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The Fort Report: Wednesday’s developments

02.18.10 at 2:21 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Technically, the reporting date for Red Sox pitchers and catchers to spring training is on Thursday, but by Wednesday, virtually all of the pitchers who are competing for major league spots this spring had arrived.

John Lackey essentially completed the group when he showed up at the Red Sox’ minor league training facility on Wednesday afternoon, after nearly everyone else had cleared out of the complex for the day. With all of his teammates having departed, Lackey ended up playing long toss with his new pitching coach, John Farrell, the man who tried (unsuccessfully) to recruit Lackey to Oklahoma State out of Grayson County Junior College.

The Sox are thus positioned to begin to assess the hurlers who will be chiefly responsible for the team’s much-discussed run prevention in 2010 … or at least most of them.

Daisuke Matsuzaka will lag slightly behind the rest of his pitching colleagues, as the Sox have decided to take a conservative approach with what general manager Theo Epstein described as “a really mild strain” in the pitcher’s upper middle back. The 29-year-old will not throw until at least Friday, when the team will administer physicals to all of its pitchers.

That likely brief setback notwithstanding, Epstein said that Matsuzaka — who may have incurred the injury during his ballyhooed participation in the conditioning program at Athletes’ Performance Institute — should be able to assume a normal spring training workload. That being the case, the team remains hopeful that Matsuzaka’s fourth year in the majors can quickly erase the memories of his third big league season, when he went 4-6 with a 5.76 ERA and spent most of the year on the disabled list.

‘€I know he’€™s worked really hard this winter to make up for last year and come out and have a big season. That’€™s what we’€™re all hoping for him,” Epstein said. “We want to slow this thing down so we don’€™t turn something small into something big. Last year, he never really was able to get into condition to pitch in part because of the way things went early in spring. We want to make sure we avoid a repeat of that.’€

— The Sox fully expect that Matsuzaka will be fine come the regular season. Even so, his setback offered a reminder of the importance of rotation depth. Toward that end, the Sox aren’t in any hurry to start thinking about committing pitchers with the potential to assume the innings load of a starter to relief duty. Manager Terry Francona, asked whether Tim Wakefield could be considered for the bullpen, said simply, “Wake’s a starter.” Likewise, the team expects to stretch out swingman Boof Bonser — who spent his Twins career in both the rotation and the ‘pen — as a starter. (More from Francona is here.)

And even though there are some talent evaluators who believe that both Michael Bowden and Junichi Tazawa could ultimately land in the bullpen down the road, both will be kept on starters’ schedules this spring, given the immense significance of rotation depth. It is worth recalling that last year the Sox had just two starters who made at least 30 starts: Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. The Sox were one of just 10 teams in the majors last year with no more than two pitchers who made at least 25 starts.

— Though position players have yet to report, there are more perceived questions about that group of players than about the pitching staff. Of course, the most prominent issue facing the Sox remains the future of Mike Lowell, whose role as the everyday third baseman came to a somewhat awkward conclusion this winter when the Sox agreed to trade him to the Rangers (only to have the deal collapse due to the need for the third baseman to undergo surgery), and then, after he remained with the team, still signed free agent Adrian Beltre to become the everyday third baseman. Francona said that the situation could be “a little bit uncomfortable” for Lowell this spring, but Lowell disagreed in an interview with WEEI.com.

Lowell suggested that the issue is not as challenging as it seems, given that the situation is fairly straightforward. The 36-year-old suggests that, if he proves he is healthy and ready to play in spring training, then other teams likely will be interested.

“If I’€™m healthy and teams out there think I can play every day, there’€™s going to be a team that wants me to play. If that’€™s beneficial to the Red Sox, I don’€™t think any of this is contingent on whether it’€™s beneficial to me. It doesn’€™t matter. I have no say,” Lowell said. “But if it’€™s beneficial to the Red Sox, then yeah, they’€™d make the move. And then you’€™d go wherever they send you. That’€™s the thing. I can’€™t say, ‘€˜Hey, I want to leave,’€™ or, ‘€˜Hey, I want to stay.’€™

