FORT MYERS, Fla. – Three players, three swings, three reasons to feel good about the Red Sox for at least a night.



FORT MYERS, Fla. — Observations from the Red Sox‘ 9-8 loss to the Twins at the grand re-opening of Hammond Stadium.

PEDROIA GOES DEEP: Dustin Pedroia assured us that he was feeling healthy for the first time in years. It showed on his grand slam in the fourth.

“I knew I was back to normal in the offseason,” Pedroia said. “Obviously I told you guys that, but you can only believe me if you see it. So there you go.”

It goes without saying what difference a healthy Pedroia would make atop the Red Sox lineup. The home run against live pitching was good to see, particularly since he hadn’t exhibited tremendous power in early batting practice sessions.

“I don’t know that we’ve seen that type of swing in a good amount of time,” noted manager John Farrell.

“I’m just trying to come out and try to get better,” Pedroia said. “That’€™s all I’€™m focused on. I’€™m not worried about anything else. Every day, try to do something to help the team. That’€™s what I’€™m concentrating on.”

Might the grand slam be a sign?

“Just watch,” Pedroia said. “My job is to play. Your job is to watch.”

KELLY LOOSENS UP: Right-hander Joe Kelly wasn’t crisp, allowing a series of rockets in 1.2 innings that including seven hits, four runs, and two strikeouts. That’s nothing new for the former Cardinal, who traditionally struggles in spring, as his last four Grapefruit League ERAs attest: 6.28, 4.91, 3.60, 9.00.

“My springs aren’t usually good,” Kelly said. “My spring numbers are actually pretty terrible, from what I can remember.”

Kelly is incorporating a four-seam fastball into his repertoire and threw it quite a bit. While he touched 95 mph, he couldn’t put it where he wanted, which is to be expected this early in camp.

“I threw it a lot, yeah,” he said. “It’s just not there yet. It was moving a little bit more than I’d like it to, catching too much plate. I couldn’t spot it where it needs to be yet, but that’ll come.”

He acknowledged a lack of arm strength, which was reflected in an 88 mph fastball. “I don’t think I’ve done that since I was 13,” he joked.

In any event, Kelly was happy to throw his full pitch mix of four-seamer, two-seamer, curveball, slider, and changeup.

“Moving on forward, it’s just making everything a little more crisp, being able to locate my fastball better and throw it where it needs to be thrown, and get my offspeed pitches to spin a little better,” he said. “But that comes with arm strength, too.”

THE BOGAERTS CONUNDRUM: Shortstop Xander Bogaerts had a strong night at the plate, effortlessly crushing a home run over the 405-foot sign in center with a swing that makes you say, “Holy cow, this kid’s still only 22.”

But he also made a bad throw defensively on a ball that was generously ruled a hit. He ranged up the middle to snare a grounder, but Mike Napoli couldn’t scoop his low throw in the dirt. The range and first-step quickness were good. The throw was not.

“It always feel good when you make a play like that,” Bogaerts said. “I should’ve thrown it in Nap’s chest to get the out. It’s spring training, early on. That’s definitely a play in the regular season I’ll make.

“I don’t think I had a lot of problems fielding the ball (last year). Most of my errors were throwing. I’m just working with Butter and Sandoval and the other infielders to be more consistent with my throws.”

Pedroia said Bogaerts has clearly worked hard on his fielding over the last year.

“He’€™s working his butt off, all the right movements, trying to do a lot of things to get better,” Pedroia said. “The play he made up the middle, his first step, usually he dives and he hits the grass. He was on the dirt and grass so it’€™s almost there. If he dives and catches that ball on the dirt, his hand’€™s not wet and he can throw it to Nap’€™s chest. It was a great play. Those are the things he’€™s working on and it’€™s starting to show.

“That’€™s all infield play is. It’€™s just angle, first step, eliminating movements that shouldn’€™t be there. He’€™s getting better at it.”

The home run was majestic, standing out even on a night when the ball was flying out of the park.

“He looked great. He looked strong,” Pedroia said. “Every day he’€™s working at short too, working on his defense, trying to get better there. It’€™s going to be fun to watch.”

OGANDO THROWS GAS: The results weren’t tremendous, thanks to a two-run homer, but the Red Sox had to be encouraged by the spring debut of reliever Alexi Ogando, who hit 95 mph with multiple fastballs and struck out two in an inning.

The former All-Star is attempting to bounce back after posting a 6.84 ERA in 25 innings for the Rangers last year. At his best, he strikes out close to a batter an inning and could fill a key role in the Red Sox pen.

