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Beltre offers a signature moment

03.17.10 at 3:59 pm ET
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To see a slideshow of Adrian Beltre’s defensive gem from Wednesday’s game, click here.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — When the Alex Cora liner up the middle caromed off the bottom of pitcher John Lackey’s foot, Adrian Beltre’s eyes suddenly widened. The ball squirmed a few feet towards the third base side of the mound. Lackey took a couple steps towards it, but the Red Sox third baseman called him off.

This, after all, presented an opportunity for Beltre to make a defensive play that fills him with joy.

He sprinted in and barehanded the ball. While falling to his right, feet planted flat and torso parallel to the ground, Beltre whipped the ball with breathtaking power. His throw clipped Cora at first base by a half-step, producing not only an out, but offering Beltre’s first occasion since coming to the Sox to drop jaws with his glove work.

That barehand, flat-footed play on a carom, Beltre said, is a play that he loves “more than you can imagine.”

“That’€™s probably my favorite play. I love to make those plays, especially when it’€™s supposed to be a base hit,” he said. “It’€™s always nice to know that I can still do that. I hadn’€™t done it this year yet.”

There were different dimensions about the play to appreciate. There was Beltre’s howitzer, of course. Few infielders could imagine delivering a ball with that kind of velocity without having their feet planted.

“You can tell he’€™s been throwing the baseball all his life,” said manager Terry Francona. “It’€™s a natural thing. He can throw from a number of different angles.”

Beltre’s ability to bare hand the ball and find a grip on it also stood out.

“That’s almost like a routine play for him,” remarked Sox utility player Bill Hall, who saw Beltre make similar plays on a couple of occasions when the two were teammates in Seattle at the end of last year. “He’s bare handing that ball. That one probably has sidespin, so it makes it a little tougher to get a grip on that ball. And he’s probably throwing it without a good four-seam grip — and sidearm, and falling down. It just takes a lot of athletic ability and a lot of body control to do it.”

Beltre’s play commanded an ovation at City of Palms Park. But while it is clear that he has the capability to garner more such reactions with his work in the field, the third baseman made clear that his motivation to work tirelessly in the field during batting practice comes from another source.

“I enjoy making them myself, because I’€™m doing something for my teammates,” said Beltre. “It makes me want to get better everyday. I want to be able to help my teammates, especially the pitchers out there, trying to do their job, which is getting groundballs, so we can do our job.”

One other Beltre-related item from Wednesday’s game: the Red Sox narrowly avoided a potentially devastating blow.

In the top of the sixth with Hideki Okajima on the mound, a Mets batter flicked a ball into the air, about halfway down the third-base line. Beltre and catcher Victor Martinez converged. Martinez tried to make a sliding catch, and Beltre nearly collided with him before peeling off at the last moment. The ball bounced in foul territory, and the two players remained unharmed.

“We’€™re actually yelling for [Okajima], because that’€™s probably the one play where he has to take it, but he might have got sandwiched there,” said Francona. “That’€™s kind of in no-man’€™s land.”

That being the case, Beltre recognized that the Sox had dodged the proverbial bullet.

“I didn’€™t expect Victor to be there. Normally the catcher doesn’€™t go there for that ball. That was supposed to be my ball. I was surprised that he got there so quick,” said Beltre. “I told him it was lucky that collision didn’€™t happen. That would have been a disaster in spring training.”

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Lackey: ‘I don’t want to bring those runs up north’

03.17.10 at 3:13 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox starter John Lackey logged four scoreless innings, in which he remained characteristically efficient. He allowed just two hits and walked none while striking out a pair of Mets hitters, needing just 39 pitches (28 strikes) to sail through his outing.

Such performances have largely typified the right-hander’s spring. He has now thrown nine scoreless innings in exhibition game, and he has yet to walk a man during the Grapefruit League season. He has allowed five hits in 30 at-bats, holding opponents to a .167 average. His biggest concern has thus been his ongoing need to build up arm strength (he threw about 10 pitches in the bullpen after leaving Wednesday’s game).He also wants to see improvement in his breaking ball, which he will measure by whether he is able to get more swings and misses with the pitch.

But overall, Lackey has had little to complain about this spring.

“I feel pretty good. I feel like my delivery is on time, location is pretty good,” said Lackey. “I’ve thrown the ball pretty well. But honestly, I’d probably like to give up a couple runs here. I don’t want to bring them all north with me.”

Lackey did have a line drive hit off the bottom of his foot, but reported no ill effects from the shot. Instead, he had an opportunity to marvel at a defensive gem turned in by teammate Adrian Beltre. Though the ball trickled just a few feet from the mound, Beltre called off Lackey and pounced on the ball. He reached down, barehanded it, and with his torso parallel to the ground and while falling towards the third-base line, he launched a missile to first to clip Mets shortstop Alex Cora at first.

