- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Fort, where one intrasquad game in college at Rice University is all the third base Brock Holt ever played before Boston's 9-3 spring training loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday afternoon.
Naturally, it took only two batters before Holt was tested, and he was equal to the task, diving to his left and spearing a ground ball by Andrew McCutchen, and throwing out the swift McCutchen with a strong throw across the diamond. In the fifth inning, he came in on a chopper and threw to second for a force.
And just like that, the battle was joined in earnest for one of the few jobs available on a Sox roster offering very little in the way of intrigue, other than the Big Question posed by Big Papi and his troublesome Achilles tendon.
The Sox are looking for a backup infielder who can play at least three positions, with bonus points if that player can also play the outfield. There are three candidates. The incumbent is Pedro Ciriaco, 27, whose fast start and impressive mugging of the Yankees masked the fact that he limped to the finish line, posting a .233/.269/.291/.560 line in the season's last month. There is veteran Drew Sutton, 29, who was with the Sox in 2011, played the infield for the Rays last season and the outfield for the Pirates, and has hit in spurts.
And there is Holt, 24, the other player in the deal that brought closer Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox from the Pirates. Holt stands nose to nose with Dustin Pedroia, and put up impressive on-base numbers during a rapid ascent through the minors that led to a late-season call-up to the Pirates.
Holt is a shortstop by trade and has also played a lot of second, but had never played third until John Farrell started him there Wednesday afternoon. It won't be long, Farrell said, before the Sox take a look at Holt in center field, too.
"He's a good athlete, and he's shown a lot of good aptitude," Farrell said. "He's taken on third base, one new position. Gradually, we'll look to incorporate [center field] as well, but he made a couple pretty good plays today at third base."
Procedural matters favor Ciriaco, who is out of options and would have to pass through waivers for the Sox to send him back to the minors. Sutton is a non-roster player, which means the Sox would have to create a roster spot for him to make the team, which is not an enormous obstacle but would require some shuffling. Holt has options, which means the team could stash him in Pawtucket, have him play every day there, and be on call should the need arise.
That's why making a strong impression in camp is of some urgency to Holt, who suspects that the ability to play third behind Will Middlebrooks will be an important determining factor.
"I think it's huge," Holt said. "Obviously, right now it's just Middlebrooks. Ciri has proven he can play over there. He plays great defensively, no matter where he's at. The more positions I can play, the better.
"I'm coming here every day, trying to get as much work as possible at every position. If I'm at second in the morning, I'm trying to take ground balls at short and third after practice, trying to get as much work as I can. Hopefully, they see I'm working hard and starting to get more comfortable over there. I think it's been going good."
* The novelty of having a knuckleballer in camp has been a popular storyline early, but Steven Wright, still a kid in knuckleballer years (28), very much remains a work in progress, one that Farrell said Wednesday will require patience. Wright was cuffed for five hits and three walks in two innings by the Pirates, who in his last outing had three hits and three walks while scoring two runs in 2 1/3 innings.
"Going back to the final inning in the previous outing and today, just not the consistent feel or the shape to the knuckleball," Farrell said. "It's one of those things where we have to be patient with the pitch and him as a knuckleball pitcher."
Farrell then cast the issue in terms suitable for discussion in a Harvard philosophy class: How do you perfect the imperfect?
"If you look at the bigger picture, he's at the early stages of trying to perfect this pitch, one which is an imperfect pitch," Farrell said.
* Hot prospect Rubby De La Rosa also had a flawed afternoon, giving up three runs on three hits and a walk.
* Jon Lester threw 52 pitches while giving up a run on two hits in four innings, walking three and striking out three. "Good four innings of work," Farrell said. "I thought he used his curveball more today than in the previous two outings. Part by design, part by situations that arose. Might not have been as sharp as his last time out, still 52 pitches in four innings, a good day of work for him."