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The real story behind the Red Sox’ discovery of New Zealand softballer Beau Bishop

02.11.11 at 11:32 pm ET
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By now, the story of the Red Sox‘ signing of Te Wera “Beau” Bishop has made the rounds. He is a 17-year-old catcher who emerged as one of the top fast-pitch softball prospects in New Zealand, but that status was far from lucrative. Until signing a deal with the Sox (he was given a bonus of $60,000, the Boston Herald reported on Friday), he was anticipating a career as a builder.

But that was until Red Sox Pacific Rim scouting coordinator Jon Deeble — the manager of Australia’s national team — was impressed with his very raw tools, and thus was convinced to help set Bishop on a path that will take him from New Zealand to Fort Myers at the start of February. Deeble weighed in via email with the full scouting story of Bishop. Here it is: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: beau bishop, jon deeble, new zealand, softball

Report: Red Sox near deal for Japanese pitcher Itsuki Shoda

02.11.11 at 10:50 pm ET
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According to Nikkansports.com, the Red Sox signed right-hander Itsuki Shoda — the 2002 Pacific League Rookie of the Year in Japan — to a minor league contract. GM Theo Epstein said in the article that the deal for Shoda is near completion, and that he is expected to report on time to the team’s minor league camp.

Shoda is a 29-year-old left-hander who reportedly is a curveball specialist. He went 9-11 with a 3.45 ERA as a rookie for the Nippon Ham Fighters, but his numbers dropped significantly from there. He was sent to the minors in 2006, then traded to Hanshin, for whom he spent the next two years in the minors before heading to Taiwan.

There, Shoda was effective, leading the league in wins (14) and strikeouts (115) with a 4.44 ERA. In 2010, he was again effective in Taiwan, going 11-5 with a 2.81 ERA and 116 strikeouts.

Here is video of one of his 2010 games for the Sinon Bulls:

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What do Dustin Pedroia and Ralph Nader have in common?

02.11.11 at 8:35 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — In among the updates emanating from Dustin Pedroia Friday afternoon was the second baseman’s assertion that the “2000” Sacramento Kings were the only team he could think of that might match-up with the 2011 Red Sox in terms of overall talent. Well, this just in: He really meant the 2001-02 Kings. (Considering nobody milling about at the Red Sox minor-league training facility had Lawrence Funderburke’s name on the tip of their tongue, the mix-up could be forgiven.)

The message Pedroia was getting across was appropriate, however. That Kings team was really, really good. Good enough to make it to Game 7 of the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. They were so good, in fact, that Yahoo! Sports once identified that Sacramento club as one of the Top 10 best NBA teams of the past decade that didn’t win a championship.

But why would Pedroia be so quick to lump Rick Adelman’s team in with what is considered perhaps the most loaded Red Sox roster in team history? Was it his admiration for Chris Webber, or even Mateen Cleaves? Maybe. But why that club still separates itself for the second baseman is most likely for the same reason noted consumer advocate/former presidential candidate Ralph Nader carries a torch for the team.

The Kings were robbed. (Even shamed former NBA ref Tim Donaghy said so.)

With Sacramento one win away from the NBA Finals, the Lakers ended up shooting 27 free throws in the fourth quarter — making 16 of their final 18 points from the foul line — on the way to a 106-102 victory over the Kings. After the game Nader, along with the ‘League of Fans,’ sent a letter to NBA commissioner David Stern saying: “At a time when the public’s confidence is shaken by headlines reporting the breach of trust by corporate executives, it is important, during the public’s relaxation time, for there to be maintained a sense of impartiality and professionalism in commercial sports performances. That sense was severely broken … during Game 6.”

It was a game that was later identified by Donaghy (the referee who admitted to fixing NBA games) as a primary instance where officiating steered the outcome of the contest. While Donaghy wasn’t part of the crew that day, he did say that of the three refs who worked that day — Dick Bavetta, Bob Delaney and Ted Bernhardt – two were intentionally shaping the outcome with their calls.

(There is no truth to the rumor that Pedroia helped author the report published on 82Games.com breaking down the Game 6 mystery.)

