Red Sox were confident with Carson Smith over Addison Reed
FORT MYERS, Fla. — For Addison Reed, Wednesday offered a reunion with players who were briefly his teammates. Now a member of the Twins, the righthander logged 1⅔ innings of scoreless relief against the Red Sox, with whom he finished the 2017 season after a July 31 trade with the Mets.
Seeing the Sox brought back fond memories for the 29-year-old.
“The expectations I had for the atmosphere, playing in Fenway, it was better than what I expected, and I expected it to be pretty damn good,” said Reed. “Just being able to go and play at Fenway every single day, that was awesome in itself.
“Things didn’t work out the way we wanted them to work out, but my time there was great and I enjoyed every bit of it.”
Yet during the offseason, there was never any sense that there would be a more substantial reunion between Reed and the team for whom he emerged as a setup man in 2017. Reed wanted to pitch in the Midwest (his wife is from Ohio), and the Sox weren’t aggressively pursuing relievers at a time when J.D. Martinez remained unsigned.
“They weren’t high on my list,” said Reed. “Nothing against the organization or anything. I wanted to try to get to the Midwest. No traction was ever gained with Boston.”
Reed, who landed a two-year, $16.75 million deal from the Twins, was one of many prominent free agent relievers to move this winter. Yet none ended up in Boston. That reflected the Red Sox’ comfort with the options already at their disposal — and with one in particular.
“The organization was comfortable with the bullpen we had,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “They did an outstanding job throughout the season and especially with Carson [Smith] throwing the ball the way he did towards the end, that was very important.”
Smith represents a potentially pivotal member of the bullpen. Nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery, he looks primed to assume the critical late innings that had been earmarked for Reed at the end of 2017.
Smith had a solid showing (1.35 ERA, 7 strikeouts in 6⅔ innings) in his return to the big leagues at the end of last year, something that provided confidence entering his first “normal” offseason following the surgery and rehab.
He has looked excellent this spring, with his sinking low-90s fastball, wipeout slider, and changeup from a low three-quarters arm slot proving unsettling to hitters.
Still, Smith is still in search of the dominant form he showed in 2015 with the Mariners.
Then, he forged a 2.31 ERA in 70 innings, with most of his plate appearances ending with either a strikeout (11.8 per nine innings) or ground ball (64.8 percent of batted balls, sixth-highest among relievers that year).
“I know I had a strong year that year,” said Smith. “But relievers have strong years all the time. I know you have to do it over a consistent basis to be highly respected in this game. I’ve got to come out and prove that I be that pitcher again post-surgery.
“I definitely want to get back to being that pitcher. I don’t think I’ve quite earned that respect yet coming out of surgery. But I think I’m on pace.”
The Sox will need him to be. In a bullpen that is deep in righthanders who have dominated against righties but struggled against lefties, Smith offers a chance to play a distinct role.
“With him, it’s a different look,” said Cora. “We talk about sinker-slider against righties, but that changeup plays against lefties, too. There’s going to be no hesitation for us to put him in a situation, a high-leverage situation to face a lefty.
“He’s a guy that will pitch late in the game. This guy’s going to be very important for us.”
Wright takes a step
For the first time since last April, Steven Wright threw to hitters, throwing approximately 30 pitches to a pair of minor leaguers.
He worked two simulated innings, sitting in the dugout between them. That he was able to get through the exercise without discomfort represented a significant marker of progress in his return from last May’s cartilage restoration procedure.
“Today was a big hurdle for me to get over,” said Wright, who is still trying to trust his knee after he experienced consistent pain on his landing leg a year ago. “Today was a big win, being able to go out there and get through it.”
Wright, who mixed some fastballs and curveballs in with his knuckleball, said, “Definitely I’m not where I want to be [physically], but it’s getting better and better.”
For now, he’s trying not to think about timetables or specific goals such as pitching in a spring game or readiness for the regular season, instead choosing to focus on day-to-day progress.
“Obviously it wasn’t where I want to be as far as the knuckleball, but the first time facing hitters, for me, it’s a huge hurdle,” said Wright. “I never even thought I’d be at this point, to be honest with you, this quick. So it’s definitely a good day.”
Lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez, also coming back from knee surgery, will throw two innings of live batting practice Thursday. Drew Pomeranz, who is working back from forearm stiffness, long-tossed and threw on flat ground Wednesday. Barring a setback, he could throw off a bullpen mound Friday and throw live batting practice by the end of the week.
Cora couldn’t say which of the three pitchers is closest to being ready to pitch in a game.
“I think everyone’s doing their progress at their pace,” he said. “I think it would be unfair just to single somebody out.”
Kimbrel on track
Cora said that closer Craig Kimbrel’s daughter is “doing great, doing better” in her recovery from a late February heart procedure, her second since being born in November. Kimbrel remains in Boston with his daughter and wife, with plans to throw live batting practice to hitters in the area Thursday.
Though Kimbrel has been away from the team, Cora said, the team isn’t concerned about whether he’ll be available for the start of the season.
“We’re comfortable with where he’s at,” said cora. “He’s doing his work. He’s on schedule.
“Like I told him, the most important thing is to take care of what you need to take care of and it’s Lydia right now. That’s the most important thing.”
Reds hiring Farrell
Former Red Sox manager John Farrell will join the Reds as a scout, according to major league sources . . . Blake Swihart, who has caught and played both first base and left field this spring, is expected to see game action at third base Sunday against the Pirates . . . Dustin Pedroia has started taking grounders a couple of steps to either side as he continues to work back from offseason knee surgery. Cora said the team will consider having the second baseman stay at extended spring training in Fort Myers at the start of the season.
Lefthander Robby Scott has struggled to command his slider in part because, after offseason surgery to remove a bone chip from his elbow, he’s able to get more extension with his pitching arm. “I was joking with him the other day, ‘Get the bone chips, put them back in, and you’ll get back your slider,’ ” Cora joked . . . In discussing the lefthanded bullpen options, Cora said he would use nonroster invitee Bobby Poyner earlier in games to see how he fared against big league hitters. The manager reiterated that he doesn’t view a left-on-left bullpen option as a necessity.