Grady Sizemore makes another statement in Red Sox' win over Rays

March 25, 2014 - 12:29 pm

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Tuesday marked the first of three days that the Red Sox planned to use to reach a final determination about whether Grady Sizemore or Jackie Bradley Jr. will be their Opening Day center fielder. While it remains to be seen how Sizemore will be able to handle his first exposure of the spring to back-to-back-to-back games, his opening statement (in a 4-2 Red Sox win over the Rays) was a compelling one. Sizemore, facing Rays left-hander Cesar Ramos in the top of the sixth inning, crushed his first homer of the spring, blasting it well over the the fence in right field. It was his first longball in a game since July 15, 2011, and his first against a left-hander since going deep against Tim Collins of the Royals on April 26, 2011. While Sizemore wasn't too caught up in that at-bat as a landmark of his spring, he did allow that his timing at the plate has exceeded even his own expectations, and that he increasingly feels like he's playing in the rhythm of the game. "I feel good and I'm happy with just how everything's gone in such a short period. I didn't expect to feel this good or to feel this comfortable so soon, so I'm happy with that aspect, obviously," said Sizemore. "I definitely feel comfortable the more I'm out there, the more I play. ... It's still kind of like a normal spring training where you're trying to get that last bit of conditioning in. I feel good during each game, I feel good after the game, but it's one of those things where you have normal muscle soreness. It's just kind of working through that and continuing to get the conditioning you get from playing in the game." In addition to the homer, Sizemore also grounded out twice and struck out (his second strikeout of the spring, this one on a full-count 96 mph fastball up against left-hander Jake McGee). On the spring, he's now hitting .303 with a .324 OBP and .424 slugging mark in 34 spring plate appearances. He's struck out just four times. "He gets a first-pitch fastball from a lefthander (Ramos) and put a really good swing on it, and then even against McGee, even though he strikes out, there's a lot of balance at the plate. We've talked a number of times about the timing at the plate. He continues to show it," said Farrell. "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, you're seeing it more and more, and I think he's starting to get into his legs a little bit more at the plate." Bradley, by contrast, went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts (one looking, one swinging) and a first-pitch pop-up, and is now hitting .173 with a .232 OBP, .288 slugging mark, 16 strikeouts and three walks in 56 plate appearances this spring. He played his first game of the spring in right field, with Sizemore in center -- an alignment that could become a possibility during the regular season if Shane Victorino is ever sidelined. Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz added to his strong body of work this spring, throwing 84 pitches (50 strikes) in six innings while allowing two runs on three hits, striking out five, walking two and eliciting seven groundouts. His spring ERA is now 2.84 with 13 strikeouts and five walks in five starts spanning 19 innings. He suggested that he feels comfortable with where he is in his progression for the season, with his fastball around 89-92 mph (with his two-seamer eliciting plenty of groundballs), a curveball that got swings and misses in the second half of his outing and his first solid changeup of the spring. "Stuff was good, when I wanted a little extra in the fastball I felt like I had something in the tank to reach back and throw it," said Buchholz. The pitcher said that he feels physically strong for the start of the year, a thought echoed by manager John Farrell. "More than anything, the thing that stands out over the course of spring training is he's pitched very comfortably on the mound," said Farrell. Beyond Sizemore's two-run homer, the rest of the Red Sox offense was supplied by the left side of the infield. Will Middlebrooks smoked his third homer of the spring, going deep to left against Rays starter Jake Odorizzi as part of a 2-for-3 game that included a walk, while Xander Bogaerts went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles and an RBI.