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Why these Red Sox are perfect role players to Terry Francona

02.23.11 at 3:43 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — You’d be hard pressed to find a Red Sox fan past infancy who doesn’t remember how the Manny Ramirez era ended in Boston in 2008.

There was the perception that he cared more about his own career than winning a third World Series title with the Red Sox. It was ultimately that perception that clouded the clubhouse and made life so difficult for manager Terry Francona that the Red Sox dealt him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-way trade that brought Jason Bay to Boston minutes before the July 31 trade deadline.

Francona didn’t mention Ramirez by name on Wednesday but when he was asked indirectly about one of his least favorite subjects – how a particular player might fit into the batting order – he talked not about the lineup but team chemistry and unity.

“You can have some guys that maybe don’t always have the team’s goals the same but they better really be good. And we’ve had that sometimes in the past,” Francona said. “It’s not a perfect world but it certainly makes for a much better atmosphere when you have guys that care about winning.

“It sets the tone for young guys better buy in. It’s a heckuva a lot easier for me to make examples of people when you have veterans running around working harder than anybody in camp.”

Ramirez hit .312 and belted 274 homers in a Red Sox uniform, winning the 2004 World Series MVP. Clearly, he put up some of the biggest numbers in club history and was arguably the greatest right-handed hitter to ever play for the team. But eventually, he became a distraction that no one could manage, not even Francona.

Last Friday, when GM Theo Epstein addressed reporters at the Red Sox player devolopment complex, he recalled not Manny being Manny but a far more subtle and far less recounted example of team chemistry gone bad. And in this case, Epstein DID mention the name.

Jay Payton played just 55 games with the 2005 Red Sox – primarily as a fourth outfielder behind Ramirez of all people. After a confrontation with Francona in late June about the way he was being used, he was designated for assignment and eventually dealt to Oakland on July 13 for reliever Chad Bradford.

Where will he hit Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez? Can he really get around have two lefty batters back-to-back? Is Jacoby Ellsbury better at the top or bottom? What about J.D. Drew?

And on Wednesday, it was “What about David Ortiz?” How easy will it be for him to hit wherever Francona decides to bat him in the order?

“Again with David, I don’t think you’ll see a role change,” Francona said. “The batting order will take care of itself. Anytime you have good players that want to place the team’s goals first, that makes for a real good atmosphere, that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Read More: Boston Red Sox, David Ortiz, J.D Drew, jason bay

Clay Buchholz doesn’t have anything to prove, just refine

02.23.11 at 3:22 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jarrod Saltalmacchia couldn’t resist.

He is catching Josh Beckett in Sunday night’s Grapefruit League opener against the Twins at Hammond Stadium. Coming on in relief will be Clay Buchholz.

So, on Wednesday morning Saltalamacchia – who before Wednesday hadn’t caught Buchholz this spring – was giving the fourth-year pitcher some grief for his new role.

“I haven’t even thrown to him yet,” Buchhholz said. “I was just joking around. He was calling me names earlier because he said he only catches real starters because I’m piggybacking Beckett on Sunday.”

But Buchholz certainly doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone in the majors. The man who threw a no-hitter in his second big league start is coming off an All-Star season, during which he was 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA, second only to Felix Hernandez in the American League.

He has established himself as a starter with four legit big league pitches, a fastball, a hammer curve, a devastating change-up and slider. This time last year Buchholz was working on a two-seam with sink to get down and in on right-handed batters. Last year, he showed he can mix them all in. This year, he has nothing to prove, just refine.

“He doesn’t need to add more pitches,” said his manager Terry Francona. “He’s a very successful major league pitcher just trying to find ways to get better.”

“It’s all trying to refine, just trying to stay inside the delivery and throw every pitch with the same effort and just basically go from there and not trying to do too much with any particular pitch,” Buchholz said.

That refining process begins in earnest Sunday night across town from City of Palms.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it, just knock the rust off,” Buchholz said. “I’ll probably be a little anxious, a little pumped up to get out there. I think after the first couple of pitches, I’ll settle down and see how it goes from there.”

As for his joker of a catcher, Buchholz said he’s looking forward to learning Saltalamacchia.

“It’s all going to be a fun process,” Buchholz said. “Obviously, he’s a talented guy. He definitely wouldn’t be in this organization or his position if he weren’t. I think everybody is looking forward to it.”

In 2010, Buchholz worked hard to find a comfort level with Victor Martinez. Buchholz said that process will be just interesting and productive with Salty in 2011.

“Vic was good,” Buchholz said of Martinez. “I learned a lot from Vic but I think that just made me better as a player and made me know what I wanted to do out there on the mound rather than sort of feeling dumbfounded out there and not knowing what I should throw in a particular position. He taught me a lot but going forward I think I’ve learned enough now it really doesn’t matter who’s catching me. As long we’re on the same page, I think we can make the game flow a little bit better and go from there.”

