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Unconventional preview: Red Sox

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  February 22, 2013 11:02 AM

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Don't know about you, but I've got a serious case of Ft. Myers envy going on right now. I know, during the 10 months of the calendar when it is not hosting the Red Sox in preparation for a new season, it's the kind of strip-malls-separated-by-stoplights zombie zone that reminds you of how lucky you are to live in New England. But when spring training is in session, there's no place I'd rather be, at least for a few weeks in February. Plus, Pedro's there, which makes everything brighter.

pm9.jpg So with the Red Sox set to play their first official spring training game Saturday when they take on Wil Myers and the Rays at 1:35 p.m., I figured now is as a good a time as any to take an occasionally focused but mostly meandering look at what's ahead. Just for the sport of it -- and because the approach is fun for me generally got great feedback during football season -- I'm using the Unconventional Preview format I broke out every Friday morning during Patriots season for our abstract look at that Sunday's game. Who knows, maybe it will become a recurring feature during baseball season as well. Play ball ...

THREE PLAYERS I'LL BE WATCHING NOT NAMED TOM BRADY DAVID ORTIZ
Daniel Bard: I have a regular reader/correspondent who has been telling me since the middle of Bard's disastrous 2012 season that the righthander has thrown his last pitch in the majors, the implication being that the attempt to convert him to a starter turned him into a such a mechanical and mental mess that suggesting he had Steve Blass disease would be a kind diagnosis. I was beginning to think the reader was correct, especially late last season when Bard's velocity was down and his motion and delivery looked nothing like that of the guy who had been one of the most dominating setup men in baseball for a couple of seasons. So it was extraordinarily encouraging to read that he looked pretty sharp against Boston College Thursday. Disregard the opponent -- that he touched 94 miles per hour and threw strikes is just the news we wanted to hear, and were unsure we ever would again. Progress by any measure is good news when it comes to Bard this spring.

Jackie Bradley Jr.: All right, I'll say it: I think the reason the Red Sox haven't acquired a righty-mashing outfielder to platoon with Jonny Gomes (Mike Carp is better against lefties, albeit in a fairly small sample) is because they expect Bradley to arrive at Fenway this year.

Clayton Mortensen: By my accounting, the Red Sox have five bullpen locks (Joel Hanrahan, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller), two quality relievers who could be traded (Andrew Bailey, Alfredo Aceves), a wild card (Daniel Bard), and a valuable swingman (Franklin Morales). That's a lot to sort out before even considering Mortensen, the 27-year-old speed-changing specialist. But make no mistake -- he should be considered. Mortensen was quietly effective in 26 appearances with the Sox last year, striking out 41 in 42 innings while allowing just 32 hits. He's out of options, and he probably belongs in that category with Bailey and Aceves, but here's hoping a guy proving to be a useful arm doesn't get away for nothing.

BOSTON 1988: ON THE ROAD, ON THE RADIO

higueratedfinn220.jpgA tip of the old-school Brewers cap to reader Tim H., who sent along this mesmerizing time-capsule of a video which features a 10-minute drive along the Central Artery in 1988 while a Red Sox-Brewers game plays on the radio. Being a Maine boy who was fortunate to make it down to Boston a couple of times a year as a kid, some of the changed and long-gone landmarks probably don't jump out as much to me as they might a Massachusetts lifer. (I started at the Globe in December '03, not long before the O'Neill Tunnel opened.) Any insight on what the car (and time) is passing by is much appreciated.

As for the game itself, well, listen for a bit -- the great Ken Coleman and young Joe Castiglione are on the call -- and it's easy to pin down the exact date. The pitching matchup is Roger Clemens vs. Teddy Higuera, a darned good pitcher for about six years before his career was abbreviated with arm troubles. (According to baseball-reference's measure, Higuera had more WAR than Clemens in '86.) Coleman tells us Jim Rice homered in the second inning. And there's a little bit of chatter about Mike Boddicker, suggesting that he'd just recently been acquired. (For a couple of kids named Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling, of course. What, they wouldn't take Todd Benzinger and Eric Hetzel instead?)

The game is this one: A 3-2 Red Sox victory on July 30 that fell right in the middle of Morgan Magic, a stretch in which the Sox 24 straight at home and 19 of 20 overall. Marty Barrett drove in Kevin Romine with the winning run with one out in the ninth. Clemens earned his 15th win. Rice's home run was his sixth of the season and 370th of his career. He'd hit just 12 more over the course of his career. Future Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Robin Yount combined for two hits in the game -- or as many as Benzinger, who batted third for the Red Sox. Those were good days.

CONSIDER THIS THE ANNUAL REMINDER ...
... that there is no better Red Sox-centric blog than Surviving Grady, especially if you're the kind of slightly off-kilter chap who appreciates, say, the occasionally colorful humor of a smart-aleck headwarmer belonging to Brian Cashman or frighteningly realistic dialogue between Jacoby Ellbury and a certain "Elf." These guys are the best. I suspect you already know that, but if you don't, I'll accept the thank-yous later.

bogaertsxanderfinn223.JPGGIVE JOSE IGLESIAS A CHANCE? HEY, HOW ABOUT GIVING STEPHEN DREW A CHANCE? Last season, coming back from a gruesome ankle injury, Stephen Drew hit .223/.309/.348 with seven homers in 327 plate appearances. It was far and away the worst season of the soon-to-be 30-year-old shortstop's seven-year career. Yet his .657 OPS in the majors last season is nearly 70 points better than Jose Iglesias's OPS in two seasons in Triple A. I understand why some are anxious to anoint Iglesias the starter -- he might be the flashiest defensive shortstop in baseball. But he still hasn't proven he can hit in Triple A yet, and he must do so. It's often pointed out that Dustin Pedroia struggled when he first got to the majors, as if that's some proof that Iglesias would succeed with a prolonged chance. But Pedroia put up excellent offensive numbers in the minors (.307, .844 OPS), and the comparison is as about as valid as the suggestion that some players will learn to hit for power in the majors because, by golly, Don Mattingly did it nearly 30 years ago. Iglesias needs to learn to hit. He hasn't yet, and for all of those who suggest he could be Omar Vizquel, there's a better chance he ends up as Rey Ordonez or Mario Mendoza. Drew, who has had three seasons of at least 53 extra-base hits in the majors, is a fine hitter and an adequate shortstop, and it should be his job until Iglesias improves or Xander Bogaerts arrives to make us forget about both of 'em.

PREDICTION, BECAUSE IT'S ALWAYS WISE TO FORECAST A 162-GAME SEASON BEFORE THE FIRST PITCH OF THE GRAPEFRUIT LEAGUE
It's been fun watching certain fans and media become more familiar with the newcomers and realize that this is going to be a very likable team. Will it be a winning team? Well, you know what needs to happen .... Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz must be at their best ... Ryan Dempster and John Lackey need to deliver about 370 combined innings of league-average pitching ... David Ortiz needs to mash ... Jacoby Ellsbury needs to stay on the field ... Will Middlebrooks can't regress ... At least half of the newbies coming off down years need to bounce back (imagine if Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli find their '11 form) ... the bullpen needs to be as good as it looks on paper ... and so on. You know the necessary plot points. I'm putting the 2013 Red Sox down for 87 wins now and genuine contention in the American League East. Hey, it's spring, and even Ft. Myers looks appealing this time of year. If you can't be optimistic now, why bother?

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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