Your humble scribe is catching a morning flight back to Manchester on Friday, ending a busy but really, really fun week at Red Sox spring training camp in Fort Myers. Among the leftover impressions and images:
* John Smoltz might be ready even before June 1...
"His last three days of camp have probably been his best in camp, which is good," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said on Thursday morning. "He’s feeling really good. He had a couple of days there where his legs got a little heavy, but his last three days were good bounce-back days."
Francona went on to say that the June 1 target date for Smoltz was "not etched in stone," meaning the future Hall of Famer might even be ready to pitch sometime in late May -- a nice bonus given that he's mostly being considered a secret weapon for October.
* ... but there might not even be a spot for him.
The revamping of Brad Penny's shoulder program doesn't mean the big righty won't be ready to go by the time the Red Sox need a fifth starter. (That would be, according to a look at the schedule, either April 11 or April 12.)
And if Penny isn't ready to go, Francona and Theo Epstein might be tempted to give a shot to Clay Buchholz, who looks like a 180-degree-different pitcher from the one who turned a rough spring training last season into a disastrous regular season. What happens if Buchholz makes his debut and suddenly starts rattling off quality starts? Do the Red Sox bump Buchholz for Smoltz just out of respect for the career accomplishments of the eight-time All-Star?
* Along those same lines: The Red Sox have ridiculous pitching depth in their organization.
Behind Buchholz is Michael Bowden, who already has a big-league win under his belt. Behind Bowden is Kris Johnson, whose 3.63 ERA at Double-A Portland last season earned him an invite to big-league camp. Behind him are any number of younger starting pitchers still trying to climb the ladder, including Felix Doubront (3.67 ERA in 23 starts at Single-A Greenville) and Nick Hagadone (still working his way back from Tommy John surgery).
That's why some believe Buchholz still could be traded, be it for a young catcher or a power-hitting infielder. There's just so much depth behind him.
* Josh Bard is going to be the Red Sox's backup catcher.
Just looking at the way Terry Francona has distributed at-bats, it's easy to come to that conclusion. Bard has caught Tim Wakefield both times the knuckleballer has pitched thus far, including Sunday's game at Minnesota -- a game to which George Kottaras didn't even make the trip.
Maybe Kottaras should have gone to play for Canada after all.
* Jed Lowrie is out of luck if he thinks he's going to be the starting shortstop.
Just like Manny Ramirez earned himself an extra $5 million or so through the threat of underachieving, Lowrie cost himself a starting job through the threat of overachieving. Lowrie can play anywhere in the infield -- his throwing error at third base on Thursday notwithstanding -- whereas Julio Lugo is far more comfortable at shortstop than anywhere else.
It doesn't make any sense for the Red Sox to force Lugo into a utility role with which he'd be unhappy when Lowrie is a far better utility player, anyway. He'll get plenty of at-bats, though; Mike Lowell is going to have to take quite a few days off in the early going.
* If it's about defense, Brad Wilkerson will get the honor of keeping Mark Kotsay's roster spot warm.
Out of the candidates for the 25th roster spot, Chris Carter has had the most productive spring at the plate thus far. But Carter's biggest weakness always has been his defense -- and while he's played well at first base, he's shown himself to be shaky at times in the outfield.
Wilkerson, on the other hand, looks far more comfortable in the outfield. His strong throwing arm is a bonus. He might just hit .220, but if Terry Francona is to be believed -- "All those guys that are fighting for that spot, we've told them that they need to catch the ball," he said on Tuesday -- the steady Wilkerson probably has the edge.