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Thursday, March 20, 2014
Takeaways: X-caliber, Peavy on track

By Gordon Edes

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Fort, where marquee rookie Xander Bogaerts gave a preview of coming attractions (or so the Sox hope), Jake Peavy says he's feeling better than he has in a long time (are duck boats therapeutic?), David Ortiz video-bombed Peavy's midgame interview with NESN's Sarah Davis and Will Middlebrooks broke out moves he hasn't shown since his quarterbacking days at Liberty-Eylau High School.

The result: Pirates 4, Red Sox 2. The Pirates, a team the Sox won't see again this season until October at the earliest (anyone else up for a reprise of the Pilgrims-Pirates, 1903 World Series?), scored a couple of runs off Cuban work-in-progress Dalier Hinojosa to break a 2-all tie in the eighth. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle piggybacked a couple of starters, Wandy Rodriguez and Brandon Cumpton, who combined to hold the Sox to seven hits in 8 2/3 innings.

Xander Bogaerts
Xander Bogaerts looks more comfortable at shortstop, according to John Farrell.
The X files: Bogaerts, who came into the game batting .143, lined a single off the wall in his first at-bat (he was cut down at second trying for a double), lined a run-scoring base hit and stole second in his second at-bat, and hit into a force play in his final at-bat.

"Much more like we've seen Xander last year," manager John Farrell said. "Three-two fastball, he lines a ball off the wall in center, he stayed back well on a breaking ball on a 2-2 count, he just let the ball travel a little bit more tonight rather than getting jumpy at times. He looked comfortable in the box."

Bogaerts is batting .194 this spring, but the low average has done little to dim the high expectations for the 21-year-old rookie, talent evaluators for opposing teams no less enthused than the Sox baseball operations staff.

Farrell spent some time before the game talking about the mental load placed on Bogaerts this spring from the defensive side, learning the nuances of playing short at this level. As camp has progressed, Farrell said, Bogaerts has become more at ease.

"You can see it in his body language," Farrell said. "Early on in camp, there was a lot of thought going into the situations that were in front of him, based on all the work and terminology he's gotten from Butter [infield coach Brian Butterfield], and I think it's translated into some of the plays that he's made defensively. He's looked very good at shortstop."

Farrell cited Bogaerts' first-step quickness and range he has shown on balls both to his glove side and in the hole. He also noted an improved transfer and release on throws.

"There's been a quicker release," Farrell said. "He's gotten some throws off in a very timely fashion. His internal clock has picked up as the speed of the game has. Those are all positive signs.

"He came up and jumped onto the scene pretty productively last season. He's had to deal with a lot on the defensive side. I'm not saying he's not separating offense and defense but he's still yet to hit his stride offensively."

His performance Wednesday suggested the bat is coming.

Passion of Peavy: The Sox right-hander, who threw 74 pitches before being lifted with two outs in the fifth, said he might have been better off toning things down a bit, saying he'd rather not be hitting 93 on the radar gun at this stage of spring. The "fishing finger" is almost fully healed, he said, still a tad swollen but able to slide into a normal pitcher's glove.

Peavy mentioned he doesn't begin throwing until he arrives in spring training, so he was a bit concerned about staying on schedule after developing a little inflammation in the ring finger on his pitching hand, then nearly slicing off his left index finger with a fishing knife. But the fastball command, his priority, is coming along nicely, and the secondary pitches are improving, too.

Jake Peavy
After hitting 93 mph in his second spring start, Jake Peavy said he feels as good as he has in years.
"Tonight, I threw everything," he said. "I felt good with everything but the changeup."

Travis Ishikawa hit one of those mediocre changeups for a home run in the fifth, the only run allowed by Peavy, who said he feels as good physically as he has at any time since he left San Diego. Considering there was a four-year interlude in Chicago (he was traded to the White Sox at midseason in 2009 and came to Boston last July), that's saying something.

He said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who caught him in Chicago, talked to him in the training room Wednesday night about the difference.

"I'm excited about me and A.J.," he said. "I think our time in Chicago, I wasn't ever healthy. A.J. hasn't caught me with this much health, really. ... I don't know what that will translate to, stuffwise, but the feel [is much better]. I'm 32 years old, people talk like I'm 40. I feel like I have a lot of good baseball in me."

Pitching Pierzynski: Peavy sang his former batterymate's praises. "A.J.'s made a lot of improvements in trying some different things in his game, dealing with [Jason] Varitek, I'm excited to have him on the team. This guy's a winner. He stirs the pot. We have a lot of the same makeup, we've butted heads at times, too. But Boston's going to fall in love with this guy. He plays hard, hard, wants to play every day."

He can run, too: Middlebrooks singled and stole his second base of the spring. He also tagged out two runners in the same rundown, diving into second base to tag out Jaff Decker to complete the double play. Hurdle challenged the call; it was denied after umpires reviewed replays. Middlebrooks also booted a ground ball for an error, but overall he has had an outstanding spring. A faster Middlebrooks?

"A healthy Middlebrooks," he said. "Couldn't do it before, because I was always trying to stay on the field. I can get good jumps. I'm not a blazer, but I feel like I'm above average. Especially from first to home or second to home. It may take me a while to get going, so I don't know about bags [stolen bases].

"I feel really good. The finger, that was nothing. Seeing the ball well."

JBJ report: Bradley doubled in three trips. He also struck out on a ball in the dirt. He's batting .200 overall.

Dot, dot, dots: The leadoff lottery: For the record, Grady Sizemore has been at the top of the lineup seven times, most of any Sox player this spring. Jonny Gomes led off for the third time Wednesday and singled in a run in three trips. Bradley has led off six times, Nava five times. ... Farrell said that if Craig Breslow, who will appear in a game for the first time Monday, does not break camp with the team, his inclination is to keep a reliever who can pitch multiple innings, which may be good news for Brandon Workman, who fits the profile. ... Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, who have been used sparingly in games so far, will see an increase in activity. Both are throwing live batting practice Thursday, then will pitch in a game Saturday. Farrell said he expects to use them three more times next week. ... Ortiz went 0 for 3 with a strikeout and is now 2 for 29 this spring (.067), but after missing all of last spring training, he's taking it in stride. His mood was best captured by the way he slipped his arm around Peavy while the pitcher was in mid-interview with NESN's Sarah Davis. ... Clay Buchholz is scheduled to start here Thursday night against the Yankees.