Sawamura has VIP onlooker in 1st sim game

Pivetta has solid outing; update on Bogaerts; Andriese to start vs. Braves

March 9th, 2021

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- While Hirokazu Sawamura pitched on the main diamond at JetBlue Park for the first time on Tuesday -- albeit in a sim game instead of a Grapefruit League contest -- he drew one noticeable face in the crowd.

Koji Uehara, one of the most dominant closers in Red Sox history, sat in a box seat and watched intently as the rookie Japanese righty impressively worked through his teammates in a 17-pitch inning.

“Obviously, Koji Uehara, I have a lot of respect for him and we hang out on and off the field all the time,” Sawamura said. “Even if he was watching me, it wasn’t something that I was really paying attention to. I just focused on my pitching today.”

With that laser focus, Sawamura pushed forward with the type of arsenal Uehara -- who was on site as a media member for the large Japanese outlet NHK -- displayed during his heyday.

Throwing splitters, sliders and fastballs, Sawamura struck out Minor Leaguers Josh Ockimey, Marcus Wilson and Gilberto Jimenez, and got weak contact from catcher Christian Vázquez, who blooped one into short center.

“It’s obviously different from bullpen sessions,” Sawamura said. “Getting out there on a mound, facing batters got me fired up, so I think I did a pretty good job today.”

Red Sox manager Alex Cora sat in a chair behind home plate and watched his new key setup man.

“Really good,” said Cora. “For a sim game you can see the fastball, good spin on it, good velocity, the split should be good, and should play. Obviously it’s only a simulated game, but the fact that he went through it and you can get nervous in those situations right, it’s your first one with hitters, in the big stadium, and he was OK with it. It was a good start.”

Unlike his first bullpen session for the Red Sox when Sawamura donned No. 22, he had 19 on his back this time.

That is the one he will wear as long as he is with the Red Sox to honor Uehara, who wore that number throughout his four seasons with Boston.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Sawamura said. “I’m really honored to wear his number. If Jackie [Bradley Jr.] re-signed with the Red Sox, then I wasn’t going to ask for the number, because I have so much respect for Jackie as a player and person. Then after he signed with the Brewers, so that meant something to me to wear Koji’s number.”

The next step in Sawamura’s progression will be pitching in a Grapefruit League game, but Cora hasn’t announced when that will be yet.

The three-inning sim game was productive for the Red Sox. Nathan Eovaldi fired three strong innings for the home team. Jay Groome, Boston’s No. 8 prospect, looked sharp while pitching two innings in relief of Sawamura.

Trouble with the curve
While Nick Pivetta generally looked strong in his second outing of Spring Training, giving up three hits and one run over three innings while walking none and striking out three, there was one pitch he was battling with.

“It was a little bit inconsistent with the curveball, just trying to work some things out there,” said Pivetta after Boston’s 11-3 loss to the Rays. “But I was able to get back into some 1-1 counts, some 1-2 counts, which is really important. Bunch of weak contact, no walks, just a lot of positives today. But still some things to work on.”

The righty should be set as the No. 4 or 5 starter coming out of Spring Training.

“He was really good, had good stuff,” said Cora. “With him, we’ve just got to keep trying to get him in the strike zone. It’s very important, his stuff is that good. He faced some good hitters today and he did a good job. He got in three innings and now we move forward, but that was a positive of the day.”

Pivetta won both of his matchups with 2020 postseason hero Randy Arozarena, getting him on a grounder to second in the first and a strikeout in the third.

“He’s a phenomenal player,” said Pivetta. “I pitched him really, really well today. I was really happy. The last pitch was a cutter up and away and I got him to swing and miss, so that’s a good way to end it.”

Xander’s progress
Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts could be getting close to playing in his first game this spring.

Bogaerts has been slowed by soreness in his right shoulder that was caused by an accelerated throwing program during the offseason.

“He’s throwing up to 120 [feet] I think it is. Not 100 percent sure on that. Tomorrow he’s taking BP outside, so that’s a good sign,” said Cora.

Triston Casas, the team’s No. 1 prospect, is over the medical issue he was dealing with last week and will start building up again with the goal of getting in some Grapefruit League games.

It remains to be seen how soon left fielder Franchy Cordero will see action. He has been slowed to be cleared by MLB in the COVID-19 protocol process.

Up next
Righty swingman Matt Andriese gets his second start of Spring Training on Wednesday when the Red Sox host the Braves at JetBlue Park. New acquisition Adam Ottavino will make his debut for Boston, pitching an inning in relief. No. 7 prospect Tanner Houck will pitch multiple innings after struggling in his first outing of the spring last week. Star slugger J.D. Martinez is expected to be in the lineup after getting a rest on Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. Listen to all the action live on MLB Audio.