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Red Sox notebook: Why you probably shouldn’t worry about Tyler Thornburg not being good Saturday 02.25.17 at 5:32 pm ET
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Tyler Thornburg (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Tyler Thornburg (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — New England might want to disregard its first impression of Tyler Thornburg.

It was uncomfortable watching the new Red Sox eighth-inning guy on NESN, or listening to Thornburg’s 2/3 innings on the Red Sox Radio Network, Saturday afternoon. Seeing a guy pitch for the first time only to be delivered five runs on four hits and a walk in a two-out appearance isn’t easily dismissed.

But, unless there was physical issues contributing to the outing, this was a lesson in spring training patience.

Thornburg, you see, was really, really, really bad in spring training last year with the Brewers. This kind of bad. The righty gave up 12 runs on 18 hits over 9 2/3 innings with the Brewers during last season’s exhibition season. Nine months later he was being coveted by the Red Sox after posting a 2.15 ERA in 67 relief outings for Milwaukee.

“I feel like I do pretty much the same thing every year,” Thornburg said after the Red Sox’ unforgettable, come-from-behind, 8-7 win over the Twins at JetBlue Park. “I always tend to start slow in spring because the lower body wants to go full speed and the arm isn’t ready to do that yet. It’s just a matter of the lower body being gone and my arm was kind of finding it. I pretty much do the same thing every year. It always takes a good five or six outings to get locked in. The good news is every time I have a bad spring I always tend to have a good year.”

Considering the price the Red Sox paid to get Thornburg — Travis Shaw and prospect Mauricio Dubon — it would take a lot for the 28-year-old not to enter the regular season as Craig Kimbrel’s set-up man.

And that is a far cry from the starter-turned-reliever Thornburg found himself last year, just trying to crack the Brewers’ roster.

“It’s definitely easier. When you’re competing for a spot and you have a bad spring, you end up putting a lot of pressure on yourself to get things going as soon as possible,” he said. “That’s definitely one of the positives right now. After a bad first outing, I’m not trying to make sure I have an incredible second and third and whatever. It’s a process. There’s a reason we have as long as we do in spring training to get ready. We’re going to end up with 12 or 13 outings. It’s a process. We’ve got a full other month or so.”

— Perhaps the most impressive pitcher of the day for the Red Sox was Joe Kelly, who pitched a flawless fifth inning, blowing away Minnesota’s Matt Hague for the final out.

“He started his throwing program earlier this offseason and I think it’s paid dividends just the way he’s responded to the work to date,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell of Kelly. “He looked midseason form today.”

Relievers Robbie Ross Jr. and Heath Hembree also pitched scoreless innings, while Matt Barnes, who had to come in for Thornburg, was charged with a run on two hits while striking out three.

— Pablo Sandoval had an interesting day at the plate.

The switch-hitter tried to take advantage of the Twins’ shift in his first at-bat, bunting from the left side. But the play resulted in an out, with Minnesota pitcher Phil Hughes getting to the bid in time.

“That was on his own,” Farrell said. “But it’s something we’ve talked about trying to get some lanes back, and the next at-bat you see them back in a 2-and-2 on either side, but you like to see those types of things attempted.”

Sandoval also notched a hit in his first try hitting from the right side, although the sinking line-drive probably should have been caught by Minnesota left fielder Leonardo Reginatto (who is vying to become the fourth native of Brazil to make the major leagues).

– Dustin Pedroia, who had a hit while playing in his first spring training game, summed up the reality of these games after the Sox’ win.

“Our job isn’t to play in these games, it’s to play at Fenway and help the Red Sox win games,” he said. “We’re working. We’re not worried aobut results. I don’t care if I get a hit the rest of Spring Training. As long as I feel good and I’m preparing for what’s coming – that’s the goal.”

We now know when Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez will make their first spring training starts 02.25.17 at 12:07 pm ET
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Chris Sale (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Chris Sale (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Craig Kimbrel and Eduardo Rodriguez each pitched their first live batting practices of spring training Saturday morning.