‘€œIt doesn’€™t matter what I think or say. The only time I had that decision was after the World Series when I was a free agent. That’€™s the only time that I had the say. After that, you’€™re a product of the industry. I’€™m not sour about that. I’€™m cool with it. If you told me that I’€™d get traded and then they’€™d take away my contract, then I might have a much bigger issue with the way things are going.’€

— There would appear to be an increasing likelihood that, if the Sox make it through camp with both Adrian Beltre and Kevin Youkilis in good health, Lowell will end up as the backup corner infielder. In some ways, he’s an imperfect fit, since Lowell — like Beltre and Youkilis — is a right-handed hitter. That explains why the Sox were interested in seeing whether there might be a fit with a player such as Russell Branyan, a power-hitting left-handed corner infielder. But it is exceedingly difficult for the Sox to convince an available corner infielder such as Branyan to sign with them, given the limited playing time available for a corner infielder.

Bill Hall (also a right-handed hitter) is most comfortable at third base and in left field, but the team also wants to give him time at shortstop after working with infield coach Tim Bogar. The team would like to move him around the diamond, giving him a look at both second and first. Hypothetically, the Sox could end up with six right-handed infielders if they entered the year with Lowell and Hall in reserve roles behind Beltre, Marco Scutaro, Dustin Pedroia and Youkilis.

QUOTABLE

“We’€™re a veteran team and we’€™re built to compete to win. That’€™s the way it’€™s supposed to be. If we showed up and there are eight spots open, I’€™d say Theo had a rough winter. We’€™re supposed to have a pretty good team in place.” — Red Sox manager Terry Francona on the possibility that the team has just two or three open roster spots this spring

THE INJURY WARD

— Matsuzaka will not throw until he takes his physical on Friday.

— Wakefield and Lowell will be held out of the team’s initial conditioning drills this spring.

NO MINOR DEVELOPMENTS

Outfielder Ryan Westmoreland, rated by many as the top Red Sox prospect (or at least one of the top two Red Sox prospects), has been taking part in batting practice sessions in Fort Myers, a noteworthy development if only because his 2009 campaign was cut short by a broken clavicle. The 2010 season will be a significant one, since it will represent the 20-year-old’s first opportunity to play for a full-season affiliate, likely Single-A Greenville of the South Atlantic League.

Many evaluators view Westmoreland as a potential five-tool talent. Even so, part of his prospect status (including suggestions that aspects of his game are reminiscent of Indians superstar Grady Sizemore) relies upon his playing in center field to maximize his value. That said, ESPN.com’s Keith Law, in a conversation with the Dale & Holley show on Wednesday, suggested that it remains to be seen whether or not center will indeed be Westmoreland’s long-term position.

The Rhode Island native had plenty of arm strength as a high schooler, but given that he has barely been able to play a position as a professional due to labrum surgery after the 2008 season and his season-ending injury last September, it remains to be seen whether he will be in the middle of the field or if diminished arm strength will force him to a corner.

“[He can stay in center] if he can throw. This is the big question. Speed, range ‘€” yes, absolutely. And before shoulder surgery, he had a plus arm. I saw him throw at the Area Code Games, which is a showcase every year in California. He hit 90 out there. So, he’€™s had plenty of arm, but I just don’€™t know where his arm is now,” Law said. “He barely threw last year. They were babying him back in left field because he was coming off of a fairly serious shoulder operation, but I just don’€™t know. If he can still throw, can he play center field? Absolutely. If he can’€™t, then he’€™s a left fielder, and he’€™s certainly got to hit more to be the same kind of impact player that I thought he’€™d be as a center fielder.”

Read More: Boof Bonser, Daisuke Matsuzaka, john lackey, ryan westmoreland

Keith Law on D&H: The 2010 Sox, the farm system, and ‘useless’ statistics

02.17.10 at 9:52 pm ET
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ESPN’s Keith Law touched base with the Dale & Holley show on Wednesday afternoon to offer analysis on a diverse array of topics. Law examined the state of the Red Sox‘ farm system, headed by top prospects Casey Kelly and Ryan Westmoreland, and concluded that no team is better positioned to make a run at Padres superstar Adrian Gonzalez in the trade market this year.

