February 2009

Lowell speaks

Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, a couple of hours after arriving into camp, just held court in the parking lot, speaking to a small group of reporters from the driver’s seat of his black BMWM5.

Will Lowell (right hip surgery in October) be ready for Opening Day?

“I am thinking
about it because I’d like to do it. I don’t know how much pressure I feel. I
think it’s a time-table that I want to beat. If I’m not going to be able to
contribute then there’s no point. I still think it’s a realistic time-table and
it’s not really Opening Day that I’m shooting for. I’m shooting to be able to
play in games before that because I don’t want my first taste of games being a
regular-season game. I want to get some games under my belt, which I think is
also a realistic goal. I’m really interested to see what the doctors say
tomorrow on the physicals and kind of map out what I’m going to do
baseball-wise.”

How is the hip?

“I feel pretty
good, man. I’ve been hitting for about three weeks, not every day but I’ve been
able to go through tee toss and a regular batting practice out on the field
with no pain. I think more importantly, no swelling the next day, no flare-ups.
I’ve been throwing for a while, my arm feels fine, it’s just, I think the next
step is going to being out on the field, taking groundballs, going from station
to station, just being on my feet all day. I think being in spikes might be an
adjustment but, I don’t know, I’m feeling pretty good. I’m actually looking
forward to practicing and getting ready.”

Was Lowell upset when it looked like the Red Sox were going to sign Mark Teixeira, meaning Lowell could have been traded in Spring Training?

“I was delighted,
man. (joking). At first, there’s a lot of rumors that float around. I kind of
went to my sources. I was assured by several of them that this was a legit
thing. I’m not going to jump the gun or anything. I think I said it before, you
feel hurt, but I think that’s a normal human reaction that anyone would have.
It just kind of shows you that there are some times when this sport is really a
business and you have to treat it that way and you go from there. It doesn’t
take away any excitement or how much I like the guys that I play with on the
field, and I’m on a team that has a chance to win the World Series. I don’t
know too many people that can say that even in the big leagues that each year,
year in and year out, they’re on a team that has a chance to win a World
Series. I’m still really excited about that. It wasn’t the greatest process in
the world.”

How weird would Spring Training have been if Teixeira was there?

I envisioned a
very awkward scene of me and Youk taking groundballs at third and then basically
talking to you guys after every single practice, saying, am I ready or not? I’m
glad that was avoided.”

Big Papi on himself, A-Rod and the game

It’s officially a full house in Fort Myers as Mike Lowell just walked into a mostly-empty complex to unpack his belongings. Lowell will likely speak to the assembled media in the next couple of days. Today was David Ortiz’s turn to have center stage.

Ortiz addressed the media for some 25 minutes today, addressing issue after issue:

He is driven to bounce back in 2009 and silence some perceived critics:

“I
sometimes, I listen to comments and it just does nothing but make me stronger.
I heard people saying, he’s getting old or whatever. Dude, I just turned 33. I
never seen a player be called old at 33. People are kind of used to seeing
David Ortiz producing like I have done as long as I’ve been here. I don’t blame
nobody. But people sometimes need to sit down and analyze the game. This is not
a game where you just play it and go home and that’s about it. We come here, we
get prepared to play. I try my best every time I go out there. Like I said, I
try to help this ballclub. These negative comments that people make about you,
just for one year that you’ve been off for injuries and things like that, that
makes no sense. So I just put that behind my back and it’s a new year.
Everybody is starting at zero. Let things happen.”

Ortiz is very happy about the way his wrist feels:

Yeah,
I finally don’t have my mind worrying anymore. I took my time off swinging like
the doctor said and I started right on when he told me and I went back to
Boston. I’m feeling fine right now. I’ve got no problem swinging.”