Red Sox Wednesday notes: Terry Francona dismisses contract talk, Adrian Gonzalez gets ‘re-gen’ day

02.23.11 at 1:20 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox manager Terry Francona downplayed Tuesday’s report by SI.com’s Jon Heyman that the team “intends to” pick up his two-year contract option at the end of this season.

“I don’t know where it came from. Let it go,” Francona said when first asked Wednesday about the report. “I actually know where it came from but there’s nothing to that.”

Francona then called in to the Dale & Holley show to pay tribute to departing co-host Dale Arnold, and the subject of his contract came up again.

“It ended up being a story that really wasn’t a story,” he said. “I have an option that the ballclub has the right to pick up at the end of the year. I’m real comfortable with that. So, it really become a story that did not need to be one.”

Francona signed a three-year contract extension with the Red Sox on Feb. 24, 2008, the spring after leading the Red Sox to their second World Series title in four seasons. The extension was worth a reported $12 million, with his salary beginning at $3.5 million in 2009 and increasing by $250,000 increments through this season. The club also included options in 2012 ($4.25 million) and 2013 ($4.5 million).

In other news, Francona announced that slugger Adrian Gonzalez took a “re-gen” day to rest his right should and see how it responds after two days of hitting off a tee. Gonzalez is expected to resume hitting off a tee on Thursday at the Red Sox complex. Francona also said Jonathan Papelbon returned to full activities after a taking a sick day on Tuesday due to flu-like symptoms.

The “Big 4″ of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz all threw live batting practice on Wednesday, with Lackey facing the group of Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford and David Ortiz.

Beckett will start Sunday night’s game at Hammond Stadium in the official Grapefruit League opener against the Twins, with Buchholz coming in as a reliever. Daisuke Matsuzaka will start on Monday afternoon, also against the Twins at City of Palms Park.

Read More: 2011 Spring Training, adrian gonzalez, Boston Red Sox, carl crawford

The ‘mistake’ that led Clay Buchholz to Nolan Ryan

02.23.11 at 10:41 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Clay Buchholz can remember the day vividly that he met a fellow pitching great from the state of Texas. Actually, he met one of the greatest pitchers ever to hail from the Lone Star state.

Buchholz, who grew up in Lumberton, Tex., had just been dismissed from McNeese State’s baseball squad and transferred to Angelina Community College in 2005 after being arrested for stealing 29 computers from the Lumberton Intermediate School.

“It was a mistake,” he said years later. “But I think it helped me out in the long run.”

It was also fate. While at Angelina – posting a 12-1 record in 2005 – his team played Alvin College in Alvin, Tex., the home of one Nolan Ryan.

“Alvin is where he’s from and he helped out with their baseball team,” Buchholz recalled Wednesday, the day of his last side session before his 2011 spring debut Sunday. “We got to play them a couple of times so I met him though that.

“It was awesome. I was sort of starstruck so I don’t even remember what I said. It was just basically trying to speak so I didn’t waste any time and regret that I didn’t ask anything.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Alvin Community College, Angelina Community College, Boston Red Sox, Clay Buchholz

Why you won’t see Bobby Jenks throwing batting practice today

02.23.11 at 10:02 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ People love trying to do the math during spring training. For example ‘€¦

Bobby Jenks is one of the few Red Sox pitchers who hasn’€™t thrown live batting practice so far at the team’€™s minor-league training facility. He also is a hurler who didn’€™t pitch after experiencing right elbow problems in a double-header in Boston on Sept. 4.

So the logical conclusion for some is that the caution surrounding Jenks related to last season’€™s injury. Not so, the reliever said prior to workouts Wednesday morning.

As it turns out, about three years ago Jenks decided that his best course of action heading into spring training was to not throw off a mound until arriving in camp. And just because he finds himself with a new team, that progression isn’€™t changing.

‘€œThe year I started doing this I thought I was doing it too much. I was getting that dead-arm, that tired feeling, in spring,’€ he said. ‘€œHaving to try and throw threw that got me tired at the end of the year. It just started working for me.

‘€œI’€™ve already talked to [Red Sox pitching coach] Curt [Young] and we’€™re on the same page. We’€™re working on a schedule. He knows I like to throw in the second half of spring, going down to the minor-league side and throwing a couple innings at a time and dialing up that way. I’€™m still going to be on that same routine, that same schedule I’€™m used to in terms of getting ready for the season.’€

Jenks reiterated that his altered timetable has nothing to do with the elbow tendonitis he experienced last season. That, he said, was ‘€œkind of a fluke,’€ a result of icing between games of a double-header and then unexpectedly threw 18 pitches in the second game after getting up a few times prior to the outing.

Wednesday he will throw his fourth bullpen session since arriving, take a few days off, and then map out a schedule with Young to see when he might throw to live hitters.

