03/29/2003 6:52 PM ET
Notes: Fossum saves best for last
ATLANTA -- No one knows better than Red Sox fans that it's not where you start, but where you finish.
|By Jon Cooper / Special to MLB.com
That said, the Sox faithful should be very happy with the way Casey Fossum finished his spring.
The 25-year-old left-hander took the mound at Turner Field Saturday with a hefty 16.05 ERA and questions whirling about his spot in the starting rotation.
He left the mound in Atlanta punching the air after throwing out Julio Franco at first to end Boston's 2-1 win. Fossum earned a save and a big boost to his confidence.
"I'll take it going into Tampa," said Fossum. "It was by far my best outing all spring. Everything that I've been working on the last couple of weeks has finally come together, and I feel I'm ready to start the season. I like where I am right now."
Manager Grady Little was also very happy with Fossum's outing.
"For Casey to go out and get good results is gonna be a big key for him," said Little. "It's just what he needed."
Fossum needed the outing to quell not only his own doubts, but also the howls of critical fans, who continue to view Fossum as the reason for Bartolo Colon's not being in the Boston starting rotation.
While the criticism is getting old -- as are the side-by-side performance comparisons -- it's doubtful the furor will die down no matter how well Fossum pitches.
"I'm just amazed how much attention a number five starter's getting," said Derek Lowe. "People act like he's supposed to win 20 games. People are maybe expecting too much out of him at an early age, but he'll be fine."
"I think any time you're going to be a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox there's some pressure on you," said Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. "Casey doesn't let it bother him. He's focused on what has to happen 60 feet, six inches from where he's standing."
Until today, Fossum hadn't done much this spring to silence his critics. He'd been rocked for 13 runs and 12 hits in his two outings prior to the matchup with the Braves. But in Atlanta, he surrendered only three hits in four shutout innings.
Fossum is eagerly looking forward to his regular-season start in Tampa. And although the going was rough in March, he wouldn't change a thing.
"I've learned that it's Spring Training, time to work on things," Fossum said. "I had a rough beginning. I learned a lot and maybe if it had not happened I might not be throwing my changeup and slow curve as well as I am right now."
Ground control: John Burkett was equally impressive in his final start of the spring. He went five innings, his longest stint of the preseason, and allowed only two hits. The only blemish was a second-inning Andruw Jones homer. That didn't bother Burkett, who finished the spring 4-0.
"[In] Spring Training you want to make progress as you go," Burkett said. "Today I felt real good about what happened."
Of the 15 outs Burkett recorded, 10 came via the ground ball.
"I threw a lot of strikes, and they were swinging and hitting it on the ground, which is good," said Burkett. "I really felt good tonight and I'm real happy. I've got some confidence now going into the season. That's the way I wanted it to be."
Remote control: It was only Spring Training -- even Little admitted his biggest concern was coming out of the weekend healthy -- but the fact the Red Sox held the Atlanta Braves to one run and 10 hits in 18 innings shouldn't be sloughed off.
Red Sox pitching clamped down on the trio of Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Gary Sheffield, limiting them to 3-for-15 in the two games. Throw in leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal's 0-for-6, and you're looking at 3-for-21 (.143) from the key components of an offense that was hitting .300 as a team coming into the weekend.
The key to Boston's pitching success is simple: throw strikes. Sox pitchers allowed two or fewer walks in 22 of the 30 exhibition games. The staff walked only 62 batters in 265 innings and averaged 3.4 strikeouts for every walk.
Walker on fire: With two hits in six trips against Atlanta, second baseman Todd Walker finished the spring with an impressive .344 average (21-for-61). Even more impressive is that he committed only one error all spring. Not bad for a guy who's had the reputation of being heavy-handed defensively.
"I got labeled early and it hasn't changed," said Walker, a career .982 fielder at second base. "People that want to keep talking about that are people that really don't know. So I'm not worried about it."
Walker's teammates certainly aren't concerned.
"Any time you see guys who hit the ball well, [critics] always forget about their defense," said shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. "At any position, whether it's second base or any other."
"I think what I've always heard and what I've seen this spring don't coincide at all," Little said. "I see a guy who played 154 games at that position last year and made only eight errors. That's not bad.
"You can't be comparing him with [former Sox second-sacker Rey Sanchez], someone who's a totally different player. This guy brings a lot to the ballclub both offensively and defensively," added Little.
Shiell sent to Triple-A Pawtucket: Jason Shiell was assigned to Pawtucket, but according to Little, the right-hander shouldn't get too used to the surroundings there.
"He's impressed us a lot this spring," said Little." "He's very aggressive -- he goes right after the hitters. I'm sure we'll see him before the year's over. The kid has no fear. He attacks the hitters the way you like to see him attack."
Shiell threw 8 1/3 innings this spring and did not allow a run.
Cameron acquired: The Red Sox acquired right-handed pitcher Ryan Cameron from the Colorado Rockies, completing the March 18 trade for left-hander Javier Lopez. Cameron is a native of North Adams, Mass. and University of Massachusetts product. He was also assigned to Pawtucket.
Sunday's schedule: Little has given the team an off-day tomorrow.
"It's not an optional workout, by invitation only," the manager kidded. "These boys have been working hard all spring, and they're gonna have the whole day off tomorrow and be ready to go Monday."
Not everyone will be taking the day off, however. Lowe plans to do some throwing on the side and outfielder Manny Ramirez, who skipped the Atlanta series to be at home with his family and his ill infant, will also work out.
Second base facts: Walker is the 10th different second baseman to open the season for the Red Sox over the last 10 seasons. Bobby Doerr leads all Red Sox second basemen with 13 Opening Day appearances (1937-41, 1943-44, 1946-51).
Injury report: Right fielder Trot Nixon, who did not play Saturday, underwent X-rays on his right foot after fouling off a pitch in Friday's game. Results of the X-rays were not yet available.
By the numbers: Since 1978, the Red Sox have reached the playoffs in five of the seven seasons they've finished above .500 in Spring Training. This year, the team went 15-14-1 in exhibition play.
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.