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.
Three players are tied for the Red Sox' lead in home runs in Florida. Only two of them will be with the team come Opening Day.
The other may be the starting first baseman a year from now.
Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Sam Travis have all gone deep three times this Grapefruit League season.
Coming back from surgery on his left ACL, Travis has yet to play in the majors. But he easily could later this year.
In a perfect world, though, the 23-year-old spends 2017 at Triple-A Pawtucket. He needs to prove he can consistently hit off-speed pitches.
A right-handed hitting first baseman who played college ball with Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs, Travis already crushes fastballs.
He carries himself like a stereotypical masher, too.
Travis rocks an unbuttoned jersey with no undershirt. No batting gloves. A grip-it-and-rip-it approach and Mike Napoli vibe.
But, don't get too caught up in the image.
"I mean, are you essentially asking like, do I still like have a plan?" Travis said when approached about his reputation.
No, because everyone has a plan. It's a question of how his is formulated, what matters to him. Because it can't always be as simple as see ball, hit ball. And it isn't.
"I definitely watch video. Everyone watches video," Travis said. "You kind of need to watch video when you get to this stage . . . You're in the box, you don't really want to think at all. That's what practice is for. But yeah, I'm definitely working on stuff.
"Just because I don't wear batting gloves doesn't mean I'm just going out there -- I definitely still got an idea what I'm trying to do."
Travis said he tried batting gloves once in high school and they just didn't feel right. So he takes hacks with a 34-inch bat with no frills..
But even when hitters say they don't think at the plate, they do.
If you're up 2-and-0, the thought has to cross your mind: fastball?
"I mean, yeah, you definitely are talking to yourself," Travis said. "But you don't want to get too far into your own thoughts because then that's when you get in trouble."
Slugging involves calculating.
Travis will look at scouting reports, but they're not his end-all be-all. The written ones, anyway. He keeps others in his head.
"I like to know what pitches [an opponent] has, which way pitches are going to move," Travis said. "But you know, you find that out from other players, and of course scouting reports and video. But the best experience is when you're actually in there, when you actually see it first hand.
"I remember everybody."
Video can be used to break down one's own swing, too. But that's not Travis. Tinkering's not his bag.
In part, that's because he's always had a simple approach mechanically.
"I don't really take much of a stride or anything. I kind of just pick it up and put it down," Travis said. "I've always been the guy that can make an adjustment pitch to pitch and at-bat to at-bat depending on what the pitcher is, it just goes with like timing and stuff."
Usually, somewhere along the way -- in the professional or amateur chain -- a coach will try to change a player's swing. Travis said that wasn't the case for him, though.
"No. Not really," Travis said. "Everyone's still gonna have minor adjustments, it's just how the game works. You know, you're going to put a bad swing on the ball. But as long as you recognize it and get right back to where you are . . .
"I've always been a guy who believes less movement, the better it is. That's my own personal opinion. Whatever works for people, that's what they're going to do."
Sometimes, that means loosening a few buttons and just letting it rip.
After watching a little video before the game.
The newest lefty ace can succeed where David Price did not.
Chris Sale might be the most electrifying pitcher the Red Sox have had since Pedro Martinez.
Josh Beckett had his moments. Jon Lester was steadily excellent.
But the stuff Sale brings is a step above.
A spaghetti-limbed motion and a fast pace. The ability to throw any pitch in any count, something said of many pitchers, but noted here without exaggeration. A delivery that disguises each pitch as another until there’s no time to react.
MORE ON CHRIS SALE
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- Red Sox aware how big an addition Sale is to pitching staff
There's been a lot of talk about how competitive Sale is. That's great.
Let's acknowledge how filthy he is before going crazy about the intangibles. He carves hitters better than he does jerseys.
Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has made some questionable moves, but he deserves some optimism here. Some early praise, even -- no matter how well Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, the best prospects he gave the White Sox for Sale, are faring this spring.
Where Dombrowski failed with Price thus far, he may succeed immediately with Sale.
Yes, Sale's 10-strikeout performance against the Yankees on Tuesday night was just a spring training game. But he was dominant to the point that a Grapefruit League game was actually made interesting.
“You guys saw,” Sale told reporters in Florida. “Just felt good.”
All three pitches were working for Sale, the fastball, slider and changeup, and the variants thereof.
“I've been working on my changeup a little bit more the last couple of outings,” Sale said. “My last time out it wasn't great, but just working on it in between starts, just throwing it on the flat ground, it's a pitch that doesn't take a whole lot of stress on your arm. So even when you're just playing catch, you can flip it around, work on grips, things like that.
"As far as my slider, I feel good about it. . . . Obviously when I'm throwing harder, I think it's a little bit flatter. When I take some off of it, not only do I have a little bit more control, but I think it has a little bit more depth. Plus, it kind of creates another pitch in there. It's like an in-between fastball-changeup type of thing. Anything to give them a different look or try to throw them off. That’s kind of the name of pitching."
American League Rookie of the Year runner-up Gary Sanchez was miles in front of the 2-and-2 changeup he swung over in the first inning. Matt Holliday was frozen by a slider at the belt on the inner half.
Chris Carter, he of 40-home run power, was beat by a 2-and-2 fastball an inning later, clearly thinking off speed and unable to decipher just what was coming in time.
Aaron Hicks tried to golf an 0-and-2 slider by flinging his bat into the stands, somewhere behind the third-base dugout.
That’s just the first two innings.
"He added his third pitch more this evening than five days ago, when it was more fastball-changeup," manager John Farrell said. "He had his breaking ball to both sides of the plate, and got underneath to some right-handed swings. And any time he needs to, he's got such good feel for the changeup to get him back in counts to give him a different look. He was impressive."
Opening Day at Fenway Park will be exciting. But Game No. 2, when Sale is to make his Sox debut, should bring the most intrigue.