The outcome: Sunday's Casey Kelly Invitational could not have gone any better. Kelly, pitching on the same mound where he won the state championship for Sarasota High in 2007, worked two scoreless innings, then watched his Red Sox teammates rally for a 5-4 win over the Baltimore Orioles. A ninth-inning home run by Mark Wagner, Kelly’s batterymate, broke a 4-4 tie.
The notable: Wagner’s home run gave Kelly the win before a crowd of 8,088 in Ed Smith Stadium, announced as the largest spring crowd in the 21-year history of the facility, pretty impressive given that this is where Michael Jordan played his home games when he tried baseball for a living. The crowd included Clyde Metcalf, Kelly's high school baseball coach who was sitting behind the plate; his mom, Becky, and his brother Chris.
Kelly entered the game in the seventh with the Red Sox down 4-1. He threw first-pitch strikes to all three batters he faced, retiring Rhyne Hughes on a popup, Lou Montanez on a comebacker on which he showed his shortstop pedigree, and Josh Bell, one of the Orioles’ top prospects, on a called third strike.
After the Sox tied it in the top of the eighth, Kelly came out for a second inning and issued a one-out walk and stolen base, but got out of the inning on two ground balls.
“Very good,’’ manager Terry Francona said of the outing. Poise, threw all his pitches, threw a 3-and-2 breaking ball to the second hitter. You could see him follow the catcher, which is good. Even the umpire [John Hirschbeck] commented, ‘How old is this kid?’’’
Clay Buchholz, making his first spring start, gave up a first-inning home run to Nick Markakis with two outs and nobody on, then walked the next two batters before coaxing a popup out of Luke Scott. He was touched for two more runs in the second on Garrett Atkins’ double and three singles.
“I was trying to get it up and in and left it out and he hit it,’’ Buchholz said of the Markakis home run. “I was more frustrated with the two walks after the home run than anything.
“A little jumpy on a couple of pitches, but other than that I felt like I had good stuff, good movement on the two-seamer and changeup.’’
On dealing with the 6-into-5 equation that the rotation currently is, Buchholz said, “It would be awkward for anybody. ... I can’t do anything about it so I might as well not bring any added pressure or stress.’’
Another good showing by Boof Bonser, who is coming off rotator cuff surgery and competing for a spot in the bullpen, as he threw two scoreless innings, striking out three.
“A real interesting guy,’’ Francona said of the former Twin. “We’ll try to build him up, see where it takes him. Build him up, see if he gets his velocity back, which makes him more interesting.’’
Prospect update: Yamaico Navarro, who had been playing at third base, saw his first action at short Sunday and played all nine innings, which kept Cuban prospect Jose Iglesias on the bench for the entire game. Navarro handled just one ground ball. “We like him as a shortstop,’’ Francona said of Navarro, who looks like he's big enough to move to third. Navarro went 0 for 4 but was credited with an RBI on a fielder’s choice.
First base prospect Lars Anderson, who has been given a lot of early at-bats, went hitless in two trips and is looking for his first spring hit after 10 at-bats.
In addition to his game-winning home run, Wagner also doubled but made a base-running mistake when he broke for third on a comebacker.
Progress report: Right-handed reliever Scott Atchison, who threw his second scoreless inning of the spring Sunday, is one of the pitchers bidding for a spot in the Sox bullpen. It appears more likely that he will open the season in Triple-A Pawtucket, giving the Sox depth for one of those inevitable callups that take place in the course of a season.
Atchison had agreed to a minor-league deal with the Red Sox two years ago, before the 2008 season, but instead went to Japan to pitch two seasons for the Hanshin Tigers, the Sox selling his contract to Hanshin after he struck an agreement with the Japanese team. He was a starter initially, but after being sent to the minors for a month he came back as a reliever, a role in which he thrived last season, posting a 1.70 ERA in 75 appearances.
That’s when the Red Sox came knocking again. “It went well but after two years it was time to come home,’’ Atchison said. “My family wanted to come back home. We had no complaints. The team treated us well, and we had a good time, but we wanted to come back.’’
A major factor in his decision to return, he said, was that his 2½-year-old daughter, Callie, has a rare genetic disease, and the family decided that she would be better served by continuing her medical care in the States.
Atchison, who turns 34 on March 29, has pitched in parts of three big-league seasons, the last with the Giants in 2007. He has a lifetime record of 2-3 with a 4.10 ERA in 53 appearances. He’s always been something of a long shot: While at TCU, he underwent rotator cuff surgery after his junior year and was taken in the 49th round of the draft by the Seattle Mariners.
Atchison and pitcher Fernando Hernandez, who made a cameo appearance for Oakland in 2008, are the only 49th-rounders ever to make it to the big leagues. (There are players who have been taken later in the draft and made it, including 62d-rounder Mike Piazza, who is bound for the Hall of Fame.)
Atchison relies on fastball command and says he developed a better slider while in Japan, the slider supplanting his curve as his “out” pitch. No, he says, he was not required to follow the throw-all-the-time philosophy espoused by the Japanese.
“The pitchers would put the number of pitches they threw on a sheet in spring training,’’ he said. “You’d go three days on, day off, then four days on. Guys were throwing 150 pitches on three straight days. I saw over 200 pitches quite a bit.’’
Hanshin plays in Osaka, and Atchison, a 6-foot-2 Texan, said he was often recognized when riding the subways.
“Hanshin fans are like Red Sox fans, they’re crazy and wild,’’ he said. “They’re really passionate about their team. If they saw you on the train, they usually were very nice and polite. They might yell out your name and say ‘Hi.’ A very friendly culture. A very safe country.’’
Up next: Bill Belichick’s good friend Tony La Russa brings the St. Louis Cardinals across the state Monday to play the Red Sox. A marquee pitching matchup: Josh Beckett vs. Chris Carpenter, the pride of Bedford, N.H. Amazing that Carpenter is making the 138-mile ride from Jupiter. It is a two-game trip -- the Cardinals play the Twins on Tuesday -- so perhaps Albert Pujols will show up too.
Etc.: Francona, when asked by a Sarasota reporter how excited Kelly was about pitching in his hometown: “You’d have to ask him. I don’t know, we’re just trying to get a big Grapefruit League win. I don’t know about his high school career. You have to check with him.’’