Scutaro shows early signs of fielding prowess

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FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Marco Scutaro’s first play in a spring training game with the Boston Red Sox showed why they signed him.

Their new shortstop made an outstanding pickup, starting a double play that bailed Josh Beckett out of a shaky first inning.

In the fourth, Scutaro fielded another tough grounder to retire the leadoff hitter, which became more important when the next two batters walked and singled but were stranded in Thursday night’s 2-1 win over the Minnesota Twins.

“As people watch him play, they’ll come quickly to realize why we wanted him,” Boston manager Terry Francona said Friday. “Those are really good plays.”

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With more to come.

Scutaro and second baseman Dustin Pedroia remained in the Red Sox camp on Friday to work on defense together while other players traveled to a road game at the Twins’ spring training home, also in Fort Myers. They’ve clicked from the start as a solid combination but are determined to improve just nine days since the first official full-squad workout.

“I knew since Day One we were going to be on the same page. He knows how to play the game and communicate,” Scutaro said. “I don’t think there’s going to be any problem.”

Adjusting to new double-play partners is nothing new to Pedroia.

He played last year with six shortstops — Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo, Nick Green, Jed Lowrie, Gil Velazquez and Chris Woodward. Gonzalez finished the season at that spot and is considered a better fielder than Scutaro. But they were tied for fourth among major league shortstops with a .984 fielding percentage last season.

And Scutaro is a more complete player. He hit .282 with 12 homers, 100 runs, 162 hits, 35 doubles and 90 walks, all career highs, in 144 games with the Toronto Blue Jays.

He signed with Boston as a free agent on Dec. 4.

“We’ve seen what he’s done the last couple of years. He’s great out there. It’s going to be fun playing with him,” Pedroia said. “He takes pride in what he does. He takes his groundballs at game speed in warmups.”

On Thursday night, Beckett allowed a single to the game’s first hitter, Denard Span, who took second on a groundout and scored on a single by Jason Kubel. Then Michael Cuddyer hit a grounder to Scutaro, who fielded the ball and started the inning-ending double play.

“That was a great double play, a 3-1 pitch,” Beckett said. “That’s the pitch I’ve been talking about since Day One of spring training. You don’t have to make the perfect pitch. You make a decent pitch and the guys behind you pick you up.”

Scutaro played the last six seasons in the American League, four with Oakland and two with Toronto, and is familiar with hitters’ tendencies. So when the right-handed hitting Cuddyer came up, Scutaro took a few steps toward the third base line.

“You kind of know the hitters,” he said. “Cuddyer’s a pull hitter so I kind of play a little more to the hole and I was expecting the ball. I’m always expecting a groundball and trying to make a play.”

Had Cuddyer’s ball eluded Scutaro, a big inning could have resulted and hastened Beckett’s exit. Instead, he lasted the two innings Francona had planned for him.

“We need to make the routine plays for the pitchers so that way they can stay longer in the game,” Scutaro said. “We can’t give teams extra outs.”

He made his next big play in the fourth on a leadoff grounder by Alexi Casilla before Kubel walked and took second on Cuddyer’s single. But Hideki Okajima got out of the jam by retiring Jacque Jones on a fly to left and Brendan Harris on a foul pop to the catcher.

“If it wasn’t for that (first) play, Oki’s probably got a long inning going,” Francona said.

And what did the manager say to the shortstop after that inning?

“He just said, ‘Wow, that was a nice play, man,'” Scutaro said. “I said, ‘Thank you.'”

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