By Sean McAdam
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As players continued to wander into camp Thursday, days ahead of schedule, general manager Theo Epstein watched some casual workouts and offered his thoughts to reporters as the oficial start of spring training draws closer.
On the team's physical status: "Health has to be the biggest question; it usually is. But in our case, we have so many players coming off surgery or coming off injuries that we're going to keep a close eye on them and really look forward to having a full squad of healthy players out there playing together.
On Adrian Gonzalez: "He's been on or ahead of schedule the whole winter, in terms of his rehab, as measured by range of motion and strength in the shoulder. He had been projected to start swinging a bat around March 1 and get into games by the third week of March or so. But if he's doing as well it seems, there might be some flexibility to move that timetable up. I think we all feel he's going to be ready Opening Day. We're just going to get together and map out a schedule that makes sense given where he is. We're excited he's feeling so good and that he's early."
On Dustin Pedroia: "We're going to take a conservative path with him. The goal is to get him ready for Opening Day, not the college exhibition games in late February. He had some ups and downs over the winter, but mainly I think it's due to the fact that his foot was immobilized for so long. His foot was in a cast. We'll see how he looks tomorrow and go from there. But we're not expecting to be overly limited once we get going."
On Kevin Youkilis: "Youk is different from the other injured players because he actually made it back last fall to the point where he was hitting without limitations . . . and took a break then started his normal offseason. He's already addressed some of the mental aspects of returning because he got back to full BP last year. I expect him to be fine."
On Alfredo Aceves. "He threw two good bullpens for us. Obviously, he had back and hip issues last year and then he broke his collarbone riding a bike. But he looked to be in really good shape. We'll assess him more thoroughly when he gets here, but he passed our physical and from the bullpens that he threw, he looks like he's going to have a normal spring training with us. He's a versatile guy who can compete for a spot in the bullpen but also provide valuable starting depth for us.
"That's one area where we don't have tremendous depth with the composition of our roster and where we're at in the upper levels of our farm system. We really needed to add someone who can start major-league games and compete in the American League East. He has the opportunity to do that for us. His versatility and his strike-throwing and the fact that he's pitched well in this division stood out for us."
On Josh Beckett and John Lackey bouncing back: "Josh certainly can do better this year than he did last year and he knows that. It looks like he went out and had a really strong winter. The biggest thing is, at the end of the year, he didn't hide from the year he had. He took accountability for it and he knows there's more in there. I wouldn't bet against him going forward at all.
"John had a stronger second half that he did in the first half and I think that's a sign that he adjusted to his new surroundings in the American League East. I look forward to a typical John Lackey season."
On Junichi Tazawa: "He's going to be in major-league camp with us but he's not going to be unrestricted. He's at that phase where he can throw off a mound. But that last two or three months of Tommy John rehab are pretty important and we don't want to rush it by getting him in competitive situations too quickly. So we're going to take a longer-term view and not look at April 1 as the finish line for him, but look at the season as a whole and kind of pace him accordingly."
On the revamped bullpen: "It's no secret that our pen wasn't very good last year and we kind of ran out of available options of guys who could come and compete and throw legitimate bullpen innings for us. That's not a situation you want to find yourself in. I think hopefully we have more quality this year and I think we have more quantity, so there's going to be some competition for the last spot or two. I think we should be stronger than we have been in a long time at the end of games with Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks setting up Jonathan Papelbon. Dan Wheeler is an important addition as well in the middle and there are some interesting left-handed candidates out there, as well.
"I think we have the potential to be a really good bullpen. But that doesn't really mean anything; we have to go out and do it."
On Bobby Jenks: "We see him as a power pitcher who throws strikes who can shut down his inning. I think he's somebody who's proven that he's capable of getting the most important outs in the ninth inning with his combination of stuff and fearlessness. If he can take that same approach and use it a little bit earlier in the game we'll be happy."
On signing New Zealand softball player Beau Bishop: "Jon Deeble, our Pacific Rim coordinator, lives in Australia, so he sees New Zealand a lot too, and he's kind of familiar with the softball community out there. There's not a ton of baseball played in New Zealand, but there's a lot of softball played by men of all ages. My understanding is that he's the most exciting young softball player to come along in 20 years. He had a lot of people talking and Deeble saw him play and saw his size, his athleticism, his swing and his arm strength and thought that he was a pretty interesting prospect. It was an interesting opportunity for him and for us. We'll see what happens."
On Jacoby Ellsbury: "He's been unrestricted for a while now and should be without limitations this spring. Obviously, when you miss basically a whole year, it's important to come back and get in a good rhythm and get your swing back. So that's what we're looking for."
On Dennys Reyes: "He's a guy who's got a track record. He's done it. He's been a pretty effective left-hander. We were looking at him and a number of other lefties earlier in the winter and then it looked like he had signed elsewhere and that fell through and then he became available on a minor-league deal and we jumped on it. He's interesting . . . able to sink the ball and make lefties uncomfortable. We'll see how he's throwing the ball when he gets here."