- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Fort, where Felix Doubront appears intent on succeeding John Lackey as winner of the Better Body/Better Pitcher award, Grady Sizemore has completed Week 2 of his Comeback for the Ages curriculum, Jonathan Herrera offered a primer on how to be of service coming off the bench, and Koji Uehara walked a batter, just to keep from being bored. Or something like that.
The result: The Red Sox beat the Atlanta Braves, 4-1, before a crowd of 9,966 in JetBlue Park, breaking a 1-all tie in the seventh with three runs, two coming on a single by Ryan Lavarnway, pinch-hitting for David Ortiz. Now that’s a scenario you won't see in the regular season. The Sox, who had gone 12 2/3 innings without scoring before Ortiz doubled and Jonny Gomes singled him home in the sixth, are now 2-5. The Braves, whose only run came on Jason Heyward’s home run off Junichi Tazawa in the sixth, are 2-7.
The highlight: A day after holding the Marlins scoreless on two hits through seven innings Thursday, six Sox pitchers limited the Braves to four hits, three singles and Heyward’s home run. Francisco Cordero, who sat out a year in 2013 after flaming out as John Farrell’s closer in 2012, earned the save with a two-K, scoreless ninth. Cordero’s last big-league save came on April 23, 2012.
Doubront, the makeover: The left-hander went four innings in his second appearance of the spring, giving up a couple of singles, walking none and striking out three while going an inning longer than originally planned. All three of Doubront’s strikeouts came in succession, the Brothers Upton (B.J. and Justin) to end the first and Ryan Doumit to start the second. He threw 48 pitches, 29 for strikes, and, while it’s still early, has catcher David Ross talking like Doubront’s a new man.
“Night and day from last year," Ross said. “Repeating pitches, repeating location. Fastball location, he’s doing a better job for me, knowing how to move the ball around in the zone."
Doubront, who made no friends last spring when he showed up out of shape, spent seven weeks working with the IMG training group in Sarasota. Last year, Farrell said Lackey was able to repeat his delivery more because he had better body control. He’s returned to that theme when discussing Doubront.
“It’s very encouraging to see how he’s repeated his delivery," Farrell said. “That’s something he has worked on since the day he signed a pro contract and that’s become more consistent. I think what he’s realizing is the benefits of the work he put in this winter. He came in good shape and it’s allowed him to repeat his delivery more consistently, which has resulted in more consistent strike-throwing."
Sizemore, the sequel: Could it be that Grady Sizemore wasn’t playing baseball the last two years because he took some time to tour the globe, and not because he was hurt? “I wish," he said. But playing his first game for the Sox since Monday here, Sizemore continues to defy the trend that laid waste to his career since the end of 2009, when he broke down repeatedly, requiring seven surgeries. Sizemore beat out an infield hit and lined a single to center. He ran hard on the infield hit and zoomed from first to third on Mike Napoli’s inning-ending fly to right field. He advanced on a wild pitch, sliding into second base. And he hasn’t once limped, stumbled or even looked like he needed to catch his breath.
“I still don’t feel like it’s natural, I still feel there are more gains to be made," Sizemore said. “Small reps, the more I get out there, the better I feel. So, still just trying to get the timing back, trying to get the rhythm back, my legs underneath me."
Scouts have commented that his timing at the plate is better than you’d expect from a guy who has been away as long as Sizemore has.
“It’s not bad, but still feel like there are a lot of improvements to be made," he said. “The rhythm’s not there, the timing is still off. But I’m not trying to force it, I’m not pressing. It’s one of those things with more at-bats, I’ll start to feel more comfortable, get good swings, and seeing the ball well."
Sizemore said he expects to play twice more before the team’s scheduled March 12 off-day, and has discussed with Farrell playing in back-to-back games after that date. Farrell, who said Sizemore will play next on Monday here against the Rays and then again Tuesday, acknowledged they’ve discussed it.
“He did a number of things today we haven’t seen yet," Farrell said. “He advances 90 feet on a ball in the dirt. First time he’s been forced to slide. With each day out, and each game played, there are other situations emerging that he’s responding to."
Through the exam in the offseason when we were recruiting him, we were pretty confident that his return from the injuries would allow him to get on the field. The only question we have right now is from the durability one."
Ninja gone wild: With two outs and nobody on in the fifth, Sox closer Koji Uehara fell behind Gerald Laird, 3 and 0, then walked him on five pitches. In the last four seasons, Uehera has issued just 23 unintentional walks in 219 1/3 innings. Last season, he issued just seven unintentional walks in 74 1/3 innings.
“I knew what he was doing, you got to give some leeway," Ross said. “I didn’t want him to give up a run, but he got two quick outs, it was like, ‘I want to work on my third pitch.' A little slider-cutter thing. It’s pretty good. Not bad. I’m not going to call it bases loaded. It’s something he’s working on and trying to get some easy outs on it. He was definitely locating his fastball, his splitty is there both sides."
Farrell called the “little slider-cutter thing” Uehara’s “spring training” pitch, saying he worked on it last spring, too. “He’ll use it on rare occasions during the season," Farrell said. “But he can manipulate a baseball. We’ve seen him throw curveballs and cutters, and the other two primary pitches he has (fastball, split). He goes out to get his work in."
JBJ report: Jackie Bradley Jr., after playing back-to-back games in Jupiter, was given the day off.
X files: Xander Bogaerts went hitless in three at-bats, striking out once. The shortstop made a nice play in the hole to force B.J. Upton at second.
Dot, dot, dots: Herrera entered the game as a pinch-runner after Dustin Pedroia blooped a hit in the sixth, beat a throw into second on David Ortiz’s grounder to first, took third on a wild pitch and scored on Jonny Gomes’ single. He remained in the game and doubled in Boston’s three-run seventh... Reliever Edward Mujica was credited with the win after throwing a 1-2-3 seventh... Burke Badenhop worked a scoreless eighth, allowing one hit... David Ortiz doubled into the triangle... Sox are split-squadding it Saturday, with lefty prospect Henry Owens drawing the start against the Orioles in Sarasota at 1:05, and Brandon Workman drawing the start against the Orioles in JetBlue on Saturday night....Ortiz's double in the fourth, which carried to the center-field triangle, was his first hit of the spring.