February 2007

Game On

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m happy to see a baseball game today. Enough cutoff and relay drills. Enough side sessions. Enough over-hyped batting practice sessions.

Tonight, we get to see how Schilling looks. We get to see what kind of player Lugo is. We get to see Big Papi take some hacks.

Just got done with pre-game session with Francona. No huge news. The one tidbit of information is that Jon Lester will make his first game appearance of the Spring in a "B" game against Minor Leaguers on Monday. Obviously it will be great to see Jon back out there for the first time since his cancer diagnosis.

Is everyone revved up for tonight? I understand the game is being televised back in Boston. On the  events the game is not being televised, I’ll try to fill the blog with more game-related info. Sound good?

And by the way, I’ve recovered nicely from getting hit in the back by a Japanese pitcher during media batting practice yesterday. The guy who hit me is a very nice man and was very apologetic. I’m just glad the first pitch he threw me didn’t hit me in the head as I feared it was going to.

I learned a couple of interesting things about Dice-K today. The first is that he’s almost obsessed with Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball. As Wakefield threw BP today, Matsuzaka peered in from behind the catcher. Matsuzaka, threw his interpreter, said that the knuckleball had a little more velocity than he suspected. There’s no truth to the rumor that Dice-K is going to toss aside his image as a power pitcher and convert to a knuckleballer.

The other interesting thing about Matsuzaka is that he wears socks with finger-like holes for each toe. These are called tabi socks, and are fairly traditional for Japanese baseball players.

More later.

Ian.

From Matsuzaka to Manny

Finally a new storyline to steal the focus from Dice-K. Manny is in the house! His agent says he’s happy and all is right in the world.

It’s good to see Manny. He’s added the red highlights and has a beard, and seems fine. Who knows when or if he will talk.

He wasted no time getting on the field. After arriving at 8:54 a.m. Ramirez took the field with the rest of the team and went through the workouts.

More later.

Dice-K faces hitters

That was the excitement today, as Daisuke Matsuzka stepped on the mound of Johnny Pesky Field at 11:32 a.m. on Saturday and faced hitters for the first time in a Red Sox uniform.

He was rather impressive in a 44-pitch stint, throwing all of his pitches, going from the stretch and from the windup and generally making the four batters who faced him look highly uncomfortable.

As you can imagine, the field was packed with media members while Matsuzaka did his throwing. The guy isn’t shy. I really think he likes the attention. He’s used to this. People in Japan have been following his every move since high school. Now he has two nations — Japan and Red Sox Nation — following him around.

I can’t wait to see his first start in Kansas City. He has added a whole new dimension of excitement to this season. let’s face it, he is the great unknown.

The batters who dug in against Matsuzaka were Johnny Damon-clone Jacoby Ellsbury, Luis Jimenez, Kevin Cash and Bobby Scales. Only Ellsbury didn’t look completely overmatched.

Everyone — well almost everyone — is in the house

Finally, a full house here in the Fort. Well, an almost full house. Papi is here; J.D. Drew is here. The position players are all undergoing physicals and conditioning drills today. Just one absence. Yes, Manny Ramirez has not checked in.

The Sox made it official that Manny will be here March 1 meaning that, yes, Tavarez was right again.

One week from today, the games begin. That’s good, because you can only go through so many drills before needing some actual competition.

I will say that the sprint relays were fun to watch today, especially when Ortiz was chugging along. In mock anger, he hollered, "Are we going to the Olympics this year or something?".. Then he yelled, "Someone better make a copy of this because I ain’t ever doing this (choice word) again."

The relievers were doing their side work today. I still get the feeling that Pineiro has the inside track to be the closer, but what do I know?

This is the first classic Fort Myers day since I’ve been here. Blue sky, bright sun, temperature in the 80s. I’m loving it.

Ortiz and Drew both addressed the media today. I thought J.D. came across very well and Ortiz was his usual hilarious self.

Ciao — or better yet — Sayonara,

Ian.

Checking in from the Fort

Sorry about the lack of posts since I arrived in Fort Myers last Thursday. I had travel woes on the way down here, depriving me of attending the Matsuzaka presser at City of Palms. Then I came to camp Friday and had a pretty good day, only to come down with strep throat on Saturday. I had to stay away from the park Saturday and Sunday because I was contagious.

Today, I was back at it. Things are going OK, except for the chilly weather.

Does anyone care that Manny — according to Julian Tavarez — won’t get to camp until March 1? I can’t say I do. I don’t think anyone on the Red Sox does. If Manny’s in the lineup, he’ll drive in 100 runs — period.

I think you guys and gals are going to like Julio Lugo. He is an energetic guy who seems like he will thrive from the energy of Boston.