“I think there are very few clubs who could match the Red Sox. If the Red Sox were willing to open the cupboard and say you can have anybody, or you can have anybody except for Kelly, the Red Sox could probably match just about anybody, and the thing that helps them is the farm system that I ranked ahead of Boston, Texas, they have no need for Adrian Gonzalez,” Law said. “I really think that Boston could top anybody if Adrian Gonzalez becomes available, and he will. San Diego’€™s not going anywhere.”

Law also offered his take on the Sox’ offseason emphasis on pitching and defense, which he regarded as having yielded an upgrade over the 2009 team.

The conversation also broached the subject of useful statistical measures — foremost, whether traditional stats such as RBIs have any value. On that topic, Law pulled no punches.

“Totally useless,” Law said of RBIs. “In terms of measuring the value of a player’€™s performance, I find them absolutely useless because 1) it’€™s determined by how many opportunities you get ‘€” the guys who hit in front of you in the lineup, how often did they get on base; and 2) there’€™s no particular skill to driving runs in. There’€™s no such thing as a hitter who is significantly better in RBI opportunities.”

A transcript of the interview follows. To listen to the complete interview, click here. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, casey kelly, ryan westmoreland,

Spring training 2010 slideshow

02.17.10 at 5:47 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. —  Check out WEEI.com’s spring training 2010 slideshow by clicking here.

Read More: Fort Myers, Red Sox, Spring Training,

Branyan unlikely fit for Sox

02.17.10 at 4:15 pm ET
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In theory, Russell Branyan would seem to represent a useful addition for the Red Sox. The 34-year-old is coming off arguably the best year of his career, having slugged 31 homers for the Seattle Mariners while hitting .251 with a .347 OBP, .520 slugging mark and .867 OPS. Yet in the free agent game of musical chairs, he is still without a seat, and so, as FoxSports.com reported, the Sox wanted to see whether there might be a fit with Branyan.

The left-handed Branyan, who played first base for the M’s last year but who has also served as a third baseman and corner outfielder, would give the Sox the possibility of a left-handed option to provide balance off the bench in place of right-handed corner infielders Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Beltre.Beltre has a career .269/.316/.452/.768 line against righties, vs. marks of .277/.353/.457/.810 against lefties. Youkilis, on the other hand, has significant career success against both right-handers (.295/.384/.495/.880) and southpaws (.285/.408/.466/.873).

Yet while a player like Branyan could represent a good complementary option for the Sox, the team is unlikely to sign a left-handed corner infielder, according to a baseball source. Because the team does not have a guaranteed opportunity for regular playing time — or even for a clear part-time role, given the presence of Mike Lowell on the roster — the Sox will more likely proceed with what they have, thus explaining Ken Rosenthal’s report (via Twitter) that the Sox are no longer a consideration for Branyan.

Unless a trade market for Lowell develops once he returns to the field in spring training or an injury befalls either Youkilis or Beltre, the Sox appear ready to proceed with Lowell as their primary backup at the infield corners.

Read More: Adrian Beltre, Kevin Youkilis, mike lowell, russell branyan

Francona on the scene in the Fort

02.17.10 at 3:49 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — After a morning of meetings with the Red Sox baseball operations staff to discuss the pitchers in spring training, Boston manager Terry Francona held court for his first media session since arriving in Fort Myers. Francona preached a philosophy that has become familiar in these sorts of settings, namely that as tempting as it is to look ahead to the season to discuss expectations and questions for the 2010 Sox, there is little benefit to doing so before the team has the opportunity to properly evaluate its players in camp.

That said, Francona did offer a few pieces of insight about what certain players will do in camp. Among them:

–Francona said that he didn’t know what pitcher Tim Wakefield’s schedule would be as he returns from offseason surgery on his lower back. He did reiterate that he views Wakefield is a starter.

–Francona acknowledged that the situation with Mike Lowell could be “a little bit uncomfortable” given the signing of Adrian Beltre to be the everyday third baseman. Francona expects that Lowell will probably play some first base in spring training.

