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Compliments from Wilson lefthanded

Rangers starter isn’t impressed by retooled Sox

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 1, 2011

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ARLINGTON, Texas — The Red Sox are favored to win the American League pennant, according to the wiseguys in Las Vegas, the stats guys on the Internet, and even Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

The signing of Carl Crawford, the trade for Adrian Gonzalez, and the return to health of players such as Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Jacoby Ellsbury have vaulted the Sox back into the spotlight after last season’s third-place finish in the AL East.

Until yesterday, it was impossible to find anybody in baseball not impressed with the team that will take the field against the Rangers this afternoon on Opening Day.

Then Texas starter C.J. Wilson was asked what he thought of the Sox.

“Um, I don’t know,’’ Wilson said dismissively. “It’s pretty much the same lineup they had last year with two additions, really, and I’ve faced those guys before.

“It’s not like all of a sudden they have the ghost of Ted Williams playing for them or something. They have a couple of lefties, which is good for me, obviously. Last year it was. I just like pitching at home. I’m not really too worried about it.’’

Couldn’t Crawford and Gonzalez make a difference?

“Compared to who?’’ Wilson said. “They’re good players, obviously. You don’t sign a guy for over $100 million unless he’s a good player. It’s as simple as that. They’re good. Carl’s fast. They added another speed guy.’’

What about that speed — could Crawford and Ellsbury be difficult to contend with?

“No,’’ said Wilson. “If you get them out, they don’t get on first base. That’s the idea. The No. 1 way to control a running game is to get them out. I’ve pitched well against both those guys. I’m not terribly concerned about it.’’

Wilson has good reason to be confident. He was 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA last season. That included a 3-0 record in three starts against the Sox with only two earned runs allowed over 21 innings.

“He’s one of the elite lefthanders in the game with his stuff,’’ said Sox manager Terry Francona. “He’s really had his way with us.’’

Francona adjusted his lineup in deference to Wilson, putting righthanded-hitting Mike Cameron in right field in place of the lefthanded J.D. Drew. Gonzalez will hit fifth with righthanded-hitting Kevin Youkilis batting cleanup.

Unlike his starter, Rangers manager Ron Washington likes what the Sox did over the winter.

“I thought they did a tremendous job bringing in Carl Crawford and Gonzalez,’’ said Washington. “It certainly upgrades their offense. Two professional hitters, two guys who are difference-makers in a batting order.’’

Jon Lester will start against the defending AL champions. He was 1-1 with a 1.69 ERA in two starts against Texas last year.

“Pretty excited, obviously,’’ said Lester. “A lot of hype this year. Just glad that spring training is over and we can start playing for real.’’

The Sox were an uninspiring 14-19-2 during the exhibition season. But after the injuries that derailed the 2010 season, arriving in Texas with their roster intact is a sufficient accomplishment.

“I think it was a good spring training as far as health,’’ said general manager Theo Epstein. “This is the position player core that we expected to break camp with. It’s a talented group.

“Ask us in six or seven months how happy we are. Right now, this is a group we believe in. We like the way they fit together and obviously there’s a lot of options and talent.

“This is the group we’re prepared to compete with in the toughest division in baseball.’’

For the Sox, waiting for games that counted became boring.

“We did everything we had to do to get ready,’’ said Gonzalez, whose own spring was built around a careful return from shoulder surgery. “Now comes the fun part.’’

And the unexpected part, too. If healthy, the Sox have the kind of lineup that could lead all of baseball in runs. But how that manifests itself at first isn’t certain.

“You just don’t know who’s going to come out swinging well and who won’t,’’ said Francona. “It’s the same way every year. It really doesn’t matter.

“You can hit .500 in the spring and when the season starts you can’t bottle it. You just do the best you can to be ready. Somebody’s going to get real hot for us and somebody’s going to get real cold.’’

The message Francona had for his players was to work together.

“I don’t think we have just nine good players, I think we’ve got 25 guys and we’re going to use them,’’ he said. “I asked guys to be patient, and make sure they understand what comes first are our team goals because we are going to use everybody.’’

Even the manager, who is entering his eighth season in Boston, is excited to see what happens next.

“If you’re in a uniform and you’re not excited, you’ve got to get a different job,’’ Francona said. “Along with it, there always comes a little bit of anxiety.

“You think you’re ready, you know you’re ready, but let’s go show you’re ready. I don’t care how many times you go through it, it’s an unbelievable feeling.’’

Michael Vega of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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