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Red Sox minor league notes: Blake Swihart is taking off the gloves; Travis Shaw gets his kicks; a below-the-radar prospect emerging?

02.25.14 at 11:17 am ET
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Switch-hitting catcher Blake Swihart doesn't use batting gloves. (WEEI.com)

Switch-hitting catcher Blake Swihart doesn’t use batting gloves. (WEEI.com)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — If Blake Swihart‘s projection holds true — a potential above-average to All-Star switch-hitting catcher whose athleticism and hand-eye coordination permit him to make a considerable impact at the dish — then he’ll be reasonably well positioned for future endorsement opportunities. However, in one respect, it appears that the 21-year-old is willing to pass on such potential earnings.

Swihart is among the only Red Sox minor leaguers who eschews batting gloves. Though he grew up in a relatively cold-weather climate in Albuquerque, he’s long preferred to go without gloves while taking his hacks.

“I’ve just never used them. Never,” said Swihart. “Sometimes it hurts, but that’s just what I’m comfortable with. A couple times last year, it was raining in Salem and I had to use batting gloves. It didn’t feel right in the game. … I do it sometimes in the cages, but that’s about it. I just like the feel of not having batting gloves.”

As for the potential sacrifice of a batting glove endorsement?

“I have a Nike deal,” said the 2011 first-rounder. “I hope they don’t get too mad that I don’t use them.”

A couple of additional notes on players expected to open the 2014 season in the minors:

Travis Shaw has been working out solely at first base in big league camp, though he expects that he’ll likely take some grounders back at third once reassigned to minor league camp, if not before. He’s also employing a substantial leg kick that he began to incorporate last year, while he was struggling in the middle of the year with Double-A Portland. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: blake swihart, javier guerra, spring training 2014, travis shaw

Garin Cecchini on D&C: ‘I’m trying to be a sponge’ at spring training

02.25.14 at 10:15 am ET
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Third baseman Garin Cecchini hit his fourth homer of the year on Tuesday. (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)

Garin Cecchini (Darrell Snow/Greenville Drive)

Red Sox prospect Garin Cecchini joined Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday morning from spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., to discuss his first time at a major league camp. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

On Friday, Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino told Dennis & Callahan that Cecchini was a new player who could have the biggest impact this season.

“Especially coming from a guy like Mr. Lucchino, it’€™s very humbling,” Cecchini said of the remark. “It’€™s good to give you confidence going into camp like that, the way he thinks of you.”

Cecchini has left a good impression, in part, because of his patience at the plate. During half a season at Double-A Portland last year, Cecchini had 51 walks in 295 plate appearances and a .420 on-base percentage.

“I think at a young age, both my parents were coaches that, when I would watch major league games, they told me to watch these players, be in the moment with them,” Cecchini said. “Like a Tony Gwynn, a left-handed hitter, or Joe Mauer – have the at-bat with them, and I would try to.

“When they were facing great pitchers I would try to have that at bat with them. At a young age, I was taught to get your pitch, put your best swing off and try to drive to left-center, right-center. Then the Red Sox, when I got here, didn’t change me at all. They just said keep the approach and put icing on the cake with the mentality.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Spring Fort-itude: What happened with the Red Sox in Fort Myers on Monday

02.25.14 at 10:03 am ET
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Koji Uehara has assumed year-long residence in High Five City. (WEEI.com)

Koji Uehara has assumed year-long residence in High Five City. (WEEI.com)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox are preparing to move from the back fields at JetBlue Park to an on-field workout in the Floridian faux Fenway, a sign of the transition in progress as the start of exhibition games nears. Here’s a brief roundup of the happenings on Monday:

Felix Doubront continued a spring that’s been very different than the one he experienced a year ago, when he was shut down at the outset due to health woes. (Mike Petraglia offers a glimpse of his live batting practice session here.) Little known fact about Doubront: He has one of the best strikeout rates of any left-handed starter in history, something that suggests intriguing potential for a breakout season in 2014.

– While Doubront has impressed on the field in early workouts, his attention has been split between his work to get ready for the season and anxious concern for the deteriorating political, social and economic situation in his homeland of Venezuela. Doubront and the five other Red Sox players in camp who hail from Venezuela have been seeking nearly constant updates while expressing their hopes for a peaceful resolution of the increasing unrest in their homeland.

Koji Uehara said that he feels he’s up to the task of repeating his 2013 workload for the Red Sox. While he encountered a dearth of endorsement opportunities in Japan, he did appear in one beer commercial for Suntory Premium Malt’s.

“Please try it!” Uehara pronounced through his translator.

The commercial is explained here.

– As the Red Sox prepare for the start of exhibition games, one player’s participation will be noteworthy: Outfielder Grady Sizemore, who hasn’t played in a game since 2011, will be in the lineup against Northeastern University on Thursday afternoon.

Daniel Nava has been slowed by, literally, a pain in the neck.

– The Red Sox joined the rest of baseball in digesting the rules modifications on home plate collisions.

– Here’s your two minutes of the Zen of live batting practice, featuring the aforementioned Doubront, Allen Webster and Dalier Hinojosa:

Read More: felix doubront, Koji Uehara, spring training 2014,

Mike Petraglia, Alex Speier on Dalier Hinojosa, Mike Napoli, Grady Sizemore

02.24.14 at 4:43 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Alex Speier talk about Cuban defector Dalier Hinojosa and his chances with the Red Sox pitching staff, the story behind Mike Napoli‘s return and what’s on the line this week for Grady Sizemore.

Read More: Alex Speier, Boston Red Sox, dalier hinojosa, grady sizemore

A cold one for Koji: Analyzing Uehara’s beer commercial

02.24.14 at 4:23 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was an offseason of relative obscurity for Koji Uehara. Despite his remarkable accomplishments, when he returned to Japan, the extent of the celebrity garnered for emerging as a history-making closer was a published book and an opportunity to do a couple of beer commercials for Suntory Premium Malt’s.