‘€œThey asked me honestly and I gave them an honest answer where I’€™m at,’€ Jenks said. ‘€œI feel great. I’€™m actually a little ahead of my own schedule in terms of how my arm feels. There’€™s no reason to lie to them, especially in February. I’€™m right on schedule, and maybe a little ahead of schedule.’€

Carl Crawford on D&C: Yankees were ‘never an option’

02.23.11 at 9:58 am ET
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Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford appeared on the set of the Dennis & Callahan show in Fort Myers, Fla., on Wednesday. He talked about how he’s fitting in so far and why he came to Boston instead of New York. To hear the interview, visit the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Crawford said the assimilation process for him and Adrian Gonzalez has been smooth so far. “It’€™s real good,” he said. “They’€™re showing a lot of love. We’€™re fitting in really well and just trying to find our place around the clubhouse.”

Crawford said he isn’t worried about the high expectations fans have for him. “Just go out there and play my best,” he said. “The expectations don’€™t worry me like that. Just go out there and be myself, and I should be fine.”

Crawford also talked about his decision to sign with the Red Sox. He said he wanted to stay in the American League East because he was already familiar with the pitchers, cities and stadiums, but he said the Yankees were never really an option.

“To be honest with you, I never talked to New York,” Crawford said. “They never offered me a contract. I never had any kind of communication with New York, so it was never an option to go to New York.

Cliff Lee was their first choice. I didn’€™t want to be somebody’€™s backup plan. I wanted to go to a place where they wanted me just as bad as I wanted to go there.”

Crawford dismissed the notion that him leaving Tampa was like LeBron James leaving Cleveland. “No, I didn’€™t LeBron them at all,” he said. “This situation was different. The thing with Tampa is I never got a contract offer from them either, so it was like I had to go. They gave me no choice. It was totally different.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, carl crawford, Terry Francona,

Jonathan Papelbon on D&C: Sox have ‘biggest shot at keeping me’

02.23.11 at 9:45 am ET
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Closer Jonathan Papelbon dropped by for a visit with the Dennis & Callahan show on Wednesday from Red Sox spring training in Fort Myers, Fla. To hear the interview go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

The main topic of the conversation was Papelbon’s impending free agency at the end of this season and his future in Boston or elsewhere. “I don’t have a Magic 8-Ball to give you that answer,” he said of speculation about his future. “I’m not really concerned with it. I really want to go out this year and take the team that we have and go and do the things that we’re expected to do and go as far as we think we can go. And then whatever happens happens. I think if I sit there and worry about it, it’s going to affect how this team goes out and how I go out this year and play. So, I don’t worry about it.”

Asked if he would be OK pitching elsewhere, Papelbon said: “I’d have to be OK with it. If that’s what happens, that’s something that would be inevitable and I’d have to be OK with it, and I’d have to find a place that I am OK with it. But like I said, who’s to know that that’s going to happen? I feel like here in Boston I’ve established great relationships and great teammates, and who knows if that’s the route it may go? Can it go that route? Yeah, of course. But can it not go that route is a definite as well.”

Papelbon said he would not turn his back on the Red Sox when it comes to picking a team after the season. “Of course. There’s no question about that,” he insisted. “I think they’ll probably have the biggest shot at keeping me.”

As for going through the season with the pressure of a free agent year, Papelbon said he expects it will help him. “I think it puts a little added pressure on me, and I think I’m one of the guys that when there’s that added pressure on, I think that’s when I thrive and I’m at my best,” he said. “That’s just me. That’s how I work.”

Papelbon had some struggles last season, due in large part to problems controlling his fastball. “For most of the first three months of the season, I did struggle with it, yeah. I did struggle with my fastball command,” he said. “And I think I got to that classic try to overdo, try to do too much situation. I kind of tried to search for answers more than I probably should have. But the last two months of the season for me were huge as the ball started coming out of my hands a lot better. I started throwing the ball a lot better. My offspeed was where I wanted it to be. And so I kind of just took that approach that I had in the last two months of the season and tired to carry it into the offseason and try to carry it into the spring.”

Papelbon agreed that with Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks supporting him, this is the best group of relievers the Sox have had since he’s been with the team. “I would say yes,” he said. “On paper, there’s no question about it. But the best group of guys I had so far were in ’07, just because we went out there and executed and won. Now, do we have to go out there and execute? Yeah, no question about it. And so, I think if we can go out there and execute and do what our goal is to do, which I to win a championship, then I think you will be talking about a bullpen that might go down as one of the best in history.”

Added Papelbon: “I think you look at [Bard] and you say he has the stuff to be a closer. There’s no question about it. You look at Bobby, he’s obviously got closer stuff. And myself. And I think that you look at our team this year and the way that it’s put up and put together, that we have three possible closers. Even Hideki [Okajima] at times has been good enough to close.

“I think that we don’t really necessarily worry about what each other are going to do in the future. We look at our situation now, in the present, and say, ‘Hey, look, this is what our situation is. They put us here for a reason. Can we go out and win a World Series? And let’s try and do it.’ And then whatever happens after that will all fall into place and we’ll figure it out. I think that’s the approach of our entire bullpen.”

Read More: bobby jenks, Daniel Bard, Hideki Okajima, Jonathan Papelbon
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