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Sunday, March 4, 2012
Takeaways from Fort: Miller time, Lars chaser

By Gordon Edes

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Fort:

For openers, we give you Yaz: After a weekend of firsts, the ceremonial stuff should now be over at JetBlue Park. The college games on Saturday were considered a dress rehearsal to Sunday's Grapefruit League opener, an 8-3 Red Sox win over the Minnesota Twins before a sellout crowd of 8,886. Yes, I know, we were told capacity was around 11,000, but evidently that's only if every square inch of grass is covered in the outfield berm and the standing room folks are shoulder to shoulder from foul pole to foul pole. The actual number of seats is 9,900.

But the Sox did it up before the game, ringing the infield with all the minor leaguers, inviting the local symphony to perform the national anthem, and then rolling out the big guns: Luis Tiant, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Mike Greenwell and finally 72-year-old Carl Yastrzemski, who got the biggest hand.

New reliever Mark Melancon made his first spring appearance and gave up a run on a couple of hits. The win went to Tony Pena Jr., who gave up a run on two hits and a walk, but helped himself with runners on the corners when Ben Rivera broke too soon for second. Pena threw to first, the Sox had Rivera in a rundown and shortstop Jose Iglesias gunned a throw home to nail Darin Mastroianni after he broke for the plate. Nicely executed.

Miller time: Left-hander Andrew Miller, the biggest of teases since going straight from the University of North Carolina to the big leagues, had a dominant first outing after replacing Josh Beckett to start the third. Miller walked the first batter he faced, then got Ben Revere and Tsuyoshi Nishioka to strike out on sliders out of the zone before blowing a third-strike fastball past Rene Tosoni. Miller then worked a 1-2-3 fourth inning with the help of a nice catch by Jacoby Ellsbury.

Miller is out of options, and the Sox would love to see him claim the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Left-hander out of the 'pen is the other option, but it's hard to imagine the Sox getting Miller through waivers.

Bobby Valentine and Lars Anderson
Lars Anderson's grand slam made Bobby Valentine forget about Adrian Gonzalez, at least for a moment.
"He made an adjustment after the first hitter,'' Valentine said. "He didn't let it get all away from him. He was throwing four-seam fastballs the first hitter, which wasn't his plan. He wanted to throw two-seamers and his breaking ball. He made an adjustment out of the stretch to the next hitter and seemed to be in the driver's seat.''

Miller throws across his body, which makes it very difficult to repeat his delivery and has inspired a succession of pitching coaches to prod him to make changes. The Red Sox and new pitching coach Bob McClure are no exception.

"We had a session right in this [interview] room, I think, where we just used video to look and see, and everyone got on the same page,'' Valentine said. "A lot of people have been tinkering. I thought at the beginning of the spring we needed one voice getting in his head and Bob's done a very good job of getting a consensus -- which we got from the first day we looked at it -- and staying with it.''

Miller expressed an inclination to accept the fact he comes across his body rather than do an extreme makeover. He has tried that, he said, only to lose velocity and definition on his off-speed stuff.

"Nothing in excess is good, and he was excessively across his body,'' Valentine said, "and he found a happy medium. He's standing on a little different place on the pitching rubber for direction, and I think now he's in a comfortable place. The way it was when he first came in was not functional. It's much better now.''

First baseman Lars Anderson, who for a brief time at the trading deadline last July thought he'd been dealt to the Oakland Athletics, broke open a close game with a seventh-inning grand slam, which came after a bases-loaded walk to Che-Hsuan Lin.

"Oh God,'' Valentine said when asked about the towering drive, which cleared everything in right field. "Adrian who? I don't think he can hit a ball better than that. It was low breaking ball struck perfectly, as Maggs [hitting coach Dave Magadan] would say.''

There would appear to be no job here for Anderson, with Adrian Gonzalez starting a seven-year contract this season at first base.

Josh Beckett pitched two scoreless innings in which he was focused on throwing his changeup. He threw 36 pitches in all, 18 for strikes, and said he threw nine changeups. "Three of them went where I wanted them to go,'' he said.

Valentine said that Beckett told him he likes to use spring training to get his changeup ready. "His changeup wasn't ready today,'' he said. "He got his work in, he's healthy -- that's the good thing -- and he put up two zeroes.''

Mike Aviles, who seems to have the inside track on the starting shortstop job, had hits in his only two at-bats Sunday, including a two-run single in the fourth. Aviles also had two hits against Boston College on Saturday. No one has declared Aviles the winner, but the organization has dropped numerous hints they'd like Jose Iglesias to get a little more seasoning, and Nick Punto projects as a utilityman the Sox can play at all four infield positions and could employ as a late-inning defensive replacement at short.