FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was the fifth inning of an early March game that means nothing in the standings, but the sight of the unmistakable form of Bobby Jenks jogging in from the bullpen was an exciting one for the Red Sox on Thursday.
Jenks, who is adjusting to a new role on a new team that trains in a different state than the one in which he is accustomed, is taking it all in stride. Remarkably so.
"It actually went a little better than I expected," Jenks said of his debut in a 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. "I made some really good pitches. I threw the ball for the most part exactly where I wanted it to, so all in all it was a really good day."
Jenks' fourth pitch in a Boston uniform was hit by Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino for a double to right. Jenks retired the next three in order, including one a 3-1 putout in which he had to beat a runner to first.
This was the latest that Jenks has thrown to hitters in a spring, as far as he could recall. He used four bullpens and two sessions against hitters to get ready this time around, following a scheme set forth by pitching coach Curt Young. The amount of actual throwing is no different, but the introduction into competition did not come until Thursday.
Based on how he threw, the plan has worked well.
"My delivery was great," said Jenks, signed to a two-year deal this offseason. "Velocity, I don't care about until the season at some time and right now, as long as I'm feeling healthy, I feel strong, and as far as mechanics go I felt really sound today."
There will be a moment when Jenks does have to pitch in that new setup role, one in which he has not been since his rookie year in 2005. He has said time and time again that there will be no issues and little adjustment.
His manager, ever one to find something on which to work, cites one area that will need to be addressed.
"I think the biggest thing will be controlling the running game," manager Terry Francona said of Jenks. "For some reason teams get in the ninth inning and don't want to end the game, a lot of managers don't want to end the game with a guy standing in the box, with a guy stealing. The seventh and eighth innings, they're a little bit more willing to run.
"That?s something we'll keep an eye on as the spring progresses, just holding runners and things like that because his stuff, I don't care what inning he pitches in, his stuff is plenty good. I think teams will be a little more apt to run if he pitches in the seventh or eighth."
Jenks will address that matter as time goes on. He is also concentrating on building up the arsenal that will get hitters out this year. On Thursday, Jenks threw his four-seam fastball, his cutter and a sinker. Most importantly, with the exception of the double by Victorino, he began to get a feel for the changeup. (Jenks joked that it should have been a "change-down.")
That offering, one which Jenks has used sparingly in his career (2.3 percent of the time, according to fangraphs.com), could prove critical.
"I never really went to it," Jenks said of the changeup. "I really started using it again more last year really more towards the middle of the season. It was working really nicely so I wanted to incorporate it a lot this year."
For the rest of March, Jenks will work on mastering the changeup. As evidenced by his lengthy, yet smooth progression in camp, he has already mastered the change.