February 2010

Lackey touches down in the Fort

The most-anticipated new arrival for the 2010 Red Sox arrived in discreet fashion on Wednesday afternoon, pulling into the team’s Player Development Complex after virtually everyone had gone home for the day.

Lackey went out and played catch with Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell and then presumably dropped off some of his belongings in the clubhouse.

Thursday is the official reporting date for pitchers and catchers, followed by physicals on Friday and the first workout on Saturday. Several players took part in an informal workout on Wednesday, as has been the case the last few days. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield, Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, Ramon Ramirez, Hideki Okajima and Daniel Bard were among those who took the field on Wednesday. Okajima was the only Sox player still on the premises when Lackey made his under-the-radar arrival.

The Red Sox signed Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million contract in December. The right-hander had spent his entire career with the Angels before becoming a free agent after the 2009 season.

Day 1 in the Fort

I’m back to my home away from home. After a 1,400 mile trek with my wife, the kids and my sister-in-law, I have returned to Fort Myers, which feels as familiar as that comfortable pair of sweat pants I wore almost every day during the winter.

At any rate, it was a fairly quiet day at Early Bird camp, highlighted by Jonathan Papelbon’s first mound session — and media session — since Game 3 of last October’s Division Series. Daisuke Matsuzaka, looking lean and mean, did a car-side interview in the parking lot with Japanese reporters and will hopefully meet with the Boston press on Wednesday.

There were a ton of players participating in the informal workouts, including Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Manny Delcarmen and Tim Wakefield, who kicked off season No. 16 in Boston with his arrival this morning.

Pitchers and catchers are all due to be in Fort Myers by Thursday, with physicals set for Friday and the first full-squad workout on Saturday.

Papelbon spoke to the media for 19 minutes, taking all topics head-on. Here were some snippets.

What about some people thinking it’s a foregone conclusion the righty will leave Boston as soon as he is eligible for free agency?

“I think that’s the perception, that I’m going to go somewhere else, but it’s all a perception. Right now this is the way it’s working out. It’s that simple. It’s one year at a time, it’s working out and both sides are happy. Why would you try to do anything else is my way of thinking. Of course I’d love to be with Boston for a long term,” Papelbon said.

That painful outing against the Angels?

“It’s something that I used for motivation for me this offseason. What else can you do with it? It’s something that you’ve got to learn from and be able to move on. You’re always going to learn [more] from the innings that you struggle in than the ones you’re successful at.”

What happened to the splitter?

“That’s such a feel pitch. It’s a pitch that you have to throw a lot, just like a curveball. Any kind of offspeed pitch, it’s a feel pitch. There were times when I was choking it down a little too much and overthrowing it, and there were times when I was throwing it perfect. But like I said, that comes with experience, and this year I’ll be able to take that into the season right from the get-go.”

The goal for Papelbon now is to start a new postseason streak much like the 26 innings without allowing an earned run that didn’t end until Game 3 against the Angels.

“I’m looking forward to starting that streak all over again for another four or five years, hopefully. That’s how I set my goals – to go on streaks. You go on those long streaks, not get in a rut, come out of them quick, that’s what it’s all about for me in my role.”

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It’s good to be back!

Say hello to the Early Birds

Sorry about the delay between blog posts. There’s been a whole lot of nothing going on with the Red Sox of late, so there hasn’t been a whole lot to post about. It’s just that time of year.

I must confess that several Red Sox players have beaten me to Fort Myers. Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis, Manny Delcarmen and Jonathan Papelbon have all been cited on the premises this week. The official reporting date is Feb. 18, and that’s just for pitchers and catchers.

My good friend Jonny Miller of WBZ-Radio AM caught up with some of these guys this week and here is a sampling.

Delcarmen on his poor finish last year: “A little disappointed. I felt like I was a little banged up and probably should have said something earlier. I just want to go out there and get the ball all the time and Tito knows that. For the most part, I’m excited to come down here early and get ready for the season because I definitely want to start off and finish stronger than I did last year.”

He looks a little leaner this year.

“I lost a little weight. A lot more cardio than last offseason. So I just wanted to come to Florida and show that I was ready.”

Without a doubt, the way last year ended was a bitter pill for the Red Sox to swallow.

“It was tough,” Youkilis said. “Walking away from the season like that. We had a good season. Won 95 games. We made the playoffs nad came up short and got beat by a team that was better than us at the time. For us, this year, I think we have a pretty good team and hopefully we can get to the playoffs again and go further than the first round.”

That said, Jon Lester said it was best not to let the loss fester for too long.

“I thought about it for a day,” said Lester. “Your offseason comes around and you move on. You can’t sit there and wallow in it and say, ‘pitiful me, we got swept.’ You get in the offseason and you get home and you move on, you watch a couple of playoff games and a couple of world series games and see who wins. I really didn’t think about it at all. I think this team is pretty much determined every year to come in and win a World Series. I don’t think our goals are any less than that. We’re going to work hard in Spring Training to get to that goal.”

The players are not minimizing the loss of Jason Bay.

“Jason, we’re going to miss him for his personality and his overall character. He’s a great guy, a great teammate,” Youkilis said. “He really loved Boston. It was very sad that it had to go the way it did. Baseball, it’s a business in a lot of senses. It’s a sad thing sometimes but it is a business. Guys come and go. It’s one of those things where you stay in touch and wish them the best but you also have to accept another guy coming in Mike Cameron that will try to help this team win a World Series. We’re excited to see Mike. I hear he’s a great guy, a great teammate. That’s all you ask for, for guys to give 100 percent on the field.”

Meanwhile, Mike Lowell, who remains in limbo, figures to be a topic of conversation as long as he is still with the Red Sox.

“He’s a great ballplayer,” Youkilis said. “His numbers and accolades speak for themselves. He’s probably one of the best third basemen defensively to play the game. He’s on this team right now. I don’t know if he’s going to be traded or on this team for the year. You never know. If there’s a place for him to play every day, they’re going to try to do that for him. If he’s healthy, he’s a guy that can help a team out.”


What will Johnny Damon do? Shocking, really, that he’s yet to find a home. Damon proved last season that he still has a lot to offer on a baseball field. I think he was a huge difference-maker in Game 4 of the World Series, working the pivotal at-bat of the series, and then making that memorable double steal.

Every year, one guy seems to get left out in the cold. Last year it was Bobby Abreu. This year it’s Damon. I think the Rays are the team that makes the most sense for Damon. He would get to stay in the American League East, the division he’s played in the last eight years. Damon lives in the Orlando area, so he could commute to work. Really, it would be a perfect situation. He is exactly the type of player the Rays could use. I’m sure Gabe Kapler will give him a ringing endorsement.

Another one of the lovable “Idiots” from 2004 found work today, with word surfacing through ESPN.com that Kevin Millar will sign with the Cubs, a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training. I think he will be great for that clubhouse, and obviously he knows what it’s like to help relax a team that hasn’t won a World Series for the better part of the century.