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Terry Francona and others impressed with up close look at Jon Lester

03.07.11 at 8:37 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ For Jon Lester, it was simply a simulated game on Monday, three innings, 46 pitches thrown to a series of non-roster invitees to make up for a missed start due to the flu.

“Worked on a few things,” Lester said nonchalantly about an hour and a half after the outing.

For Terry Francona — who watched the session from behind the cage, no more than five feet and directly behind the catcher — it was an education.

“You never really to be that close to him when he’s pitching,” said Francona on Monday. “His stuff is amazing. That cutter and two-seamer? When you actually get to sit right behind the cage there, it’s fun to watch.”

But Paul Hoover had an even better view.

Probably you know Hoover if you’re reading this, but maybe you don’t. A quick backstory: Hoover is 34 years old and has played in 40 major-league games over seven seasons. In 105 career plate appearances, he has hit exactly zero home runs, or as many as Lester, the man he caught in the three-inning simulation.

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John Lackey on start: ‘Good step forward’

03.07.11 at 5:11 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ John Lackey was in command on Monday in his second start of spring training, allowing just a single hit and no runs in his four innings of work against a split-squad Orioles group.

“I was happy with fastball location today,” said Lackey, who gave up four hits and a run in two innings vs. the Braves in his first start of the spring March 2. “My rotation on my four-seam fastball was nice, nice and true. I still haven’t started throwing my cutter yet, but I’ll probably be ready to do that next start. So it was a good step forward.”

Lackey needed only 39 pitches in his four innings. The Sox were expecting Lackey to throw somewhere in the 55-pitch range, so the right-hander threw an extra 16 pitches in the bullpen following the start.

Read More: john lackey, Red Sox,

Jon Lester: ‘Felt almost too good’

03.07.11 at 3:34 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ Jon Lester met with the media about an hour and a half after pitching in a simulated game Monday afternoon. Lester, who was scratched from his start on Sunday with flu-like symptoms, threw 46 pitches (to Ryan Lavarnway, Nate Spears, Che-Hsuan Lin, Hector Luna and Oscar Tejeda) in the three-inning simulated game.

“I think so,” Lester responded when asked if he was happy with the outing. “Worked on a few things. Started today with something I’m not used to — a lot of 1-1 counts — and I had to pitch a little differently. But I think everything went well. Felt good, felt almost too good. But everything is fine as well as fine physically.”

Lester is scheduled to make his next start on Friday against Minnesota.

Read More: Jon Lester, Red Sox,

MLBPA director Michael Weiner discusses revenue sharing, CBA status with media on Monday

03.07.11 at 3:08 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Michael Weiner was in Red Sox camp Monday to give his annual address to the players. But this isn’t just another year, as the collective bargaining agreement expires in December. Weiner met with the media following his session with the players, and are some highlights of the nearly 20-minute Q&A with the media:

How did the meeting go with the players today?

This meeting is different than meetings in other years because this is a bargaining year. Most of my talk is about how bargaining works, what roles players will have, how they will stay informed, what kind of input they’ll have. It was mostly just expelling to them how bargaining works. This is a big year.

Is it important to get dialogue established between both sides sooner rather than later?

I know we are and I believe the owner’s side are more prepared this time around. We did have our first formal session a couple of days ago in Tampa and that’s ahead of schedule. I don’t think we had our first formal session in 2006 until knee-deep into April.

John Henry was reportedly fined $500 K for for comments in 2009 about the league’s revenue-sharing system. What is the union’s take on revenue sharing?

The players have a lot to say. Revenue sharing has been ‘€¦ we’ve spent as much time bargaining revenue sharing in the last three rounds of bargaining as any issue. From our perspective it’s crucial, because baseball is driven by local revenue unlike some of the other sports. I expect we’ll spend a lot of time on that this time around.

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Read More: John Henry, Josh Beckett, Michael Weiner, Spring Training

Monday notes: Jon Lester throws a simulated game

03.07.11 at 12:40 pm ET
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The Red Sox players met with MLPBA leadership (including executive director Michael Weiner and several former players, including Tony Clark, Bobby Bonilla and Rick Helling) on Monday morning, which pushed back the schedule of things here at City of Palms Park. Terry Francona‘s daily meeting with the media started at 10:05-ish, about a half hour later than usual. Not sure if you care, but it seemed a big deal around here.

