Red Sox have bench spot up for grabs
McAnulty, Carter jumping in the mix as dark-horse contenders
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- While Mark Kotsay spends his days continuing his rehab from back surgery, there are a handful of players in a heated competition to hold down that job until the veteran returns at some point in May.
The Red Sox need someone off the bench who can play first base and the corner outfield spots, which is why Kotsay -- a solid defender and professional hitter -- is such a good fit and will be welcomed back once he's healthy.
If there is a favorite to land the job in the interim, it would probably be Brad Wilkerson, who has had the most Major League experience and success among the candidates.
But two dark horses continued to make their case in Tuesday's exhibition game against the Reds, doing so in unison in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Just after Paul McAnulty belted a two-run homer, Chris Carter followed with a solo shot of his own.
"We were coming back, it was a good rally," said Carter. "Mac got me pumped up when he hit that bomb."
Though the players are in competition, they can also identify with the survival mode in each other.
Carter is 26 years old, but has just nine games of Major League experience. McAnulty is 28, but has only 124 games in the Majors, 66 of which came for the Padres last year. Then there is the other player in the mix -- Jeff Bailey, a 30-year-old Minor League veteran, who played 27 games for the Sox last year.
"I'm rooting them on," said McAnulty. "Every guy in here is great. They are awesome people on and off the field. I wish them the best of luck. We're all going for the same spot -- it's a competition."
So how does Red Sox manager Terry Francona evaluate the situation?
"It's wide open," Francona said. "Some of it is going to depend on Mikey Lowell's health. I think what you're looking for out of that right now is need, and then you'd like to see some guys do well. And then we'll make our decisions based on what helps our ballclub the best. But you'd like to see three or four guys put themselves in a position where, OK, we have a tough decision to make."
Though homers -- such as the ones McAnulty and Carter hit on Tuesday -- will always be welcome, Francona stressed to all those in the competition what is more important.
"All of those guys who are kind of fighting for that spot, we've told them that they need to catch the ball, because we really feel like we're a better team [that way]," Francona said. "We think we have good pitching and they need to be able to catch the ball. And they're going to be asked to do different things -- play first, play the outfield. We've been trying to move them around daily -- one day at first, one day in the outfield."
Though there is a job to be won, the players are focusing more on maximizing each day rather than thinking ahead.
"I really don't even think about it," McAnulty said. "All I can really control is what I do out there. Whatever feels best, that's what they're going to do."
Though Kotsay has created the opening, even those vying for his job wish him a speedy recovery.
"As far as Kotsay, he's one of the best teammates I've ever been with -- one of the best guys, one of the best people," Carter said. "I know the Red Sox will be looking forward to his return. Right now, I'm just going out there and doing the best I can. I definitely want to be part of this team. I'm putting everything out there. I believe in me, and this is where I want to be. I want it to work out."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.