Notes: Lopez focusing on lefties
Francona meets with full squad, could see extension soon
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- At the same time he was broadening his horizons, Red Sox left-hander Javier Lopez was losing a grip on the very thing for which he's employed.
The southpaw specialist had a strange 2007 in that he held righties to a meager .176 average while lefties hit him at a .293 clip.
It's just that the lefties were the hitters the side-winding Lopez was facing in the crucial situations, and those were the batters he really needed to be retiring at a better rate.
The 30-year-old Lopez knows that he must regain his ability to mow down the lefties to keep his roster spot on the 2008 Red Sox. This is especially imperative amid a Spring Training in which Lopez no longer has any Minor League options.
"I think it's one of those things where I was focusing so hard on getting righties out to stay in those games -- and it worked out well -- but I have to get back to the strength that got me into the league, which is being able to get left-handed hitters," Lopez said. "That's been my focus this spring. Just come back in and work on my offspeed stuff again and maybe just some different plans of attack as you start facing some guys, because they know what you bring. You need to change it up with a little variety, so that's basically what I'm trying to do."
And Lopez did pinpoint one thing that might have led to his ineffectiveness against lefties last year.
"The only thing I kind of noticed was just maybe not throwing the bigger slider that I have," Lopez said. "I was kind of just more fastball-oriented. It's something that we talked about. It's something that I'm probably going to change coming into the spring -- try some different things out. The success I had with righties was a good thing for me, to be able to have that confidence to go out and face the righties. Now I need to get those lefties."
Despite the difficulties Lopez had with lefties, 2007 was one of his most consistent seasons. Working in 61 games -- his most since 2004 when he was with the Rockies -- Lopez posted a 3.10 ERA.
"What he really did was he showed durability," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He also showed an effectiveness against right-handers, which was welcome. We need to get him more consistent on the lefties. It's a hard thing to do, but we want him to dominate left-handers, because in that role he's in, he's going to come into that game when it's bases loaded in the whatever inning. If he is effective, obviously, it bodes well for us winning games."
Will this be the first time since 2003 that Lopez can spend the entire season on a Major League roster?
Sunny, warm Florida: While the Boston area was getting pounded with snow, the Red Sox conducted their first full-squad workout of the spring amid a hot and sticky day under a clear blue Fort Myers sky.
Dustin Pedroia's message to those snow-shoveling New Englanders?
"Come down here, it's about 150 degrees," Pedroia said. "Then you don't have to worry about that snow. But we'll be up there soon and ready to go."
How did the first day go?
"Nice, like you expect. The sun is shining, it's hot," said Francona. "Good day to work. The first day is not a day to be in midseason form. We're trying to get prepared to work, and we go at a little bit slower pace today than we will the next six, seven days. All the running is on flat ground. We'll do a little baserunning [Saturday]. Nobody faced pitchers -- that will start happening [Saturday]."
Accelerated schedule: The Red Sox are fortunate not to have a lot of roster spots up for grabs. The club simply does not have as much time to evaluate, with camp breaking for Japan on March 19.
"There's no denying the fact that we leave early," Francona said. "There's going to be some guys that have earned longer looks that probably aren't going to be able to get them. It's going to be a little bit condensed."
Status quo makes life easier: This figures to be the smoothest camp since Francona's arrival in 2004, when you consider the lack of turnover on the team. There's a chance that Sean Casey will be the only player on the Opening Day roster who didn't play for the '07 Sox.
"It's a good feeling," Francona said. "It's easier to get your work done, because guys know what's expected. In a little bit more organized way, you can actually get more work done."
Francona, along with Epstein, club president/CEO Larry Lucchino and others, addressed the entire squad before Friday's workout.
"I certainly don't really show up to be Knute Rockne," Francona said. "There's some necessary things to do on the first day. A lot of introductions with people that aren't in uniform that the players may not necessarily all know. We need to do that. I tried to keep my message kind of to a minimum. But at the same time, you have a responsibility of telling players how you feel about them. Tried to be concise, short and to the point."
Tito extension close? Though there's been no announcement yet on a new contract for Francona, Epstein is confident that the matter will be resolved before the end of Spring Training.
In an interview on Boston radio station WEEI-850 AM on Friday morning, Epstein was asked if he thought Francona would get an extension before the Red Sox leave for Japan.
"I think, yes," Epstein told hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan. "I think he will."
Francona has one year left on his contract. The manger confirmed earlier this week that he had some face-to-face negotiations with owner John W. Henry. Other than that, Francona has chosen not to comment on his contract situation.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.