Results tagged ‘ Terry Francona ’

Henry, Lucchino talk Epstein, other things

In a wide-ranging interview with WEEI this morning — and simulcast on NESN — Red Sox owner John Henry and president/CEO Larry Lucchino ran through the gamut of topics that have engulfed the club since the season ended way earlier than anyone could have expected.

How stunning is this that you didn’t play in October?

Henry: “I think, weren’t people writing at that point of the season that this was the greatest Red Sox team ever?”

Did you assume the Sox were in? Henry: “You never assume. In other business as well, you never assume that you’re going to accomplish your goals until you accomplish them.”

Lucchino: “I think that was a reasonable assumption at that point, given the lead, where we were in the season. and the statistical probabilities of what would happen. Certainly none of us anticipated a collapse of biblical proportions that we endured.”

Tito was a little cryptic about where it all went wrong, Henry: “Uh, there was some cryptic-ness when we met. You remember, we had problems over the years with certain players. Like Manny Ramirez, for instance, was a problem at one point for the manager. But he had his back, because that’s the clubhouse culture. As a manager, you don’t throw your players under the bus. You do everything you can to make them productive and keep them that way. In this case, we didn’t get any information along those lines at that point.”

Allegations that starting pitchers were drinking in the clubhouse during games? Lucchino: “There are certain principles that are important within the clubhouse culture. I think that’s one of them. it’s not something that we think should be tolerated. There’s a rule about it and it should be enforced. It was much after the fact that that was brought to our attention. We’re still trying to dig in, trying to figure out how pervasive it was, how extensive it was and not try to superficially conclude that it was a major factor in anything.”

When did Titanic hit iceberg? Henry: “We didn’t just hit an iceberg. Every day we went, what, 7-20? This was a team that was going 20-7 and suddenly went 7-20. So it was throughout that process that we began to wonder, why is this team breaking down? This is the second straight year that on Aug. 1 we looked great and looked like we were headed for a potential World Series and second straight year that the team broke down physically. I’ve been reading somewhat what the media has been saying. I haven’t heard enough about that. that was the concern that started at some point during that decline. The biggest concern we had was we’re just not doing well physically.”

Subpar physical fitness? Lucchino: “It’s certainly an issue that’s important to us, physical conditioning. That’s another one of the issues we are looking into examining. It’s our responsibility to try to right this ship and give the fans what we promised when we got here, which is a team worthy of their support. We’re going to do that. We’re going to look into the whole conditioning issue. I take exception to pointing to any individual. I don’t want to talk about any individual in particular. But I will talk about the general notion that our team has to be in first class physical condition. And as John said, the last couple of years, we’ve seen a dramatic decline at the end of the season. That is one of a myriad of issues to look at going forward.”

Pitchers out of shape? You looking into that. Henry: “Yeah, the day before yesterday, I spoke with a couple of our medical people and the trainers and so forth just to try to get an idea. We’re still early in this process and that’s one of the reasons there hasn’t been a lot to say. You don’t want to go off half cocked because one person said this. Talking to a few people, one thing thus far that I’ve been able to establish is that the pitchers did their work. They did their cardiovascular. This organization is as good as any in baseball, I’m told, at doing their work. What is their work? Cardiovascular, shoulder exercise is very important. Very important. We have very little in the way of shoulder problems, as compared to other clubs. They did their leg work. Some of the people, including the person you mentioned [Josh Beckett], are adamant. That’s what they do. They don’t shirk those responsibilities.

“Were there nutritional issues was another question I asked? Yes. I believe there were nutritional issues and there’s just, one of the things we’ve learned in getting involved with English football is they have sports science and the science of fitness is very advanced among football teams around the world, at least the top football teams. So we’ve learned a lot just recently. Our people within the Red Sox have learned a lot. I think there’s much more we can do. to me, the most important thing is this is the third time in six years, and certainly the second straight which a great team just couldn’t make it through 162 games physically. And it wasn’t just one or two players. We were really banged up. We were really struggling to put healthy players on the field. every team has to be able to make it through 162 games. Two years in a row we didn’t do it.”

