Red Sox Spring Training Notes: Lackey Back, Pedro’s Praise, and Gator Hunting

Lackey SPring Training

John Lackey has a lot to prove this spring

John Lackey took the mound today in the first Red Sox Spring Training game against Major League competition. For Lackey, who missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, this was his first start in any real game action in about 18 months. Typically pitchers recovering from TJ surgery struggle with the command of their pitches, while their velocity seems to find an added boost from their robo-arm. So, basically, I wasn’t expecting much from John Lackey, but was excited to see him out there anyway. There’s a lot riding on this guy if this team is going to finish anywhere above .500% or being in playoff contention. No pressure, right?

Lackey started just as I figured he would: a 5-pitch walk to start the game. His continued to struggle with his control, as he let a high, meaty fastball sail right Desmond Jennings’ wheelhouse, though he fortunately missed it and hit a hard single through the left side instead. Lackey capped up the top of the order disaster by hitting Matt Joyce, a lefty, on the shoulder to load the bases with no outs heading into the heart of the Rays order.

The good news? Lackey recorded 3 straight outs to follow this, with a nice sequence to strike out Jack Cust, a Sac Fly to right that scored Ben Zobrist, and a fly out. So, with no outs and the bases jacked, Lackey escapes with only one run in. Impressive, given the circumstances.

Lackey spoke to NESN’s Jenny Dell in the dugout following his inning of work.

“It felt great,” he said referring to his pitching arm. “It was good to be back out there. [I] threw a lot of fastballs, arm felt good. It’s good to be back.”

You’ve got to imagine there were some nerves for Lackey as well, who threw 10 of his 20 pitches for strikes. Only time will tell what Lackey will contribute to this team, but all in all, it wasn’t a terrible first outing of the spring.

Ruby de la Rosa Reaction

Apparently the soon-to-be 24-year-old is turning heads down in Fort Myers with his stuff. It prompted Pedro Martinez, who has known de la Rosa for years and watched him evolve, to compare him to some of the greatest pitchers ever in a conversation with WEEI.com.

“He has an opportunity to be someone special. Not just a regular player, but special. When you see someone like de la Rosa you think someone special, like a Clemens, a Juan Marichal. You think about elite players. That’s the type of stuff he has.”

Coming from one of the greatest pitchers ever himself, that’s incredibly high praise.  Ruby de la Rosa grew up admiring Martinez in the Dominican Republic, and the two are actually cousins. Pedro’s role on this team could very well be purely to turn this guy into the next Pedro Martinez, and if that’s the case, the future will be bright for years to come.

Lineup Preview?

There’s been lots of speculation as to what the Red Sox batting order would look like this season, and we may have had our first glimpse at the top of the order today. Jacoby Ellsbury led off, followed by Dustin Pedroia, both familiar spots for the Red Sox vets. Newcomer Shane Victorino stepped up in the 3-hole followed by Jarrod Saltalamacchia batting cleanup, Johnny Gomes in the 5 hole and Will Middlebrooks batting 6th. Absent from today’s lineup were David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, so nothing is set in stone quite yet, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Napoli take over that clean up spot and Ortiz bat fifth, moving everyone else down. It’s also reasonable to think that Will Middlebrooks could hit cleanup if he’s comfortable doing so. It’s still plenty early though, so it’s something to keep an eye on.

Gomes and Ross gator hunting

Ironsides and Blue Wolf get ready to hunt some gators

Return of the Idiots

Okay, so Johnny Damon is walking through that door, and frankly no one wants him to. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past decade of Red Sox baseball, it’s that clubhouse chemistry, more than anything, will determine how far this team can advance. On paper, the 2011 and 2012 Red Sox should have been record-setting winners. Instead, we’ve received two of the most storied seasons in history – for all the wrong reasons.

The team needed an overhaul of fun, loose veteran experience, so that’s what they got. Two of the new guys, OF Johnny Gomes and C David Ross, are bringing that lighter, enjoyable atmosphere to the team already.

Gomes and Ross, who have nicknamed themselves “Ironsides” and “Blue Wolf”, respectively, decided to dress up and go gator hunting yesterday. The two went out on a professional airboat tour and got to see real gators in their natural habitats. When they got back to dry land, the two even held baby gators. While some may cry foul at their players going out in search of Alligator-induced fun, there’s nothing wrong with some safe, guided goofiness to get a chuckle out of everyone from the clubhouse. At least they aren’t drunk in the clubhouse yet, right? These two might be just what the doctor ordered.

