Theo Epstein on the state of the Red Sox

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Theo Epstein on the state of the Red Sox

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

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."

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

First impressions: Ortiz moves past pregame ceremonies, hits game winner for Sox

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First impressions: Ortiz moves past pregame ceremonies, hits game winner for Sox

BOSTON -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 5-3 win over Toronto:

* What's left to say about David Ortiz?

Ortiz acknowledged before Friday's game that the pre-game ceremonies and the attendant fuss over his pending retirement have created a challenge for him. Sometimes, it's hard to go from being feted to trying to win a game.

Not that you would know it by Friday night.

In his first at-bat, he singled home the first run of the game. Two at-bats later, he lined a bullet that was right at Jose Bautista.

But he saved his best for the seventh when, after the Red Sox tied the game at 3-3, Ortiz promptly untied it with a laser down the line, landing in the right field seats.

One more clutch hit from Ortiz in a career full of them.

* Brock Holt's defense at third has stood out.

John Farrell is looking for someone to step up with the third base job, given that Travis Shaw is hitting under .200 since the All-Star break and Aaron Hill has had difficulty hitting righties.

Holt, meanwhile, has seized the job somewhat by default, with a .319 average in the last 24 games.

But since starting the last four games at third, Holt has also contributed with his glove.

On Friday night, Holt made a fine stop with his backhand, on the third base line, and fired to nail Devon Travis on a close play at first.

Later, he came on a slow roller to gun down Josh Donaldson out at first.

* The Red Sox have done a better job of late capitalizing on opponents' mistakes.

Last week in Baltimore, the Red Sox were handed a gift by the Orioles when a throwing error by Chris Davis resulted in five runs being scored -- all of them unearned. It took exactly two pitches for the Red Sox to pounce on the opportunity.

On Friday night, it happened again.

Trailing 3-1, the Red Sox used a throwing error by Russell Martin to score one run and put another runner in scoring position. A groundout and single by Mookie Betts tied things, and Ortiz's homer broke the tie and gave the Red Sox a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Good teams take advantage of mistakes. Two of the last six Red Sox wins are prime examples of that maxim.

Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

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Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

BOSTON — As has been well-documented, the Red Sox have tried any number of solutions at third base this season, with eight different players getting starts at the position.

Travis Shaw has the most starts of anyone, with 99. But with three games left in the season, it's become apparent that Brock Holt is being viewed as the likely starter in the post-season.

Holt started all three games in the recent series in New York and was the starter Friday night against Toronto, too.

"You look at the consistent quality to the at-bats," said John Farrell, "and they've been there for him. That's not to say the other guys aren't important to us. But this is the time of year where you're looking to put the best, current lineup on the field and his versatility has shown up a number of ways. He's a confident defender at third base and his skill set is a little bit different from the other guys.

"So against righthanded pitching, that could be the guy we're going with."

Holt came into Friday hitting .319 (22-for-69) in the last 24 games.

Shaw, meanwhile, has been streaky to a fault. In the second half of the season, Shaw has posted a slash line of .195/.260/.362.

"We've seen (the streakiness both ways) in short spurts," Farrell said. "He does have the ability to carry us. But we're trying to get there and we're at a point in the year where every game is meaningful. That's not to say you turn your back on what he did earlier in the season. But we're looking for sparks somewhere."

What's more, Farrell had Holt hitting second in the lineup, in an effort to produce more offense. The Sox were limited to just eight runs in the three-game series at Yankee Stadium, and over the last 11 games, scored more than five runs just once.

Holt hit second, with Xander Bogaerts dropped to sixth.

"This is to create a little bit of a spark for us offensively," explained Farrell. "We've been grinding a little bit. And also, (we want) to create a little more (left-right) balance up and down the lineup."

TIME TO PLAY

As the final few regular season games of his career wind down, David Ortiz acknowledged that it's becoming increasing difficult to focus on the games with all the tributes and ceremonies going on.

In the final 11 days of the season, Ortiz will have had five pre-game ceremonies held in his honor -- and it would have been six had not Ortiz asked the Tampa Bay Rays to cancel the ceremony they had planned in the aftermath of the death that morning of pitcher Jose Fernandez.

On Thursday night, Ortiz has his family on the field for a pre-game celebration hosted by the New York Yankees.

Minutes later, he had to step in to the batter's box against CC Sabathia. Sometimes, it's hard to flip that switch and be emotionally ready to compete.

"I'm not going to lie to you -- it has (gotten harder)," said Ortiz. "We're already in the playoffs, so for the next three days, I don't really have to worry about it. But the best thing about it is that once we get into the playoffs, there's not going to be all these distractions.

"I like to mentally focus when we play, especially when I'm playing for a reason. We work extremely hard during the regular season to get into the playoffs and once we get there, I don't want to blow that off. It's not easy to (do all the ceremonies) and play baseball at the same time. It can be a distraction."