–The manager believes that Daisuke Matsuzaka’s upper middle back strain was incurred at Athletes’ Performance in Arizona. He suggested that the team was already planning on taking a “patient” approach with the pitcher’s spring training pace, given the belief that Matsuzaka’s injuries last year were related to his efforts to ramp up too quickly to compete. That being the case, the team seems anything but alarmed about having the pitcher avoid throwing for a few days while evaluating the injury.

Bill Hall is most comfortable at third base and in left field, but the team also wants to give him time at shortstop after working with infield coach Tim Bogar. The team would also like to move him around the diamond, giving him a look at both second and first.

Boof Bonser will be stretched out on a starter’s innings schedule, at least at the beginning of spring training, as the team evaluates what role best suits him.

A transcript of highlights from Francona’s session is below: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Adrian Beltre, Boof Bonser, Daisuke Matsuzaka, mike lowell

Terry Francona speaks to media

02.17.10 at 2:05 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox manager Terry Francona spoke to the media Wednesday for the first time this year in Fort Myers. Francona discussed the Mike Lowell situation, the start of spring training, and David Ortiz (among other things).

Read More: David Ortiz, mike lowell, Terry Francona,

Epstein: Matsuzaka should have ‘normal spring training’

02.17.10 at 9:18 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said that right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka felt some discomfort in his mid-upper back while playing catch on Friday, which the team subsequently determined to be a “really mild strain.” Though the team considers the issue a minor one, it decided to proceed in a conservative fashion, given that Matsuzaka had already been scheduled to head back to Boston for a couple of days for a personal matter and that team physician Dr. Thomas Gill is not scheduled to arrive in Fort Myers until Friday. The team will have Gill examine Matsuzaka as part of the routine physicals performed on all pitchers.

Though the Sox do not consider the issue one that will prevent Matsuzaka from having a normal spring training with a full workload, the team was mindful of the 2009 season, when preparations for the World Baseball Classic created physical issues that lingered over the course of the entire season. Given that history, the team will wait until the pitcher is more thoroughly evaluated before establishing a throwing schedule.

“We decided not to let him do much until we get the physicals, given what he went through last spring, probably doing a little too much, too soon for the WBC,” Epstein said. “We’€™re two months away from when we’€™ll need his rotation spot anyway, so we’€™ll just slow it down, let our doctors look at him, not make something we think is really small into something big.

“If it’€™s a mild strain like we think it is, he’€™ll be able to have a normal spring training. He’€™ll be delayed a bit at the start of camp. I don’€™t want to put a number of days behind that he’€™ll be, but he’€™ll be a little bit behind because while other guys are long tossing and throwing ‘€˜pens now, he’€™s not going to do that for a few days.”

Epstein said that the pitcher’s communication with the team on the issue was excellent, and that he engaged in “full disclosure” of the condition before it could become an issue. Those measures offer further evidence that the pitcher and the team are now in broader agreement on his training program and care than has been the case at times in his Red Sox career.

“His attitude has been great. He was very accepting when we told him we want to treat it conservatively,” Epstein said. “I know he’€™s worked really hard this winter to make up for last year and come out and have a big season. That’€™s what we’€™re all hoping for him. We want to slow this thing down so we don’€™t turn something small into something big. Last year, he never really was able to get into condition to pitch in part because of the way things went early in spring. We want to make sure we avoid a repeat of that.”

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Theo Epstein,

The Fort Report: Tuesday’s developments

02.17.10 at 1:21 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Pitchers continued to trickle into Fort Myers. Newcomers to the Sox’ minor-league complex included Jonathan Papelbon (flanked by brother Joshua), Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Boof Bonser.

–Bonser may have gotten a contract from the Red Sox (a one-year, $650,000 deal), but as of yesterday, he had yet to receive any gear from the club, as he entered the team’s complex still sporting a Twins bag with his former digits (No. 26) gracing the side.

For those looking to buy “Boof” jerseys, he appears set to wear No. 30 with Boston, according to redsox.com. For those who are curious to track the goings-on of Chris Province, the former Red Sox pitcher/groundball machine who was dealt to Minnesota in exchange for Bonser, check out his Twitter account.

–One pitcher who is competing with Bonser for one of the two openings at the back of the Red Sox’ bullpen, Joe Nelson, had a memorable — or, more accurately, memory-filled — bullpen session. Nelson threw off of the same mound that he suggests marked the starting point for him to salvage his career in 2004 following a pair of labrum surgeries.