But it was the other guy who participated in session on Field 4, Chris Sale, that offered any semblance of news in the hours leading up to the Red Sox big game against the Twins at JetBlue Park.

Following the successful BP exercise, Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis revealed that Sale will be making his Red Sox Grapefruit League debut March 6 in West Palm Beach against the Astros.

Leading up to the start on Florida’s East Coast, Sale will toss a simulated game at JetBlue Park Wednesday before one more side session two days later. The plan is to have the southpaw — and the rest of the Red Sox starters — to make six spring training starts before Opening Day.

As for what Willis has learned about Sale since he started throwing baseballs in a Red Sox uniform …

“I guess from watching him from the side as an opponent, I’m really impressed with the direction that he’s able to maintain through the strike zone,” said the Red Sox pitching coach. “You would think with the slot and some of the body movement it would be probably more across his body. But he really has a good line to home plate. More than anything else I’ve been impressed with … and he told me early on, ‘Hey, I can throw strikes in the middle of the night.’ But it’s not even that. It’s obviously the action he gets, but the command he has. It’s electric stuff with well above average command that I’ve seen at this point. Guys with his type of stuff have a little bit more margin for error, but at the same time he’s executing location as an elite level right now.”

Rodriguez and Kimbrel both came through their forays into pitching to live batters without any issues, with Willis identifying Thursday as Rodriguez’ first spring training start.

“Right now he’s showing us his delivery,” said Willis of Rodriguez. “I think last year, coming off the injury, the first time he’s experienced it with that leg, there was maybe a little bit of uncertainty in his mind. This was an injury but not as serious. He was pitching in Venezuela when the injury happened, so he had gotten to the point of not just coming into spring training and getting ready, but he was ready to pitch. What he’s doing right now is showing us there hasn’t been any hesitation or doubt in his mind that’s going to affect his delivery. That’s first and foremost what we wanted to see, and he’s been able to show us that since his return to the mound.”

Regarding Kimbrel, the pitching coach said, “He was really good today. All pitchers, there’s a direction. And that’s not to say all of them have the same exact direction or path to get there. But today we saw after the first four or five pitches his ability to repeat that good location, or good direction. I saw a really good curveball top to bottom. We didn’t see him yank the pitches today after the first two or three when he was able to kind of get a feeling for what his body is doing. It’s a progression. I think what we’ve seen again since the first day of spring training, each time he’s stepped to the mound it’s been a little bit better and a little bit better and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

David Price thinks younger baseball fans are on the way: ‘When the Yankees are getting younger, you know baseball is getting younger’ 02.24.17 at 2:15 pm ET
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David Price is optimistic baseball can find younger fans (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

David Price is optimistic baseball can find younger fans (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Rule changes. Improved time of game. All of it has been surfaced as necessities in order to drop the average age of baseball fans.

But David Price has hope.

“I remember looking at the Yankees a couple of years ago. I was like, ‘Man, there are 15 guys on this team with 10-plus years in the big leagues.’ I don’t know how many they have now, but it’s not double digits. It’s probably nowhere near,” Price told WEEI.com. “When the Yankees are getting younger, you know baseball is getting younger. That’s for sure.”

He might be on to something.

Neither the Yankees and Red Sox have a player born in the 1970’s.

Sure, the pace of baseball might not play to the attention span of the younger demographics, but there might be something to be said for the power that is not having wrinkles on the face of MLB. Just two years ago, a study by ESPN stated that the median age of MLB viewers were 53 years old, compared to 37 for the National Basketball Association.

“As time goes, it will probably get younger and younger,” Price said. “We’ll continue to have fans and it will continue to get younger and younger, just like the game is. Look at the last couple of All-Star Games. There are a lot of first-timers, a lot of guys under the age of 24 or 25. I feel like the younger the game continues to get, the younger the audience is going to get.”

