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Red Sox post-game notes: For Aaron Cook, it’s a start

03.11.12 at 5:01 pm ET
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Aaron Cook looked sharp in his Grapefruit League outing of the spring. (AP)

SARASOTA, Fla. — Aaron Cook had been deemed healthy this spring, but the Red Sox still charted a conservative course for the right-hander, mindful that he’d dealt with shoulder issues in each of the last two seasons. And so, the 32-year-old had to watch and wait as other starters — including the group of five pitchers with whom he is competing for a spot at the back of the rotation — made two and even three starts.

Sunday offered an unveiling for the 10-year big league veteran who signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox this winter after struggling to a 3-13 record and career-worst 6.03 ERA. He entered a Grapefruit League game against the Orioles in the bottom of the sixth inning, and offered glimpses of precisely what the Sox hoped they were getting when they bought low on the veteran this winter.

Cook worked at 88-91 mph, with several of his sinkers showing the characteristic hard, late downward bite that made him an anchor of the Rockies rotation for so long. He struggled to command while dealing with some butterflies in his first inning, walking two batters, but overall, it was an effective day. Cook logged two scoreless innings without giving up a hit, getting four groundball outs and even striking out a batter when he elevated a fastball against Wilson Betemit (“Trying to extend my game; I don’t want to put myself in a box,” joked Cook, who has the lowest strikeout rate (3.8 per nine innings) of any pitcher with at least 1,000 innings in the last decade).

It was, in short, a debut worth waiting for.

“It was kind of difficult [being held back], but I knew it was for the best and when you put your career first, you trust the trainers and do what they say and hopefully it’ll all work out,” said Cook. “I felt like a little kid. I was able to make some pitches and get out of the inning. Got a lot of groundball [outs] and that’s what I need to do.”

Whether or not Cook has enough time to assert himself as a candidate for the rotation by the time the Sox need a fifth starter on April 11 remains to be seen. That said, based on his first outing, manager Bobby Valentine suggested that even if Cook is not in position to make that start, he will be ready soon thereafter.

“Big relief,” Valentine said of Cook’s outing. “As I said all along, I’m not sure there’s enough innings between now and whenever that magical date is but with those two innings under his belt, the day that he’ll be ready to help us seems to be not so far away. It seems like it will happen if he keeps throwing like that. His sinker –– he had about eight of those that we need to see.”

OTHER NOTES

Jon Lester became the first Red Sox starter of the spring to work four innings, allowing one run on one hit and four walks while striking out two over the course of his 66 pitches. It was Lester’s first Grapefruit League action of the spring, as his prior outings came against Northeastern University and in a “B” game against the Twins that took place at 10 a.m. on March 7.

Lester suggested that it was good to get into a major league environment at a time when players — despite the unfortunate “spring forward” component of the daylight savings adjustment — were awake. The left-hander suggested that he took precautions to make sure that he would be up despite the change of the clocks.

“We had like 14 different alarms set to make sure I didn’t miss waking up on time,” said Lester, who now expects to begin making starts on a normal schedule of four days of rest.

–Interestingly, Lester worked with catcher Kelly Shoppach for the first time since the two worked together (presumably in either spring training or instructional league) in the earliest stages of their professional careers.

“The last time I caught him, [Lester had] this little baby cutter which was seven years ago now. It’s a different pitch now,” said Shoppach, who then took stock of Lester’s development as both a pitcher and a person. “He’s grown up and become a man and gone through a lot of stuff in his life. It might be more important than anything he does on the field. When you’re forced to grow up in another way in this game, you tend to understand the reality of this game and not take it for granted and appreciate every opportunity you have.”

Shoppach was the Sox’ top draft pick in 2001, when he was selected in the second round with the No. 48 overall pick. One year later, the Sox tabbed Lester with their first pick of the 2002 draft, the No. 57 overall selection, also in the second round.

– A few offensive performances of note: Cody Ross had two more hits and is 6-for-11 (.545) with two walks, good for a .615 OBP. Dustin Pedroia was 2-for-3 with a double and his first two RBIs of the spring; he’s now hitting .417 and has gotten on base in half of his 14 Grapefruit League plate appearances. Lars Anderson, after going 1-for-2 with a walk, is off to his best spring start, having gone 5-for-11 (.455) with a .538 OBP and a team-high five RBIs; in the past four springs combined, Anderson hit .141 in 78 at-bats. Will Middlebrooks went 1-for-2 with a single and is now hitting .400 (6-for-15) in Grapefruit League play.

– Left-hander Andrew Miller threw on flat ground and is expected to throw a bullpen session on Tuesday. If he gets through that without a hitch, then he will be scheduled to resume pitching in games after being shut down last week while dealing with some stiffness just above his left elbow.

– The Sox had a pair of outfield assists, with Ryan Sweeney gunning down Adam Jones at second base in the first inning and Jason Repko ending the game by throwing out a runner at the plate attempting to score on a sac fly, on a play where catcher Ryan Lavarnway blocked the plate.

Read More: aaron cook, Jon Lester, kelly shoppach,
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