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Kyle Farnsworth remembers living the life of Daniel Bard

03.18.12 at 2:25 pm ET
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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — He’s tall like Daniel Bard. And he throws really hard like Daniel Bard. But there are more important similarities between Kyle Farnsworth and his Red Sox pitching counterpart than just their physical likenesses.

Like the Red Sox are trying to currently do with Bard now, Farnsworth was being groomed at the outset of the 2010 spring training to make the transformation from late-inning reliever to starter. And, as is currently the case with Bard, he was attempting to make the switch under the guidance of pitching coach Bob McClure.

Farnsworth only made it about four weeks into that spring with the Royals before being moved back to the bullpen, but McClure’s work left a lasting impression.

“He moved my foot on the rubber to allow myself to go more directly to the plate. It was just a minor mechanical adjustment which he worked with me on. It make a big difference,” said the current Tampa Bay closer. “He definitely knows what he’€™s doing, and he’€™s good for anybody who is willing to listen to him. He’€™s a really good pitching coach.

“He would watch a couple of pens and then he approached me with this idea of sliding my foot over a little bit. He wants to see how a guy’€™s mechanics are first before he does anything.”

Farnsworth, who came up as a starter with the Cubs in 2000, hasn’t re-entered the rotation after that test run during ’10. But that doesn’t mean he can’t offer a good perspective on the switch for a pitcher like Bard.

In fact, the brief foray into starting again may have been the springboard for Farnsworth heading into his recent run of sucecess. In ’10, Farnsworth was coming off of four straight seasons with ERAs of 4.36 or higher. In 2010, he was hit around (7.02 ERA) while being stretched out in six appearances and 16 2/3 innings as a starter. However, once the 2010 season began, Farnsworth produced his best season in years, with a 3.34 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 20 walks in 64 2/3 innings over 60 games (the last 20 of which came with the Braves following a mid-season trade).

“Probably just the stamina,” said Farnsworth when asked what the biggest challenge he faced when living the life of a starter. “Instead of trying to go out there and throw every pitch you’€™ve got as hard as you can, you have to pace yourself. That was probably the biggest adjustment. Instead of throwing 95 or 96 you have to learn how to be between 90-92 and throw it up there harder when you need to. I felt like I was back in my old days. I liked it. I missed starting, but whatever was best for the team. But it was fun.”

It was a transformation McClure talked about on The Big Show just after being tabbed pitching coach for the Red Sox.

‘€œThe two guys that you’€™ll know who we did it with both ended up in the ‘€˜pen, but both could have started, delivery-wise, is Joaquim Soria, who we took all the way up to five innings in spring training before we started backing him off and put him in the ‘€˜pen, but he could have started the year as a starter. There’€™s no question in my mind. And the other one was Kyle Farnsworth,’€ McClure said. ‘€œHe began working on a changeup and a two-seamer, which we’€™d worked on at the end of the year, the year before. When he came into spring training, I think we got him all the way up to four, five innings also.

‘€œI think it made him a better pitcher. He had more pitches. He was more comfortable with runners on. We worked on his pickoff move. We worked on holding runners. I think all of those things, combined, made him overall a better pitcher. I think it relaxed him more. I think that he had more weapons to get the hitter out with. I think the same thing will happen with Bard. He already has all the pitches.’€

The Zen of Joe Maddon: Talking Kelly Shoppach, Matt Moore and a little John Lackey

03.18.12 at 12:37 pm ET
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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Wearing a bright yellow “Fortune Favors the Bald” t-shirt, Tampa Bay Joe Maddon took time to execute yet another always entertaining pre-game gathering with the media. Today’s subjects …

FORMER TAMPA BAY CATCHER KELLY SHOPPACH

“Shop did a couple of things really well. I thought he blocked really well and I thought he threw really well. I thought he did a better job of both of those things last year than he had the previous years. He was also a pretty good receiver, too. The thing I like about Shop is that he’€™s a very calm baseball player. The big moments he doesn’€™t  get bothered by it whatsoever. He’€™s always the same guy every day. I think that’€™s a strength for him. I think the pitchers like to throw to him.  I think all those things. Obviously the offense was sporadic, but he came through at the right time. He has big power in his bat. If he gets hot he can get really streaky. But primarily the best part of his catching was his blocking and throwing, and the pitchers like throwing to him.

