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Andrew Benintendi leaves strong impression in spring debut

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In an alternate universe, Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts might have been college rivals playing for powerhouse programs in the Southeastern Conference.

On Friday, their paths finally converged with the Boston Red Sox.

Benintendi, the Sox's first-round pick last June and the seventh overall pick in the draft out of Arkansas, was a surprise addition to the split-squad lineup, summoned from minor league camp when center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. was scratched for precautionary reasons with stiffness in his right forearm. And when Benintendi entered the clubhouse, Betts was among the first to greet him.

"Mookie, he came up to me, was talking to me about college," said Benintendi, who won the Golden Spikes Award last year as the top amateur player in the country. "He was going to go to Tennessee in the SEC. He's a great guy. Just a really fun experience."

Benintendi finished 2-for-3 with a pair of line-drive singles in his big league spring training debut, an 8-6 loss to the Minnesota Twins at JetBlue Park on Friday.

As first impressions go, sure, that was pretty good. It also was entirely unsurprising given what Benintendi did in his first 54 games as a professional, batting .313 with 11 homers and a .972 OPS at two levels of A-ball last summer.

Generally speaking, it isn't the Red Sox's style to move prospects through the farm system too rapidly. But after two years at Arkansas, Benintendi has a polished approach at the plate. And last season, two other college standouts -- the New York Mets' Michael Conforto (Oregon State) and the Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber (Indiana) -- reached the big leagues within a year of being drafted in the first round.

Could Benintendi's career follow a similar trajectory?

"We'll see," said the 21-year-old center fielder, who is only 18 months younger than Betts and shortstop Xander Bogaerts. "My job is just to go out there and play hard every day. It's a process. I'm going to trust in the process and the people who make those decisions. All I can do is control what I can control and go out there and play hard every day."

Benintendi's size -- he's listed generously at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds -- is reminiscent of Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. A left-handed hitter, Benintendi stroked a low, outside pitch the other way to left field for his first hit in the second inning against Twins starter Tyler Duffey. In the seventh inning, he lined a single to right field against reliever Casey Fien.

"For the three at-bats, obviously he has a good-looking swing," manager John Farrell said. "Even if he doesn't get a couple of base hits, which, that was the case today, it's still a compact swing. You see the bat path. Good-looking hitter. Bright things ahead of him."

And maybe sooner than he thinks.

Elias impresses: Left-handed Roenis Elias made a strong case to claim the vacancy in the Red Sox's starting rotation by allowing one earned run in four innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in the other split-squad game in Port Charlotte. Unlike fellow fifth-starter candidate Henry Owens, who has had trouble with his command, Elias didn't issue a walk.

"I thought it was a very good outing," bench coach Torey Lovullo told reporters after the Red Sox's 5-1 loss. "He was commanding his fastball, attacking hitters."

Elias is competing with Owens and knuckleballer Steven Wright for the fifth spot, which was created because lefty Eduardo Rodriguez will begin the season on the disabled list while he builds his arm strength after missing three weeks with a dislocated right knee.

This and that: Betts hit his third homer of the spring, a solo shot against reliever Brandon Kintzler. Ryan LaMarre also homered against the Twins. ... In another test of his arm strength after recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, catcher Christian Vazquez picked off Minnesota's John Hicks at first base in the fourth inning. ... Making his third spring start, right-hander Rick Porcello allowed three runs (all in the second inning) on six hits and one walk. ... The Red Sox notched four hits against the Rays. Two of them belonged to scorching first-base prospect Sam Travis, who is 15-for-25 (.600) this spring. ... The Red Sox optioned infielder Marco Hernandez to Triple-A Pawtucket and reassigned right-hander Kyle Martin to minor league camp. Hernandez, who suffered a subluxation of his left shoulder Thursday when he stumbled while rounding first base, isn't expected to miss much time.

On deck: Right-hander Joe Kelly will face his former team when the Red Sox host the St. Louis Cardinals at 1:05 p.m. ET Saturday at JetBlue Park. Kelly will be opposed by right-hander Michael Wacha.