Red Sox Set to Play Own Version of ‘March Madness’ in Grueling 48-Hour Stretch

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Red Sox Set to Play Own Version of 'March Madness' in Grueling 48-Hour Stretch After finishing a media session Saturday, Red Sox manager Terry Francona turned to a reporter and said something about St. Mary's knocking off Villanova in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

In the clubhouse Jacoby Ellsbury and Tug Hulett watched the game between Ohio and Tennessee get under way.

And in the press box, a tourney bracket was pasted to a window as people discussed some of the early upsets.

It was only fitting that such scenes came on the eve of the Red Sox' own version of "March Madness," a 48-hour stretch which will see the team play four major league games and give two of its starters some innings at the minor league camp down the road.

"We've got to get through the next two days," Francona said Saturday.

The whirlwind begins at 11 a.m. Sunday when Daisuke Matsuzaka steps to the mound at the team's player development complex just a quick drive from City of Palms Park. He is scheduled to throw two innings in his first game action of the spring.

Two hours later, one Red Sox team hosts Houston while the other visits Dunedin to take on Toronto in a pair of split-squad affairs. Jon Lester will start against the Astros and Mike Lowell will make his first appearance at third base.

Then, on Monday, the squad splits again as half stay in Fort Myers to play Tampa Bay while the rest travel across the state to Jupiter for a make-up game with St. Louis. Francona has had to warn the Cardinals ahead of time that he is sending over an extremely makeshift group.

“The Cardinals are very aware of what we’re going through,” he said."“There is no intent [to send minor leaguers just to keep regulars from having to make the trip]."

To make matters worse, the bug that has worked its way through the clubhouse continues to do so. Reliever Manny Delcarmen is the latest to feel the effects. Francona said Delcarmen was "getting a little bit dizzy out there" during the right-hander's one inning of work Saturday.

In order to maintain his own rhythm amid the turmoil, John Lackey will also be sent to the minor league camp Monday to get a start in there.

The illnesses and injuries to younger guys who can fill in has also made Francona's job tougher. He has been unable to turn to Jed Lowrie for several days due to the infielder’s bout with mono. Non-roster invitee Darnell McDonald has been sidelined with a ribcage injury. Gil Velazquez, who can play multiple positions in the infield and outfield if needed, has a jammed thumb.

"It's gotten hard right now," Francona said. "Our extra guys, we don’t have them. We're kinda scrambling."

That scramble will take place for two long and busy days. At times it will feel like madness.

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