Tito mentioned something about lack of support/encouragement from ownership as things unraveled: Henry: “I don’t engage in encouragement. My way of encouraging the manager is generally, if we win, I’ll go down and say hello. My experience over the years is they really don’t want a lot of interracation from our level when things aren’t going well. But every once in a while, I will send over the years, I would send Terry an e-mail and basically say, you’re doing a great job, which I did this year, or we’re going to be fine. I’m probably the person inside among Tom and Larry and Theo and Tito, among all of us, I’m probably the person who most often says, we’ll be fine. The problem is we weren’t fine this year. “

Lucchino: “We did make an effort as things were proceeding in the wrong direction in September, certainly we made an effort before games. I would go down on the field and certainly not pep talks, but just try to engage some conversation to show that we were in this together and to try to beat as comfortable as I could around players, the manager and coaches.”

If you had picked up Tito’s option, he would have stayed. Why did you leave that until after the season? Lucchino:  “It was certainly something we considered during the course of the year. you have to go back a step and understand the contract arrangement we had with Tito which was, we gave him a long term deal and we agreed we would not talk about options until the end of the fourth year. We said there would be a 10-day period. The first order of business after the season would be to talk about options but we don’t want the distraction of that happening during the year. because we had it during ’08. The first part of the ’08 season was all about contracts and his situation, dealing with agents and all that. so I think he understood. It’s not something that was  going to happen during the course of the season. In fact, to his credit, he never said what do you think about my option. His agent never called us. There were never any discussions. We always anticipated that discussion would take place as understood, the first 10 days, the first order of business in the offseason.”

Was this mutual with Tito?  Henry: “Well we really didn’t get a chance to make it mutual. Thinking about it, would we have ended up in the same place he ended up? Based on the things we heard and the things we saw, there’s a strong likelihood that we would have. So you could say it was mutual. The way it took place, in my mind, wasn’t really mutual, the way it took place.”

Lucchino: “We had a conversation about, again, that first day after the season, we sat for an hour and a half, two hours, talking about the season. We went through challenge after challenge and various reasons for the breakdown. We talked to tito about whether he was ready for this challenge, given all the challenges he had enumerated. He made clear to us that he wasn’t. You need a new voice down there. I’m not your man for next year. I think my time here is up. In some ways, he took that position and that is a very determinative factor when your manager feels like there needs to be a change. He did a fantastic job for us over the years. remember, he was contemplating his ninth year in this pressure cooker that is Boston. Different teams require different skillsets or different talents and I think he made an assessment with which we concurred that to that extend, it was mutual, and the word mutual does fit. Still, it was a sad occasion nonetheless. There was no joy that day. we had a myriad of problems identified for us and a manager who suggested in pretty clear terms that we should [move on].”

If they made the playoffs, does Tito still leave? Lucchino: “I’m not sure. I think the same process would unfold. We’d sit down as planned the first 10 days. the first order of business after the season, sit down and talk and find out. it takes to tango. Again, we’re talking about the ninth year. Tito was the second longest duration in Red Sox history, 110 years. you have to find if the manager is still ready for the challenge.”

So the Cubs requested permission to speak with Theo, eh? Henry: “How do you know that? how do you know that?

Lucchino:  “Those things are supposed to be kept private and we have a policy of not discussing whether permission has been asked for x or y or z. In fact, every year we get requests for people. We never discuss them publicly. It’s been our policy and our practice.”

You haven’t denied it though, right? Lucchino: “But our position on that is that we don’t comment on requests. We have gotten requests every year. sometimes one or two or three a year. we don’t talk about them publicly. A few years ago, we got a request from another team about Theo Epstein. You heard nothing about that because we didn’t discuss it publicly. I think there’s good reason for it too. There’s some privacy considerations here. I don’t know that people would want their career development or their job decisions to be debated publicly, for people to know what they’re considering or not considering. And I’m not sure the other team would like that to be made public. Our consistent policy and practice is not to discuss whether there’s been a request made for permission.”

Do you usually give permission? Lucchino: “I’ll tell you what we have done. We have done both in the past. There are numerous individual. I mentioned that Theo was one of them in the past. We’ve had a number of our high ranking people move on.”

