The outcome: Last season the Red Sox played 39 games in which they scored two runs or fewer, and lost 35 of them. They won two of those games by a 2-1 score, the same
outcome of their victory over the Minnesota Twins in Thursday night’s “official” exhibition opener at City of Palms Park. Those fretting about the Sox offense this season may look at this as a harbinger of things to come, disregarding the fact that three regulars -- Victor Martinez, J.D. Drew and Mike Cameron -- were not in the lineup. Manager Terry Francona preferred take: "We played a crisp game defensively. Nice way to win a game.’"
The notable: Josh Beckett has grown increasingly reliant on the ground ball -- the 1.49 ratio of ground balls to fly balls last season was the highest of his career -- so he has enthusiastically endorsed the realigned Sox infield. Of the seven batters Beckett faced in his two innings Thursday, five hit ground balls, one going through the middle for an RBI single by Jason Kubel in the first, another turned into a sweet inning-ending double play by new shortstop Marco Scutaro. Scutaro also made a big-time play on Alexi Casilla in the fourth with a diving stop in the hole.
"Defense is really going to help us," Beckett said. "With not having to make the perfect pitch in bad situations for us -- behind in the count, guys on base, stuff like that -- you feel like you can just make a good pitch, and if the ball is put in play you have a good chance of getting some outs."
Seven Sox relievers combined to hold a Twins lineup missing both Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer to two hits over seven scoreless innings. The win went to Scott Atchison, who has returned from Japan in a bid to win a job, and the save to Joe Nelson, who is in his second go-round with the Sox (after a brief stint in 2004) and struck out two with his trademark "Vulcan" pitch.
Prospect update: Two Sox kids collaborated to produce the winning run. Outfielder Josh Reddick, who batted .169 in 27 games with the Sox last season, doubled in the eighth and came around to score on a base hit by catching prospect Mark Wagner. Reddick played both center and right and made a nice running catch in right-center.
No surprise to see the Sox use 22-year-old infield prospect Yamaico Navarro at third. Navarro came up as a shortstop, but with Jose Iglesias in the house and Navarro growing into an impressive physical specimen who has shown some pop in his bat, a look at third was predictable.
Progress report: Daisuke Matsuzaka, who hasn’t thrown a bullpen session since he was cut short on Feb. 12, is scheduled to do so Friday morning. With a month to go before the start of the season, Matsuzaka has time to catch up with the other starters, but the Sox won’t push him to do so. If anything, they may have to put the brakes on Daisuke. ... Mike Lowell continues to hit in the cage and in BP while taking ground balls at third, but Francona is not ready to declare when Lowell will be ready for game activity. Lowell has been excused from work Saturday to attend a seminar in Tampa run by Dr. Bryan Kelly, the surgeon who performed Lowell’s hip procedure after the ’09 season.
A look ahead: Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew will both make their first exhibition appearances Friday against the Twins in Hammond Stadium. “Uncharted territory for me,’’ the 37-year-old Cameron said, acknowledging life as the oldest every-day center fielder in the majors, a distinction he also held last season. Drew is scheduled to serve as DH. Jon Lester draws the start, with Tim Wakefield scheduled to follow.
Etc.: The Red Sox have won the Mayor’s Cup in each of the last three years, symbolizing their superiority over the Twins, their crosstown neighbor, in exhibition play. Last season, the Red Sox won three of five meetings. “Hard not to rub Gardy’s face in it,’’ Francona said, referring to Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire, the man who must endure the indignity of being trophy-less in the Fort.
Francona on pitcher Casey Fien, who spent one day in camp after being claimed off waivers from Detroit, only to depart the next day when the Blue Jays claimed him on waivers: “That was a quickie. ‘How you doin’, thanks for coming.’’’
Francona on how Cuban defector Jose Iglesias speaks English without the trace of an accent: “He watches a ton of TV. So do I, but it doesn’t help.’’
Francona on coping with temperatures that dipped to 48 degrees before game’s end: “Everything the Red Sox have ever issued me, I wore.’’