O's touch up Owens; Middlebrooks homers

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Takeaways from Ed Smith Stadium, where the Red Sox took a split squad to Sarasota to face an Opening Day type lineup for the Orioles. The No. 1 pitching prospect for the Red Sox had a tough go of it in his first start of the spring, Will Middlebrooks collected his first homer in Grapefruit League play and rookie outfielder Bryce Brentz continued to make a case for a spot on the roster with another solid performance at the plate.

The result: The Sox lost 7-3 to the Baltimore Orioles, who had five extra base hits, including a two-run blast by Alex González off right-handed reliever Alex Wilson that cleared the left-field bleachers by a good 20 yards. The Sox lost despite a 2-for-3 performance by Middlebrooks that included a hard hit single to center in his first at-bat and a solo homer to right-center off Orioles righty Tommy Hunter.

The Sox are now 2-6-1 in Grapefruit League play, with a split squad contest at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., on Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. against Baltimore. On Sunday, the Red Sox travel to Bradenton to face the Pittsburgh Pirates in a game slated to start at 1:05 p.m.

Center-field competition?: Before Saturday's contest against the Orioles, manager John Farrell said the center-field position would be dependent on Grady Sizemore's health, leaving the door open for innings between him, Shane Victorino and Jackie Bradley Jr.

"The competition is there," Farrell said. "But we haven't arrived at a conclusion with Grady yet. We're hopeful that Monday and Tuesday he's got a chance to go back-to-back days. We still have to get answers to some questions that aren't there yet."

Farrell said Sizemore, who went 2-for-3 on Friday, played without hesitation and was encouraged by the way he ran down the line, clocking in at 4.2 seconds to beat out an infield single.

Oh Henry: Henry Owens, ranked by Baseball America as the No. 1 pitching prospect in the Red Sox organization and as the No. 2 left-hander in baseball, began the game unscathed in the first inning, allowing just a single to Chris Davis. The next two innings resulted in runs, though, as the 21-year-old southpaw surrendered one in the second on an RBI single by Matt Wieters and two more in the third before being relieved midway through the frame.

Despite the damage, Farrell was pleased at the way Owens recovered in both innings.

After giving up a lead-off double to Nelson Cruz in the second and then a one-out, run-scoring single to Wieters, Owens got Alex González to pop out to the catcher and struck out Jonathan Schoop. In the third, the Orioles began the inning with two straight hits -- a double by Nick Markakis and an RBI double by J.J. Hardy -- and two consecutive walks by Chris Davis and Adam Jones to load the bases.

Owens then forced Cruz into a high chopper to Middlebrooks, who threw home for an out. Farrell then took Owens out of the game.

"Even when things started to speed up for him, I thought he showed good mound presence," Farrell said. "I thought today was a good test for him. I thought he learned some things in the second inning, how to use his changeup effectively when he gets into trouble and force guys to swing the bat against his fastball."

Owens, who has recorded 299 strikeouts in 236 ⅔ innings over two minor league seasons with Class A Greenville, High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, managed just one punchout against the Orioles.

"He's going up against a very good right-handed hitting lineup and I think he showed some poise," Farrell said.

Slugging away: Bryce Brentz had another solid showing at the plate, collecting a single and a two-run homer in three at-bats. Brentz, who hit 17 home runs in just 326 at-bats with Pawtucket last season, has three this spring.

"I think equally impressive as the home run was the two-strike base hit the other way," Farrell said. "He's got power to all fields, but to me, when he gets into disadvantage counts, to still have productive at-bats, that's really a step forward."

JBJ report: Rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. played the first six innings in center field before moving over to right field in the seventh. Bradley went hitless in four at-bats, flying out to left, grounding out to first on a hard-hit ball and striking out twice, once looking.

X file: Rookie Xander Bogaerts did not make the trip. He is scheduled to start Saturday night against the Orioles.

The dot, dot, dots: Jake Peavy will throw three innings in the bullpen today in Fort Myers. He is lined up to start Thursday against Minnesota. Peavy is recovering from a deep cut on his left index finger. ... Felix Doubront will pitch in a minor league intrasquad game on the team's off day on Wednesday to stay on turn. ... Brock Holt, who is competing for a backup infield role, went 1-for-3 with a double, a strikeout and a line-out to first. ... Tommy Layne had another scoreless outing this spring, giving up just one hit and two walks with one strikeout over 1 ⅓ innings.