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Terry Francona takes stock of the Red Sox

02.13.11 at 3:09 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox manager Terry Francona held court with the media for the first time since arriving in spring training. He had spent the last two days huddled with team officials and coaches to formulate individual spring plans for the players in camp.

The Sox skipper welcomed the big expectations that exist for his club. One reporter noted that former Sox bench coach Brad Mills told Francona, after Boston’s active offseason, “Don’t [bleep] it up.”

“I actually had a few of those,” chuckled Francona. “One of them was from [GM Theo Epstein].”

Francona touched on a number of topics. Among them:

MEDICAL

–Francona said that the team would try to manage any concerns about outfielder J.D. Drew‘s hamstrings. The outfielder has been concerned enough to have received medical attention from Dr. James Andrews in Alabama as well as doctors in Boston about his discomfort, though Francona suggested that the concern was not a huge one.

“It’€™s something that he has voiced some concern about,” said Francona. “I don’€™t think he’€™s real concerned about it, but it’€™s been there. I don’€™t think we want it to be a concern, so we’€™ll certainly monitor it.”

–The team doesn’t feel that it will have to put restrictions on second baseman Dustin Pedroia in his return from a broken foot, but it will try to structure his work to prevent him from having to stretch his foot out.

“When he does his work, we need to probably not break it up in segments. We try not to do that anyway. When they go out and do their infield stuff, they put their gloves down and then go to hitting,” said Francona. “But we’€™d rather not beat up guys ‘€“ and a guy like Pedroia is a good example ‘€“ for no reason. We’€™ll keep an eye on him. For as much as he talks and he likes to talk, he’€™s pretty honest with me about stuff. So I’€™m not too worried about that. there’€™s a reason we like him as a player, but at the same time we realize what’€™s happened to him, and we’€™ll keep an eye on him.”

BULLPEN: PAPELBON AND THE SETUP GROUP

–The manager does not foresee an issue arising with the acquisition of Bobby Jenks, a closer-turned-setup man. Francona, does, however, believe that closer Jonathan Papelbon will be able to use both the disappointment of his down year in 2010 as well as his status as a free agent following the 2011 season as sources of motivation. Read the rest of this entry »

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New weapon for Michael Bowden?

02.13.11 at 10:48 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was a winter filled with novelty for Red Sox pitcher Michael Bowden. He got married early in the offseason, spent some time at home in his native Illinois and then, for the first time in his career, played winter ball.

Some pitchers might view the sudden change of gears from his honeymoon to winter ball to be jarring. But Bowden embraced his time in Venezuela.

“The atmosphere there, the competitiveness, the experience of the games, the energy the fans bring — just to see a different country and how they respect the game and play the game, it was just awesome,” Bowden said upon reporting to spring training on Sunday. “I really enjoyed it.”

The 24-year-old viewed his time pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League as an opportunity to gain greater familiarity with life out of the bullpen. Since the Sox selected him in the sandwich round of the 2005 draft, he had spent each of his first five spring trainings getting stretched out as a starter.

This year, he expects to be preparing strictly as a reliever in Sox camp. He made 14 relief appearances in the majors with the Sox, ending the 2010 season with a 4.70 ERA while having struck out 13 and walked just four in his 15 1/3 innings. While his willingness to attack the strike zone was an asset out of the bullpen, the results were uneven — though he did get swings and misses and strikeouts, opponents had a .323 average, .364 OBP, .548 slugging mark and .912 OPS against him. His time in Venezuela helped to acclimate him to a role in which he started working full time in the middle of the 2010 season.

“Down there, I pitched in the eighth innings of some big games,” said Bowden. “They use pitchers a little bit differently there. I had to be ready for a lot of different roles. I experienced quite a bit. I only threw nine innings, but I threw quite a few outings. I’€™d go in there for a hitter or two hitters or an out. I experienced a lot of different roles and had to get ready and amped up for different situations.”

Bowden allowed three earned runs in nine innings in Venezuela, though he allowed 11 hits and seven walks (against six strikeouts) in his 10 appearances there. Still, he viewed the time as extremely productive, since it allowed him to experiment with a pitch that could be important to him going forward.

Last year, Bowden shelved his curveball completely, not throwing the pitch once while using the slider as his lone breaking ball. In Venezuela, he worked on developing a cutter — a pitch he had never thrown before. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bobby Jenks: ‘I’m not here to step on anybody’s toes’

02.13.11 at 9:50 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Bobby Jenks arrived at the Red Sox minor league training facility on Sunday morning, and admitted that there were unfamiliar elements that greeted him on a new team. There was, of course, the issue of making sure he found the far end of Edison Ave. in Fort Myers, as well as the unusual hue of his new threads.

“I put my jersey on earlier. Not used to the color yet,” said Jenks. “That takes some time, but very excited to be here.”

That is not the only unfamiliar element of Jenks’ new club. He is making a transition to a new team, a new division and a new role, as after spending the last five-plus years as the closer of the White Sox, he will now be serving as the setup man for Jonathan Papelbon.

The presence of Jenks — a two-time All-Star closer — on the roster could lend itself to clamoring for Papelbon to be replaced in that game-ending role should the Red Sox’ longtime closer stumble. But Jenks, who has 173 saves in his career, insisted that if there is any question about the definition of late-inning roles, it will not be the result of his politicking.