Nelson, who is with the Sox on a minor-league deal, attended three of the last four winter meetings: in Orlando (2006), Las Vegas (2008) and Indianapolis (2009), and hopes to remain in Major League Baseball after his playing days conclude. Insofar as he’s now entering his 15th year in professional baseball, he readily admits that he’s ill-suited for any other profession. Nelson’s last job before entering pro ball? He worked at Bingo games at St. Joseph’s Notre Dame, his high school in Alameda, Calif.

— One pitcher who is not competing with Bonser and Nelson for a bullpen spot is Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon’s 1.84 career ERA is the lowest of any pitcher to take the mound post-World War I (min. 200 innings).

Even so, the pitcher feels that he has something to prove in 2010, given that his 2009 season concluded in shocking fashion — his 0.00 postseason ERA turning into scrap metal when the Angels tagged the Sox closer for three runs in a Game 3 comeback that ended Boston’s season. Before that slip, Papelbon had been the closest thing to a mortal lock in postseason games that had ever existed. Still, the fact that he instead proved mortal for a day puts him in some excellent company: closers-par-excellence such as Goose Gossage, Dennis Eckersley and Mariano Rivera have all endured noteworthy failures in the postseason spotlight. And all responded with some of the best stretches of their careers.

— Papelbon also took time to talk contract. He’s signed to a one-year, $9.35 million deal for 2010, and free agency looms following the 2011 season. Even so, Papelbon insists that it should not be taken as a given that he will be leaving the Sox when he is eligible to test the open market. He insisted that he’d love to stay with the team that drafted him.

QUOTABLE

“Of course I would love to be with Boston for a long time, but this is the way it is right now. I’m happy going one year at a time. This is the organization I started with, this is the organization that gave me the opportunity to play major league baseball so of course I would love to stay here for 15 years. Right now one year at a time is the way it’s working and I’m happy and everybody else is happy, so why not?” — Closer Jonathan Papelbon on signing a one-year, $9.35 million deal with the Sox, rather than seeking a long-term deal.

THE INJURY WARD

— The biggest news of the day came with word that Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka is experiencing some measure of stiffness of a strain in his back. According to a source, the injury — which may be the result of his rigorous offseason training program — is not considered serious. The Sox will evaluate the pitcher over the next couple of days to determine its severity; during that time, he won’t throw. That said, the expectation is that even if Matsuzaka falls a couple days behind his fellow pitchers at the start of camp, he’ll still be able to have a normal spring training workload and be ready for the start of the regular season.

Tim Wakefield, who underwent back surgery to resolve a bulging disc following last season, arrived in camp and threw a bullpen session.

NO MINOR DEVELOPMENTS

A year ago, right-hander Stephen Fife (a 3rd-round pick out of the University of Utah in 2008) experienced shoulder fatigue after an offseason spent crushing the weight room. This past winter, Fife focused more on cardio work, and reports that he is leaner and feels great, as does his arm.

The right-hander has fallen just below the radar of up-and-coming Sox pitchers, but his early professional career has shown significant promise. He had a 2.33 ERA with Lowell in 2008, and though he started last season in extended spring training while getting his shoulder in shape, he pitched well at two levels of competition in 2009.

He pitched his way out of Low A Greenville after recording a 2.70 ERA and 35-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in eight starts. Then, after his promotion to Salem, he had a 4.44 ERA that was somewhat deceiving. Numbers such as a 51-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio (the best in the High A Carolina League, just ahead of teammate Casey Kelly’s 5:1 ratio) in 50.2 innings, the 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.85 groundouts per flyout were all markers of significant promise.

Fife’s ERA was skewed by one particularly horrific outing in Salem. He got tagged for seven runs (on four homers) in one inning in his seventh start in High A. Without that single eyesore, he’d have had a 3.26 ERA at the level.

In other words, the 23-year-old — who relies chiefly on a sinking fastball in the low-90s and a hammer curve — could be in position to improve his prospect status considerably with a healthy 2010.

Michael Bowden eschewed his usual offseason spent at API in Pensacola. Instead, he worked out at home, marking the first time since high school that the Chicago-area native had spent as many as three straight months at home.

