FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The signs of change in Red Sox camp started on the sidewalk -- damp from Thursday morning showers -- which leads from the players' parking lot to the clubhouse. Somebody who didn't look like John Lackey strolled down that path and then you realized: Wow, that's John Lackey.
He looks so thin, from his offseason regimen, that he could be a body double for Jered Weaver. He looks so thin that Dustin Pedroia, as impolitic and blunt as ever, jokingly asked him if he had contracted a life-threatening disease in the offseason.
Pieces of the greatest change, however, could be seen on the apron of the indoor batting cages, where the Red Sox worked out. Manager John Farrell moved back and forth, breezily talking with his coaches, with players, with front-office personnel. Some of the folks in the organization noted that shift immediately the other day, when Farrell interacted with general manager Ben Cherington. There was a comfort level and a trust that simply was never there last spring, when Bobby Valentine was in the room and Cherington was in his first year on the job with a manager who probably wasn't his first choice.
Pedroia and others have been careful to say, without equivocation, that Boston's shocking 69-win season wasn't Valentine's fault, and that the players are responsible for the pitching and the hitting and the fielding, and in the end, for the victories and defeats. But no matter how they got there, you cannot overstate how dysfunctional the Red Sox were last year -- just as now, you cannot overstate how excited they are to get back to doing what they love to do.
Nobody should overreact to bullpen sessions -- heck, some general managers find them so worthless that they don't even bother watching -- but the word is Lackey is driving the ball down in the strike zone in a way that he hadn't in recent seasons. He feels the difference in his arm, with the extension.
Jon Lester has a good competitive chip on his shoulder, and it shows, some of the Red Sox say. Andrew Bailey is said to be throwing really well here, and the same can be said for Daniel Bard, who has lowered his arm angle slightly, to get back to where he was in 2011.
David Ross caught Junichi Tazawa, who was maybe the best thing that emerged from the wreckage of 2012, and came away in awe of his splitter, thinking that perhaps it is of the same quality thrown by Kevin Brown and Tim Hudson, the two best he has ever caught.
The Red Sox staffers have talked in their conversations about how, in a more stable environment, the team could have a wipeout bullpen, with Tazawa, Bailey and Bard working from the right side in front of closer Joel Hanrahan, and Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales and Craig Breslow working from the left side. Much more production is needed from the rotation, of course, which ranked 27th in ERA last season at 5.19.
But if there is change, it will all start on that sidewalk leading to the spring training clubhouse, because the Red Sox players seem much more enthused about going to work, and their workplace.
• John Lackey looks to rebound, writes Tim Britton.
• WARNING: WHAT FOLLOWS IS COMPLETE SPECULATION: Chipper Jones is returning to the Braves' camp today. You can take this and book it: If the Braves' third basemen, Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson, struggle in the first half of the season, there will be a conversation about whether Chipper might come back. Chipper said last year that he had learned that he can't play every day any more, but there were stretches of last season when he was the Braves' best hitter; last year, he was still a really good hitter, posting a .377 on-base percentage.
Francisco had a nice run in winter ball, but he came into camp probably a little heavier than the Braves would've liked, and Johnson can hit for power but can get into stretches, scouts say, when he makes mistakes.
The fact that he's coming back so early in spring training, and is scheduled to be around for a few days, will probably only whet Jones' appetite. Remember how that worked with Andy Pettitte last year? He came into the Yankees' camp, threw some batting practice and immediately started talking about a comeback.
Chipper insisted last year that he was absolutely ready to move on, and maybe he's still in that frame of mind. If Johnson and Francisco put up big numbers, there really won't be a reason for anyone to wonder if Jones might come back.
But if third base becomes a black hole of production, Chipper might welcome the opportunity to talk, in June, about another half-season and a run at another championship.
• The Cubs want more night games.
Moves, deals and decisions
Dings and dents
The fight for jobs
6. Leyland wants to see his options at closer.
• One of the Giants likes karaoke.
• Walt Weiss is sure to put his stamp on the Rockies, writes Troy Renck.
• The Cubs are excited about their new complex, writes Paul Sullivan.
• Billy Hamilton will be one of the most watched players in the Reds' camp.
• The Nationals are on a mission, writes Thomas Boswell.
• Travis D'Arnaud is getting ready for what figures to be his first season in the big leagues.
• The Mariners have added a guy with a sinker and a history of pets.
• The key to the Angels' lineup might be who bats second, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
• Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes are preparing for a crucial season in their respective careers, as Tyler Kepner writes. The Yankees are keeping a close eye on Michael Pineda, writes Joel Sherman. He weighs 20 pounds less than when he reported last year.
• Wil Myers impressed folks with his first batting practice session. From Marc Topkin's story:
- "It's impressive," hitting coach Derek Shelton said. "And I think the thing that's the most impressive is the bat speed ... and the way the ball comes off his bat. You can see it not only when he's hitting on the field, but even off a tee. You don't see very many people that generate that much bat speed. First day, it's exciting to see."
Also, apparently, to hear.
"It's a different sound," Shelton said. "It's loud. You don't hear many guys that can create that sound, and he's definitely creating it."
Shelton watched from behind the cage, where a half-dozen top Rays officials just happened to flock from different sides of the training complex as the 6-foot-3, 190-pound 22-year-old -- so excited he didn't sleep much Wednesday -- grabbed his 34-inch MaxBat and showed off.
"I had some nerves when I first stepped in," Myers said. "But I think it went well."