The dramatic off-season is over, some familiar faces have departed, new players have arrived, and now the Boston Red Sox have key questions that must be answered as 2011 spring training unfolds.
Injuries were rampant last season, and spring training will give Red Sox team officials and fans a first glimpse as to how injuries to key players have healed. Has Jacoby Ellsbury recovered from his nagging broken ribs to the point that he can play nearly every day in centerfield? Will the surgically-implanted screw in Dustin Pedroia’s foot limit his mobility in the field? Will Kevin Youkilis’s thumb injury – which he believed to have mainly healed by the end of last season – hinder his hitting through spring training and into the regular season? When will newcomer Adrian Gonzalez’s shoulder surgery allow him to resume a full range of activity? The answers to these key questions during spring training will go a long way toeard determining if the 2011 Red Sox can get back to the post season.
How will the closer situation turn out?
The company line from Red Sox officials when asked this question would be “what closer situation?” Manager Terry Francona has made it clear that Jonathan Papelbon remains the team’s closer -period – despite the off-season acquisition of Bobby Jenks, who has never been anything but a closer in his career. Complicating the matter is the fact that Papelbon is coming off his worst season ever, and that he’ll be a free agent at the end of the 2011 season. But if Papelbon gets off to a slow start in spring training, or blows a few early season save opportunities, fans will begin to question whether he should remain in the closer role.
Who will be the shortstop?
Again, as spring training opened, Francona was adamant that the starting job belonged to Marco Scutaro. But the veteran had an off year last season, playing through a neck injury that hampered his defensive skills. Plus, Jed Lowrie returned to the Red Sox after missing most of the past few seasons with injuries and illness and showed the offensive promise Boston had always believed he had. To this point the question of a starter has been put on hold, with Scutaro getting the nod and Lowrie penciled into a utility role. Their respective performances during spring training could change that, however.
Which pitchers will fill out the bullpen?
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein identified the bullpen as an area of concern in the offseason and went on a shopping spree. During spring training, a handful of pitchers will compete for a few spots in the Boston bullpen. Daniel Bard is assured a spot. So is free agent acquisition Dan Wheeler. Lefthander Hideki Okajima is also likely to return. The question is which pitchers from the group of Scott Atchison, Rich Hill, Matt Albers, Alfredo Aceves and Dennys Reyes will emerge during spring training to grab a spot on the Red Sox roster. And what will be the fate of veteran Tim Wakefield?