Check back for the latest throughout Wednesday at the Full Count blog, or follow WEEI.com’s coverage via Twitter, where @bradfo and @alexspeier will be offering morsels from The Fort, 140 characters at a time.

Read More: Boof Bonser, Daisuke Matsuzaka, joe nelson, Jonathan Papelbon

Matsuzaka likely delayed by back stiffness

02.16.10 at 11:51 pm ET
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Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka likely will be delayed slightly in his spring training schedule by back stiffness or a strain, possibly the result of his rigorous offseason workout program, according to a source familiar with the situation. The Sox will take the next couple of days to evaluate the pitcher’s condition, during which time Matsuzaka is unlikely to throw as the team follows a relatively conservative treatment course in an attempt to treat the discomfort.

Even with a brief delay in his throwing schedule, the pitcher should be able to have a normal spring training and be ready for the start of the regular season. The team will also monitor the pitcher’s condition to ensure that he is at full health before throwing.

Matsuzaka told Japanese reporters that he is dealing with some mild upper body soreness, but that it did not prevent him from working out indoors or taking part in his shoulder program activities on Tuesday. He did not seem to consider the condition serious enough to impede his activities this spring, though the Sox (like most teams) tend to take a fairly conservative approach to injuries incurred in the early spring.

Reports from Japan about Matsuzaka’s condition were first relayed by ESPN.com.

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka,

Papelbon looks to start a new streak

02.16.10 at 1:26 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Prior to the 2009 playoffs, Jonathan Papelbon wore his 0.00 career postseason ERA like a tattoo on his forehead. The Red Sox closer talked freely about how he held the number dear, how much pride he took in his run of 26 consecutive innings without permitting an earned run.

That defining streak is no more, much to the chagrin of Papelbon. He allowed three runs on four hits in the eighth and ninth innings of Game 3 of the American League Division Series, leading to a shocking 7-6 loss that led to the Sox’ ouster from the playoffs.

Papelbon, who arrived in Fort Myers on Tuesday and threw his first bullpen session since that game, said that he is using that failure as motivation for the 2010 season. He played it repeatedly in his weight room — having seen it, by his estimate, 100 times — as the sort of motivational fuel that he hopes will lead to the start of another streak.

“I guess all good things must come to an end,” said Papelbon. “I had a great streak in the postseason and it came to an end. 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.

“It didn’€™t make my winter tough at all. I’€™m able to turn the page pretty quick. I totally used the way last season ended for motivation. I’€™ve got it on tape, and I watched it 100 times in my weight room. I was using it as motivation whenever I was feeling tired and weak in the weight room. I’€™d pop it on and say, ‘€˜There’€™s still work to be done.’€™”

Papelbon, meeting with reporters at the Red Sox’ minor league training facility in Fort Myers, discussed that and a number of other topics, including:

–His hopes to remain with the Red Sox “for a long time…Of course I’d want to stay here for 15 years.” At the same time, he said that both he and the team were content to proceed in contract negotiations on a year-to-year basis. Though the specter of free agency looms following the 2011 season, however, Papelbon said that implications that he will get his money elsewhere one he reaches free agency are “a perception,” and that signing a series of one-year deals should not be seen as evidence that he wants to sign elsewhere.

–He acknowledged that he lost his feel for his split-finger fastball for long stretches of 2009, and that resulted in a fastball-heavy arsenal that did sometimes work to his detriment.

–He plans on using the mechanics that he employed down the stretch last year, which he felt allowed him both to use his legs more (thus saving his arm) while effectively locating his pitches.

Here is a transcript of some of the interview session:

What are your thoughts about coming in with a new contract?

Nothing changes really. I think you go out there, you show up in spring training in shape, do the same job I’€™ve been trying to do for the last four to five years. I don’€™t think anything changes. I don’€™t think anything, expect maybe the expectations are a little bit higher, but my expectations for myself are going to be higher than anyone else’€™s.

How often did you revisit the loss against the Angels?

A lot. 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.

How would you like to improve on last year?