“Pretty awesome play by AB,” marveled Lackey. “That dude can play.”

“He always shows off the arm. No step over to first, he’s got that one down,” the pitcher continued. “Guys on our team on the [Angels] bench would talk about, ‘Hey, that dude can pick it.’ It was definitely impressive to watch him play defense.”

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Matsuzaka could throw in game on Sunday

03.17.10 at 11:17 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka threw a 40-pitch live batting practice session in which he mixed fastballs, sliders and changeups, which he followed by throwing 10 more fastballs with no swings. He then concluded the session by throwing four pitchouts. Afterward, pitching coach John Farrell said the session was “successful.”

“Most important [was] the overall physical aspect: no restrictions, no hesitation. He feels good about himself,” said Farrell. “Every progressive step is a positive one, one that you can begin to build upon: increase pitches, increase innings. Today was an important [step] to at least see a hitter in there, for him to begin to get feedback on how his pitches are acting and to see a batter in a box.”

Matsuzaka threw all his pitches in facing Tug Hulett, Aaron Bates and Angel Pagan. He elicited one swing and miss (on a fastball to Bates), but aside from a couple of liners to the outfield, most of the swings resulted in foul tips or foul balls.

“I think I had good life on my fastball. I also felt I had good break and good command on my breaking balls, although there is some work to be done there,” said Matsuzaka, who seemed particularly pleased with his work out of the stretch in the second half of his live B.P. session. “I think if there was one thing, since it was my first time facing live batters, I didn’€™t pitch inside. But I think that’€™s something I’€™ll work on as I start throwing in games.”

The Sox have Thursday off. Following that day of rest, the right-hander will be evaluated by team trainers and then throw a bullpen session on Friday. If that goes well, Farrell said that the pitcher could throw two innings in a minor league spring training game as soon as Sunday.

“That would be the ideal scenario. Still, we have the right to adjust by a day if so needed,” said Farrell. “We don’t want to skip any steps along the way here, and we want to be sure he has ample time and we provide him ample time to build a foundation that’s going to endure an entire season.”

The pitcher has admitted that his pace this spring has been frustrating at times. The back injury that slowed him at the start of spring training and then the neck injury that delayed him by a couple more days in the last week have been unwanted.

But now, he is feeling no ill effects of either of those issues. As such, he is trying to remain mindful of what lies ahead for him this spring, and this season.

“I feel I can get over these frustrations as we move forward,” said Matsuzaka. “Really the only way to go from here is forward. … I definitely want to stay on the schedule that’€™s been laid out. I just want to stay on track going forward, on the schedule that’€™s been laid out for me.”

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Red Sox Wednesday Morning Notes: Lowrie has mono

03.17.10 at 9:27 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — On a gray Florida morning, the Red Sox are hopeful that inclement weather will not prove an impediment to the donning of the green, part of the team’s annual celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Before today’s scheduled affair against the New York Metropolitans (who must traverse the state to journey from Atlantic to Gulf Coast, an undertaking of such great peril and exhaustion that Jason Bay elected to remain anchored in the safe haven of Port St. Lucie), the team would like pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka to throw his long-awaited live batting practice, though the club is at the mercy of the fates and the local meteorologists.

A compendium of additional items of newsworthiness on this morning:

— A series of tests revealed that Red Sox infielder Jed Lowrie‘s recent fatigue was the result of mononucleosis. The 26-year-old told the Sox last Thursday that he felt exhausted, at a time when he was facing an accelerated heart beat.

After more significant issues had been ruled out, subsequent tests revealed that his symptoms were a result of mono. He will be able to handle some return to physical activity, though it remains to be seen at what pace.

“He has mono,” said manager Terry Francona. “He can play as tolerated. It’s just, there’s a reason he was feeling run down the last week. He was on a bike yesterday. I don’t think he’ll feel like he has a ton of energy for the next week or two, but he can do physical things as tolerated. We’ll monitor him. I don’t think we want him kissing anyone, but we’ll keep an eye on him.”

— Reliever Manny Delcarmen‘s velocity has been pedestrian this spring. But while Francona acknowledged the fact, he also said that it wasn’t cause for alarm.

“I don’t know about [his velocity being down from where it] should be. It’s still not where it will be,” said Francona. “You’re going to have a little bit of dead arm, even a little dead body. There’s always that line we’re watching in spring training. He’s got no arm issues, so as his delivery comes together, you’ll see a little bit of that velocity come back. … He’s in good shape.”

