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Some random Red Sox off-day notes

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  March 26, 2013 09:15 AM

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FORT MYERS, Fla. The Red Sox have a day off today, although John Lackey will stay on turn and pitch in a minor league game at Fenway South.

Seems like a good time for some random thoughts:

There has been way too much hand-wringing about Jackie Bradley Jr. and whether he should make the team. With David Ortiz out, the Sox have a need. Bradley, obviously, has played well enough to merit a spot on the roster. So why not keep him until Ortiz returns and then send him down for 20 days to stave off free agency for another year?

It's easy to say Bradley won't make a difference, no matter what he does. But the 2011 Orioles were 69-93. How did they do last year?

The Sox ask too much of their fans financially to not field the best team possible. Baseball is a business that competes for our entertainment dollar. There are times you need to look at it from that perspective.

Lost a bit in the Bradley hype is the fact that Will Middlebrooks is having a terrific spring. He has hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games at 15 of 35 (.429) with nine extra-base hits.

Middlebrooks also is playing well defensively. He said the day he spent working with Mike Lowell made a major difference in reading angles and setting his feet correctly.

Mike Napoli is probably twice as good at first base than you think he is. He has worked hard to refine his skills at the position to a point where the Sox have no intent on replacing him late in games for defensive purposes.

The Red Sox are going to do a lot of defensive shifting, something that John Farrell successfully employed in Toronto last season. You'll see Middlebrooks at second base and Dustin Pedroia in shallow right field against certain hitters.

In case you missed it, the Indians released Daisuke Matsuzaka. His stats weren't horrible (8 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K) in spring training, but scouts weren't impressed with his stuff.

When Ryan Dempster was pitching in a minor league intrasquad game on Sunday, 20-year-old lefty Henry Owens was on an adjacent field doing what looked like magic tricks with his pitches.

Owens struck out 13 of the 15 batters he faced and was throwing 92-95 miles per hour. Check out what Alex Speier of WEEI wrote about Owens' performance.

Having stood there and watched some of what Owens was doing, everything Alex wrote is true even though it sounds unbelievable. Owens looked like a major league All-Star facing Little Leaguers.

Even with David Ortiz, the Sox were going to have trouble scoring runs. Without him you could see some ugly games against the better righthanded pitchers. Unlike previous seasons, where power made the difference, the Sox will need to manufacture runs and run the bases well to support their pitchers.

Try picking the AL East from top to bottom, it's not easy. You can make a good case for the Rays, Jays and Orioles to win and a pretty good case for the Sox, Yankees, Orioles or Rays to finish in last if you wanted to.

Here's the problem with the AL East: Every team is fairly dangerous and the teams in the division could beat each other up. Teams in the AL West can pile up victories against the Astros. What an advantage that is when it comes to the wild card.

Lots of readers have asked what happens down the road if the Sox have to find places for Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts and Jose Iglesias to play.

For starters, that will not be a 2013 problem as Bogaerts is not ready. It may not even be a 2014 problem given that he is 20. Beyond that, there is no such thing as having too many good players.

Obviously shifting Iglesias off shortstop would be a capital crime. And while it's easy to say that Middlebrooks could play first and Bogaerts could play third, it would be a waste of a great arm to move Middlebrooks to first base.

Bogaerts has the athletic ability to play other positions. There are always trades, too. Best thing for now is to let it all play out. Performance has a way of settling these kind of questions.

Feeling like Jarrod Saltalamacchia will have a big year.

Not feeling like Felix Doubront will.

The Red Sox have a terrific complex at Fenway South. But one fault, at least from the viewpoint of a reporter, is that there is little access to the manager and coaches.

At most parks, the manager's office and the locker room used by the coaches is accessible to the media and you can pop your head in to ask a question or have something explained. But the Red Sox have John Farrell and his coaches in an area where reporters are not allowed to tread, literally behind closed doors.

We see them on the field, but that is a time they're busy doing their jobs. And when you request an interview, it's usually standing off to the side in the clubhouse and there's no time for just an informal chat.

It's not a big deal and that will change during the season. But one of the fun parts of spring training is getting to know people before the pressure of the season weighs on them and learning something about them, about a player or about baseball. Hopefully it's something you can pass along to a reader.

Like I said, it's not a big deal. It's just too bad.

That said, time with pitching coach Juan Nieves is always educational. He's getting rave reviews from the pitchers, too. After a couple of years where it felt like the Sox had a substitute teacher, Nieves is going to make his students better.

The Red Sox have been careful not to make any predictions about when David Ortiz comes back. The guess here is May 6 against the Twins.

Two reasons: Ortiz has yet to play in any sort of game and is going to need 35-50 plate appearances to get his timing back given his long stretch away. Big Papi also is very cognizant of the idea that coming back too soon could lead to something worse.

He has spoken to a number of players who had similar injuries, Ryan Howard among them, and all counseled patience.

That's it for now. Only four more games that don't count before the ones that do. Make sure you pick up the Globe on Sunday for our season preview section.

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