There’€™s always room for improvement. For me, the biggest thing, I think, is being able to improve on my pitch selection. I think you can always improve on that. Studying the hitters, just like always, and keep trying to improve on your mechanics. If your mechanics are there, then I think everything else falls into place.

Did you get away from the split last year?

No question. No question. I think when you’€™re successful at one certain aspect of your game, and mine was being able to locate my fastball towards the end of the season, you’€™re successful with it, I tended to really kind of rely on that a lot. Until I got hurt with it, which was a big part of the season, I went with it. Hindsight’€™s 20/20 now, but obviously I’€™m going to take that into consideration, try to be a little more selective with my pitch.

Did you lose the feel for the splitter?

No question. 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.

Last year, you made mechanical adjustments to decrease the strain on your arm. Will you carry that forward into this year?

No question. I kind of fiddled around with that a little bit early in the season. My walks were up, and I went back to some of the things I knew best, and incorporated some of both aspects of being able to take some of the pressure off my arm and also me still being me, the pitcher that I am. This year, I’€™m going to be able to take that into day one, and hopefully that will be able to propel me through a successful season.

How much did the mechanical adjustments affect the feel for the split?

I would say it didn’€™t affect it much, because the split is more of a timing thing, coming out of your hand. With my mechanics, they were still on time. It was just being able to try to get used to something in a quick period of time, with two weeks left in spring training last year. Whereas this year, I know exactly how I’€™m going to go into the season and what mechanics I’€™m going to use.

Is it ever odd to you that even given the numbers you put up last year, there are questions about what wasn’€™t working for you?

I think there will always be those questions. For me, basically, results are everything. Whether I’€™m changing my mechanics or working on one thing or working on another thing, it all boils down to results in this game. Whether I’€™m loading up the bases and having to punch out three or whether I’€™m getting the first three guys out, it all boils down to results.

When you looked at the Angels game, was there one pitch that particularly bothered you?

No. You can’€™t really boil it down to one pitch. I think it’€™s more or less the way the entire outing went. You can’€™t sit there and say it’€™s one pitch, because each pitch sets up the next and so on and so on. It was just something to where, I guess all good things must come to an end. I had a great streak in the postseason and it came to an end. 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.

How tough was it to have a winter with the last memory being the Angels game?

It didn’€™t make my winter tough at all. I’€™m able to turn the page pretty quick. I totally used the way last season ended for motivation. I’€™ve got it on tape, and I watched it 100 times in my weight room. I was using it as motivation whenever I was feeling tired and weak in the weight room. I’€™d pop it on and say, ‘€˜There’€™s still work to be done.’€™

Did you watch the postseason after you guys were eliminated?

I didn’€™t watch a whole, whole lot. I tried to watch guys like [Mariano Rivera] and see what they were doing, try to keep track of it as best as I could. I didn’€™t watch a whole lot, like I said. But obviously Mo is one of those guys who I’€™ve idolized in the role, and what he’€™s done for the role, what he’€™s done himself as a closer. He’€™s got five rings. That speaks for itself. Everybody else that’€™s a closer out there is pretty much chasing him. I think he’€™s set the tone for what it is to be a closer, and I think he’€™s bridged that gap, from closers 10 years ago to closers now. He’€™s been able to do both and to bridge that gap. It’€™s fun to watch him. It’€™s fun to see how he goes about it, and it’€™s fun to kind of compete with him on a level of kind of staying up with him. If you can stay on the same field with him, you’€™re doing something right.

He’€™s had his postseason hiccups. Does that make it easier for you to put last year in context?

Of course. I’€™ve talked to [current Red Sox and former Yankees bullpen coach] Gary Tuck about that a lot. He was obviously with Mo for a greater part of his career. There’€™s a lot of little nuances that we talk about, from his game to my game. That’€™s what makes him who he is, and that’€™s what makes an athlete who they are ‘€“ how they bounce back. In this game, that’€™s what’€™s going to test you to see what you’€™re made of. I take it all full steam ahead. It doesn’€™t affect me. I’€™m not going to take it into this season. My whole goal this season is to start a streak over again, see what happens from there.

Can you imagine pitching into your 40s?

