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Red Sox looking forward to start of spring slate

Defending champs set for college twin bill before beginning Grapefruit play Friday

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The defending World Series champion Red Sox are ready to start playing games again.

They've done all their fundamental drills and extra batting practice and sliding drills and pitchers' fielding practice. Now, it is time for some competition.

For the Red Sox, it starts with a college doubleheader against Northeastern University and Boston College on Thursday afternoon. And Friday, manager John Farrell's team will kick off Grapefruit League competition with a home game against the Twins.

"Much like everybody else -- I'm really looking forward to it," said Farrell. [Thursday], we'll have guys get two at-bats. That gives them four innings on the field defensively. That's a start. But I think at this point in time in camp, you run through the team fundamentals, individual defense, all those things, and guys are looking forward to getting games started."

In recent years, it has been a tradition for the Red Sox to open their spring slate with the college doubleheader.

"Even after a long layoff of the winter, to have pitchers come out and throw one or two innings, just to get in the flow of things is nice," said Farrell. "Same thing with your everyday guys going through their pregame routine. Regardless of the opponent, this is still our workday, and it's the beginning of what the game schedule will hold for us, and that routine is important."

Whether you are a veteran like David Ross or an up-and-coming young player like Jackie Bradley Jr., the first game of Spring Training is always an adjustment.

"It's awkward," said Ross, who is expected to play his first game on Friday. "It's nerve-wracking and awkward. You start to gear yourself up mentally again. You're physically not there, but you try to get your mental preparation: 'Where am I at? What am I doing while I'm in the box? How am I seeing the ball?' It's a process, but every year you're constantly feeling and learning and teaching yourself and trying to adjust."

Bradley will be one of the players that all eyes are on this spring as he tries to become Boston's starting center fielder. He will play in Thursday's first game against Northeastern.

"Right now, we're just kind of going through some practices. We don't really have the game-simulated stuff yet," said Bradley. "You actually get to see where you are and how your body is going to react. You're just trying to get back in the swing of things and getting the timing down. It's almost 'go time.'"

With the start of games, Red Sox fans can get an extended look at Xander Bogaerts, the prospect who roared through the farm system and is expected to be the starting shortstop this season.

When Grady Sizemore takes the field on Thursday, it will be his first organized baseball game of any kind since 2011. Sizemore, the former superstar trying to make a comeback, will be another intriguing storyline to follow during camp.

The start of games gives Will Middlebrooks a chance to see how much his tireless work in the offseason will translate onto the field.

"To date, his spring has been productive, his work has been outstanding," said Farrell. "He's come in with a noticeable determination. And yet at the same time, he's done everything we could have expected in terms of getting prepared. Spring Training is important for everybody, not just singling anyone out. It's evident by the work he did in the offseason to add some strength, and we're looking forward to seeing him playing on the field."

Even for an established veteran like Mike Napoli, there are things he can work on during the Grapefruit League season.

"The one thing that he's stated is maybe addressing a little more of a two-strike approach," said Farrell. "The one thing we don't want to sacrifice are the things that are clearly his strong suit. We're talking about a guy who has seen the most pitches in the game, which we value. And while there's a concerted effort on his part to put the ball in play a little bit more in those two-strike situations, we don't want him to take it to the point where sacrificing his power starts to filter into that."

In the first few games, the Red Sox will get an extended look at their talented crop of young pitchers.

Count Pedro Martinez among those looking forward to see, perhaps, the next generation of Red Sox aces get a look during camp.

"A lot more [talented young arms] than I was used to seeing," Martinez said. "A lot more. We have a good collection of big guys -- big, strong guys. Hard throwers. And so young, but so talented."

Henry Owens, the lefty who has a dazzling repertoire, will work two innings against Northeastern.

"Owens, he's a natural," Martinez said. "He's a natural. I think it's just a matter of keeping them healthy, and before you know it, they're going to be up. Those guys are full of talent. I was really impressed with the material we have in the Minor Leagues."

Mindful of the load they carried last October, Farrell will wait until early next week to start getting his veteran pitchers into games.

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne.
Read More: Boston Red Sox, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Will Middlebrooks