BRADENTON, Fla. -- Takeaways from McKechnie Field, where the Red Sox played in front of a sellout crowd in a renovated stadium that finally resembles something of a major league spring training park -- with covered bleachers beyond left field, an elevated boardwalk that stretches from the left-field to right-field stands, and a tiki bar in center field that makes visiting Bradenton worth it.
The Red Sox had an ace on the mound and Clay Buchholz on the mound, with David Ross serving as his batterymate, responded in kind, helping the Sox snap a two-game losing streak in a 4-1 win over the Andrew McCutchen-less Pirates. After a dreary Saturday in which the roadsters lost 7-3 to the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota in a matinee matchup and the A-team looked lost in a six-error, 13-2 defeat to the O's backups at JetBlue Park, a road victory will make for a better ride home to the Fort.
While manager John Farrell insinuated before Sunday's game that the spring record has no bearing on how he feels about the team, the Red Sox skipper was pleased following the win: "Even though it's spring, you want to put together a consistent effort."
Let's see if a winning streak can start Monday when the Sox host the Tampa Bay Rays at JetBlue Park.
The result: The Sox are now 3-7-1 after Sunday's pleasantries. Buchholz looked in midseason form, facing the minimum number of batters across a three-inning outing. After he retired the first six batters on one fly out and five groundouts, Buchholz's only blemish came in his last frame, when he walked the first man he faced -- Jordy Mercer. The Sox right-hander quickly finished his day with the help of Ross, who threw out Mercer attempting to steal second, and then by striking out Robert Andino and inducing Chris Stewart into a fly out to center.
Buchholz being Buchholz, with some salt-and-pepper mixed in: Buchholz led a parade of pitchers who posted zeroes for the game until Rubby De La Rosa allowed the first Pittsburgh hit -- three hits in all -- and a run in the seventh inning. Before the game, manager John Farrell mentioned Buchholz's workload would be approximately 50 pitches over "three to four innings," but the 29-year-old righty masterfully did enough to please Farrell in three quick innings.
"Given that he's only gone one inning so far, it was more of the number of times he was up and down today," Farrell said. "He did such a very good job of establishing his two-seamer with some cutters in there, but he was extremely efficient. When we've seen Clay put the ball on the ground [by inducing groundouts], I think that's when he's most effective. I think the fact that it's his second time out, to pitch what looked like to be pretty comfortably on the mound, and physically, he's responding to the gradual ramping up we're doing with him. He's in a good place."
Buchholz, who has refined his two-seam fastball over the past two years, was somewhat pleased with the way it performed, using it primarily over the first two innings before testing the curveball in the latter stages of the second and often during the third. He "felt the direction and movement was there" with the two-seamer and got most of his ground-ball outs -- five of the nine outs -- with it.
"I tried to throw that comeback two-seamer a couple times, missed over the plate a couple times, but got some weak ground balls out of it," said Buchholz, who had one strikeout. "I rely on it to get the ground-ball outs in crucial situations and it was good to do so today."
Ross said the brilliance of Buchholz is that his sinker -- which results from the nasty way he throws the two-seam fastball -- has evolved over the past few years as the pitcher has matured as a major leaguer.
"He's a veteran and he's learned how to use the sinker where he can work on it early [in the spring]," said Ross, who caught Sunday after having a day off Saturday.
Ross also had a "dig me" type day, at least that's how he described it. The 36-year-old catcher threw a runner out at second, blocked a pitch in the dirt and had a 1-for-3 day at the plate (a hard-hit single to right) as the cleanup hitter -- the first time "since my Little League days."
"Had to make sure the old man's still got it," said Ross when asked about his throw down to second for the out.
For catchers, throwing down to second during spring games is perhaps the most critical thing in terms of preparation for the regular season.
"Each person is different, of course, but throwing for me is a rhythm thing," Ross said. "You're constantly trying to find the rhythm. It's easy to do the drills, but it's hard to find the rhythm with the pitcher, the timing. That's why it's good to have happen in games."
Brentz still bashing away: Entering Sunday's contest, Bryce Brentz had a .333 batting average and an .833 slugging percentage in 18 at-bats with three homers and six RBIs. He added two more hits to his stellar spring, albeit just two singles, and raised his average to .400.
"He's been very impressive," Farrell said. "We all recognize he's got well-above-average power, but when he's able to get into deeper counts and make some contact, like his two-strike, opposite-field hit in Sarasota yesterday, that was as encouraging as any ball he's squared up all swing.
"It's a matter of managing the count and putting a two-strike approach when called for. That's what we're looking for."
With Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes established as outfielders, and with Mike Carp as an option, the debate for the rest of spring boils down to Grady Sizemore, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Brentz. In terms of where Brentz can play, Farrell believes the 25-year-old can play either corner spot.
"He profiles with his arm strength as a right fielder, but he can play both left and right."
JBJ report: Jackie Bradley Jr. went 1-for 4 with two RBIs and made a couple of good running catches as the center fielder. He is now batting .190 for the spring.
X files: Xander Bogaerts did not make the trip to Bradenton.
Dot, dot, dots: Carp went 2-for-3 with a solo home run as the designated hitter. The other hit was a squib single, which Carp said he used as a setup for his homer. "Both hits came on inside fastballs, which [Pirates right-handed starter Charlie Morton] was trying to clearly establish and work on," Carp said. "He kind of got me on the first one and I nubbed it, but I was ready on it the next time. It was good to learn from it and use an inside-out swing to make contact and get it out." Carp raised his average to .222 for the spring. ... Francisco Cordero, who took a year off from baseball last season after not receiving any substantial offers, continued to impress, notching another scoreless frame with a strikeout. The 38-year-old right-handed reliever walked his first batter this spring, but did not allow a run for the fourth time in spring training for the Sox. ... Andrew Miller struck out the side in the fourth inning and tossed his second straight scoreless inning this spring. "You're starting to see the timing and the delivery click for him," Farrell said. "Much more consistent strike-throwing." ... Sunday was infield coach Brian Butterfield's 56th birthday.