Jon Lester was scratched from yesterday’s start vs. the Mets (flu), and threw a simulated game late Monday morning (46 pitches with Josh Beckett, Francona and Theo Epstein among the observers. Lester faced Ryan Lavarnway, Nate Spears, Che-Hsuan Lin, Hector Luna and Oscar Tejeda and struggled a little with his control, but for the most part overpowered the hitters. Lester did not speak following the session but appeared to have no complications). He’s on schedule to make his next start on Friday, and Francona indicated that missing a start this early in the spring isn’t a major issue.

“We’ll let him do his three innings out there [Monday], actually it could be good,” Francona said. “Work on his pitches, not at the point yet in the spring where you’re trying to throw fix, six innings.”

Francona wasn’t present for Adrian Gonzalez‘ batting practice session on Sunday at City of Palms Park — Francona was at Port St. Lucie for Sox-Mets — but was pleased with the reports.

“He’s doing great, he’s done so well that I don’t think it’s going to be much of an issue getting ready for the season,” Francona said. “He’s on the field, but as he feels better and ramps up his intensity and volume, then he’ll get into a game when he’s ready. Not before, really no reason to rush or cut corners because he’s doing so well.”

Francona said that there was “no timetable” for Gonzalez to appear in a spring training game, but wouldn’t rule it out as the next step in the rehabilitation process.

Andrew Miller gave up a three-run homer to Ike Davis in the loss to the Mets on Sunday. Francona viewed the performance as both good and bad, noting that he made a mistake to Davis in his first inning but “breezed” through his second inning of work. Francona still counts Miller as being in the mix to make the roster as a reliever.

Read More: adrian gonzalez, Jon Lester, Terry Francona,

Clay Buchholz: Looking at one-year deal

03.07.11 at 9:41 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€” Clay Buchholz told WEEI.com on Monday morning that it is looking increasingly likely he will sign a one-year deal with the Red Sox. With March 8 looming as the unofficial deadline for contracts of unsigned players to be renewed, Buchholz was asked if there had been discussions with the Red Sox regarding a contract extension.

“I think we’ve talked a little bit about it but there’s nothing,” said Buchholz, who will be arbitration eligible for the first time after the 2011 season. “My agent thinks we’re probably looking at a one-year thing this year. Nothing going on that I know of.”

Buchholz — who had a breakout season in 2010 with 17 wins and a 2.33 ERA — isn’t concerned about having to wait for a long-term deal.

“No. Every player goes through it,” Buchholz said. “Some players get signed, some sign an extension before they are arbitration eligible. I’m not worried about it by any means. Just play this year and go from there.”

Read More: Clay Buchholz, Red Sox,

Nuggetpalooza: John Lackey and ‘effective wildness’

03.07.11 at 8:27 am ET
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During the 2010 season, 48.9 percent of John Lackey’s curveballs were recorded as “in the strike zone,” higher than any season of his since at least 2007. His curveball “in zone” percentage from 2007-2009 was just 43.5 percent. However, his curveball “fish rate” (percentage of the time opposing batters swung at balls outside the zone), was just 31.3 percent in 2010, much lower than the 39.1 percent fish rate over the previous three seasons.

The result? A major league leading 22 walks last year on curveballs outside the strike zone. No other pitcher in the AL had more than nine such walks:

22 – John Lackey, BOS
9 – Gio Gonzalez, OAK
9 – Javier Vazquez, NYY

Let’s break down Lackey’s out of zone curveballs by month (pitches that decided plate appearances only):

April (20) – 2-for-16 (.125) with 7 strikeouts and 4 walks; No other AL pitcher had more than 14 PA’s decided on out of zone curveballs in April.
May (21) – 1-for-14 (.071) with 5 strikeouts and 7 walks;
June (11) – 1-for-9 (.111) with 3 strikeouts and 2 walks;
July (10) – 0-for-8 (.000) with 3 strikeouts and 2 walks;
August (18) – 1-for-12 (.083) with 9 strikeouts and 6 walks;
September (7) – 0-for-6 (.000) with 5 strikeouts and 1 walk;

And here are his monthly ERA’s:

April: 4.50
May: 5.17
June: 3.86
July: 3.67
August: 5.75
September: 3.46

Well how about that? The two months in which Lackey posted his worst ERA’s (May and August) were also the two months where he allowed the most walks on out of zone curveballs. Conversely, his three best ERA months (June, July, and September) correspond to the months where he allowed the FEWEST walks on out of zone curves.

So what happens when Lackey’s curveballs were in the strike zone in 2010?

Well, right-handed batters ripped “in zone” curveballs for a .362 average and .970 OPS, the second highest OPS allowed by any pitcher with at least 100 in zone curveballs last season. Lefties got to Lackey on those pitches as well, putting up an identical .362 average and a .915 OPS.

