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Spring things: Advantage Adam

Hyzdu has the edge for final spot on Sox bench

FT. MYERS, Fla. -- The vaunted Red Sox offense, shut out on Saturday and an Adam Hyzdu home run away from being blanked again yesterday, has been spotty most of the spring, putting up long stretches of goose eggs for the offense-hungry fans at City of Palms Park.

The Sox haven't produced much offense since a 9-3 victory over the Cardinals last Wednesday. The wind was gusting out to left field that day at City of Bending Palms Park. Bill Mueller, Ramon Vazquez, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz all went yard in the win.

Hyz-doing it again
Besides his shutout-saving homer on Sunday, Hyzdu made the catch of the spring for the Sox against the Cardinals on Wednesday. Hyzdu was shading catcher Einar Diaz to right center, and sprinted fully outstretched in mid-air and snared a rocket off Diaz's bat to save a would-be three-run triple. That the spectacular catch did not make ESPN's top 10 plays that day was a crime. Hyzdu completed the perfect inning by blasting a three-run bomb in the bottom of the sixth that put the Sox up 9-2 at the time. Hyzdu hit another three-run jack against the Pirates yesterday as his battle with George Lombard intensifies for the Sox' fifth outfielder slot.

Like Jay Payton, Lombard had some defensive struggles against the Cards. He dropped a couple of balls off his glove for back-to-back singles in the seventh inning, both times getting to the ball but failing to seal the deal. Lombard's strength continues to be his speed as no one gets up the first base line faster on the Sox roster.

Double trouble against the Marlins
He wasn't battling the flu, but David Wells went out to the mound with a "bad attitude" against the Marlins on Friday. Wells didn't look so good to start off the St. Paddy's Day make-up game, throwing a boatload of pitches in the first inning. He gave up three runs in the first, but finished strong with three shutout frames before turning it over to Anastacio Martinez.

In the big inning
Lenny DiNardo had the worst inning of the spring in the eighth inning on Saturday against Baltimore. He didn't retire a batter and gave up four runs on three hits and two walks. He also looked confused in the field, making a horrendous throw to first for an error. A 4-0 game quickly turned into an 8-0 laugher on a not so beautiful day in Ft. Myers.

Playing pepper

  • Ortiz got rung up on a check swing on Saturday, and Bill Mueller met the same fate on a check swing later in the 8-0 loss.

  • Against the Orioles on Saturday in his fourth start of the spring, Matt Clement turned things around. Unlike his first three outings, in which he struggled in the first inning, he came flying out of the gate vs. Baltimore, giving up just one bloop hit in the opening frame and shutting down the Orioles through three. But in the fourth inning, Clement came undone, giving up three runs. Hyzdu made a sliding catch to spare Clement from giving up a fourth run in his four innings of work.

  • Mark Malaska was upset with his performance in Ft. Lauderdale against the Orioles last week, when he blew a tie game and was tagged with the loss, telling folks afterwards he was destined for Pawtucket. However, he came out pitching with his hair on fire against the Marlins on Friday, holding the lead with a perfect eighth inning and allowing Jason Kershner to come in for the third save of the spring.

  • St. Patrick's night at Dwyers in Ft. Myers makes The Black Rose in Boston look like a quiet picnic. The festivities featured a packed tent in the parking lot with Irish bands both inside and outside the authentic Irish bar. Were the Sox there? As Mark McGwire would say, I'm not here to talk about the past.

  • David Wells is one of the favorite customers at Blu Sushi in Ft. Myers. According to the restaurant's manager, he was last there with Kevin Millar on Friday night after his bounce-back performance against the Marlins. Keith Foulke and Johnny and Michelle Damon are other Red Sox who have enjoyed the seafood at Blu this spring, the manager said.

  • Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield had their necks and backs waxed as part of their "Queer Eye" makeover. Johnny Damon got caramel highlights in his hair, as suspected, and while Ramon Vazquez was not part of the official makeover gang, he is sporting streaky blond highlights as well. Oy vey. What happened to our dirt dogs?

