FORT MYERS, Fla. — The round of cuts made by the Red Sox on Sunday included some of the most dominant performers of the spring.
Daniel Bard (0.00 ERA in 9.1 innings), a non-roster invitee to major-league camp this spring, was reassigned to the minors in anticipation of a likely stint in Triple-A Pawtucket. Junichi Tazawa (1.00 in 9 frames) was optioned to the minors after dazzling the team in his first exposure to professional baseball.
Also sent to minor-league camp was optioned pitcher Michael Bowden, whose 7.59 ERA belied his status as one of the top pitching prospects in the organization, and pitchers Billy Traber and Marcus McBeth as well as first baseman/outfielder Paul McAnulty, all of whom were reassigned to minor-league camp.
Bowden and Tazawa, who are the Red Sox' top minor-league starting pitching prospects, were interesting studies in contrasts this spring. Bowden, who won his major-league debut last August after a dominating season in the upper minors, struggled in almost all of his starts. He went 0-1 with a 7.59 ERA, and the pitcher who typically exhibits outstanding control allowed 20 baserunners (14 hits, five walks, one hit batter) in his 10.1 innings.
“A little bit inconsistent for him,” said Sox manager Terry Francona, who suggested that the pitcher’s delivery hitches might make him a pitcher who has difficulty finding a rhythm in spring training. “Once he gets to the season, he gets on that roll and then you see what you have.”
Tazawa, on the other hand, was nothing short of “lights out,” according to Francona. The right-hander allowed one run in nine innings, striking out 10, walking one and allowing just five hits.
He was dominant on the mound, shockingly poised (considering the transition to a new country) on and off of it, and showed other traits such as a delivery time of 1.10 seconds to home plate (”the quickest guy to the plate on the staff,” said Francona) that offer positive signs for his future.
“He had an extraordinary camp,” said Francona. “He just handled everything. Nothing threw him off.”
The team will have Tazawa focus on working out of the windup (he has worked solely out of the stretch in his amateur career) in order to put less stress on his arm, a decision made in deference to the team’s desire to have him continue as a starter. But after spending the spring absorbing lessons from major leaguers, there is certainly reason to believe he could become a contributor at that very level later this year.
With McAnulty reassigned to Triple-A Pawtucket, the competition to fill in for the Mark Kotsay as a backup first baseman and outfielder has been narrowed to three. Chris Carter, Jeff Bailey and Brad Wilkerson remain.
BECKETT BRINGS THE NOISE
Something about the Phillies in spring training seems to get Sox pitcher Josh Beckett fired up. In 2006, prior to his first season with the Red Sox, Beckett got into a shouting match with Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, resulting in emptied dugouts and bullpens but no fisticuffs. Sunday, it was in-game activity that proved sufficient to raise Beckett’s blood pressure.
After cruising through the first three innings, Beckett ran afoul of trouble in the fourth, allowing a single (Jayson Werth), double (Raul Ibanez) and 12-pitch walk (Howard) to load the bases. But Beckett erased the no-out threat, working Matt Stairs to a full count before striking out the Phillies’ DH and then getting John Mayberry, Jr., to ground into a 5-4-3 double play.
Beckett offered a fist pump and shout as he left the mound following the 30-pitch inning, a sign that spring training is not merely and solely a process of going through the motions. In fact, Beckett insists that regardless of the setting, he can summon the same mound intensity. He threw five scoreless innings on Sunday, and now has a a 1.50 ERA in 18 innings this spring.
“Something about being out there, it gives me that adrenaline to get out of that situation,” said Beckett. “I’m the same pretty much every time. I get that adrenaline one way or the other.”
LOWELL LOCKED IN AT THE PLATE
Mike Lowell took Phillies pitcher Brett Myers deep in the bottom of the first inning of Sunday’s exhibition game for his second homer of the spring. Lowell also ripped a couple of foul balls into Kevin Millar territory, deep down the left field line. The third baseman was pleased with his feel in the batter’s box after roughly two weeks of games.
“I thought I saw the ball really well today,” said Lowell. “Myers threw me a couple pitches. I was able to square up a couple balls. Even the foul balls, balls in that I can turn on, I think that’s a good sign that my timing is where I want to be. I don’t mind more at-bats, but I feel pretty comfortable for the number of at-bats with where I am right now.