But according to Price, there is something very simple the game can do to help along the demographic dilemma, and it has nothing to do with altering the flow of the product. As he stated last spring training, the Red Sox pitcher is all in when it comes to getting MLB to loosen its regulations on the color cleats.

Even with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the rule still states that players can’t wear cleats that are made up of more than 51 percent of their team’s designated color. (For instance, the Red Sox have identified black as their main color.)

“Let us wear whatever cleats we want, that will increase interest,” Price said. “I think that’s very simple and would make everyone happy.”

Price has broached the subject with both MLBPA chief Tony Clark, and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. When it town earlier in the week, Clark said that he is full agreement with Price, but MLB continues to dig in on the rule (which is penalized with a fine).

“That’s one of the easiest thing we can do that is going to please everybody,” he said. “There’s nobody who is going to be mad. If you want to wear all black cleats like Jackie Bradley, you can wear all black cleats. For guys who want to express themselves, they need to be able to do that. Guys are turning to express themselves on the field with their play and whatever it is. You should be able to do it on your shoes and express themselves that way as well.”

It’s a dynamic that we’re about to see in the World Baseball Classic, and have already witnessed via Johnny Cueto’s bright orange footwear in the All-Star Game.

“Guys get to the locker room and they don’t look at anything else in their locker,” Price said. “They open their shoes, take a picture of them and tweet. That’s all I’m looking for when I go to an All-Star Game is my cleats. I don’t care what else is in my locker. I want to see what kind of cleats I’ve got. Everybody loves shoes.”

As for all the other ideas to improve interest the game, Price likes some of the ideas, but hopes the motivation is universal.

“I hope what why we’re doing it, to improve the fan base and not just make the game go by faster,” he said.

Red Sox clubhouse dynamic gets first test with Rusney Castillo’s mental lapse 02.24.17 at 10:40 am ET
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Dustin Pedroia is now the Red Sox’ elder statesman (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — As the 2013 spring training unfolded, one of the unique elements of the Red Sox clubhouse became how accountable the players were to each other.

Jonny Gomes. David Ross. There were a bunch of them who set the tone that year. Do something wrong, you were going to hear about it.

Thursday, this Red Sox team got their first test when it comes making sure there are some sort of checks and balances when Rusney Castillo forgot how many outs there were, didn’t run out a ground ball and ultimately fell victim to a 6-4-3 double play.

“I’m confident in saying that same mutual accountability exists, even though that was a more veteran team,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell Friday morning. “This is a young group that, in that instance yesterday, there was a collective acknowledgement that that’s not the way we play the game. Whether it’s conversation in the dugout or after the game, that gives me that confidence to know that there’s a clear understanding of what we expect.”

The Red Sox’ core group of position players is significantly younger than the group in ’13, with only four players (Dustin Pedroia, Chris Young, Mitch Moreland, Hanley Ramirez) older than 30 years old.

Watching Xander Bogaerts workout at third base Friday only magnifies frustration with World Baseball Classic 02.24.17 at 10:07 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Xander Bogaerts has started his brief return to third base.

For the first time since he played the position in 2014, Bogaerts will be manning third when he joins Team Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic next week. With Andrelton Simmons slated to play shortstop and another shortstop candidate, Jurickson Profar, heading to the outfield for Hensley Meulens’ team, that leaves third for the Red Sox’ shortstop.

Bogaerts began the process of reuniting with the position — where he has played 53 major league games — began Friday morning, with the 24-year-old taking grounders from infield instructor Brian Butterfield on the back field at JetBlue Park.

“I think when a player is being asked to play a different position it’s for a defined period of time,” said Red Sx manager John Farrell. “You’re in a tournament setting, unlike the position change over the course of his career. Bogey sees himself as a shortstop, and while, like any player, there’s ongoing work at the position to create consistency, this is for a window of time.

“He will still get plenty of work, having talked to Hensley Meulens already before he reports to the team. But I think Bogey is more accepting of it because it is for a shorter period of time vs. a career change.”

