July 2012

Crawford sits, Valentine explains, Tito reunites

It was a bizarre Saturday afternoon in the Red Sox clubhouse. ESPN color commentator Terry Francona held court with roughly a half dozen Red Sox players near Dustin Pedroia’s locker. As Francona initially sat down with just Cody Ross, Pedroia sidled up to him. Next thing you know, there were six or seven players (from Clay Buchholz to Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Nick Punto to David Ortiz) having a grand old time with Francona, which presented a semi-awkward scene for current Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. By the way, Valentine didn’t see the scene as it was happening, but was told about it after the fact.

But before you know it, things got even stranger. When asked why Carl Crawford wasn’t in the lineup on Saturday, Valentine said it was part of a four-day plan mandated by the training staff. Crawford shouldn’t play more than four days, or games, in a row. Of course, Valentine broke his own rule when Crawford initially came back, playing him six days in a row.

Valentine was candid about the fact he blew off this plan earlier this month, when he wound up playing Crawford six days in a row when he came off the disabled list.

“Actually, I did a manager no-no thing and went against what I was told to do. Never to be done again,” Valentine said. “They told me before that game that he wasn’t playing, and I kind of did the old veto power. ‘Who says he’s not playing?’ And I played him.”

Crawford has a strained UCL in his left elbow and is all but certain to undergo Tommy John ligament transfer surgery before the start of the 2013 season.

The Red Sox actually had a day off on Thursday, which meant Valentine had the leeway to play him on Saturday. But the Red Sox are facing three straight righties beginning on Sunday, so Valentine felt it would be more beneficial to have him in the lineup for those games.

“My understanding is that I got today off and I know the medical people want me to get rest,” Crawford said. “I’m not really sure what’s the program on it. I guess that’s the way it is right now. I came here ready to play, like I always do. I found out this morning I wasn’t playing. That’s it, pretty much. Could I play? Yeah, I could play today. Like I say, they’re following that method right there. I’m just going along with the way things are.”

It is a unique situation for everyone involved – particularly Valentine.

“I’d like to have Carl every day,” said Valentine. “I’d like to have all my good players every day, but I understand the situation better now than I did then.”

Crawford was on the bench Saturday, despite his .319 career average against CC Sabathia.

The night Pedroia vented

As a Boston sports follower, one of my most vivid memories was after Game 3 of the 1984 Finals, when a disgruntled Larry Bird lit into his Celtics teammates, saying they played like a “bunch of sissies” in a 137-104 loss to the Lakers.

Dustin Pedroia didn’t question anyone’s machismo, but he seemed to be at the end of his rope with the way the team is playing following Friday’s 10-3 loss to the Yankees. Maybe Pedroia’s words will have a similar impact as what Bird said under entirely different circumstances some 28 years ago.

“The first 100 games have been [expletive],” Pedroia said. “I mean, at two games under .500, we’re the Boston Red Sox. If everyone’s thrilled about where we’re at then we need to re-evaluate. Because I don’t like losing. I know everyone else doesn’t like losing, we got to play better man.”

At 49-51, 11 1/2 games back in the American League East and 5 1/2 back in the Wild Card standings, Pedroia still believes.

“I think we can. We got to play good, that’s the bottom line. We have great players, we just need to play good,” Pedroia said. “That’s it. We didn’t. Their guys did, late in the game they extended themselves from us. That’s what great teams do. We didn’t do anything. Our at-bats later in the game were not good. Swinging early in the count — heck, if their eighth-inning guy is going to come in the game, let’s at least get 25, 30 pitches so maybe he can’t pitch tomorrow. Do something productive. And we’re not doing that. That’s a sign of not a winning team. So those are the little things that we need to do better, and it’s frustrating.”

And please don’t tell Pedroia that injuries are a reason the team is where it is.

“When I was hurt, Pedro [Ciriaco] hit .400. When Carl was out, Nava hit .350,” said Pedroia. “The injuries, that’s an excuse. I’m not going to make one. These other guys shouldn’t either. We win as a team and we lose as a team. When injuries happen, guys have stepped up and played their butts off. They put us in a position to make a run. We got to play better, man, that’s it.”

Do Pedroia and his teammates discuss these type of things?

