• Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia wasted no time in making his case that he is fully recovered from the thumb and wrist issues that plagued him the last two seasons, hitting a grand slam as part of a 3-for-3 night in which he also doubled and singled.
“I knew I was back to normal in the offseason,’’ said Pedroia, who seems to have taken as a personal affront any suggestion made last year that his injuries might not bode well for the future. “Obviously I told you that, but you can only believe it if you see it.’’
“Just watch, man,’’ Pedroia said. “My job is to play. Your job is to watch.’’
Pedroia’s slam in the fourth inning, a drive that cleared the fence in left-center, came off Twins non-roster invitee Ryan O’Rourke, a left-hander who played his high school ball at St. John’s of Shrewsbury and was drafted out of Merrimack College by the Twins in the 13th round in 2010.
“We saw Pedey get to a pitch on the inside part of the plate, I don’t know that we’ve seen that type of swing in a good amount of time,’’ Sox manager John Farrell said. “That’s a swing we’ve all seen in the past from Pedey, but the number of nagging things he’s dealt with, it’s limited him the past couple of years.’’
• Red Sox starter Joe Kelly threw 44 pitches, 29 for strikes, which represents the upside of his night. The downside? The Twins hit him at will. Kelly faced a dozen batters and gave up hits to seven of them, including a triple to Aaron Hicks and doubles to Oswaldo Arcia and Danny Santana. Kelly was charged with four runs before departing with two out in the second.
For what it’s worth, Kelly said he has never pitched well in spring training, an assertion borne out by the numbers: He had a 6.28 ERA in four spring starts for the Cardinals last year, and a 4.91 ERA in six appearances (three starts) in 2013.
“I’m a little tired,’’ he said. “I threw a lot of pitches. My body feels good. My arm feels good. That’s the key for me right now. My stuff wasn’t as crisp as it usually is. I threw an 88 mile-an-hour fastball. I don’t know if I’ve done that since I was 13, but physically my body feels great.
“I had three guys in my mind, I had 0-and-2, but just didn’t have the stuff to finish them off. Tried to get a fastball up, threw it down the middle. Tried to bury a curveball, made it hittable. Tried to bury a slider, made it hittable. Good thing I was getting ahead of hitters, was mentally there and knew what I wanted to do with the batters. Just didn’t execute.’’
Kelly threw all five of his pitches -- fastball, two-seamer, curve, change and slider -- but struggled most with his four-seamer, which moved more than he liked and caught too much of the plate.
“The crispness will come,’’ he said.
• Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts homered to dead center off Twins right-hander Tim Stauffer in the third and also made a nice diving play on a ball hit up the middle by Kurt Suzuki in the third, though he bounced his throw to Mike Napoli. An encouraging sign, nonetheless, that the work Bogaerts did on improving his first-step quickness is paying off.
• Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who had not been hitting the ball with authority in the early stages of camp, hit a gap double and also had an infield single, a good start toward building a case that he is a better hitter than the rookie who batted .198 last season.
“Just trying to focus on making good habits and continue to progress,’’ said Bradley, who has eliminated much of the movement in his setup. “A work in progress.’’
• Reliever Alexi Ogando, looking to win a job after two years of arm trouble in Texas, hit 95 on the Hammond Stadium radar gun. He also gave up a two-run home run to Eduardo Escobar to right-center in the third.
• Third baseman Pablo Sandoval, in his Red Sox exhibition debut, flied out and grounded back to the pitcher in his only two plate appearances. Left fielder Hanley Ramirez is expected to make his spring debut Friday at JetBlue Park against one of his former teams, the Miami Marlins.
• Farrell said before the game that Rusney Castillo, out with a strained left oblique muscle, was much improved Thursday, but emphasized that the Sox intend to proceed cautiously with the Cuban outfielder. There still appears to be a pretty good likelihood that Castillo could start the season either in Pawtucket or extended spring.
• A club source said Thursday that there has been no talk of trading right fielder Shane Victorino.
