For first time since Series win, Sox send out 'A' team
Grapefruit League debuts from Lester, Victorino make Red Sox whole again
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After going through the paces and getting reacclimated through their first 10 Grapefruit League games, the Red Sox sent out their entire "A" team Monday afternoon -- the lineup with which they hope to defend their World Series championship.
As Shane Victorino ran out to right field in a competitive setting for the first time since Game 6 of last year's World Series, Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" played over the sound system at JetBlue Park.
And as Jon Lester took the mound for the first time in Grapefruit League action, it seemed that in the world of the Red Sox, "every little thing is gonna be all right."
It was as if Lester picked up where he left off from Game 5 of the World Series, firing three innings of pinpoint location in which he allowed one hit while striking out four in a 6-2 win over the Rays.
By design, and mindful of what it took to be the last team standing last year, the Red Sox had held their ace back. Including Monday, he will make four starts during Spring Training before taking the ball in Baltimore on March 31.
"It felt a little weird, just not being a part of any games and not being around the guys [as much]," said Lester. "It feels like I haven't seen the guys in about two weeks, so that's been a little weird. I feel good. I'll keep building on this one and just try to look forward to the next one."
This was a good way to start. A.J. Pierzynski enjoyed catching Lester for the first time a lot more than facing him for all those years.
"He threw everything," Pierzynski said. "You name it, he was throwing it. He was just locating. The first inning was a little bit off. You saw it when he walked [Evan Longoria] and gave up the hit to [Wil] Myers, but after that he really settled in. He was down. We mixed in all his pitches just to get me used to seeing him. I hadn't caught him in a game. I caught him in some backfield stuff and stuff like that. We talked about just seeing his all his pitches so I know what to look for, what to expect. And he threw them all really well."
There was also a method to the madness in delaying Victorino's start to Spring Training. Not only was the right fielder coming off right thumb surgery, but he took some extra time the last couple of weeks to strengthen his legs and back in an effort to avoid some of the nagging injuries from last year.
As had been widely speculated, Victorino came out of the gate batting right-handed against Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi.
For the final two months of last season and into the postseason, Victorino abandoned switch-hitting. He did it partly because it took some stress off his legs, and also because he got red-hot as soon as he started hitting exclusively from the right side.
Victorino develops a bit of an edge when the media continues to press him on whether he's going to abandon switch hitting.
"Next," Victorino said to the first inquiry about hitting righty. "You guys just keep asking that question, don't you? What did you see today? Next [question]. I don't know. There's no decision that's made. There's no decision. If I had an answer, I would have told you guys."
Translation: Expect Victorino to hit right-handed just about all of the time in 2014, though he is still taking some swings lefty in the cage and even in the on-deck circle.
The key is that he's healthy. Victorino played no small role in Boston's success last year.
"I felt great," Victorino said. "It's nice to be back out there with the guys. It was a good runaround. Get a ball on defense, run the bases. And obviously being back out on the field. That's what it's all about. This is what you prepare for. I've been itchy and antsy to get out there."
Victorino couldn't help but laugh at the fact he was hit by the very first pitch he saw from Odorizzi.
Last season, Victorino was hit 17 times from the right side and just once lefty.
"It just told me that I guess I am pretty close to the plate," said Victorino.
The return of two key players wasn't the only thing that made Monday perhaps the best day of Spring Training thus far for the Red Sox.
David Ortiz and Mike Napoli both hit mammoth home runs. Will Middlebrooks took a couple of nice swings, one for an RBI double into the gap in left-center and another for an RBI single.
Grady Sizemore continued to look like someone who can make it all the way back, going 1-for-3 from the leadoff spot.
The 2014 Red Sox were starting to take shape Monday. Sizemore led off, followed by Dustin Pedroia, Ortiz, Napoli, Daniel Nava, Victorino, Xander Bogaerts, Pierzynski and Middlebrooks.
"Now to put everybody in the same lineup, particularly getting Vic back on the field and obviously David is starting to swing the bat with a little bit better timing, it's good to see the flow of the game unfold as it did today," said manager John Farrell.
Three weeks from Monday, the Red Sox will be pleased if they can send the same starting nine to the mound, led by the same pitcher.
"Any time Jon Lester walks to the mound, it's a good day," said Farrell.