Opening Day may be Thursday, but first the Boston Red Sox had to wrap up their final week of Spring Training. And while Boston won its final two games, finishing Spring Training with a respectable 16-11-4 record, thumb injuries to Josh Beckett and Andrew Bailey overshadowed the victories.
Beckett may yet make his first start, but Bailey will be out until the All-Star Break, further depleting a bullpen that looked less-than-impressive this spring.
But that’s an issue for another day. Let’s get on with the final Spring Training Update of 2012!
Red Sox 4, Nationals 2
Aaron Cook couldn’t pitch his way into the major league starting rotation, but he made a decent case to be the first man called up from Triple-A, holding Washington to just a run on two hits – one homer – and a walk with two strikeouts over five innings Monday. Cook’s final 1.88 ERA trailed only Beckett among the starters.
Down 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth, the Red Sox offense came to life. Adrian Gonzalez (2-2) led off with a single, took third on David Ortiz‘s double, then scored on Kevin Youkilis‘ ground. The Red Sox tacked on two more runs that inning on Darnell McDonald‘s RBI single and Mike Aviles‘ sacrifice fly.
The Red Sox went up 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth on Jason Repko‘s RBI double – more than enough runs for their surprisingly effective relievers. Led by perfect innings from Vicente Padilla (hold) and Franklin Morales (save), the bullpen allowed just one run on three hits and no walks over the final four innings.
Red Sox 8, Nationals 7
Clay Buchholz pitched four perfect innings before tiring Tuesday, giving up two singles and then a three-run home run to Washington catcher Wilson Ramos in the fifth. Buchholz gave up another home run in the sixth but left with a 6-4 lead, positioning him for the win until Justin Thomas gave up three in the seventh. Twp of those runs came with Michael Bowden on in relief of Thomas.
Daniel Nava tied the game 7-7 with a home run in the top of the eighth, then Repko’s double in the ninth gave the Red Sox the lead. Repko also threw out Nationals catcher Ian Desmond at home to end the game and earn Repko Player of the Mini-Week honors.
Dustin Pedroia‘s double put Boston up 1-0 and led to a two-run fourth inning. His sixth-inning double put Boston up 6-0.
Final Thoughts on Spring Training
Fans need not worry about the offense: the 2012 Red Sox can clearly score runs. But so could the 2011 Red Sox, and that didn’t work out so well, did it? No, because pitching still matters most.
Boston’s top three starters look set to dominate as they always do. Should Buchholz stay healthy, the Red Sox won’t get swept too often. But after that, Daniel Bard‘s 6.57 ERA doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Even if the starters do their jobs on a regular basis, the Red Sox may still fall victim to their terrible bullpen. Their four most-experienced relievers on the active roster have a combined ERA over 4.50, and no one knows who’ll pitch in save situations. Padilla might be the sleeper reliever who contributes until the bullpen gets its health back.
And speaking of non-roster players, Boston has two infielders who could provide some pop off the bench should the team need it. Pedro Ciriaco batted .419 in 26 games (tied for most on team) and led the team in runs (14) and hits (19). Mauro Gomez batted .350 with three home runs in 11 games.
Ciriaco’s a shortstop – usually Boston’s least tenable position – so he has the better chance of playing some games at Fenway this season. Plus, Ciriaco has speed, leading the team with eight stolen bases during Spring Training.
Whatever modest contributions Ciriaco and Gomez might make, they pale in comparison to Cody Ross. Many analysts considered the Ross signing Boston’s best during the off-season, and if the preseason’s any indication, they’re right. Ross hit .370 in 17 games in March, leading the team in home runs (six) and RBIs (16).
Ross could easily become the new fan-favorite during the regular season. Whether he does that playing left field or right won’t be known until Thursday in Detroit.