He seems a little concerned that the Red Sox didn’t pick up a bona-fide slugger to replace his pal Manny Ramirez in the lineup:

“Whenever
you can add a slugger to your lineup, it can do nothing but help. Everybody in
this division is getting stronger. You don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s
a lot of people out there in the offseason looking for jobs, guys who have done
it before. I guess sometimes our office needs to hear from somebody about what
we need at the time. I always talk to Tito and I always talk to Theo and they’re
always asking me questions. I tell them straight up. So, the problems we’re
facing right now, J.D. has back problems, still. If we would have another
slugger here, we would worry about it, but not that much. We don’t know what’s
going to happen with him during the season.”

Ortiz was proud of his close friend A-Rod for admitting wrong-doing on ESPN in regards to the failed steroid test in 2003:

“I
think the A-Rod situation, it was a little tough for the game because you’re
talking about the best player all the way around. At the same time, people have
to give the guy credit because he came out and said what he said at the point
of his career where he had done it all. On top of that, that was what, six
years ago? The guy has put up numbers his whole career. It was one thing that
he said that caught my attention a lot and it was that he was young and at the
time, that was [happening] all around the league. When you’re young and
somebody comes to you with an idea of improving your production and things like
that, sometimes you make a wrong decision like he did. But he’s been playing
clean and still producing, and he’s still been the best player in the game. If
I’m a fan and I had to judge a guy, I would put that in the past and move
forward. The guy, he works hard, man. He’s still doing his thing. He still has
nine more years on his contract and he’s definitely going to do some damage.”

 On the game distancing itself from the “steroid era”:

Like
I said, man, this game has been hurt, a lot already. This is not a players game
or a team’s game, this is a family game. everybody, we have a lot of families
that live off this game, we have a lot of families that enjoy this game, that
bring their kids to watch these games, and I don’t think that this game can
take anymore. Whatever happened in the past … Everybody right now, I guarantee
you that more than 80 or 90 percent of the players are playing clean. But what
you see out there right now is what you can get.  We’re going through a tough situation all the
way around, the economy, our soldiers fighting in Iraq and all this stuff, and
this game is a distraction for people, for the American families. I would like
to see some things. I would like people to leave this game alone and just let us
play the game. I would do whatever it takes to make this game get better, but
not everybody is on the same page. The game has changed a lot. There’s a lot of
pressure. This game, it’s been getting a lot of heat lately. Let’s just play
the game. The game is tough enough. People need to hear something different.

 

Lugo weighs in; Bay arrives

Julio Lugo, aiming to be the starting shortstop on Opening Day, looks a little more buff this year. But Lugo doesn’t think there’s a big difference.

“Same size. I just
gained like five pounds. Nobody knows because we were in the playoffs. Nobody paid
attention to that. I’m a couple of
pounds more, that’s all,” Lugo said.

If Jed Lowrie beats Lugo out for the job, will the veteran ask for a trade? “We’re going to see
at the end of [Spring Training]. I don’t think like that. We’ll see at the end
of the spring,” said Lugo, who said he know longer feels any pain in the left quad that kept him out of the second half last year. Lugo also confirmed that he would have been back for the World Series, if only the Red Sox had won Game 7.

Today’s new arrival was LF Jason Bay. That leaves  Mike Lowell as the only starting-caliber player not to be spotted in camp. All players will be on the premises tomorrow for physicals.

As for Bay, he was in his typical pleasant mood. Heading into the last year of his contract, he didn’t sound stressed about the situation in the least

“There’s a lot of
factors that go into that,” Bay said. “There’s definitely a lot of positives for me to stay
here. I’m very familiar with it, I love it, as most people do. But it’s not the
end all, be all. Until something concrete comes up in that arena, I really don’t
have much of an opinion on that. I have one year left on my contract. I’m
playing that out and we’ll see what happens. If something comes up before that,
my agent and I would definitely consider it.”

David Ortiz — who is a svelter Papi this spring — will be the headliner later as he holds his first press conference of the year following today’s workout.

J.D. and his balky back

At the time of year when most players inevitably proclaim to be in “the best shape of my life”, Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew was candid today about the fact that his back — that limited him through August and September last year — is still problematic.

Drew said that he is fine to play right now, but admits that it’s unpredictable when it might lock up.

