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Entering camp, health Sox's key issue

Entering camp, health key issue

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Will they stay healthy?
If not for so many untimely injuries, the Red Sox might well have won a second successive World Series championship in 2008. To win its third title in six years, Boston will need healthy rebounds from Mike Lowell, David Ortiz and Josh Beckett. All three players are said to be doing well after an offseason of rest and rehab, but the true test will come during the dog days of the season.

Spring Training
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Spring Training schedule

2. Who will start at shortstop?
In recent years, the Red Sox have generally been set at just about every position at the outset of Spring Training. That will change this year, with Julio Lugo and Jed Lowrie expected to spend most of camp battling to be the shortstop on Opening Day. Lugo blew out his left quad last July and didn't play again for the rest of the season. If not for his underperforming in his first season-and-a-half with the Sox, it would probably be a given that he would get his job back.

Then there is Lowrie, who filled in nicely for Lugo in the heat of a pennant race. If Lowrie hadn't struggled down the stretch with his bat, he might have been the clear front-runner entering camp. Instead, both players will get a chance to prove themselves during the six weeks in Fort Myers, Fla.

3. How will the new guys perform?
General manager Theo Epstein took a different approach this offseason, focusing on established players coming off injury or illness. John Smoltz, a near-certain Hall of Famer, is returning from right shoulder surgery. How much of an impact can he make? The Red Sox want him mainly for big games down the stretch and into October. Brad Penny was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2006-07, but he was injured and ineffective last season. Can he make a comeback? Ditto for another ex-Dodger in Takashi Saito, who was a dominant reliever before suffering arm woes last season. Then there is Rocco Baldelli, who is hoping medication will dull the severe muscle fatigue that has limited him the past two years.

2008 record
95-67, American League Wild Card berth, eliminated by Tampa Bay in American League Championship Series

Projected batting order
1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury:
  .280 BA, .336 OBP, .394 SLG, 9 HR, 47 RBI, 50 SB in 2008
2. 2B Dustin Pedroia:
  .326 BA, .376 OBP, .493 SLG, 17 HR, 83 RBI, 20 SB in 2008
3. DH David Ortiz:
  .264 BA, .369 OBP, .507 SLG, 23 HR, 89 RBI in 2008
4. 1B Kevin Youkilis:
  .312 BA, .390 OBP, .569 SLG, 29 HR, 115 RBI in 2008
5. LF Jason Bay:
  .286 BA, .373 OBP, .522 SLG, 31 HR, 101 RBI in 2008
6. RF J.D. Drew:
  .280 BA, .408 OBP, .519 SLG, 19 HR, 64 RBI in 2008
7. 3B Mike Lowell:
  .274 BA, .338 OBP, .461 SLG, 17 HR, 73 RBI in 2008
8. SS Julio Lugo:
  .268 BA, .355 OBP, .330 SLG, 1 HR, 22 RBI, 12 SB in 2008
9. C Jason Varitek:
  .220 BA, .313 OBP, .359 SLG, 13 HR, 43 RBI in 2008

Projected rotation
1. Josh Beckett, 12-10, 4.03 ERA in 2008
2. Jon Lester, 16-6, 3.21 ERA in 2008
3. Daisuke Matsuzaka, 18-3, 2.90 ERA in 2008
4. Brad Penny, 6-9, 6.27 ERA in 2008
5. Tim Wakefield, 10-11, 4.13 ERA in 2008

Projected bullpen
Closer: Jonathan Papelbon, 41/46 saves, 2.34 ERA in 2008
RH setup man: Justin Masterson, 3.16 ERA in 2008
LH setup man: Hideki Okajima, 2.61 ERA in 2008

The new guys
Baldelli: The right-handed-hitting outfielder could play an important role if his health holds up. Baldelli has the type of power the Red Sox need off the bench, and he has the versatility to play all three outfield positions. His health, however, is anything but a certainty. If he's healthy and produces, the Rhode Island native has the potential to be a fan favorite.

