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Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Takeaways: Sox 4, PR 3; Lackey lights it up

By Rick Weber, Special to ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A few takeaways from the Fort, where “The John Lackey Rebirth: Part III” was an unqualified success on a night when flag-waving, airhorn-blowing, drum-pounding, song-singing Team Puerto Rico fans made more noise than Red Sox fans at JetBlue Park.

Lackey, who had given up four earned runs in three innings over two appearances, tossed three scoreless innings, surrendering three hits while striking out two in a 4-3 win over Puerto Rico. He had supreme command of his arsenal, throwing strikes on 31 of his 45 pitches.

“I’m happy with the direction I’m going,” he said. “I definitely felt free and easy tonight. I’ve still got a long way to go. It should get better.”

Lackey said he experimented with his cutter in the bullpen for the first time and liked what he felt, so he mixed that in with a fastball that registered 92 mph.

John Lackey
John Lackey mixed in his cutter for the first time this spring during three scoreless innings.
“I really felt like my command got better,” he said.

Said manager John Farrell, “He was very good. He used all four of his pitches -- strikes with each one. With each additional outing, there’s increased arm strength.”

Best of all, there's no pain as Lackey continues his comeback from Tommy John elbow surgery after the 2011 season.

“It’s a lot of fun when things don’t hurt,” he said. “A lot less to worry about. Just worry about executing your pitches.”

* The Green Monster (Fenway South version) met Mike Napoli and was no match for the new Red Sox slugger. Napoli took a 3-1 offering from Orlando Roman and sent a towering shot that ricocheted off the back of the concourse on the top deck and landed on the clubhouse roof. A security guard retrieved it and threw it to a kid on top of The Monster.

It was Napoli’s second homer in six at-bats this spring. The first was a shot over the 420-foot sign in right-center.

“He can hit balls a long way,” Lackey said. “It’s going to be a fun year. He’s going to add a lot. … You’ve seen the pop. That ball he hit to center field, that’s legit.”

* Jacoby Ellsbury missed the game with a viral infection. “We got him out (of the clubhouse) before it started to spread,” Farrell said.

* Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has been one of the camp sensations (.471/.529/.550, with his batting average ranking him third in the Grapefruit League going into Tuesday’s game). Although Farrell said it’s likely that he will start the year in Triple-A Pawtucket, “you never want to put limits on anyone either. He’s making the best of the opportunity and he’s making a very strong impression.” Bradley ripped a line-drive rope for a double in the eighth inning, his second of the spring.

* Closer Joel Hanrahan’s ERA and walks nearly doubled last year from 2011. Farrell said it might have been due to a lighter workload in September, rather than any mechanical issues.

“From a mechanical standpoint, we haven’t really addressed much other than when men are on base to shorten down in the unloading time,” he said. “Looking back into his usage in September, it was less frequent. Bigger-bodied guys, (when there’s) consistency to get them to the mound, they have a feel for where their delivery is and that ultimately leads to better command overall.”

* Pitcher Andrew Miller apparently hasn’t cut his hair or shaved his beard since last season and has veered rather dramatically into Grizzly Adams territory. Asked how long it will be before team rules are instituted, Farrell said, “Those conversations take place.”

Miller had a rebound year in 2012 (3.35 ERA), which Farrell attributes to finding a consistent role in the bullpen.

“The ability to pitch more frequently gets him to the mound without having to wait five days, so repeating his delivery and taking the mound more consistently lends into that as well,” he said.

Farrell said Miller has reduced his leg kick, which gives the 6-foot-7 left-hander better ability to control his delivery and command the strike zone.

* Farrell on shortstop Stephen Drew: “What he’s shown is, the range at shortstop has returned to the level that he showed prior to the ankle injury. He’s shown a good and consistent swing at the plate.” Drew, who was unable to throw out Mike Aviles on a fourth-inning hit up the middle, made a superb relay throw to catcher Ryan Lavarnway one batter later to save a run.

* Xander Bogaerts, Boston’s No. 1 prospect, started at third base for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic on Monday night and went 1-for-3 with a double in a 4-1 win over Australia. He’s 1-for-8 in three games. The Netherlands has advanced to the second round in Tokyo.

* The Red Sox were having trouble selling tickets for Tuesday’s game, and it showed. The announced attendance was 7,901 -- 2,089 below capacity. The irony is that Team Puerto Rico put a more glamorous lineup on the field than the Yankees did on Sunday.

* Jon Lester starts against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Wednesday’s Grapefruit League game (1:35 p.m.). Also scheduled to pitch are Rubby De La Rosa, Steven Wright, Junichi Tazawa and Anthony Carter. In two starts, Lester hasn’t given up a run in five innings and has allowed a .063 batting average.