Blog Author: 
John Tomase

FORT MYERS, Fla. — There is a long way to go before the Red Sox Opening Day roster is decided upon, but there is one scenario that should be broached: Rusney Castillo possibly starting in the minor leagues.

Rusney Castillo. (WEEI.com)

Rusney Castillo. (WEEI.com)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — There is a long way to go before the Red Sox Opening Day roster is decided upon, but there is one scenario that should be broached: Rusney Castillo possibly starting in the minor leagues.

It isn’t believed that Castillo’s left oblique strain will keep him out long enough to dent his chance at earning a spot in the Red Sox‘ outfield. (“I feel a lot better,” he told WEEI.com through translator Adrian Lorenzo, “especially compared to the other days.”)

Still, the presence of Mookie Betts in center field, Shane Victorino in right field and Allen Craig and Daniel Nava presenting value on the roster has led to the thought that the $72.5 million man might not start the season in the majors.

When asked about such an outcome, Castillo offered a level-headed response.

“To me it wouldn’t be anything that would alter my plan, or my attitude, or my perspective,” he said. “If that’s what it’s got to be, that’s what it’s got to be. I’m just worrying playing and continuing to get reps and reps wherever they may come.”

Helping Castillo’s approach is the security which comes with a contract that keeps him under Red Sox control through 2020.

“Of course there is a degree of comfort in that that I’m going be here for a while,” he noted. “At the same time, if you don’t want to be in the minor leagues ramp it up and work harder to not be there.”

An interesting side note to Castillo possibly landing in the minor leagues is the debate throughout baseball about Cuban players being resistant to such a lot in life. Some have said that those making such great sacrifices to have a chance at playing in the big leagues often times are disillusioned when having to toil in the minors.

Castillo, for one, doesn’t subscribe to such a narrative.

“Honestly, I haven’t heard any complaints or frustrations from them on that end,” the outfielder said. “From my personal experience, I took it as part of the process if that’s what the management and the people who signed me decided what was best for when I got to the big leagues, to be as prepared as possible. I don’t remember being any sort of frustration or questioning why I was going to the minor leagues. Looking back at it now, it helped me a lot to have that experience.”

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Back in my days at the Boston Herald, I wrote a piece about pitchers’ big league debuts.

Back in my days at the Boston Herald, I wrote a piece about pitchers’ big league debuts. The subject came up again on Thursday, because the Red Sox open the spring against the Twins, who are managed by Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who happens to be the first batter Farrell ever faced.

The Herald story is archived, so I can’t provide a link, but here’s a chunk of it dealing with Farrell and Molitor, who had a more memorable confrontation a few days later in that 1987 season, when Farrell ended Molitor’s 39-game hitting streak.

Farrell had just turned 25 when he was summoned from Triple A Nashville to Cleveland in August of 1987 for a spot start.

He arrived at the old Cleveland Stadium at 6:30 p.m., figuring he’d get acclimated before debuting a couple of days later.

Then the Indians and Brewers engaged in a wild one that burned through Cleveland’s thin bullpen. By the start of the 12th, closer Doug Jones had already thrown four innings and didn’t have a fifth in him, so Farrell, who had literally made only one relief appearance in his life, was summoned.

Leading off: future Hall of Famers Molitor and Robin Yount.

“I threw two pitches,” Farrell recalled, “and had runners on first and second.”

Farrell didn’t let those two singles get to him. He “somehow found a way to weasel out of it,” inducing Glenn Braggs to ground into a double play before Pat Tabler won it with a walkoff single in the bottom of the frame, making Farrell a winner in his debut.

“There’s an array of emotions running through you,” Farrell said. “First time in the big leagues, extra-inning game, I’ve never pitched in the bullpen before, and here you are with two guys at the peak of their games at the time. It was daunting, to say the least. I threw 15 or 16 pitches, and I’ll bet 13 of them were fastballs. I couldn’t feel my body all that much.”

Farrell made his scheduled start three days later and improved to a 2-0 with a complete-game victory over the Tigers. Five days later, he became a footnote in history by ending Molitor’s 39-game hitting streak as part of an epic duel with Brewers lefty Teddy Higuera, who tossed a 10-inning 1-0 shutout in a walkoff win that ended with Molitor on deck.

“That was Teddy Higuera night,” Farrell said. “Rick Manning drove in the winning run in the 10th and got booed.”