• The Sox remain mum on when the signing of 19-year-old Cuban Yoan Moncada will become official, although an announcement could be forthcoming as soon as Friday. The Sox were awaiting the results of Moncada’s drug testing, a league source said.
“It was awesome,” said Joe Kelly, who started Thursday night and found the T-shirt waiting when he arrived.
“It was something he talked about he was going to do, and all of a sudden it showed up in my locker.
“I don’t know why they cut the sleeves off all of them. That's something [Rick] Porcello likes, I guess. He’s a big sleeveless guy. I don’t have big arms, so I don’t really want to wear no-sleeve shirts, but they all wanted to do it, so I did.”
As for the message?
“It’s cool,” he said. “I like it. We’re all pulling for each other. I like where his head is at and where our heads are at as a group. It’s pretty cool to see how we’ve bonded just from little things on and off the field. It already seems like we’ve been playing with these guys ever since I’ve been drafted.
“For Buchholz to go out of his way and step up as a leader, I like that. It was, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to wear.’ Everyone said, ‘OK, we’re going to wear them.’”
Said manager John Farrell: “Maybe it’s a way there’s some motivation or some positive direction taken from the reminders that are seemingly there every day.”
Or, if you’re LaHair, you can opt for the long way, a trip of 12 years and roughly 20,000 miles. That only covers the stops he made in Seattle, Chicago, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan and Akron, Ohio, and doesn’t account for all the many other destinations along the way, which include Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and minor league outposts scattered across the map.
Truth is, LaHair hasn’t arrived quite yet. He is in camp with the Red Sox as a non-roster invitee, with little chance of breaking camp with the major league team. But at age 32, the first baseman-outfielder who slugged his way through the minors and had a brief shining moment with the Chicago Cubs is here with his hometown team, looking for one more chance to draw his sticks from a big league bat rack.
Instead of David Ortiz, that was LaHair, originally a 39th-round draft choice of the Seattle Mariners, who served as Red Sox DH Thursday night in Hammond Stadium, where the Sox opened their Grapefruit League schedule against the Minnesota Twins. LaHair grounded out to second in the second inning, walked in the third, struck out in the fifth and popped to third in the seventh.
The most home runs Ortiz ever hit in one minor league season is 31, which he did across three levels in 1997. LaHair hit 38 while playing for Triple-A Iowa in 2011, a season that won him MVP honors in the Pacific Coast League and catapulted him back to the big leagues the following season, when he earned improbable election to the National League All-Star team.
But even before LaHair made it to Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium for a pinch-hit appearance in the ninth inning against Fernando Rodney -- he grounded to short -- Cubs GM Theo Epstein already had engineered a trade that suggested LaHair’s stay in Chicago would be a short one, acquiring former Sox prospect Anthony Rizzo from the San Diego Padres.
Making matters worse, LaHair’s top hand, the left one, the one required to generate so much torque in his swing, began to ache. The thousands of swings he had taken over the years were taking their toll. He had fractured the trapezoid, one of the eight small carpal bones in the wrist.
“Just an accumulation of a lot of pounding over the years, a lot of swings,’’ he said. “Basically the bone begins to separate and fluid seeps in. The trapezoid [fracture] is more common with boxers, from so many punches.’’
LaHair was unable to generate the power he had shown in the first half of the 2012 season, when he hit 14 home runs and batted .282. Shifted to the outfield to make room for Rizzo, he hit just .202 with 2 home runs in the second half, and after the season was designated for assignment.
He wasn’t out of a job for long, as the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks signed him to a two-year, $4.7 million deal. With former Red Sox strongman Wily Mo Pena also on board, the Hawks thought they had the makings of a powerful right-left combination, and LaHair reveled in his experience in Japan.
“I enjoyed it, but more important, my wife, Nichole enjoyed it,’’ he said. “It’s a calm, very respectful country, a very happy place to be. I felt very safe for my family there. The food was excellent, the people nice. My little girl, Ava Rose, went to an international preschool. They would walk there every morning. And we were about a mile from the beach.’’
