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FORT MYERS, Fla. - PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur is starting his second season with the organization. Last season, Sauveur's staff finished second in the International League in team pitching, with a 3.69 ERA, just two points behind leader and eventual Governors' Cup champion Scranton/WB.
Sauveur, along with PawSox manager Ron Johnson and hitting coach Russ Morman are staying with the big league team until their own games start in mid March.
"It's a lot easier this year, knowing a lot more people," Sauveur said of his second spring training with the organization. "It's going very smooth. It's very professional. The Red Sox are a class organization.
"What's really impressed me with the organization in the time that I've been here is that the caliber or the makeup of the kids they have in this organization is so strong. I'm so impressed with it. I meet these kids and they've got good manners. They're ready to learn, and they want to learn. They ask a lot of questions. They're very personable. And it's not always that way with every organization."
Spring training offers the younger players in the system an opportunity to work with veteran players, observe them, and pick their brains for instructions.
"In spring training I see it a lot which is great," Sauveur said. "Tim Wakefield is a great teacher. I pick his brain, because number one I had Charlie [Zink, another knuckleballer, like Wakefield] and I want to see Charlie improve on last year. I know he was the International League pitcher of the year, but I'd like to see him improve on that, and he can do that, because there are some games he should have won. So, I've picked Wake's brain.
In some organizations minor league pitchers can be intimidated being in the same clubhouse as the older, established veterans.
"I don't see that here," Sauveur said. "The Brad Pennys, the John Smoltzes, these guys are just outstanding. They're very nice to the young kids. And, I know coaches tell these guys 'Hey, help these kids out.' But they don't have to, but then you see them working with them. Any time you look into the dugout you'll see them talking to these young kids up on the rail. It's outstanding, it really is and it helps us. This is where you want to be, especially come April 6. You want to be in Boston for Opening Day. And they're pretty close."
Grapefruit League games just started Wednesday, with an extended schedule because of the World Baseball Classic. So, there's a lot of time before rosters - big league and minor league - are set.
"I don't know what to expect right now," he said. "We've got a lot of pitchers up here, good pitchers, but I can tell you we're going to have a very good staff in Pawtucket. But, I don't who'll be starting with us. We can't say that at this point."
Sauveur takes a look at some pitchers who may be familiar to PawSox fans, along with a few who could make an appearance at McCoy Stadium at some point this season.
Clay Buchholz - The right-handers struggles last season have been well chronicled, starting with the big league team, before being sent back to Double-A Portland in August, with a record of 2-9, and a 6.75 ERA. He is scheduled to make his first Grapefruit League start Saturday night at City of Palms Park against the Red.
"I like what I've seen out of Buchholz, so far. He's on a mission. He knows he's got to prove something, and so far I think he's doing. I want to say that there were signs that he showed last year, but it just seemed that he would revert back to things, but right now I'm not seeing that. He knows what he has to do and he's proving that right now. He's doing what he has to do. He's working very hard."
Michael Bowden - The right-hander pitched at three levels last season, including a start Aug. 30 in Boston, picking up his first big league win, going five innings against the White Sox, giving up two runs, on seven hits and a walk, striking out three. He was 9-4 with a 2.33 ERA in 19 games for Portland, and 0-3 with a 3.38 ERA in seven games (six starts) for the PawSox. He started Friday afternoon against the defending American League champion Rays in his first appearance of the spring.
"He's a hard worker. He works as hard as anybody and he's throwing the ball very well right now. From what I've seen during BP and on the side [before Friday's start] it's very good. He's very focused on what he has to do. He's a very good student of the game. He'll listen to you and he'll stick with something for a long time. He knows we're giving him good information. He picks up things very quickly, and that shows."
Felix Doubront - The left-hander, who turned 21 in October, was added to the 40-man roster for the first time, ahead of December's Rule 5 draft. In 23 games with Single-A Greenville he posted a record of 12-8 with a 3.67 ERA, before a promotion to High-A Lancaster where he was 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA in three games.
"He's new to me. The first time I saw him was probably about two weeks ago. He has a very good arm, a live arm, another smart kid. He's got a good running fastball, and I think his best pitch is his changeup. He's another good listener and good student of the game. I expect good things from him this year."
Enrique Gonzalez - The right-hander, who turns 27 in July, appeared in four games out of the Padres' bullpen in 2008, posting a record of 1-0. In 35 games (13 starts) for San Diego's Triple-A team, he was 7-5 with a 4.44 ERA. He will join Team Venezuela shortly for the WBC.
"I saw him throw one batting practice. I stood behind him and watched him, and he really impressed me. He had thrown a full winter ball, and he had good velocity, real good stuff. His pitches were very sharp. He looked good on the mound with all three pitches. I was very impressed."
Kris Johnson - The tall (6-feet-4) left-hander was the Sox' third pick (40th overall) in the 2006 draft, out of Wichita State. In 27 starts for the Sea Dogs, he posted a record of 8-9 with a 3.63 ERA. He is scheduled to make his first start of the spring Saturday afternoon at City of Palms against Northeastern.
"I actually met him the in the Instructional League [in 2007] when I first signed with the organization, and I had him again last year in the early mini camp. He's a real good kid. He's got a good arm off the left side, and he's throwing the ball very well."
Hunter Jones - The left-hander, added to the 40-man roster this offseason, appeared in 13 games for the SeaDogs, posting a record of 0-1, with a 1.19 ERA and four saves. In 35 games with the PawSox, he was 7-2 with a 3.02 ERA and eight saves.
