TOKYO - J.D. Drew has not, as yet, begun to petition Major League Baseball to use Japanese baseballs during the regular season. But it might be a good idea for him to consider.
In two exhibition games at the Tokyo Dome, Drew has homered in each, a three-run shot in Saturday's game against the Hanshin Tigers, followed by a grand slam against the Yomiuri Giants in the Red Sox' 9-2 win yesterday. That's from a guy who finished last year with just 11 home runs in the entire regular season.
"I wish those innings counted right there," Drew said, likely only half joking. "I would have a couple home runs and some RBIs."
He'll have to wait, perhaps to replicate his feats tomorrow, when the real games begin and the opponent changes from Japanese teams to the Oakland A's. For now, though, Drew - and his team - hope the offensive burst he's shown in Japan will continue in the start of the regular season, the way it didn't last season in his first year with the club.
Drew underperformed in 2007, finishing with a .270 average, in addition to those 11 homers and just 64 RBIs. He's been on this spring, compiling a .321 average in 28 spring at bats, not including yesterday's game, adding a .429 slugging percentage and a .429 on-base percentage. But he has yet to prove he can translate such success to the regular season in Boston on an extended basis, though he did hit .393 after Sept. 7 last season.
But it wasn't all good for Drew in the "Big Egg," as the Dome is known. He said he "kicked [the ball] around like a Hacky Sack out there" on a fourth-inning error that allowed Seung-Youp Lee to take an extra base. Still, the offense was there, and Drew wasn't about to quibble with that, even in a stadium he'll see likely for just two more games in his career.
"That's a pretty swing," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "I just hope that swing stays where it is. Pretty swing. You always hope that guys are more comfortable. He certainly looks like [that] player - that's a pretty swing. He's driving the ball. He looks healthy."
With Francona anticipating that Tim Wakefield could throw up to six innings, the knuckleballer came through with 5 2/3 in his penultimate tuneup before he pitches in a regular-season game in Toronto the first weekend in April.
Giving up two runs on five hits, Wakefield could have gone longer, but Francona wanted to get work for four relievers. And Wakefield termed himself in regular-season form, with some good curveballs, though he said he didn't have his "best stuff." That might be because the past few days were pretty rough, according to the pitcher, who said he finally got enough rest Saturday night before his start.
"It's pretty special, having a chance to come over here and open the season for baseball and to share baseball internationally with the Japanese, kind of get a taste of their culture," Wakefield said. "It's really special for us - now that we're catching up on our sleep."
He did mention, though, that he was worried about getting acclimated back to the time difference in the States, estimating it could take him 10 days to two weeks.
Though Coco Crisp didn't look good on a steal attempt in Saturday's game, the center fielder played all of yesterday's game, getting a triple in five at-bats. "I think he's pain-free," Francona said. "I don't think his burst yet is what it will be or what it can be, but I think each day he gets a little more confidence. I can't outline [the plan for center field] because I don't know. I kind of told Coco that the other day, I said, 'Coco, these first two games, if you're active, let's just kind of chalk this up to you getting better.' " . . . The team will make the final decision on Mike Timlin's availability today, giving the staff a chance to talk to the veteran before anything becomes final. But Francona said, "I can't see him pitching. I'd be very surprised," indicating that Timlin, who got two stitches on the ring finger of his pitching hand last week, likely will be on the bench for the rest of the games in Japan . . . Hideki Okajima wasn't the only pitcher to have a homecoming yesterday. Bryan Corey, who finished off the sixth inning in relief of Wakefield, pitched for the Yomiuri Giants in 2004 . . . Jon Lester threw a side session . . . The reason Sean Casey hasn't played in either of the exhibition games in Japan is a stiff neck, which he developed on the flight to Tokyo . . . Members of the Lancaster JetHawks will be playing for the Red Sox in their exhibition games against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Joe Thurston also will be brought in to play.
The Indians claimed lefthander Craig Breslow off outright waivers from the Sox and added him to their 40-man roster. Breslow, 27, spent all of 2007 at Pawtucket and compiled a 2-3 record and a 4.06 earned run average in 49 games . . . Josh Beckett threw two innings against Double A hitters yesterday morning at the minor league complex in Fort Myers, Fla. The ace righthander pitched in a game for the first time since being scratched from a March 8 start against Florida. Beckett threw 35 pitches, and told the Sox' website, "It was fine, no problems. I was healthy. Still just going day to day. I'll come in [today] and hopefully feel good, and do normal day one stuff [after a start]." . . . When asked if his team is ready for the start to the regular season, Francona replied, "That's the question that I think every manager the night before Opening Day, why they don't sleep. You do everything in your power to have your team ready to play. But what it really comes down to almost every night is if you get the pitching, your team will look like they're ready. If Daisuke [Matsuzaka] goes out there and gives us six, seven good innings, we're going to look like we're ready. If our pitchers are around the plate, we'll be fine. That's the one thing that every manager struggles with and has some anxiety with before every Opening Day. You always hope that everybody's ready to play."
Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed to this report from Fort Myers.