The third baseman, who is returning from surgery that repaired a torn hip labrum, will play again on Monday, marking the first time this spring that he will play in back-to-back games. He has been waking up without feeling stiff, and a hip specialist who examined him over the weekend was pleased with his flexibility and overall recovery.
Even so, Lowell – typically not the fastest of runners at complete health – seems unlikely to challenge Jacoby Ellsbury in a foot race anytime soon.
“The kind of joke around here is (that Lowell looks like) Kirk Gibson when he’s running around the bases,” said Beckett. “We like what we’re seeing from him.”
Brad Penny is slated to throw three innings and roughly 45 pitches on Monday, in his first Grapefruit League start of the spring.
Kevin Youkilis will return to the lineup Monday, likely batting a couple of times while playing first base in his first game activity since a sprained left ankle and Achilles tendonitis forced him out of the World Baseball Classic.
The swelling on J.D. Drew’s right hand is starting to subside, but the outfielder has not yet been able to resume swinging. The team is hopeful that he will be back in a game by Wednesday.
John Smoltz remains on target for a side session on Wednesday.
Dustin Pedroia was back in the lineup on Sunday, having responded well to all activity (both Friday’s game and batting practice on Saturday) in his return from a lower left abdominal muscle strain. He went 2-for-3 with a double.
Outfielder Jonathan Van Every will remain in a boot for about four or five days after undergoing an MRI on his right ankle, sprained on March 12.
DAN DUQUETTE REUNION
Former Red Sox G.M. Dan Duquette was in Fort Myers Sunday, having made the trip with the U.S. Military All-Stars, a barnstorming group of U.S. military personnel that plays against pro clubs. The All-Stars are comprised of active-duty personnel (including LT Junior Grade Will Sheehan of Boston and Hospital Medic 3rd Class Jeff Heriot of Franklin) who are on leave from their assignments, so the roster turnover is immense — last year, Duquette said, the team had 150 players.
While his current team hit in the cages, Duquette was greeted by Sox catcher Jason Varitek. Varitek, of course, was acquired in the epic deadline deal in 1997, when he unloaded Heathcliff Slocumb to the Mariners in exchange for Derek Lowe and the Sox catcher, now in his 12th spring training with the Sox. Aside from Varitek, here are the other Duquette alumni who remain with the Red Sox:
– Tim Wakefield: Signed by Duquette in April 1995, a few days after Wakefield had been released by the Pirates. Wakefield is now up to 164 wins as a Red Sox.
– Manny Delcarmen: Taken in the second round of the 2000 draft, Delcarmen has emerged as one of the key setup men for the Sox.
– Dusty Brown: A 35th round selection from the 2000 draft, Brown is now within spitting distance of the majors. If Jason Varitek or George Kottaras gets injured, he’s first in line for a call-up.
– Kevin Youkilis: Drafted in the eighth round in 2001. Signed for $12,000.
A TRIP TO THE WAY-BACK MACHINE
If Jonathan Papelbon was at Sunday’s game, he probably watched Lowell’s homer off of Myers sail over the fence and said something along the lines of, “Dude, been there, bro.” Papelbon claims to have homered off of Myers in high school. …
Jason Bay is a product of Gonzaga University, and so was elated to see his alma mater advance in the NCAA tournament. Bay transferred to Gonzaga for his junior season (1998-99), just in time to catch the beginning of the college hoops team’s seemingly annual run as the upset darling of the tournament. Gonzaga advanced to the Elite Eight, and came tantalizingly close to beating UConn to advance to the Final Four.
Bay suggests that the basketball team’s success was a key element in elevating the profile of all of its sports programs, including baseball. Scott Golby, the scout who recommended and signed Bay for the Expos, suggests that many Northwest scouts skipped Spokane, helping to explain why Bay went undrafted after a monster junior year.
Bay cites John Stockton and Bing Crosby as Zags alums who are more famous than he. Before he went to Gonzaga, Bay was at North Idaho College in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, a city best known for having the world’s only floating green.