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Red Sox begin chemistry experiment

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There's a familiar feeling around these parts for the Boston Red Sox.

Even though Friday is the first official day of full-squad workouts, there seems to be a sense of normalcy for all the players already in camp. The first few days of workouts for pitchers and catchers have been productive and everyone is on board under new manager John Farrell.

When Farrell was named manager in October, his goal was to restructure the clubhouse and the team's roster with quality men both on and off the field. He and general manager Ben Cherington believe they've accomplished that with the additions of outfielders Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino, first baseman/catcher Mike Napoli, catcher David Ross, pitchers Joel Hanrahan and Ryan Dempster and shortstop Stephen Drew.

For all the talk about these new players, for the Red Sox to be successful it starts with the core guys who have played in Boston, and who have won there. It starts with David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz.

Having Farrell, who spent four seasons (2007-2010) as the Red Sox's pitching coach, will also have an impact. Unlike a year ago under then-manager Bobby Valentine, there's a certain comfort level already in place this season. The players are completely focused.

"Yeah, it's more relaxed already," Buchholz said. "Most of the time, when a team has a season like we had last year, everybody has to come into camp wanting to prove something and I don't think that can be any more wrong with this group. I don't think we need to prove anything.

"If anything, we should come in here more relaxed because people are saying we're going to finish in fourth place in the [AL] East. We wouldn't want to have it any other way than to come in and win one of the toughest divisions in baseball without everybody thinking we're going to do it in the first place.

"As far as coming into camp, and being relaxed and everybody knowing what's going on, the new coaching staff, I can see from Day 1 getting here how relaxed everybody was."

For the core guys, this team's struggles since September 2011 have been strange and unpleasant. These players are not used to losing this way. There's a genuine feeling that losing will not be accepted anymore. No more placing blame on anyone else other than themselves if things don't improve in 2013.

Pedroia is so focused on winning, he seems more motivated -- if that's even possible for him -- than in the past. He understands that it needs to start with the veteran Red Sox players for this team to have success.

"It's always good to have familiar faces and if you get those right guys, and add pieces around them, hopefully everything jells together real well and we play well together," Pedroia said.

There's a reason the Red Sox want to extend Pedroia's contract, and there's a reason the club finally gave Ortiz a multiyear deal.

"Me and Pedey, we are the core of this ballclub," Ortiz said. "We might not be too much into talking, but we try to do whatever it takes to win ballgames. People call leaders the guys who probably talk too much, or show a lot of emotion, but I say it's totally the opposite. Of course, you pull your teammates aside and let them know what's up sometimes, but it's more of what they see you doing than what you say."

Almost exactly a year ago, Ortiz decided to stand and be heard during the club's annual spring training meeting with ownership and management. The veteran DH explained there's a certain way the Red Sox handle their business both on and off the field. Of course, that philosophy and mindset went astray in 2011, and it never really returned in 2012 for a variety of reasons, including injuries, trades and the on-going saga with Valentine.

When the Sox sit down for their initial meeting Thursday, Ortiz said he doesn't know whether he'll address the players again.

"Last year I had to say something because of what happened the year before," Ortiz said. "Last year was a year full of injuries, and stuff like that, it was different. Even going through the struggles we went through, we had the entire Triple-A team playing at some point because there were injuries and there's nothing you can do about it."

Team chemistry is a point of emphasis for Farrell this season. He explained he believes in creating a successful atmosphere within the clubhouse, and the mental part of the game is important, too.

"I do," he said. "Particularly in this sport when you've got seven and a half straight months of being with one another every day. That doesn't mean guys have to go out to dinner with one another every night, but there's an atmosphere that's created inside that clubhouse that's one of tolerance, one of encouragement, one of holding one another accountable and I think if you're sincere and respect one another, and you're sincere about your work and how you go about it, those are the attributes that lead to chemistry. I think it goes a long way."

Boston's roster may not impress some, and that's exactly the way the Red Sox want it. If they can fly under the radar in the AL East, then maybe this club can return to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

With the core players prepared to live up to that expectation again, along with the new players in town, it could turn into the perfect mix.

"You can't underestimate any one person here, or any core of players that have been holdovers that have had success here, that have won World Series here, that know first-hand what Boston has to offer, the expectation and what it's like to play here," Farrell said. "But at the same time, when you bring in fresh blood, new players, there's certainly an excitement on their part to come in here.

"When you have that combination, one is going to lead the way for the other about playing here, about playing for the Red Sox. I think we have a very good mix of players right now."

Within the walls of the clubhouse and between the lines on the field, it goes without saying who the leaders of this team are. Everybody in uniform knows exactly who those players are by the way they lead by example.

"Obviously, Papi and Pedey are the guys, the front-line guys, everybody listens to and they're going to set examples," Buchholz said. "We've got a bunch of guys that have come in that are new this year and have been in the league for an extended period of time, and they obviously know what they need to do. That's the base of everything, everybody knowing what their job is and how we need to go about it, and what's going to make our team better."

Lester is another important cog for the Red Sox. With Josh Beckett no longer around after he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last August, Lester is the longest-tenured Red Sox pitcher. He looked up to Beckett, but now it's Lester's staff to lead.

"I don't worry about leaders and all that. I try to do my job the best I can," Lester said. "Especially with some of these young guys that are out here, I try to set a good example, as far as doing the PFPs [pitchers' fielding practice] right, taking the bullpen serious, doing the little things that, as veterans, we should do," Lester said. "The leader stuff takes care of itself. People name you that, you don't name yourself that and if one of my peers considered me a leader, that's awesome. But right now I'm just trying to get the ship right and start pitching well."

If he is viewed as a leader by his teammates, it's a role Lester would gladly accept.

"It's not a matter of not wanting to be a leader; it's a matter of not wanting to call myself a leader," he said. "The people that kind of nominate themselves to be leaders are false leaders. [Real leaders are] the guys that, kind of like [Jason Varitek], they go out and play, they play hurt, they bust their butt and they show everybody that they're the guy, and everybody puts that on him."

As Farrell mentioned, it will take an entire group effort to turn this clubhouse mentality into success on the field. The veteran core is important, but the newcomers, especially guys like Gomes, need to be instrumental to make that happen.

"He's gonna add a hell of a lot of personality to the clubhouse, I know that, which is consistent with the reputation he has as a player," Farrell said of Gomes. "He's a hard-working guy, loves to play the game, loves to compete and when you talk to players that have been teammates of his, there's nothing but rave reviews about the personality, the teammate that he is and the liveliness he creates in the clubhouse all in a good way. He's a breath of fresh air."

When the Red Sox were perennial winners in the AL East, there was a consistent aura surrounding the team. It appears to be back.

"Time will tell," Pedroia said. "We haven't even had a full workout, yet. Guys are in good shape and they seem excited to play. We'll get out there and get after it. Our goal is to win our last game, that's it. Hopefully we can get back to doing that."