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Morales feeling better

After rocky start, comfort level up

F. MORALES Strong winter F. MORALES Strong winter
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / February 25, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Franklin Morales feels a lot more at home with the Red Sox this season. In many ways, 2011 was just a blur to the lefthanded reliever.

Obtained from the Rockies in May, Morales appeared in 36 games for the Sox. He had 31 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings with 11 walks and held lefthanded batters to a .234 average.

Morales, 26, also showed better control with the Sox than during his four-plus seasons in Colorado, averaging 3.1 walks per nine innings.

“It was hard getting to know everybody and a new city,’’ Morales said. “They had their team and I had to try and fit in. It was strange sometimes.’’

Morales never quite gained the trust of former manager Terry Francona. Only nine of his appearances came in high-leverage situations.

“I did the best I could,’’ Morales said. “I think it was a good season for me. But they had other guys.’’

Morales had a strong showing in the Venezuelan Winter League. In 21 appearances (22 innings) for Leones del Caracas, Morales did not allow an earned run. He scattered eight hits, walked four, and struck out 26.

“I had all my pitches and I threw strikes,’’ he said. “It was good for me. It gave me confidence coming into this season.’’

Morales, if healthy, is likely to have a place in the bullpen, although Andrew Miller and/or Felix Doubront could fit the roster as relievers if they are not in the rotation. The Sox also have lefties Justin Thomas and Jesse Carlson in camp.

Catching on

Manager Bobby Valentine has spent a lot of time with the catchers, instructing them on the nuances of how he wants games to be run and pitchers to be handled. He’s impressed with Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

“It seems to me he’s a player who’s trying to step right into his own. He feels like this is his time,’’ Valentine said. “He’s trying to take a leadership role with the pitchers. We’ve had a lot of communications sessions and when I’ve gotten to those sessions, he’s applying himself.’’

Valentine also likes what he sees from Luis Exposito, who spent last season with Triple A Pawtucket.

“Exposito has shown great strides from what I’ve read and reports and really heard. He’s also a guy who’s trying to take a step into his time. He looks very good,’’ Valentine said.

Here’s the windup

Daniel Bard has never thrown a pitch from the windup in the majors. As a reliever, he always worked from the stretch, even without runners on base.

“I haven’t pitched from a windup since 2007,’’ he said. “But I’m getting used to it. It’s not all that much movement to get to where I was in the stretch anyway.’’

Bard was a starter in college at North Carolina and for one season in the minors before the Sox sent him to the bullpen. Now he’s in line to pitch in the rotation.

“I’m pretty comfortable with it already,’’ Bard said. “I actually think my control is a little better from the wind.’’

Weighty matters

David Ortiz claims he has lost 17 pounds thanks to a new diet to combat high cholesterol. Ortiz also said he gave up alcohol. “Yeah, me too,’’ Valentine said, rolling his eyes. “Until next dinner.’’ . . . Minor league catcher Zach Kapstein, the pride of Tiverton, R.I., took live batting practice against Josh Beckett and lined a solid single to left field. When he came up again, Beckett knocked the 19-year-old off the plate with a high fastball. Kapstein belted the next pitch over the fence in left-center. Not bad for a 44th-round draft pick . . . Valentine has no plans to keep three catchers, as he would prefer a 12-man pitching staff. Valentine said the only way a third catcher makes sense would be if he could play another position. That would indicate Ryan Lavarnway starts the season in Pawtucket . . . The Sox have what looks like a small football field outside their clubhouse. But the grassy expanse is what they call an “agility field’’ and it’s used for conditioning drills, stretching, and sprints. It allows the trainers to work with players without having to duck batted or thrown balls in the outfield . . . The minor league camp is not officially open, but dozens of players have arrived early and a minicamp for the top prospects is underway. Williams Jerez, a second-round pick last fall, was in the batting cage yesterday afternoon along with well-regarded shortstop prospect Xander Bogaerts.

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

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