If Team A comes to you and says, we’d like to talk to Theo, would you grant them permission? Henry, “There is a certain protocol in this game. if someone asks permission for a job that’s not lateral, you give them permission. Now I’m sure there are examples where it didn’t happen. I’m sure we’ve done that in the past.”

Lucchino, “We don’t mean to sound evasive on this but this is one subject where we don’t think there needs to be full disclosure. Our fans have a keen interest in knowing as much about this team as we can possibly know. There are some thigns that come up against the lines of personal privacy, where there are some considerations that should be factored into it, and that’s where we are with respect to this thing.”

Can you hire a manager without knowing who your GM is? Lucchino, “We’re actively engaged in that search for a new manager. We’re not sitting around twiddling our thumbs. There’s a lot to be done. Theo is actively engaged day to day in that search. We just had a meeting with him the other day going through a list of candidates, possibilities. Ben Cherington is actively involved in the process. Certainly John, Tom and I are involved in it as well. That process is moving ahead. It’s not going to happen overnight. There will be some time that will pass. There’s a lot to work to be done and Theo and Ben are knee-deep in doing it. “

Interview anyone yet? “Not yet. I think one point needs to be made. As I look out over the landscape of what’s been said over the last couple of weeks, I don’t think people understand the governance of the Red Sox. when we talk about a manager, general manager issues, when we talk about important decisions that are made here, this isn’t John or it isn’t Larry. We really, over the last 10 years, have consistently done things collectively. This is a collective process. We’re intimately involved in the managers search. It’s not just theo that’s involved. With regard to what happened with the manager’s situation previously, we made collective decisions. We build consensus. When we signed Adrian Gonzalez, that’s not a one person decision. It’s not just the general manager. That being said, we’re very good, sometimes we’re too chain of command;  Larry and I don’t make baseball decisions.”

Lucchino: “Let me just add that Tom Werner is a critical part of this as well, though he is not here today. In this instance, he is an active part of this process. We are a better organization because of the collaboration, the input. If you take Tom and myself, we’ve probably got like 45 or 50 years collectively of running major league baseball franchises. We take advantage of that experience. We collaborate , we debate.”

Theo’s recent struggles with free agents:  Henry: “I think that’s one of the problems in baseball. It’s hard to predict things. it’s hard to predict performance going forward. When I look back over the last 10 years, and the last eight years with Tito being here and the last nine years Theo has been here, I look at what we’ve accomplished, every year, including this year, I felt we were headed to a World Series. Not the only thing, but the biggest thing to us every year is playing in October. that’s what we do. that’s we spend all our time doing is trying to create an atmosphere. People talk about, we’re business oriented. Well we’re business oriented for one reason. This guy is a tremendous revenue generator for one reason, and that is to be able to give the right people the amount of money it takes to be successful. You can criticize the things he’s done but we’ve averaged, what, 92, 93 wins?“

Horrific finish: Lucchino:  “We are not unmindful of that. This was a disappointing torturous end of the season. As John said earlier, we watch every game. we suffer. We’re in this because we’re competitive people. Go back to December 21st, 2001, our very first press conference. The very first thing we said was, we have an obligation to field a team that’s worthy of the fans support. We feel that now. Believe me, it hurts not to be playing right now. This kind of weather. Walking around the ballpark, I keep thinking, we should be playing. It’s cold comfort, the sense of schandefraude that comes from the Yankees losing. That’s not a noble emotion. We have it. but we should be out there playing. We want that every year and we’ve had a good run at it but the challenges next year are real, they’re there and we’re prepared to deal with them.”

Is Theo the right guy to keep spending John Henry’s money?  Henry: “He is but I think everyone has to understand a couple of things and I think Tito alluded to it. I think there’s a certain shelf life in these jobs. You can only be the general manager if you’re sane. You can only be the general manager …. You can only be the manager for a certain amount of time. There’s a tremendous pressure cooker here —  162 games. It’s a long season and the pressure here is 365 days. Theo is not going to be the general manager forever.  Just as , if Tito had come back for the last two years, would he have gone past 10 years, I can’t imagine that he would have. I think that Theo will … he’s the guy now, he’s been the guy. We’ve had tremendous success. We fell apart at the end of the season. As Larry expressed, we’re upset about it. No fan could be more upset than I am about the result this year. He’s done a tremendous job for us over the last eight years.”