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Minor Details Ep. 10: Peter Gammons on Red Sox prospects

03.07.11 at 5:52 am ET
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Peter Gammons of the MLB Network and NESN joined Minor Details for the latest episode to discuss the growing importance of player development in baseball and a number of key Red Sox prospects whose springs bear watching. Among the highlights:

–Gammons believes that the cost of acquiring players in free agency, at ages when they are typically entering their decline, suggests that player development and prospects are more valuable than ever.

“The Red Sox couldn’€™t have made the Adrian Gonzalez deal, and would have had to risk five years on Adrian Beltre in his 30s, with his leg problems, or would have had to wait to try to spend $30 million on [Albert] Pujols,” he said. “Having three really good prospects and getting Adrian Gonzalez so they won’€™t have to pay him past the age of 35, I think that’€™s part of it.

The Yankees, who have done a great job with their development system as well, could end up ‘€“ if Oakland doesn’€™t get off to a really good start ‘€“ they could turn around and go and get one of those young left-handed pitchers. I can see Gio Gonzalez, I can see [Brett] Anderson. It’€™s going to cost them three pretty good prospects, really good prospects. But that’€™s better than waiting around for a year and spending a ridiculous amount of money on whoever might be a free-agent pitcher.

“The value to the Yankees of having all those guys is, they’€™re going to have to give up three of them. Okay, they give up, I don’€™t think [Jesus] Montero would probably go, but let’€™s say they give up [Gary Sanchez] and Adam Warren and [Dellin] Betances or one of their young pitchers. If that gets them a guy who’€™s 25, 26 years old who they can hold onto for four years, it’€™s worth the weight in gold.”

–Gammons believes that both shortstop Jose Iglesias and outfielder Ryan Kalish are, without question, projected as lineup regulars for the Sox by 2012. Gammons went on to suggest that comparisons of Kalish and former Sox right fielder Trot Nixon might underestimate how good Kalish can be.

“I have great respect for Trot Nixon, but Ryan Kalish is a totally different athlete. He is a great athlete,” said Gammons. “I see him being a guy, he doesn’€™t swing and miss a lot, who’€™s going to hit somewhere between .280 and .300, hit 25 home runs, he can run. I think he’€™s going to be a really exciting player.”

He also noted that manager Terry Francona had to force himself not to judge other prospects against Kalish, whose approach to the game allowed him to fit in immediately in the Sox clubhouse after his July 31 call-up last year.

–The Red Sox have developed a pair of front-of-the-rotation starters in Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, but have not developed a 30-home run hitter under GM Theo Epstein (though it is worth mentioning that Kevin Youkilis developed into one of the elite producers in the game under the current Sox front office after being drafted under former Sox GM Dan Duquette in 2001). Gammons suggested that the Sox are not alone in finding it more challenging to develop middle-of-the-order power hitters than top starters.

“I think it’€™s more difficult to develop power. I remember in the first year of the full drug testing, in 2005, before the draft, Theo said to me, ‘€˜We better be aware that drug testing is going to change the game, and it’€™s going to be a new game over the next five to 10 years.’€™ And they drafted Jacoby Ellsbury. That was the beginning,” said Gammons. “With all their draft choices this year, I’€™d bet they try to find a couple of guys who can hit the ball a long way. But I think it’€™s very difficult. … I think finding power is going to become more and more difficult.”

–Gammons said he feels that Lars Anderson could still develop into a power hitter.

“When I first saw him play in Portland, I thought he was born to play in Fenway Park,” said Gammons. “I think this is a critical year for him. If he goes to Pawtucket, uses left-center, right-center, hits 25 home runs, he’€™ll be on his way to being an important piece. Obviously Adrian Gonzalez is going to be here for six years or so, but Lars could be a DH or he could end up being traded. But I’€™d love to see him get the chance to be a first baseman/DH at Fenway Park, because I think that’€™s a natural place for him.”

To listen to the complete podcast, in which Gammons discusses several other players as well as broader issues related to player development, click here.

PREVIOUS EPISODES

Ep. 9: The winding path of Andrew Miller: A look at the unique sets of career choices that the 25-year-old left-hander has run into during his baseball career, and how he ended up signing a minor league deal with the Red Sox.

Ep. 8: Key prospect issues in spring training: Five key spring training storylines of note for Red Sox minor leaguers.

