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Sox picking their spots

Pitching depth being monitored

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 23, 2010

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was John Lackey’s turn to pitch yesterday and the Red Sox had two games to play, one at City of Palms Park against the Rays, and the other across the state in Jupiter against the Cardinals.

But Lackey did his work down Edison Avenue, pitching five innings to minor leaguers. The Red Sox wanted to use the games to determine the depth of their pitching staff with the season approaching.

Boof Bonser was given the start at home and Michael Bowden the nod on the road. Both are among the competitors for one of the last two spots in the bullpen or to serve as emergency starters.

“Today will be a big indicator for us,’’ pitching coach John Farrell said nearly five hours before the first pitches of the day were thrown. “You want to see some of those secondary guys start to emerge.’’

When the day ended, Farrell and manager Terry Francona were left wondering if their staff was as deep as they first believed.

Bonser could not get through three innings, giving up five runs on six hits, including two home runs, then telling the staff he had a sore right groin. Bowden managed three innings and allowed four runs on six hits, three of those doubles.

Junichi Tazawa, the 23-year-old prospect from Japan, gave up four runs in his inning as three Rays hit home runs.

The Sox lost to Tampa Bay, 11-9, and lost to the Cardinals, 13-8. The Rays finished with seven home runs, two each by Evan Longoria and Kelly Shoppach. The Cardinals scored seven runs in the eighth inning, four with two outs.

“That’s not good,’’ Francona said.

The Red Sox were confident the addition of Lackey to a rotation that included Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Daisuke Matsuzaka would give them the best group in baseball.

But Matsuzaka has thrown only two innings this spring, slowed by a sore back and neck. Now 43-year-old Tim Wakefield is pushing to take his place. Building depth has become paramount.

Bonser, Bowden, Tazawa, 22-year-old lefthander Felix Doubront and perhaps even 20-year-old Casey Kelly could become important. The Red Sox needed 11 starters last season and even the world champion Yankees used nine.

“That’s the big thing for everybody, is trying to see not statistically what their spring looks like, but trying to move forward and project guys as where they fit in with your ball club or how they fit,’’ Francona said. “That’s the bigger challenge for us, not to ever penalize somebody for two bad innings. That’s not the idea of spring training. It’s how to figure out where guys fit.’’

Bonser, who had shoulder surgery a year ago, is out of minor league options. So he would have to pass through waivers if he is not on the 25-man roster. Until yesterday, he had pitched fairly well.

“I threw some good pitches and they whacked it,’’ Bonser said. “They have good hitters over there. It was very frustrating. To try and come in and get that last spot and to do something like that, it takes its toll a little bit.

“I still have to come in and prove to them that I’m healthy and that I can pitch. When I go out and do something like that today, it gets me down.’’

Bonser’s groin will be evaluated today.

“We hope it’s not much, but it’s enough that he mentioned it,’’ Francona said.

Tazawa is being tried as a possible reliever for the major league roster with the possibility of starting for Triple A Pawtucket. But he has not pitched well, showing a lack of life on his fastball.

“The results have not been there,’’ Tazawa said via interpreter Ryo Shinkawa. “I’m still learning the philosophy of pitching in the United States.’’

One bright spot has been Doubront, who did not allow a run in seven innings before being sent back to the minor league camp.

“He came and followed last year’s camp with another good camp,’’ Francona said. “A young lefthander who has the ability to throw a fastball and get major league hitters out is pretty exciting. He’s kind of moving up on the radar. We’re kind of excited to watch his progress.’’

With 12 days left before the opener, the Sox will continue to hold auditions.

“We’re going to take all our allotted time to try and figure out not only how our team looks to start the season, but how we best look going forward,’’ Francona said. “That’s probably the harder thing. We could pick a team but we need to figure out our depth and make good decisions, not just for Opening Night.’’

The Red Sox have lost eight of nine games, giving up 61 runs. Francona is not one to get too agitated about spring training, but he expects to see some improvement with only a dozen exhibition games left.

“Hopefully we’ll kick it into gear a little bit the next couple of days,’’ he said. “Get a little bit more energy and play a little bit cleaner baseball.’’

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

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