Can you hire a manager until you are sure who your GM is? Lucchino, “I think it’s not desirable to proceed that way if you don’t know who this person’s immediate boss is. I’ve been in situations where that has happened. I think the more desirable scenario is the one you first outlined, that there’s a certainty and a continuity with respect to general manager that would be in place before you pull a trigger on a manager but I’ve seen the opposite occur. Let me remind you that we hired Tery Francona some time in late November, it may have even been the first couple of days of December in 2003. There is time to address this issue. This is an important issue, the manager of this team and the manager of this team in this pressure cooker that is Boston.”

Why Tito over Joe Maddon eight years ago? Lucchino: “Theo should be here to discuss that as well. He certainly had a strong opinion on that. They were both good. Two different flavors of ice cream but they were both good. I think at the time, the sense was that Francona’s history was clearer and that maybe the kind of easy rider we understood him to be would be appropriate for that team. That was my recollection of it.”

What do you want in a manager, Henry: “Well, I think what we were looking for last time, in that we have a certain organizational philosophy and we want someone that is highly intelligent. Someone who can communicate with the players and be able to get the best out of the players. I think we lean in general toward player managers. The most important thing for me, if I had to choose one aspect, is that he really fits into our organizational philosophy.”

Could you kick the tires on someone like Joe Torre or Bobby Valentine: “I’m not going to talk about anyone individually. Would we consider experienced well established managers who are not young, who have been around a bit? The answer is yes.”

Can John Lackey bounce back? Henry: “I think so.”

Lucchino: “Absolutely. Absolutely.”

How can you say that? Lucchino: “Can he come back? I say yes he can. I’m not predicting necessarily when he will or if he will. But I’m saying can he? Yes. He’s a guy with an established track record. You have to look beyond the past year or so. Again, it depends on what your level of expectation is for various individuals.”

Just because of the recent difficulty with the success of free agent signings, will the Sox shy away this winter? Lucchino, “We’re not going to turn off any avenue to improve this team. Particularly this year. We’re not going to say, no, we’re not going to dive into the free agent market because of the recent record has not been as successful as we might like. No, we’re going to explore free agency, we’re going to explore trade,s we’re going to explore waiver wire, minor league free agents, international signings. We’re going to look at the whole of possibilities. The challenges are very real for this next year so yes, we will explore free agency.”

Do you keep Ortiz and Papelbon because they’ve proven they can produce in this market? “Those players you identify have leverage because of their performance. Their performance has been substantial here and with that comes a bit of leverage, to be sure. Does that mean we can not find players elsewhere that can fit in? we think we can. It doesn’t mean we’re always right but we think we have a process that theo and our baseball operations takes into consideration makeup and ability to deal with this city and Carl Crawford has had one bad year. This is one year of a long term commitment. It’s too early to say this is a guy who cannot play in Boston. We’ll see about that.”

Tito on TV

Those of you who already miss hearing Terry Francona’s voice on a daily basis can get that fix cured for the first two games of the American League Championship Series.

The Boston Globe’s Chad Finn — citing confirmation from FOX — reported that Francona will fill in for veteran analyst Tim McCarver for at least Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS, which will pit the Rangers against either the Tigers or Yankees. McCarver, reported Finn, is dealing with a medical issue but is expected back for Game 3. In the past, FOX has utilized a three-man booth during the ALCS, so perhaps Francona will do the whole series.

Francona obviously didn’t have much problem communicating with the media during his eight years in Boston, not to mention his four years in Philly, so it would seem his transition from manager to analyst would go pretty smooth. He will also be working with a consummate pro in Joe Buck.

I, for one, am looking forward to hearing Tito dissect the ALCS.

As for who will replace Francona as the next manager of the Red Sox, that remains a work in progress. Team Owner John Henry tweeted that the Red Sox will start talking to and/or interviewing candidates soon, perhaps as early as next week.

