Sox sticking to gradual plan for De La Rosa

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Good morning from the Fort, where Friday’s news that ex-Sox outfielder Carl Crawford is experiencing nerve issues in his surgically repaired throwing elbow had one Sox official expressing sympathy for Crawford, but also relief that the team had dodged that bullet with last August’s megatrade to the Dodgers.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters in Arizona on Friday that Crawford, who has five years and $107.7 million left on his contract, would be shutting it down for a week and his availability come Opening Day is in some question.

Meanwhile in the Fort, the Sox got another look Friday night at Rubby De La Rosa, one of the two pitchers they got back from the Dodgers in the Crawford/Adrian Gonzalez/Josh Beckett/Nick Punto deal, and the excitement was palpable. There will be no Opening Day in the big leagues for De La Rosa, either, but not because the Red Sox entertain any doubts about his ability. Manager John Farrell had said at the outset of camp that because De La Rosa is just 19 months removed from Tommy John surgery and has thrown just 13 2/3 innings since undergoing the procedure, the team planned to limit him to two innings per outing while still grooming him as a starter.

That plan precluded any possibility that De La Rosa, who turns 24 in two days, would be breaking camp with the Sox, a point that Farrell reiterated after Friday night’s exhibition against the Pirates, saying that De La Rosa would begin the season in the minors, even mentioning that he could begin the year in Double-A Portland. But that didn’t temper Farrell’s excitement over what he saw in De La Rosa’s two scoreless innings Friday night.

De La Rosa didn’t light up any radar guns with a 100 mph fastball, the most obvious tool in his arsenal. He sat in the mid-90s Friday night.

But what separates De La Rosa are his secondary pitches, which were the secret to Pedro Martinez’s greatness, especially his changeup, a pitch Senor Martinez taught to De La Rosa in the Dominican Republic.

"Most impressively is the feel he has for his secondary pitches, particularly his changeup," Farrell said. "A couple of 3-and-2 counts, right-handed, left-handed, he's not only willing [to throw his changeup] but he goes to that pitch with confidence, and when you combine that with the power, it's really a rare combination.

"He hasn’t been afraid to go to any pitch in any count. It's been very encouraging the way he's thrown the baseball."

Here’s the scouting report on De La Rosa, as prepared by SoxProspects.com:

“Well-filled out righty, especially in lower half. Has been physically developing over the last couple of years. Fastball sits 94-97 mph, with sharp downward movement and explosiveness. Can top out at 98-100 mph when reaches back. Heater shows ability to miss bats. Fringe-average command. Tends to get long with delivery and has trouble keeping arm in slot. Will need to refine delivery to enhance command. 84-87 mph changeup grades as plus-to-better. Strong depth and deep fade. Shows separation and deception between fastball. Can miss bats or produce weak contact. Also throws a fringe-average mid-to-high 80s slider. Flashes plus at times, but inconsistent staying on top of pitch. Tends to wrap wrist. Potential to round into a swing-and-miss offering. Ceiling of a number three starter on first division team. Work becoming more consistent with slider and refining fastball command are keys to reaching ceiling as a starter. Late-inning reliever projection without any improvement. Had Tommy John Surgery in August 2011.’’

The Dodgers had some questions about De La Rosa’s maturity and work ethic, and the Red Sox were not thrilled that he came to camp with a bit of a pot belly. But with Martinez around as a mentor, and with Farrell and new pitching coach Juan Nieves paying close attention, De La Rosa has a chance to blossom into something special, as does Allen Webster, the other right-handed pitcher the Sox acquired in that deal.

The Sox want to give both pitchers as much time as possible to develop further, but either or both could help the big league club at some point in 2013.

The Sox will be playing the Minnesota Twins in Hammond Stadium later this afternoon. Clay Buchholz and Alfredo Aceves are among the pitchers scheduled to throw for the Sox, while Shane Victorino was tentatively scheduled to play before leaving Sunday for Team USA in Arizona.