Ep. 7: The Red Sox’€™ Cuban connection: A look at the talent base that has inspired the Sox to spend heavily on players who defected from Cuba, along with the professional and cultural challenges that those players face once in the U.S. Guests are Red Sox minor league outfielder Juan Carlos Linares, minor league hitting coach Alex Ochoa (who spent 2010 helping prospect Jose Iglesias adjust to professional baseball in the U.S.) and agent Edwin Mejia of Athletes Premier, an agency whose stable of clients includes some players from Cuba

Ep. 6: Why the Red Sox draft football stars, with Red Sox scouting director Amiel Sawdaye and Red Sox minor league outfielder Brandon Jacobs, who was recruited to play football at Auburn and could have taken part in the 2011 BCS title game

Ep. 5: The human side of the Adrian Gonzalez trade, with Padres (and former Red Sox) prospect Anthony Rizzo, Sox scout Laz Gutierrez and Sox farm director Mike Hazen. The episode also includes a discussion with Baseball America’€™s Jim Callis about the state of the Sox farm system following the trade for Adrian Gonzalez

Ep. 4: Evaluating prospects and making blockbusters, with former Diamondbacks GM/Red Sox Assistant GM Josh Byrnes and former Red Sox manager Butch Hobson (who was Jeff Bagwell‘€˜s manager in the Red Sox system when he was traded to the Astros)

Ep. 3: Red Sox catching prospects, with Sox roving catching instructor Chadd Epperson, as well as a conversation with Arizona Fall League manager Mike Sarbaugh about the Sox’€™ prospects in the AFL

Ep. 2: Red Sox trade chips with Keith Law of ESPN.com

Ep. 1: Baseball America’€™s list of the Top 10 Red Sox prospects, with Mike Hazen and Jim Callis

Read More: Adrian Beltre, adrian gonzalez, brett anderson, Gio Gonzalez

Adrian Gonzalez takes major step Sunday

03.06.11 at 1:30 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ Adrian Gonzalez continued his progress from offseason shoulder surgery on Sunday morning, taking batting practice on the field for the first time this spring.

“I’ve been feeling good the whole time and it felt good to get out there,” Gonzalez said. “It was really good.”

Gonzalez took 25 swings (give or take, media counts had it at 25 but Gonzalez wasn’t sure) in his five rounds of BP, driving the ball to all parts of the field. In his final five swings, Gonzalez hit three balls over the 330-foot right-field fence. He hit in a group with David Ortiz, Carl Crawford and Kevin Youkilis, all of whom seemed impressed with the effort.

(Not everyone was overwhelmed. Dustin Pedroia said it was about time Gonzalez showed up. “We traded half our farm system for the guy,” he said jokingly.)

Gonzalez — who took 80 swings in a batting cage on Friday — was more concerned with making sure he was taking quality swings as opposed to hitting the ball out of the park.

‘€œI don’€™t really care about that,” Gonzalez said.”I’€™m just trying to put a good swing on the ball, feel like I’€™m on top of the ball and through it. For me, it’€™s more important how the ball goes to left-center and if I’€™m getting that good backspin or cutting my swing off a little bit. I felt good, but there were some swings where I was coming off it a tad. You still want to be able to work on that, and I’€™ll be able to work on that in the cage and take it on to my swing.’€

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Morning Sox Notes: Doubront feeling good

03.06.11 at 9:48 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla – The Red Sox (some of them, anyway) will travel to Port St. Lucie to play the Mets on Sunday afternoon. Here’s the lineup:

Scutaro, 6

Kalish, 8

Lowrie, 4

Nava, DH

Reddick, 9

Anderson, 3

Middlebrooks, 5

Linares, 7

Exposito, 2

Michael Bowden will get the start for the Sox in place of Jon Lester, who was kept back after being hit with the flu bug. Lester was in the clubhouse at Fort Myers on Sunday morning, however, and said he was feeling better. It is expected that he’ll throw a simulated game when he is fully recovered.

Felix Doubront threw for the first time Saturday since being shut down on February 24 with tightness in his pitching elbow. Though Doubront recognized the need to be patient during the rehabilitation process, he was optimistic on Sunday morning.

“I threw yesterday and it was good, really good.” Doubront said. “Sixty feet, 25 throws. Felt good to throw, pretty good. Loose. I’ve been doing some mound work, you know, so my shoulder felt pretty good too.

“It’s a lot of progress, but I just have to wait and do my throwing program for a couple of weeks. I go 90 [feet], 120, 30, 150 … and then bullpen. Just take it slowly and go little by little. We just want to take and slow and see.”

Sticking to the day after theme, Alfredo Aceves felt no pain in his back or hip — injuries that kept him on the sidelines for most of last year with the Yankees — on Sunday after throwing three innings against the Orioles on Saturday. Aceves allowed one unearned run and a pair of hits in his three innings.

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