“I think he’€™s very affable, likeable guy, so I think he’€™s going to relate to these people. I don’€™t think it will take him long. He’€™s very confident in himself. He’€™s very sure of himself, too. I think as a pitcher you like having a catcher who is that way. I don’€™t know how he compares to Varitek regarding studying. ‘€¦ I think the pitchers will enjoy him.”

(Regarding Shoppach’s propensity to let go of his bat into the stands) “I really prefer when I’€™m I the first base dugout when he’€™s hitting. He’€™s got great bat-throwing ability. He definitely took the term, ‘€˜throwing the head of the bat at the ball to another level.’€™ Preferably you would like to see the bat end up in center field somewhere because that’€™s when he gets in that pull mode.”

TAMPA BAY PITCHING PHENOM MATT MOORE

“The difference with Matt is, at 22 years of age, he’€™s got this accomplished feel for pitching already. And then you combine that with his extraordinary talent level. That’€™s what sets him apart. Most of the guys who we have that are good right now went through, when they were at that age, went through all those different components. And of course he’€™s going to keep getting better also as he gets a feel for what he wants to do. I think the thing that is unique for Matt, that everybody would agree on is, is how the ball just jumps out of his hand. That is optimal. You want every pitcher you sign to have the ball come out that way. He’€™s unique in the way he does that.

“I think Matt is a great product of development also. He’€™s been in our minor leagues, he’€™s been stretched out so this year we don’€™t have to baby him.  If he’€™s on our big league club, we can look at him pitching 200 innings here without having to shut him down later in the season based on a nice developmental path.

“The combination of everything, he’€™s a little bit unusual.”

JOHN LACKEY, WHOM WAS WITH MADDON IN ANAHEIM

“John, when he first came up, he was unflappable. He wanted to pitch in the big games. He was always that guy for me in Anaheim. I don’€™t know if he’€™s comfortable yet in Boston. ‘€¦ John is a tough guy. He’€™s not going to tell you exactly what’€™s going on. He’€™s not going to make excuses about physical problems. Obviously Boston has not seen the best of John. ‘€¦ I’€™ll be curious to see how it all turns out. I hope it turns out well for him because I consider him a friend and I was part of some good moments with him. I have a lot of respect for him.”

GM Ben Cherington discusses shape of 2012 Red Sox

03.18.12 at 12:09 am ET
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Red Sox GM Ben Cherington joined the WEEI broadcast of Saturday’s game at JetBlue Park between the Sox and Orioles to discuss a number of topics. Among them, he touched on the state of the competition for the spots at the back of the Red Sox rotation; the outlook for a number of players returning from injury, including Carl Crawford, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rich Hill; and his evolving relationship with manager Bobby Valentine.

In examining the composition of his club, Cherington suggested that while a great deal of attention will be placed on the team’s Opening Day roster, the more significant matter facing the Sox is how they are constructed to handle the longer haul of the season given the inevitability of frequent roster changes.

“So much is made of the Opening Day roster, for good reason,” said Cherington. “You certainly want to go into the season feeling good about the 25-man roster, but it changes so quickly once you get into April that what we’€™re looking to do mostly is put together the best team and best depth we can for six months and not get too narrowly focused on April 5th.”

Speaking specifically of the team’s pitching depth, Cherington suggested that the team has been pleased by the early signs from the six pitchers competing for two starting spots at the back of the rotation (Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Vicente Padilla, Felix Doubront, Andrew Miller, Aaron Cook) as well as the pitchers beyond that group. He cited right-handers Doug Mathis, Justin Germano and Clayton Mortensen, along with rehabbing pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rich Hill, in discussing how the team appears to be situated for the longer haul of the season.

“The pitching staff on Opening Day, it’€™s very unlikely to look the same two weeks later, three weeks later, six weeks later certainly,” said Cherington. “We feel like we have some good depth there, guys capable of getting major league hitters out.”

