PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Red Sox manager John Farrell spoke at length before Tuesday’s exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Rays about the decision on whether to start Grady Sizemore or Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field.
Farrell laid out the scenarios under consideration and talked about how the verdict would affect other parts of the roster.
“There’s still a lot of internal discussion on who our starting center fielder is going to be,” he said.
Then, in the sixth inning, Sizemore hit a fastball to right field that cleared the fence, the bullpen, and the outfield boardwalk at Charlotte Sports Park before striking the walkway of a building about 430 feet away.
One long home run doesn’t necessarily put Sizemore on the roster for Opening Day. But it was another sign that he is a few days of good health away from claiming a job after missing two consecutive seasons with injuries to his knees, back, and left elbow.
Sizemore is scheduled to play Wednesday and Thursday before sitting out Friday and playing Saturday.
“We’re looking at these next three days as a physical test,” Farrell said before the Sox beat the Rays, 4-2. “Can’t say that we’re looking at quality at-bats or on-base [percentage] in those three games. The one thing that we can get some feedback on is, ‘Does he come out of three consecutive days in good shape physically?’ ”
If Sizemore doesn’t pass, the job would go to rookie Bradley. There is no provision for having both players on the roster unless one of the other outfielders goes on the disabled list.
“That’s probably either/or at this point,” Farrell said. “We’re focusing one or the other.”
Sizemore is 10 for 33 over 10 games in spring training. The home run off lefthander Cesar Ramos was his first since July 15, 2011.
That it came in an exhibition game didn’t dim Sizemore’s smile.
“It felt good,” he said.
Farrell said the home run was reminiscent of balls Sizemore hit when he was an All-Star with the Indians from 2006-08.
“The way we’ve seen the ball come off the bat almost a week at a time starting from before camp opened up, to the live BP, to game action,” Farrell said. “You’re seeing it more and more.”
Sizemore came up again in the eighth inning against lefthander Jake McGee and worked the count full before swinging through a 96-mile-per-hour fastball. It was only Sizemore’s fourth strikeout of the spring.
“I just try and have good swings,” he said. “I’m seeing the ball good and having good at-bats. I want to keep putting those together.”
The Red Sox had an open mind on Sizemore when he reported to camp. He has exceeded expectations.
“We’ve seen very good timing at the plate,” said Farrell. “We’ve seen a repeatable swing, much like he [had] pre-injury. I don’t think we had any set markers or goals. I think he’s going to gain greater consistency the more at-bats he gets.”
But there are other issues to consider. Putting Sizemore on the team would require the Red Sox to have a serviceable backup for one or two games a week.
Shifting right fielder Shane Victorino to center field is one solution. Or the Sox could try Daniel Nava.
Neither option is especially palatable. The Sox would prefer to keep Victorino in right field, where he won a Gold Glove last season, and Nava is a corner outfielder who has started one major league game in center.
Victorino has played in only eight games this spring because of injuries and sat out Tuesday with soreness on his left side.
“Part of what is factored is knowing what I have to manage in terms of games played and availability [and] what is the backup plan for those other days?” said Farrell. “Is there variability with other guys in their day-to-day availability?
“I wish I could say there was just one thing that we’re pinning a decision on. But there are a number of factors in play.”
Sizemore doesn’t know how many games in a row he could play.
“I’m not going to come out until I have to come out,” he said. “I’ve felt good every day and coming in the next day.”
Farrell said there were three different scenarios for Sizemore when camp started. One was that he would win the job and the second was he would prove unworthy of a roster spot.
The third was starting the season on the disabled list and getting an extra 40-50 at-bats during a rehabilitation assignment.
“He’s moving down the path to possibly the most favorable, without a final decision being made,” Farrell said.
The decision will come by Friday. The Sox have an afternoon game Saturday at JetBlue Park, then leave for Baltimore.
Bradley has done little to make the decision more difficult. He was 0 for 4 Tuesday and is 9 for 52 (.173) in 17 spring training games with 16 strikeouts. But Bradley is durable and healthy, something the Red Sox could use in what will be a busy April schedule.
Sizemore hasn’t allowed himself to think about making the team. Not yet.
“Honestly, it’s just looking to the next day, try not to get too far ahead of myself,” he said. “Focus on the next game and staying healthy. You can’t get too far ahead.”
But what was months away is now a matter of days. The season starts Monday for the Red Sox and Sizemore is close to restarting a career once thought to be over.
“I’m happy with just how everything has gone in such a short period,” he said. “I didn’t expect to feel this good or to feel this comfortable so soon.”