But for the second straight season, LaHair hit a wall midway through the year, again because his wrist weakened. The Hawks released him after the 2013 season, which is when he elected to have surgery on the hand and signed a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians. But he wasn’t able to pick up a bat before mid-February and the strength in his hand was never there. He spent most of the season in Double-A Akron, hitting just 5 home runs in 417 plate appearances.
“It took the whole year to get where it needed to be,’’ LaHair said of the wrist. "I put in a lot of work this offseason to get strong.’’
LaHair, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, has a younger slugger, Travis Shaw, projected ahead of him at first base in Triple-A Pawtucket, though there may be at-bats available as a DH. At this stage, he’s not concerned about that.
“I’m just here to show I’m healthy and strong again and that I’m capable,’’ he said, “Whatever happens, whatever decisions are made, that’s out of my hands. I’m just here to work hard and show I’m ready to go.’’
FORT MYERS, Fla.—Red Sox manager John Farrell, it turns out, has some significant history with Paul Molitor, the Hall of Fame infielder and new manager of the Minnesota Twins.
It came to light when I asked Farrell, a former pitcher for the Indians, Angels and Tigers, how he had fared on the mound against Molitor, who finished his 21-year big-league career with 3,319 hits.
Farrell, who made 116 appearances (109 starts) in his big-league career, finishing with a 36-46 record and 4.56 ERA, jauntily replied: “He didn’t hit me that one night.’’
On the night of Aug. 26, 1987, Farrell making just his second big-league start, ended Molitor’s 39-game hitting streak, the fifth-longest streak in modern baseball history (post-1901) and seventh longest ever.
“The only reason I made that start,’’ Farrell recalled, “was five days before we had a double-header and Rich Yett fielded a bunt in Game One against the Tigers, turned his ankle, sprained his ankle, couldn’t pitch, so I got that start. Rich ‘Not’ Yett.’’
“Actually, we flew into Milwaukee that day in a driving rainstorm. No BP, nothing.’’
Molitor struck out to lead off the game, hit into a double play to end the third, grounded out to short in the sixth, and reached on a error charged to Indians first baseman Pat Tabler in the eighth.
The game went into extra innings a scoreless tie, Farrell in a duel with Brewers’ left-hander Teddy Higuera, before yielding in the 10th to reliever Doug Jones. The Brewers won, 1-0, in the bottom of the inning on a pinch single by Rick Manning.
“He got booed,’’ Farrell said. “Molitor’s on deck, RBI base hit, and they booed the s--- out of him.’’
The next day, Farrell approached Molitor and him to autograph a baseball. Molitor wrote, according to Richard Justice of the Washington Post: “To John, Wishing you a great career. My best always, Paul Molitor.’’
“He also was the first hitter I ever faced in the big leagues,’’ Farrell said. “He and Robin Yount, back to back.’’
Yount, another member of the 3,000-hit club, is also a Hall of Famer.
“Two pitches, first and second,’’ Farrell said. “Seriously. I got called up that day. Pitching in the bullpen.’’
For the record, Molitor batted .261 lifetime (6 for 23) against Farrell. Twins broadcaster Dan Gladden has the most hits of any big-leaguer against the Sox manager, batting .480 (12 for 25). Another Twin, Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, was second with 11.
The Sox swept the college men from Northeastern and Boston College in their annual tuneup doubleheader on Tuesday, and after a workout day on Wednesday will send right-hander Joe Kelly to the mound for the first of 32 exhibitions, including split-squads, this spring. The game will be televised by MLB Network.
Here is the Sox lineup for Thursday night’s game. Note that none of the likely Opening Day outfield starters -- Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts, or Shane Victorino -- are in the starting lineup. Neither is DH David Ortiz. All are expected to play in Friday’s home opener against the Miami Marlins.