“I’m not concerned that I won’t be at full capacity to play,” Drew said. “Like I said,
if we had to go out there and play a game today, I could do that. That wouldn’t
be a problem. That being said, I have battled with this the entire offseason as
far as stiffness goes. Not really mobility as much. You wake up stiff, you move
around, you do a few things, sit down for a while, you get stiff. Able to get
up and move around and swing the bat, stuff like that I can do no problem right
now. The one major thing is when it locks up, that’s when it causes the main
problem.”

Other than that, the talk of camp today was how Jacoby Ellsbury looked more muscular and how David Ortiz looked trimmer. Big Papi will do his first media briefing of the spring on Monday.

Camp is getting full

Monday is the official reporting date for position players, but almost everyone had rolled in by this morning. The MVP — Dustin Pedroia – headlined today’s newcomers, which also included David Ortiz and a noticeably stronger Jacoby Ellsbury. Word is that Julio Lugo arrived right after media access was closed for the morning.

That leaves Mike Lowell and Jason Bay as the only members of the starting nine who haven’t been spotted on the premises.

Pedroia is clearly hungry to erase the sour taste of Game 7 at The Trop:

One
game away from the World Series. If that doesn’t motivate you, you need to pick
a new profession. I think everybody is motivated this year,” Pedroia said.

Ellsbury hung out with Pedroia a lot this winter at the Athletes Perfomance Institute in Tempe, Ariz.

“A
lot of guys have had success training over there and I wanted to go down there,” said Ellsbury.
“Me being up in Oregon, you get the good weather down there, that’s a big part
of it. Do some baseball stuff, hit on the field, throw, be around a lot of big
league guys and that was fun. it was a good atmosphere to be in.”

As for Jacoby’s improved physique?

“The
biggest thing I would say is just to be out there every single day, knowing that
the team can count on me to be healthy,” Ellsbury said. “You obviously can’t prepare for some
things, but I just prepare my body to be out there every single day and help
team.

The ace — No. 19 Josh Beckett — is expected to hold his first media briefing after the workout.

Captain Comeback

Ah, the first official workout for pitchers and catchers. Spring is officially here. At least for those of us in Florida. Anyway, Jed Lowrie and J.D. Drew were among the new faces in camp today, two days in advance of pitchers/catchers reporting date.

Jason Varitek spoke today, marking his first comments since he signed his new deal on Feb. 6.

There was a big audience for the captain:

Doubts of whether he’d be back?I wouldn’t say
there wasn’t any doubt,” Varitek said. “But there was never ever doubt in what I wanted and in
the parts of making sure that I maintained the fact that that’s where my heart
is, and that’s where I’ve always wanted to be.”

What was the winter like? “I continued to
have to do what I had to do. I had to train, get myself ready, I had to go
through those things, regardless of what was going on and realized I had to put
myself in a position to be ready to play baseball come spring.”

 More thoughts on getting through it with a resolution: “I’m just glad at
this point it’s over with. I’m ecstatic than I’m a Red Sox. I’m ecstatic with
the fact that I have the peace of mind to know that I’m going to be in this
uniform. I get closer to retiring in this uniform. Not saying that I see
retirement any time soon but it allows me that opportunity to do what’s most
important to me is to wear this “C” for this group of fans and people in this
organization, and we’ve spent a lot of time building championships.”

Did the Jan. 23 meeting with John Henry play a role in the re-signing? “I think you’d
really have to ask Mr. Henry that. I don’t think it hurt the situation. I think
it may have accelerated some things. As a player, I have an agent that does a
job for me and in this instance, I felt I needed to be involved. You look at it
this way, maybe it did help. But I really can’t answer that for sure. I just
know that finally it gets me back in this uniform and it gives me that
opportunity to retire in this uniform that much closer.”

Second guess himself? “Not really.
Ultimately I got what was important to me, which was being able to maintain
legacy and maintain the opportunity to be here and know that there was a
commitment back from this organization that I’m going to be here. That was the
most important thing to me from the get-go. I’m just happy. I’m happy that I’m
here, I’m happy that I’m a player in this organization still, and happy to have
the opportunity with what this team has coming into camp to get back to a
chance to win another championship.”