“Yeah, hell yeah we talk about it. We talk about everything man. We got good guys man, we got a good group of guys. We talk baseball all the time. We just got to settle in and play better man, that’s it,” Pedroia said.

Pedroia’s thoughts on what the front office might do between now and Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline?

“I don’t know. I don’t talk to them about stuff. As players, we’re focusing on trying to beat the Yankees right now. Our job is hard enough, we got to come out and execute,” Pedroia said. “Their job is to put the best players they can on the field.”

Pedroia knows the Red Sox can’t wait any longer to get hot.

“I still believe in us. I mean you have to. With the makeup of these guys and the way we work, I feel it’s only a matter of time. Hopefully we don’t just run out of it. You know what I mean, we got to go. We got to play well.”

Is there enough urgency?

“I hope. I can’t speak for everyone,” said Pedroia. “I feel urgency, talking to a lot of guys, we all do. We need to win. It’s not — that’s all we feel. Maybe that’s putting added pressure on guys to come out of their comfort zone and do things that they’re not capable of doing. Need to take a step back and relax. Got to win man.”

Ross: Josh Johnson would bolster contender

Rumors fly around this time of year involving all sorts of players. But one that Red Sox outfielder Cody Ross is particularly intrigued by is his ex-teammate, right-hander Josh Johnson.

The Marlins have already made quite the splash this week, trading Anibal Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez. While they might be less inclined to move Johnson after already making two big trades, Ross knows that his former teammate could help any team he was traded to, including the Red Sox.

“I mean, he definitely would help any team,” Ross said. “He’s a bulldog. He’s one of the premier pitchers, an ace. I’ve always said that he is one of the most competitive players I’ve ever played with. He’s a bulldog.”

Ross and Johnson were teammates with the Marlins from 2006 until Ross was claimed off waivers by the Giants on Aug. 22, 2010. Though Johnson is just 6-7 with a 4.14 ERA this year, Ross is convinced his performance could improve down the stretch while pitching for higher stakes.

“Sometimes a change of scenery might help. He threw well his last time out,” Ross said. “He went through a little tough stretch but you can count on him being good down toward the end of the season. He’s as good as anybody out there.”

How about the change from a smaller market like Miami to a major market? Would Johnson be able to adapt to that change?

“Yeah, absolutely. He could definitely handle it. He’s so mentally strong that he wouldn’t let a big market affect him. He’s a professional. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s special,” Ross said.

Johnson is under contract through the 2013 season, which would make him more attractive to a team like the Red Sox. That also could make the Marlins more inclined to hang on to him.

To buy or sell becoming a real dilemma for Cherington

It all seemed so simple at the All-Star break. The Red Sox would get Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford back to start the second half and go on a nice little run. Then Ben Cherington’s trade strategy would be simple. He would add a piece or two to help the Red Sox get that extra push for their pursuit of a playoff berth.

And like clockwork, they ripped off five wins in their first seven games, the last of those five a thrilling win on a Cody Ross three-run walkoff shot.

How many games have the Red Sox won since Ross got bathed in a splash of Gatorade? That would be zero. The Sox have lost four in a row to fall 10 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the American League East, and four behind the A’s for the second Wild Card spot.

So now what does Cherington do?

“I mean, we hope not,” Dustin Pedroia said, when asked if the Sox could become sellers by July 31. “That second wild card, it could come down to the last week of the season. I was talking to Gary Tuck on the bus. He tells me every year, ‘Look at the standings Sept. 15 and see where you’re at.’ Usually every year, I remember 2010, we had half of our starters hurt and we look up Sept. 15 and we’re still there. We’ve got to keep fighting. That’s our mindset.”

But Cherington has to protect the Red Sox both this year and going forward. To help this year’s team, he might have to mortgage a future trip. And he must ask himself in that case: Has this team justified giving away future chips for?

There is always added tension in a clubhouse at this time of year, as rumors make their way from team to team. Almost to a man, the Red Sox say they aren’t thinking along these lines.

“All we can focus on is going out there and playing the game today,” said Adrian Gonzalez. “That’s all we can control. That’s what I’m pretty sure everyone feels in here. We’re not focused on the trade deadline. I don’t even know what today is to be honest with you. Actually I do know. today is the 23rd. that means it’s my daughter’s eight-month birthday. That’s the only reason I know what today is.”

