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Red Sox Spring Training (3/14-3/20): Rotation Set Thursday, Roster Trimmed Twice

BetancesMarco Scutaro scores a run as New York Yankees pitcher Dellin  #72 is late with the tag during Monday's Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Sports of Boston’s coverage of Red Sox Spring Training rolls on! April 1 fast approaches, and the Red Sox Opening Day roster is definitely taking shape. Terry Francona announced Wednesday that Jon Lester would open the regular season against the Texas Rangers in Arlington. On Thursday, Francona set the rest of the starting rotation. John Lackey (2-0, 1.72 ERA in four preseason starts) will pitch second, followed by Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The Red Sox also trimmed their roster Thursday, optioning four players to Triple-A Pawtucket and reassigning a fifth to Minor League camp. Among the optioned players were shortstops Yamaico Navarro and top prospect Jose Iglesias. In 17 Spring Training games this year, Navarro batted .273 with five RBIs. Iglesias batted .320 while showing off his defensive prowess. It’s only a matter of time before we see Iglesias again at Fenway.

In a related move, the Red Sox optioned Daniel Nava (.205 BA, 14 strikeouts this preseason) to Triple-A Pawtucket as part of three roster moves made Sunday morning.

Now that the transactions are out of the way, on to the games!

Red Sox 2, Yankees 1

The Red Sox completed their preseason sweep of the New York Yankees Monday in a nationally televised night game that showed off just how improved the Boston bullpen is. Boston relievers combined for six scoreless innings after Red Sox starter Alfredo Aceves went three, giving up a run on three hits and a walk. Bobby Jenks got the win, giving up just a hit in a scoreless sixth inning. In five preseason innings, Jenks has yet to give up a run.

Jonathan Papelbon pitched a perfect fifth inning, striking out one. Non-roster invitee Rich Hill pitched two scoreless innings, giving up just a hit for the six-out save.

The Red Sox went into the bottom of the fifth down 1-0, but tied it when Marco Scutaro scored from third on one of Yankees minor leaguer Dellin Betances’s two wild pitches. The Red Sox took the lead in the sixth, when catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia drove in Navarro with an RBI groundout.

In his second game back from injury, Adrian Gonzalez went 1-3.

Red Sox 2, Tigers 1 (10 innings)

Being able to say that Matsuzaka out-dueled somebody has been an infrequent occurrence in recent seasons. Matsuzaka out-dueling an elite pitcher in the MLB is even rarer. But that’s exactly what happened Tuesday.

The box score will give both Matsuzaka and Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander no-decisions. But the fact remains that Matsuzaka out-pitched Verlander in what was easily Matsuzaka’s best start this Spring Training. Matsuzaka gave up just two hits and a walk in five scoreless innings, striking out five. Verlander went 5 1/3, giving up an earned run on two hits. He also struck out five.

The Red Sox won on a 10th-inning home run from designated hitter Darnell McDonald.

The Red Sox bullpen did not allow a hit after the seventh inning. Michael Bowden pitched a perfect eighth inning, and non-roster invitee Brandon Duckworth gave up just two walks in two innings, picking up the win.

The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning on a Jacoby Ellsbury solo home run, but reliever Matt Albers couldn’t hold it, giving up a seventh-inning home run to Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera.

The only other Red Sox to reach base were J.D. Drew (1-3), left fielder Nava (hit by pitch), and non-roster second baseman Nate Spears (walk).

Braves 4, Red Sox 3

The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead against the Atlanta Braves Wednesday when Scutaro homered on the second pitch of the game. Unfortunately, the top of the first was the only time the Red Sox ever led. Starter Lester gave the lead away in the bottom of the first on three straight hits (he then retired 10 of the next 11 batters), then gave up two more runs in the fifth.

In 4 2/3 innings, Lester gave up three earned runs on eight hits and a walk, striking out four. He only avoided taking the loss because the Red Sox tied the game 3-3 in the seventh inning. A Saltalamacchia double scored Navarro, then right fielder Josh Reddick drove in Saltalamacchia with a single.

The loss went to non-roster invitee Dennys Reyes, who gave up an RBI bunt single to Braves catcher David Ross in the seventh inning.

Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia both went 1-3.

Red Sox 8, Mets 5

Lackey continued his dominant Spring Training on Thursday against the New York Mets, showing off exactly what Francona thought qualified him to be the No. 2 starter. Lackey went 5 1/3 innings, giving up just one run on five hits and a walk while striking out two. His performance was more than enough for a Red Sox offense that banged out 11 hits and eight runs against the hapless Mets.

By the time the Mets scored off Lackey in the fifth, the Red Sox were up 2-0. And as soon as Lackey gave up the run, the Red Sox scored three more to push the lead to 5-1.

Left fielder Carl Crawford and shortstop Jed Lowrie both went 2-3 with two RBIs Thursday (Crawford also stole a base). Non-roster infielder Drew Sutton went 2-4 with a two-run home run. Ellsbury also reached base twice, going 1-2 with a walk and a run scored.

