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Red Sox Spring Training (2/28-3/6): Lester Gets Flu, Gonzalez Takes BP

Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie makes a diving catch in the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves in Fort Myers on Wednesday. The Red Sox lost 6-1. (AP Photo/www.boston.com)

Welcome back to Sports of Boston’s weekly recap of all things spring training. After sweeping Boston College and Northeastern University, the Boston Red Sox began Grapefruit League action with an 8-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins to round out opening weekend. This week the team played a full slate of games, and we’re happy to bring you the results:

Red Sox 7, Twins 6

The Red Sox continued their battle for the Mayor’s Cup on Monday. Daisuke Matsuzaka started, giving up a first-inning home run but otherwise looking sharp in two innings of work (14/25 first-pitch strikes), and Tim Wakefield gave up three unearned runs on an error by shortstop Brent Dlugach in the third. Daniel Bard also struggled, giving up two runs on three hits and a walk in the fifth.

The win went to Michael Bowden, who pitched a scoreless seventh, giving up just one hit while striking out two.

At the plate, David Ortiz hit a three-run home run in the third inning to cut the Twins’ lead to 4-3. The game went back and forth between the middle innings, with first basemen Drew Sutton hitting a two-run single in the fifth to make it 6-5 Twins. In the seventh, right fielder Josh Reddick hit a two-run shot to take a 7-6 lead.

Making his spring training debut, Carl Crawford went 0-3.

Red Sox 5, Twins 0

After two slug-fests, the Red Sox were looking for an easy win, and they turned to ace Jon Lester to deliver it. And deliver it he did, pitching two scoreless innings, giving up a hit and a walk while striking one out, for his first win in spring training.

Equally or perhaps even more impressive was Jonathan Papelbon, who needed just six pitches (five strikes) to finish off the Twins 1-2-3 in the fifth. Walks have been a recurrent problem for Papelbon in the last two seasons (52 since 2009, 53 from 2005-2008), as much to blame for his drop in performance as anything else. This outing suggests that Papelbon might be overcoming that issue this season.

At the plate, Josh Reddick drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the second, and Mike Cameron went 2-3 playing DH. Minor league center fielder Juan Carlos Linares went 2-2 with an RBI and two runs.

The Red Sox did most of their scoring in their last two innings, putting up one run in the eighth and two in the ninth.

Braves 6, Red Sox 1

The Red Sox struck first Wednesday, but the Atlanta Braves struck every time after that. Even the rare David Ortiz stolen base could not will the Red Sox to victory against a Braves bullpen that pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just four hits and three walks.

Ortiz went 3-3 Wednesday with an RBI, but otherwise it was a lackluster showing by the Red Sox offense. Of the 17 other Red Sox to have an at-bat Wednesday, only three had hits. Only one – third basemen Nate Spears – reached base twice, on a hit and a walk. Spears also stole a base.

The Red Sox took the lead after one inning, but starter John Lackey gave it back in the second. In two innings of work, Lackey struck out one while giving up a run on four hits and no walks. He did not factor in the decision.

The Red Sox bullpen paled in comparison to the Braves’, giving up five runs on seven hits and four walks in seven innings. The loss went to non-roster invitee Kyle Weiland, who gave up a two-out RBI single to Braves’ non-roster invitee Brent Clevlen in the fifth. In two innings of work, Weiland gave up three hits and an earned run. He struck out three.

Phillies 2, Red Sox 0

Thursday’s game paired the two MLB teams that made the biggest off-season splashes against each other. As of now, the Philadelphia Phillies look like the stronger team. Phillies starter Cole Hamels pitched four scoreless innings of one-hit, one-walk ball, striking out three. The Phillies’ bullpen finished off the one-hitter, giving up just two walks while striking out five in five innings of work.

Mike Cameron had the Red Sox’s lone hit: a double in the third. No Boston player reached base twice, and only four reached base at all.

Stolmy Pimentel started for the Red Sox in place of Josh Beckett (concussion), giving up a two-run double to third basemen Jeff Larish in the second. In a two-inning loss, Pimentel gave up two earned runs on three hits. He struck out one and walked one.

The Red Sox bullpen pitched seven scoreless innings, giving up four hits and three walks. Dan Wheeler worked around two hits in a scoreless third inning. Bobby Jenks made his spring training debut, giving up just a hit in the fifth. The bullpen’s performance was a small silver lining to an otherwise-unmemorable spring training game.

Red Sox 5, Yankees 3

Another sign that power might be shifting in the AL East away from the New York Yankees occurred Friday night, when a Red Sox squad composed almost entirely of minor-league players beat a Yankees lineup that featured most of its major-league hitters. The Red Sox offense was led by center fielder Juan Carlos Linares, who went 2-2 with an RBI and two runs scored, and second baseman Orlando Tejeda, who went 2-2 with three RBIs and a run scored. Tejeda drove in two with a seventh-inning triple and another with a ninth-inning single.

Top-prospect Jose Iglesias also reached base three times, going 2-3 with a walk and a run scored. When he reaches the majors, he will be a superstar.

The Red Sox played several players with modest major league experience, but only three were bona fide major leaguers: Jason Varitek, who went 0-3, Clay Buchholz, who started, and Matt Albers, who pitched the seventh and eighth. Buchholz pitched three shutout innings, allowing one hit and two walks while striking out two. He did not factor in the win, which went to 35-year-old non-roster invitee Brandon Duckworth. Duckworth pitched two innings, allowing a sixth-inning earned run while giving up three hits and a walk and striking out one.

