Quick hits: Joe Maddon on Sox

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon offered some thoughts on the Red Sox Saturday morning, which we’re happy to share.

On whether a pitching/defense strategy can work for a team that plays in Fenway Park:

“For me, defense plays everywhere, and it plays every day.

“They’re very proactive in understanding their needs and making them better. They’ve gone about that very intelligently and they made their outfield defense better, too.’’

On whether the Sox offense has sufficient power, with Jason Bay gone and David Ortiz coming off an un-Papi-like season:

“I still think they’re pretty good. They’ve got [Marco] Scutaro at shortstop, who’s very offensive. You got [Dustin] Pedroia, who is very offensive. You’ve got [Kevin] Youkilis, who I think is one of the best hitters in all of baseball. You’ve got [Adrian] Beltre. He’s a good left-center to right-center hitter. I know that right-center is big [in Fenway] but he’ll play to that wall in left-center well.

“[Mike] Cameron is very capable of hitting 20-plus home runs in that ballpark. I know they know that. I think [J.D.] Drew is one of the better technicians at the plate of anybody, and [Jacoby] Ellsbury doesn’t have power, but they’re not looking for that from him. So I have a lot of respect for their lineup.

“Papi, I don’t know what he even looks like. It’s still there. It may be hidden a little bit, but its still there.’’

“Victor [Martinez] has power, but he’s more of a line-drive guy. They’re still good. It might not show up in power, but they could play more of a speed game, too. Ellsbury, Pedroia, they’re really good base runners, Ellsbury obviously base-stealing wise. People don’t give them credit for things other than just hitting for power. They’ve gotten a lot better on the bases, too.

“If [Mike] Lowell’s not playing, to me he was one of the hidden key ingredients of that whole group. People didn’t talk about him a lot, but he really is a professional hitter when it comes right down to it.

“They’re tough up and down [the lineup]. I think every good AL lineup is tough one through nine. I know we are. I know the Yankees are, the Red Sox are. I know Baltimore has gotten a lot better. You have to be pretty much productive up and down the order in the AL to score enough runs.’’

On whether he thought Ortiz looked more like himself by September:

“I thought he came on pretty good toward the end. I know the [early] part was a struggle. I don’t even know what his issues are, but I know he’s still scary to me and I know by the end of last season he started to resemble what he had previously.

“That’s why I said I’m curious to see where he’s at right now. I just have a ton of respect for him and all those guys."

On his relationship with John Lackey, who he has known since his days coaching the Angels:

“Johnny and I go way back. We’re good friends. I spent a lot of time talking to him. We probably would not have won [the 2002 World Series] without him and Frankie [Rodriguez].

“He’s always been a great makeup guy, a great teammate. He’s highly competitive, you can see that just watching him on TV. He’s good people. They got a good man.’’

On how the Rays' young rotation -- James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price, Wade Davis, Andy Sonnanstine -- compares to the Sox and Yankees:

“I like ours as good as anybody, because I believe in spite of our youth and inexperience we have five guys theoretically that can throw 200 innings for us. I think we led the major leagues in innings pitched by starters. That’s a nice thing to hold the trophy for again on an annual basis. If we could accomplish that goal, it will automatically make our bullpen better.

“The addition of [Rafael] Soriano definitely makes us better, but having to suck up less innings makes you better -- you’re able to dole out rest more consistently. I like our group a lot. I’m including Andy Sonnanstine in that group. People are just talking about Wade, but we’re talking about six guys that are all capable of 200-plus innings.’’