Cherington is fully aware of the date. Back in 1987, the late Lou Gorman released veterans Bill Buckner and Don Baylor, and let the kids – from Ellis Burks to Mike Greenwell to Sam Horn to Todd Benzinger to John Marzano — play for the rest of the season.

Could Cherington take a similar approach this year with prospects like Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias and unload a few veterans?

The Red Sox are likely going to determine his path with what they do on the final five games of this crucial road trip through Texas and New York.

“It’s the same mood,” said Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “We’re trying to win. We’ve got to go out there and battle. We’ve just got to continue to do what we do best, and that’s stay in there and grind. We’ve got to pitch better. We’ve got to play better. We’ve been playing decent baseball since the break. Obviously, the last homestand wasn’t great, but other than that, we’ve been playing all right.”

To become a factor in 2012 — and to buy instead of sell — the Red Sox need to start playing better than all right real soon.

Deep in the heart of Texas

If the Red Sox seem a little more comfortable in Texas than other road spots, there’s good reason. Their team is surrounded by players who have Texas roots.

Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey all hail from the Lone Star State, as do Scott Atchison, Matt Albers, Kelly Shoppach, Carl Crawford and Will Middlebrooks.

Monday was particularly special for Middlebrooks, who grew up a Rangers fan, living about two and a half hours from Arlington. This was his first Major League game in Arlington, though he played here in high school All-Star Games.

“I remember how hot it was. It was in July before my senior year of high school. I don’t remember much. It was an All-Star game or something,” said Middlebrooks.  “I grew up in Texarcarna which is like two hours from here. But I live here in the offseason now. I have a lot of friends here. I came to a lot of games out here.  I’m excited to play here. It’s a fun place. When I was a kid, i remember watching Juan Gonzalez, Pudge. Who else was here? Rusty Greer. A-Rod for a little bit.”

Manager Bobby Valentine also has deep roots in Texas, as the Rangers gave him his start in  Major League managing from 1985-92. His son still lives here, and Valentine said he has several friends in the Arlington area.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who hit a mammoth home run tonight, played for the Rangers for parts of four seasons before coming to Boston. Adrian Gonzalez played 59 games for the Rangers over two seasons.

Varitek honored at Fenway

The Red Sox honored Jason Varitek with a nice tribute before tonight’s game at Fenway against the Blue Jays. Without question, being away from the game is still an adjustment. But he seemed in good spirits on a night he was accompanied by his wife, four children, his parents and several friends from the various chapters of his life.
In the mid-innings, Varitek conducted an interview with the Boston press core in which he spoke about a variety of different subjects.

on the emotional ceremony: “I’m really trying to absorb what just happened. I think I spent a lot of time out there trying to absorb but I don’t think i fully can because on my mind is, you’re there, they’re doing this for you, and I in turn want to say thank you. How do you say thank you for 15 years? How do you say thank you to a fan base that has been nothing but support, and a fan base that I fit with with my style of play and what they demanded? To say thank you for that. It was bothering me for quite a while. I had a lot of anxiety and a lot of emotions going into today.”

Coming on to the field as a retired player instead of an active one: “It’s just different. Instead of preparing, you’re just in and out. It’s a sacred place. It’s a place you appreciate. Especially this field.”

Has he gotten rid of the itch to play? “I probably never will, but I’ll be all right.”

On the development of Saltalamacchia: “Everybody started to appreciate what Salty’s doing more when he had 10, 12, 13, 14 home runs. He was catching the ball, throwing the ball and doing the right things behidn the plate well before that. The offensive recognition gave him recognition for something that he was doing superbly behind the plate, but those aren’t statistics. Those aren’t things that allow people to hold onto. To see those things is such a joy, just watching him catch at the beginning of the season. The way he’s catching the ball, the way he’s moving, the way he’s doing things, it’s nice. His work and everything he’s gone through the last year and a half and before that, it looks good.”

The first pitch to Wakefield was a second-rate knuckleball: “I tried to. Should have warmed up. I used to mess around and throw it days Wake would pitch, Salty and I would finish with, like, 10-15 knuckleballs. I have the worst knuckleball in baseball. Once in a blue moon I’d throw a good one. But it would be maybe one out of a hundred. I saw the movie Knuckleball and it didn’t help me.”