While the position switch most likely won’t derail Bogaerts’ season in 2017, it certainly isn’t ideal. Having made great strides defensively over the past two seasons, the opportunity to continue his work with Butterfield in the low-leverage setting that is spring training would have been a plus.

Instead, Bogaerts is going to be asked to potentially play nine-inning games at an alternative position in front of fans that will seemingly care about the result.

Not ideal. Welcome to another World Baseball Classic.

In his spare time Joe Kelly hits full-court shots at Florida Gulf Coast University 02.24.17 at 9:15 am ET
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Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Joe Kelly, Chris Sale and some of Red Sox decided to head over to Sale’s alma mater at Florida Gulf Coast University and take in a men’s basketball game Thursday night. But it wasn’t until after the game that the real story emerged.

After the game was over, some of the players decided to take some extra shots. Sale, for instance, hit one from half-court. The real highlight, however, was when Kelly grabbed the basketball.

Swish from full-court on his third try.

The Red Sox reliever explained in Friday morning …

“We went to the game and stayed after and were just shooting around. Basically I just wanted to try a full-court shot. The first one I got up to the line, threw it and it was 30 yards right, got inside a little bit, started spinning the other way and I missed it.

“Sale was down there rolling them back to me, so I got it again and I did the same thing but probably even worse and shanked it straight right. I’m like, ‘Gosh dang, that’s not even close.’ I was going to give up after the next one because I was making a fool of myself.

“But I threw the next one and tried to cut it like a football, and like a golf ball, it went in. But the first two were God awful. It was cool it was on tape. I didn’t know I was getting filmed.”

(Update) Red Sox manager John Farrell commented on the event Friday morning: “You can’t make decisions for them 24 hours a day. You want to trust that there’s good decision-making taking place. There was a couple of half court shots and one full length throw. Again, not ideally, particularly if something goes awry. It wasn’t a full contact situation so you just want them to be smart about it.”

Rusney Castillo does not get his exhibition season off on right foot 02.23.17 at 5:38 pm ET
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Rusney Castillo (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Rusney Castillo (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox could certainly live with Rusney Castillo’s first at-bat Thursday against Norheastern, a first-pitch, pop up into foul ground. That happens, even against college kids.

But what transpired for the outfielder in his second go-round truly left a mark when it came to the Red Sox’ perception of Castillo.

With one out in the third inning, and Marco Hernandez on first base, Castillo grounded to Northeastern shortstop Max Burt. The righty hitter clearly was not aware of how many outs there were, because he barely jogged down the first base line, allowing for an easy 6-4-3 double play for the Huskies.

“Disappointing for a couple of reasons,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “One, he has lost the number of outs. Still, regardless of another of outs, getting down the line is controllable. And for a player in his situation, every little aspect of the game is important. That’s something that was addressed in the moment. He needs to execute the game situation. And for that matter, every player. But that one obviously stood out.”

Castillo, who was getting the start in left field, is an obvious longshot to make the Red Sox to begin with, currently not residing on the 40-man roster. As colleague John Tomase points out, if the Red Sox did decide to promote the 29-year-old, it would cost the team $56,596 per day to keep him around, a reality that would eventually push them over the luxury tax threshold.

The outfielder did impress during his stint in the Puerto Rican Winter League after showing some signs of life with Triple-A Pawtucket during the second half of 2016.

But this — which wasn’t the first issues Castillo has had involving game situation recognition — was clearly a step in the wrong direction for the $72.5 million man.

So much for spring training storyline that Blake Swihart can’t throw 02.23.17 at 5:21 pm ET
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Blake Swihart (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Blake Swihart (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Exactly a week ago, it started. Blake Swihart couldn’t throw back to the pitcher.

Thanks to Comcast Sports Net New England cameraman Bill Messina, we had the video of the Red Sox catcher having a terrible time accurately tossing the ball back to Rick Porcello during a simple bullpen session. The next day was better, but not enough to stop the storyline to really gain steam. (To read about the saga, click here.)

