Boston Red Sox Spring Training: Slimmer, Healthy with a Chip on Their Shoulders

Ben ShapiroAnalyst IIIFebruary 16, 2012

Clay Buchholz seems ready to tackle the challenges of the 2012 season.
Clay Buchholz seems ready to tackle the challenges of the 2012 season.

Pitchers and Catcher don't have to be at Fort Meyers until Sunday. 

But that hasn't stopped a number of them from showing up early. With portions of the New England media still fixated on accountability for last season. Some members of the Red Sox seem far more focused on the upcoming 2012 season in which theoretically they'll answer questions about fitness, and focus on determination on the field rather than in press conferences, interviews and television sound bites.

Josh Beckett is already down in Florida. He's already thrown a 50 pitch bullpen session and new pitching coach Bob McClure seemed pleased with what he saw. 

“He looked pretty sharp. He looked very healthy,’’

Beckett isn't the only member of the Red Sox pitching staff to show up early for work this year. Clay Buchholz, a pitcher who has battled bouts of inconsistency and injuries since bursting on the scene with a no-hitter in 2007, also reported early for duty. 

He had to, a result of the off-season training regimen prescribed to rehabilitate the back injury that sidelined him for much of last season. 

Buchholz has already thrown nine or ten bullpen sessions and is focused on exceeding 200 innings pitched in the 2012 season. To do that he's going to have be both healthy and pretty good on the mound. Even if Buchholz makes 30 starts and averages six innings a start, that's only 180 innings. To get to 200 he's going to have to go deep into games at times and to do that he's going to have be healthy and effective. 

Buchholz seems up to the challenge of the 2012 season. In fact he speculates that his teammates are as well. 

“I think a lot of the guys have come here with a chip on their shoulder about it and we want to do well and we want to go to October this year." - Clay Buchholz 2/15/12

Buchholz also spoke briefly about last season's collapse. The pitcher stressed that the occasional drinking and take out meal were not in any way completely responsible for the miserable September performance that plagued Boston last season. 

“It happened more than that in previous years,’’ he said. “But we did well and it wasn’t to be spoken of. The main issue is that we didn’t make the playoffs, and that was something for people to talk about." - Clay Buchholz 2/15/12

This might not fit into the neat and tidy storyline projected by some of the team's most outspoken critics, but it may very well be accurate both in testimony and in the speculation that people needed "something to talk about".

If the appearance of Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett is soothing news to Sox fans then they'll also be happy to hear that not only is Bobby Jenks in camp early but he also looks noticeably slimmer. Jenks, who was signed before last season to a two year, $12 million contract was one of many disappointing members of the Red Sox bullpen last season. His few appearances were unimpressive and injuries severely limited his use. 

A healthy and effective Jenks could give the Red Sox three decent options in the eighth and ninth innings. Both Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey were closers last season on their respective teams. Bullpen depth has been a major issue in Boston the past few seasons with numerous pitchers coming through the system all with mixed results.

Spring Training has yet to officially begin but many of the players seem eager not just to get back to the business of playing baseball but the task of putting last season's finish behind them. It's too early to say whether or not that will translate to more wins and less losses but if fans are looking for signs of life from the Red Sox they're seeing them already.