Red Sox' Ryan Dempster looks comfortable in first taste of Yankees rivalry
But even with New York bringing in a mostly minor league starting lineup featuring no-names such as Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte and Corban Joseph, Dempster offered a reassuring glimpse that he will hold his own when the Hatfields and McCoys square off for real.
Dempster was ultra-sharp, holding the Yankees to just one infield single, no walks and two strikeouts in his three innings in the 5-2 Sox loss. Most impressive was that in the mere 28 pitches it took him to record nine outs, 25 were strikes.
Dempster quipped the three balls "just missed," but he was pleased with the quality of his stuff - forget about the fact that Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter were all back in Tampa.
"For me, it's trying to go out there and do your work, I'm trying to focus as hard as I can on the catcher's glove, making my pitches, regardless of who's hitting, and you just try to make quality pitches," Dempster said. "There's always a play no matter who's standing inside the box. I felt like I did that today.
"Had a good day of pounding the right side of the strike zone, got ahead of most of the hitters and just tried to execute pitches."
Dempster could have kept pitching, but other pitchers needed their work, so he threw about 20 more pitches on a back field after the appearance. Manager John Farrell liked what he saw at JetBlue Park.
"His command was outstanding, very good location throughout," Farrell said. "He threw three pitches for strikes once again. Extremely efficient."
Once the real games start, of course, Dempster's less than stellar track record against the Yankees will come under the microscope: five career games, .354 batting average against and an 8.44 ERA after two starts in Yankee Stadium.
That is an absurdly small sample size but it's going to get hauled out anyway, and will have about as much relevance to how Dempster will pitch this season against the Yankees as his performance against the faux New York lineup did Sunday.
The way the schedule is lined up, Dempster will likely miss the Yankees in their other Grapefruit League game March 20, but he could be on track for March 22 against the Toronto Blue Jays, who probably will be the first team he faces in the regular season. Dempster may not want the Blue Jays to get a close look at his stuff then.
"They get to see you but you also get to see them and kind of practice against the guys you're going to be facing, so for me, whoever I end up facing, it's no different," Dempster said. "Obviously as you get toward the beginning of the season you try to make sure to keep away from facing guys you're going to face, but inevitably you have to do that so you just go out there and get your work in."
The longtime National League pitcher is steeped in the Cubs-St. Louis Cardinals rivalry from his time in Chicago, so he gets this one as well.
"It's super intriguing," he said. "I always enjoyed it from afar as a baseball fan. I'm sure we'll have lots of good games against each other but I think for us as a team we're going to play hard and play right against them as we would other teams. I know that rivalry is different than pretty much any rivalry in baseball and one of the best rivalries in all of sports, so it makes for more excitement."
Sox beat Rays
Felix Doubront made his first start of the spring and pitched 1-2/3 scoreless innings in the Red Sox' 5-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday. Doubront allowed one hit, walking two and fanning two. Jose Iglesias had a pair of doubles for Boston.