Yeah, I can, but it’€™s not an easy thing to do. Mo, he just makes it look easy. He makes it look easy. Hopefully I will be able to, but only time will tell.

Did you ever ask the Sox where you fit into the long-term picture?

No, we never really got to that. I think it was the kind of thing where we both agreed that this year, we’d do the one-year deal. Both of us are happy with that. I think the Red Sox and Theo [Epstein] as a general manager have really recognized the importance of my role on the team. I’m very happy for that. I think that when both sides are happy, what more can you ask for? Only time will tell with the whole long-term deal. I’m not going to worry about that. I’m worried about this year, and like I said, my goal is starting that postseason  streak over again. That was something that was near and dear to my heart, throwing up postseason zeros. But like I said, if both sides are happy, what more can you ask for?

Were you tempted to go to arbitration?

Not really. Just listening to my agents and following their advice. That’€™s what I pay them for. The Red Sox came through in a big way for me, and everyone’€™s happy.

Are you satisfied with the shape of the 2010 team?

With the guys [GM] Theo [Epstein] added this year, how could you not be happy with team going into season with?

How’s your arm, and how much throwing have you done?

My arm feels great. I went off the mound for 25 pitches, catcher in front of the plate. Everything was on time and feeling good. Can’€™t complain.

Now that the season has arrived, do you put away the video of the Angels game?

Done with it, moving on. I’ve got new short-term and long-term goals for this season and it’€™s time to rock and roll.

Did you ever watch Game 4 of the 2007 World Series?

I didn’€™t. You learn from your mistakes more than from the things you do good. That’€™s just it.

Have you ever used a loss as motivation before?

Yeah, throughout career have little defeats try to learn from become stronger. Think that was the biggest one to date.

How much did you work out over the offseason?

I worked out a lot this offseason. With every offseason that comes, you learn your body more and more. Another one of my goals is to learn my body and how to get through the 162-game schedule. Each game that comes, I’m learning that more and more.

Have you had any interaction with fans since the end of last year?

No, not really. I got out of there pretty quick. No fan, no media, no coach is going to put any more pressure on myself and what I do than my own self. They expect to win, just like I do. … If a fan or anybody is happy the way it ended, then something’€™s wrong with them. The whole goal is to try to come in and win a World Series. If you fall short, why is that fulfillment? I think everybody feels the way I would. It ended in a disappointing way and hey, we need to find a way to get it done this year.

What do you make of the perception that you will seek the biggest contract in free agency and leave the Red Sox after 2011?

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.

But this is the way it is right now and I’€™m happy going one year at a time. This is the organization I started in. This is the organization that gave me the opportunity to play major league baseball. Of course I’€™d love to stay here for 15 years. Right now one year at a time is the way it’€™s working and I’€™m happy and everyone else is happy, so why not.

Was there any chance of a multi-year deal this offseason?

This year, both of us were kind of set on let’€™s do the one-year deal thing and go from there. I think that’€™s the way it’€™s working out best. And if something’€™s working out, let’€™s keep doing it this way. The biggest thing in this whole ordeal is you want both sides to be happy. You want to go out there with a good heart and a good feeling about the season. That’€™s the way I’€™m going out there this year. What more could you ask for?

How do you feel about the bullpen?

I think with us and our bullpen this year, we’€™ve got a lot of guys who can do a multitude of jobs. As relievers, you’€™re getting a constant workload. I think for us going to be able to lean on each other a little more this year. For the core group of guys, we’€™ve been together for a long time now. Learning the odds and ends is going to help us be more successful and have each other’€™s back.

Guys in the bullpen, it’€™s a special relationship down there. We all have each other’€™s backs and root for each other. It’€™s a different bond than a starter’€™s bond or between position players.

We have those themes going on and it builds that camaraderie that we’€™re all going to war together and we all have each other’€™s backs.

Do you like going year to year in contracts to give yourself added motivational incentive?

Not really. I think that for me, I’€™m trying to be the best. Whether I’€™m doing it or not, that’€™s my whole goal, to try to be the best. Ask any player, any pitcher that, everyone’€™s trying to be the best at what they do. That’€™s what I’€™m trying to do. I’€™m trying to be the best I can be one year at a time. That’€™s how it’€™s working out.

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