BRADENTON, Fla. -- Takeaways from McKechnie Field, where if Rusney Castillo’s first Grapefruit League start is any indication, he’ll need roughly half an hour to be ready for the start of the regular season.
Castillo, who as a pinch hitter cranked a monster home run off the batting eye in left-center field Friday in JetBlue Park, lined a fastball to center field for a single off Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano in the third, then lofted an opposite-field triple to right off right-hander Deolis Guerra before calling it a day. The Cuban outfielder, who went down swinging in his first at-bat, played five innings in center field and caught the only fly ball hit his way.
“Very impressed,’’ Sox manager John Farrell said after Saturday's exhibition ended in a 2-2 tie. “Missing a couple of weeks [with a strained left oblique] doesn’t seem to have disrupted his timing at the plate. He’s playing with, obviously, more aggressiveness than his two days on the minor league side. He’s been right on fastballs, and it’s very encouraging to watch him.’’
A rapid return by Castillo will deprive the Red Sox of an easy solution to their crowded outfield alignment. Any sign of struggle, and the Sox could have built a case that the 27-year-old Cuban would profit from more time in extended spring or even start the season in Triple-A Pawtucket.
But if his early at-bats are any indication, two weeks should be plenty of time for him to be ready for the regular-season opener April 6, which reopens the question of how Farrell will squeeze Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts, Shane Victorino and Castillo into the same outfield, plus make room for bench players Daniel Nava and Allen Craig.
Victorino is abandoning his intended return to switch-hitting and will bat strictly from the right side, Farrell said before Saturday’s game, which eliminates a left-handed bat the Sox could have used to balance a heavily right-handed alignment. The only left-handed hitters projected to start for the Sox are DH David Ortiz and switch-hitting third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
That would take away one factor in Victorino’s favor, in the determinination of who should start. Betts has had a great spring and is a virtual lock to start in center field. Farrell declared Victorino his starting right fielder at the beginning of camp, and Victorino will play in back-to-back games for the first time this spring Sunday and Monday. Victorino did not have a good spring in 2013 and had a terrific season; the past spring, he strained a hamstring on the last day of camp, so a health issue could help to clarify the Opening Day roster.
But has been said here repeatedly: The Sox aren’t paying Castillo $72.5 million to play in Pawtucket.
• Wade Miley, who came out of the bullpen Sunday in Clearwater and was knocked around for four runs on six hits and three walks in three innings, was a different pitcher Saturday. He did not allow a hit until Starling Marte’s two-out single in the fourth, and he pitched five scoreless innings in all, with two hits and two walks while whiffing five.
Miley also revealed where he learned to pitch at his assembly-line pace, when he gave a shoutout to his former coach at Southeastern Louisiana University, Jay Artigues, who is now the school’s athletic director.
“He was huge on it,’’ Miley said. “Freshman year, he told us he never wanted us to turn our back on our catchers.’’
The lesson took, much to the approval of one interested observer, former big league pitcher Bob Tewksbury, who has returned to the Sox as the team’s “mental skills coach.’’
Tewksbury threw 31 complete games in his career. One of those starts finished in 1 hour, 59 minutes; two others were done in two hours flat.
“I enjoy working fast,’’ Miley said. “The defense enjoys it, and it’s better when your team is hitting than playing defense.''
• There were 26 strikeouts in the game, with Sox batters whiffing 15 times and the Pirates 11. DH Garin Cecchini went down swinging three times -- twice against Liriano.
• Shortstop Deven Marrero was charged with an error in the sixth, when his throw skipped past first baseman Nava, but Nava admitted he wasn’t ready for the throw. He assumed Corey Hart’s ground ball up the middle would skip through, underestimating Marrero’s terrific range. Marrero gloved the ball, executed a 360-degree spin and threw, thereby handcuffing Nava, who was late to the bag.
• Jackie Bradley Jr. played right field and had a nice day at the plate, with a single, double and walk.