Sports

Red Sox get creative in the infield

Will Middlebrooks has enough concentration to make a catch in front of a charging Pedro Ciriaco during a popup drill.
Will Middlebrooks has enough concentration to make a catch in front of a charging Pedro Ciriaco during a popup drill.Credit: matthew j. lee/globe staff

FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was the kind of thing that made you look twice. But that really was Daniel Bard at first base with Ryan Dempster at second, John Lackey at shortstop, and Andrew Miller as the world’s only 6-foot-7-inch, lefthanded third baseman.

The Red Sox were having some fun Sunday morning, but with a purpose. As part of working on bunt defense, they had the pitchers rotate through the infield positions to get a better sense of what their teammates do.

Pitching coach Juan Nieves suggested the drill. It is something his former team, the Chicago White Sox, does in spring training.

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“It serves a couple of purposes,” manager John Farrell said. “One, it continues to allow the pitchers to go through the bunt responsibilities. But it also gives them insight in what every other player on the field’s responsibilities are.

“They get a better understanding of not only reading the pace of the bunt, they can understand how much distance has to be traveled in certain situations. From that standpoint, it was helpful.”

The pitchers enjoyed the challenge of scooping throws and charging the ball. Lackey, who played first base in junior college, was particularly adept at those skills.

“I played shortstop when I was a sophomore in high school,” Miller said. “I kind of knew what to do. But Lack was pretty good.”

Defensive drills can get boring for pitchers. But the Sox made it into a competition, counting who had the fewest mistakes. They were a noisy bunch.

Farrell was enjoying himself watching the action.

“I’ll tell you, when you get into spring training one of the tough things is to get creative,” he said.

What if there’s an emergency some night, might Farrell try one of his pitchers in the infield?

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” he said.

Impressed with Drew

Farrell was asked what his early impressions were of new shortstop Stephen Drew.

“A lot more talkative than J.D. [Drew],” he cracked.

Stephen Drew is, in fact, much more chatty than his low-key older brother, the former Red Sox right fielder. Of greater importance is that Drew seems fully recovered from the shattered right ankle that interrupted his career in 2011.

“There seems to be no ill effect of the ankle injury,” Farrell said. “Through his ground ball work, from the team defense that we’ve run through so far, he’s very particular in just looking for feedback. Whether it’s in between rounds in BP to [how] the ball carries across the infield, trying to generate the exact rotation and backspin on throws to keep them true. He’s pretty meticulous in his work.”

Getting to work

First baseman Mike Napoli, who was cleared to start defensive drills Saturday, took 50 ground balls at first base.

“We’ll gradually build that up,” Farrell said. “He’s got very soft hands. Even when you watch him take BP, his movements are smooth. We’re confident he’s going to be a very good first baseman.”

Napoli has been primarily a catcher in his career, but has played 133 games at first base.

“I kind of like the idea of getting to focus on playing there for the first time,” he said. “I’ve been able to handle it before and I think I’ll get better.”

Overbay first up

As Napoli catches up, non-roster first baseman Lyle Overbay is getting time with the starting infielders. He could find a spot on the bench, particularly if he is comfortable in left field. “The one thing we know defensively, he’s a well above-average first baseman,” Farrell said. Overbay had only 116 at-bats last season for the Diamondbacks and Braves. How he swings the bat will decide his fate . . . The Red Sox were concerned when Clay Buchholz clutched his right hamstring a few minutes into the first official workout last Tuesday. But he has recovered swiftly and may be only a few days away from unrestricted workouts. “Everything is fine,” he said. “I was on the field today and I’ll pitch tomorrow. It’s not going to be a problem.” . . . Shortstop Jose Iglesias, who is about 9 pounds heavier, has improved the power of his swing if early rounds of batting practice are any indication. He’s more balanced and able to drive the ball better.

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