PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Port, where there are some things a ballplayer does not forget, even if it’s something he may not have done in nearly a thousand days.
So when Grady Sizemore broke out his home run trot for the first time this spring -- and the first time in 984 days, his last home run having come on July 15, 2011 -- he didn’t need any remedial instruction. He knew what to do.
The result: With Clay Buchholz going six innings for the first time this spring, the Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-2, their second win in the last 10 games. The Rays had entered the game with a 15-5-3 record, the best in the majors, and had gone 10-2-1 in their previous 13 games. The last two times the Rays finished with the majors’ best record in spring, they won the AL East. The Sox are 9-15-2.
The Sizemore report: “It felt good,’’ Sizemore said after hitting a first-pitch fastball from Tampa Bay left-handed reliever Cesar Ramos over the boardwalk beyond the right-field fence in the sixth inning, breaking a 2-2 tie.
As he circled the bases, Sizemore had to know he was one step closer to being named the team’s Opening Day center fielder in Baltimore’s Camden Yards, the place he hit his last home run in a game that counted, a two-run home run off right-hander Jake Arrieta of the Orioles.
But Sizemore said he has not yet allowed himself to think in those terms, even though he answered in the affirmative when asked if he thought he was ready to play in the regular season.
“Honestly, I’m just trying look to the next day and not get ahead of myself,’’ Sizemore said.
“I feel good. I’m happy with how everything has gone in a short period. I didn’t expect to feel this good or this good so soon. I’m happy with that aspect. But we’re all professionals. We all want to be better.’’
The home run was Sizemore’s only hit in four at-bats Tuesday. He hit in the fifth spot in the lineup after leading off in his previous appearances. In his last at-bat, he went down swinging against the 96 mph offerings of Rays lefty Jake McGee, but only after a good at-bat in which he fouled off a couple of pitches.
“Even against McGee when he strikes out, there’s a lot of balance at the plate,’’ manager John Farrell said. “We’ve talked a number of times about timing at the plate, and he continues to show it.’’
Earlier in the day, Farrell indicated the Sox would leave camp with either Sizemore or Jackie Bradley Jr., not both.
This was the first of three consecutive games in which Sizemore is scheduled to play. He is batting .303 this spring.
“The way we’re seeing the ball coming off his bat almost week at a time, starting the week before camp, opening up to game action, you’re seeing more and more good days for him,’’ Farrell said.
“It was a good day overall. To see the at-bats Will [Middlebrooks] had today, Bogie [Xander Bogaerts], the guys that came to the mound, those are our guys.’’
Will watching: Middlebrooks homered off Rays starter Jake Odorizzi, singled and drove a ball deep to right on which Rays right fielder Wil Myers made an excellent catch. The Sox third baseman, who also drew a walk, is batting .317 this spring and has struck out just three times in 44 spring at-bats, a trend the Sox would love to see continue in the regular season.
Clay feat: Buchholz gave up all three hits he allowed in the third inning, when he also walked a batter and the Rays scored twice, then retired eight straight before issuing a two-out walk in the sixth to Ben Zobrist. He finished off his outing by inducing Evan Longoria to ground out to Middlebrooks, one of seven ground-ball outs he recorded to go with five strikeouts. He threw 84 pitches, 50 for strikes.
This was Buchholz’s last exhibition appearance. He’ll remain behind to throw in a camp game Sunday, then fly to Baltmore to join the team before Monday’s opener. Jon Lester, John Lackey and Felix Doubront are lined up to pitch the three games in Baltimore. Jake Peavy is in line to draw the assignment in the April 4 home opener against the Brewers, with Buchholz going the next day. All of that is subject to weather, of course, and everyone remaining upright, one reason why Farrell has refrained from officially announcing Lester will pitch the opener.
“Clay made a good adjustment after the third inning,’’ Farrell said. “The first couple of innings he tended to drift a little bit. The fourth, fifth and sixth, he threw a lot of good curveballs and was down in the zone. The thing that stands out over the course of spring training is he looks very comfortable on the mound. He used all of his pitches. He had a little more feel for his curveball today than in previous outings.’’
Buchholz said he also broke out his changeup in a game for the first time this spring, with positive results. He said he is comfortable maintaining his velocity at around 91-92 mph, in part because he believes it gives him better command and more movement on his two-seamer. “But when I needed a little extra,’’ he said, “I was able to reach back for it.’’
JBJ report: The rookie played alongside Sizemore in right field because Shane Victorino stayed back in Fort Myers with some soreness on his left side, which Farrell described as minor. “He had a full workday,’’ Farrell said of Victorino, “and came out of it fine.’’
Bradley, meanwhile, went 0-for-4 and struck out twice. He’s now batting .173 this spring, with a team-high 16 strikeouts, three more than Mike Carp.
“He’s missing some pitches in the strike zone,’’ Farrell said of Bradley. “I can’t say he’s trying to do too much. Sometimes there’s a good compact swing, and then the swing is a little long at times. Nothing drastic. A little timing right now.’’