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Ross has spring in his step again

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 31, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Cody Ross was still looking for a job in late January, a poor season with the Giants having depressed his value in the free agent market.

Ross hit .240 with a .325 on-base percentage. He also struck out 96 times in 405 at-bats.

“It was an awful feeling,’’ Ross said. “I started off pretty good and then hit a skid. Just an up-and-down year.’’

The Red Sox picked up Ross on a one-year, $3 million deal. He could prove to be one of the best bargains in baseball if spring training is any indication.

Ross homered twice in Friday’s 9-7 victory against the Twins. He drove in four runs with the two towering shots to left field and improved his batting average to .366. He leads the Sox with six home runs.

A winter of hard work is paying off.

“I changed a few things,’’ Ross said. “I watched a lot of video this offseason and worked on my swing a lot instead of playing as much golf as I planned. I really worked on my swing and focused on staying back and staying relaxed.

“Those were the main keys, starting earlier. It feels good.’’

Manager Bobby Valentine said before the game that Ross would be his left fielder with occasional games in right field if Darnell McDonald starts in left. With Carl Crawford expected to miss at least the first month of the season recovering from wrist surgery, Ross will be an important player.

“He’s launched them [and] he’s played great defense that has gone unnoticed,’’ Valentine said.

Making a good first impression on his new team has made this a fun spring training for Ross.

“It’s a great feeling,’’ he said. “This is my 12th or 13th year in pro ball and I’ve been on a few different teams. I don’t care what anyone says, it doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 28 or 31 like I am, any time you get to a new team you feel like you have to prove yourself again, especially coming off a bad year.

“You feel you have to show people, ‘I can still play. I can still compete at a high level. I’m a good player.’ It’s constant pressure, which is good. So far this spring it’s been an easy transition for me with this team.’’

Ellsbury is OK

The Red Sox got a bit of a scare in the fifth inning when Jacoby Ellsbury fouled a ball off his right knee.

Ellsbury stayed in the game and struck out while facing Nick Blackburn. But he did not go back out to center field.

“I wanted to get some ice on there ASAP,’’ Valentine said.

Ellsbury left Hammond Stadium without a limp, and wearing a small elastic wrap on his knee.

“I’m fine,’’ he said, flashing a thumbs up. “No problem.’’

Nice bonus

Aaron Cook has been paid a $100,000 retention bonus, meaning he will be a part of the Red Sox organization (although not necessarily the 25-man roster) to start the season.

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, veterans signed to minor league deals must be awarded the bonus to stay in the organization or they’re free to go elsewhere. Cook still has a May 1 opt-out of his contract and will make his next start Monday.

Cook threw 68 pitches Wednesday and will likely stretch to 80-plus Monday. He has allowed two earned runs over 9 1/3 innings in three major league games this spring.

Skeleton crew

The Red Sox will send only a few major leaguers to Port Charlotte for Saturday’s game against the Rays. Outside of McDonald and Kelly Shoppach, the major league position players will remain behind.

Ross Ohlendorf will start, with Jon Lester staying in Fort Myers to pitch a minor league game.

“I have no problem with not bringing my regulars. None,’’ said Valentine, who pointed out that many teams sent skeleton rosters to JetBlue Park this spring.

Valentine said the lineup was the result of polling the regulars.

“I went through every guy and let them lay out their schedule, what they need and what they want. Everybody got what they need and what they want,’’ he said.

In the swing

Adrian Gonzalez skipped the game across town to get six plate appearances in two minor league games at Fenway South. He was 2 for 5 with a double and a walk . . . Andrew Miller, who has been out with a left hamstring strain, is scheduled for a minor league game Monday. He will start the season on the disabled list . . . Josh Beckett will pitch in a minor league game Sunday rather than face the Twins . . . Pedro Ciriaco continued his impressive spring. Inserted as a pinch runner in the seventh inning, he stole second and took third on a sacrifice bunt by Jason Repko. When the Twins fell asleep, Ciriaco kept going and scored, his slide beating the throw from first baseman Sean Burroughs . . . The Red Sox have told outfield prospect Bryce Brentz he will start the season with Double A Portland. Brentz hit 30 home runs in Single A last season . . . To be prepared in case of emergency, Valentine used Nick Punto for five innings at first base. Kevin Youkilis then switched from third and played two innings at first. Punto has never played first in the majors.

Nick Cafardo 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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