [they] have that national TV package, I don’t know a way to fix it, I just don’t,” Francona said.
[Click here to hear Francona’s thoughts on the Joe Mauer deal.]
“I guess I hope people that are smarter than me come up with ways. There is a big difference. I understand that. I used to care more when I was with the Phillies.”
Ah, those days with the Phillies. Francona remembers those years between 1997-2000 when a team in a big market like Philadelphia acted more like a small market because of the lack of big names and big-time success.
Of course, while Boston is a big town, Red Sox Nation has evolved into the most baseball-intense market in the country.
“We are the Red Sox,” Francona said. “I don’t know if it’s fair. I think that our ownership and our city, they’ve created a big market. We’re a big-market team. I don’t know that we are one of the biggest. I know there are differences when you hear people argue about it.
“Minnesota’s got their new stadium and it looks like they’re going to get after it a little bit. I think that’s good.”
|03.22.10 at 9:15 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Immediately, the significance of Joe Mauer‘s landmark eight-year, $184 million deal with the Twins was apparent in the Red Sox clubhouse this morning. Players sat huddled, talking about the deal, David Ortiz shouting that the M&M Boys (Mauer and Justin Morneau) on his former club were getting rich.
(As he walked into the clubhouse on Monday morning, Ortiz initially shouted, “(Expletive), Morneau just got paid!” Mike Lowell chided, “It was Mauer, but close enough, David.”)
Thus ends any visions of Mauer becoming the object of a bidding war between the Red Sox, Yankees and several other big-market clubs. Between the deal for Mauer and the injury to Joe Nathan, one can suggest that it was the first time since the days of Kirby Puckett‘s playing career that the Twins were dictating the shape of the high-end market. The fact that the reigning AL MVP will not be available this offseason was greeted with some amusement.
Fellow catcher Jason Varitek agreed, while noting the impact of Mauer’s removal from the potential free-agent market following this season.
“It doesn’t bode well for other teams, probably including us, that [the Twins] got it done before he was gone,” Sox catcher Jason Varitek said with a chuckle. “He’s a premium, premium player.”
“We really want to thank the Twins for signing him to a long-term deal and keeping him in that division,” added Rays manager Joe Maddon. “For us, Toronto and Baltimore, we really appreciate it.”
With Mauer off the market for the next eight years, Sox catcher Victor Martinez immediately vaults to the top of the crop of potential free agent catchers following this year, a crop that also includes A.J. Pierzynski and few other catchers of note. That being the case, it was obvious to wonder whether Mauer’s deal might create greater urgency between the Sox and their own catcher about a long-term extension. But the 31-year-old Sox catcher — who was thrilled for Mauer, and said that the Minnesota star “deserves every penny he got” — said that while he would like to discuss a long-term deal with Boston, there have been no extension talks as he prepares to begins the final season under his contract.
“I already told them through my agent that I was going to be more than happy to [talk] before the season,” Martinez said. “It’s all up to them. … [There’s been] nothing ’til now.”
Yet clearly, the Mauer deal will have repercussions for the landscape that Martinez faces in free agency. Mauer set new records for both the length of a deal given to a catcher (surpassing the seven-year, $91 million deal that Mike Piazza signed with the Mets) and for average annual value (blowing away the $13.1 million standard set by Yankees catcher Jorge Posada in his current catching contract). With the Twins superstar off the market, Martinez could also now face a different free agent landscape in which — if he can prove that he is an offensive force as an everyday catcher in 2010 — he will be the best available player at the position.
But Martinez clearly preferred not to consider those market dynamics. Instead, he simply wanted to reflect on the fact that a player whom he respects immensely was not only rewarded, but will now have the opportunity to remain with the only team for whom he’s ever played.
“I’m really happy about Joe and his contract. He really deserves it,” said Martinez. “On the other hand, I just worry about myself. I can’t control anything else, so just worry about being healthy and keeping myself on the field.”
At the least, the Sox face one less concern with Morneau having signed his extension with the Twins. That deal guarantees that he will face Boston for only two or three series a season, as opposed to having to face the catcher as a constant nemesis had he signed with the Yankees or another team in the Sox’ division this offseason.
“That’s great,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “Keep all those guys out of the East.”
For more on the free agent catching market, and Martinez’ place in it, click here.
|03.22.10 at 6:50 am ET|
The big news Sunday could be found by going down Edison, across Shoemaker, over to Colonial, across Six Mile Cypress, and finally into Hammond Stadium. That’s where the Twins were popping whatever champagne bottles were left over from the Jack Morris Era in celebration of Joe Mauer agreeing to an eight-year, $184 million deal (with all the fixings, such as a full no-trade clause).