Highlights of the interview are below. To hear Cherington’s complete on-air segment, click here. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: alfredo aceves, andrew miller, ben cherington, Bobby Valentine

Bobby Valentine: Red Sox pitchers don’t need no stinkin’ slide-step

03.17.12 at 11:15 am ET
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The hitter has always been the priority in Red Sox land, at least that’s what Bobby Valentine had heard. Well, according to the manager, times (holding the ball, to home plate, etc.) might be changing (at least a little).

“I hear — and this might be real wrong — I hear there were a couple of pitching coaches here who said it didn’€™t matter,” Valentine told reporters prior to his team’s game against the Orioles Saturday, regarding prioritizing holding baserunners. “They just got away from doing it. I understand. I told you guys: I played with Nolan Ryan. I coached Dwight Gooden. I coached Tom Seaver. No one was ever more staunch advocates of ‘€˜Who gives a [expletive] if they get to second base?’€™ It was in a different era. If you can keep them on first and get a double play, a lot of times, that means a whole another inning. It means an entire other inning that starter could pitch. If he goes to second and you get the next three guys out and you use your arsenal, a lot of times, that’€™s your last inning. That’€™s a big difference in today’€™s game.”

So, does that mean we will be entering the world of the slide-step?

“A slide-step stinks,” Valentine said.

Earlier in the conversation, the manager explained his philosophy regarding holding runners without sacrificing getting the hitter out.

“I’€™ll never say, ‘€˜Don’€™t throw your best pitch.’€™ I got away from that one with Jose Guzman in 1986. He gave up a home run in spring training because of a slide-step or whatever that thing is. I don’€™t believe in slide-step,” Valentine said. “Controlling the runner is a program that you have, built in, to vary your cadence and not say, ‘€˜I don’€™t give a [expletive] if you steal the base.’€™ That’€™s all it is. It doesn’€™t mean you have to be 1.1 to the plate. It doesn’€™t mean you have to have a great pickoff move. It just means that you have a program and we have all this time to work on it and all the time you lay in bed thinking about it and all the time you’€™re by yourself in the clubhouse where you can control it.”

“I’€™ve seen Josh [Beckett] do it here. Josh has had about four very good guys on base. Jon [Lester] is getting there. Clay [Buchholz] has a real quick move coming up. On the way up, he’€™s quick, sometimes sets quick, and those times that he has used the package to change his cadence, he’€™s been excellent. I don’€™t want that to ever take away what he’€™s doing to the hitter.”

In case you were wondering, the Red Sox have led the majors in stolen bases against in each of the past three seasons.

Red Sox agreement with Dominican prospect Simon Mercedes represents sea change

03.16.12 at 9:52 pm ET
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In its own right, the Red Sox‘ agreement pending MLB’s background investigation with right-hander Simon Mercedes to a signing bonus of $800,000 (first reported by Ben Badler of Baseball America and confirmed by a major league source) is noteworthy because it represents the addition of a high-ceiling power arm into the Sox system.

Mercedes has what one evaluator called an “XXL power frame” at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. He features an above-average fastball that registers in the low- to mid-90s as well as what the evaluator called an above-average curveball. He will enter the Sox system as a starter, though for him to remain there, it will require some development of his repertoire. At the least, however, he has the makings of a power arm out of the bullpen.

The Sox viewed him as one of the top eligible arms available. He represented one of the last available opportunities for the Sox to flex some financial muscle in the international market, given the coming restrictions on international amateur spending in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, something that will change the way business is done internationally starting on July 2.

So, the signing of Mercedes is notable for the fact that the Sox added what they hope is a high-ceiling prospect. However, it is noteworthy for other reasons as well that underscore that the Sox’ approach to the international amateur market has changed with the change from former VP of International Scouting Craig Shipley to new director of international scouting Eddie Romero. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: carlos martinez, carlos matias, craig shipley, eddie romero

Daniel Bard: ‘I just kind of felt dead’ in shellacking

03.15.12 at 10:57 pm ET
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As seamless as Daniel Bard‘s transition to the rotation has seemed at times this spring, it has not been without practical challenges. That notion was underscored on Thursday, when Bard got shelled for the first time this spring, allowing seven runs on six hits and four walks in just 2 2/3 innings. He walked one.