1. Xander Bogaerts, SS
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
4. Mike Napoli, 1B
5. Allen Craig, LF
6. Bryan LaHair, DH
7. Bryce Brentz, RF
8. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
9. Christian Vazquez, C
Joe Kelly, RHP
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Two college kids started in center field against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night. Matt Cook for Northeastern University. Nick Colucci for Boston College.
Both are younger -- Cook by 5½ months, Colucci by 46 days -- than 22-year-old Mookie Betts.
Cook is a senior, majoring in business. The team's media guide says he hopes to be an entrepreneur. Colucci is a redshirt junior, majoring in sociology, his career path yet to be determined.
Betts is not yet four full years removed from his graduation from John Overton High School in Nashville, Tennessee, but his future is seemingly laid out before him. A month away from starting the 2015 regular season, Betts is the leading candidate to be the Opening Day center fielder for the Red Sox.
A job that was supposed to be up for grabs this spring -- Cuban Rusney Castillo and his $72.5 million contract vs. Betts, who at most will be making a few bucks more than the major league minimum of $507,500, may the best man win -- now almost certainly will belong to Betts when the Sox open the season in Philadelphia on April 6. Castillo was diagnosed with a left oblique muscle strain on Wednesday, and while the Sox have not laid out a timetable for his return, it would appear likely that the best-case scenario will require Castillo be given some extra time to prepare for the season.
Betts might have won the job outright, anyway, though the size of Boston's investment in the 27-year-old Castillo would suggest the Red Sox don't anticipate him spending the prime years of his career in Triple-A Pawtucket. Now, barring an injury or a spectacular showing this spring by Jackie Bradley Jr., who played Gold Glove-caliber defense in center last season but didn't hit (.198), the almost-sure bet is Betts.
Three Red Sox outfielders in the last 10 years who strained oblique muscles missed 20 games or more before returning to the lineup -- Trot Nixon (22 games in 2005), Manny Ramirez (24 games in 2007), and Darnell McDonald (22 games in 2012). Three other Red Sox position players missed 13 games or more with an oblique strain -- third baseman Mike Lowell (19 games in 2008), Kevin Youkilis (13 games in 2009) and Marco Scutaro (26 games in 2011).
In addition, Sox newcomer Hanley Ramirez missed 14 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season after going on the disabled list with a strained oblique.
That doesn’t bode well for Rusney Castillo, the Cuban outfielder who underwent an MRI Wednesday that showed a strained left oblique muscle, an injury he said he sustained on a swing during his last at-bat in Tuesday night’s exhibition against Boston College.
Red Sox manager John Farrell said he could not estimate when Castillo will be back, but acknowledged that with all the twisting motion in baseball, there is a high risk factor of aggravating an oblique muscle, which is why teams tend to proceed cautiously before returning a player to the field. Even if Castillo were to make a relatively rapid recovery, the fact that he will miss playing time this spring might influence whether he breaks camp with the team. Castillo insists it should not impede him, but since signing with the Red Sox last August, he has just 77 professional at-bats here, including 36 in a Red Sox uniform. A thumb injury also limited him to 73 combined at-bats in the Arizona Fall League and Puerto Rico Winter League.
The Sox may well decide that Castillo and the team would be better served if he remains in extended spring training or opens the season in Triple-A Pawtucket.
The injury should also put a temporary end to any trade speculation regarding Sox outfielders. The Sox may not have done so anyway, but they clearly cannot part with Betts, who has been mentioned as a possible piece for Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels. Jackie Bradley, who looked like he was ticketed for Pawtucket, now looks like he’ll be kept as a backup if Castillo is not back for the opener, and GM Ben Cherington can defer roster decisions involving Daniel Nava and Allen Craig, only one of whom figures to be on the Opening Day roster if Castillo is healthy.
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo will be out indefinitely after an MRI showed a strained left oblique muscle, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell said Wednesday, an injury he sustained on his last at-bat in Tuesday night's exhibition against Boston College.
"He's going to be down for some time," said Farrell, who indicated the imaging showed the strain was located in an internal layer of the muscle. "I don't have a time frame to give you or projected length, but he's going through some treatment to calm down the strain right now, and he'll do rotational exercises and rehab when he's ready for it."