 

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The State of the Red Sox

A memoir to what could have been and how the 2012 Red Sox are the crack-baby everyone thought was going to be okay

“I wish you would step back from that ledge my friend, You could cut ties with all the lies,That you’ve been living in, And if you do not want to see me again, I would understand” – Third Eye Blind knew the 2012 Red Sox way before we did

I’m a Resident Advisor at a small school north of Boston. It’s my job to know everyone in my own little wedge of our community. However, in about a month’s time, you can know just about everyone on campus and what they did last weekend. It’s an incredible community that I personally love and rely on, that holds every member accountable for their actions, that loves every member unequivocally, and, every so often, that gets a bit boring.

How could it not? Living in the northeast, the hustle and bustle of everyday life even outside of the city is normal. You get used to seeing the same faces during your routine, but you also know you’ll see a million new ones on a daily basis. It’s just how it works. But here, it’s never new. In just a few short weeks’ time, even new first year students get the drill and have figured out the routine. You know who you’ll see, when and where you’ll see them, and how to avoid them if you want to. You know you can avoid them today, but not forever; Any “out” you find is simply temporary. Every so often, you need a shake up, a fresh brew of faces compared to the stale, getting-cold-cup-of-coffee you drink every day (And to my friends and colleagues at school – I’m not calling you stale or cold, it’s just my analogy, roll with me here) (And to everyone else, the fact that I just had to say that somewhat proves my point, does it not?), which is why I love September. Every year, a fresh start rolls through. A whole new batch of first year students marches onto campus wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, rarin’ to go. As an Orientation Leader and Co-Senior Resident Advisor of an area that houses approximately 400 emotionally supercharged first years, right now I’m drinking a pretty damn good cup of metaphorical coffee.

During move-in this year, I jumped around from room to room, talking to parents, welcoming students, assuring everyone that I would take care of them, we’d have a blast, and simply that everything was going to be fine. One of my new residents in particular stood out though. This new student is from Chicago and was wearing a Chicago White Sox jersey with Kevin Youkilis’ name and number on the back. Suddenly, in the midst of me telling everyone it was going to be okay, I thought to myself “maybe it’s not”.

Of course, I was no longer thinking about my residents, but instantly trapped in an endless spiral of Red Sox-related panic. I had masked my emotions, guarding them from would-be naysayers all season long. But suddenly my worst fears and suspicions came crashing down: Not only did the team I loved abidingly suck, they were going to suck for a long time because of the snakes running the organization, the incompetent arrogance in their (in)ability to run the franchise, and the growing apathy of the overpaid, trapped, miserable athletes in the clubhouse.

A few months ago, I came up with a fairly accurate analogy of my emotions towards the Red Sox that I’m fairly certain I’ve beaten and continued to beat long after everyone got the point: The Red Sox were like my children.

I found baseball in 2003 as an 11 year old and instantly fell in love. The Red Sox could do no wrong in my book. I hated the Yankees for reasons I didn’t nearly understand yet, but I hated them relentlessly nonetheless. I was the proud new parent of a bouncing baby boy and no one could wipe the smile off of my face. In 2004 when Keith Foulke tossed the ball to Doug Meintkiewicz for the final out in the clinching game of the World Series, it was probably the greatest moment of my entire life . It was like my baby’s first steps, or their first day of school, or their first A+, or whatever other cliche you’d like to insert here. As the years passed, I grew prouder and prouder of the team I was raising. They won again in 2007 and I thought to myself  “Hey, you’re doing this right. Good work”. Because, you know, being a fan means everything to your team’s success, right?

