LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Takeaways one week away from the Red Sox boarding a plane to Baltimore, with seats at a premium for the handful of players still entertaining hopes of claiming them.
That includes Francisco Cordero, the former lights-out closer whose career hit a wall in 2012 under John Farrell in Toronto but who is now attempting a revival after being forced to sit out a year when he couldn't wheedle a single invitation to camp from 30 teams. With the help of a neighbor in the Dominican Republic -- Pedro Martinez lives close by and put in a good word -- Cordero has been given a last shot by the Red Sox.
So far, he has made the most of that chance -- he has yet to allow a run in eight appearances after pitching a scoreless eighth inning in Boston's 6-3 loss here to the Atlanta Braves. Still, Cordero is here on a minor league deal, he does not have an opt-out clause that might force Boston's hand, and the numbers in the Sox bullpen look stacked against him, especially if the Sox choose to keep another multi-inning reliever, which is Farrell's stated preference if left-hander Craig Breslow is not ready to open the season.
But Cordero, who turns 39 on May 11, had an itch that required scratching while sitting home in the D.R. -- with 2012's failures in Toronto and Houston leaving a bad taste, he needed to know if he could still pitch. No one is asking that question now, even if he starts the season in Pawtucket.
"He's done an outstanding job," Farrell said Saturday. "He's used all his pitches. He came in here with no guarantees and taken every opportunity to make the most of it."
Cordero has 329 career saves, 13th all-time and second on the active list to Detroit's Joe Nathan (341). He had averaged a tick under 39 saves a season for the previous five seasons when the Blue Jays signed him as a free agent in 2012, only to have his career crater in Toronto, where he posted a 5.77 ERA and saved just two games before he was dumped to the Astros.
He had surgery on his left shoulder the following April, but that had nothing to do with his failure to land a job offer. If this was the end, he reasoned, he wanted his shoulder healthy for when he took up softball in his retirement.
But he decided instead to try and craft a different ending.
"This has been my life," he said. "I've been playing professional ball for 20 years and I feel like I can get people out. I'm trying to prove to myself I can still pitch. If I see that's it enough, I say enough is enough."
Cordero got an assist when he ran into Martinez back in the 'hood. Martinez had just bought a house nearby.
"I saw him one day and he said, 'You look good; are you healthy?'" said Cordero, who had lost 30 pounds and two pant sizes while on a strict diet, laying off the rice and beans while opting for chicken and salads and fruit instead. "I told him yes. I think he had that in mind and mentioned my name, so you can say he had something to do with it."
Cordero and Martinez have the same agent, Fernando Cuza, who also lobbied the Sox to give Cordero a chance. When Cuza called with the news that the Sox were inviting him to camp, Cordero said he reacted like a little kid.
"It was like, wow," he said. "It made me feel real happy that of all the teams, it was the World Series champions that gave me a chance to pitch."
One of the first things he did when he arrived was to thank Farrell, whom he'd let down so badly in Toronto, for another chance. "He said, 'Wow, you look flaco [thin],' Cordero said. "'You took off five years."'
Cordero doesn't have the 97 mph fastball that allowed him to be a power closer for much of his career. But he said he was throwing 93-94 miles an hour in winter ball in the Dominican, and understands that to be successful now, he has to hit his spots with much greater consistency while relying on his secondary pitches more.
So far, the results have only been encouraging. The Red Sox used 26 pitchers last season, so it's reasonable to expect Cordero will make a triumphant return to the majors at some point this season.
"It's up to me to make the team," he said earlier this spring. "They said they're going to give me a chance. If it's not the case, then it's time to go home."
The result: The Sox have a win and a tie in their last eight games after being beaten by the Braves and left-hander Alex Wood, who held them to a run on six hits in six innings.
X files: Xander Bogaerts, on the same field as the Braves' Aruban shortstop sensation, Andrelton Simmons, struck out his first two at-bats before lining an RBI double. He also was charged with an error when he attempted a difficult flip on an attempted force play, his errant throw allowing a runner to advance an extra base. He is batting .189. Simmons homered and beat out a bunt single.
JBJ report: Jackie Bradley Jr. lined an opposite-field single to score Bogaerts in Boston's two-run seventh. He also made a strong throw from the 400-foot sign in center that nearly cut down the slow-moving Ryan Doumit at second on a double. He is batting .191.
Dot, dot, dots: John Lackey gave up wind-aided home runs to Simmons and Dan Uggla, who nailed a mediocre slider with a runner on in the fifth. Lackey also made a terrific play on a bunt by Jordan Schafer, shoveling his throw to first with his glove for the out before tumbling. That brought out Farrell and trainer Rick Jameyson, summoned by catcher A.J. Pierzynski, though Lackey waved them away. "A.J. was just being funny," Lackey said. "He was giving me a rest." Lackey did have a few words to say to second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "I just asked him if he liked that one," Lackey said. "He was pretty fired up." Lackey, who is slated to follow Jon Lester in the rotation, has one more spring start Thursday night in Fort Myers against the Twins, and has no plans to throttle down after throwing 87 pitches here, giving up 10 hits and 5 runs while walking none and striking out six in 4 2/3 innings. "I'll probably just keep going," he said. "I've got a night game, so I'll get after it a little more and see what happens." In the fourth inning Saturday, Freddie Freeman lined a ball off the thigh of Lackey, who returned the favor by hitting Freeman's backside on the unsuccessful throw to first base. ... Koji Uehara pitched an inning in a minor league game and struck out the side on 12 pitches. Junichi Tazawa also pitched a scoreless inning, striking out two while allowing two hits. ... Daniel Nava got caught in not one, but two rundowns. ... Grady Sizemore returns to the lineup Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays for the first game of a stretch in which he is scheduled to play five times in six games. Felix Doubront is scheduled to start against Rays' left-hander Matt Moore.