Smoltz eyes June

Jason Varitek will address the media on Saturday, marking his first public comments of any kind since he signed his contract extension.

Today, John Smoltz was the story. The candid righty just got finished addressing the media, and per usual, was expansive in his thoughts about everything he was asked.

Being with the Sox: “First
and foremost, it’s a great opportunity. I look at it as how equipped they are
to win a championship. To be part of that in whatever capacity they want me to
be part of that gets my blood boiling to the point where I can never get enough
of that.”

Time-table: “My time-table is a lot faster than most but I like what they’ve done here and
they’ve got me to realize the strength of this club. They don’t really want me
to think about anything other than June. So sometime June thereafter to be as
strong as I possibly can to help them down the stretch. That gives me 12 months
of rehab. Even if I feel like I’m ready in April or May, it doesn’t matter. I’m
buying into it with all the resources they have here and what they’ve made me
feel like in a short period of time. I’ve told them their biggest challenge for
me is to tame me down because I’m a full-bore guy and I love to compete. They’ve
communicated it well and I look forward to the opportunities when they come.”

Still wanting to compete at the highest level instead of retiring: ““When
I came back from this surgery, the competitive juices were still there. I still
was able to work out, I could still do all the things I wanted to do. I wasn’t
limited. I’ve heard my whole life what I can’t do. I feel in my heart that I’ll
know when it’s time to retire. I enjoy pitching and competing and there’s
nothing better for me than to think about postseason and to think about the
atmosphere that Boston has, the rivalry that exists that everyone knew.
Whatever team you’ve been on, you know that existed in this league. I can’t
wait to be part of it.”

Confident in himself and his new team:  I’m super
confident or I wouldn’t be here today. I have nothing to gain to just come back
and say I could throw again. I have everything to lose if that’s my mindset. I
know what I’m capable of doing and the competing factor is not something I’m
worried about. The physical part I’m really not. it’s just going to be, can I
stay in this mode and slow down when I know I want to pitch? The pressure is
off for me with that regard the way they’ve approached it here. They’re not
missing too much for this team to have a chance to win, with or without me. I
like the fact that I can be part of that.”

The new uniform: “The one thing
you can be assured with me is wearing a new uniform will not be a problem.
Learning names and knowing how to get around, that could be a little bit of an
issue. I’m used to being at the same place. I could drive to and from work with
my eyes closed, I’ve been there so long. That’s the only thing. I’m taking that
one one step at a time. Accomodations. The final piece for me is getting
accommodations in Boston. When I know where I’m going to live, I’m going to be
able to breathe a little easier. As far as putting on the uniform, and getting
out there and competing and helping in any way I can, that’s just who I am. I hope
the young guys pick my brain. I hope it’s a situation that’s all positive
because I’m looking forward to it that way in regards to being able to, what I
call, maximize the experiences that I have.”

Anything to prove
to the Braves? “I’ve turned the page. I’ve got a lot of friends over there. In
baseball, you play against so many ex-teammates anyway. When you get on the
rubber and you toe the rubber and you get a ball in your hand, I know a lot of
people and I try to get them out. That’s going to be the same approach I have
this year. When I get back into knowing I’m getting close to pitching again,
all bets are off.”

Will he play in the Champions Tour some day? “That’s a goal of mine. I’m going to pursue that when I retire and see what
level I can get to. I can safely say I will be in a tournament. I don’t know
how many of them, but I will be in an event to test my skills to see if that’s
something I could learn from my past or previous profession in baseball. I look
forward to that challenge as well.”

Buchholz working on the mental game

Nobody has ever questioned the gift that Clay Buchholz has in his right arm, from the mid 90s fastball to that sweeping curveball to the changeup that freezes hitters. But obviously something led to his 2-9 record and 6.75 ERA last year, during his stints in the Major Leagues. It was the mental side, which Buchholz acknowledged in a session with the media on Thursday, official reporting day here at Spring Training.