After their string of successes, they fell down. It was to be expected, and a great learning opportunity. Although some of them hurt (2008 ALCS Game 7, I’m talking to you), we pushed forward. At least that’s what I thought was going to happen. Then 2009 happened, kicked us in the face and other places where the sun doesn’t shine (thanks, Papelbon)  and put things into perspective. Things were changing and not going to be the same anymore. Suddenly my bouncing baby boy who brought home A plus pluses was a teenager. As a parent, I had to act. I started to get everyone around me excited and became more engrossed in the fact my kid was a teenager than who he was as a person. The Sox brass pushed the sellout streak on us, marketed the Red Sox on bricks, named a sports company after our beloved ball park, later supported one of Boston’s biggest enemies (LeBron James), became part owners of a racing company (Roush-Fenway Racing) and bought a soccer team (Liverpool) all under that same sports company’s rule, and somewhere along the lines became everything we as Red Sox fans once hated: the New York Yankees. We outspent our competitors to overpay big names that put casual butts in seats. Other teams sat back and chuckled and said “Good, let them have him” (see: Crawford, Carl and Lackey, John). I was pushing extracurricular activities on my kid that he didn’t even remotely enjoy or deem necessary, just to try to keep him from harm or trouble. He was getting bored, apathetic, and, worst of all, resentful. My son started missing classes and disrupting the ones he went to. The Red Sox were missing the playoffs in 2010 and sending letters from the owners saying “we know something is wrong, but it’s going to be okay”. Then September 2011 happened. The Ultimate Collapse. For the first time, and probably not the last, my son came home in a cop car. “He should face charges”, the officer said, “but we know you. You’ve raised him well. He’s a good kid. We’ll give him one more chance”. Had I raised him well though?

Being a fan of the Red Sox in 2012 is like being the proud parent of a kid with so much promise who suddenly, as a teenager, turned to drugs. Sure, all the kids do it. That’s how they try to mask it. But it’s really not any better. I feel like the parent who is disappointed in my child and doesn’t know what more to do. Then I realized something: The Red Sox were never my baby. They were Tito and Theo’s, are now Ben and Bobby’s, and still are Larry and John’s. It isn’t my fault, and never was. I just loved them so much I thought it was. I’m just a diehard fan who thought being a fan could change everything. An innocent bystander on the outside looking in.

In a way, they were destined for their delve into drugs. Their parents are doing the hard stuff and have passed it on to their kid. We’d overlooked the challenge, thought they’d be different, could change.

And they still can. But not yet.

Their parents tried to shake things up, thinking maybe sending away who they perceived to be a troublesome friend (Kevin Youkilis) would help. They tried for a change of scenery and to do something drastic to mix up their kid’s life (The Dodgers Trade). So far, no good. Now it’s time to send them away, let someone else more capable use a fresh start to mend the issues our child has and that pain our every waking moment as innocent fanatic bystanders. There’s still hope somewhere down the line, right?

We can only hope.

Some fresh faces are needed right about now and, fortunately, the Patriots, Celtics and (God-willing) Bruins are right around the corner.

To the Red Sox,

I love you. I have since the moment we met, and I always will. But right now, this routine is getting a bit boring. I need a hot, new cup of coffee and a crisp, new set of faces. Know my out is only temporary and I’ll be keeping a careful, loving, watchful eye while we’re apart. I’ll see you in February. Good luck.

Going H.A.M. or…

Breaking: All Red Sox Momentum Ends Cold Turkey

“I can’t say that I’m looking at a whole lot of positives from that outing…” – Josh Beckett with the understatement of the day after Friday night’s loss to the Blue Jays

After a momentum-changing walk-off home run Thursday night to cap off a 4-game series with the White Sox that saw Boston take the series 3-1, things came to a sudden halt very early on Friday night. Once again a Red Sox starter struggled in the first inning, as Josh Beckett quickly gave up two runs. However, with one out and Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus on third after a triple, Beckett and the Sox were out of luck as the Home Plate Umpire missed a call at the plate. Instead of having 2 outs with no runs on the board, the Sox were now down one with only one out. Beckett went on to give up 3 more runs over the next 1.2 innings pitched, which was more than enough for the  Blue Jays, who won the game 6-1. For all his struggles, Beckett as usual settled down after the early going, giving up only one unearned run in his remaining 4 innings.

The bigger story was Jays starter, southpaw Aaron Laffey who despite giving up 9 Boston hits, held the team scoreless over 7 strong innings at Fenway. It was the second time in the last month Laffey has baffled the Sox in the last month, tossing 6 scoreless innings against the club back on June 26th. The Red Sox went 0-7 with runners in scoring position, leaving 8 runners on base.

Winners of 5 of their first 7 games since the All Star Break, The Red Sox appeared to be going H.A.M. Instead, they might just be eating it.

