FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Five things to know about the Boston Red Sox:
1. By far the most important issue looming over the Red Sox this spring is who will pitch the ninth innings. The great hope is that the experiment of converting Joel Pineiro, who consistently disappointed as a starter in Seattle, has what it takes to succeed as a closer. Mike Timlin, Julian Tavarez and Brendan Donnelly, late of the Angels, will also get a look. Pineiro is into his mid-career change, having spurned advances this winter from St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Florida and Minnesota, among others, for possible rotation jobs. "I told myself the only team I'd go to the bullpen for is the Red Sox, because I know how good they are and they have a chance to win every year." He spoke with closer and former teammate Eddie Guardado over the winter seeking advice, and Guardado told him, "Pitch with your heart and pitch with your balls."
2. The Sox declined to bring back All-Star Mark Loretta because they think highly touted rookie Dustin Pedroia is ready to succeed at second base. Pedroia is a steady fielder who compiled a .392 on-base percentage during his minor league career.
3. Last year's closer, Jonathan Papelbon, is moving to the rotation -- where the Red Sox originally had him slotted before chance and necessity caused him to become an ubercloser last summer until a sore arm sidelined him Sept. 1. The problem was sublexation -- his shoulder kept slipping out of its joint. Boston doctors think that a regular routine -- such as pitching every five days -- and regular conditioning will keep him healthy and be easier on his arm than the irregular routine of a closer.
4. Another young pitcher, Jon Lester, is healthy again after battling lymphoma last season. He dropped below 200 pounds while undergoing chemotherapy and was significantly weakened. He's strong again this spring, and he'll need everything he has to crack a solid rotation that will line up with Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield and Jonathan Papelbon, with Lester, Kyle Snyder and perhaps even Tavarez providing depth.
5. Schilling, who has decided to play in 2008, is discussing a contract extension with the Red Sox and is acting as his own agent. "My wife and kids and I had a couple of long conversations, and when they became comfortable with (Schilling playing beyond this season), I became comfortable with it," Schilling, expected to be Boston's opening day starter, said. Also, early ticket alert: Daisuke Matsuzaka is expected to make his first start of the spring on Friday night, March 2, against Boston College at Fort Myers' City of Palms Park in a Red Sox split-squad game.