February 2013

Middlebrooks, Red Sox dodge a scare

The Red Sox got the best news possible on Thursday morning. Will Middlebrooks was absolutely fine, a day after exiting the game with discomfort in his surgically repaired right wrist. In fact, Middlebooks could well be in the starting lineup for Friday night’s home game against the Cardinals.

“His exam this morning was benign,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “He didn’t feel any discomfort when he was put through a battery of tests and he’s actually been cleared for all baseball activities, but I’m sure he’s going to take the day to just let it rest. But given the way he came out after the swing, it was obviously very good news this morning.”

When will he play? “He’ll be day to day, until he takes BP, which should be tomorrow,” Farrell said. “Our plan right now is that he would be able to go tomorrow, but we’ll just be sure he comes through BP without any issue.”

Third base is one position the Red Sox don’t have much depth at. “Well at the time of the swing, it wasn’t real encouraging. Given what he came through with the fracture a year ago, I can understand that he was a little tentative and probably a little scared,” Farrell said. “Fortunately this morning things checked out OK.”

Lowell the latest old friend to emerge

One day, Pedro Martinez is working with the pitchers. The next day, Jason Varitek is instructing catchers. Then Tim Wakefield is mentoring Steven Wright on the finer points of the knuckleball. And then there was Tuesday, and a surprise appearance by Mike Lowell in a Red Sox uniform.

Lowell was in camp as a guest instructor with the purpose of mentoring Will Middlebrooks at third base. The idea was Dustin Pedroia’s.

Life has come full circle for Lowell, who remembers being a prospect at Yankees camp and working with, among others, World Series hero Graig Nettles.

Now Lowell is the World Series hero working with the highly-touted young player.

“Pedroia wanted me to visit him,” said Lowell. “That was Part One. I think Pedey talked to Will and said we communicated and worked well together turning double plays and said he wouldn’t mind doing some stuff. I don’t think it’s anything he does wrong. I love guys who might want to hear something else because you never know what can trigger something good.

“I remember Scott Brosius and Luis Sojo and Graig Nettles, they told me things they probably meant in passing but it sticks with you when you’re young. I don’t know. We’re not going to reinvent the wheel. We’re just going to talk about stuff and hopefully it helps.”

Lowell was always considered a thinking man’s player.  “I felt like my physical talent wasn’t top of the line so I had to have an edge any way I could.”

Lowell is expected to be in camp for a couple of days. He will soon be at Marlins camp serving in a similar capacity for his close friend Mike Redmond — the new Miami manager.

Once Boston’s formal workout was complete, Lowell went for a lengthy tutorial on the backfield with Middlebrooks. Pedroia was also there, taking throws.

Game 1 of the Grapefruit League

The Red Sox play their first game against Major League competition today, as the Rays roll into town for a 1:35 p.m. game here at JetBlue Park

Here is the starting lineup.

Ellsbury CF

Pedroia 2B

Victorino RF

Saltalamacchia C

Gomes LF

Drew SS

Middlebrooks 3B

Overbay 1B

Sweeney DH

Lackey — first start since September 25, 2011.

The Sox will spend the next two days on the road, going to Jupiter on Sunday to face the Cardinals, and on Monday, split-squadders at Port Charlotte vs. the Rays, and in Dunedin against the Jays. The Dunedin game will be a knuckleball fest, as Steven Wright faces R.A. Dickey with Tim Wakefield on hand to watch.

Ryan Dempster will take his first start for the Red Sox on Tuesday, when the Cardinals come to town.

Red Sox of 2013 on the field for the first time

It wasn’t even a Grapefruit League game, but there the Red Sox of 2013 were, on the field for the first time against an opponent.

Joel Hanrahan, the new closer, made his first pitches in a Boston uniform, starting by giving up a single on a ball Jonny Gomes probably could have caught. The righty retired the next two batters, than hit a batter and punched out Will Dougherty to end his 17-pitch inning.

Daniel Bard — his struggles last season all too well-documented — also started by giving up a hit. But the righty struck out the next three, getting some weak waves from the Huskies.

The offensive highlight in the first inning was an RBI double to the opposite field in left by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Lineup ‘split’ for Northeastern-BC doubleheader

Virtually every Red Sox regular — except David Ortiz and Mike Napoli who aren’t ready for game action just yet — will play in Thursday’s early game against Northeastern at JetBlue Park. The top prospects will play against Boston College.

