Quick hits: Astros 10, Red Sox 7

March, 21, 2010
The outcome: The Red Sox scored five runs in the second to take a 5-0 lead, but a sluggish Jonathan Papelbon, who had a migraine headache in the morning, was whacked for six runs in just a third of an inning as the Sox fell, 10-7, to a split squad of Brad Mills’ Houston Astros in City of Palms Park. The game was called in the bottom of the eighth when a fierce thunderstorm struck.

The notable: Jon Lester went 5 1/3 innings, walking none while striking out seven, and was greatly enthused about the work he accomplished with his change-up, which he threw frequently Sunday. Lester, who threw 75 pitches in all, gave up a wind-blown home run to Kaz Matsui on a change, but otherwise was pleased at the progress he is making toward refining another pitch to add to an already impressive repertoire -- fastball, curveball, cutter and slider. He used a change-up only 6 percent of the time last season.

‘I’ve still got a few things to build up,’’ he said, “but today was definitely a step in the right direction.’’

While Terry Francona has not announced his Opening Day starter, which he said Sunday he’ll do soon, it’s pretty obvious that the Sox are lined up to have Lester sandwiched between Josh Beckett and John Lackey. There is enough time for Francona to juggle that if he so chooses, but there seems little incentive for him to do so.

Papelbon had taken a stack of towels to use as a pillow and tried to nap while lying down in his locker before the game. He took medication that kept the headache in check, but he wasn’t feeling well when he took the hill and put up a truly ugly line: 1/3 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 1 B, 1 HB.

“I was just real lackadaisical with not much energy," he said. "It's the first one I've gotten this year.’’

“He wanted to get his work in,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “He took his medication and thought he’d be fine. He didn’t say anything until after the fact.’’

Mike Lowell had scouts from the Marlins and Rangers watching him play third base for the first time this spring and handled just one chance in five innings, a broken-bat grounder. Lowell hit into two double plays, but actually made it down the line pretty well. He fielded ground balls for about 25 minutes before the game. Francona said the plan is for Lowell to play third again on Tuesday.

Mike Cameron and Dustin Pedroia took advantage of the wind to hit their first home runs of the spring.

Prospect update: The day belonged to Astros rookie Chris Johnson, the son of Red Sox first base coach Ron Johnson. While his dad had taken the bus to Dunedin for a split-squad game that was rained out, the 25-year-old Johnson put on a show for a crowd that included his mom, stepdad, and dozens of friends and former teammates from Bishop Verot High here in Fort Myers. Johnson hit a home run off Hideki Okajima and doubled off Papelbon, finishing with three RBIs.

Ron Johnson didn’t make it back from Dunedin in time to see the home run.

“I texted him and told him to pick it up along the way,’’ Francona said. “That was a long one.’’

Progress report: Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched in a minor-league intrasquad game Sunday, is scheduled for a bullpen Tuesday, and if all goes well will follow Tim Wakefield Thursday in a game here against the Marlins. Matsuzaka said afterward it is “impossible” to predict when he’ll be ready for the regular season, but pitching coach John Farrell said that, as with the other starters, he wants Matsuzaka to work up to 95 pitches before he gets there.

What’s next: Boof Bonser will face the Rays in a split-squad game in City of Palms Park, Michael Bowden is scheduled to make the trip across the state to Jupiter to start against the Cardinals, and John Lackey will pitch in a minor-league game to avoid the division-rival Rays from getting more familiar with him than they already are.

Etc.: Mills walked into the visiting manager's office to find it plastered with photos of "Dr. Evil" wearing an Astros uniform. There were unconfirmed reports that Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis were co-conspirators. "The resemblance is remarkable,'' Francona deadpanned.

Gordon Edes

ESPN Staff Writer



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