By Jeff Louderback
Spring Training is the only time when wins and losses are irrelevant. Veterans getting into “baseball shape” and top prospects making the most of their initial taste to the majors are elements of February and March baseball that are especially important.
This weekend, the Red Sox dropped their official spring opener to Tampa Bay, 4-3, before traveling across the state to Jupiter for a 5-3 win against St. Louis on Sunday. Here are some thoughts and observations about individual performances in those games:
- Statistically, from 2008 to 2011, Jon Lester was one of the most effective starting pitchers in Major League Baseball. Then last year happened. The 29-year-old left-hander is striving to rebound from a forgettable 2012 campaign, and the Red Sox need him to return to 2010 form (when he was 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA, striking out 9.7 per nine innings, logging a 1.20 WHIP and permitting just 167 hits in 208 innings over 32 starts. Lester took a positive step on Sunday, delivering two scoreless and hitless innings against the Cardinals, needing only six pitches to complete the second inning.
- Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront, two more figures in the Red Sox starting rotation, are getting closer to their debuts. Buchholz is expected to toss a simulated game on Tuesday. The team is understandably exercising caution as the 28-year-old right-hander is working his way back from a mild hamstring issue he experienced the first day of team workouts. Doubront reported to camp heavier than desired, and he has shed some pounds while resting his sore shoulder. The 25-year-old left-hander could make his first spring training start in a week, according to Red Sox manager John Farrell.
- Farrell would like to create more depth at third base. This is why Pedro Ciriaco will see time there as will Brock Holt, who was acquired with Joel Hanrahan from Pittsburgh. Ciriaco and Holt both hit for average and provide versatility in the infield.
- Jose Iglesias, the 22-year-old defensive whiz who is widely regarded as a game-changer in the field but has yet to show he can hit Major League pitching, belted a two-run home run over the JetBlue Park Green Monster against Tampa Bay on Saturday. Iglesias has little power, but the home run is encouraging since he underwent intensive off-season conditioning to get stronger and improve his bat.
- Xander Bogaerts delivered an RBI single on Saturday and then departed for Taiwan after the game to join The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. The 20-year-old Bogaerts played third base on Saturday and is expected to see time at that position in the WBC. He will likely return to shortstop when he appears in spring training games after the WBC.
- John Lackey looked rusty in his first game appearance since returning from Tommy John surgery, allowing a run, a hit, a walk and hitting a batter in the first inning against Tampa Bay on Saturday. The numbers are no reason for concern though. It will take time for Lackey to get into game shape on the mound, especially after returning from Tommy John surgery. I believe that Lackey will be one of the best arms in the Red Sox rotation this season.
- A second round pick of the Red Sox out of Texas A&M in 2009, 26-year-old right-hander Alex Wilson is on the cusp of the majors. He would make the opening day roster of many Major League teams, but since the Red Sox have talented depth in the bullpen – and they are hoping to retain Clayton Mortensen, who is out of options – Wilson is likely destined for Triple-A Pawtucket. He struck out the side and allowed one hit in his inning of work on Saturday. Mortensen logged a scoreless frame as well.
- Rubby De La Rosa, the 23-year-old right-hander who was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers and is being mentored by Pedro Martinez, needed just six pitches to log two scoreless innings versus the Cardinals on Sunday. So far, De La Rosa, Jackie Bradley and Bogaerts have been the most impressive players at Red Sox spring training camp.
- Red Sox fans who like following the team’s future are getting to know more about Christian Vazquez, the 22-year-old catcher from Puerto Rico is is rapidly ascending the club’s depth chart. The Red Sox love his defensive skills, leadership abilities and his bat. Vazquez is slated to open the 2013 season at Double-A Portland but could make his Major League debut at some point this season. His emergence allows the Red Sox to include Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Ryan Lavarnway in a trade package. Vazquez was 1-for-2 on Sunday.