The roster against Northeastern at 1:35 p.m. ET:

Catchers: Lavarnway, Ross, Saltalamacchia; Infielders: Ciriaco, Drew, Hamilton, Iglesias, Middlebrooks, Overbay, Pedroia, Sutton; Outfielders: Ellsbury, Gomes, Maier, Nava, Sweeney, Victorino.

Against Boston College at 4 p.m., top prospects Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Deven Marrero will play. No established Major Leaguers will play in that one. Brock Holt and Mauro Gomez are on the roster for that game.

We already covered the pitching in recent days, but as a refresher, John Farrell will go exclusively with bullpen arms. Joel Hanrahan, the new closer, will start against NU. Daniel Bard will also pitch in that game. Andrew Bailey will get an inning against Boston College.

Pedro unplugged as he returns to work

There was a buzz in the air, as Pedro Martinez put on Red Sox uniform pants and warmup jacket for the first time since 2004, when he dominated the Cardinals in Game 3 of the 2004 World Series.

Martinez is now a special assistant to Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and he will spend time in camp working with pitchers — particularly Felix Doubront and Rubby De La Rosa.

During a 24-minute session with the media, Martinez was expansive and entertaining.

Does Martinez want to pitch again? “Oh no, not at all. Not to play. Coming back to see the Sox in first place, maybe. No, no, no, no chance. I just don’t think so. I did what I was supposed to do out there.”

What will he add? “I hope to add some knowledge. Any help I can for the staff in any aspect. It could be mechanically. It could be on the field, off the field, it could be mentally, which I know a lot about going through struggles –what we go through in the middle of a season, especially after the first half. I can relate to a lot of them and actually get them going and they can come in and ask questions and I’ll be more than willing to answer.”

Talked to Daniel Bard. What was that all about? “I actually was talking about him feeling comfortable in some of the things that he was doing. He explained to me some of the things that he does where he feels more comfortable. I suggested a couple of things, simple things, like getting into different habits of doing things so he can actually feel comfortable on the mound and off the mound and also to make adjustments.”

Putting the Red Sox uniform on for the first time since 2004: “You know what, it’s weird, but it feels like the first day to me. I get so excited just to be part of this team and be part of the tradition that we have here. To me, it was just like the first day. I was actually a little bit funny about putting a pair of [Red Sox] pants on again. Shorts are different. And regular pants like a player. Same size, same everything, even though I’m a little heavier.”

Less control than when he was a player: “You know what, when they’re in the field, I think they have ways to go around it, but when you’re not, it’s an empty feeling that you get inside of you. There’s nothing you can do from the front of your TV. Sometimes the few games that I stopped to watch at Fenway, it was painful to see the chemistry wasn’t there, the team wasn’t doing what they were supposed to. I was trying to be optimistic about the team playing together all year. That never happened. I know that was one of the biggest reasons why the team didn’t perform to the level that everybody expected.”

Could you have ever imagined doing this years back? “No, I never thought about it but I knew I wanted to be in the field somehow, not all the time. That’s why I automatically erased probably becoming a pitching coach and probably a manager. I don’t really see myself doing 162 games anymore. I did it for my whole career and if I take part in the field, it’s going to be this way.”

Why was now the time to start working again? “To be honest, I can’t sit still for so long. I have to work. I grew up working. Since I was 14, and I was dropped off at the academy by Ramon, which was a really good choice, after that, I just went on to play and play and play and I was never home. Even though my family needs me and I need my family now, I still need some time to actually go away, actually have a schedule, have something to do and at the same time, be where I like to be, which is in the baseball field, the baseball diamond, exchanging with guys  that I feel are like my family.”

What kind of schedule will you have? “You  know, I became really close to Benny and I offered him my help in any sense I could help. I’m open to help him out. I just won’t compromise  special times with my family. I won’t compromise things that are important to me in my life, in my independent life. As far as anything else, I’m open to do it.”

Working with Felix Doubront, who some say is out of shape this spring: “Well he’s so young and so full of talent that sometimes you take for granted the opportunity we’re given. But the same way it comes, the same way it could go. All it takes is a bad injury and you’re out of baseball. The only thing that prevents injuries is hard work. I believe he just doesn’t know. He hasn’t been taught that he’s going to be held accountable for his performance out there and the way he looks. That this is really a serious business. I think it takes a little while to get him mentally prepared to understand the responsibility that he has on top of his shoulder with the whole Boston community and the team and he’s so young. Nowadays these pitchers come up so young, so talented that they don’t realize how much they’re going to be counted on. And I think Doubront is a good example. I think he needs to know that it’s really important to this team, the organization, the community, to Boston, and that they’re counting on him to be one of the big names. But at the same time, he’s still a young kid trying to develop and he’s already in the big leagues trying to perform. You have to take that into consideration and be patient with him. At the same time, try to guide him through it. and I think I can be a good access to it to learn about some of the things that he has to do.”

