Notes: Wakefield working on curveball
Papelbon focusing on starting role; Timlin set for Saturday
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Though he is still the quintessential knuckleballer, Tim Wakefield is hoping his curveball can be a better secondary weapon this year than it's been in the past.
Wakefield estimates that he threw five curveballs in Wednesday's three-inning stint against the Mets. By comparison, Wakefield generally spins two or three breaking balls over six or seven innings of a regular-season start.
"I'd like to get a better feel for it so that when I do have to throw it, I know I'm not fighting myself," said Wakefield, who scattered four hits, but didn't allow a run during his 55-pitch outing. "You throw 80 pitches and haven't thrown a breaking ball, and then you're going to mix one in during the seventh and you hang it and give up a homer, it's kind of a stupid pitch to throw."
But with the proper reps this spring, Wakefield thinks it could make a subtle difference for him during the season.
"I think it's an important pitch for me to work in," said Wakefield. "I've always had it. It's just, when the knuckleball is working, why throw it? I'm getting outs, but I think it could be a very important pitch to my repertoire if I used it a little bit more. I got a lot of strikeouts with it last year."
Manger Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell are on board with Wakefield's plan to go with the bender a little more often.
"We were talking about that the other day," said Francona. "When he commands it, sometimes that can almost be a free strike. We don't want him to overuse it, especially to right-handers. When he has that feel that he can go to it, maybe he can use it instead of his fastball."
Though Francona hasn't announced the order of his rotation yet, Wakefield said that he's already been told he'll follow Jonathan Papelbon and pitch the fifth game of the season.
"As of now, yeah, I'm the No. 5 guy behind Papelbon," Wakefield said. "You never know. You can start the season as the fifth starter and by the All-Star break, you're facing a lot of No. 1s. The season will dictate those decisions."
Closing thoughts: Speaking of Papelbon, the righty again piggy-backed Wakefield and threw three shutout innings, striking out four.
Francona said that Wakefield and Papelbon might pitch on the same day one last time before splitting up, but a determination will be made on that by Thursday.
With Boston's closer situation far from settled, Papelbon still feels that there are a lot of people -- and not just fans -- who wish he was still performing last call.
"Even for the fans in Boston and the people back in Boston and the teammates and coaches and your whole staff[,] for right now, it's really just hard for them seeing me do something different -- [At least] until I get out there and prove to my teammates and coaches and the staff that I mean business in this role that I'm in," said Papelbon. "I think that it's really hard to see me doing something different right now, but hopefully that will get out of there soon."
Wakefield admitted that he misses Papelbon in the role he was electric in last year.
"I'd like to see him back there saving games for us again this year, but I think he'll do great in whatever role he's given," said Wakefield. "He's proven so far this spring that he's hopefully going to dominate."
Does Papelbon still think about closing?
"It really doesn't enter my mind," said Papelbon. "Just occasionally, when you're sitting at home and you're just thinking. When I come to the park, my whole focus is starting. I think that's where I can help out this ballclub the most. Hopefully, somebody will come out of the bullpen and rise above and win that job and be a dominant closer for us this year."
Timlin set for Saturday: Mike Timlin can officially throw his candidacy into the closer's competition when he makes his first exhibition outing on Saturday in Lakeland, Fla., against the Tigers. For the first time since injuring his oblique on Feb. 25, Timlin faced hitters on Wednesday, throwing roughly 40 pitches on the back field.
Timlin didn't give himself rave reviews, but at the same time, he declared himself fit to pitch.
"Good enough," said Timlin.
Francona, however, was pleased.
"I end up thinking maybe we're more pleased than the players when you see that, because it's nice to see a guy go out there and see the ball come out of his hand crisp," Francona said. "If they don't make all the pitches they want to, they're not happy. I thought it was a real good outing for him."
Donnelly struggles: Brendan Donnelly had his first rough outing, giving up four runs, two hits and two walks over two-thirds of an inning.
"You know, he started out the first hitter 0-2," said Francona. "He was trying to work on his split. He ended up walking the first hitter. Then he lost the strike zone. In a regular-season game, we wouldn't have gone with him that long. We let him throw 30 pitches because we wanted to get him work, but he pitched himself into a bind. But he walks two, then we get the grounder to first that we don't get an out on."
Manny snaps 0-fer: Left fielder Manny Ramirez, hitless in his first six at-bats of the spring, snapped that drought with a single to left in the fourth inning. Ramirez also walked and had a sacrifice fly.
David Ortiz (3-for-14, no homers) is still trying to find his groove.
Coming up: Francona will stay at City of Palms Park for the game against the Blue Jays on Thursday, while bench coach Brad Mills will make the crosstown trip to Hammond Stadium for the road game against the Twins.
The 3-4-5 combo (Ortiz, Ramirez and J.D. Drew) will stay home. Julio Lugo, Coco Crisp and others will take on the Twins.
Curt Schilling will pitch against the Twins at 1:05 p.m. ET, while Kyle Snyder takes the ball against the Jays at 1:05.
"I've seen Schill pitch for eight years, I want to watch Snydes pitch," quipped Francona.
As for Schilling, he has officially entered the world of blogging. His unfiltered thoughts can be read at www.38pitches.com.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.