Life as a fan? “I felt like a fan the other night. I had the girls all in rally caps, hats backwards and inside out going into the ninth inning, and it worked. Cody hit the three-run homer, and they’re just lit up, happy. That’s the first time I’ve been able to do stuff like that with my kids. It’s weird for them — ‘What are you doing watching a game with us? You’re supposed to be out there. Who are these guys? Why aren’t you out there?’ Yeah, I’m a fan.”

Thoughts on the struggles of Lester and Beckett? “The detail, I haven’t watched in that much detail. I know the outing before last, Josh threw pretty doggone well. His last one wasn’t too, too good, but everybody has the tendency to look at what was most recent. Josh, for the most part, you put the majority together, has done pretty well. Jonny, it hasn’t been easy for him, but sometimes when things aren’t easy, maybe the next two months could be. It looks like he’s got good stuff. It’s execution. If they’re executing 1-4, they’re going to be fine. They’ll start with No. 1 and execute that and work everything, the ability to work everything off that, they’ll be fine. If we stay in the moment of negativity, so to speak, we can all catch ourselves in that same turmoil of ‘What’s wrong?’ instead of ‘What’s right?’ and through that, continue to focus themselves on what’s right and not what’s wrong.”

Catching up with Papelbon

While David Ortiz was the only Red Sox All-Star this season, there was a familiar face in the room during the availability for National League All-Stars on Monday afternoon.

Jonathan Papelbon, a four-time All-Star with Boston, was back on the big stage again, this time for the Philadelphia Phillies.

As was always the case during his years with the Red Sox, Papelbon had plenty to say on a variety of subjects.

Has Papelbon’s newfound wealth changed him? “It hasn’t changed my life at all. I’m good, man. I bought two four-wheelers for hunting camp. That’s about it, man. I went from a Back Bay penthouse to a Renthouse Square penthouse. That’s about it, man. When it’s all said and done, man, I’m easy breezy. I mean, the contract for me, it never real was about money. I’ve said this from the beginning. If it was about money for me, I would have tried to stay and start.

“It was a pride thing for me. It was a thing that I felt like, what can I do to go enjoy myself every day man. But the contract for me and wanting to go year to year like I did, and into the free agency like I did, was, I think, more just the competitive thing for me. Like, I’m going to try to be the best on the field and if I can be best on the field, why not be the best off the field? You know what I mean? It’s just kind of the way I tick.”

Papelbon hasn’t lost any motivation just because he has financial security, right? “No, man, I’m always ready to go, ready to rock. I think, when that starts happening, you really have to ask yourself: should I keep playing this game? When your work ethic changes and you start getting lazy and stuff like that … I’m one of those guys, I don’t do anything [less than full speed]. That’s just what I do.”

It would have been tough for Papelbon to stay in Boston without the only manager he ever had there — Terry Francona. “Yeah. I truly do believe that. Tito told me how to play big league baseball. I tell you what, that [guy ripped into me] sometimes. He did. But a lot of times also, he picked me up when I was falling down. He told me the ins and outs of how to prepare, how to be successful, how to succeed. He told me something one day when I was a rookie, he said, I had Michael Jordan in Birmingham and he said, you’ve got to learn how to fail before you succeed. And man, something just clicked in my head.

“It’s things like that, when I was a young kid coming up, everything, from the first Spring Training I had in Baltimore, sitting down with me and explaining how it works and how to be successful and everything. He was like a father figure to me sometimes. A to Z, to go from having him for a manager from ’05 to 2011, it’s just, him being gone, that wouldn’t have been easy for me. I don’t think it’s easy for Dustin [Pedroia], and I don’t think it’s easy for anyone in that clubhouse. There are adjustments you have to make. ”

Was Papelbon gone pretty much the moment Tito left? “I’d say it pretty much closed the door, yeah. Not 100 percent but I wasn’t going to go there and not know what manager I was going to playing for. Even when Philadelphia showed interest in me, I asked around about Charlie, you know, because I think as manager has a lot to do with the way a player ticks and a way a player can go. It did – it had a whole lot. And then Theo bounces, ding, ding, ding, lightbulb went off in my head and I say to myself, Theo bounces, he created all of this. He wouldn’t just leave this behind if … so the wheels started turning.”