Not pulling any punches with Doubront: “Baseball is not easy. It wasn’t easy for me. He has to expect it to be tough. One thing I’m going to be with him, just like I was always with you, I’m going to be straightforward an I’m going to say the way it is, point blank. If he wants to hear it or if he doesn’t, that’s OK. I want the best for him and I want the  best for the organization and I would love to help. I can’t handle the fact that I have all this knowledge and  not give it away. I would love to give it away and I hope he sees me as a good example of hard work and dedication and will to do things.”

On Doubront perhaps not being in great shape: “Being out of shape a little bit is normal, probably not as much as before. But being out of shape a little bit at spring training, this is the only place you can be a little bit out of shape. You’re here to get in shape. He has plenty of time to get in shape. I think he’s going to do it right. At the same time, you have to hold him accountable to go and do his work.”

Does this job feed your competitive juices? “It’s more difficult for me to be as competitive because I can’t pitch. I would love to brush someone back. Hey, hey, get off the plate, this is my area. Now I have to sit and watch and rely on someone to do it so I can get my giddyup.”

More on inside baseball: “You teach them when to do it and how to do it and how to do it properly and effectively. It’s all part of the game. You have to pitch inside, you have to brush them back. You have to make them feel uncomfortable all the time, and one of the things that makes you feel uncomfortable is that pitch inside close to you. At 99 from Rubby De La Rosa or Doubront or Lester can get anybody uncomfortable. I will preach it: They need to pitch inside if they want to have success.”

The desire: “If you have all of the ingredients that lead you to it. You have to want it. You have to be crazy enough to do it. You have to be willing to do it. And you have to be willing to learn how to do it. You put all those ingredients together, and you have someone who can compete just as well as I used to.”

Now that you’re not pitching anymore, can you say how many of your hit batsmen were on purpose? “Probably 90 percent of them, but it was all in retaliation for my teammates.”

Did you drill Karim Garcia on purpose?  “Not on purpose. It didn’t even hit him. It hit the bat. Not on purpose. Who is Karim Garcia? He just hit a great homer for Mexico in the last Caribbean Series. Gerald Williams, no. Karim Garcia, no. Some others, I don’t know. There were some in retaliation to show them that there were things I wouldn’t allow them to do. You play around it. They understand it, too. They know they’re going to get hit for something that happened. If you disrespect a player or disrespect me, I’m probably going to take a chance, somewhere where you didn’t expect it or didn’t think I would do it, and there you have it. If you do it professionally and not hurting anybody. I don’t remember hitting anybody with a fastball to the head.”

Jorge Posada thought you were saying you wanted to hit him in the head in ’03. Did you ever get a chance to tell him that you were really saying, “I’ll remember that.”.  “No. No. It doesn’t matter. Posada is a human being. He’s got his family. He doesn’t need me in his life, I don’t need him. I wish him well with his family. There are some things that happen in the baseball field.”

Can you be a liason? “Hopefully we’ll be supportive to some of the players that don’t feel like they can talk to management. There are certain areas where a player doesn’t feel confident enough to express himself and have fun. I was crazy fun in the clubhouse, but the time to play was totally different. I knew I had something to do. There wasn’t anybody more serious on the day I pitched. But if I wasn’t pitching, I was so crazy fun, and those guys are going to get to know that. Even though I’m not playing, I’m going to keep it loose. I’m going to be loud. And you can do those things, but you have to understand that the time to work is the time to work and make a difference between work and loose time. When you have to express something, do it the right way. Hopefully I will be one of the bridges that reaches between the areas they weren’t able to reach the last few years.”

How do you relate to players when you probably had a lot more talent? “This may sound weird, but I never considered myself a great player. I made myself, along with my teammates, a better player than I was. I never thought I was a superstar. I worked like I was a hungry man going for his first game in the big leagues. I know that’s not going to be something you want to teach Doubront or any of those kids coming up, because they are rich in talent. All they have to do is try to stay physically healthy, here’s what they have and suck in a lot of the knowledge that everyone is trying to give them.”

How you put it all together: “I will say I had to learn a lot of little pieces together to become the person I was, the pitcher I was. I have a lot of me with Maddux, with Pettitte, with Clemens, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Bret Saberhagen believe it or not was someone I really analyzed a lot, Tom Glavine. I had a lot of little things I learned from everybody. I tried to pack them all together and use them, and that’s how I became who i was in baseball, but I never considered myself a superstar or a superhuman talent. I thought there was a lot of work for me to do each day to be consistent and have success.”

