Also gone, for good, is
Smoltz, the 42-year-old eight-time All-Star, is well ahead of schedule in his return from shoulder surgery last June, and amazed teammates with his performance in early spring fitness testing. Sox insiders say he might start throwing off a mound on March 25, and could debut toward the end of May. Says pitching coach
"It's just great to be out on that mound, especially in the beautiful weather we have down here," he said, smiling the whole time. "For me, the uncertainty doesn't really matter."
Still, if Lugo can continue to recapture any of his pre-Boston magic, his speed and contract (the Sox still owe him at least 2 years and $18 million), combined with Lowrie's ability to play all over the infield as a backup, make Lugo the likely Opening Day starter.
Tazawa could begin the season in the minors, but should soon join the staff, which in '09 could feature four Japanese hurlers -- Tazawa, Matsuzaka,
Lugo on the stunning 3-2 WBC loss by his Dominican compatriots to the Netherlands on Saturday, March 7: "Everybody called me. Even David [Ortiz] called me ... He couldn't believe he lost. I didn't think [there's baseball in the Netherlands], but I guess there is. I think they took it too lightly, and they got hit." One expects Lugo's phone was ringing incessantly on Tuesday night, after the D.R. was eliminated by the Dutch team. ... Francona recognizes the challenge he faces finding a new catcher to contend with Wakefield's knuckler. With