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What’s New with the Red Sox: Thursday

03.05.10 at 6:55 am ET

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Nothing fancy, just the facts.

The Red Sox commenced official Grapefruit League play on Thursday, renewing their spring crosstown rivalry with the Minnesota Twins. The Sox began their effort to build upon their three-peat in the Mayor’s Cup competition for exhibition season superiority with a 2-1 victory that was notable for solid pitching performances and the unseasonable chill in Fort Myers.

“Everything the Red Sox ever gave me,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, “I wore.”

Here are the news items to emerge from the day:

Josh Beckett gave up the only Red Sox run of the day, but he took satisfaction with his two innings of work. He noted that five of his six outs came via groundball (the other was a called third strike), suggesting that his spring focus on locating his fastball down in the strike zone is paying dividends. In 2009, Beckett recorded a career-best groundball-to-flyball ratio, and he is clearly hoping to stick to the approach that produced those results.

“I think just keeping the ball down, you’re going to get more groundballs,” said Beckett. “The top half of the ball is more exposed than the middle part and the bottom, so I think you’re just going to get more groundballs by keeping the ball down.”

–Beckett went 17-6 with a 3.86 ERA in 2009, but given that he did become more of a groundball pitcher, and given the deficiencies of the Sox’ left-side infield defense last year, there is reason to believe that his down-in-the-zone approach could pay even greater dividends in 2010. Towards that end, Beckett seemed impressed by having Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro behind him on Thursday. Scutaro in particular made a couple of standout plays, including the initiation of a 6-4-3 double play.

Jonathan Papelbon made his first game appearance of the spring, throwing four splitters among his 13 pitches. Francona was pleased with the depth of the pitch, which everyone around the Sox considers a key element to making the closer more efficient after a 2009 season when, despite spectacular numbers (1.85 ERA, 38 saves in 41 chances), he sometimes had to labor through the ninth inning.

Mike Cameron appears set to play centerfield on Friday against the Twins, barring any setback. Cameron is wearing No. 23 this spring, a number that he has not worn since the minor leagues, when he spent an extraordinary time as a teammate of another No. 23: Michael Jordan. As a 21-year-old, Cameron had a rare opportunity to hang with the NBA legend during his experiment as a minor league baseball player.

“We’d hang out all the time,” said Cameron. “I’d say, ‘I just want to hang out with you, see what it’s like.’”

For more, click here.

J.D. Drew is still slated to be the designated hitter on Friday. Daisuke Matsuzaka will throw a bullpen session on Friday morning. Tim Wakefield will get the start for the Sox, who will invade the Twins’ park of Hammond Stadium in Round 2 of the five-game Mayor’s Cup. Wakefield appears to be progressing well this spring, and showing few lingering effects from his offseason surgery on his lower back. “He’s a unique pitcher,” said Francona. “His three sides coming into this game, he’s been great. Ball’s all over the place. … I think he’s right where he’s supposed to be.”

–Francona said that while it can be difficult to move all over the diamond for a player like Bill Hall, he praised the role player for embracing the responsibility. “He knows our intentions are to get him at-bats,” said Francona. Hall is slated to get starts in the coming days at both shortstop and in right field.

Casey Fein, who was claimed on waivers by the Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon — just three days after the Sox claimed him from the Tigers — barely had time to make introductions and unpack his bags before changing clubs again. “That was a quickie,” said Francona. “How you doing and thanks for coming.”

Casey Kelly will be making his next start against the Orioles in Sarasota on Sunday. That happens to be Kelly’s hometown, and so his outing will no doubt be a significant event for the young pitcher. Francona thought that pitching coach John Farrell had tried to draw up the schedule to permit just such an outcome. For his part, Kelly is looking forward to the outing.

“It will be a lot of fun,” said Kelly. “I’ll probably have a bunch of people from my hometown come to watch. It will be exciting. … I’m sure I’ll get as many [tickets] as I can, and then have people buying out the stadium.”

–Francona joined the chorus of those praising Jose Iglesias for his adjustment to the culture, in particular, his advanced knowledge of English, which he speaks without an accent. “He says he watches a ton of TV [to learn the language],” Francona chuckled. “So do I. It doesn’t help.”

Ryan Kalish’s aggressiveness on the field drew praise from the skipper. On Wednesday night, Kalish advanced from first to third on a ball that never left the infield, sprinting hard for the extra base when the ball was bobbled.

“Whenever he plays, he’ll be one of the manager’s and coaches’ favorite guys,” said Francona. “He’s like an animal out there.”

Kalish said that he finds a natural affinity with the aggressive and intense style of play of both Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.

For more on Kalish, the promising outfield prospect who turns 22 later this month, click here.

Read More: Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis
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