The Matsuzaka stuff is hilarious to watch. Any time he does anything — such as plays catch in the outfield or participates in PFP (pitchers’ fielding practice), the Japanese media swarms after him. This must have been what it was like for the Beatles in 1968 or Michael and the Jordanaires in 1993. Crazy stuff. I just want to see the guy pitch.

More later, just wanted to apologize for my recent absence. I’ll be posting more frequently in the coming days and weeks. So glad that baseball is back.

Spring is finally here

In less than two days, I’ll be soaking up the warm sun of Fort Myers and attending a Matsuzaka press conference with 500 other American and Japanese reporters. It should be fun.

Until that mayhem, how about a little fun?

How many games will the Red Sox win this year?

How many postseason games will the Red Sox win this year?

How many games will Matsuzaka win this year?

Who will lead the Red Sox in wins this year?

Who will lead the Red Sox in saves this year?

How many games will J.D. Drew play this year?

How many homers will David Ortiz hit this year?

Who will win the American League MVP?

Who will win the National League MVP?

Who will win the American League Cy Young Award?

Who will win the National League Cy Young Award?

Who will win the AL East?

Who will win the AL Central?

Who will win the AL West?

Who will win the AL wild card?

Who will win the NL East?

Who will win the NL Central?

Who will win the NL West?

Who will win the NL Wild Card?

Who will win the AL pennant?

Who will win the NL pennant?

Who will win the World Series?

OK, whomever comes closest to a perfect score will get a prize to be named later next November.

Give it your best. Just put your answers in the blog.

Ian.

Tito talks

I’m going to let Terry Francona be the voice of the blog today. You guys would probably rather hear from him then me, right?

Tito leaves for Fort Myers on Wednesday. He held court with the writers today and here is pretty much what he said — unfiltered.

Communication with Matsuzaka? “I sent him an e-mail
through [a third party]  just kind of
telling him, not to overwhelm him, but just trying to explain to him that I am
aware that there are some cultural differences and welcoming him to the Red
Sox, things like that. But john Farrell went out there and visited with him for
a day and a half, which I think is good, as with all pitchers. Or all new
people, whether they’re players or pitchers. I think it’s great, when we get to
spring training and it’s hello, and you’re not meeting somebody for the first
time, but you’re reacquainting yourself. I think that goes a long way. John
came back and was really pleased with his visit. He said he’s basically a
normal 26-year-old, likes to have fun, quick to smile, threw the ball real well
off flat ground the day he saw him, gave a lot of input during their lunch
together, which was good. Again, we’re at a disadvantage communicating, which
can be frustrating. But we need to get around that as much as we can. “

Communication in games, “From my standpoint, when I go
out there, he’s coming out. That’s not that tough. I’ll put my hand out, give
me the ball. If he pitches great, I’ll pat him on the back. That’s not that
tough. John and Jason [Varitek], they’re going to have to work at this a
little. And they will. But from where I stand, besides the fact of
communicating, which I love to do, it won’t interfere with the game.”

How will the five-man rotation affect Matsuzaka? “Well, I
hope it doesn’t. You know what, he’s thrown a lot of innings. He’s 26, but he’s
got a lot of innings under his belt. He’s made a lot of adjustments along the
way, through his career. And the other thing is too, we have some age in Schill
and Wake. So we may use it this year differently than we have in the past. We
may not skip a guy, we may go ahead and just keep five starters, especially in April.
It won’t completely be different, at least in the beginning.”

Papelbon a closer again? “To be perfectly honest, I
suppose the possibility exists, but I think it’s a very long shot. I think a
lot of things have to happen for that to eventually happen and I don’t see that
happening. The first thing is that he’d have to be medically cleared to do it,
and that’s the reason he’s in the starting rotation. It’s not because we don’t
think he can close. If I had my druthers, he would be our closer. That’s how I
feel. It’s not happening. We have to respect the medical people’s advice and I
do. I’m not fighting it.

“They think for his long term, not only success, but
health, this is the way to go about it. And I understand that, so we’ll do it. Unless
that changed, it can’t happen. On top of that, we’d have to have a bullpen that
was struggling, we’d have to have him as a starter that was struggling, which I
don’t foresee happening. There’s too many things that would have to happen for
him to go back to the bullpen that I don’t think are going to happen. But to
completely rule it out, I don’t know if that’s fair. But you’ve heard what I
just said, it’s a really long shot.”

No chance of Pap being he Opening Day closer: “No, that
won’t happen in spring training, I’m telling you, that’s not going to happen. I
was talking way into the season.”