Albers looked very impressive against the Yankees, striking out three in two perfect innings of work. But his replacement, non-roster invitee Tony Pena, was far less impressive. Pena gave up two earned runs on two hits, two walks and a hit batter in the ninth, and Terry Francona was forced to use a fifth reliever with two outs and the bases loaded. Luckily, Eammon Portice induced a weak grounder to second from Yankees second baseman Ramiro Pena, and Tejeda charged it and threw it just in time for the force-out at first.

Red Sox 4, Orioles 4 (10 innings)

The long wait is over: Carl Crawford, hitless in his first nine at-bats in a Red Sox uniform, went 2-3 in a split-squad tie with the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday. He hit singles in the first and fifth inning and also walked. He was one of only two major-league players to make the trip to Sarasota to play the Orioles, the other being Jacoby Ellsbury, who went 0-3 with a walk and a run scored.

Once again, the dynamic infield duo of Orlando Tejeda and Jose Iglesias were the offensive stars for the Red Sox. Tejeda went 3-5 with a triple and drove in three for the second straight game. Iglesias went 3-4 with an RBI and two runs scored.

Alfredo Aceves started for the Red Sox, giving up two hits and an unearned run in three innings. Scott “Old Man” Atchison had a rougher outing, giving up two runs on three hits and two walks in an inning of work.

The Red Sox took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth, but Orioles catcher Jake Fox homered off non-roster invitee Matt Fox to tie the game. Neither side scored in the 10th, after which the game was called.

Marlins 11, Red Sox 2

The Red Sox minor leaguers had a far more successful split-squad outing than their major-league teammates. The Florida Marlins lit up Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka for seven runs (five earned) on six hits and two walks in three innings of work. He struck out one. In two spring training games, Matsuzaka is 0-1 with a 10.80 ERA. After the game, Matsuzaka gave his usual “working on personal mechanics, not concerned with the outcome” summary. Maybe it’s time Matsuzaka became concerned with the outcome.

Daniel Bard also had another rough outing, giving up two earned runs on two hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning.

Boston’s best offensive players were once again minor leaguers. Shortstop Yamaico Navarro went 2-2, including a solo home run. Right fielder Darnell McDonald went 2-3 with an RBI.

The Red Sox were out of this game after the third inning. While the Marlins were having their way with Matsuzaka, former Red Sox pitcher Anibal Sanchez held the Red Sox to just a hit and a walk while striking out three in three innings.

Mets 6, Red Sox 5

With Jon Lester suffering from the flu and unable to start, the Red Sox turned to Michael Bowden to start against the New York Mets. Bowden went two innings, giving up two earned runs on three hits and a walk. The Mets had more success against non-roster invitee Andrew Miller, who gave up three earned runs on four hits in two innings.

Despite being down 5-1 after three innings, the Red Sox clawed back into the game. Daniel Nava and Jed Lowrie each had two hits (Lowrie also scored a run), as did catching prospect Tim Federowicz, who hit a solo home run in the seventh inning. Also homering were Josh Reddick (two-run) and Juan Carlos Linares, and the Red Sox went into the bottom of the eighth tied 5-5. But non-roster invitee Alex Wilson gave up an earned run on three hits, and the Red Sox could not score in the ninth.

Hideki Okajima rebounded nicely from his earlier games, pitching a perfect fifth inning.

In the biggest news of the day, Adrian Gonzalez took batting practice for the first time as a Red Sox, and said he “felt good.” It’s a great sign for the Sox.

Final Thoughts

3-4-1. Not good, not bad. It’s clear the Red Sox minor leaguers are off to a faster start than the major leaguers, which makes total sense. Crawford could go hitless through March and he’d still be the Red Sox’s number two hitter when the regular season starts. Players like Tejeda, Linares and Reddick, meanwhile, are playing for a potential spot on the bench, either on Opening Day or as mid-season or September call-ups. At the very least, they’re trying for better placement within the farm system. They have far more to gain, so they’re trying hard early on. The starters can take their time getting ready for April, assured of their spots.

Speaking of minor leaguers: how good does Jose Iglesias look? Shortstops have always been Theo Epstein’s Achilles’ heel. For some reason, he can never find and then hold onto good ones. But Epstein is also a better judge of young talent than he is of established veterans. Iglesias is the best of both worlds: a young player with unbelievable potential who can develop in a farm system that has produced countless superstars. The only key will be to not rush him to the majors too quickly and risk a setback. Red Sox fans will likely see Iglesias in September, if not sooner. The Red Sox will be set at second base for years, but Lowrie will have a battle for starting-shortstop when Iglesias reaches the majors for good.

You never know what to expect with Matsuzaka, so it’s impossible to determine from two starts what kind of season he’ll have. But more concerning is Bard, who has struggled in two appearances so far, giving up four runs on five hits and three walks in 1.2 innings. His ERA is currently 21.60. This is not the start fans were hoping for from the Red Sox’s future closer. Then again, Bard had a poor spring training last season as well (five earned runs on eight hits and a hit batter in 9.0 innings), and it didn’t seem to affect his regular season at all.

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