Fans serenading you with love during the workout today: “That’s because I’m probably one more fan out there in the parade. Since I left Boston everything was a parade, and every time I came back it was a parade. People got used to keeping the same attitude. I think I’m the same way. I was really happy that they could feel, in a baseball field, feel for me what they felt for me in the field when I was playing. They were like, ‘Hey, Pedro!’ Some of them even asked if I was going to come back and pitch. I said, ‘No, not a chance.’”

Will you be a Red Sox lifer like Luis Tiant? “Probably. Probably around, yeah, when I’m an old goat running around. I probably won’t have the goatee, but I’ll be around hopefully like Jim Rice and Tiant, without the goatee. Johnny Pesky. Johnny Pesky. I remember him hitting me some fungos in my first year here. Then I saw him in his last days. I was really proud to have the opportunity to see Johnny Pesky. I’m hoping to become someone like that.”

Did you get over bitterness about the Red Sox not re-signing you? “I never held it against them. You have to understand, baseball has a dark side and it’s the negotiations. When you’re exposed to arbitration cases, you realize that there is a business part of baseball that forces you to look for negatives about the player, and the player tries to prove to the team that you’re worth whatever you’re asking, that money makes it all difficult. All that love for one day goes away. Then once we settle and reach an agreement, it’s all love again. It’s a lot like two boxers. You shake hands before and you shake hands after. That’s it. It’s boxing. I never held it against Boston, the fact that they didn’t sign me. They thought I wasn’t worth what I was asking, and I thought I was worth what I was asking. That was it. But no grudges, no grudges. Even though I was honest — probably too honest.”

You miss the glory days? “I miss [Johnny Damon], I miss Millar, I miss everybody. I miss every player I played with with the Red Sox. There’s nothing I can think of from ’04 and the previous teams I played, that I don’t miss. I was even telling [equipment manager] Joe Cochran, I was telling Joe I even miss seeing the flowers in the spring, when they first came out, the first part of the season where the leaves are starting to come out and the flowers are starting to come out, I miss that time when it’s starting to get warm and in the summer there’s all the flowers and Boston is green and beautiful. I miss all that over the last few years, even though I did visit — but not like I used to. Now I’m going to get to see it more often.”

Jose De La Torre to pitch in World Baseball Classic

Jose De La Torre, a 27-year-old righty reliever from Puerto Rico whom the Red Sox traded for and re-signed as a Minor League free agent in 2012, has decided he will play in the World Baseball Classic, his agent Burton Rocks said Saturday.

De La Torre’s desire to play was previously known, but no decision was final until Friday as he deliberated what would be best: attempting to win a spot in a crowded Major League bullpen and staying in Sox camp as long as they would have him or heading to the Classic. The Red Sox brought De La Torre to Major League camp as a non-roster invitee this season and he’s averaged better than a strikeout per inning in six Minor League campaigns.

De La Torre’s the fourth Red Sox player to commit to the Classic, behind Shane Victorino (USA), Xander Bogaerts (Netherlands) and Alfredo Aceves (Mexico).

De La Torre had a 2.45 ERA in 12 outings at Triple-A Pawtucket after the Red Sox gave up outfielder Brent Lillibridge to get him from the Indians a week before the Trade Deadline. Lifetime, De La Torre has a 2.49 ERA at Triple-A and 2.59 ERA at Double-A in nearly 200 innings evenly split between the two levels.

– Evan Drellich

Youk: I’ll always be a Red Sox

When the Red Sox open their season at Yankee Stadium on April 1, it will be a somewhat jarring sight to see Kevin Youkilis in Pinstripes, starting at third base.

For a few years, nobody was more representative of the Red Sox than Youkilis, with his grind-it-out style of play. But we all know how it ended.

Youk met with the New York media after arriving at Spring Training on Thursday. Here are some highlights.

On the lack of facial hair:  “Last year, I was with the White Sox. We had moustaches and then I shaved it off. I’ve been clean-shaven here and there over the years, but fully now for the rest of the year. I think I’m not the type of person who kept it well-groomed at all times, anyway, the length varied all the time, so. I’m not all that picky about my looks.”

Getting to know Yankees fans: “It’s funny, a lot of fans have been good. There’s been Yankee fans that yell at me and say stuff on the field, and there’s been Yankee fans that bought me beer at the Super Bowl last year when the Giants played. I was in line, and two Giants fans, they were nice to me, so, it’s kind of a heat of the moment thing on both sides. but when you’re out in public you don’t get it too bad. I’ve had it a couple of times when people yelled stuff.”