Farrell would not say whether he believed the injury will impact Castillo's readiness for the regular-season opener in Philadelphia on April 6.
"Too early to tell," he said.
But Farrell acknowledged an oblique injury is typically approached with caution.
"There's caution to the progression, there's no doubt," he said. "[Pain] tolerance, for one. How aggressive you become to build that back. We just want to be careful of a setback, because everything is rotational in this game."
The injury places on hold what the Sox had said was a competition for the team's starting center-field job between Castillo, who last August signed a six-year, $72.5 million deal, and 22-year-old Mookie Betts, who had never played outfield before last season. Castillo insisted Wednesday that the injury will not prevent him from being ready for the start of the regular season.
"No, no, I don't think it impacts me in a negative way," he said through translator Adrian Lorenzo. "We're doing everything we can to recuperate as soon as possible, and we'll see how it goes."
But Castillo admitted he has never had a similar injury, and given the limited number of at-bats he has had since signing with Boston, even if he makes a quick recovery, the Sox may decide he needs more time.
After finishing last season with the Red Sox and batting .333 (12-for-36) in 10 games, Castillo played in the Arizona Fall League and in the Puerto Rican winter league, but a thumb injury limited him to 73 at-bats and 18 games split between the two leagues.
With Castillo sidelined, last season's center-field incumbent, Jackie Bradley Jr
That would be Northeastern right-hander Aaron Civale, a sophomore from East Windsor, Conn., who struck out David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez in succession in the first, then struck out Mike Napoli and Xander Bogaerts in the second.
“He didn’t back away from the names in the box or the name on the jersey," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He had a good late cutter, attacked the strike zone. From a sheer baseball standpoint, it was good to see."
But with the Boston Red Sox lined up on the third-base line at JetBlue Park Tuesday afternoon and the Boston College Eagles doing the same on the first-base line, all wearing jerseys that said “Frates” on the back and bore his number 3, Nancy Frates was determined that her son Pete was not going to miss this.
So she had him on her cellphone, Facetiming him, urging players from both teams to shout greetings to the former BC captain who has become the nation’s most remarkable advocate in the battle against the horrific disease that afflicts him, ALS.
It has been three years since Pete Frates, a lifelong Red Sox fan, was diagnosed with ALS. Last year, as the face to the “Ice Bucket Challenge” that became a social media phenomenon, Frates helped raise in excess of $100 million for ALS research. He also became a father for the first time, and an ambassador of inspiration with few equals.
BC coach Mike Gambino, whose team already planned to wear replicas of the uniforms that Frates had worn while at BC, had contacted the Sox to see if they might join in the tribute. Sox chief operating officer Sam Kennedy loved the idea, which led to Tuesday’s moving scene.
Red Sox manager John Farrell embraced Nancy Frates Tuesday afternoon. Last summer, Farrell was among the members of the Sox, including team owners Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, who took the “Ice Bucket Challenge.’’ He also was present when Frates, who had homered in Fenway Park while playing for the Eagles, had a bucket of ice water dumped over him in the Fenway outfield.
Why We Love Sports Today: Red Sox & Boston College wear Pete Frates jerseys to honor former BC captain fighting ALS. pic.twitter.com/4sSkp8Elok— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 4, 2015
Farrell was asked if he had spent enough time around Frates, now 30, and his family to feel a connection.
“I don’t know how you can’t,’’ he said. “You witness someone who has dealt with an unfortunate situation, the challenge he’s dealing with, his family is dealing with, to see the way they’ve handled it with grace and a heightened awareness.
“I was shocked to hear the amount of funds raised by their approach. Incredible. I don’t know how you can’t take inspiration from their family and what they’re going through. We’re fortunate to be able to get involved.’’
The uniforms worn by both teams are being auctioned off to benefit the Pete Frates “3” Fund. Bids are opening at $100. You can submit a bid HERE.