Blog Author: 
John Tomase

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Evidently, the Red Sox starting pitchers are trying to put punctuation on one of this camp’s most talked-about subjects.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Evidently, the Red Sox starting pitchers are trying to put punctuation one of this camp’s most talked about subjects.

As John Tomase mentioned in his column Thursday, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington had an interesting comment when asked about the Cole Hamels rumors during the team’s radio broadcast Tuesday, saying, “I think the guys in that group like it, that’s there’s a tension about it and [external] talk about it. I think quietly, behind closed doors, they sort of like it, and there’s some motivation that comes through it.”

Thursday, the motivation came out into the team’s clubhouse.

Clay Buchholz took the initiative to make up t-shirts and hand them out to each member of the starting rotation. Each has the pitchers’ last names and number on the back. But four are light blue with the saying, “He’s the ace” on the front, while one — reserved for that day’s starting pitcher — is gray and says, “I’m the ace.” (Joe Kelly got to be the first to wear the gray one since he gets the start Thursday night in the Red Sox’ Grapefruit League opener against the Twins.)

“It shows the guy that there are no pressure on them,” Buchholz said. “They can just go out and pitch. Everybody has confidence in their ability. It’s one of those things to keep everything loose and have fun with it.”

To read Tomase’s column on the subject, click here.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Torey Lovullo

Torey Lovullo

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox take on the Twins Thursday night in their Grapefruit League opener. (The game, which will be played at Minnesota’s newly-renovated/renamed spring training complex, CenturyLink Sports Complex, can be heard on the WEEI Sports Radio Network immediately following the Hot Stove Show: Spring Training Edition. It all starts at 6 p.m.)

For Joe Kelly, it will be an opportunity to take the mound for the first time this spring. For Jackie Bradley, the meeting allows for a chance to take advantage of not having to share time with Rusney Castillo while the Cuban outfielder recovers from a strained left oblique. And for Torey Lovullo, it is a reminder of what almost was.

Lovullo was the finalist for the Twins manager job, which ultimately went to Paul Molitor. By all accounts, it was a decision that came right down to the end of the process, with Molitor’s ties with the organization perhaps offering the ultimate advantage.

“I have nothing but the utmost respect for that whole group that’€™s in their front office. I had great interactions,” Lovullo said of the Twins’ decision-makers, which was led by general manager Terry Ryan. “I learned a lot. I learned a lot about them. I know they’€™re going to be pushing in the right direction.

“When it goes as far as it did and you’€™re one of the final two, you’€™re no longer a 10 percent chance because you’€™re one of 10. Now it’€™s 50-50. You start to feel a little bit better and allow yourself to say, ‘€˜You know what, I’€™ve done my job in executing my thoughts to them and it’€™s working so let’€™s keep going.’€™ There was a process that kept going all the way until Paul Molitor was named as manager that made me feel like I had a real legitimate chance.”

Lovullo flew out to Minnesota for his initial injury, but was then forced to conduct a follow-up get-together with the Twins’ brass — including owner Jim Pohlad — near his Southern California home after undergoing hip surgery.

“The common question is if I thought I really thought I had a chance because of Paul Molitor’€™s reputation and connection with the organization. Yeah, because I was told I did and I believed the front office and legitimately I felt like it was a very fair race that I just lost,” Lovullo explained.

The process wasn’t foreign for Lovullo, who has now interviewed for six managerial openings — Dodgers, Indians, Red Sox, Rangers, Astros, Twins. (Note: he would have undoubtedly interviewed with the Cubs prior to the 2014 season if not for an agreement made following Theo Epstein‘s departure preventing non-uniformed personnel moving from the Red Sox to Chicago.)

While Lovullo was considered one of the finalists for the Astros position, it was the Twins job he feels was the closest to becoming a reality.

“I think I’€™ll just continue to talk about the things that are important to me and be open and honest,” he said. “I feel at times that might work against me because I’€™m honest to a fault and when they ask me the question I don’€™t want to hide anything. I think that’€™s the right way to approach that.

“A lot of people have asked me if I would have done anything different. I wouldn’€™t have changed a thing over the course of those three interviews. I felt a lot of respect for all the people I sat down with last year. It just didn’€™t match. I’€™m not here to fast forward anything. I just want to enjoy where I’€™m at right now. When and if the time comes I do get that job I’€™ll be ready for that challenge.”

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

The Cole Hamels trade talk is actually motivating the Red Sox' starters, according to Ben Cherington. (Rob Foldy/Getty Images)FORT MYERS, Fla.