Stay tuned tonight to the interesting match up on the mound between Aaron Cook, one of the Red Sox’s surprisingly most reliable starters to date, and Carlos Villanueva – a reliever-turned-starter for the Jays who has thrown 12 scoreless innings in his last two starts.

That, Folks, Is Called A Winning Streak

They didn't blow it. They didn't blow it? THEY DIDN'T BLOW IT!!!

Tonight was just the kind of old-fashioned open-up-a-can-of-whupass win the Hometown Heroes needed. With their 11-2 victory tonight, the Red Sox have put together back to back wins for just the second occasion this season, and at no better time nonetheless. Fresh off of their five game losing streak to end the first home stand of the year as well as the 100th Anniversary weekend at Fenway, the Sox needed to make a statement.

Following a catastrophic meltdown Saturday in which the bullpen blew a 9 run lead, the boys grinded out a tough one Monday on a night that saw Jon Lester struggling inside the strike zone and losing an early lead. Codename: Cody Kickass continued his strong case to be Cult Hero of the Year though, belting the game-tying two run homer in the 7th and then the go ahead solo jackson in the ninth. The game included the bullpen almost blowing it after an early triple in the 8th, followed by a collective sigh of relief when Daniel Bard entered the game and got the hold (write that down as an early nomination for Bobby V’s “Decision of the Year Award” at The Remy’s next November), followed by Ace Ventura-Aceves coming in and almost blowing the game, followed by a live camera shot of Bobby V almost blowing a vein in his head, followed by, shockingly, a Red Sox victory.

That hard fought come-from-behind-road-win was seemingly just what the Doctor ordered for this team though, as vintage Josh Beckett took the mound Tuesday night and pitched his third consecutive quality start, going 6 and striking out 5. Said Manager Bobby Valentine after the game of Beckett’s performance: “He wasn’t going to be denied the victory.” What we saw tonight – yelling at umpires, flaring emotion, a fiery monster who will not be denied – is exactly the Josh Beckett we’ve been missing. The Josh Beckett who eats nails for breakfast, steals candy from babies babies from carriages, and uses Youk’s jockstrap as an oxygen mask was back tonight. Commander Kickass was literally kicking ass, and, hide ya kids and wives, ’cause you’re damn right he was taking names. It was as if Josh Beckett was saying “Ya, we suck. Ya, I drink beer. Ya, I eat fried chicken. And you know what? I – WE – are still better than you, so f@!* off.” So everyone did. And then, just to back it up, Ortiz channeled Ortiz-sans-2006 and crushed a 2-run-jackson to God only knows where. Most importantly, though, was the decision made my every member of this team to show no mercy tonight, as every starter had a hit, RBI, or both.

This team is on a mission, and with the Twins, White Sox, A’s, Orioles, Royals, Indians and Mariners coming up on the schedule, things are about to get really fun.

A Little Bit of Light

proof his thumbs aren't up his ass

Daniel Bard is moving back into the ‘pen, at least for the time being, which for many reasons is a great move. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve supported Bard’s move to the rotation, as well as everything Bobby V has done (okay not everything, but it’s early he needs some love and fans to back him up), but right now this needs to happen. Bard’s easily our most fiery pitcher coming out of the bullpen and provides some peace of mind for a bullpen that’s given up 40 runs in 42 2/3 innings already this season. Now, Aceves can know he has a solid set up man who probably won’t screw everything up and put all of the pressure on him to save the day, something he’s never really done despite being arguably our most reliable pitcher last year. Also, Bard can gain a little confidence after being the hard luck loser in a few games despite pitching relatively well in the early goings.

This move should help ease the Sox and allow them all to just play baseball. It comes at no better time than tonight, when the Sox square up for a 3 game series in Minnesota against a Twins team that finished dead last in the American League last year and is currently off to their worst start since 1995. Even better, Jason Marquis takes the mound tonight with a 7+ era. Although most of the Red Sox have never faced Marquis, Adrian Gonzalez is 6-for-19 in his career against him, something that could spark his bat in the spacious Target Field. Lars Anderson was also called up today, providing an opportunity for the 24-year-old first-baseman-turned-outfielder to pump some life into this offense. Best of all, Good Ole Jonny Lester is pitching tonight, and needs a good start after his own tough-luck losses and a horrendous start last week against the other-worldly Texas Ranger offense.