How does that affect the Red Sox? Having gone under the assumption that Mauer was going to re-sign with the Twins, Alex Speier had already broached the state of the Sox’ catching future a few weeks back. You can find that story by clicking here. The column, “Sox Caught With Uncertain Future Behind The Plate” also includes a video interview with WEEI.com’s Lou Merloni asking minor league catching instructor Chad Epperson about the organization’s catching prospects:
The Red Sox would have undoubtedly made a play for Mauer if the catcher somehow became available, and would do so with some level of confidence they would be able to close the deal. (Again, assuming the hometown Twins weren’t a factor.) But that dream sequence has come and gone thanks to the Twins’ willingness to pay the catcher $23 million per season for the next eight years (after this one). For those wondering, a press conference has been called for Monday at 7 p.m. to announce the deal.
– Looks like the Red Sox’ will be relying heavily on Maxalt once again. (Known last season as “The Pill That Could Save The Sox.”)
This time the medicine had left closer Jonathan Papelbon feeling “lackadaisical,” leading to a horrific outing against the Astros at City of Palms Park. Coincidentally, the outing came on the same day it was officially learned that Twins’ closer Joe Nathan would have to undergo Tommy John Surgery, ending his 2010 season.
The pair of news items offered our man Alex an opportunity to look at how intertwined the two closers are, and what Nathan’s news might mean in the long run to Papelbon. A few things from the column to look at:
– Since Papelbon took over closing duties here are the two relievers’ scarily identical numbers:
Papelbon: 1.74 ERA, 151 saves, 10.6 Ks per 9 IP; opposing hitters have a line of .190/.243/.284/.527 against
Nathan: 1.73 ERA, 159 saves, 10.9 Ks per 9 IP; .180/.241/.285/.526
– Here is a quote from Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire the day before Nathan was hurt:
‘[Keeping closers healthy] just depends on how you use them. If you’re going to take a closer and start stretching him out to two innings here, two innings there, save 50 games a year, you’re going to wear a guy out pretty quick,’ said Gardenhire. ‘We’ve been fortunate enough to give him one inning at a time rather than the two.
‘Last year we were in a battle for our lives. The only way we were going to make it, we stretched him out a little bit. You know what? He was still as good as they get, and he will be, if you take care of him.’
– Here is a chart:
Papelbon addressed the issue regarding how Nathan’s setback might affect his future when talking just after the Twins’ closer went down with the elbow problem, and how people shouldn’t identify the position as part of the problem:
‘It’s part of the game. It’s every sport and it’s part of every game,’ he said. ‘People are going to get injured, it’s just part of the game. I don’t know if guys are more injury-prone than others. I don’t know if you can say that. It’s like any sport, basketball, baseball, football. When you give out a long-term deal you’re have to hope he stays healthy and do everything you can to keep him healthy.
‘You can look at position players, pitchers, basketball players, football players, hockey players, no matter who you are and no matter what sport you play, you’re always one pitch and one circumstance away from an injury. All you can do is prepare the best you can and keep your body as healthy as you can and the rest is up to the big man.’
– Red Sox Chief Operating Officer Sam Kennedy fired back after a report in the Boston Herald stated that the team had a bevy of tickets still unsold for its season opener against the Yankees, saying:
‘To say that there are 6,300 tickets still available for sale, there may be. There may be more than that on the secondary market. The Red Sox do not control sale of the secondary market. We control the primary market,’ said Kennedy. ‘We have been surprised and humbled is probably the right word to use by demand for tickets on the primary market.
‘As of this morning, we’ve sold just over 2.6 million tickets on the primary market for Red Sox games for 2010. In 2009, we sold virtually the identical amount. We’re tracking just about where we were last year at this time.’
– Daisuke Matsuzaka finally threw to hitters in a real-live game (albeit minor leaguers). Thanks to Mike Petraglia, we not only get a report from the 32-pitch session, but up-close-and-personal video of the outing to go with it:
|03.21.10 at 4:10 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox have sold more than 2.6 million tickets for the 2010 season, with sales roughly matching those of a year ago at this time, according to Red Sox chief operating officer Sam Kennedy.
The clarification was offered after the Boston Herald reported on Sunday that there were more than 6,000 tickets that remained available for the Sox’ April 4 Opening Day contest against the Yankees, and that prices had fallen 30 percent for such tickets compared to the 2009 home opener against Tampa Bay. Those figures may be accurate, but they portray the secondary ticket market of brokers and agencies, rather than the primary sale of tickets by the Red Sox to fans and other purchasers.