Feel like a Yankee? “Uh, yeah. Got the number in there, got the pinstripes. it’s definitely real. it’s going to be an enjoyable time this year. I’m just going to trying to go out there every day and play hard and try to win a World Series.”

Remembering the Boston years: To negate all the years I played for the Boston Red Sox, and all the tradition, you look at all the stuff I have piled up at my house and to say I’d just throw it out the window, it’s not true. I’ll always be a Red Sox, you know. Guys play on different teams and that’s a part of your history, that’s a part of your life and you can’t change that. it was great years in Boston. One bad half year doesn’t take away from all the great years I had there and all the good things I’ve been able to along the way and accomplish as a team, as an individual, it was great. I saw a Red Sox fan this morning and bought him a coffee and just talked. It’s part of your life. It’s not defining. I know the rivalry is so hyped up and all that, but as players, the fans are still going to like you or dislike you in the heat of the moment, but when all is said and done, I’m just another human being who’s going to go through those doors, and some other guy is going to go through them when I’m done.”

Reaction from Sox fans this season? “You never know. Some people will be appreciative and some people might, you know, in life some people see it in black and white and some people see it in grays, so, for me it’s, you hope fans appreciate it, but you also understand, hey, you’re playing on the team that’s the enemy in their eyes. they might cheer you the first at bat and boo you the next. But it all sounds the same. You just take it in stride.”

The new right fielder arrives

It’s safe to say that Shane Victorino found a coffee shop en route to his first day of work for the Red Sox on Thursday morning. He sounded, well, caffeinated.

Time will tell if Victorino can rebound from the season he had a year ago for the Phillies and Dodgers, but one thing is clear: He won’t be lacking in the energy department.

“That’s who I am,” Victorino said.  “Again, being part of this, you think about a high energy guy, a guy like Dustin [Pedroia]. Being around the type of guys who have that energy, that’s what this is about. That’s what makes this game fun, is that you get to put on the uniform every day, go out there and have fun doing it.”

With the money the Red Sox have invested in Victorino — $39 million over three years — they expect he will revert to the type of player he was before last season.

“Again, people are going to try to find a reason and who knows, if I could put my finger on it, I would have stopped it earlier but unfortunately I didn’t,” Victorino said. “I didn’t have the year I wanted to. but again, 2013 is a fresh start for me — a new organization. And what better than to be a Red Sox. I think that’s what it’s all about.”

It is currently pouring in Fort Myers. The Red Sox are likely to just about all of their work indoors today. Position players underwent physicals this morning. Friday will mark the first official full-squad workout.

Pedroia: Goal is still to win the World Series

After a last-place finish, it’s only natural that expectations will be down for the Red Sox this season. But Dustin Pedroia doesn’t much care what the pundits think. He has arrived in camp with his typical enthusiasm and drive.

“That it was easy, and you expect it to happen every year,” Pedroia said when asked what it was like winning the World Series his rookie year. “But I still do. I still feel that it will never change. Our goal is to win the World Series every year. If we come into camp and that’s not the goal [something’s wrong]. I know everybody thinks that’s not our goal right now but it is. “

Pedroia loves the roster moves Ben Cherington made over the winter because he feels there are a bunch of newcomers who share his mentality.

“Yeah, it’s going to be fun,” Pedroia said. “You see them around the game; they are guys known for loving to play the game. They like tough atmospheres and good places to play. It’s going to be fun playing with those guys.”

Nobody around the Red Sox had any fun last year. And though it became trendy to blame one-year manager Bobby Valentine for everything that went wrong, Pedroia said, “None. It’s the players. Bobby didn’t go out there and get any hits or make any errors or do any of that. We lost those games. It’s on us.”

That said, Pedroia can’t wait to play for John Farrell. “John’s awesome,” Pedroia said. “Everybody got to know him when he was here before. He’s easy to talk to. Obviously when he walks into the room, he has that presence. It’s going to be great for us.”

By the way, Pedroia got a kick out of the revelation in Terry Francona’s recently-released book that the Red Sox conducted a marketing research study that indicated the Sox needed ‘sexy’ players like  … Dustin Pedroia to increase ratings.

“What  was my first reaction? They didn’t need to hire a damn marketing team,”quipped Pedroia. “I could have told them that for free. I don’t know. I just started laughing. I  was  like, no, that’s pretty funny.”

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