FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Good morning from the Fort, where for the first time in 141 days, the Red Sox will take the field for a ballgame. Two, in fact, as they play Northeastern University at 1:35 p.m., followed by Boston College (lineups are HERE).
To refresh your memory, the Sox last played on Oct. 3, 2012, losing 14-2 to the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. They ended the season 7-22, trumping the historic 7-20 collapse of the year before. Before the game, Bobby Valentine took the lineup card to home plate, a task he customarily entrusted to a coach. He knew it would be the last time.
Valentine’s parting words [after throwing his coaches under the bus]: "My plan right now is wake up and have a long bike ride. Want to have lunch or something?"
Here was the lineup that day:
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Daniel Nava, LF
Cody Ross, RF
James Loney, 1B
Ryan Lavarnway, DH
Pedro Ciriaco, 3B
Jose Iglesias, SS
Daisuke Matsuzaka was the starting pitcher. Fittingly, he lasted just 2 1/3 innings, giving up six hits and five runs.
But that was then. This is now. Let’s look forward, shall we?
Here are 10 things worth noting Thursday:
1. The new relievers: John Farrell has five weeks of games still ahead of him, so the starting pitchers get a pass Thursday. The closer, Joel Hanrahan, will start the first game. The new setup man, Koji Uehara, starts the second. There will be plenty of eyes on Daniel Bard, too, as he begins the process of becoming, well, Daniel Bard again. He’s scheduled to face BC.
2. The new outfield: Farrell is running them out as unit. Jacoby Ellsbury in center, flanked by Shane Victorino in right, Jonny Gomes in left. Gomes hit one off the top of the faux Monster in BP Wednesday. The Sox are hoping to see a lot more of that this season.
3. Drew, redux: Stephen the Younger starts at short, as he seeks to make hash of Arizona owner Ken Kendrick’s claim that he was lax in returning from a fractured ankle. If anything, Drew says he came back too soon. The good news for the Sox is that he is showing no ill effects from the injury.
4. Welcome back, Will: Third baseman Will Middlebrooks sees his first game action since Aug. 10, when Indians reliever Esmil Rogers hit him in the right wrist with a pitch, fracturing the bone. That brought an abrupt end to what had been a terrific rookie season for Middlebrooks, who displaced long-time favorite Kevin Youkilis at the position. Youk is now a Yankee. Still have to see that to believe it.
5. Community auditions: The Sox are conducting a tryout at first base, where they are hoping to find a suitable lefthanded complement to Mike Napoli. They’ve added Mike Carp to a mix that already included Daniel Nava, Lyle Overbay, Mark Hamilton and Mauro Gomez. Mitch Maier may also see some time there. That’s assuming, of course, that Napoli will be fit to play first. He’s taking ground balls, but because of his hip condition, the Sox are taking it slow.
6. Community auditions, II: The Sox are also looking at middle infielders for backup roles to shortstop Drew and second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Ex-Pirate Brock Holt, who has been working out at second base in the early stages of camp, will play short in the second game, alongside Jonathan Diaz, who comes from the Toronto system. Pedro Ciriaco would appear to have an inside track for the job.
7. Prospect to watch: Xander Bogaerts, who is drawing raves as one of the best Sox prospects in years -- ranked No. 8 overall on Baseball America’s Top 10 list and No. 5 on Keith Law’s list -- will start at third base in the second game, as he prepares to join Team Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. For now, the Sox have no plans to move Bogaerts, 20, from shortstop, but he may still add a couple of inches to his 6-foot-3 frame. If you haven't already read Alex Speier’s outrageously good story on Bogaerts at WEEI.com here.
8. Izzy, yea or nay: A year ago, some people were lobbying for Jose Iglesias over Mike Aviles as the team’s starting shortstop. The glove remains magic, but after watching Iglesias looking utterly overmatched at the plate in 25 big-league games (.118 in a small sample size), no one is repeating that chant this spring. This is a big year for Iglesias. He needs to go back to Pawtucket, understand himself as a hitter, and prove himself big-league worthy. Otherwise, Bogaerts is breathing down his neck.
9. Guidance counselor: No, we’re not talking about mental skills coach Bob Tewksbury, who has been conducting daily classes here this spring. [The writers petitioned for a session, but Tewks said it was hopeless]. We’re talking about the new manager, Farrell, who was universally acclaimed here as a pitching coach but now is charged with the task of resetting the course for a team that strayed far afield under Valentine last season. The camp, with bench coach Torey Lovullo setting the pace, has been a model of quietly humming efficiency, and Farrell appears to have firmly established himself as the man in charge. “Brutally honest,’’ he says by way of describing his managerial style. Alfredo Aceves may already have gotten a taste of what that means. But the vibe here so far has been a good one, and Farrell intends to keep it that way.
10. John Fogerty, meet Jackie Bradley Jr.: The new kid in center field is the real deal. Give him some time, and barring some Kalish-esque luck, Bradley Jr. will be in the bigs by 2014, if not sooner.