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Takeaways from the Fort: Mixed bag for Buchholz

3/10/2012

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A few takeaways from the Fort, where the Red Sox fell to the Pirates, 7-4.

-- Clay Buchholz worked three innings, threw some terrific changeups, including back-to-backers to strike out Brandon Boggs. He also became reacquainted with Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates star who used to hit him in the minors and laced two line-drive hits off him Friday night, including an RBI double high off the Monster that just missed being a home run.

Buchholz threw 51 pitches, 34 for strikes, said he felt strong, and most of all said he has had no hint of the back problems that sidelined him last season. He gave it one test when McCutchen called time on him just as he was about to release the ball, which caused him to twist his torso without releasing the ball.

"Haven't had any (re)lapses of pain,'' said Buchholz, adding that he gives his back little thought when he is on the mound. Off the mound, it's a different story, as he continues to diligently follow an exercise program designed to strengthen the back.

"His stuff looked sharper than last time, I thought,'' manager Bobby Valentine said. "Changeup was sharp, two-seamer was sharp. He wasn't throwing a lot of curveballs but a couple tonight were in midseason form.''

-- Vicente Padilla was effective in his first inning of work, with the help of nice defensive plays by Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, then was lit up in Pittsburgh's four-run fifth. He was charged with all four runs on five hits.

Valentine thought Padilla's unfamiliarity with Kelly Shoppach might have been a factor.

"He wasn't executing two-strike pitches,'' Valentine said. "This was the first time, I think, Kelly was catching him, and I think there was a quandary about what to go with when he got ahead in the count.

"For my money, he didn't have the same arm speed versus what it was the last couple of times.''

-- David Ortiz hit a home run off a lefty, Tony Watson, his second home run of spring, and Darnell McDonald went over the Monster for his first homer of spring, off right-hander Doug Slaten. McDonald, who didn't enter the game until the seventh, also doubled in the ninth as he tries to make a job-saving impression on Valentine.

"He had two at-bats and made the best of them, he sure did,'' Valentine said. "Those were two loud sounds.

"It shouldn't go unnoticed. He's a guy who at times is going to come off the bench, a guy fighting for a job. Thus far he's made the best of his opportunities. He's playing good baseball.''

-- Right-handed reliever Michael Bowden worked a 1-2-3 eighth, striking out one, and is going to be summoned for more meaningful innings, according to Valentine. Bowden is out of options and trying to win a spot in the pen.

"I really liked Michael Bowden,'' Valentine said. "His fastball was down in the zone. We don't have a gun, but he looked like he was throwing 91, 92, and he had a good split working off it. It looked like the pitch was very hard to recognize. I liked what I saw. He'll get more quality innings.''

-- Kinda depressing that even stolen bases have sponsors here. When Sox catcher Dan Butler stole second, the PA announcer said, "This stolen base was brought to you by Gulf Coast Town Center, a mall. Nice slide by Butler, though."

-- Cody Ross played center field for the first time this spring.

-- Shortstop Mike Aviles played into the seventh inning, had another hit, stole a bag, and busted down the line in his last at-bat, reaching safely on a routine grounder to short. Just what you like to see from your veterans.

"He plays hard all the time,'' Valentine said.

-- Biggest disappointment of the night was that Jose Diaz, as big a man as I've ever seen in a baseball uniform, did not get to pitch for the Pirates. Diaz, known as Jumbo, has been around for the better part of the decade in the minors for the Dodgers, Giants and Orioles. He is listed at 6-foot-5 and 317 pounds, which may be conservative.

-- Impressive exhibition by McCutchen, who had three hits, all smoked. The Pirates signed him earlier this week to a five-year, $51.5 million contract extension, perhaps signalling that GM Neal Huntington at long last is bringing hope to a franchise that has long had none.

-- And Johnny Pesky, 92 years old and back on the North Shore, is missed.