— Super utility man Bill Hall earned praise from Francona for his great attitude while being shuttled around the field. Francona said that it remained a bit early to make assessments of Hall’s shortstop defense given that he’s only played five innings at the position. Even so, he suggested that the team would certainly be comfortable with having him spell starter Marco Scutaro at the position, but it remained unclear whether he’d be able to handle the position on an everyday basis should Scutaro suffer an injury.

“He’s a big kid — big strong kid,” said Francona. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we could certainly put him there. If Marco were out for two weeks or something, I don’t know if that’s the case. We just don’t know. But it’s nice to know that if something happens in a game, he can go over there, or play the odd game if he needs to. We certainly feel comfortable with that.”

— Left-hander Dustin Richardson was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket. The Sox had told Richardson that he had positioned himself to compete for a spot as a second left-hander on the major league roster on the strength of a terrific 2009 season, his first full year out of the bullpen (97 strikeouts in 74 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, and three scoreless appearances in the majors). But Richardson allowed five hits and three walks in 1.2 innings, and the Sox — who still consider the power lefty to be an intriguing prospect who could offer a mid-year boost — would like to see him work on attacking the strike zone while continuing his development in the minors.

“He’s an interesting guy. He’s left-handed, very athletic, good pitcher’s body,” said Francona. “He needs innings. He needs reps. He needs to pound the strike zone. We told him that. He’s a young kid that’s got some finish on his fastball that he can throw it in the zone and get hitters out, but consistency is going to be a big deal. You can’t go 3-2 on hitters and not pay the price. That’s all part of development.”

Jacoby Ellsbury has been dealing with a sore throat. He will be examined by a doctor, and take Wednesday and Thursday off from workouts, before returning to physical activity on Friday with an eye towards playing again on Saturday.

Josh Beckett continues to feel better after his own bout with illness, and will start on Friday.

— Infielder Gil Velazquez suffered a jammed thumb on Tuesday night, and will be examined.

— Minor leaguer Richie Lentz, who had a dominating bullpen season at two levels in 2008, informed the Sox that he was retiring. He flashed significant promise that year, showing a mid- to high-90s fastball and above-average breaking ball (albeit with command issues) en route to 112 strikeouts in 77.1 innings, but he elected to walk away from the game upon experiencing shoulder discomfort this spring.

Read More: bill Hall, Daisuke Matsuzaka, dustin richardson, Jacoby Ellsbury

Sox: Westmoreland surgery ‘successful’

03.16.10 at 7:50 pm ET
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The Red Sox issued the following release about the surgical procedure performed on 19-year-old Ryan Westmoreland to remove a cavernous malformation in his brain:

“According to the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’€™s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ, Red Sox minor league outfielder Ryan Westmoreland today underwent successful surgery to remove a cavernous malformation in his brain. Dr. Robert Spetzler performed the surgery. The announcement was made by General Manager Theo Epstein. Following the five-hour procedure, Westmoreland remains in the intensive care unit but has come through the surgery well. Due to the complexity of this surgery, Ryan will face a difficult period initially before beginning his recovery.”

ESPN.com reported that it will be a few days before a prognosis for Westmoreland’s recovery will be available.

Even so, the initial report following the surgery was promising, given the potential for far worse outcomes. The procedure carried risks of either brain damage or, in some instances, death (according to ESPN.com’s reports).

Against those concerns, the Sox were treating the news as highly encouraging. Manager Terry Francona was contacted by GM Theo Epstein after the procedure, and the report the Sox skipper received was highly promising.

“It sounds like very encouraging news,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “We’€™re obviously thrilled about that, and thankful.”

Yet even with the news that the surgery appears to have been a success, the idea that the 19-year-old faces a “difficult period” in his recovery could not be dismissed. Westmoreland’s teammates expressed caution in their assessments of the procedure, noting that the outcome will be measured not by a return to the baseball field, but instead by the Rhode Island native’s quality of life.

“I got a text from his good friend saying that surgery couldn’€™t have gone better,” said minor league first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who considers Westmoreland a good friend, and had sent the outfielder texts in recent days. “If everything was successful ‘€“ which it is ‘€“ it’€™s a long road back. … I don’€™t know what his process back will be, but it’€™s a long way back.”

While around his minor league teammates and before he was sent on a medical leave from the club on March 4, Westmoreland had remained in excellent spirits, even as he was dealing with the symptoms of his condition. The way in which he handled the situation further underscored to Westmoreland’s teammate that there are far greater concerns than the outfielder’s baseball future.

