PROVIDENCE Red Sox manager John Farrell will be hopscotching southern states this weekend, hoping to see a few of his players. On Friday, he will travel to Dallas to see John Lackey and Will Middlebrooks. On Saturday, he will go to the teams spring training complex in Fort Myers, where left-handers Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales are among the early arrivals.But it is perhaps his trip on Sunday to Mississippi, with new pitching coach Juan Nieves, that could answer many questions for the Sox.Farrell and Nieves will watch right-hander Daniel Bard throw. It will be the first time Bard will be throwing from a mound this offseason.Farrell saw from afar the effects of Bards disastrous foray into starting pitching last season. It was Bards meltdown in Toronto in June, with Farrell managing in the home teams dugout, that resulted in Bard being demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, lugging a record of 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA. Farrell has talked with Bard frequently this offseason and has watched video of the right-hander who had been one of baseballs top set-up men prior to 2012.Theres some changes you can identify there, Farrell said. And in talking with Daniel the most encouraging thing in a situation like this is that hes aware of the changes that have taken place. Now unwinding those changes and getting him back to the basics, and when I say basics of what hes demonstrated previously and the strengths that he has, I think most importantly hes got a clear view of where that needs to settle in from, not only from a delivery standpoint but from an aggressive simplified approach.And I think as a starter last year he tried to manipulate the ball a little bit too much, maybe be a little bit too fine in ways where he was trying to induce a ground ball a lot rather than staying with that aggressive approach that has made him successful in Boston.In their talks this offseason, Farrell has noticed a change.If I were to map it out, and actually tell him its gotten better the deeper weve gotten in the offseason, Farrell said. And I think as hes picked up a ball and gotten back into the throwing program hes felt somethings naturally come back to him, particularly his arm slot.Im not going to say time cures all. Thats not, were not just going to put his challenges aside and pretend that they didnt happen. But I think as hes gotten further away from it hes had a fresh outlook to this. The workouts hes gone through this offseason have been very consistent and strong and just the tone and confidence from which he speaks from is another step in the right direction. Thatll all be solidified as he commands a baseball in spring training and starts to get some tangible results once he steps on a mound.
BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.
In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.
In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?
This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.
How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?
Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.
And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.
Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?
The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.
“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”
Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.
Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?
Who’s going to start at catcher?
Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.
Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.
Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.
Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.
They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.
Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.
“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.
And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.
“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”
“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."
BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.
It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.
Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.
Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.
This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.
And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.
“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.