Johnson to start Thursday exhibition opener

Bogaerts, Betts in lineup for matchup vs. Northeastern

Johnson to start Thursday exhibition opener

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Brian Johnson will be the first starter of 2017 for the Red Sox. Sort of.

The former first-round pick (31st overall) out of the University of Florida will take the mound when Boston hosts Northeastern University at JetBlue Park on Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET.

"I'm excited to get the competitive juices flowing," Johnson said of the honor. "I guess there's something to being the first one out there to toe the rubber."

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Johnson is competing for a slot in Boston's rotation this spring after going 5-6 with a 4.09 ERA this past season with Triple-A Pawtucket.

The rest of the lineup will include Mookie Betts in right field, Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, Mitch Moreland at first base, Chris Young in left field, Pablo Sandoval at third base, Sam Travis as designated hitter, Marco Hernandez at second base, Rusney Castillo in center field and Christian Vazquez at catcher.

Right-hander Jamie Callahan will follow Johnson in the first game. Manager John Farrell plans to have "as many pitchers as possible" throw one inning each over the first three games.

Henry Owens will start the team's Grapefruit League opener on Friday against the Mets. Roenis Elias will get the ball on Saturday, facing the Twins.

Rain, but no worries

It wasn't unexpected that the Red Sox would have to deal with the fickle South Florida weather at some point this spring. It is, however, unfortunate that it had to happen on the last full day of workouts before games begin on Thursday.

Farrell on team building

Tarps covered the infield of JetBlue Park on Wednesday as a steady rain put a damper on the day's workout schedule. Hitters were confined to the indoor batting cages at Fenway South, and all fieldwork was canceled. Pitchers who were scheduled to throw their regular bullpen sessions also used the indoor cages.

"The priority at this point in camp is getting our repetition for our pitchers and get them on the mound for the appropriate number of pitches for a bullpen session," Farrell said. "The only thing we were unable to accomplish today was the live hitting."

Like all Major League teams, the Red Sox were already dealing with an accelerated workout schedule to accommodate the World Baseball Classic tournament this spring.

So far, so good for Pablo

Sandoval is excited to get back into game action on Thursday, as it's something he hasn't been able to do in nearly 11 months. He'll bat fifth against Northeastern.

"When you get up to home plate, especially having lost a year, just to get to home plate and facing a live pitcher and having a good result against them is going to feel great," Sandoval said.

Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com based in Fort Myers. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.