FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘ Observations from the first day of actual baseball this spring, a pair of close victories over Northeastern (2-1) and Boston College (1-0).
MOOKIE BETTS, FRONT AND CENTER: If you’re John Farrell, nothing would be better than Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo each putting his best foot forward in the battle for the starting job in center.
That was certainly the case on Tuesday, when Betts went 1 for 2 while playing with the starters against Northeastern, and Castillo followed with a line single on the first pitch he saw playing with the reserves in the nightcap. We’d be talking about how neither player separated himself, except Castillo left the BC game with tightness in his left side and will be evaluated on Wednesday morning.
There’s no word yet on the severity of his injury. If he’s able to return quickly, the competition for the starting job in center is shaping up to be intense.
“The biggest thing, as you mentioned, is that they’re both skilled,” Farrell said. “They have a package of skills — they can run the bases, they can hit with some power, they can hit with some average. There’s maybe a little more aggressiveness on Rusney’s approach at the plate, but these are two very good players that we’re talking about. We’ll see how things go (Wednesday).”
PITCHERS EXCEL: Northeastern and BC may not have lineups rivaling the Yankees or Orioles, but it was still encouraging to see Red Sox hurlers post zero after zero.
Starters Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, and Wade Miley combined to toss five shutout innings, with Buchholz keeping the ball down, Porcello mixing his pitches, and Miley working quickly, as advertised.
“I thought, overall, it was a very good day from the mound,” Farrell said.
Buchholz incorporated a delivery tweak with his leg kick that has helped him direct his momentum towards the plate, and not the third base line. The result was a relatively effective changeup, a pitch he could barely throw in the first half last year.
“I missed a lot last year up and in to righties,” Buchholz said. “I was finally able to spot a couple of things that I can maintain my direction to home plate, I think that has a lot to do with the deception and the depth of my changeup. It’s a big key for me.”
Porcello suggested there’s only so much to take from the first spring outing.
“Location wasn’t quite where I wanted it, but for the first time out, my arm felt good and the ball was coming out of my hand well, so that’s the most important thing now,” he said.
Miley made good on a promise to work at a brisk tempo. He also credited Buchholz and Porcello for sticking around to watch him pitch, noting it’s a sign of a close-knit staff.
“That means a lot,” he said. “It’s a big part of getting to know each other as pitchers and people. It was good the first game to go out and watch Buck and Porcello throw, some of the other guys, and it’s cool when I came out to see those guys standing out there. That’s big support. We have to lean on each other throughout the year. Why not start now?”
NAVA WON’T BE LEFT BEHIND: Daniel Nava took his first hacks against a left-hander from the left side after shelving switch hitting for the time being. He struck out in his first at-bat.
“In live BP, the only pitchers I’ve seen have been lefties,” Nava said. “So it didn’t actually look that weird. I saw the ball well. I knew which pitch was a strike away. I knew which pitches were balls. I thought my pitch recognition was fine. We’ll come to see obviously, when they start throwing stuff in the zone that moves out of the zone, what happens from there. But at least today felt good.”
Nava noted that while he’s not ready to give up completely on hitting right-handed, he’s enjoying the challenge.
“There is something about it which is definitely like a fun challenge to try and embrace,” he said. “That’s exactly what it is. It’s a challenge. I’ve had my fair share, and hopefully it will just be another one. I still have the right-handed swing going, because I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. I’d be foolish to just can one side, not knowing what’s going to happen.”
CELEBRATING FRATES: In the BC game, every player on both teams wore No. 3 jerseys with the name “Frates” on the back in honor of Pete Frates, the former BC player who inspired the nation with the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for ALS research last summer.
Farrell was asked if he feels a connection to Frates, who was unable to travel and did not attend the game.
“I don’t know how you can’t,” he said. “You witness someone that has dealt with an unfortunate situation and challenge that he’s dealing with, that the family is dealing with, and to see the way they’re handling it with grace and a heightened awareness — it’s a shock to hear the amount of funds raised by their approach. Incredible. I don’t know how you can’t take inspiration from what their family and, certainly, directly, what Pete is going through and we’re fortunate that, in this case, to somehow get involved, and we’re happy to do so.
“When you see someone as healthy and vibrant, someone who is in their early 20s, and you see what a disease can do to someone, it makes you press pause and step back and, really, the one thing you’re most grateful for is health. Regardless of what path an individual chooses to go down for his life, his journey in life, health is first and foremost. In this case, they’re certainly making a positive out of an otherwise challenging time.”