How will the closer competition shape up? “I have some
ideas how it’s going to unfold. The four right-handers, Donnelly, Timlin,
Tavarez and Pineiro, we’ll sit down and talk to them individually and as a
group when I get down there and explain to them that those are the four veteran
guys that we want to see throw some innings late in the games. We’ll explain to
them that we want them to build arm strength in the beginning; we don’t want
guys going out the first week and throwing 3-0 breaking balls and trying to
have a low ERA in spring training so they can be the closer. As we get into the
spring and we’re gearing it up, we’ll tell them how we feel, what we’re looking
for. And then we’ll put it together. The hope would be by the end of camp,
we’ve got roles for everybody. It doesn’t always work that way. If they pitch
well and throw strikes, it will work that way. And then there’s guys like
Hansen and Delcarmen, where they fit, we honestly don’t know. The way they
pitch will tell us.”

 

More on the closer: “You can’t just go to spring training
and say the guy with the lowest ERA is going to be the closer. There are way
too many variables. And again, veteran pitchers, not just veteran pitchers but
all pitchers need to come and get ready for a long season. If we do it
differently, we won’t be getting our team ready. Again, in a prefect world, it
will all come together about the 25th of March and we’ll have it all settled.
It’s not always a perfect world. But we’ll do the best we can. If we have to
adjust, we’ll adjust. But hopefully, by the time we get to Kansas City we’ll be in good shape.”

What you look for besides numbers: “How the ball is
coming out of their hand, how they’re locating. Sometimes at the end of the
game, guys are facing the three kids that are going to go to
Lowell. So you just don’t know. A lefty comes
in and gets three lefties out, but they are three lefties that are 21 years old
and he’s never seen that kind of pitch before. You know if he throws that pitch
to Ortiz, he’ll hit it 400 feet. You try to determine the best you can. It’s
not very easy. Go back to ’04, Foulke couldn’t get an out in spring training.
We were semi-panicked. We go to Atlanta,
we just wanted him to get an out for his confidence and then the bell rang and
he was terrific. It’s very difficult.”

Could Hansen win the job? “You know, I don’t know, I really
don’t know. I don’t want to get him in a situation that’s going to hinder his
development. The only way that would happen was if we were convinced he could
take it and keep it. Again, we all view him as a guy that we can count on in
the bullpen for hopefully a lot of years. But he’d have to really pitch well
for that to happen. And I don’t doubt he can pitch well. I hope that happens. I
hope when we leave camp, we have a heck of a decision to make because he’s
throwing the ball so well. That would be great.”

 

More on Hansen: “I had a lot of people ask me this year
when he started struggling, OK, why did he struggle. The name Zumaya comes to
mind, ‘well, he didn’t struggle.’ Well, go back and look at their careers, look
at the minor league innings and see the difference. This kid needs to pitch a
little bit. and because of our situation. He got rushed and that’s not his
fault, that’s our fault.”

 

Talked to Manny at all? “Not recently, I think I talked
to him in early December. I think he’s talked to Pookie and the clubhouse kids
lately but I haven’t been part of that. I think he’s OK, I don’t think there’s
any problems.”

 

“Jason Varitek feels great. Feels great. Physically he
feels fantastic and he’s ready to go.”

 

What is Clement’s status? “He has not started a throwing
program yet. But I believe he is doing very well. There’s some thought to maybe
him starting his throwing program a little quicker because he’s doing better
than normal. Mike Reinhold has been to Pittsburgh a couple of times, Matt has been here a couple of times. And you’ll see him in
spring training along with the rest of the guys, but he’ll definitely be on his
own program.”

 

Jon Lester’s schedule: “Talked to Lester and texted him, Lester
is one of the best text guys I’ve ever seen. You text him and that thing’s back
to you in three seconds. And I told him, I had a conversation with him about a
month ago about being cautious and being slow and he didn’t want to hear any
part of it. But he is a smart enough kid to understand, we have his best
interests in mind. I’m not smart enough medically to know what that is. When we
get down there, I think we’ll sit with him, the doctors and the trainers and
try to put together a schedule with the trainers that we think is in his best
interest. We don’t want to hold him back. If he’s hard worker, which we know he
is, we don’t want to hold him back just for the sake of holding him back. But
we also don’t want to let him hurt himself because he is a good kid and a hard
worker. He’s had a traumatic winter. We
need to be smart in how we handle him and we will.”

 

More on Lester: “I just think he’s a baseball player and
I think he’s worked very hard to try to get back as quickly as he can, which is
not surprising. Again, players aren’t the best self evaluators, they’re not
supposed to be. That’s where we need to step in and just protect him a little
bit. How much we have to, we’ll see. It will be a lot easier when we get our
eyes on him and see how he looks.”

