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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Meet The New Guys, Same As The Old Guys

The stars are aligning for the Sox with returns from CF Jacoby Ellsbury (top left), LF Carl Crawford (top center), 2B Dustin Pedroia (top right), 3B Will Middlebrooks (bottom left) and SP Clay Buchholz (bottom right)

As the July 31 Trade Deadline approaches and teams are scrambling to make deals to improve their chances of making the playoffs, the Red Sox are sitting on cloud nine. Most teams are sick over the thought that just one or two little pieces – a corner outfielder here, a starting pitcher there – could drastically, positively influence their (or their rival’s) pennant races and playoff hopes. The Sox, however, have been blessed with immunity to the problems around baseball. If any contender landed a superstar center fielder, a perennial All Star left fielder, an MVP-caliber second baseman, an up-and-coming third base slugger, and a pitcher who when healthy has number 1 starter stuff, they would be the “winners” at the deadline. Now imagine if, somehow, a team acquired all of these pieces. Well, somehow has become reality because that’s exactly what the Red Sox have gotten since the All Star break, with the return of five of their studs from the disabled list or injury.

Ellsbury ((11-31) .355 avg, 5 runs, 3 doubles, 7 games) and Crawford ((6-14), .429avg, .500 OBP, 6 runs, 3 sb, 4 games) in particular have been dynamic at the top of the lineup since their return, while the reliability of Middlebrooks (HR, 2B, 5 RBI in 7 games) and Pedroia (hit, run in 9th last night in first game back) in the middle of the lineup has provided a balance and stability to the Red Sox offensive attack. Combine that with strong performances from Clay Buchholz (14 SO, 0.77 WHIP in 2 starts) since the break, and the Red Sox now have a pitcher to help shoulder the load the offense is currently bearing.

Of course, Adrian Gonzalez has been rumored to be dealing with some secret injuries all season that have plagued his power numbers and batting average, but over the last 3 weeks he has been one of the best hitters in baseball:

“Gonzalez went 2-for-4 and has now hit safely in 23 of his last 24 games. Over that stretch, the first baseman is hitting .408 (40-for-98) with five doubles, three home runs, 19 RBI and 14 runs. Gonzalez has had two hits in the five games he’s played since the All-Star break…”

After last night’s terrific walk-off win for the Red Sox, manager Bobby Valentine said in his press conference: “That’s the most fun the guys had in a long time…It’s a great feeling.”

Sit back, relax and bring on the Blue Jays.