Meanwhile, there continues to be silence on Yawkey Way regarding the report that the Cubs have requested permission to speak with Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who has one year left on his contract. The report from the Boston Globe is all but certain to be accurate. The true questions are these: Will the Red Sox grant Epstein permission to speak with the Cubs; Does Epstein want to speak with the Cubs?

Several requests for comment from Henry have gone unanswered.

Gut check time starts tonight at Fenway

What is easily the biggest series of Boston’s baseball season starts tonight at Fenway, as the Rays come in for the first of a four-game series. Obviously this series is huge because the Sox didn’t take care of business last weekend at Tropicana Field, losing three straight.

The Rays deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the way they’ve hung in this thing, beating the Red Sox head on nine out of 14 times entering tonight.

“Against us, their pitching – they have a plan and they follow through with it,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “They’ve really done a good job against our hitters for the most part. They have very good pitching. They’re a hard team to play because they’re so aggressive and if you give them an opening they make you pay for it. Saying that, I’m kind of looking forward to this series. It’ll be fun to play. Because they are – they feel good about themselves. So this will be fun to play.”

This game is going to be the hardest of the four for the Sox to win, with Kyle Weiland facing a talented pitcher in Jeremy Hellickson.

“The kid tonight pitches beyond his years as far as maturity and his changeup. And he has enough velocity,” Francona said of Hellickson.

Here are all the permutations possible by the end of the weekend.

Sox win all four. They lead the Rays by eight with 10 to go.

Sox win three out of four. They lead the Rays by six with 10 to go.

Sox and Rays split the series. Sox still lead the Rays by four with 10 to go.

Rays win three out of four. They leave town two games behind the Sox with 10 to go.

Rays sweep. The teams are tied with 10 to play.

The Red Sox had some good news on the injury front today, as Clay Buchholz pitched off a mound for the first time since being shut down two months ago. Buchholz threw 15 pitches in front of the mound and 15 off of it. The righty’s big test will come Saturday, when he is scheduled to have a full-blown side session.

The other good news is that the lineup has both David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez, who have recovered enough from their nagging injuries to play in this one.

Red Sox remembrances of 9/11

It is a day none of us will ever forget. Here is what the Red Sox remember.

The Red Sox were in New York getting ready to face Roger Clemens the night of 9/10, but that game was rained out, enabling the team to fly to Tampa a little earlier than planned for their series that was scheduled to begin in St. Petersburg — ironically where the Sox are right now — on 9/11/01.

Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield:

“[My girlfriend and now wife Stacy]  was actually in New York with me.  She got out because we got rained out.  She got the last flight out and beat me [to Tampa] so when we got in at 4 in the morning, she was already sleeping. She was up when all this was taking place and woke me up and said, ‘hey, you need to wake up.’ I started watching it and like 10 minutes later, we saw the second plane hit and we were like, ‘oh god, something bad is happening right now.”’

“To watch stuff on television now, the documentaries about how everything unfolded and how whoever was in charge of grounding all the airplanes made the hardest, right decision anyone could have made.  Knowing it would costs the airlines millions and millions of dollars if they stopped all flights immediately, they’d have to ground the planes and all the passengers would have to switch flights. That’s when they found out about United 93. The game was meaningless [compared to what was going on] but we needed to get back playing.”

Wakefield on Ground Zero:  “In 2002, I drove by. I took a cab and jus drove by. I didn’t want to get out. in ’05, we went and opened the stock market, me, trot and somebody else, we rang the bell at the American Stock Exchange. We went to somebody’s office that overlooked Ground Zero. He was part of that whole thing. He kept telling us how the building was shaking and all that stuff.  The chaos.”

Jason Varitek was out for the remainder of 2001 with a fractured right elbow.

“Actually I didn’t arrive in Tampa. I was on the DL, I was in rehab. I actually arrived that morning to rehab when it all happened. It’s like, once you realize what happened, everybody dropped what they were doing and took off and left.”

“There’s a heightened awareness to everything that goes on around you for one. Appreciation for the people that tried to save lives and to do those things and you reach out to those people who have lost family, friends, etc., in the most tragic thing that’s ever happened here.”