“To say that there are 6,300 tickets still available for sale, there may be. There may be more than that on the secondary market. The Red Sox do not control sale of the secondary market. We control the primary market,” Kennedy said. “We have been surprised and humbled is probably the right word to use by demand for tickets on the primary market.
“As of this morning, we’ve sold just over 2.6 million tickets on the primary market for Red Sox games for 2010. In 2009, we sold virtually the identical amount. We’re tracking just about where we were last year at this time.”
Though they do not control it, the Sox do monitor the secondary market. Yet while the sluggish economy has likely impacted the secondary market, the Sox note that their own sales of tickets have not been impacted.
“If you have a $165 face value Green Monster seat, and it may have sold in years past for $1,000 or even more, you’re seeing a decline in the secondary market right now, which is understandably newsworthy,” Kennedy said. “Fortunately for the Red Sox, we’re not seeing a decline in primary sales.”
The Sox have set attendance records in each of the last nine seasons, and have sold out each of their last 550 games, dating to May 15, 2003, the longest such streak in MLB history.
A few tickets have been held back from Opening Day sales — the Sox always keep a small allotment of tickets for day-of-game, walk-up sales, as well as tickets for both players and community outreach projects — and so the game is not yet technically a sellout. Even so, Kennedy had no doubt that the streak would reach 551 games on the Sunday night opener, and that it would almost certainly continue beyond that as well.
“Opening Day absolutely will be sold out,” Kennedy said. “We anticipate that while we’re probably working harder than ever and marketing more aggressively, we do anticipate that the fans will continue this sellout streak.”
|03.21.10 at 3:34 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — A bit more than an hour before Sunday’s spring training game, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon lay down in full uniform and tried to prop his head up on the bottom of his locker. The 29-year-old had felt a migraine coming on, and so the team’s medical staff had given him medication to stave off its symptoms.
The medicine did its job, and the team thought there wouldn’t be an issue having the pitcher throw as scheduled. But Papelbon remained rather listless entering the game. It showed, as he recorded just one out while allowing six runs (five earned) on five hits while allowing a walk and hitting a batter.
“You could tell the whole inning, he wasn’t himself,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “He got his work in. The flip side of that is he didn’t fare very well.”
“It’s just one of those days. I tried to get my work in, but it’s one of those lull days of spring training,” said Papelbon. “It’s not like I felt like I had a migraine going into my outing or anything. It’s just that I was real lackadaisical, not much energy in me. … I’m really just trying to throw the ball in the zone and let players get themselves out. Unfortunately, they were hitting it hard around the whole ballpark.”
Papelbon said that he was still satisfied that he got his work in, and threw his pitches to build up arm strength. He suggested that this was the first time this year that he had required medicine for his migraines.
|03.21.10 at 1:59 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The rumor flickered on and off the radar for just a few moments. Last week, there was a buzz that the Red Sox had signed Michael Garciaparra, the younger brother of iconic Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.
Michael Garciaparra has been a migratory player in the past few years. The former first-round pick of the Mariners has bounced between the Phillies, Orioles and Brewers organizations in recent years. But while he is amidst another transition, his new home is with the Astros, with whom he is in minor league camp, rather than the Red Sox.
In fact, Garciaparra was playing for the Astros in a big league exhibition game last week when word spread (based on an erroneous listing in MLB.com’s transactions listings) that the younger Garciaparra had joined the Sox. There was, naturally, curiosity.
“Some people called me and told me. They saw it online, and said, ‘We saw the line score, but we didn’t know if you were playing shortstop for the Red Sox or the Astros. Will you please help me out?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m with the Astros ‘ I just came in for half an inning at the end of the game,’” said Michael Garciaparra, who is in Fort Myers today with the Astros for their game against the Sox. “It wasn’t too bad. I just got a few phone calls and text messages from buddies asking what was going on.”
Michael Garciaparra — a career .262/.352/.342/.694 hitting in his eight minor league seasons — seemed mostly amused by the brief confusion. But he was genuinely excited about the fact that his brother, just a bit earlier, had signed a one-day minor league contract with the Sox in order to retire with the team for whom he played his most memorable games.
“He was always a Red Sox,” said Michael Garciaparra. “In his heart, he never wanted to leave. People said he wanted to be traded, but he never did. He always loved the Red Sox, love the fans, loved the city and playing there. It was exciting. He was happy he was able to retire with them.”
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