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Thursday, February 27, 2014
Morning report: From the top, Sizemore

By Gordon Edes

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In the bottom of the seventh inning of a one-sided game at Cleveland’s Progressive Field, Grady Sizemore flared a single to right field off White Sox reliever Addison Reed to score pinch runner Cord Phelps, who crossed the plate in front of A.J. Pierzynski, catching for Chicago.

That was on Sept. 22, 2011. Two years, five months and five days have passed since Sizemore last appeared in a baseball game, which underscores why it matters that Sizemore’s name was on top of the lineup card Red Sox manager John Farrell posted for Thursday’s exhibition against the Northeastern Huskies.

Sizemore was scheduled to lead off and bat first against the Huskies in the first of two exhibitions the Red Sox are playing against college foes Thursday. Boston College will follow in the second game. Each game is scheduled to go seven innings.

Sizemore, like most of the starters, will get just a couple of bats, but that’s more action than he saw in his last spring training, 2012 with Cleveland, when back and knee issues sidelined him even before games began. He had back and knee surgery that year, and did not play that season or the next, rehabbing last year at home.

Sizemore will probably play in three or four games in the first seven or eight days of the exhibition schedule, Farrell said, depending on how he responds.

“So much has been made of what he’s come off of, it’s probably the day after he’s on the field after the games, and how he comes out of those physically,’’ Farrell said.

Sizemore had begun the week uncertain of how soon he would actually play in a game, but Farrell said the Sox medical staff was satisfied that he had made sufficient progress to be tested under game conditions.

“We gave him a day off a couple of days ago, not at his request, just to get him off his feet and balance out the fact there’s been a couple-year gap here, but he’s been getting after it every day and so far, so good.’’

Sizemore is playing left field, with Jackie Bradley Jr. in center.

Most of the Sox regulars are playing in the first game. Neither of the team’s regular catchers, David Ross or Pierzynski, will play Thursday. They’ll begin play in Friday’s first big-league exhibition here against the Minnesota Twins, and are expected to play on alternate days thereafter.

Daniel Nava, who has been dealing with a pinched nerve in his neck, could see some time Friday and is a definite go for the weekend, Farrell said.

Shane Victorino, whose 2013 season was disrupted by hamstring and back issues, is on his own schedule as he tries to avoid a repeat of that this season.

Both games Thursday will be broadcast on WEEI, on the AM side (850).

What to watch in the first game: Brandon Workman, who draws the start against the Huskies, is fighting for a spot in the Sox pen, though he could also end up heading a strong rotation in Pawtucket. Left-hander Henry Owens, described as a “natural” by no less than Pedro Martinez, is scheduled to follow Workman to the mound.

Take note of how much bigger Will Middlebrooks is at third base, after a winter of working out six days a week with Mike Boyle, the team’s strength and conditioning consultant. Middlebrooks has added at least a dozen pounds of muscle to his frame, and said he also geared his workouts toward increasing his quickness, with an eye on becoming a better baserunner. Middlebrooks gave credit to workout partner John McDonald, the veteran infielder who finished last season with the Sox and is a non-roster invitee with the Angels this spring. “He’d drive an hour from Scituate three days a week,’’ Middlebrooks said. “We’d do drills, without a glove, working on hand-eye coordination, then work out. For the last month, we’d throw, hit, nothing on the field. He was a huge help.’’

You’ll also notice a difference in size in shortstop Deven Marrero, the former No. 1 pick from Arizona State who was in his first big-league camp last spring. He said he probably has added 10 pounds of muscle.

Ryan Lavarnway is behind the plate for the first game, but it will be interesting to see how long it'll be before the Sox take a look at him at first base.

Jerry Remy was in the dugout before Thursday’s game. NESN’s first telecast is scheduled for Sunday.

Freshman Dustin Hunt is scheduled to start for Northeastern. The 6-foot-4, 175-pound right-hander pitched for St. John’s Prep last season after playing for Andover High. Here’s what our crack ESPNBoston.com high school staff said about him: “Arguably the state’s top closer, Hunt embraced the role as the Eagles reeled off 22 straight wins before falling in the D1 North Final. On the season he struck out 31 batters in 27.1 innings, with a 1.54 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP.”