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Red Sox Spring Training Wrap-Up (3/22 – 3/28)

Newly acquired starter John Lackey has no problem sliding into the No. 3 position behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. (Mike Carlson/Associated Press)

Welcome back to Sports of Boston’s weekly recap of all things Spring Training for your Boston Red Sox. Without further ado, let’s get right to it:

Red Sox versus Rays and Cardinals

Monday was another case of the split-squad blues for your Boston Red Sox. Half the squad took on the Tampa Bay Rays, while the other half took on the St. Louis Cardinals. Neither game went the Red Sox way, as they fell to Tampa, 11-9, and St. Louis, 13-8. The good news is that offense, the big question of this preseason, was not a problem for either of squad. Against St. Louis, they banged out 13 hits. They were actually winning this game going into the bottom of the eighth, when St. Louis scored seven runs against Ramon A. Ramirez and T.J. Large. The Sox could not come back from that with a mere three outs to work with, and fell. Offensive heroes of the game included Jeremy Hermida and Tug Hulett, who both had two- hit games with RBIs.

Against Tampa Bay, starter Boof Bonser continued to struggle through this Spring Training. He gave up five runs in just two innings of work. Overall, the Rays homered a whopping seven times off of Red Sox pitching. The Red Sox responded with 15 hits, but they could not get the scoring going until the seventh inning, at which point they were too far behind to come back. The only player of note offensively was Mike Cameron, who went 2-3 and is batting over .400 this preseason.

Red Sox versus Twins

Tuesday saw the Red Sox continue their battle for the Mayor’s Cup against the Minnesota Twins. Unfortunately, this game went the Twins’ way, as they beat the Red Sox, 7-2. Clay Buchholz continued to struggle this preseason, giving up five earned runs in less than two innings of work. Offensively, there were no notable performances. The Sox did not even get on the scoreboard until the eighth inning, scoring single runs then and in the ninth. Against a poor starting pitching performance, that’ll never be enough to get it done.

The Sox will have to make a decision soon about whether or not to bring Buchholz to the majors for an extended period this year. At this point, he does not look ready to pitch in the majors, but he’ll never be ready unless management brings him up. His greatest value may be as trade bait to get a more established player. Let another team suffer the inevitable losses that his maturation into a major league pitcher will require.

Red Sox versus Pirates

On Wednesday, the Red Sox faced off against the Pittsburgh Pirates. A combination of home runs and a strong starting pitching performance from Josh Beckett made a winning combination today, as the Red Sox beat the Pirates, 6-4. Beckett went five strong innings, allowing just one earned run while striking out nine. Beckett is finally looking like the pitcher we’re hoping for this season, it’s just a question of whether he’ll be able to pitch like this game in and game out. It’s an even-year season (2010), so the trend suggests he will not be able to (statistically, Beckett has been much stronger for the Sox during seasons that end in odd numbers). Offensively, there were home runs by Mike Cameron, Victor Martinez, and Bill Hall. It is also worth noting that while Josh Reddick only went 1-4, he is batting .400 for the preseason. Overall, this was a great way for the Sox to get back on the winning track. Good pitching and timely hitting will always make for a winning combination.

Red Sox versus Marlins

Thursday featured a battle between the Red Sox and the Florida Marlins. Continuing the trend of the previous game, the Sox got a good starting pitching performance which they combined with timely hitting from its stars. Tim Wakefield gave the Red Sox a quality start, going six innings while only giving up three earned runs. He is 3-1 this preseason with an ERA of 3.66. Frankly, he has earned a position in the starting rotation for the Red Sox, especially considering the inconsistency of SEVERAL of the other Red Sox starters. Offensively, Boston banged out twelve more hits. Offense has not turned out to be the problem everyone thought it was going to be. Multiple players had multiple hit games, including Jeremy Hermida (2-2 with an RBI) and Kevin Youkilis (2-4). All of this translated into a nifty 6-4 victory for the Red Sox. It is nice to see the Sox continuing to build momentum heading into the regular season. So far, most of the starters have answered the challenge of stretching themselves out and going deeper into games.

Red Sox versus Blue Jays

Friday saw a split squad take on the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite zero earned runs allowed by Boston pitching, the Red Sox found themselves down 2-0 going into the bottom of the ninth. However, timely hitting allowed the Red Sox to beat the Blue Jays, 3-2. The bottom of the ninth saw RBI singles from David Ortiz, Dusty Brown, and the game winner from Tug Hulett. The Red Sox are getting excellent production from bench players these days, and it should translate into pinch-hitting opportunities for players like Hulett, Reddick, and Hermida. If they keep up this kind of production, they will be very useful in those situations.

Red Sox versus Orioles

Saturday featured a matchup against the Baltimore Orioles. Unfortunately, Boston’s hitting was completely flustered by strong Baltimore pitching and lost, 6-1. They could not even get on the scoreboard until the ninth inning, where they got an RBI from Tug Hulett (who else?). In terms of pitching, John Lackey looked very strong. He allowed just two earned runs in six innings of work. He did a good job keeping the Red Sox in the game, but unfortunately Alan Embree, making his 2010 debut, allowed an additional three earned runs to score.

Currently, Embree’s ERA is over 40.00. He seems to be past his prime, and may be more of a liability than an advantage for Boston at this point. He should probably start in the minor leagues, as he probably can no longer handle the power of major league bats.

Red Sox versus Twins

The Red Sox wrapped things up Sunday with a dominating performance against the Minnesota Twins, winning 11-5. Clay Buchholz looked only alright in his starting role, getting into the fifth inning while allowing four earned runs. The big story of the day was the offensive explosion of the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox belted out 16 hits, including three-run home runs from both David Ortiz and Tug Hulett. Dustin Pedroia, showing no ill effects from his wrist injury, went 3-4. Victor Martinez went 4-5, and Kevin Youkilis went 4-4. Boston’s victory on Sunday wrapped up the “coveted” Mayor’s Cup, as the Red Sox won the preseason series against Minnesota.

The Week in Review

On paper, the Red Sox had just a so-so week. They remain a .500 ball club. But even in the losses, there is much to look at and get excited about. John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Tim Wakefield are all looking ready for the season at the beginning. The bench should feature some nifty hitters in Tug Hulett and Josh Reddick. And how about that offense? Even when they lose, the Red Sox are proving they can hit the ball both with power and for average. The question of whether or not they can score runs is quickly being answered. And if the relief staff can hold onto leads and keep opponent scoring to a minimum (the one negative trend we’ve been seeing this preseason), the bats should come alive more times than not and bring the Sox victory. As we prepare for the regular season at the end of next week, we look at the Red Sox and see a team that’s getting more and more complete with each game.

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