Given a 9-1 lead, Jonathan Papelbon struggled in the ninth. He faced seven batters, giving up four runs on two hits, two walks and a hit batter. He struck out none and recorded just two outs, forcing Francona to bring in Eammon Portice for the final out and the save.

Tigers 8, Red Sox 3

Buchholz’s four-inning, one-earned-run (on five hits and two walks) performance might not have been enough to win no matter what in Friday’s split-squad game against the Detroit Tigers. But it was the Red Sox defense – or lack thereof – that really killed them.

The Tigers scored four runs in the fifth inning on miscues by the Boston infield. Gonzalez began the inning by muffing a grounder, then Youkilis committed an error on the next play, followed by Gonzalez two plays after that. Tigers designated hitter Ryan Raburn followed with a two-run home run off Hideki Okajima for the 5-1 Tigers lead.

The Red Sox didn’t fare much better at the plate, where they only recorded four hits. Pedroia hit a first-inning solo shot and later reached on a walk, and Youkils knocked in two. Center fielder Ryan Kalish went 2-3 with a run scored. He also reached on a walk and stole two bags. Kalish leads the team with five preseason stolen bases.

Rays 7, Red Sox 3

Tim Wakefield did little to convince anyone he belongs anywhere besides the bullpen during the second half of Friday’s split-squad action. In just three innings of work, Wakefield allowed six earned runs on seven hits and a walk. He allowed four home runs, including to Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and former Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez.

The Red Sox were down 6-0 after three innings, so there was not much they could do at the plate that would matter. And “not much” is exactly what they did, to the tune of just five hits. Ellsbury and Sutton each had two, going 2-4 with a run scored apiece. Drew had the fifth hit, a single. The Red Sox did draw six walks off Rays pitchers, and Red Sox pitchers stranded 10 Rays runners. But that’s a small silver lining to an otherwise awful baseball game.

Pirates 7, Red Sox 5

Saturday afternoon’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates saw a third-straight poor pitching performance by a Red Sox starter. This time, it was Beckett who struggled, giving up seven hits and a walk in 4 1/3 innings. But just like in Buchholz’s start Friday, the defense hurt the team more than the pitching. Spears’ error at first led to four unearned Pirates runs in the fourth, and the inning ended with the Pirates up 5-0.

The Red Sox got four of those runs back in the middle innings, but Aceves gave up two runs in the bottom of the seventh, and the Red Sox just ran out of outs.

The Boston offense at least came alive Saturday, banging out 11 hits against Pirates pitchers. Scutaro and Sutton each had two hits for Boston, with Scutaro driving one in from the leadoff spot and Sutton scoring once. Both of Sutton’s hits were doubles. Spears went 1-3 with two runs scored, also reaching on a walk, and McDonald reached base twice on a hit and a walk.

Cardinals 10, Red Sox 3

First the good news: Red Sox pitchers held the St. Louis Cardinals scoreless for eight innings of Sunday’s game. Now the bad news: the Cardinals scored 10 runs in the sixth inning.

Starter Matsuzaka took the loss, giving up two earned runs on three hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings. But for once, Matsuzaka wasn’t really the problem. Non-roster invitee Andrew Miller followed Matsuzaka in the sixth, and promptly allowed six runs on four hits and two walks. He did not record an out.

At the plate, the Red Sox banged out nine hits, but were only able to put up three runs. Scutaro went 2-2 and reached on a walk. Spears drove in two with a double in the seventh and later scored. Youkilis went 1-2 with a walk.

The Red Sox are now on a four-game preseason losing streak.

Final Thoughts

The Red Sox started the week a game over .500 and are now a game under (12-13-1). A promising first four games were soured by a rather pathetic weekend. What’s most troubling is that most of the losses can be attributed to players expected to contribute to the major-league team. Wakefield and Okajima will most likely be on the major league roster, but right now both have ERAs of 6.00 or worse. And Beckett’s 5.02 ERA isn’t much better. Good thing Jenks’s is still 0.00.

Slightly more comforting is Matsuzaka’s performance this week. He’s the fifth starter, which means expectations for him this season will be low. If he can consistently perform as he did this week, he will likely surpass those expectations.

We can forgive the two games lost due to defensive errors. Defense has not been a problem during other games this Spring Training, and Spears will likely not even be on the major league roster come April 1. Neither will Miller, who in seven preseason games has a double-digit ERA.

Hitter of the Week honors go to Scutaro and Sutton. Scutaro had five hits, including a home run, with two runs and two RBIs. He will probably have to platoon at shortstop with Lowrie, but if he keeps hitting like this he may keep his job as starter.

Sutton had six hits this week, including a home run and two doubles, with two runs and two RBIs. A non-roster invitee, Sutton has likely done enough to at least merit a minor league contract. A switch hitter with some major league experience (105 at-bats), Sutton may make a more viable mid-season call-up over Iglesias if Scutaro or Lowrie get injured.

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