How weird would it have been to stay under the new regime? “I think it would be. I don’t think that would be an experience that I could really handle too well.”

The Red Sox never made an offer. “They wanted to see if I could go out and test the market and maybe come back. I don’t know if they would [have countered], but I don’t go back. I go forward.   go full steam ahead, man. I don’t look back. I’ve got a car that don’t have rearview mirrors in it, man. I just go.”

Charlie Manuel reminds Papelbon of Francona. “Charlie’s a really good manager. Charlie’s very similar to Tito. Charlie gets on you when he needs to get on you and lets you be who you need to be.”

Papelbon is thrilled for his close friend and former teammate David Ortiz. “I was saying that earlier. I’m excited for him, I’m happy for him. I mean, I think sometimes he gets his feelings get in the way but that’s Papi, man. Papi, he gets a little emotionally fired up sometimes. You guys know. I mean, I’m happy for him. I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Lack of security for Ortiz, similar to Papelbon’s final years in Boston? “I think it fuels him. He just talks about it a little bit more. David, he’s an emotional guy. He puts his heart and soul into this. I find nothing wrong with what David says. I don’t find … you’ve got a small window, bro. a small window to try to succeed. And what David said and what he’s trying to do, I don’t find nothing wrong with that. no, it don’t surprise me, man.”

“Like I said, you have a small window to do your thing in this game. I’m so happy for him, man.”

Should the Red Sox weigh in intangibles more for a player like Ortiz? “Yeah, I think they should weigh it in. you’re talking about, in my opinion, the Red Sox are not the Red Sox without him, period. I don’t care what he asks for. I’m trying to make that big man happy.”

Papelbon is well aware that his former bullpen mate Daniel Bard, who is now in Triple-A, is having a rough time of it.  “I have. I haven’t talked to him. I’ve been meaning to actually talk to him here lately but, you know, Daniel’s the kind of guy, he’s a mature athlete and he knows what it’s about. He’s going to be fine. I really do think he’s going to be fine. He’s taking some bumps and some bruises right now but who doesn’t. You’re not in the big leagues if you’re not taking bumps and bruises. I took my bumps and bruises in 2010. You’re going to take some bumps and bruises. I think he’ll become better.”

Papelbon thinks Bard will be OK.  “He’s a pretty mentally strong kid. He really is. I saw that in the bullpen. I saw the days he got beat up and the way he  came back. I saw him have success the way he handled that. I think he’ll be fine.”

Pedroia out on Fourth; hopes thumb is OK

Dustin Pedroia was not in manager Bobby Valentine’s lineup on the Fourth of July, thanks to some soreness in a different spot of his thumb than what had previous been bothering him.

Pedroia thinks he tweaked his thumb on a diving play in short right field in Tuesday’s loss.

“I was fine during the game and then after the game, I was sore and then today, I’m pretty sore. It’s not in the area I first got hurt. I think when I dove for that ball in right field, I don’t know what happened. Bobby wanted me to not play today, because we have an off-day tomorrow. Hopefully everything [will be OK].”

Still the thumb that hurts? “Yeah, like the back side. I don’t know. I haven’t seen the doctors or anybody. I don’t know, man. I’m just pretty frustrated. It stinks.”

Are you worried? “I don’t know, I kind of have a high pain tolerance so I don’t know. I hope I’m alright.”

Bother you to swing a bat? “I haven’t tried. They told me not to do anything but if they need me to hit, I’ll hit. Whatever they need me to do.”

Pedroia confirmed he will see team doctors in Boston on Thursday, when the team returns home.

Dice-K back to DL; Gomez recalled from Pawtucket

Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday, one day after he was shelled during an abbreviated outing against the Athletics in which he lasted one-plus innings and threw a career-low of 28 pitches. Matsuzaka gave up four hits and five runs.

Clearly, Matsuzaka was hampered by a neck injury which prevented him from making a side session between starts. It is the same injury — to the trap muscle on the right side — that caused him discomfort during Spring Training and in late May, when he was on his Minor League rehab assignment.

To replace Matsuzaka on the roster, the Red Sox recalled corner infielder Mauro Gomez from Triple-A Pawtucket. Gomez, who had one short stint with the Red Sox earlier this season, is having a monster year at Pawtucket, hitting .311 with 19 homers and 55 RBIs. He has a .980 OPS.