While there was significant progress from Swihart throughout whatever throwing exercises he was participating in, the true story wouldn’t be told until the actual games started.

So, they did. And as it turned out, it wasn’t a problem.

Swihart came in for the fifth inning and tossed the balls back to reliever Marcus Walden without incident. The throw downs to second base? Right on the money. That appeared to be that.

“I mean, you tell me. Yeah, everything felt good,” he said after the Red Sox’ 9-6 win over Northeastern Thursday at JetBlue Park. “I went and cut off that ball and threw it to third. My throws in between innings were good. Throwing back to the pitcher was fine.”

Was he concerned heading into the exhibition game test?

“No. not for me,” Swihart said. “I wasn’t worried about it. Like I said, it’s just part of getting back in the groove.”

Along with playing well defensively at a position he hadn’t manned since last April, Swihart was encouraged by how his surgically-repaired ankle responded to sprinting from first base to home plate on Steve Selsky’s double off the left field wall. The catcher had singled to reach with two outs in the sixth inning.

“Every first game, everybody’s adrenaline should be going. I was excited,” he said. “June 4 was a long time ago. I was ready to get out there.”

Why you should have cared about Red Sox win over bunch of college kids 02.23.17 at 5:03 pm ET
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Pablo Sandoval (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Pablo Sandoval (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox went to 16-0 in their spring training meetings with Northeastern, beating the Huskies 9-6, Thursday at JetBlue Park. Yippee.

We shouldn’t really care what the final score was, or that Red Sox reliever Jamie Callahan surrendered two runs, or hard-throwing Luis Ysla gave up two in just 2/3 innings. The reality was that a healthy chunk of the assumed 25-man roster was on the premises before first pitch, and those who stuck around had no idea what the final score was.

But there were reasons that you should have paid some attention to the goings on, regardless of who was playing for Mike Glavine’s Huskies. Here should be your takeaways:

– Sam Travis was one of a few Red Sox who were making their return to actual game competition after a season-ending injury at some point last year.

Before the game, both Travis and Red Sox manager John Farrell proclaimed the first baseman in relatively the same shape as when he dominated Grapefruit League action with a .469 batting average and 1.167 OPS in 18 games last season. And watching Travis serve as the Sox’s DH Thursday, it sure didn’t appear as though that knee surgery he had last June 1 was going to have any impact, with the righty hitter lining a three-run homer just over the left field wall.

“I feel great,” said the player who wears no batting glove or undershirt. “I’m ready to go.”

– There was also Blake Swihart, who found himself catching for the first time since last April. First there was a position change to the outfield, then came his season-ending ankle injury.

While his line-drive single was encouraging, sprinting home from first on Steve Selsky’s double off the left field wall was perhaps more impressive. And then there was his work behind the plate, which included an improved job of framing strikes, and no issues at all throwing the ball.

“I love that,” he said of his return to catching. “I love being involved in every play. I’ve said that from the beginning. That’s where I want to be.”

“I think any time you’re dealing with an ankle, and again the surgery has been successful and the rehab has obviously been there, too,” Farrell said. “Just to see the overall athleticism get back to the level previous. A number of positive things inside today.”

– The last reclamation project to emerge in fine fashion was Pablo Sandoval. The third baseman fielded all three of his chances cleanly, while stretching a line-drive into right field into a double (even sliding head-first).

“A lot of things to prove, man. A lot of things,” Sandoval said. “I just want to do everything I can out there, prove everything that I know that I can do on the field. I’m just going to be humble and keep playing the game the way I play.

“All three,” Farrell said of the returning trio. “There were a number of positive things inside an exhibition game. Panda, it’s been nearly a year since he’s been in a game, handled three balls cleanly. Good to see the swing he puts an a ball on a double down the right field line. Regardless of who the opponent is, when you miss that much time and you come back, and in his case particular, where he’s put a lot of work, it’s good to see it get off on a positive note. With Sam, he’s picked up seemingly right where he’s left off in swinging the bat. And Blake, I think today for just three innings of work, he received a number of pitches that were borderline that he got strikes. He looked much more under control back there and his receiving, I thought, was very clean.”