Jacoby Ellsbury, now an All-Star and an MVP candidate, turned 18 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. He was a junior at Madras (Oregon) High School.

“I just remember going to school and waking up that morning and hearing something happened. At school, we turned on all the TV’s and saw everything unfold. At the beginning, I don’t think anyone really knew what was going on. But yeah, I just remember watching things unfold from Madras (ore.) High. I was on my way to school when I kind of heard everything. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years.”

The 2001 season was basically the only year of Terry Francona’s youth or adult life that he wasn’t wearing a baseball uniform. Francona was a scout for the Indians in 2001, and was on assignment in Pittsburgh when the terrorist attacks happened. His best friend Brad Mills was also scouting for the Cubs at that time, and was in Pittsburgh, at the same hotel as Francona when everything happened.

“I was in Pittsburgh scouting and coincidentally Millsy was scouting for the Cubs. He was advancing. He was upstairs in the concierge room because he never pays for coffee. So he called me and he was like, ‘hey, you need to come up here, man. I went upstairs and I sat there with him. Kind of watched it and then rented a car and drove back to Philly because obviously there weren’t going to be games. I remember driving by Shanksville (Pennsylvania) on the turnpike. The exit was closed. I remember being glad I was with Millsy. Times like that, it’s nice to have maybe your best friend in the whole world with you.”

Francona is glad that soldiers can take some enjoyment out of being around baseball: “I hope it does. If you like baseball, I don’t know that it matters what you do. obviously I hope what we do, people get enjoyment out of it. I think it’s cool that they bring soldiers and people like that around and they honor them at the ballparks. I think everybody enjoys that. I think it’s a really neat thing. If they get some enjoyment out of what we’re doing, that’s terrific.”

Of course, perhaps nobody affiliated with the Red Sox had a more compelling 9/11 story than Trot Nixon, whose wife Kathryn gave birth to the couple’s first son on 9/11/01. Today, Chase Nixon turned 10 years old. Here is an in-depth story I did with Trot and Kathryn back in 2002.

http://boston.redsox.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20020907&content_id=123690&vkey=news_bos&fext=.jsp&c_id=bos

When it rains, it pours

Not only was John Lackey getting hit hard tonight, but then he joined the seemingly unending barrage of injuries that have inflicted the Sox of late.

Lackey left tonight’s game at Tropicana Field after being belted on the left calf by an inning-ending groundout by John Jaso. Lackey actually made a nice play to get Jaso out, but had to be taped in the dugout after that and could not continue.

So Lackey joins Josh Beckett, Erik Bedard and Clay Buchholz as Sox starting pitchers who can be classified as the walking wounded. And that’s without mentioning Kevin Youkilis, who is back in Boston having his ailing left hip looked at.

Just a few days ago, the Red Sox were hoping to win the division. Now a large chunk of Terry Francona’s focus has to be just getting his team to the postseason in one piece.

Youk getting tested back in Boston

Kevin Youkilis hadn’t really looked right the past few days from a mobility standpoint and we found out why today. While the Red Sox flew from Toronto to Florida, Youkilis flew back to Boston to have his left hip checked out. The exam included an MRI.

Youkilis had been on the DL from Aug.  18-Sept. 2 with a lower back strain. Is this latest development alarming? That all depends on what the test results show.

“We were going to give Youk the day off today most likely,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “He was really limping last couple of days, especially last night, so his hip started bothering him a little bit, so we got him back to Boston to get looked at, he’s probably getting looked at right now. just rying to figure out what, when, where why so he doesn’t have to limp through the last couple of weeks because we need him. Hopefully we’ll have news here pretty soon.
It’s been – trying to figure out if it’s connected. Hopefully we’ll get some answers.”

Youkilis isn’t alone on the banged-up list. Erik Bedard, who had his start skipped this week anyway because of knee stiffness, went back to Boston to get some discomfort in his left lat checked out.