After that colossal meltdown against the Yanks Saturday, the Sox got an unexpected day off with a rain out Sunday. As we all know too well here in Boston, when it rains, it pours. However, staying on the cliché train, “only rainbows after rain”.

See you at 8:10

Good Thing We Bought the 64-Pack

Remember coloring? Every kid loved coloring back in their day, and looked forward to it every chance they got. But if you were like me and bought the simple 24 pack of Crayola crayons your first year of school, you remember how disappointing coloring became: some colors would break, others would wear down and even more would magically disappear. Not only did you have to go bow down to the suddenly cool kid with the 64-pack of crayons with the sharpener in the back, but by the end of the year you yourself were practically crayon-less. The simple joy that is coloring was taken away from you.

You know what I did after that… ? No. I was never actually the cool kid with the awesome crayons. I always had to bow down to those who seemingly had the better crayons; look up to those cool kids in first place on the theoretical awesome scale.  The good news? I am not the 2012 Boston Red Sox. No, this team learned it’s lesson last year, ponied up and bought the 64-pack.

So they went 1-5 to start the season. They got swept by what will arguably be the best team in the American League this season in the Tigers, and roughed up in Toronto (where they historically struggle) by an upstart young Blue Jays squad. Are you really worried? Jon Lester looks like a top 3 pitcher in baseball. 36-year-old David Ortiz is hitting the ball all over the park. Ryan Sweeney is the surprise of the year thus far and has proved incredibly clutch in the early going. This Red Sox team isn’t firing on all cylinders yet, but they will.  And as the season progresses, they’ll have those extra 40 crayons waiting.

This team has depth. Morales has pitched great in the early goings. Mark Melancon is a guy who in his first full Major league season last year had a sub-3 ERA and 20 saves in the closer’s role in Houston. Alfredo Aceves can start if we need him.  Carl Crawford will eventually be back, which leaves us some combination of Cody Ross, Sweeney and Darnell McDonald coming off the bench. The additions of Nick Punto and Ross, both players with championship pedigrees, adds veteran leadership to a clubhouse in serious need of a secret little x-factor old-timers like to call moxy. And to top it off, we have Daisuke Matsuzaka with his new robo-arm and a very good, young closer named Andrew Bailey coming to bail us out (pun slightly intended) right around the All Star Break, just when we’ll be looking to sharpen our dulling crayons on the back of the box.

We’re Red Sox fans, people! We’ve been here before. Hell, last year we started 0-6! The Hometown Heroes are going to be just fine. Tune in Friday as they take The Greatest Place on Earth by storm, and while you’re at it remember this:

The Red Sox are 1-5. Had they gone 1-5 last year, they were a playoff team.

Those extra crayons make all the difference. See you Friday at 2:05.

Horse Race

Amen

Carl Crawford has stolen 50+ bases 5 times in his career, his high being 60 in 2009. Jacoby Ellsbury, who for better or worse is essentially entering his 3rd (hopefully) full season in the bigs, is 2 for 2 thus far, his high checking in at 70 in 2009. Separately, they are nearly unstoppable beasts of speed, seemingly wielding the ancient power of Aeolus at their backs. Together, not even Zeus could stop this unprecedented duo. Luckily, the only other Greek god that matters plays third base for our team, so needless to say the tumultuous joy the top of the order will bring is infinite..  Just thinking of the outlandish things these two will do to the collective psyches of catchers across the league, let alone the A.L. East, gives me chills. Even scarier for rival teams? Jacoby Ellsbury says he feels better and more ready to wreak havoc on the base paths than he did during Spring Training last year!

“I’m probably even better [than last spring], fresh as ever” he said. “I feel good. … I’ve been healthy for a while.”

The Red Sox center fielder added that he has no fear of making that first dive or that first headfirst slide, and he’s even set a personal goal for stolen bases, although he wouldn’t reveal that number.

Ellsbury was jokingly asked about a potential race with Crawford.

“I wouldn’t bet against myself,” Ellsbury said.

That line, as much as anything, signals Ellsbury’s intentions in 2011.”

It’s gonna be one hell of a show.

oh, and tell me this doesn’t make you absolutely rabid for baseball.

 

Snow Monster