FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There has been so much talk about an “ace” around the Red Sox’s camp this spring that you almost expect a Las Vegas blackjack dealer to materialize through a smoke-shrouded door with a red-vest-and-bowtie ensemble, a deck of cards and a lightning-quick dealing hand.
The prevailing opinion seems to be that the Red Sox have a king showing, and they need an ace to win the hand that gets them to the World Series.
Manager John Farrell, unfailingly polite and expansive, grew weary of the line of questioning on the third day of camp.
Asked if he had “ever been in a camp where it’s basically an open audition for the No. 1 guy,” he said, “I don’t know that I’m necessarily understanding your ‘open audition.’”
“For a starter,” the reporter replied.
“We have five starters.”
“The No. 1 starter. The audition for No. 1. Has there always been an ace or a guy throughout your career?”
“I don’t know that every team has what many would just label across baseball as a No. 1 starter,” Farrell said. “Again, I think … me personally, I’m happy with the five we have. Whether you want to compare the five here individually to guys previously that have had that label … guys here have the same talents and abilities. It’s opportunity and how they evolve and perform their way into that role. In the short response, I’m not overly concerned that some might think we don’t have a No. 1. I think we have five No. 1s. The No. 1 for us is going to be the guy that pitches that night.”
Earlier, he was asked to define an “ace.”
“I’ve said it many times: It’s the guy that’s on the mound that night,” he said. “But there are guys who lead by example. They’re probably 200-plus-inning guys they’ve achieved for multiple years. … Right now, it’s about getting our work in, making sure the guys are healthy to create the pool to choose from.”
Farrell declined to identify Clay Buchholz as being the favorite to be the Opening Day starter, saying he’s merely one of the candidates.
“I can tell you I have not talked to our starters on how they’re going to line up and who’s going to lead us off,” he said. “As we’ve done the last couple of years, we’re going to get through some starts first in the game schedule before we start to earmark who that would be.
“There’s already a plan that’s on paper, and yet we’ve got to make sure some things come to life and hold true to form before we get to that point.”
Some of the other key takeaways from Farrell’s media session:
On projecting how Buchholz will rebound from 2014: “You get a sense he’s coming off a year in which he pitched 180 innings. That’s not an unrealistic goal at all for Clay -- another year of physical maturity and going through a full season to have under his belt. The biggest thing is that we’re coming off a normal offseason for him, unlike last year. I think things are setting up to be a positive and strong year for him.”
On Buchholz emerging into a leadership role: “He’ll be one of the leaders in that group. I think most importantly is to do your job, to demonstrate leadership by example, and that’s taking care of things in your control -- and that’s his work and his preparation. But he’s also a smart pitcher. Just listening to him give input in our advance meetings or to have conversations on game days when he’s not pitching as he breaks down hitters, there’s a lot to offer there. I think after the trading deadline a year ago, he looked around and yeah, he was the oldest guy here. I think he’s the third-most tenured player in our uniform now. You don’t want to just say by default he’s the leader, but he’s got the ability to lead in his own way.”
On plans for Allen Craig: “Everything points to a very positive offseason for him. You look at the way he’s come into camp. He’s in great shape, just by appearance. … The thing we communicated to him in the offseason is he comes in in a similar role that he was a year ago. It’s important we just focus on spring training initially with Allen to get the appropriate number of at-bats to get a read for the start of the season. Things will have a way of working themselves out in terms of defensive alignment.”
On Craig’s offensive issues last year: “It was clear that the offseason prior leading into 2014, it was not a normal offseason for him because of injury. He was trying to play catchup throughout the course of the entire season, and as things weren’t working out for him from a performance standpoint, whether it was St. Louis or here, he was trying to battle back. The confidence comes and goes. Just talking to him, there’s a completely different feel to the conversation because of the offseason he’s had and the work he’s put in.”
On what he likes about left-hander Wade Miley: “Dependability, nearly 200 innings a year for three consecutive years. A competitive nature that we’ve become aware of and when you watch video and talk to people as you do your due diligence. Those are all strong attributes with Wade.”
On how he prepares younger starting pitchers who might be candidates for the bullpen: “There are six guys we have in that second group. One of the main goals of spring training is to prep that order out of the six who would be the most ready if the need were to arise early in the season. That’s (Steven) Wright, (Henry) Owens, (Matt) Barnes, (Eduardo) Rodriguez, (Edwin) Escobar and Brian Johnson. With those six, we’ll get multiple-inning looks that they’ll work in behind the current five starters. We can always shorten a guy down and move him to the pen if needed.”
On Owens: “He’s clearly on a relatively quick development path. You walk next to him, and the physical maturity, just by age and growth. He’s grown into a big man. Last year, there were some positive challenges for him when he went to Triple A, so he’s had a very good development path.”