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Spring Fortitude: Saturday’s developments

02.21.10 at 1:43 am ET
By

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Few days of the baseball season offer the kind of optimism that is evident on the day of the first official workout of spring training. It is a day that has no real consequence, and yet it claims a significance due to the fact that it represents the onset of routine. The first bullpen sessions, infield drills and batting practice groups of the year offer glimpses of promise and reminders of best-case projections for a team. It also resumes the structured existence that is so much a part of the baseball season.

In Fort Myers, 905 spectators wandered through the turnstiles of the Red Sox minor league training facility to take stock of a significant representation of the 2010 squad. With the pitchers and catchers all (or almost all — the team is still waiting on Jorge Sosa’s arrival) accounted for, a growing number of position players are also filling out the clubhouse and fields of the training complex. Jeremy Hermida, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jeremy Hermida are among the familiar faces who are now in Fort Myers. The Sox prospect pool is also well represented, with the likes of Lars Anderson, Jose Iglesias, Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick — among many others — in attendance.

Some of the sights and developments of Saturday:

Tim Wakefield reiterated his feeling that he is in good health and ready to participate in full baseball activities. Wakefield threw a bullpen session, joining the group of Jon Lester, John Lackey and Josh Beckett. Wakefield also took part in PFPs (pitchers fielding practice), and looked agile moving off the mound. Wakefield’s goal remains to be in the starting rotation for the start of the year.

Jason Varitek said that he is prepared to serve as a backup, noting that the role is no longer foreign to him given that it is the same one in which he served following the acquisition of Victor Martinez at last year’s trade dealine.

–The Sox will use Jeremy Hermida solely as a corner outfielder this spring, and will not have him play center even though he’s done so in the past for the Marlins. The Sox also do not intend to use him at first. Hermida is coming off a disappointing year with the Marlins in which he hit .259/.348/.392/.740, but the Sox nonetheless view him as a potential breakout candidate. Lou Merloni explores why Hermida hasn’t lived up to expectations, and why the Sox are bullish on his potential.

Jacoby Ellsbury arrived in seemingly strong shape after another offseason spent at Athletes’ Performance in Arizona. Ellsbury admitted that the grind of swiping 70 bags last season forced him to push back the start of his offseason workout program by a couple weeks, but that he felt that the toll of the 2009 season was less than that of a 2008 campaign that was his first full year in the majors.

Ellsbury also said that he saw potential benefit to a move to left, in that most of the great base stealers in history (Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Tim Raines, etc.) have spent most of their careers playing left. If all goes according to plan for the Sox, the combination of Ellsbury in left and Mike Cameron in center will create a scenario in which “there’s not a lot of balls that hit the grass out there. … That will be a strength.”

–Ellsbury unveiled his new uniform, donning No. 2. That, no doubt, came as a shock to the many, many members of the crowd that showed up wearing No. 46. On the bright side, reliever Joe Nelson (the current possessor of No. 46) felt very welcomed. For Ellsbury, however, the new digits represented the culmination of a longstanding ambition that was enabled by the departure of former Sox bench coach Brad Mills for Houston.

Jed Lowrie arrived, and suggested that after working with a former Maple Leafs trainer and a tennis trainer this offseason, he feels that he has found a maintenance program that will position him to reclaim his health and career. Lowrie acknowledged that the 2009 season was filled with tremendous frustrations, but that he was pleased that he did everything in his power to contribute down the stretch.

–The Tuck Rules are back. Bullpen coach and catching instructor Gary Tuck is once again running a half dozen catchers (Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek, Dusty Brown, Mark Wagner, Luis Exposito and Gustavo Molina) through a series of unique competitions and training techniques aimed at refining the group’s technical skills behind the plate. Tuck is considered as good a catching instructor as there is in the game, and his drills are always one of the visual highlights of spring training.

QUOTABLE

“It happened for the last two months of the season last year so this isn’t necessarily new for me. Is it different? Of course it’s different but I think that in that role that it was last year, toward the end, probably got me prepared for this. I still got prepared to take a heavy load because I’m sure exactly how that’s going exactly to pan out, if it’s going to be once a week, twice a week, three times a week, you just don’t know. I’m just preparing to move forward and work with Vic.” — Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek on his role as the backup to Victor Martinez

INJURY REPORT

Daisuke Matsuzaka will resume playing catch on Sunday. The team expects him to throw from approximately 60 feet, but there is no schedule for him to throw a bullpen. All the same, he came through the physical and the day of conditioning drills without further event on Friday.

Hideki Okajima did not take part in Friday’s conditioning drills due to some leg discomfort, but the issue does not appear serious.

NO MINOR DEVELOPMENTS

–Casey Kelly‘s bullpen session received significant attention, though his flat ground work prior to working off the mound had its own intrigue. At one point, Kelly surprised both throwing partner Kris Johnson and pitching instructor Goose Gregson by tossing a ball with the action of a cutter. The throw produced tremendous tail, the sort of glimpse that offers intrigue about what pitches Kelly might be able to integrate to his current mix of a fastball (two- and four-seam), curve and change.

Given the hype surrounding Kelly, there will be plenty of attention conferred upon his participation in big league camp this spring. That said, manager Terry Francona tried to measure expectations about the 20-year-old.

“I’d actually like to be a little bit guarded in that,” Francona said. “The reason I say that, he just turned 20 years old. This kid is in a major league camp and we don’t want him to try to do more than he needs to. What we really want him to be is a sponge and soak up everything he can. He’s got a great feel for a young kid. Watch the way Beckett and Lester and those guys do things and just soak up as much as he can. He needs to prepare for his year, wherever that ends up being. Just have a real good experience and see how we do things here in our major league camp.”

For video of Kelly’s bullpen session, click here.

–The defense of Jose Iglesias will be one of the most discussed presences of the spring. He shows remarkably quick hands, a ridiculously quick transfer and an explosive first step that results in tremendous range. On one instance, a coach apologized for hitting a grounder too far into the hole to expect a play to be made. It thus came as some surprise when Iglesias ranged far to his right to rack the ball and unloaded a perfect throw to first.

Though he showed a line drive stroke with little loft in his batting practice session, Iglesias still got on top of a couple of pitches and laced them over the fence, showing surprising carry for such a diminutive shortstop. When some of his teammates reacted with surprise and amusement to one of the longballs, Iglesias pointed playfully at his right biceps.

Yamaico Navarro spent much of the offseason taking part in supervised training programs with the Sox, whether in the Dominican (after his brief participation in the Dominican Winter League concluded), in Boston for the Rookie Development Program or in Fort Myers for the team’s strength camp. As such, he appears to have made up for any strength losses that he incurred following surgery on a hamate that he broke while playing for Single A Salem last April. Navarro hit a couple of bombs in batting practice.

Check back on the Full Count blog throughout the day for updates, or follow the Twitter accounts of @bradfo, @loouu26, @trags and @alexspeier for the latest.

Read More: Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek, Jeremy Hermida, jose iglesias Print  |  Email  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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