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Spring Training Re-Cap

Sitting in Florida, I feel like talking about spring training before turning the page to the regular season - hope vs. reality.

The good news out of camp is that John Lackey - to my surprise - looked like he was worth every penny. He walked only one batter and kept his ERA at 1.35 (to see the spring training stats for the team, click here.) He only struck out 8 in 20 innings, but he doesn't really seem like that kind of pitcher. He has a 7.2 strikeout/walk ratio for his career; Beckett's is 8.5. I surprised how optimistic I am about Lackey - and excited albeit still skeptical about the rumored closeness of a long term deal for Beckett.

Meanwhile, Wakefield look effective and healthy, Lester is great (though I'd love to see him finally start a season well) and Buchholz will be fine. I love this rotation.

The roster of insurance starters available for the Sox is still deep but has more questions than earlier in the spring. Dice-K starts on the DL and will probably surface right when someone comes up with a bad back or blistered finger. Japanese phenom Junichi Tazawa broke down and had Tommy John surgery. It'll be the middle of next season before he's back to full strength.

Meanwhile, AAA ace Michael Bowden was knocked around this spring and I'm worried about his future. ProJo wrote about Bowden complete overhaul of his approach to pitching and baseball in general. This from a kid who's known for his hard work and intensity, has the talent to be one of the team's top prospects, is only 23 years old, had a solid 3.13 ERA in his first full season at Pawtucket last year, and looked good in most of his relief appearance last year in Boston - but has grotesque stats because of two clubings he took from the Bombers. This strikes me as a kid who is too competitive and can't deal with playing second fiddle to Buchholz and being passed by Tazawa last year. I'm worried these changes will really backfire. Calling Bob Tewksbury (former all star pitcher now the Sox sports psyhologist).

The next group includes Casey Kelly who I think the Sox will give a cup or two of coffee to this year, but will be very cautious about moving him too quickly and about his inning totals after playing shortstop half of last year. Lefty Felix Doubrant impressed this spring but is also not ready. After that the Sox would have to rely on spot starts from the likes of Boof Bonser.

Speaking of Bonser, he'll start the year on the DL but will likely pitch quite a bit out of the pen this year. The Sox were in a nice position of stregth at the end of the spring when they picked Scott Atchison and Scott Schoeneweis to fill out the last two spots in the pen. This leaves them with Bonser and Dice-K coming off the DL soon, veterans Joe Nelson and Alan Embree waiting in Pawtucket, and young lefty Dustin Richardson preparing for a roll as well. All these guys will be needed this year.

In the lineup, the newsless drama of the spring focused on whether Mike Lowell was smiling or not. He's not and neither should he be. If he didn't care anymore he'd retire. That said, I am now in the camp that we should just keep Lowell and platoon him with Papi and let him backup Beltre and Youk. That should be quite a few at bats and a better team.

The other big question was backup shortstop (Quick aside: let's appreciate the fact that it's the backup we're interested in for the first time in a long time. The lack of news about starter Marco Scutaro is a very good sign.). Jed Lowrie broke down early and it's never good when you're relieved he has mono because there was fear he was really badly sick - Baldelli-style. Billy Hall will be a great asset to the Sox this year and can play every position including short, but no one really wants to see him there for 15 days if Scutaro was hurt. The Sox traded for Kevin Frandsen from the Giants and sent him to Pawtucket as insurance. The essence of the problem is that if Scutaro went down for a long period of time, the next full-time shortstop in the franchise is Cuban ex-pat, 20-year old phenom Jose Iglesias and the Sox really don't want to rely on him yet. While the kid clearly thinks he's ready for the big leagues, everyone is best off letting him learn to hit and put some polish on his graceful fielding in Portland and Pawtucket for this year and much of next. Looks like if something major happened to Scutaro they'd have to trade for talent.

After those story lines, there's been the questions about Beckett's contract, continued fretting about Papi's productivity and curiosity at what kind of production we can expect out of Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre.

The fact is that the Sox will probably have to add a bat at some point this season depending on who falters. The bullpen should be very good though there's reason to wonder about Paps and Delcarman has looked freakishly bad from all reports.

Game on.


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