“Erik went back to Boston,” Francona said. “After the other day, he talked about his knee bothering him and it was, he was throwing all arm as he got through that start, his lat started flaring up on him so we got him back to Boston, he’s got a mild lat strain. I think he’s flying back tonight to join us. We’ll slot him in when we think it’s appropriate, I don’t know when that is.’’

As for Josh Beckett, there is still no word on when he will return from his sprained ankle.

“Well, he gets looked at every day, and he’s doing much better today,” Francona said.  “He can do his throwing, so he’s not going to get set back and then we all kind of know how important his five-day schedule is so when we get to that point we’ll kind of slot him in.”

Jenks to the DL; Buchholz waiting for more progress

In an alarming development,  Bobby Jenks went to the DL today for the third time this season. The injury? The same as the last one.

“Bobby experienced pain in his left mid back area when he was warming up last night, similar to the past injury,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “He’s going to fly back to Boston today and we’ll get him checked over the weekend.”

The Red Sox have called up lefty reliever Randy Williams from Pawtucket to take the spot of Jenks on the roster.

Meanwhile, Clay Buchholz felt a little progress when he threw yesterday, but he knows that his back is still not fully healed.

“Obviously I want to be pitching, I want to help the team in any way I can,” Buchholz said. “Me going out there not 100 percent, or not 80 percent, I don’t think is going to help the team any. I think if I rush back into it, it will be something that will be here for the rest of the season and I don’t want that. I’d rather be ready to pitch at 100 percent and I feel like that’s the way that I can help this team win.”

Buchholz did feel a little better when he played catch yesterday.

“It definitely did,” Buchholz said. “Went out there, just basically wanted to play catch at 50 percent and I actually went a little bit harder than that because I didn’t feel anything like I thought I was going to. Throwing has never really been the issue. It’s been pitching when throwing off the mound. I don’t think I’m at that point yet but yesterday was a step in the right direction for sure.”

Old Home Night at Fenway

Is this a baseball game or a family reunion? There is definitely a different feel tonight at Fenway, where Adrian Gonzalez is playing against the Padres for the first time and Anthony Rizzo — one of the centerpieces of the trade — is making his Fenway debut against the team that drafted him and helped him through his recovery from cancer.

Then there is Dave Roberts coaching first base, Jed Hoyer back in town as Padres GM and Jason McLeod, the mastermind behind the drafting of Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard etc., back as San Diego’s assistant GM.

“It’s old home week,” Francona said.

One fact is that it will be special for Dave Roberts and the Red Sox every time he walks into Fenway Park for the rest of his life. Roberts now coaches first for the Padres.

“If it wasn’t for Dave, you’d be talking to somebody else [instead of me],” quipped Francona.

There is also a human interest element to the return of Roberts, as he recently overcame lymphoma, undergoing his treatments at the Jimmy Fund.

“It’s great. Obviously, I’m in a different capacity. I’m not playing for the Sox. I’m not coming here for treatments. I’m a coach now. But it’s fun. I’m trying to live through these guys and let them know how special this place is,” Roberts said.

As for the low-key Gonzalez, he took the day for what it was. And then he bashed a hard single to left in his first at-bat.

“Yeah, I had lunch with a few of [my ex-teammates], we hung out a ltitle bit. We walked to the ballpark. It was a good afternoon. Now it’s about playuing the game,” said Gonzalez.

Rizzo, on the other hand, figured to have a lot more in the nerves department.

“My emotions? I don’t know. It’s a blessing in disguise, maybe, that I’m playing here with everything they helped me through. Just going to come out and try to play good baseball,” Rizzo said.

It was one of those nights when everyone was happy to see each other. Francona put it best.

“This is kind of a win-win for everybody,” Francona said. “To get Gonzi, you’ve got to give up some pretty special people and he certainly is and has a chance to be, not just as a player but as a person. He’s a pretty solid kid.”

Start of a road trip in Cleveland

The Red Sox arrived in Cleveland without Daisuke Matsuzaka. The injured starter is currently in Japan tending to personal business. On his way back, he will stop in Southern California and see the renowned Dr. Lewis Yocum to get a second opinion on his ailing right elbow. At this point, Dice-K and the Red Sox hope surgery can be avoided. There will be more information on that front after the visit with Yocum, which will take place before the end of May. If Dice-K needed to have Tommy John Surgery, it would take him out for all of this season and at least a large portion of 2012. His contract with the Red Sox ends after the 2012 season.

