March 28, 2013

A watchful eye and lots to see at Sox camp

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ONE ANNOYANCE

click image to enlarge

Boston Red Sox' Daniel Nava plays in an exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles recently in Sarasota, Fla. After Wednesday's game against the Florida Marlins, Nava was hitting .318.

AP

in recent years was the painfully slow pace of Boston's pitchers. Scenes of Josh Beckett standing on the mound and his everlasting stare toward the catcher, or the human delay of game known as Daisuke Matsuzaka, made for bored viewers and passive fielders.

Not only are Beckett and Dice-K gone, but the new coaching staff is trying to get pitchers to work quicker.

They don't have to worry about Ryan Dempster. He arrived from Texas with a reputation for a good pace.

"I always felt that the faster I worked -- and you don't want to be too quick -- you keep your infielders on their feet and not on their heels," Dempster said. "I kind of always worked that way. I don't really think about it. Been doing it since high school.

"You don't want to take a long time and give the hitter a chance to process what he saw and what he expects is coming. Keeps you on the aggressive. As a pitcher we're more successful when we're aggressive."

Dempster, 35, is one of the few former Portland Sea Dogs (Marlins era) still in the majors. Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Kotsay, A.J. Burnett and Alex Gonzalez are five others. All but Burnett played for the Red Sox.

DANIEL BARD is not ready for the majors, it seems. But Manager John Farrell isn't discouraged. He thinks Bard can get back to his old way, which includes a 1.93 ERA in 2010 and a franchise record of 25 straight scoreless outings set in 2011.

Bard faded in 2011, then faltered last year when he tried to become a starter. He's working his way back to the bullpen but is likely to begin the year in Triple-A Pawtucket.

"There's continuing work to be done there, to get him back to the reliever we've known him to be," Farrell said. "This isn't a flipping of the switch. It's a process. He's making progress."

JUNICHI TAZAWA has quietly produced this spring. Lost in Boston's horrible 2012 was Tazawa's 1.43 ERA in 37 outings. His fastball and splitter are working fine this spring.

"I have confidence in those two pitches," Tazawa said.

So does Farrell.

"Looks like he's picked up where he left off," Farrell said. "He throws strikes with quality stuff. He's having a very good camp."

DANIEL NAVA has always been a good hitter. When he was called up to Boston last year, he showed a much-improved glove in left field. Now he's surprising the Red Sox with how he can handle first base, giving Boston needed depth at the position.

"He's made himself with a lot of hard work into a very good outfielder," Farrell said. "And the way he's adapted to first base, we have quite a bit of confidence in his ability to play the position.

"It hasn't come by sheer gift. Obviously there's a lot of perseverance and a lot of hard work."

After Wednesday's game against the Marlins, Nava was hitting .318.

JACKIE BRADLEY JR. is easily the biggest Red Sox story this spring. The outfielder, who split last season between Class A Salem and Double-A Portland, is knocking on the major league door. With David Ortiz on the disabled list, there might be room on the roster for him.

Farrell, who used to be the farm director of the Cleveland Indians, remembers another outfielder who forced his way into the majors after an injury.

"Grady Sizemore," Farrell said. "He was actually optioned out (to the minors). At the time it was Juan Gonzalez who got hurt and that opened up a spot for Grady to make the opening-day roster. He was pretty good after that."

Sizemore was 22 when he opened the 2005 season, but there is a difference in comparisons. While Bradley has never played Triple-A, Sizemore was called to the majors in midseason 2004 and played 43 games.

PETER HISSEY IS likely to become the Sea Dogs' starting center fielder now that it's obvious Bradley isn't coming back.

Hissey, 23, showed spurts of promise last year after returning from a broken arm.

Hissey batted .250 with a slugging percentage of only .331. That could change this year.

"I put on 20 pounds in the offseason so hopefully I'm able to impact the baseball a little better," he said.

"Hopefully be able to get through a whole year, health-wise, and put myself in an opportunity to help the Sea Dogs win some games."

Hissey, with the help of intense workouts and lots of protein shakes, is now 6-foot-1, 200 pounds.

THE SEA DOGS' annual Welcome Back Dinner is Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Portland Expo. Tickets are $20 and $15 (ages 14 and under), and benefit Opportunity Alliance. For more information, call Opportunity Alliance (874-1175) or see the Sea Dogs' website (www.seadogs.com).

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

 

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