  • Speaking of fashion, you can purchase a pink pinstriped Red Sox cap to go with your pink sheer cotton candy t-shirt or your lavender Sox visor with a strappy yellow tank top. And don't forget to pick up a lime green, pink, or lavender Red Sox fleece jacket for those cooler spring nights. All the non-traditional Red Sox accessories are available at the Red Sox baseball store at City of Palms Park. Or just go down to the souvenir store across from Fenway, where buyer Jeff Swartz will tell you that "pink is the new blue" and is the second best-selling color for fashionable female Sox fans.

  • Good news for John Dennis, Gerry Callahan, and the rest of the northern flock for next season. Dunkin' Donuts plans to open four new shops in Lee County soon to add to the lone location on Cleveland Avenue.

  • After seeing MLB's "I Live for This" campaign 700 times on ESPN, it's apparent that supermodels are not baseball fans. I think ESPN should run the "this one's for the girls" NCAA women's basketball tournament ads a few more times as well. That should spike more interest.

  • The Red Sox added field-level dugout seats to the left field line at City of Palms, which necessitated moving the bullpens, behind the outfield fences and out of the fan's view. The seats are close to the field, but for $36.00 a pop, you have to look through netting and padded posts while having limited viewing of the field. For an extra $199.00, you get to take home the padded metal folding chair that has the Red Sox spring training logo on it. What a deal.

  • So far the Cardinals-Sox rematch last Wednesday was the only home game where there were more ticket seekers than ticket sellers on the street in Ft. Myers. And there was a whole new scalping twist on Saturday against the Orioles. One of the regular ticket resellers was selling upgraded tickets inside the park. The familiar scalper was working the aisle actively, trying to sell box seats to fans already in the park with standing room only tickets. Now that's initiative.

  • Down at the Sox training facility, where you can spend some quality time with Dewey Evans, Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Pesky and other Sox instructors, Frank Malzone thinks Kelly Shoppach has all the tools to be a great catcher ... but he doesn't think Shoppach will ever be able to handle major league pitching well enough to crack the Sox starting lineup.

  • The Rockies' Todd Helton is the latest victim of steroid accusations. Wayne Hagin, a current Cardinals (and former Rockies) radio announcer told a St. Louis ESPN Radio station the following: "I'm going to say something that is the absolute truth, and he will be mad at me for saying it if it gets out, but Todd Helton, a tremendously gifted baseball player, he tried it," said Hagin in the radio interview. "I know he tried it because Don Baylor told me. He said to me, 'I told him to get off the juice, that he was a player who didn't need that, get off it. It made him into a robot at first base defensively, and may have altered his swing. He got off of it, but he is not unlike so many athletes who have tried it because they wanted to get into that level playing field."

    Baylor, Helton's former manager in Colorado, later denied the claim, saying he once advised Helton to stop taking creatine, not steroids. Hagin also retracted his statement and said he meant creatine when he said "juiced." Whatever. Helton then said on SportsCenter that the "witch hunt will end when they find a witch" with the new steroid testing program. And he played the Rafael Palmeiro card, emphatically denying that he ever used steroids.

    One thing that can't be disputed is that Helton was a stud even before entering the majors. We talked to someone who played at Western Carolina against Helton when he was at the University of Tennessee, who said Helton was the most powerful hitter he ever saw. In three years at Tennessee, Helton hit .372 with 38 home runs, breaking the Vols' career homer mark. As a pitcher in his junior year, Helton accumulated a 19-5 record, which included a 3-1 victory over Clemson in the World Series.

  • Curt Schilling said he "felt good" and was comfortable during his minor-league session today. He threw only 18 pitches over the first two innings, 38 pitches total, but was tagged for a couple of doubles and a two-run home run by Chip Ambres in the third inning. Bill Mueller led off every inning against Curt, who had three strikeouts and no walks on the day. The good news on Schilling remains that his surgically repaired ankle is not really bothering him right now. I wouldn't bet on him appearing in a regular season game before April 20 at the earliest. So get comfortable with your Wells, Clement, Tim Wakefield, Bronson Arroyo rotation to start season, with lefty John Halama ready to step in when the Sox need a fifth starter.

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