– While it’s impossible to read anything into Brian Johnson’s line — that included not allowing a hit while striking out three and walking one over two innings — seemingly approaching the form that put him on the Red Sox radar two spring trainings ago was a positive.

“I felt like the ball was coming out of my hand better,” said the lefty, whose last two seasons had been derailed by an elbow injury, and then anxiety issues. “I felt like going to physical therapy three or four times a week last year, when I got here I felt my arm was already tired.”

– Mitch Moreland is evidently really good at kicking off spring training.

The new Red Sox first baseman hit a home run in his first spring training at-bat in 2015, taking Jake Arrieta deep. He went deep again in his first exhibition game of the season this time around, as well, blasting a three-run homer into the Sox’s bullpen in his second at-bat.

“Surprisingly, I felt really comfortable, really kind of loose and relaxed even though it’s spring training,” Moreland said. “It was a first day out there. It felt pretty good. Comfortable. You know had fun.”

– Not all was encouraging for the Red Sox, with Rusney Castillo’s issues with mastering game situations surfacing once again.

With one out in the third inning, and Marco Hernandez at first base, Castillo hit a grounder to shortstop. The outfielder basically jogged down to first, clearly forgetting how many outs there were, with the play resulting in a 6-4-3 double play.

“Disappointing for a couple of reasons,” Farrell said. “One, he has lost the number of outs. Still, regardless of another of outs, getting down the line is controllable. And for a player in his situation, every little aspect of the game is important. That’s something that was addressed in the moment. He needs to execute the game situation. And for that matter, every player. But that one obviously stood out.”

Why Brian Johnson starting against Northeastern Thursday actually means something 02.22.17 at 12:16 pm ET
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Brian Johnson (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Brian Johnson (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The first spring training start is usually forgotten.

Sure, there was Boston College’s Johnny Ayers hitting a first-pitch double against Daisuke Matsuzaka (having heard the pitcher proclaim he would be throwing a fastball for his first pitch as a Red Sox). That will always be the be-all, end-all spring training debut tale.

But most of the outings are along the line of 2016, when Sean O’Sullivan got the nod.

This year, however, there is something special about the honor of kicking off the exhibition season. At least that’s the case for Brian Johnson.

The lefty was informed Tuesday that he will be getting the nod to start against Northeastern Thursday.

“Yeah, just because it’s my first time being around each other feeling good. Knowing whether it goes good or bad, I still feel like myself,” said Johnson when asked if this start might be special for him.

Two years ago, spring training was where Johnson truly got on the Red Sox’ major league radar, leaving camp as a legitimate option if one of the chief members of the starting rotation was sidelined. But then came an elbow injury, which ultimately led to an uncomfortable major league debut on July 21, 2015 in Houston (4 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks in 4 1/3 innings).

And, finally, there was the anxiety issues that derailed his season at Triple-A Pawtucket, making him restart his season for nearly two months.

“This all started for me when that elbow injury happened,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know if I should say something. I knew I was on the cusp of getting called up. I have no feeling in my hand. I’m having to change arm slots in terms of knowing where the ball is going in the sense of being able to feel my hand. If you throw one, sometimes it felt like I was hitting my funny bone. I was thinking, ‘Is it going to be numb? What pitch is it going to do it on? Is it going to be in first inning, or the fourth inning?’ I never got comfortable and I always had that in the back of my head. I don’t have to worry about that anymore.

“Without a doubt it’s good to get back on the mound, especially after an up and down year last year. It’s good to get back out there.”

After Johnson pitches two innings, Jamie Callahan will come in for relief against the Huskies. The Red Sox will then send out Henry Owens to pitch the Grapefruit League opener against the Mets Friday at JetBlue Park, followed by Roenis Elias vs. the Twins in another home tilt.

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