BOSTON – The Boston Red Sox are eager to return to Fenway Park and put their worst performance in almost 50 years behind them.
After finishing last in the AL East, the revamped Red Sox open their home schedule Monday against the Baltimore Orioles. Clay Buchholz is scheduled to face Wei-Yi Chen.
“Guys are looking forward to the energy that Fenway and our fans give us,” said John Farrell, the team’s third manager in three years. “We’ve been two months in Florida and another week-plus on the road. All things considered, everyone is looking forward to getting back. It should be an exciting day.”
The Red Sox followed an unprecedented collapse in September 2011 with a 69-win season. Manager Bobby Valentine was fired after one season, and several of the high-paid and underperforming players from last year are gone after a trade that sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Third baseman Will Middlebrooks says the current players want to prove to the fans that they’re there to win.
“The disappointment is expected because the pressure to win there is important,” he said before Sunday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. “It’s important to the fans and it’s important to us as well. We want to make up for that and do what we can to change their minds and show them that we’re there to win.”
In place of the prickly Beckett and his underperforming teammates, the Red Sox return to Fenway led by more likable players such as Middlebrooks, who emerged as the young star of last season, and Jackie Bradley Jr., the outfield prospect who played himself onto the roster in spring training.
General Manager Ben Cherington has said he spent more time than usual trying to sign players who would create a positive atmosphere in the clubhouse. Fans “want a team they can root for and get behind,” he said this offseason.
Bradley said he expects fans to be supportive, something that wasn’t always the case during last year’s stumble to the cellar.
“This organization is definitely not known for losing,” he said. “Winning is in the forefront of everyone’s minds and that’s what we want to get back to, winning like we know we can. Everything else will take care of itself. The fans will love it, we’ll love it, and everything will be all good.”
For Farrell, Monday’s opener will be a homecoming. The former Red Sox pitching coach was the Blue Jays manager the past two seasons before he returned to Boston as Valentine’s successor.
Farrell was extensively booed by the Toronto fans when the Red Sox visited this weekend. The Boston fans are expected to welcome him back.
“Hopefully they do,” he said with a laugh.
DAVID ORTIZ is set to play in an extended spring training game in Fort Myers, Fla., on Monday and could begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket as soon as Thursday.
Ortiz has been sidelined with heel inflammation this spring after missing much of the second half of last season because of a right Achilles tendon injury.
Farrell said Ortiz ran the bases, hit in the cage and took batting practice at Boston’s spring training facility Saturday.
The tentative plan is for Ortiz to play in three extended spring games before joining Pawtucket.
THE RED SOX were still waiting Sunday night to get the results of pitcher John Lackey’s MRI interpreted, according to Boston.com. Cherington said Lackey has a strained biceps muscle.