"He looks very good. I had him last year, and he struggled last year with the left-handers. But I'll tell you right now this year he's also on a mission. He knows that he's got to get lefties out to pitch in the big leagues. We're going with a two-pitch repertoire of fastball/ slider and so far, so good. He had a good inning [Thursday, against the Pirates, allowing no runs and no hits, with one strikeout]. I told him when he came off the mound that he looked good. He said he wasn't really happy with the sliders. I said, 'But, the thing was you pitched. They couldn't tell what you were going to be throwing. [In the past] you'd throw fastballs in counts just because you didn't trust your slider. Today you trusted your slider, even though it wasn't the best. But, the thing was they couldn't sit back on the fastball. And he impressed me a lot. I'm very happy with that. And talking with him too out in the outfield during BP, you can tell he's got something to prove also."
Marcus McBeth- Acquired from the Reds' organization toward the end of the season, the right-hander was 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA in four relief appearances for the PawSox. Before that, he appeared in 24 games out of the pen for Louisville, posting a record of 1-1, with a 6.20 ERA. He reported late to spring training, with the organization's approval, leaving him a tick behind other pitchers.
"He's a little bit behind but he had a tough winter. But I'll tell you, you sit there and talk to him and he's a great kid and he also wants to do well. He really does. He's not here to get anything free. He's working his butt off. He's ready to go. He threw [Wednesday and Thursday] and he'll throw live BP [Friday], and he's ready to get in a game."
Adam Mills - The Sox chose the right-hander in the eighth round of the 2007 draft. In 15 starts with the Jet Hawks in 2008 he posted a record of 7-4 with a 4.43 ERA, before a promotion to Portland where he made 11 starts going 0-5 with a 4.00 ERA. He appeared in Thursday's game against the Pirates, pitching one scoreless inning.
"I had Adam in the playoffs last September at Scranton. Another very nice kid. He's got good stuff. He's got a very good running fastball. If he starts with us, he's got a foot in the door being with us last year. He knows what it's like. So I think he'll do well."
Dustin Richardson - The Sox ninth pick (163rd overall) in the 2006 draft, the left-hander split last season between Single-A Lowell, where he started two games, with a record of 0-1, and Portland, where he started 22 games, with a record of 7-10.
"Like KJ, I met him a couple of years ago. A very good student of the game. He likes to talk about the game, and he asks me a lot of questions about what I've done. We talked for about 45 minutes the other day, abut how to do things, how to pitch to certain hitters. It impresses me when these kids want to learn. You don't see that all the time, and it's not just one or two. It seems like it's almost all of them here in the organization want to learn."
Junichi Tazawa- The high-profile Japanese right-hander, who turns 22 in June, posted a record of 13-1 with a 0.80 ERA for Nippon Oil in an Industrial League last season. He pitched a scoreless, hitless inning of Wednesday's game against Boston College, picking up the win.
"This kid has very good stuff, very good. He's got a very live arm, and a breaking pitch that is very sharp. He's impressive. I want to see some more of him. I really want to see some more, but the little I've seen so far is very good. And he's a very nice kid, too. He likes to work hard. When we do our PFP [pitchers' fielding practice] work, he works very hard at everything. And if I need to correct him on some things, he's willing to do that."
Billy Traber- The left-hander split 2008 between Triple-A Scranton, where he appeared in 40 games (two starts), posting a record of 2-1 with a 3.40 ERA, and the Yankees, appearing in 19 games. He made his first spring appearance Wednesday, working an inning against the Twins.
"I saw Billy last year in Scranton. He struggled a little bit [Wednesday], but it's one of those things, it's his first outing of the spring. He pitched well against us last year, especially in key situations, and that's probably what stuck in my head that there were a couple of situations that we needed some base hits and we didn't get them off him. He can get lefties out. He's got some good stuff. And he can get righties out, too. He's got a good changeup, and as long as he stays down in the zone and he's throwing strikes, he'll do well."
Charlie Zink- The IL pitcher of the year was 14-6 with a 2.84 ERA in 28 starts, with two complete games, for the PawSox. He made his big league debut with the Sox Aug. 12.
"I think he can improve on last season and be consistent all the way throughout now. He was consistent most of the time, but down the stretch I want to say there were probably two or three outings where it probably wasn't what he wanted. And I would say if he could be consistent all the way thru, I think he could help Boston if they need a starter just like Bowden did last year. Zink went up and didn't have his best stuff, but that happens. You cannot take anything away from him because of that one game in Boston because the kid pitched well for the PawSox and I'm very happy for that. I want to see him do well. I'm pulling for him, just like I am everybody, but he worked very hard. He had a very good routine, and he stuck to it. Every game, every side work was the same. He wants to pitch in the big leagues. He wants to get back there. I know that. He's another guy that knows he has to prove something."
Sauveur, like Zink and Wakefield, was a knuckleballer in his pitching days. Asked to compare his knuckleball to Zink's, Sauveur let out a quick laugh.
"His is better, I would say. Wakefield's is the best, and he's been willing to help out anytime I ask him questions about it. Zink's got a different grip on the knuckleball, and it seems that his break is not as much as Wake's. But the thing is he's got a change of speeds, which is good. He can throw it for a strike, which is really good, too. So, I will say that his knuckleball is better than mine was."
Manager Ron Johnson was more than happy to report on his son Chris' first Grapefruit League outing with the Astros. Entering Wednesday's game as a replacement for Geoff Blum at third base, Chris went 1-for-2 with a home run. RJ neglected to offer a report of Chris' gameThursday, but we looked it up. Starting at third against the Braves, Chris went 2-for-2 with 2 RBI.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.