Boston Red Sox: Justin Thomas
March, 15, 2012
By Carl Bleich | ESPNBoston.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox pitchers Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard made very different statements with their performances during Boston’s 9-6 loss to St. Louis at JetBlue Park on Thursday.
Aceves and Bard are two of Boston’s hurlers that are competing for the fourth and fifth spots in the starting rotation. Aceves’ statement was a positive one as he allowed one run in four innings and struck out four batters. Bard’s statement was quite the contrary, as he allowed seven runs 2 2/3 innings while walking four batters.
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said before Thursday’s loss that does not plan on making any immediate decisions on who will make the starting rotation.
“What I’m trying to do now is formulate the guys who are going to be in the bullpen in my mind,” Valentine said. “Then (I will) pick the guys who will be starting the game.”
Aceves allowed all three of his hits in the first two innings before setting down the final six batters he faced in a row. His ERA sits at 1.00 in nine innings pitched this spring.
“The rhythm of the game was a priority for me personally,” Aceves said when asked about Thursday’s outing. “So far, so good (this spring). I think everything is good.”
Bard struggled to find the strike zone at times as he recorded a blown save and took the loss in Thursday’s game. His ERA ballooned to 8.22 in 7 2/3 innings pitched.
“Physically, I could throw more pitches,” Bard said. “Obviously (I) just wasn't in the (strike) zone, wasn't throwing strike one. (I) just need to be a little more aggressive early in the count.”
Youk Up First: Third baseman Kevin Youkilis celebrated his 33rd birthday on Thursday by hitting leadoff for the Red Sox. He was 0-for-2 with a walk.
While Valentine said he would “probably not” bat Youkilis in the leadoff position during the regular season, Valentine does have a history of batting nontraditional players first in the order.
In the early 1990s while managing the Texas Rangers, Valentine batted 40-year-old Brian Downing in the leadoff position. Downing had just 50 stolen bases in his 20-year major league career but carried a high on-base percentage, something Valentine looks for in a leadoff hitter.
“(Batting Youkilis in the leadoff position) was more on the idea of getting him a couple quick at-bats because he is going to have a lot of games,” Valentine said. “Youk is a very productive hitter. ... Our lack of other right-handed hitters would (stop me from hitting Youkilis leadoff) right now. But maybe we have other right-handed hitters.”
Youkilis insinuated that he would prefer to hit further down in the batting order.
“We haven’t talked about it but I don’t think I’m going to be hitting leadoff,” Youkilis said. “I don’t think I’m a leadoff hitter. ... I think I can do a lot better down in the order for this team.”
McDonald On Fire: Darnell McDonald admitted after leaving Thursday’s game that he is having the best spring of his career at the plate. McDonald blasted a two-run home run to left field in the fourth inning after narrowly missing a home run in the third inning and instead settling for a double. McDonald leads the team with seven extra-base hits this spring.
“I’m just trying to make the best out of my opportunities out there,” McDonald said. “I started hitting a little earlier than I would normally start (in the offseason). I was really trying to build off the end of last year.”
When all players are healthy, Boston has a fairly crowded outfield. But with Carl Crawford (recovering from wrist surgery) and Ryan Sweeney (left quad strain) both recovering from injuries, McDonald’s role is expanded right now.
“This is nothing new,” McDonald said of competing for a spot in the outfield. “It’s been going well this spring. I want to keep it going.”
Ciriaco Strikes Again: Non-roster invitee Pedro Ciriaco continued his hot streak on Thursday. After hitting a walkoff home run on Monday night and scoring the game-winning run on Tuesday night, Ciriaco ripped a two-run double after the Red Sox had loaded the bases in the sixth inning on Thursday.
The 26-year-old infielder leads the team with a .642 batting average and .642 on-base percentage. He also leads the team in runs and stolen bases and is tied for the team lead in RBI this spring.
“I’m seeing the ball very good,” the native Dominican said. “I feel comfortable right now. I worked very hard in the offseason.”
Ciriaco has hit safely in eight of the 10 games he has played in this spring. He still seems to be a long shot to make the big league club, but he's making the Sox feel good about signing him to a minor league deal on Jan. 3.
Left-Handed Relief Quandry: Left-handed pitcher Rich Hill, who appeared in nine games last season for Boston before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery in June, threw his first live batting practice on Thursday morning. He threw 20 pitches to hitters and tossed 20 warm-up pitches.
Hill is one of just five Red Sox lefties on the major league roster not slated to be in the starting rotation.
Franklin Morales, who appeared in 36 games for Boston in 2011, is also making his way back into shape after having to return to Boston earlier in the spring for follow-up testing following a physical.
Despite both lefties progressing, Valentine is not rushing to make any decisions about left-handers in the bullpen.
“I need to have people that I’m comfortable getting left-handers out in the bullpen,” Valentine said. “To think that you have to establish that now, (that’s) not part of the plan. Eventually a team wants to have a comfort with all those roles. Defining the roles in this camp on March 15 is premature.”
Left-hander Justin Thomas, a non-roster invitee, worked around two infield singles in a scoreless fifth inning on Thursday.
At Odds With The Schedule Maker: Things will get tricky for the Red Sox in the next couple days thanks to a somewhat odd schedule. Boston will play Minnesota on Friday at 7:05 p.m. and then will be forced to play two split-squad day games on Saturday against the Baltimore Orioles.
“It’s cruel and unjust punishment,” Valentine joked. “But we had an off day yesterday so we’ll be ready.”