Now that Spring Training is thoroughly underway, it’s high time for a status report.
Pitchers and catchers had physicals on February 11 and their first official team workout the following day. Naturally, Buchholz just had to strain his right hamstring about ten minutes into the first pitchers’ fielding practice of the spring, but it turned out to be minor and he was back out there that Wednesday and had proceeded to long toss by that Friday and a forty-five-pitch side session that Monday. Lackey lost a whopping seventeen pounds and is looking lean. Don’t expect to see fireworks right away from Breslow or Doubront, who have been assigned to a more cautious training program. Tim Wakefield was back at camp basically tutoring Steven Wright, the knuckleball’s next generation, and as we knew they would be, Pedro Martinez and Tek are also using their veteran skill to help out. Mike Lowell is another surprise veteran guest. And for some bizarre reason, when Aceves started throwing live batting practice, he insisted on lobbing the ball; I don’t really know what that was about. Needless to say, he cleaned up his act. Nieves and Farrell didn’t seem to know what was going on either, but Farrell sure was annoyed; as were we all.
The rest of the team reported on February 14. Look for Victorino and Ellsbury to get a lot of practice in this spring. Fenway’s right field is probably the most formidable in all of baseball, so it’ll be good for the two of them to nail down a routine. Also look for Farrell to exercise considerable caution with Napoli, who started defensive drills at first on February 17; his hip MRI had come back clean, so he was given the green light. Papi is not baserunning or conditioning with the team; he’s on his own specific running program that will slowly but steadily increase in intensity. Middlebrooks’s broken wrist is officially history, as is Drew’s fractured ankle. We acquired Mike Carp from Seattle for either a player to be named later or cash considerations.
We played our first exhibition on January 21; it was a double-header, first against Northeastern and then against Boston College, and we won, 3-0 and 11-1. Only the relievers pitched; each got one inning, and Hanrahan debuted, successfully getting around two baserunners. The regulars batted in the first game, while the minor leaguers got a turn in the second.
Grapefruit League play officially began on Saturday against the Rays. We lost by one, and Lackey pitched only one inning, giving up a walk, a hit, a strikeout, and a run, but he looked pretty comfortable. We played the Cards next, winning by two; Lester pitched two solid innings, Nava and Gomez both had multi-hit games, and Ciriaco batted in two runs. Then we had a double-header with the Rays and Jays, splitting the day. Aceves gave up two runs, two hits, and two walks over two innings, but Bard issued a walk and a strikeout in his scoreless inning, and Pedroia hit a solo shot. The staff issued a solid performance in the afternoon, with a good amount of the offensive support not coming from the regulars. Our following game against the Cards ended in the worst way: with a 15-4 loss. Dempster pitched two solid innings, but the same can not be said of the remainder of the staff; Mortensen took the loss. Ciriaco went two for two, and Iglesias hit a double. We lost to Baltimore by two after that; Morales pitched his inning well, Hanrahan struck out two but walked one and allowed a run, and Tazawa was awarded a blown save as well as the loss. Gomes hit a solo shot, and Ciriaco had himself another two hits, including a triple. Middlebrooks had to leave the game with soreness in his wrist, but it turned out to be nothing, and he feels fine and returned. Thank goodness, because I don’t know what we’d do if he were down for the count. We’re not exactly deep at the corner there. For his part, Gomes got personal with a wall and had to get stitches in his left knee as a result; this game really was not good to us.
On Thursday against the Bucs, Lackey upped the ante with two innings of work. He gave up three runs with a walk, a strikeout, and a homer, but it seems like the more he goes out there, the more comfortable he seems. And there’s no question about the fact that he’s throwing the ball well. It was a 16-6 win, so the offense was also a highlight; the regulars were pretty quiet, and there were no extra-base hits, but we made a strong showing nonetheless. It’s nice to know that the next generation can play some strong small ball. Lester took a turn on Friday, pitching three innings of one-hit ball against the Orioles. Pedroia went two for two and Drew hit a double en route to the win. We eked out a victory against the Twins next; during 1.1 innings, Buchholz walked two, struck out two, and gave up one hit. Aceves was awarded both a blown save and a win, and Sweeney went two for four.
Last but not least, we played the Evil Empire yesterday, losing, 5-2. But hey, it’s Spring Training; the final score is never as important as the baseball being played. Dempster pitched three one-hit innings with two strikeouts; Hanrahan blew his save and took the loss. No one had a multi-hit game, but Salty doubled and Napoli hit a solo shot, which was quite the sight to see. He cleared the sign in right center field 420 feet away. It was huge. I saw that, and it was so nice to really observe the reason why he’s here.
Bard will throw twenty or so pitches in a simulated game on Monday. Papi has been running the bases a little bit but has felt sore. Finally, Lucchino thinks our sellout streak will end soon; he cites April 10 as a possible end date. I know there’s always a debate surrounding what the sellout streak has meant and whether it really means anything at all, but for a franchise like this with a fan base like ours, such a streak really shouldn’t be ending anytime soon. That’s all I have to say about it. And I’ll end with the beginning: Farrell’s opening address on February 15. This was basically his opportunity to introduce himself and his philosophy to the team. Even though many on the team know him and are familiar with the way he works, the gesture shows humility, collaboration, and the kind of professionalism that he urged members of the team to adopt. The great thing is that, in many ways, Farrell is a product and holdover from the Francona era, but he’s still a fresh perspective, much-needed indeed after the debacle that was last season. Farrell was compelling and inspiring. He’s the man we should have had at the helm all along. It just feels right, and it’s going to be a good year.
In other news, the Bruins beat the Jets, Bolts, Panthers, Isles, Sens, and Bolts again! Sadly, our winning streak came to an end with a 4-3 loss to the Habs.