“He’€™s such an unbelievable person, on and off the field. He’€™s such a great talent. He deserves to live a great life. Hopefully he’€™ll come out of all of this in the best way,” said Sox prospect Ryan Kalish, who befriended Westmoreland this offseason. “It’€™s just a shame to see what’€™s happened. It’€™s uplifting that his surgery went well, but we’€™ll see where it goes.

“Really, it’€™s not about baseball right now. It’€™s about the quality of life. If he comes out of this and plays baseball, it will be an amazing story. But as long as he comes out of this, whatever he does, it will be a success.”

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Red Sox await reports on Westmoreland surgery

03.16.10 at 6:49 pm ET
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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Red Sox outfielder Ryan Westmoreland underwent surgery on a cavernous malformation in his brain on Tuesday morning. According to a report on ESPN.com, which cited a team source, the surgery “went well,” but it will be a few days before a prognosis is offered for a procedure that carried brain damage and even death as a potential risk.

Sox officials and players both spent much of Tuesday anxiously awaiting news about the 19-year-old. First baseman Anthony Rizzo, who considers Westmoreland a close friend, noted that even the months of chemotherapy that he underwent after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease paled in comparison to the uncertainty that Westmoreland faced entering his surgery.

“I knew, for me, with chemo, what to expect, especially for the first time with how it would react,” said Rizzo. “With him, no one knows any details on how he’€™s going to come out.’€

For more, click here.

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Smoltz to join TBS as an analyst

03.16.10 at 3:46 pm ET
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According to Turner Sports, former Red Sox pitcher John Smoltz has joined TBS as an analyst for the network’s MLB coverage. The 1996 Cy Young Award winner will also work in the booth for Peachtree TV, which is scheduled to cover 45 Braves games in 2010. Smoltz, who posted an ERA of 8.32 for the Red Sox in eight appearances before being released in August 2009, has yet to announce his retirement.

Source: Rule 5 pick back to Red Sox

03.16.10 at 2:26 pm ET
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According to an MLB source, Armando Zerpa has been returned to the Red Sox by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Zerpa was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays as the 13th pick in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft and was traded to the Dodgers for cash.

Zerpa recorded a 1.20 ERA and struck out 51 batters in 45 innings for Low-A Greenville before seeing his ERA climb to 4.85 in High-A Salem (while maintaining his strikeout-an-inning pace) last season.

At the time that he was selected, the Sox considered it unlikely that the Dodgers would elect to carry the left-hander all season, given the presence of southpaws Hong-Chih Kuo and George Sherrill on the roster, as well as other lefties who were in the system. He recorded a pair of scoreless appearances for the Dodgers in spring training.

Zerpa’s fastball was 89-92 mph last year, and touched 94 mph in the past, and he also features an average breaking ball while also working to develop a changeup. He generates some deception, and so if he can maintain his delivery and throw his fastball for strikes, some Sox officials believe that he could be effective in the majors.

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Beckett a go for Friday

03.16.10 at 1:02 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Josh Beckett, who was a late scratch from his start on Sunday due to illness, said that he is feeling significantly better. He is working out with pitchers on a back field at City of Palms Park on Tuesday afternoon, taking part in PFP drills. He said that he will be fine to make his next scheduled start on Friday.

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No decision yet on where Iglesias will start season

03.15.10 at 10:19 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — While shortstop Jose Iglesias was optioned to Double A on Sunday, the Red Sox have yet to make a final decision about whether he will start the season in High-A Salem or Double-A Portland.

The 20-year-old, who signed a four-year, $8.25 million major league contract with the Sox last summer, was extremely impressive during his time in big league camp. He not only offering glimpses of his potentially spectacular defensive abilities but also performed well at the plate in collecting three hits (including a homer) in 11 at-bats for a .273/.333/545/.878 line.

At no point did he seem overwhelmed by either the setting or the level of competition that he faced. As such, it is certainly possible that he could start with the Sea Dogs — an assignment that would be aggressive for a player making his pro debut. (By way of comparison, only one Red Sox draftee ‘€” Craig Hansen ‘€” has started his pro career as high as Double A in the seven years GM Theo Epstein has run the team.)

But because of the Cuban’s limited professional experience, the Sox want to continue to evaluate Iglesias against minor league competition now that he has been optioned in order to determine what level will be best for his player development path. As such, while he has been optioned to the Double-A Sea Dogs at this time, the Sox are keeping open the possibility that the shortstop could start at a slightly lower rung of the player development ladder.

“There’s still a process that needs to take place,” farm director Mike Hazen said. “He can speed that process up by performing. If he keeps doing what he’s been doing, then he’s going to speed that process up naturally. There’s still a few things to learn. He’ll get them.”

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