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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.”

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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

Terry Francona admits to butting heads with Theo Epstein but it’s all good

02.22.11 at 1:32 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€” Apparently, members of Red Sox management know a good thing when they see it.

They’ve had seven years now to watch manager Terry Francona and they’ve decided that, barring any unforeseen circumstances in 2011, he deserves a contract extension.

Jon Heyman of SI.com reported Tuesday on his twitter page that the club “intends to” exercise the two-year option on Francona’s contract at the end of the season, a move that ‘€” at $4.5 million per season ‘€” would be worth $9 million to Francona.

“I know nothing about their decision,” Francona told Heyman, who was at the Red Sox complex Tuesday.

Francona guided the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years in 2004, his rookie season as a Red Sox skipper. He also led the team to another title in 2007, and has let the Red Sox to the playoffs in five of his seven years as manager.

On Tuesday, just minutes before Heyman’s report, Francona spoke of what his time in Boston has been like working with general manager Theo Epstein, who hired him prior to the ’04 season.

“There’s been days like that,” Francona said when asked if he’s “butted heads” with the GM. “I don’t think we love those days. I think your relationship has to be strong enough where you can disagree. There’s been days where I wish I would have acted differently. We all do. It’s a very good relationship.”

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Read More: 2011 Spring Training, Boston Red Sox, Cla Meredith, Francona contract extension

Three for Tuesday: Why J.D. Drew is Trot Nixon and Terry Francona’s march to Cooperstown

02.22.11 at 1:11 pm ET
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Three Red Sox thoughts for a Tuesday as I keep one eye on ESPN, where in the last 45 minutes I have heard the word “great” associated with Carmelo Anthony (zero NBA Finals, zero First-Team appearances), Chris Bosh (zero playoff series wins) and Cam Newton (as many NFL pass attempts as Shane Falco). I’m actually begging for a montage of dunks set to unlistenable music …

1. Let us start with a little Player A, Player B:

Player A: .278 batting average, .366 on-base percentage and .464 slugging.

Player B: .270 batting average, .377 on-base percentage and .476 slugging.

Player A represents Trot Nixon‘s numbers with the Red Sox. Player B represents J.D. Drew‘s numbers with the Red Sox.

It’s amazing — all you ever hear from the Pink Hat crew is that J.D. Drew isn’t Trot Nixon. Turns out Drew has been almost an exact offensive replica of Nixon over the last four years.

But I get it. Drew doesn’t look the part. He didn’t own Roger Clemens (which I think an underrated factor in Nixon’s enduring popularity — the guy hit .400 with an OPS of 1.450 in 40 career at-bats vs. Clemens, including five homers) and he isn’t a Red Sox player by baseball birth, and he sure isn’t (and I’m holding my nose here) a Dirt Dog. Nixon’s baseball-reference page is sponsored by FenwayFanatics.com, who describe Nixon as “a gritty, hard-nosed player who was always ready to do what was asked by the Red Sox.”

Look, I have no idea if any of that true and neither do you. Really, what does “whatever is asked by the Red Sox” mean? The guy played right field, put up pretty good numbers and got paid a ton of money for it. Did I miss anything else?

But numbers are numbers, and they tell me that Drew has been Nixon at the plate over the last four years and they also tell me this: In 10 seasons with the Red Sox Trot Nixon played in at least 130 games three times. In four seasons with the Red Sox J.D. Drew has played in at least 130 games three times.

So, put aside the contract — is it Drew’s fault that he was offered more money than he’s worth? — and ask yourself this: If you think Trot Nixon was a productive player for the Red Sox don’t you have to feel the same about Drew?

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Red Sox notes Tuesday: Jonathan Papelbon sits while Josh Beckett starts Sunday

02.22.11 at 12:03 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox manager Terry Francona announced Tuesday that Josh Beckett will start Sunday night’s official Grapefruit League opener against the Twins at Hammond Stadium. He will be followed by Clay Buchholz in the game. Daisuke Matsuzaka will start against the Twins on Monday afternoon in the City of Palms Park 2011 opener.

“It’s the Mayor’s Cup so we’re going to stack it a little bit,” Francona joked.

