FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was only two innings and just his opening game of spring training, but Ryan Dempster will take similar results in any start as he had Tuesday vs. the Cardinals in a 15-4 Red Sox loss.
Dempster accomplished just about everything he wanted in his first outing in a Red Sox uniform. He threw strikes (24 out of 33 pitches), got quick outs, and came away with the feeling that he’s ready to get through the six-start process before the regular season.
“Things went good,” said the veteran righthander, who signed a two-year, $26 million deal this offseason. “Body and arm felt good. Was able to attack the strike zone for the most part. Good first day.”
Dempster said he was trying to establish “tempo, getting the ball down, pitching to a spot where you feel comfortable and you think you’ll have success and keep trying to inch closer to getting consistent down there.” He seemed to do that.
While Dempster was a strike-throwing machine Tuesday, he said it hasn’t always been that way.
“A number of times, I’d throw more balls off the backstop than in the catcher’s glove, so it just comes with a little experience and feeling more comfortable,” he said.
Ryan Lavarnway caught Dempster, who believes the Sox catchers have a good approach.
“Nice part of the catchers we have here, we’ve had a chance to have some dinner together and get to know each other and what we like to do,” said Dempster. “It’s just communication.
“You can sit there and not talk about it or guess and find yourself in a battle to figure each other out. All the guys catching have done an unbelievable job since I got here of asking, ‘What do you want to do? Where do you want me to set up?’ ”
He said he also has picked the brains of his fellow pitchers, who have better knowledge of the American League than he does even though he spent a couple of months with the Rangers last season.
“Those guys have faced those guys all year,” he said. “[Pitching coach] Juan [Nieves] does a great job preparing for the hitters. The video is there. Nothing like feeling it yourself. But if you study hard enough, you have an idea.”
Dempster is a workout warrior, but he said, “Working out isn’t just getting stronger, it’s discipline. Sometimes it helps you get through the mental grind of going through the ups and downs of a season. As you get older, you get more experience but your stuff tends to go downhill, so I try to make that decline as slow as I can and try to keep myself in good shape. I continue to learn and use that knowledge.”
When asked about his goals, Dempster — who is known for his sense of humor — said, “Shoot under par. Try to swim with a dolphin. Stay healthy. That’s all I ever want for me and for the entire team.”
Never swam with a dolphin?
“Not in the wild,” he said. “I swam with Snowflake from ‘Ace Ventura,’ but never in the wild.”
No. 2 starter Clay Buchholz, set back by a hamstring injury, pitched his second simulated game Tuesday and is ready for a real game, Saturday vs. the Twins.
Buchholz threw 40 pitches, 20 in each inning, to lefthanded hitter Mike Carp and righthanded-hitting Mike Napoli. Both hitters got four reps.
Front office personnel, manager John Farrell, Nieves, and ex-Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield watched the outing.
“It was good. Felt more comfortable,” Buchholz said. “I’ve felt comfortable since I started throwing out of the windup. I started to find a balance point there at the end to get a good feel for it. Last 10 pitches I stayed on line without jumping toward home plate.”
The injury was more annoying than a big deal to Buchholz.
“The good thing is we have two weeks extra here this year and it wasn’t something that set me back two weeks,” he said. “I missed my first time in rotation, but I can deal with that. It was unfortunate, but I didn’t miss much. I feel good running. Zero percent do I feel anything while throwing.”
On the anticipation for Saturday’s outing: “I’m ready. It feels like I’m ready to get out there,” Buchholz said.
Lowell stops by
Former Sox third baseman Mike Lowell stopped by camp to help Will Middlebrooks with his defense, including his footwork and throwing.
Lowell said he was invited by second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who felt Lowell could help give Middlebrooks some tips on how he and Pedroia used to work the double play.
Lowell was dressed in his No. 25 jersey. The Sox have invited a lot of their former players back, with Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, and Wakefield all working with players at their respective areas of expertise.
Lowell, who is an MLB Network analyst, is also working with Miami Marlins infielders.
“Pedroia mentioned to Will that we have good reputation of turning double plays,” Lowell said. “Maybe something I say may trigger doing something better on his part. He’s very impressive. He has the makings of being an outstanding player.”
Lowell is impressed with Middlebrooks’s strength and power, saying, “the ball sounds different coming off his bat.”
Lowell said he would love to manage some day, but he says the time isn’t right.
“I don’t mind putting in the time when I’m ready for it,” he said. “I still know where my kids are in my life. I’m just not ready. I drove up from the kids’ baseball game at 8 o’clock last night and I was much more excited about being on a major league field than making sure the right fielder was looking at home plate or throwing rocks.”
Lowell said having ex-players with recent major league experience at camp is wise.
“I don’t think there’s a catcher on the planet who wouldn’t learn something from Tek,” he said. “A Varitek sticks in their mind a little more. It’s like my kid doesn’t listen to me but he listens to his coach.”
Middlebrooks said it was exciting to work with Lowell.
“Any time you can work with someone who has won World Series and won Gold Gloves, I’m all for it,” Middlebrooks said. “It’s great to have that at your disposal.”
“I worked on my angles,” Middlebrooks added. “Playing third base is all about 45-degree angles. Working on in-between hops. Sometimes I get flat out there.”Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.