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Brush off your faded blue hat with the stylized, red “B” on it. Iron your 2004 World Series commemorative jersey. Start re-learning “Sweet Caroline,” “Dirty Water” and “Tessie.” Spring Training is finally over. Opening Day arrives Friday.
But before the Red Sox could kick off the regular season, they had to make their final roster moves, specifically in the bullpen. The team announced Monday morning that Alfredo Aceves and 2007 All-Star Hideki Okajima would start the season in Triple-A Pawtucket. In 13.1 Spring Training innings, Aceves was 0-1 with a 4.05 ERA. Okajima was 0-0 with a 5.14 ERA in 7.0 innings.
The Red Sox wasted no time in snapping the 10-game losing streak they had been mired in since over a week ago. With the major league rotation getting hammered all of last week, and with John Lackey left behind due to the threat of rain, Terry Francona opted to use four minor league pitchers Monday afternoon against the Toronto Blue Jays. Tony Pena Jr. started and went three innings, giving up a run on two hits and a strikeout.
Eammon Portice gave up another run in the fourth inning, and the Red Sox went into the seventh inning down 2-1. But after Nate Spears (2-3, stolen base) reached on an infield single, rookie right fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker homered to right for the 3-2 lead.
The rain did come, shortening the game to eight innings. Seth Garrison picked up the win, giving up just two hits while striking out two in two scoreless innings.
Dustin Pedroia (double) and Adrian Gonzalez, two of only four major leaguers (the other two being Cameron and Jed Lowrie, who went 0-3) to make the trip to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Fla., each went 1-3.
The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays each got four strong innings out of their starters in Tuesday’s game, finished the ninth tied 1-1, and called it a day. For the Red Sox, Clay Buchholz gave up just a run on a hit and two walks while striking out three.
The bullpen, which featured major league pitchers Albers, Dan Wheeler and Tim Wakefield, combined for five scoreless innings. Wheeler threw a perfect seventh and Wakefield gave up just a hit in two innings.
The Red Sox were down 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth when Gonzalez homered off Rays starter Wade Davis to tie the game.
Tuesday’s game was likely the final game to be played at City of Palms Park.
With Friday’s opening series in Arlington looming, the Red Sox ended their Spring Training with a night game Wednesday against the Houston Astros. And what an end it was. The Red Sox scored five runs in the top of the first, and Josh Beckett pitched his best game so far, giving up just one hit over five innings. He struck out three batters and earned his only win of the preseason.
Boston’s bullpen was equally impressive, limiting the Astros to just three hits over the final four innings while striking out three of their own. Jonathan Papelbon needed just five pitches (all strikes) in his perfect eighth inning.
At the plate, Red Sox hitters banged out 12 hits and drew five walks against Astros pitching.
The offense showed exactly what it could do with a healthy lineup. Jacoby Ellsbury led off the game with an infield single, then promptly stole second (he seems to be running at full speed). After a Pedroia walk, Carl Crawford drove in Ellsbury with a single up the middle, and Gonzalez followed suit with an RBI single of his own to left. Drew walked with the bases loaded to make it 3-0, then Saltalamacchia drove in both Crawford and David Ortiz with a single to center.
The Red Sox batted around the lineup in the first and finished up 5-0. The Red Sox added three more runs in the top of the fourth on an Ellsbury double and a Crawford single.
Ellsbury (one RBI, two runs) and Saltalamacchia (two RBIs, one run) both finished the game with three hits. Crawford (one run, two RBIs) and Gonzalez (one run, one RBI) each had two.
While the Red Sox’s 14-19-2 overall record is nothing special, Red Sox fans should be generally excited about the upcoming season. Returning players such as Pedroia (.305 average, eight extra-base hits) and Ellsbury (.355 average, seven extra-base hits, including three home runs) have clearly recovered from the injuries that derailed both themselves and the Red Sox last season.
Most of the new players seem to have come as-promised. Gonzalez (.323, two home runs in just 11 games) seems ready to go, as do Reyes and Bobby Jenks (2.57 ERA, and that was mostly because of one bad outing). Crawford still has something to prove, but he has at least shown sparks.
The most pleasant surprise has definitely been the catchers. Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek batted a combined .333 with 11 RBIs and nine extra-base hits. What was once considered the biggest offensive deficiency in the lineup now appears to be at the very worst productive, if not dominant.
Fans should not worry about the offense. They showed Wednesday what they are capable of. The pitching rotation, however, is a little more anxiety-inducing. While three of the starters finished Spring Training with ERAs under 4.00 (of them, John Lackey seems most poised to make a jump this season), Beckett (5.33) had his worst preseason since joining the Red Sox.
In his second-most innings (25.1) since 2005, Beckett gave up the most earned runs (15) and home runs (three), and tied for hits (28) and hit batsmen (four). His performance against the Astros showed he can still dominate, it’s just a question of will he, and how consistently.
The biggest question for the Red Sox will be what to do with Wakefield. Limited to just 11.2 innings this Spring Training, Wakefield still gave up eight earned runs on 17 hits. Five of those hits were home runs. Wakefield has yet to regain the command of his knuckleball he had before the 2010 All-Star Break, and that makes him risky to use in any situation other than blowouts. But without more innings, Wakefield will likely never regain the command needed to pitch in tighter situations. It’s a classic catch-22.
Wakefield can’t be sent to the minor leagues, which leaves him basically taking up a roster spot in the bullpen that could probably be used more productively (such as bringing up rehabbing lefty Felix Doubront). Wakefield has been the elder statesmen of the Red Sox. In what will be his 17th and final year with the team, he deserves to ride off honorably into the sunset. But unless he opts to retire early, he may more likely ride off via the waiver wire.
Whatever happens, it all starts Friday.
Tags: Adrian Gonzalez, Alfredo Aceves, Bobby Jenks, Boston Red Sox, Clay, Dan Butler, Dan Wheeler, Dennys Reyes, Dustin Pedroia, Eammon Portice, Felix Doubront, Hideki Okajima, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek, Jeremy Hazelbaker, John Lackey, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Matt Albers, Mike Cameron, MLB, Nate Spears, Peter Hissey, Seth Garrison, Spring Training, Tim Wakefield, Tony Pena Jr., Wade Davis