“When you see someone healthy and vibrant, someone in their early 20s, and see what disease can do to someone, it makes you press pause and step back,’’ said Farrell, who had experienced a profound health scare with his son Luke, who was discovered to have a golfball-sized tumor in his neck and needed multiple surgeries to remove it, the family relieved to learn it was benign.
“The one thing you’re most grateful for is good health. “In this case, [Pete Frates and his family] aRe making a positive of an otherwise challenging time.’’
Wade Miley suggests you start with a golf course. That’s the place, he said Tuesday, where the five members of Boston’s revamped starting rotation have begun the bonding process.
“That’s what golf does,’’ the Red Sox left-hander said. “Any time you get to play golf, it’s going to be fun here.’’
Ask Miley the pecking order of pitchers based on their prowess on the links, and you get an answer suspiciously similar to the one you get when asking their order in the rotation.
“It’s pretty competitive,’’ he said, “but I think we’re all the same, just knocking it around, just having a good time.’’
“I think our goal as a team is the same,’’ he said. “I don’t care who pitches Opening Day. I don’t care who pitches the second, third, fourth or fifth game. The ring is the only thing that matters.’’
Logic points to Buchholz being the Opening Day starter. He’s the only one of the five who has been here for more than a half hour, or so it seems. Kelly came in a trading-deadline deal with the Cardinals last July; Miley, Porcello and Masterson all were added in the offseason, Miley and Porcello by trade, Masterson via free-agent signing. Buchholz is entering his ninth season with the Sox, beginning with a four-start stint in 2007 that included a no-hitter, and if he’s healthy he’s deserving.
By having Buchholz, Porcello and Miley all pitch in Tuesday’s college doubleheader, manager John Farrell was offering no clue as to which pitcher would go April 6 against the Phillies. And there’s plenty of time in spring training to make alterations to whatever order he may be considering at this moment.
But without being overly touchy-feely, there was a clue Tuesday to how this rotation is coming together. Porcello and Buchholz, whose work had been completed long before Miley took the mound against Boston College in the second game, were in the dugout to greet Miley when his two scoreless innings of work were over.
“It was cool to come out and see those guys standing there,’’ said Miley, who did the same for Buchholz and Porcello in the first game. “Big-time support. We’ve got to lean on each other throughout the year; why not start right now?’’
Buchholz went comebacker, line out and whiff in a 1-2-3 first inning against Northeastern, throwing 9 of 13 pitches for strikes. Porcello did not allow a ball out of the infield in retiring six straight over the next two innings, recording consecutive strikeouts on called third strikes. Miley, against BC, gave up one hit and was charged with a balk, but registered three ground outs, a line out and two strikeouts.
Of the 15 outs recorded by the three starters, seven came via grounders, five by K’s. If Sox starters are right this season, you should be seeing a lot of that. Sox stats maestro Jon Shestakofsky notes there were 34 pitchers last season who threw 125 innings or more and had a ground-ball rate of 50 percent or better. The Sox acquired three of them in a two-day span last December: Masterson, Miley and Porcello.
“If it’s in the air,’’ Miley said, “I’m not doing my job.’’
Porcello’s first action with the Sox lacked the drama provided by the man for whom he was traded, Yoenis Cespedes, who hit a grand slam Tuesday for the Tigers. But Porcello threw strikes, kept the ball down and said his arm felt good, the kinds of things you want to hear from a pitcher his first time out.
Miley, who works fast on the mound, would have liked to have had more consistent command of his sinker, but figures that will come with time. Buchholz is continuing to work on modifying his leg kick and his landing spot, knowing it will allow him to throw his changeup more often for strikes.
And Farrell, while not wanting to give it more weight than it deserves, was pleased to see the way they’re pulling for each other.
“It’s very important, the support among the five,’’ he said. “They can learn from one another. We’ve had a number of meetings with the five on what they want and what we want to get out of them. There’s been some sort to bond, but it still comes down to how they pitch and the quality of their innings.’’