- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The competition for the last couple of spots in the bullpen has narrowed, as righthander Scott Atchison was optioned to Pawtucket and lefthander Rich Hill, who is here on a minor-league contract, was reassigned to minor league camp.
Other roster moves announced by manager Terry Francona on Friday: Pitchers Brandon Duckworth, Randy Williams and Andrew Miller were reassigned to minor-league camp and pitcher Michael Bowden and outfielder Ryan Kalish were optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket.
There are five pitchers still in contention for two spots, as Francona, without making a formal announcement to that effect, acknowledged that Tim Wakefield has locked up a job as long man in the 'pen.
The five pitchers still in contention: righthander Matt Albers, who is out of options; lefthander Dennys Reyes, who has an opt-out clause in his contract that he can exercise Saturday; lefthander Hideki Okajima, who has options left; Alfredo Aceves, who signed with the Red Sox after being nontendered by the Yankees, and Felix Doubront, who has missed most of camp with a sore elbow and probably will start the season on the disabled list. That's something the Sox are working on now, Francona said.
Atchison has options, meaning he can be sent down without clearing waivers. Francona acknowledged that was a factor in the decision.
"He may think it's unfair,'' Francona said, "but it's not unfair to the organization.''
The 44-year-old Wakefield, unhappy at being sent to the bullpen last season after making the All-Star team as a starter in 2009, came to camp saying he was prepared to fill any role this season. Francona declined to respond affirmatively to a question about Wakefield's status several days ago, but Friday he did not list Wakefield as one of the remaining contenders and discussed how he would be used.
"Wake's done everything,'' he said. "The hardest thing is for me to figure out how to use him and get the most out of him. I'm trying to figure out how to use him in the bullpen when things are going good, because there's always the chance of a passed ball or stolen base. There are definitely ways he can help us and use him to get people out.''
On the face of it, that seems a lukewarm endorsement of Wakefield's value to the club in a relief role, but with the Sox starting depth somewhat limited, he still represents an asset, and he has considerable cachet in the clubhouse.
Aceves, who missed most of last season with back problems, may force some tough decisions for the Sox down the road, because he has a proven track record as a reliever (10-1, 3.54 ERA with the Yankees in 2009) and the team intends to stretch him out as a starter in Pawtucket.
The decline in Wakefield's performance last season (4-10, 5.34 ERA) would suggest that he is not automatically assured of getting the call if the Sox need a starter. Doubront, who is scheduled to pitch Tuesday against the Rays in his first game action this spring, joins Aceves as other options.
Francona also announced that Miller will be used as a starter in Pawtucket, which is not an unexpected development. The team discussed its plans with him a couple of days ago, the manager said.
"He needs the repetitions,'' Francona said of Miller starting for the PawSox. "He needs to work on command of his fastball and work on his changeup. His curveball has been good here from the git-go, he's really comfortable throwing it.''
Francona said that with his fastball and curve, Miller doesn't need a third pitch as much as other pitchers do. "If he pitches like we hope he can, he can pitch however he wants,'' Francona said when asked if Miller projected more as a starter or reliever.
Hill, who comes into this season for the first time throwing exclusively as a sidearmer, will be used in relief in Pawtucket, Francona said. The manager noted that Hill hit 92 on the radar gun on Thursday, which is more than enough velocity, he said, for a sidearming lefty specialist. "We think he needs to stay with it,'' Francona said. "It's still a little bit a work in progress. Statistically, he had a great spring (unscored upon in seven appearances spanning 8 2/3 innings), but we'd like to see a little more strike-throwing, zone-pounding.''
With veterans Duckworth and Williams also going to Triple-A, Francona said the Sox have more depth than they've had in some time. Duckworth will start Sunday's game in Sarasota, with Opening Day starter Jon Lester staying back (with catcher Jason Varitek) to make an abbreviated start in a minor-league game Sunday.
Kevin Youkilis will stay back on Monday when the team goes to Dunedin for extra at-bats in minor league camp, Francona said. The team gave Adrian Gonzalez the option to do the same, but he said he preferred to go to Dunedin. "He may change his mind when he looks at a map,'' the manager said.
Francona said utilitymen Nate Spears and Drew Sutton have been told they're being sent down, but both will accompany the team to Houston for next Wednesday's exhibition against the Astros.
The Red Sox still have 29 rostered players in camp, as well as four nonroster players.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
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