Notes: Foulke feels fine, looks sharp

Notes: Foulke feels fine, looks sharp

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- He is no longer trying to clear hurdles. The best sign for Red Sox closer Keith Foulke is that he's now just another veteran pitcher in camp trying to get his final tune-ups in before Opening Day -- which takes place April 3 in Texas.

A day after Foulke pitched in his first Minor League game this spring, he made his 2006 debut on the Grapefruit League docket, firing a 1-2-3 inning against the Blue Jays.

The outs from the bats of Alex Rios, Aaron Hill and Russ Adams all were lazy fly balls, a far cry from so many of the rockets Foulke gave up in '05, when neither his body or mind were right for most of the year.

"It's just nice to be throwing," said Foulke. "It feels good to feel good again. I still feel like I'm rushing it a little bit, but it really does make me feel good to be out there and playing for the Boston Red Sox again."

Considering that Foulke was perhaps the biggest question mark on the team when camp opened, all of this is a very telling sign of how productive a spring the right-hander is having.

"I thought it was really encouraging," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "All the reports [Friday] were that he threw the ball really well, he threw a good changeup [and] commanded all of his pitches. But it was still nice to see it. I thought he had a good angle on his fastball. He's hit his spots pretty well. I thought he was crisp. I thought that was the best way to put it. I think he felt good about it. I was very encouraged."

Where last year Foulke was worrying about things like aching knees and a loss of confidence, now he's working on the nuances of pitching.

"I still think I'm rushing to the plate a little bit," said Foulke. "I need to slow it down a little bit more, and I think it will help refine the pitches a little bit more. I still think today the guys were off balance a little bit, taking, as I like to call them, pitchers hacks. They're just off a little bit, so I thought it was successful."

Foulke will take Sunday off and be back on the mound for Monday's home game against the Devil Rays. He expects to make roughly three more exhibition outings after that, and then take the ball for real once the season starts.

"We just want to get him ready. He hasn't pitched in a lot of games, but his workload has been significant," said Francona. "His arm strength is good. I've been around him a long time. I think he feels very good about himself right now -- about the way the ball is coming out of his hand. And I agree with him, I think it is coming out of his hand very well."

Choi arrives: A day after the Red Sox plucked him off waivers from the Dodgers, first baseman Hee-Seop Choi arrived at City of Palms Park ready to play in Saturday's game against the Blue Jays.

With Kevin Youkilis and J.T. Snow in line to share first-base duties, it appears likely that Choi will begin the season with Triple-A Pawtucket.

"I don't think about that," said Choi. "I just want to play hard. I think I have a chance. I want to make the team."

Choi got into the game for the final three innings and grounded out in his only at-bat.

Choi, who became expendable in Los Angeles because of Nomar Garciaparra's move to first base, is looking forward to getting a fresh start in Boston.

"I mean, it's good for me -- better than the Dodgers," said Choi. "I know this team very well -- there's a lot of fans in Boston. I called my friend [Byung-Hyun Kim]. I talked to him yesterday about Boston."

Although Kim had a rough go of it with the Red Sox, the side-winding right-hander gave the city a favorable report to Choi.

"He said it's a good city, and to relax and play hard," Choi said of his conversation with Kim.

Despite his new surroundings, Choi has a comfort level in the Red Sox clubhouse, because he teamed with Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Alex Gonzalez during the 2004 season in Florida.

Wake and Bard clicking: Though veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield got hit around a little bit (five innings, 10 hits, four runs) by the Blue Jays, he is having a solid spring. Most noteworthy is the way Wakefield has clicked with new battery mate Josh Bard.

"Each day, it just seems like there's one or two balls that I catch that I have no business catching those balls," said Bard. "And there's one or two balls that I should catch that I miss. It's kind of give and take. Each time I go out there, it feels more and more comfortable."

A new number: This time of year, players who win a job in camp usually ask for a lower number. Bard did the opposite, switching from 28 to 77.

Bard's number of choice is 7, but Trot Nixon has that one. So he decided to double the 7. An avid Broncos fan, Bard is now wearing the same number as former NFL linebacker Karl Mecklenburg. And another 77 with both Boston and Denver roots was Ray Bourque, the retired NHL star who played most of his career with the Bruins and won his only Stanley Cup with the Avalanche.

"I'm a big Denver sports fan," said Bard. "I guess you can say that it's a little bit toward that, but more so just doubling up sevens."

Gonzalez slumping: While shortstop Alex Gonzalez has dazzled fans and teammates alike with his glovework, he's had trouble getting into a rhythm at the plate. Gonzalez produced an RBI double on Saturday and got his average up to .118.

"I think a big thing for him is if he can be consistent in his approach," said Francona. "I've seen him vary his approach. I think that Wall in Fenway is going to help him."

Coming up: Beckett will take a morning bus ride to Clearwater, Fla., and start Sunday's game against the Phillies at 1:05 p.m. ET.

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.