FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Brad Penny looked outstanding in his first game activity against major-league hitters since last Sept. 15. The big right-hander needed just 33 pitches to get through three innings, allowing one walk, no hits and striking out three. He showed impressive velocity, registering a 93-95 mph fastball with good life that he moved up and down in the zone to elicit plenty of swings and misses in his outing.
The outing was a marker of major progress for Penny over the past six months.
“It has been a long while since I’ve gone out there and felt good. The last year, I went out and I was pitching, but I never really felt like I had a lot behind it,” said Penny. “Last year was a frustrating year for me. Mentally, I was shot, just because going out there everyday and being hurt. It’s hard enough to get these guys out when you’re feeling great. To go out there and have that pain it makes the game even harder. So it’s nice to go out there with some confidence and some life on my fastball.”
Penny said after the start that he would have liked to get more work in, but that the Tigers (who were aggressive in swinging at first pitches) did not accommodate. Nonetheless, even though the Sox had targeted roughly 45 pitches as his limit for the day, the team did not mind seeing Penny come short of that mark due to his efficiency.
“With the number of ups and downs in three innings, plus with the added adrenaline, we knew there would be a little more potential for normal stiffness the day after. But we’ll look to get him to 55 pitches next time out. But this was another solid, very encouraging outing for him,” said pitching coach John Farrell. “There was no tentativeness. He showed a very aggressive approach. I think he used the curveball, finally, to the last hitter he faced in the three innings. Providing he comes back tomorrow feeling as he’s done over his last couple outings, we’ll look to go four innings his next time out.”
Penny said that his mechanics remained sound, lapsing for just one batter (Gary Sheffield, against whom Penny came open too soon, resulting in a walk). He considered the outing a promising “stepping stone.” Manager Terry Francona agreed.
“I thought the ball came out of his hand really well,” said Francona. “He was out there grunting and letting it fly. That’s what we’re looking for. Grip it and go. I think he was excited. I think it was a good step for him.
“We don’t know (if he’ll be ready to start in the second week of the season). It just depends on how strong he gets and how lengthened out,” added Francona. “I don’t know that we need to put a date on it, but more important than that date is getting built up for the long haul. That’s kind of what we’re looking at.
“I don’t think it’s an if. It’s a when he pitches for us. That’s why we’re trying to be patient, because the guy two years ago was one of the best in the National League. That’s what we’re shooting for. He’ll be a huge help to us.”
Other notes from today’s game:
–Mike Lowell homered for the third time this spring, and the second time in as many days. Today’s homer to left-center came off of Tigers closer (and former Red Sox) Brandon Lyon. Lowell hit the first of back-to-back-to-back-to-back homers against Lyon, with Jason Bay, Chris Carter and Ivan Ochoa (!) following with their own blasts. Somewhere, Chase Wright cringed at the flashback to April 22, 2007, when he gave up four straight homers to Lowell, Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew and Jason Varitek.
–Carter has now hit five homers this spring, and is hitting .353 with a .377 OBP and a .706 slugging mark. He’s shown impressive opposite-field power this spring, not just in the homer against Lyon (which carried to left-center, abetted by a wind that could have sent the S.S. Minnow well off course) but also against Roy Halladay.
“I feel really good right now,” he said. “I was definitely thinking go deep, let’s go for three in a row. It was fun. It was a good day to do it. … I was looking to go (opposite field). I said let’s go oppo, let’s get in that wind, and he gave me a good pitch to hit it. My hitting is better now. I know my hitting is better.”
Carter is one of three finalists for the role of backup outfielder and first baseman, along with Jeff Bailey and Brad Wilkerson. After spending the past three years in Triple-A, Carter is eager to break through.
“I’m doing everything I can. I definitely want to be a part of this team,” said Carter. “I’m just focusing on what I can do between the lines. That’s what I’m focusing on, not wasting any energy on thinking about other teams. I want to make this team better. That’s my goal.”
–Kevin Youkilis went 0-for-1 with a walk in his first game action since leaving the WBC last week with a sprained ankle and Achilles tendonitis. He played four innings. Francona said that Youkilis wanted a third at-bat, but the team felt comfortable taking a cautious approach. The first baseman will make the trip to Sarasota on Wednesday to play the Reds.
–Jonathan Papelbon, who struggled a bit in his last outing, had a sharp inning of work. After allowing a leadoff single to Gerald Laird, he got a strike-him-out, throw-him out double play against Gary Sheffield and then fanned Jeff Larish.
–Monday’s game between the Sox and the Tigers was attended by 8,278 fans, the largest crowd in the 17-year history of City of Palms Park. The previous record of 8,249 was established on March 5, 2007 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, a span of 38 games. Today also marked Boston ’s 85th consecutive Grapefruit League (non-college or exhibition) sellout at City of Palms Park dating back to March 16, 2003.
–Though a part of the extraordinary home run brigade, Ivan Ochoa was reassigned to minor-league camp following the game.
COMING SOON: DAISUKE MATSUZAKA
With Daisuke Matsuzaka having Sunday night in the World Baseball Classic, the Red Sox are looking forward to the starter’s return to Fort Myers, where they can regulate the rest of his spring training build-up towards the regular season. Matsuzaka threw 98 pitches in 4.2 innings in Japan’s WBC semi-final victory over the U.S. When the pitcher returns, likely on Tuesday or Wednesday, the team will have its trainers examine him and sit down for a discussion to chart his course for the remainder of spring training.
“It’s not the way we would escalate (his pitch count) on a normal schedule,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “You hope at some point during the season, you don’t have to pay for that.”
Nonetheless, Francona suggested that there was no reason to expect that Matsuzaka wouldn’t be able to take his normal first turn in the rotation, whenever that might be.
–The Sox have started giving their relievers multi-inning appearances, and will soon start having them appear on back-to-back days. The team would like to do so with every reliever except for Takashi Saito. “With all (Saito) has been through with his elbow, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Francona. “I’m sure there will come a time when we need to (have Saito pitch back-to-back). … Now is not the time.”
–Justin Masterson is scheduled to make a start at the minor-league complex on Thursday. The team will let the decision on his starter vs. reliever status play out a bit longer.
–The team is unsure when or whether Rocco Baldelli might play on back-to-back days this spring, or during the regular season, for that matter. At this point, at least, the team does not need to schedule such workloads. If, during the regular season, the team faces left-handed starters on back-to-back days, there might be a desire to see whether Baldelli can make those starts, but the team won’t push the issue, particularly given that both J.D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury are considered decent options against left-handed pitchers.
“The guys we have out there aren’t necessarily platoon guys,” said Francona. “But (Baldelli) is a potent bat against lefties.”