“Please try it!” Uehara pronounced (via translator C.J. Matsumoto) on Monday.

The commercials can be seen here. Courtesy of Lee and Juliet Folger Fund Professor of History Andrew Gordon and Dr. Theodore Gilman of the Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies at Harvard University, here’s a description of the substance of the playful 30- and 60-second spots.

Both open with Uehara claiming that, on his way from the ballpark to the hotel after the game, he’d very much look forward to downing a cold beer. (In the 60-second version, he allows that the beer represented a daily self-reward for being able to play and stay healthy.) He also suggests that there has been conversation about the Red Sox — who Uehara says stock three postgame beers — adding a fourth beer, this one from Japan; if such a landmark development were to occur, Uehara says, he would choose Suntory.

Near the end, Uehara describes the beer as “saiko” — meaning the best, a term that implicitly characterizes not just the beer (which, after all, declares itself to be “Premium”) but also the pitcher and his team. The longer version of the commercial also has Uehara reflecting happily on a sip of his beverage and wondering rhetorically, “Isn’t Japan terrific?” — an inquiry evidently inspired by the quality of the beer.

The beer’s other endorsements on the page come from a former figure skating star (Junko Yaginuma), a sommelier (Yoichi Sato), a prominent composer (Jo Hisaishi) and some celebrity chefs — not exactly the prototypical “tastes great/less filling” crowd of endorsers in the States, perhaps suggesting that Uehara is regarded as a worldly sophisticate in his native land. Of course, in a time of The Most Interesting Man in the World, it is also certainly possible that Uehara has achieved such status in Japan.

Read More: beer, Koji Uehara, suntory,

John Farrell looking for ‘progression and improvement’ from Felix Doubront in 2014

02.24.14 at 4:16 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — With manager John Farrell looking on intently Monday morning, Felix Doubront threw roughly 30 pitches in a live batting practice session to Grady Sizemore and Xander Bogaerts.

Doubront isn’t trying to pick up where he left off in 2013, but rather replicate the success he found over a three-month stretch of the season when the team – and rotation – needed him the most. Accomplishing that is key building upon a season that was a stepping stone to what could be bigger and better things for the Venezuelan lefty.

Last season, he posted his second straight 11-win season, making 27 starts, compiling a 4.32 ERA and a 1.429 WHIP. But for a stretch of 16 starts, June through August, there was no one more reliable in the Red Sox rotation. When Clay Buchholz went down over that stretch, Doubront and a sub-3.00 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP.

On Monday, he showed the stuff that made him so effective keeping his offspeed and breaking pitches down in the zone, creating swings and misses to Bogaerts (righthanded) and Sizemore (lefty).

“He’s throwing the ball well,” manager John Farrell said. “He’s come into camp in better shape than years past. We look for a progression and improvement on last year. That’s ideally eliminating some of those peaks and valleys. He was on a long run from about early May for about a 16-start stretch where he was one of our more consistent starters. he’s an extremely talented guy. he’s got a couple things that really work for him: The overall pitch mix that he has, and he has shown us the ability to win on days where he doesn’t have his best stuff. I think that’s a testament to his savvy on the mound and the fact that he does generate some swing and miss.”

After getting lit up in September, including allowing five runs on five hits in just 1 1/3 innings in relief on Sept. 29, Doubront again found his groove in the playoffs, showing he can handle the pressure of playoff baseball. After not appearing in the series against Tampa Bay, he appeared twice in relief against the Tigers in the ALCS and twice out of the pen against the Cardinals in the World Series. He was spectacular, compiling a 1.29 ERA in seven innings, allowing just three hits and one run and a 0.857 WHIP.

Read More: Boston Red Sox, felix doubront, John Farrell, MLB

Red Sox notes: Koji Uehara believes he can handle the load; Grady Sizemore prepares to play; Daniel Nava’s pain in the neck

02.24.14 at 2:46 pm ET
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Koji Uehara feels ready to match his workload of a year ago. (AP)

Koji Uehara feels ready to match his workload of a year ago. (AP)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A year ago, the expectations for Koji Uehara were limited. The Red Sox had signed him to a one-year, $4.25 million deal (with an unreported vesting option for the same amount) with the idea that he could deliver dominant innings if and when he was healthy. But given that he’d averaged just 48 innings a year in his prior three seasons (during which he had a 2.36 ERA, 11.4 strikeouts and 1.1 walks per nine innings), it would have been hard to foresee his emergence as the most dominant closer in baseball in 2013, a pitcher who allowed just 10 runs in 88 innings between the regular season and postseason (good for a sterling 1.02 ERA) while producing an astounding 117 strikeouts and nine walks (a 13:1 rate), or his place as the pitcher who was hoisted skyward after recording the final out of a World Series.

So, naturally, Uehara — once a star in Japan for the Yomiuri Giants — must have been treated to a conquering hero’s welcome upon his return to his native country after the season. Right?

“Nothing has changed at all. … Really,” shrugged Uehara (through translator C.J. Matsumoto. “I think me and [Junichi Tazawa] just lack the star power.”

He said that he had some parties with family members to celebrate the season, but otherwise, there was no real fanfare for what he accomplished. Uehara did appear in commercials for a beer, Suntory Premium Malt’s (“Please try it!” Uehara exhorted; the commercials can be seen here), and he also wrote a book, but otherwise, there was little dwelling on the season with the Sox.

Did he feel as if he wasn’t getting enough credit?

“I don’t care about what people think,” he said. “Every year is a challenge. I try to make that motivation to be better.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: daniel nava, grady sizemore, Koji Uehara, spring training 2014
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