EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 18, 2011

Sox staff falling into place

By Chuck Frye
sports@eagletribune.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. — After meeting with Daisuke Matsuzaka yesterday morning — the last starter to be informed — Red Sox manager Terry Francona laid out the rest of his starting rotation.

With Jon Lester pegged as the opening day starter Tuesday, Francona said that remodeled righty John Lackey would get the ball for Game 2 followed by Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and, finally, Dice-K.

After starting the last two opening days, with only a 2008 injury standing between him and three straight, Beckett not only finds himself bumped down but bypassed completely from facing hard-hitting Texas.

Beckett will open the three-game series against rebuilding Cleveland.

"Watching the way last year unfolded, we want him to get off to a good start," Francona said. "We'll pitch him that game in Cleveland. I think that's a good place for him to start."

Although, later when asked about matching pitching with Boston's opponents, Francona said, "You can only put so much in the first couple of weeks because I'd be willing to bet we'll lose a game in Cleveland. You can't go three days in Cleveland in April and probably not lose a game."

But where Beckett's injury-riddled, ineffective 2010 caused him to be pushed down in the rotation, Lackey earned the No. 2 slot despite a below-par inaugural campaign with the Sox and the success Buchholz enjoyed.

"I know Lack took a little bit of heat for maybe underperforming, but I don't think we felt like that," Francona said. "He seemed like that guy last year that gave up runs late or somebody gave up his runs late or he made a mistake late.

"We feel he's gonna give you 200 innings a year, and every time he pitches we're going to have a chance to win regardless of who he matches up against. Across the board, his numbers are going to be a little bit lower this year. He showed up in great shape and looks like he's ready to go."

Lackey continued his strong spring yesterday in an 8-5 victory over the Mets, throwing 5 1/3 innings and allowing just one run when the Sox failed to turn a fifth-inning double play. Shaking off being hit by a Daniel Murphy fourth-inning liner, Lackey scattered five hits while fanning two.

"I felt pretty good," Lackey said. "My arm strength is a lot better at this time of the year but I probably didn't locate quite as good (46 strikes over 78 pitches) as last time around."

If the rotation goes according to plan, Lackey will pitch the home opener vs. the Yankees.

Lackey said, "After (Lester), we still fall in line and, hopefully, we won't drop the baton."

Buchholz lines up as the Sox' rubber-match hurler to hopefully lock up three-game series.

"We feel like having Buchholz come out third enhances our chance to win a little bit," Francona said. "His numbers say he could pitch anywhere. Ultimately, if they pitch like they should, it's not going to matter. And if they don't pitch like they should, it's not going to matter."

The closer had no close

Another rocky outing for Jonathan Papelbon against the Mets' minor leaguers.

Working the ninth inning, Papelbon was unable to locate his fastball and paid the price, hitting a batter and walking two others before infielder Justin Turner cleared the bases with a right-field gap shot for a two-out double. Jason Pridie followed with an RBI double down the right field line, the last batter Papelbon faced.

"I thought he got out in front, he was a little quick in his delivery and his fastball wandered a bit," Francona said. "His next outing will probably be over at the complex, he'll throw two innings and that will be good for him."

With the tying run on deck, righty Eammon Portice retired the only batter he faced for his second save of the spring.

Bad news with the good

Catcher Luis Exposito was one of four players optioned to Pawtucket yesterday, but he wasn't available to receive the news in person.

"His wife is having a baby (in Miami) as we speak," Francona said yesterday morning. "He was kind of scrambling to come back, so I didn't want to do it this way but we called him and told him we're making cuts. Stay home, take a couple of days, when you come back we'll sit with you but you're going to the minor league complex. I wasn't comfortable with it (this way) but I was less comfortable with his driving back and being told he's being sent down."

Infielder Yamaico Navarro and young phenom Jose Iglesias were also optioned to the PawSox.

A better understanding

Jose Iglesias may not have stuck with the Sox, but at least he's better prepared to progress for one main reason.

"His command of the English language is way better," Terry Francona said, "Which makes it easier not only off the field but on the field.

"I don't think we saw the type of hitter we're going to see (in the future). His mentality is trying to show so much, to make an impact. When he settles down and gets into a season, we'll find out what kind of hitter he can be."

Dustin Pedrioa has helped Iglesias climb to the next level.

"Petey kind of latches himself onto guys and people take to him cause he has a nice little personality," Francona said. "(Jose) just needs to go play."

Odds and ends

There was no reunion between Jason Bay and the Sox as the outfielder didn't travel with the Mets. ... One leather-lunged fans drew the attention of the press crew when he tore into first baseman Lars Anderson for taking a called third strike in the sixth inning with a runner on first base. The fan might have been psychic as, after the game, Anderson was optioned to Pawtucket. ... Juan Carlos Linares was reassigned after the game, but his style of play caught Francona's attention. "He can play all three outfield positions, he's aggressive at the plate and hustles on every ball that's in play. He's a pretty exciting guy."

The Rotation

Manager Terry Francona announced the rotation yesterday:

PitcherW-LIPK'sERA

No. 1Jon Lester19-9208.02253.25

No. 2John Lackey14-11215.01564.40

No. 3Clay Buchholz17-7173.21202.33

No. 4Josh Beckett6-6127.21165.78

No. 5Daisuke Matsuzaka9-6153.21334.69

Note: Statistics are from the 2010 season