 

“He’s cancer free. The last thing, according to him, are
his legs bouncing back. They’re a little slower to bounce back than they have
been in the past. I think he’s about seven pounds away from being his normal
weight. He’s been a terrific communicator this winter about how he’s been doing
and everything, which I’ve greatly appreciated. He’s a very mature young man.
He’s going to handle this fine. I don’t want to let him go out there and hurt
himself, hurt his arm, just because we thought we needed a guy two weeks earlier.
That would be a very bad mistake on our part.”

optimistic:
“I think we have reason to be optimistic. Everybody is optimistic this time of
year. if you’re not, you’re … I mean, I’m 24 hours from getting on a plane and
that’s a great time of year for baseball people. We have a legitimate reason to
be optimistic. We have some things that should go right. and if they do, it
should be exciting.”

 

Is Wily Mo an option at first base? “I
don’t think so. We have Hinske. You know what, I shouldn’t say that. We might.
During spring training, we might do that, we’ll see. “

Will Wily Mo

get enoug hget at-bats? “There’s a pretty
good chance he’ll be our only extra outfielder. You count Hinske as our fifth
outfielder, Wily mo can pick up all the extra at-bats in center left and right.
Maybe in the last couple of years, we’ve had Gabe and somebody else. That will
end up probably being 400 at-bats. that’s enough for him to get in a groove and
help us and put up some numbers.”

 On the Helton trade that didn’t happen: “I wouldn’t
comment on that. Those were trade rumors that seemed to be coming more from
them than us. I made a couple of phone calls because of it to make sure players
understood what was going on. But that wouldn’t be very respectful on my part.”

Lowell a leader? “I hope so, if he has, that would be
good. He’s a leader type guy. I count on him a lot. He has a very good
understanding of this game. When I called him, the way he answered the phone was,
‘now hitting sixth for the

Rockies

’. He’s got
a good grasp of what’s going on, he’s been around the game long enough, he
knows. He’s easy to like. Nobody is trying to run him out of town.”

 A different Coco in ’07?
“He’s doing well. He’s fine. Coco had a
reputation of being a real good fastball hitter. We saw that in Spring Training.
And then the first five or six days of the season, we also saw that. And then
all of a sudden he got hurt and we didn’t see that. It’s easy to forget that
he’s a good player and a guy that’s getting better. He should be able to show a
lot different type of approach offensively this year because he’s healthy. He
was battling that finger and then he was battling his shoulder. He had no
ability to make any adjustments. When the ball changed plains or changed
speeds, he couldn’t do it. it was very tough for him. he was fouling back
fastballs over third base that he was normally running into and hitting with
some authority and wasn’t able to do it.”

 Confidence in Pedroia? “At some point, you have to be
willing to play young players. I have no problem letting this kid play. We have
Cora too, which I think helps a lot. We reward so many players for physical
ability and then sometimes when we’re sitting around, we question their mental
makeup. This kid, his physical attributes are sometimes in question by people
because he’s not a 6-foot-6, strapping big guy. But his mental attributes are
off the charts. There’s probably a lot of different ways people can help you
win. I think it will show up as people watch him play. “

“He found out last year how good major league defense is.
He came back twice a game shaking his head because the ball would leave his bat
and he thought he had hits and he didn’t. An outfielder would run it down or **** would go in the whole and throw him out. But he has a unique style of
hitting. He swings very hard. He almost swings uphill, but he can get the
barrel of the bat to the ball pretty consistently. He has the ability to give
us some offense. He swings hard, but he squares the ball up pretty consistently.”

Does Pedroia need to change his swing? “If you’d ask me
that as a pure scout, I’d say yes. After watching him and talking to him,
that’s the way he does it. For him to even get this far, he’s had to be
somewhat of a phenomenon. He’s a little guy that doesn’t run fast. He knows how
to play the game. His hand-eye coordination must be phenomenal. And he swings
hard, but he hits the ball and makes contact. He really doesn’t loft the ball. He
hits a lot of line drives.”

How will Matsuzaka be handled this spring? “We will treat
him like every other pitcher. Understanding that there have been some cultural
adjustments to make. What we try to do with every pitcher and every player is
we try to take spring training and get them ready to be successful during the
regular season. We’ll do the same thing with Daisuke. We’ll talk to him, though
it will be through a translator. But we’ll see what he needs, we’ll talk to him
about what we think, we’ll communicate. We’ll let him go show how good they can
be.”

Can Beckett improve? “He gave up a lot of long homers.
Everyone wanted him to throw more cutters. This kid was battling last year
trying to throw 200 innings and staying away from blisters and shoulder
problems. If he falls in love with a cutter or a two seamer, he’s liable to
come up sore. We’re trying to battle a fine line here. There’s going to be some
give and take and trial by error to what is right. The good news is that the
kid still won 16 games. There were some bumps in the road along the way. He
competes his rear end off. He loves to pitch. I think there’s better days ahead
for him, which bodes well for us.”

 

 

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