Being back in Cleveland, I can’t help but think of how much things have changed since the last visit here. The Red Sox, lacking in confidence and execution at the time, dropped to 0-6. They left on that hearbreaking loss, when Darnell McDonald fell down rounding second to end the game. It was quite a way to enter the Home Opener the next day.

As it turns out, getting swept by the Indians was not quite as bad as it looked at the time. After all, these are the same Indians who have a 29-15 record, the best in the Majors.

“I was just thinking about getting introduced on that first-base line [for the home opener] and wondering if they were going to shoot us,” quipped Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “Obviously they’re playing good and they feel good about themselves and it happens every year to a team. You start out well. Guys get confident. You get a couple of guys that really click.”

The Red Sox are in far better position to go toe to toe with the Indians this time around, because they are clicking, with eight wins in their last nine games going into tonight.

“Well, when we were here, nothing was going right,” Francona said. “The day Lester pitched well, we didn’t get any runs. we got blown out every so often. We would lose a close one. We were inconsistent in all areas. Now, it seems like we’re sort of stringing together maybe that game where we spread it out a little bit and we’ve won a lot of close games. I just think things have settled down a little bit.

“Like Salty, which is such a huge position, things were going kind of quick for him, now I think it’s slowed down for him. Tek’s taken a little bit off his plate, which has helped. Pitching is keeping us in games where if we don’t swing the bat early, like last night, it gives us a chance to get into the game and not have to fight our way back so much. and then there’s been a couple of games where we’ve fought back. Gonzalez has been maybe the best hitter in the game.”

Tonight, the Red Sox see Justin Masterson, who made a great impression during his years in Boston’s farm system, and the parts of two seasons (2008-09) he spent on the Major League roster. Masteron has done a great job, going 5-2 with a 2.52 ERA in his first nine starts.

“I know, it’s hard not to love him,” Francona said. “We all do. I hope we beat his brains out. Yeah, he’s everybody’s favorite. How can he not be?”

What has Masterson done to take his game to the next level?

“He’s pitching in very aggressively, especially to lefties, and he always needed to do that,” Francona said. “Because of his arm slot, lefties are always going to get a better look than righties. He’s pitching in aggressively. Because he’s such an easygoing guy, I don’t think people realize how much he competes. But he’s a really good competitor. I just think he’s good. We used him out of the bullpen because we could. It was kind of a luxury. When you go into starting, you need to have that other pitch or locate a little bit to get through the second time through the order. Now he’s got that, and he’s really good.”

As for the Red Sox, they have a pretty good one of their own going in Clay Buchholz, who is coming off a career-high of 127 pitches.

“You won’t see him go that again, I guarantee you that,” Francona said. “He bounced back really well. A pitch count is a tool, and I agree with it. We need to know what it is. But he stayed in his delivery so well, he didn’t really tax himself. If he would’ve, we would’ve taken him out. I think he’ll be okay. But we recognize it and we’ll keep an eye on it. We keep an eye on workload pretty good. “

Tito in a catch-22

It was the third game of the season, a day game after a night game, and manager Terry Francona was asked if he had thought about giving Jason Varitek his first start of the season.

Francona’s answer that day was, “We’re trying to get Salty going a little bit here.”

More than three weeks later, Saltalamacchia hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm and now Varitek is starting between two to three of every five games.

Sure, the Red Sox want Jarrod Saltalamacchia to gain some confidence.  But thanks to a 2-10 start, they spend tonight at last in the position to get back to .500.

So Francona finds himself balancing the short term vs. the long term. Right now, Varitek seems to be a better short term answer. Coincidence or not, the club is 6-2 when he catches and 4-9 with Saltalamacchia.

Will Saltalamacchia be able to get his confidence back enough so that he can play more regularly?

The story is still evolving, and one of the more interesting ones to watch. Varitek also hasn’t been able to get anything going offensively, but there’s no doubt that he has done a strong job handling the pitching staff.

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