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Red Sox notebook

Mechanics have Scutaro driving it

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / February 24, 2010

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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek maintains three-ring binders on every other team in baseball, with detailed notes on how best to pitch opposing hitters.

Facing Marco Scutaro, he said, has become more difficult in the last two seasons.

“He made adjustments. He simplified his swing, and that allows him to cover more area of the plate,’’ Varitek said. “He got better as a hitter. From my perspective, there was a change in his mechanics and his approach and it paid off for him.

“He made those changes just as he became an every-day player and it worked for him.’’

The statistics bear that out. Scutaro had a .320 on-base percentage in his first six seasons in the majors, playing part-time for the Mets and Athletics. But when he was made a starter by the Blue Jays in 2008, it rose to .362 over the two seasons that followed.

Scutaro’s simplified swing improved his contact percentage (per the statistics at Fangraphs.com) and last season he had his career best on-base percentage (.379) and slugging percentage (.409).

Now Scutaro is the new shortstop of the Red Sox, having agreed to a two-year, $12.5 million deal in November. He spent his first day in uniform yesterday, happily knowing this is one time he doesn’t have to win a job.

“It’s totally different,’’ said Scutaro, who hopes to be the player to halt what has been the team’s revolving door at shortstop. “You can work on whatever you need to work on and not worry about making the team.’’

The Sox targeted Scutaro early in the free agent process and increased their offer when Oakland made a bid. After using Scutaro as a reserve from 2004-07, the Athletics also believed the 34-year-old had earned the right to play every day.

“Sometimes things work out that way. They offered me a contract, too, but I just wanted to come here because we had a chance to win,’’ Scutaro said. “That’s what it’s all about. As a player, you want to win. That’s why you prepare the whole year.’’

Scutaro played with plantar fasciitis in his right foot over the final two months of the season but healed over the winter.

“I’m fine now,’’ he said. “No problems.’’

Scutaro hit first in all 144 games he played for the Blue Jays last season. But with Jacoby Ellsbury the likely leadoff hitter, he could hit at the bottom of the order for the Sox.

“He has the ability to hit at the top or the bottom, depending on what we’re doing, who’s healthy and how guys are playing,’’ manager Terry Francona said.

Said Scutaro: “I don’t care. Wherever they need me.’’

Get set, go
The position players went through the annual conditioning tests, which consists mainly of running. There were the usual grumbles and boasts as the participants trudged back to the clubhouse.

“They didn’t announce my time because they didn’t want to embarrass everybody else,’’ Dustin Pedroia said.

David Ortiz successfully completed the sprints, which impressed Francona.

“He did it,’’ the manager said. “I don’t know how many players of that I guess maybe you can use the word stature . . . but that’s a lot of body to move twice 300 yards. He did it and I know his teammates probably really appreciate it.

“It means something. It’s not the end-all, it doesn’t mean he’s going to hit home runs; it doesn’t mean he’s not. But it’s part of being a team going in one direction and that’s important.’’

Reliever Hideki Okajima, who skipped the test last week because of sore legs, completed it yesterday.

On his side
As he addressed losing his position and the likelihood of being traded, third baseman Mike Lowell said he appreciated the support he has received from fans.

“I don’t want to discount the fact that I feel like I’ve had tremendous support,’’ he said. “I think the fans appreciate the way I played the last four years in Boston. I think they appreciate someone who comes to play every day.

“[It’s] very flattering when the fans feel like there’s an injustice being put on you. That’s a good feeling when you have the fans on your side.’’

Bad back report
Jonathan Papelbon threw as scheduled in the bullpen. But he was feeling the effects of a poor night of sleep earlier in the week.

“He had that bed-back. He was stiff [Monday],’’ Francona said. “He was able to throw his side, but we cut him back a little bit on some of the other [drills]. He’s feeling pretty good.’’

Daisuke Matsuzaka threw for the second straight day as he continued to return from a back issue. He played catch for 20 minutes and reported no discomfort.

The righthander will get either today or tomorrow off and soon start throwing from longer distances to rebuild strength in his arm.

They rank
Four Red Sox players were on Baseball America’s list of the top 100 prospects in baseball. Outfielder Ryan Westmoreland came in at No. 21, followed by righthander Casey Kelly (27), outfielder Josh Reddick (75), and first baseman Lars Anderson (87). The top prospect is Braves outfielder Jason Heyward. Lefthander Nick Hagadone, one of the players sent to Cleveland to obtain Victor Martinez last summer, was No. 44 . . . The Sox will have a team meeting at 9 this morning in advance of the first full-squad workout. Among those expected to address the team is owner John Henry.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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