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Opportunity knocks

Posted by Maureen Mullen March 5, 2009 05:55 AM

The World Baseball Classic will have a definite impact on the Red Sox for the remainder of spring training — both for the players participating in the tournament and the roster hopefuls left behind.

Five players from the team’s 40-man roster — second baseman Dustin Pedroia (United States), first baseman Kevin Youkilis (U.S.), designated hitter David Ortiz (Dominican Republic), left-hander Javier Lopez (Puerto Rico), and left fielder Jason Bay (Canada) — left City of Palms Park this week to join their national teams for the second WBC. Non-roster invitees Fernando Cabrera (pitcher, Puerto Rico), Enrique Gonzalez (pitcher, Venezuela), and Angel Chavez (infielder, Panama) also departed camp to join their squads.

Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka has yet to report to camp, opting to stay in Japan — with permission from the Sox — and work out with his national team.

“They just told us to have fun, be smart, and come back healthy,” Lopez said of the Sox’ instructions upon his departure.

Depending upon how their teams fare, players could be gone for up to three weeks. The first round of the tournament begins Thursday with pool play in Tokyo, Mexico City, Toronto, and San Juan. The championship round is scheduled for March 21 through 23 at Dodger Stadium.

Though happy his players will have a chance to participate in an elite tournament, Sox manager Terry Francona will be happier when they all return to camp healthy.

“The players who want to go should go,” Francona said. “It’s just hard from where we sit. … This is the way we make our living, and if somebody comes back from that thing, especially a pitcher, and they’re not healthy, that directly gets in the way of how you make your living. That’s hard to do.

“If Daisuke comes back and his arm is sore, you can’t go out and get another Daisuke. That’s just being realistic. That’s not bashing the WBC. It’s not saying someone is making bad decisions. That’s just being realistic. And it makes you nervous.”

One advantage will be that some players who are vying for positions or spots on the roster may get additional at-bats or innings.

“The good news part of it is we have [Rocco] Baldelli, [Brad] Wilkerson, and some major league players who are vying to make the team, and they’re big-leaguers,” Francona said.

“Regardless of who plays, you’d like to see the game played right. I think we always have a better taste in our mouth at the end of the day when, regardless of how the game is, if we’ve played the game right, we’ve hit the cutoff man, and if we put a sign on, guys get it, things like that. And there’s going to be some younger guys that get opportunities that they normally wouldn’t. So, hopefully, we’ll see some guys take advantage of that and make the camp a little bit more exciting.”

Chris Carter, Jonathan Van Every, Paul McAnulty, Wilkerson, and Baldelli are among those vying for the backup outfielder spot. Nick Green and Gil Velazquez, who worked with coaches Tim Bogar and Alex Ochoa taking extra ground balls Tuesday morning, will be vying for the backup infielder spot. With third baseman Mike Lowell rehabbing from surgery on his right hip, innings will be available at that spot.

Velazquez, 29, played every non-pitching position except catcher, center field, and right field for the Triple-A PawSox last season, earning a call-up and making his big-league debut in September.

“I don’t know how long these guys are going to be gone, but any opportunity we get extra is good for us,” Velazquez said. “So I do wish them luck, and hopefully they’ll get as far as they can, but we definitely would love some opportunities ourselves and try and take advantage of what we can get.”

Green, 30, played second, short, third, right field, and left field for the Yankees’ Triple-A team in 2008 and has 275 big-league games with the Braves, Rays, Yankees, and Mariners on his resume.

“Anytime you can get a chance to play, whether you have a chance to make the team or not, you always want to make a good impression,” Green said.

Maureen Mullen covers the Red Sox for OT and can be reached at mmullen@globe.com

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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