Ciriaco vying for roster spot

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Ciriaco vying for roster spot

FORT MYERS, Fla. After five moves were made on Tuesday morning, the Red Sox' 25-man roster is becoming clearer. But there are still questions. One of the most interesting: Who will get the final spot?

Among those vying to make the team are catcher Ryan Lavarnway, outfielder Jason Repko, and infielders Nate Spears and Pedro Ciriaco. Of those, Ciriaco entered the spring as one of the least familiar to observers.

Originally signed with the Diamondbacks in 2003 before being traded to the Pirates at the 2010 deadline, Ciriaco joined the Sox as a minor league free agent this offseason.

He has appeared in just 31 major league games in his career, over the last two seasons with the Pirates, going 13-for-39 (.333) at the plate while playing 47 23 innings at shortstop, third base, and left field.

In seven minor league seasons, he has hit .270 with 24 home runs, 298 RBI, and 401 runs scored, playing shortstop, second base, left field, and third base.

This spring, though, he has opened some eyes with his fielding and his bat, including two consecutive games earlier this month when he delivered the winning hits. On March 12 he delivered a two-run, 10th-inning walk-off home run to beat the Marlins. The next day against the Yankees in Tampa, he bolted around the bases to score as his ninth-inning single, compounded with two errors, accounted for the only run of the game.

After going 0-for-1 Tuesday, entering as a pinch runner in the sixth inning for third baseman Kevin Youkilis, Ciriacos Grapefruit League average dropped to .429. Ciriaco, though, is satisfied with his spring. He has appeared in 20 of the team's 25 games.

Everything is pretty good so far right now, said Ciriaco, who turned 26 in September. I just feel good the way Ive been working and playing this spring. Just keep doing the work.

Every day when you get a chance to play and do the right thing and stay on the field and help your team so they can see what you can do is a good thing for me.

The Red Sox offered Ciriaco no hints when he signed as to their expectations for him, other than to show what he could do this spring.

Nothing really, just come here and compete like everybody else, he said. They didnt tell me youre going to do this or youre going to make the team or anything like that. Just have fun and play the game, like Ive been doing my whole life.

Ciriaco has played 80 innings this spring, appearing at shortstop (40 innings), second base (32), third base (6), and center field (2). Playing different positions can only help him, he believes.

Yeah, I think its good if you can help the team in different positions, he said. Because thats more opportunity for me.

But hes taking nothing for granted. With a little more than a week before the start of the regular season, Ciriaco just wants to keep doing what hes been doing this spring.

Just keep having fun, do the right thing and play the game the right way, he said. And just keep moving forward.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.