FORT MYERS, Fla. — Not to rub it in, but the weather in southwest Florida this year has been fantastic. We note that simply because that wasn’t the case last year, when cold weather wiped out orange crops and those that did not bring a sweater in their suitcase were shivering at night.
The remarkable run of 80 degrees and sun has seemed to coincide with the mood and vibe in Red Sox camp. Sunny skies overhead for the boys from Boston. We know there will be obstacles ahead, but for now all is well.
Last week we offered up a look at some pressing questions in camp, or at least scenarios that could develop into something. As we get into the meat of the Grapefruit League slate, let’s examine nine of the nicer developments in the week that was at Camp Sunshine.
1. Although there is plenty of optimism, the physical maladies of 2010 are in the back of everyone’s heads. With that in mind, it was nice to see Josh Beckett and Jon Lester get through their first setbacks of the spring. Beckett’s concussion was certainly more serious than Lester’s flu, but it was Beckett who had a flu bug last year and was thrown off a bit, so that is nothing to sneeze at (pun very much intended). Beckett looked strong in 3 2/3 innings Tuesday afternoon against Houston. Lester got through three simulated innings the day before and feels 100 percent.
2. If Jed Lowrie maintains his mastery of left-handed pitching (.324 career average, .944 OPS) and improves against righties (.216, .667), he really could be something special at the plate. Early on, he has put forth some very good at-bats from the left side of the plate, a nice indication for his prospects in 2011.
3. There is no denying that Jacoby Ellsbury is the one guy out of all the injured players who has the biggest hill to climb in terms of getting back into “baseball shape.” After a three-hit effort Tuesday in Jupiter, during which he had his first stolen base, Ellsbury’s early spring average was up to .375. Some might expect Ellsbury to take some time to get going, but he has looked better than many expected at every stage of camp.
4. Each spring the youngest kids in camp get plenty of chances to strut their stuff. They have not disappointed this year. Entering play Wednesday, the trio of Oscar Tejeda, Jose Iglesias and Yamaico Navarro are a combined 21-for-56 (.375) with a home run and 10 RBIs. Aside from some early hiccups from Tejeda, all three have performed pretty well at their respective positions.
While Iglesias seemingly has a smooth road to the starting shortstop gig in a year or two, the others are somewhat blocked in that progression. It will be interesting to see how the organization handles Navarro and Tejeda going forward, whether dangling them in a trade offer or sticking with their progression, knowing that something might open up somewhere down the line.
5. He is a tad older than the aforementioned trio of minor leaguers, but Juan Carlos Linares has turned some heads. Terry Francona said this week that Linares has moved onto the radar as someone who could help the big club this year, and there have been rumors that his development could cause a shakeup going forward in the form of a Mike Cameron trade. Linares, in the rather apt words of Francona, physically looks like a backup catcher, but the 26-year-old moves much better than that. He was noted as a pretty solid outfielder while in Cuba, and his bat has done nothing to disappoint. Linares was hitting .368 (7-for-17) with a team-high 12 total bases entering Wednesday.
6. A handful of guys that are in the mix for a bullpen spot have impressed so far, even if the odds are slim for some of them. The sextet (hide the kids) of Rich Hill, Matt Fox, Randy Williams, Matt Albers, Andrew Miller and Alfredo Aceves have combined to post a 2.22 ERA with 21 strikeouts against just four walks in 24 1/3 innings. The last two may serve best as starting pitching depth. Hill may have an inside track on Williams among lefties vying for a spot. Fox has seven Ks in four innings. Albers has perhaps the most experience in the American League East. All are off to a good start in making their case.
7. Ryan Westmoreland will be on the field Thursday at the player development complex and is scheduled to take batting practice for all of us to see. Look for coverage on NESN and NESN.com as we bring you the latest on his remarkable recovery and return to the field, one of the great stories of the young season.
8. It may sound elementary, but just the fact that every player coming back from an injury is not only healthy but is already showing signs that they will hit the ground running once Opening Day arrives is a wonderful development for the Sox. That should not be overlooked. Dustin Pedroia is “right on pace,” the second baseman said Wednesday. We mentioned that Ellsbury is probably ahead of his pace, as is the case with Adrian Gonzalez, whom we will see in a game very soon. Aside from a small and rather minor case of right knee tendinitis for Mike Cameron, everyone is progressing perfectly. As Beckett is fond of stressing, getting through spring training feeling fine is not to be taken lightly.
9. The mock intensity surrounding the Mayor’s Cup is one of the great highlights of covering the Red Sox each spring. The cup itself sits in the clubhouse with more dents than your dad’s Chrysler and with the years engraved for the winners only through 2006 (the last four have been written on a piece of athletic tape and stuck on the facing). The latest of many sarcastic discussions surrounding the annual series with the Minnesota Twins had Terry Francona joking about Friday’s matchup. With half the team heading to Kissimmee to take on Houston, Jon Lester will go to Hammond Stadium to start against the Twins in a potential Mayor’s Cup clincher. There was little chance that Lester would make the long bus ride to Kissimmee anyway, but Francona said in mock tone that they wanted to make sure they had him for the clincher anyway. Earlier in the month there were jokes about sending John Lackey ahead of the team like they sometimes do with a starter during the regular season and having him stay in a hotel near Hammond Stadium, just to rest up and get ready without distractions. The two parks are about nine miles away.