The Red Sox begin playing games with their traditional “college” doubleheader Saturday at City of Palms opener, with Boston College playing in the early game at 1 p.m. and Northeastern providing the opposition at 6 p.m. Kyle Weiland, 24, will start for the Sox against BC while 21 year-old prospect Stolmy Pimentel will get the assignment against the Huskies.

In other news Tuesday from Red Sox camp, closer Jonathan Papelbon is dealing with flu-like symptoms after tending to his wife, who according to Francona, was also sick. “He got through the whole [side session Monday],” Francona said. “He came out today [for umpiring meeting] but we kept him inside for the majority of the day. He was just really feeling it. To bring him out here today would’ve probably been a mistake.”

The team hopes to have Papelbon closer to full strength on Wednesday. Adrian Gonzalez took another 30 swings off a tee on Tuesday morning just before 7:30. Francona said the team is hoping Gonzalez will take Wednesday off before resuming on Thursday but indicated Gonzalez will have the final call, depending on how he is feeling.

The team also met with Larry Young and Joe Garagiola, Jr. of the MLB office in charge of umpiring. The two spoke and also took questions from players about MLB in-game procedures for 2011, including pace-of-game and on-field temperament.

Read More: adrian gonzalez, Boston College, Boston Red Sox, Clay Buchholz

Dustin Pedroia finally gets the better of Dan Wheeler

02.21.11 at 5:55 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — It seemed like just another round of early-spring training batting practice, with Dustin Pedroia pitting his skills against Dan Wheeler. But, no. It evidently marked a much more significant moment.

Pedroia, you see, has faced Wheeler 10 times and has never managed a single hit.

That’s why when the Red Sox second baseman lined what would have been a base-hit into the outfield of Field 5 at the team’s minor-league training facility, it was a momentous occasion.

“I got one off of him! I got one!” Pedroia yelled, after notching the hit. “Finally!”

Wheeler knew exactly why such a seemingly innocuous moment elicited such a definitive reaction.

“You kind of know what’€™s going on, but you don’€™t really talk about. But he mentioned something to me that he was glad he’€™s on his team,” the reliever later said. “It was good fun.”

Nuggetpalooza: Clay Buchholz and ‘clutch’ grounders

02.21.11 at 3:22 pm ET
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You’re on the mound at Fenway in a tight game. Here in the sixth inning, you’ve walked one and allowed a one-out double, moving runners to second and third. Then you bear down, striking out the next hitter for the second out, moving to the brink of escaping the jam. You get the ground ball you’re after from the next guy, but helplessly watch it scoot through while two runs score. If that ball had been three feet in either direction, you’re out of the inning with no damage to the old ERA.

Groundball luck. It’s real. And it can be spectacular. Or a spectacular disaster.

In 2010, Red Sox pitchers induced 215 ground balls with runners in scoring position and two outs and allowed a batting average of .228 on those grounders, compared to just .196 in 2009. However, one Red Sox pitcher had tremendous luck in those spots, saving himself several ERA points in the process.

Here are the 10 pitchers who allowed the lowest average on “clutch” ground balls (RISP and two outs) last season (min. 20 such grounders allowed):

Over the last four years, only one pitcher has had a better “clutch ground ball luck” season than Clay Buchholz‘ 2010: The White SoxGavin Floyd allowed 20 “clutch” grounders in 2009 and NONE went for hits.

But here’s a caveat: This type of “luck” appears to be fairly random, at least beyond the defensive talent of the pitcher’s infield mates. In 2010, Floyd allowed a .242 average on “clutch” grounders, worse than average. So don’t be surprised if Buchholz (and the rest of the list above) don’t regress significantly in this category, costing them several extra ERA points in 2011.

So we’ve looked at the pitchers that saw the vast majority of clutch grounders turned into outs, so what about the ones that were victims of “seeing eye” balls at the worst times?  Here are the 14 who allowed the highest average on clutch grounders (same minimums):

I expanded that list to 14 because I felt there were some names between 11 and 14 that were notable. Even with Derek Jeter behind him, don’t expect Phil Hughes to have another season like that in 2011. In fact, these guys should all expect better ground ball luck this year.

This is a stat that I plan to track throughout the 2011 season and I’ll post updates from time to time.

Finally, I give you two more tables with 2010 results on “clutch” ground balls: 2011 Red Sox pitchers and 2011 Red Sox hitters:

I’ll be back soon with more nuggets!

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