“I didn’€™t come here to step on anybody’€™s toes. I know what my role is,” said Jenks. “Coming here, [Papelbon and Jenks have] been friends for many years now, I don’€™t think that’€™s going to be any problem throughout the year at all. …

“If those questions do come up, it’€™s going to come down to the decision of the management and whatever they think is best for the team. If that means whatever it means, they’€™re doing it for their own reasons.’€

The 29-year-old (he turns 30 in a month) — who said that he had free-agent offers to close — said that he wasn’t entirely certain of what that transition would entail, but he was more than happy to try it. For the opportunity to pitch with the Red Sox, he was willing to depart from his comfort zone.

“Once the opportunity came up, I had the chance to come here and I jumped right on it. There was no real other reason than that. I had a few other opportunities to close right away, keep doing what I was doing, but I jumped right on it,” said Jenks. “It’€™s going to be different, obviously. It’€™s an adjustment that I’€™ll have to make on the field. There have been times in my career where I’€™ve come in in the eighth and finished the ninth. You just have to take that mentality into the eighth every time.

“I’€™ve talked [about the transition to setting up] to a few coaches I know in Arizona who have been around the game and stuff, but no one in person who has done or is doing what I’€™m doing now. It’€™s going to have to be one of those moments where I just adjust on the fly and do everything you can in spring to get ready for those.”

Jenks suggested that the adjustment is mental rather than physical, but that it will also entail a bit of a change in his routine in order to be ready to enter the game at earlier points.

Other highlights: Read the rest of this entry »

A glimpse of what the Red Sox are getting in New Zealand softball player Beau Bishop

02.12.11 at 11:17 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — In case you were wondering what Beau Bishop, the New Zealand softball player the Red Sox recently signed, looked like, here is an interview done with the 17-year-old shortly after his introductory press conference.

For more on how Bishop landed with the Red Sox, click here.

For Clay Buchholz, one year makes a world of difference

02.12.11 at 11:51 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — In retrospect, it is almost comical to contemplate. One year ago, Clay Buchholz admitted to being uncertain about what the season held. It wasn’t a matter of the goals and projected numbers he envisioned for the 2010 campaign — he seemed anything but secure in thinking about his place in the Red Sox rotation.

Buchholz was coming off of a very strong second half with the Red Sox in 2009, having gone 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA in 16 starts. He had even pitched well in a playoff start against the Angels. But one of the storylines around spring training was that the Sox seemed to have six starters (Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Buchholz) for five rotation spots, and there were suggestions that Buchholz might be an asset in the bullpen, a role in which his rubber arm might respond well. For that matter, there were suggestions that he could end up being optioned to the minors, where he could loom as a depth option.

Those suggestions did not come from the Red Sox, who were committed to having Buchholz in the starting rotation from day one of last spring. Nonetheless, the pitcher seemed uneasy about what the 2010 season might have in store for him. He had some poor outings during spring training in which he seemed to lose control over the pace of the game, most notably one contest in which he was bouncing pitches and stepping off the rubber against the Twins. And doubt would creep in after such performances, with Buchholz being asked whether he thought that such performances might jeopardize his spot in the rotation.

“Some days you go out and it feels like it’€™s the first time you’€™ve picked up a baseball in two years,” Buchholz recalled on Saturday morning, after playing catch on the field at the Red Sox minor league spring training facility. “I think everybody goes through struggles, especially during spring training, but it’€™s all about having a short memory.”

Buchholz didn’t always exhibit that trait last year in Fort Myers. This year, however, he has the luxury of arriving with a different sort of mentality.

The 26-year-old was one of the top starters in the American League last year. He went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA, finishing second in that category to Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. Buchholz was named to the All-Star team and finished sixth in Cy Young balloting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Clay Buchholz was once afraid of John Farrell

02.12.11 at 11:38 am ET
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Here is a transcript of what you probably can’t hear all of because of the tricky Fort Myers wind:

“Saw [Curt Young] in Boston a couple of weeks ago. John Farrell was awesome. He’€™s one of the big reasons why I had a lot of success last year. I finally got to talk to him and wasn’€™t afraid of him, because he’€™s such a stern person who was always talking business. Once I broke it down and had some time to talk to him, he was awesome.

“Just talking to Curt, he’€™s a different personality. He’€™s going to fit in really well with this clubhouse.”

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This just in: Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield play catch

02.12.11 at 10:40 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — There were a couple of big news items emanating from Lee County Saturday morning:

1. Clay Buchholzweight (always a hot topic at this point in spring training) was at 194 pounds. He had hit the Mendoza Line, sitting at 200, but recently got sick. To make him feel better, Daniel Bard told his teammate that he had also lost six pounds.

2. Robert Coello, who was recently designated for assignment, is still working out at the Red Sox minor-league training facility while awaiting to hear where he might be playing baseball this season.

3. Tim Wakefield made his first appearance, looking spry. He went out and tortured Buchholz by mixing a few knuckleballs in their game of catch, an endeavor made even more dicey by the fact that the wind was really howling.

4. All the boxes have been moved off the truck, and the 18-wheeler is back on its way to … wherever.

5. Jon Lester threw off the mound under the watchful eye of new pitching coach Curt Young.

6. The Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium announced on its sign that it will be holding “Creepy Crawly Day” on Feb. 28. It should be quite a day considering the Red Sox play the Twins at 1:05 p.m. that afternoon.

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