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March 25. 2014 10:05PM

Grady Sizemore makes his case with Red Sox

Within hours of manager John Farrell saying it's likely either Grady Sizemore or Jackie Bradley Jr. will be on the Red Sox' Opening Day roster, Sizemore hit his first home run of the spring and Bradley went 0-for-4 Tuesday in the Red Sox' first spring-training victory since St. Patrick's Day.

Embarking on what is supposed to be his first stretch of three consecutive days in the lineup, Sizemore went 1-for-4, including a two-run blast off lefthander Cesar Ramos in Boston's 4-2 victory over Tampa Bay at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. He finished the day batting .303 with a .324 on-base percentage and .424 slugging percentage in 34 plate appearances.

Sizemore started in center field and, for the first time this spring, batted fifth. Bradley started in right field and batted ninth.

Sizemore's home run, which cleared the Tampa Bay bullpen in right field during the sixth inning, came in support of Sox starter Clay Buchholz, who allowed both Rays runs while yielding two hits and two walks over six innings. Buchholz threw 84 pitches, 50 for strikes, with five strikeouts.

Third baseman Will Middlebrooks also homered for the Red Sox, his third of the spring. It came in the third inning off Tampa Bay starter Jake Odorizzi, a candidate to open the season as the Rays' fifth starter. Middlebrooks also singled, raising his average to .317.

The Red Sox return to action today, hosting the Orioles at 1:05 p.m. at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla.

Lester next?

David Ortiz Sunday, Jon Lester tomorrow?

"I can't handicap it," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said about the likelihood the team will reach an agreement on a new contract with Lester before camp breaks Saturday. "We're still talking. There's nothing else to report but that."

Negotiations with Lester are more complex than with Ortiz, primarily because the star left-hander figures to make more money over a longer period of time. Lester likely is looking for a four- or five-year deal for at least $20 million per year to forego free agency after this season.

Cherington said the Sox haven't scheduled additional face-to-face meetings with agents Sam and Seth Levinson, although conversations will continue throughout the week.

Lester reported last Friday that progress has been made but an agreement isn't imminent. He also expressed a willingness to continue negotiations during the season.

as long as a deal is within reach. If the sides are too far apart, he may table the conversations.

Cherington also would prefer a resolution this week.

"Right now we're focused on the conversation this week and trying to resolve it one way or another without getting into the season," he said. "Hopefully we're all reasonable people, and if it made sense we could reconsider next week, but that's not the thinking right now."

A few days ago, reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer rejected what the Detroit Tigers labeled a "substantial" extension offer, and he directed agent Scott Boras to end further talks until after the season. Lester and Scherzer would be part of the same free agent class as Cleveland's Justin Masterson and Kansas City's James Shields.

Cherington reiterated that the Sox want to retain Lester beyond this season. Lester was dominant in the postseason and is slated to make his fourth consecutive Opening Day start next Monday in Baltimore.

"No matter what happens the rest of this week, we're going to support him fully," Cherington said. "Our preferred position that he remains in a Red Sox uniform past 2014 won't change."

Gonzo lends hand

If nothing else, let this be first baseman Adrian Gonzalez' Red Sox legacy: He helped extend David Ortiz' career.

From 2008-10, Ortiz batted .218 with a .685 OPS against left-handed pitchers, a decline in performance that prompted then-manager Terry Francona to temporarily platoon him with Mike Lowell. But lefty-swinging Gonzalez joined the Sox in 2011 with a reputation for hitting lefties, and Ortiz suddenly batted .329 with a .989 OPS against southpaws.

"When Adrian Gonzalez was here, I know that there was a lot of conversation that went on between the two," Sox manager John Farrell said before yesterday's game against the Orioles was canceled in the second inning because of rain. "I think he got an understanding of what lefties are attempting to do to him. If you look back in 2009 and 2010, the performance against lefties was nowhere near what it had grown to in '11 and '12. It seems like there was a lot of back-and-forth between he and Adrian."

Ortiz noted that Gonzalez preached the value in hitting to the opposite field against lefties.

"Just watching him, how he would get the inside part of the plate to lefties and approach the lefty middle-away, watching that, it was like, 'Wait a minute, I think I can do that,' " Ortiz said. "Put it in play and it works."

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia on Ortiz' contract extension: "I'm sure he's relieved it's over with and he doesn't have to worry about it anymore. He can just focus on playing the game, competing and trying to help us win. We're proud of him and happy he's going to finish his career here."

Hold back for now

After initially outlining a plan that called for Grady Sizemore to play three consecutive games beginning Sunday, the Red Sox changed course, giving the center fielder yesterday off before he begins a stretch of three games in a row today.

"Honestly," Farrell said, "there have been so many different ones talked about that I may have just communicated a wrong one to you."

Sizemore is still scheduled to play five games this week, including three in a row, in the final test that he can handle the rigors of playing every day after missing the past two seasons with injuries. . . .

Daniel Nava got his first exposure to center field in a minor league game Sunday. Although primarily a corner outfielder, the Sox are hoping he can play center in an emergency.

On the mound again

In what amounted to his spring training debut, lefty reliever Craig Breslow faced three batters and allowed one hit in an 18-pitch inning of a Single-A game in Fort Myers.

Breslow likely will open the season on the disabled list, having taken extra time to rebuild his arm strength after a taxing postseason. . . .

Right-hander Jake Peavy threw 100 pitches and simulated six innings under the cover of the batting cage. . . .

Farrell said right-hander Clay Buchholz will stay in Fort Myers after camp breaks and get a final tune-up Sunday in either a minor league or simulated game.

___

(c)2014 the Boston Herald

Visit the Boston Herald at www.bostonherald.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services



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