So who might Pedroia be on that team, the one the second baseman suggests the Red Sox should thrive to become (minus the postseason loss, of course)? Since Spud Webb left Sacramento in 1995, here is our best comp (although we’re open to suggestions):

Dustin Pedroia: ‘My foot is repaired’

02.11.11 at 2:13 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The first spring sighting of Dustin Pedroia taking swings in Fort Myers was the source of much intrigue for the Red Sox. That had less to do with the condition of the second baseman’s left foot, however, than with his intriguing new hairstyle.

Over the offseason, he allowed his wisps of hair on top of his head to grow longer. That prompted manager Terry Francona to leave the clubhouse to try to find the 27-year-old in one of the batting cages.

“Where’s Giovanni Ribisi?” he yelled.

Pedroia took umbrage at the characterization.

“The jokes are cool when I’€™m 20 and losing my hair. But I’€™m a grown-ass man now,” he mused. “I think it looks solid. My wife likes it.”

The amusement of Pedroia’s coiffure aside, the state of his foot obviously carried more significance for the team going forward. And though he wore a protective pad over the instep of his left foot — the one that was fractured by a foul ball on June 25, and that led him to miss all but two of the Sox’ games over the remainder of the season — and after the workout, pronounced himself healthy and able to participate in baseball activities without restrictions.

“I’€™ve taken groundballs, turned double plays, run the bases, I’€™ve done everything. I’€™m ready to go,” said Pedroia. “My foot is repaired. There is a screw in there holding it together. It’€™s a ton better. I feel great. there’€™s not going to be any setbacks or anything like that.”

Pedroia started his rehab almost immediately after flying home to Arizona on Oct. 6, and he started baseball activities in January, which he characterized as standard for an offseason. He was able to do normal sprint and agility work, though he did not engage in distance running, and he won’t participate in the team’s shuttle-running drill for position players.

He acknowledged that he experienced discomfort in his foot at points in his rehab. But he suggested that was more the byproduct of inactivity as it was his foot. In the end, he found a workout and rehab routine that gave him peace of mind with his foot.

“If one part of my leg isn’€™t firing, it’€™s going to affect my foot,” he said. “We kind of figured out what the problem was and the last three weeks I felt great.”

Pedroia noted the high expectations for the club after the acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks, among others. At the same time, he said that the Sox are accustomed to such standards.

“[Expectations are] high every year. Not a year where you come into camp and your goal isn’€™t to win the World Series. If it’€™s not, then reevaluate the organization,” said Pedroia. “We want to win. We want to win right now. Just not this year, but every year. They’€™re always high.”

Read More: adrian gonzalez, bobby jenks, carl crawford, Dustin Pedroia

Watching the Red Sox through the rain drops (and a net)

02.11.11 at 12:08 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — With the rain coming down at the Red Sox minor-league training facility, many of the Sox players in attendance took to the batting cages to get their work done. Throwing bullpen sessions were Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Daniel Bard, Scott Atchison, and a few others. Dustin Pedroia showed, took some cuts, talked some trash, and hit the gym. Also finding their way into the cages were Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Gonzalez (who just did some light throwing).

Some of the things we learned while dodging rain drops: 1. Beckett was raising his hands up from his waist when executing his delivery, a small change from when he would keep his hands at his waist; 2. Tim Bogar spent much of the offseason coaching his sons’ basketball teams; 3. Luis Exposito’s notoriously loud glove looked appreciably more worn than last spring training. He said he just got a couple of new ones in, which should bring the decibel level back up.

Here is a look:

Pedroia just talked, so that is on the way, as well …

Daniel Bard can see himself as a starting pitcher in the future

02.10.11 at 11:41 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daniel Bard, who was drafted by the Red Sox as a starting pitcher out of the University of North Carolina in 2006, told WEEI.com after his workout at the Red Sox minor-league training facility Thursday that he is open to perhaps returning back into the role of a starter at some point in his career.

“I kind of would like to try it. It’s something I would like to do,” said the Red Sox’ reliever. “It would kind of challenge myself. You’ve never proven yourself, but I know I can do the reliever thing for myself, just as a personal challenge, (starting) would be cool. Sometime down the road if we’re in need of a starter it might come into play, and I would definitely be open to it, but right now it’s not even an issue.”