“You live and learn, and I learned a lot from last year,” Buchholz said. “It’s definitely
mental. Physically I worked pretty hard this offseason, throwing a lot more. I
feel like I’m in better shape. The mental side of it, I’ve always heard, it’s
90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. I know have the athletic ability to
do it but if you don’t have the right frame of mind to go about it, I don’t
think you’ll succeed so that was a big part of it this offseason.”

To get a handle on the mental aspect, Buchholz met with former Major Leaguer Bob Tewksbury, who is the sports psychology coach for the Red Sox.

“I
had a couple of meetings with Mr. Tewksbury, and he just helped me on some
little things to go out there and think about,” Buchholz said. “If you have negative thoughts
going through your head when you’re on the mound during a game, you sort of
have to step off the mound, take a breath and try to make a pitch instead of
worrying about the next batter the inning before. That was my deal last year.”

What will Buchholz’s deal be this year? The Red Sox have Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Brad Penny slated for the rotation and John Smoltz pegged for a spot once he is given medical clearance.

Buchholz isn’t thinking about that right now. He’s just thinking about getting his own game back on track. Last year was an utter nightmare. It’s hard to forget the sight of Buchholz just completely losing it at Camden Yards that night in August in what proved to be his final Major League start of the season. From there, he went to Double-A, and then to the Arizona Fall League. This from the kid who tossed a no-hitter the previous September.

 “I’d get in a jam last year and I’d try to make a pitch perfect instead of just
making a pitch and that’s where I got behind in the count all of last year.
that was exactly my mindset in the bullpen that I just threw. Really easy and
try to hit the third of the plate, instead of right on the black, and that’s how
I’m going to go about it.”

In other news, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield held court with the media this morning and expressed optimism about working with Josh Bard again.

“I
said that three years ago that I never had somebody work as hard as he did to
try to catch me and do the right things,” Wakefield said. “He was truly a professional — his attitude
and his preparation for the way he went about his work and I look forward to
working with him again.”

Theo Epstein and Terry Francona will do their annual opening of camp address to the media at noon. It won’t be the same this year without the annual question of asking whether Manny is expected to arrive in camp on time.

Lastly, please e-mail me a few more questions at ian.browne@mlb.com. I’m hoping to post an in-box — formerly known as mailbag — by tomorrow.

All for now.

Ian.

Send me questions

Some of the more faithful readers might have noticed a sudden halt to the Red Sox mailbag that used to run every Monday.

The good news is that they are back, albeit in a different form and structure. The name of the story will now be called “in box”. So you can send me an e-mail at ian.browne@mlb.com with any question pertaining to the Sox and just leave your first name and the first intial of your last name, followed by your home town (city and state).

Instead of doing the in box every Monday as we did with the mailbags, we will run them on redsox.com whenever i have a sufficient amount of good questions to post, and of course, the time to post them!!!

So fire away with your questions please.  Again, make sure to send them to ian.browne@mlb.com

thx,

Ian.

Signs of Spring

Twenty-four hours and counting until the official reporting date, but almost every Red Sox pitcher is already here for a morning workout. I’m sorry to rub it in, but the weather could not be any nicer than it is. Beautiful sun, great temperature, laid-back atmosphere.

Josh Beckett is clearly healthy at the outset of camp, as he went through a bullpen session today, looking impressive enough for Takashi Saito to utter a “wow” when he watched a couple of Beckett fastballs.

Jon Lester was next to throw a side. Then it was Brad Penny’s turn. The fact that Penny is throwing a bullpen before camp even starts is, at the very least, an encouraging sign that his shoulder is recovered from his problems of a year ago.

Tim Wakefield, the venerable vet, began his 15th season in Boston by arriving at camp today. Most of the pitchers projected to make the team have been on the grounds the last couple of days. I’ve yet to see Papelbon or Justin Masterson.

Position players Kevin Youkilis and Rocco Baldelli were again on the field working out.

Jason Varitek hasn’t arrived just yet, but he will make his first public comments since signing his new deal before the week is out.

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