Penny: He could be one of the best bargains of the winter. Penny began 2008 as the Opening Day starter for the Dodgers before developing arm problems that made him a shell of his typical self. If Penny is healthy again, he could be one of the best No. 4 starters in the game.

Smoltz: Yes, it will be strange to see Smoltz in a uniform besides the Braves. But he has the perfect mentality to thrive in Boston. The big question with Smoltz is whether his right arm will hold up after extensive surgery. The Red Sox envision him as someone who can win big games for them in the later months of the season, just as Curt Schilling used to.

Saito: Considering how dominant Saito was until his injury, it's amazing there wasn't more of a market for his services this offseason. If the 39-year-old Saito can stay healthy, the Red Sox will have the luxury of never having to overuse Papelbon. Saito has been an All-Star closer in his own right, but more often than not, he will be a setup man for Boston.

Ramon Ramirez: The righty was Boston's first acquisition of the offseason, coming over in a November trade for Coco Crisp. Though unheralded because of the market (Kansas City) he was pitching in, Ramirez looked like a blossoming setup man in 2008.

Josh Bard: Epstein always said that trading Bard for Doug Mirabelli after the first month of the 2006 season was a mistake. Epstein has righted his wrong by giving Bard another chance in Boston -- and perhaps another shot at catching Wakefield's knuckleball. Like most of Boston's new acquisitions, Bard is coming off an injury-marred 2008. In his first two years with the Padres, he was becoming a solid hitter.

Prospects to watch
Lars Anderson: The first baseman could become the first true slugger the Red Sox have developed in many years. Barring injuries, Anderson likely won't surface at Fenway until September at the earliest. He has plenty of personality, which isn't a bad thing for a market such as Boston.

Daniel Bard: The flamethrower from the University of North Carolina found himself after being moved to the bullpen last season. Don't be surprised if Bard is called upon by the Sox by July or August, a la Papelbon in 2005 or Masterson last year.

Clay Buchholz: Remember him? Buchholz, who has electric stuff, went through severe growing pains in 2008. His fastball command was shaky, as was his confidence. But the Red Sox still believe that Buchholz can turn into a front-line starter. This year, they just hope he can be a contributor.

On the rebound
Lowell: Last year at this time, Lowell was the toast of town, coming off his World Series Most Valuable Player performance. But in 2008, Lowell was hobbled by right hip woes, forcing the gritty third baseman to shut himself down in the middle of the postseason. He hopes that his October surgery will allow him to get back to an All-Star level.

Beckett: Whether it was the right elbow, the back or the right oblique, injuries were a constant theme for the ace in 2008. Beckett hopes to get back to where he was at in '07, when he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. The righty probably deserved more credit than he got for his victory in Game 6 of the ALCS, as his injured oblique made virtually every pitch hurt.

Varitek: The captain is back, after an offseason of frustratingly-slow contract negotiations. The switch-hitter is coming off the worst offensive season of his career and is on a mission to prove he still has something left with the bat. Everyone knows what a rock Varitek is behind the plate, and as a leader of the pitching staff. But the Red Sox can't afford another season in which Varitek is a near-automatic out.

Long gone
Coco Crisp: The center fielder was a professional in handling a bench role in 2008. But Crisp will now get a chance to play every day again in Kansas City. His game-tying hit in Game 5 of last October's ALCS was one of the best at-bats any Boston player had all season, and it sparked the team back from a 7-0 deficit.

Mike Timlin: After six years as a core member of the Boston bullpen, Timlin is a free agent. He struggled through most of last season, prompting the Red Sox to go in another direction. However, Timlin was an important member of the 2004 and '07 World Series championship teams and was a mentor for the other relievers.

Sean Casey: Boston proved to be the final stop for the classy first baseman, who announced his retirement and subsequent move to the MLB Network. Casey hit .322 over 199 at-bats in his last season.

Alex Cora: The utilityman was nothing but a complete professional in three-plus seasons with the Red Sox. Thanks to the overflow at shortstop, the Red Sox had no spot for Cora in 2009. The left-handed hitter wound up with the Mets.

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

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