Bard struggled in his lone season as a professional starting pitcher, giving up 59 earned runs in making 22 starts at two different levels of Single-A. In that year, Bard walked 78 while striking out just 47. He would start his transformation into reliever the following offseason when pitching for Honolulu in the Hawaiian Winter League.

“It wasn’t starting I had a problem with, it was pitching,” the 25-year-old said. “You could have thrown me in any role my first year of pro ball and I would have stunk. It didn’t matter what inning I was pitching, or starting or relieving. It would just be progress in terms of my development as a pitcher. I think a lot of guys broke into the league as relievers.”

Bard cited the success of Texas’ C.J. Wilson, who spent his first five big league seasons as a reliever before becoming one of the American League’s top starters in 2010. This year, the Rangers are contemplating moving their closer, Neftali Feliz, to the starting rotation.

“It can definitely be done,” Bard said. “This team and this situation, it’s not a fit right now and I’m fine right now. I love the role I’m in, I can’t emphasize that enough. If it presents itself  a year or two down the road, I would definitely be open to it.”

For more spring training coverage, see the Red Sox team page at weei.com/redsox. For more on Bard, check back at weei.com.

Why Manny Delcarmen chose the Mariners over the Rays (and others)

02.10.11 at 10:42 pm ET
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Manny Delcarmen is still young. He will turn 29 next week. And yet, after being traded last August by the only team for whom he’d ever played and then being released by the club that dealt for him in December, his career reached something of a crossroads this offseason.

After the Rockies elected not to tender a contract for 2011 to reliever Manny Delcarmen in early December, a number of teams expressed interest in the right-hander. Nine teams requested medicals from his agent, Jim Masteralexis, at the winter meetings in Orlando, and Delcarmen received multiple offers, including one offer of a major league deal with a National League club. One NL team even considered signing Delcarmen with an eye on using him as a starter, believing his three-pitch arsenal (a fastball, curve and changeup, all of which have been swing-and-miss offerings at times in his career) could serve him well in the rotation.

But in the end, Delcarmen’s decision came down to the Mariners and Rays. Both teams feature bullpens in some flux, with Tampa Bay looking to reassemble a relief corps after seeing four pitchers leave via free agency and Seattle closer David Aardsma recovering from surgery to repair his hip labrum. Both clubs offered opportunities for Delcarmen, if healthy and effective, to carve out a meaningful role in the bullpen.

In the end, Delcarmen decided to sign an incentive-laden minor league deal with an invitation to big league spring training with the Mariners. The possibility of pitching at critical junctures of the game appealed to him.

“The main factor was opportunity,” said Masteralexis. “There’s opportunity there for him.”

Delcarmen was a tremendously effective reliever for the Sox in 2007 and 2008, forging a 2.81 ERA with 8.6 punchouts per nine innings. The last two years have seen disappointing results, with effective starts to the season giving way to disappointing ends. He had a 4.74 ERA in the last two years, with his strikeouts per nine dropping to 6.6, and his walks totals spiking.

The Mariners present a good opportunity for Delcarmen to rebuild his value, just as was the case for Aardsma, who flourished as a closer after the Sox traded him to the M’s following the 2008 season. The Mariners’ park is one of the best in the game for pitchers and the AL West as a whole tends to see fewer stacked lineups than the AL East (where Delcarmen made his home with the Sox from the time the Hyde Park native was selected in the second round of the 2000 draft until being traded to the Rockies this past Aug. 31). So, if Delcarmen can regain his effectiveness, he has a chance to not only re-establish himself as a late-innings reliever, but also to position himself well for salary arbitration (for which Delcarmen would be eligible as a player with 5+ years of service time after the 2011 season), which is driven by traditional stats such as record, saves, ERA and strikeouts, and doesn’t account for park factors.

Seattle represents an opportunity for the longtime Red Sox pitcher to get his career back on the path that seemed so promising just a couple of seasons ago. Now, it will be up to Delcarmen to take advantage of the situation with his performance on the mound.

Delcarmen flies to join the Mariners in spring training this weekend for a new beginning that he hopes will bring back some familiar results.

Read More: manny delcarmen, Mariners, Rays,
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