Bard had never before allowed more than five runs in a game at the big league level, including his spring outings. And so, after he was hit as in no other game since establishing his credentials at the game’s highest levels, even after an exhibition outing, the development was unexpected and raised questions about where Bard is in his transition to the rotation.

That said, there were unique circumstances that made it possible to view Bard’s outing as an isolated event in spring training. Bard has been working to figure out a starter’s routine. That being the case, he readied for Thursday’s outing in the same fashion that he had prepared for his previous two starts, in which he pitched five shutout innings.

However, unlike the other two outings, in which he started, Bard came on in the sixth inning on Thursday, after Alfredo Aceves and Justin Thomas had pitched. Then, after he pitched to one batter (a groundout by Carlos Beltran), there was a brief rain delay. The net effect was that Bard was not in the same state of mind for Thursday’s outing than he had been for his previous starts.

“It was weird because I was trying to treat it like a start, yet I did my stuff in the training room like I did before my other starts. But then I go out and sit in the bullpen for three, four, five innings. I couldn’€™t really use the whole routine that I’€™ve tried to establish,” Bard acknowledged to reporters. “You get that one pitch to the hitter in the rain and then it was inevitable the [delay] was going to happen.

“You’€™re straight killing time back there behind the dugout. I probably if anything I lost that adrenaline that keeps you going out there and keeps you aggressive. I just felt kind of dead the rest of the inning. It’€™s not an excuse. It wasn’€™t the same conviction behind the pitches that needs to be there.’€

When Bard returned to the mound following the delay, he gave up a solo homer to Matt Adams, the first of three runs (on four hits and two walks) he would allow that inning. After a 1-2-3 seventh, Bard walked the leadoff man in the eighth, retired the next two batters and then allowed a single, steal, walk and bases-loaded triple before being lifted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: alfredo aceves, Daniel Bard,

Red Sox close out compensation for Theo Epstein with right-hander Aaron Kurcz

03.15.12 at 9:21 pm ET
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The book is now closed in terms of what the Red Sox got from the Cubs in exchange for GM Theo Epstein. The Sox will get Aaron Kurcz as their player to be named, making him the second player whom the Sox received from the Cubs (along with reliever Chris Carpenter).

Kurcz, 21, has had an interesting path as a professional. He initially enrolled at the Air Force Academy where he went for a year before transferring with the Academy’s blessing to go to the College of Southern Nevada to pursue his baseball career. The short (5-foot-11) right-hander ended up being taken by the Cubs in the 11th round of the 2010 draft. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: aaron kurcz, Chris Carpenter, Theo Epstein,

Karl Ravech called it: Kevin Youkilis latest to lead off for Red Sox

03.15.12 at 10:16 am ET
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Two days after ESPN commentator Karl Ravech revealed on the air that, after conversations with Bobby Valentine, it should not surprise anybody if Kevin Youkilis leads off for the Red Sox, sure enough, Kevin Youkilis is leading off for the Red Sox.

(Update: When talking with reporters Thursday morning, Valentine insinuated Youkilis would not be hitting leadoff during the regular season: ‘€œI don’€™t want to rule anything out, but probably not. That’€™s more on the idea of getting him a couple of quick at-bats because he’€™s going to have a lot of games here.’€)

The Sox third baseman, who has made it clear in the past that the leadoff spot was his least favorite in the batting order, is at the top of the lineup for the Sox’ in their game against the Cardinals at JetBlue Park Thursday afternoon. This is how the batting order looks: Youkilis 3B, Jacoby Ellsbury CF, Dustin Pedroia 2B, Adrian Gonzalez 1B, David Ortiz DH, Cody Ross RF, Ryan Lavarnway C, Darnell McDonald LF, Nick Punto SS, Alfredo Aceves P.

Also scheduled to pitch for the Red Sox will be Daniel Bard, Matt Albers and Justin Thomas.

For his career, Youkilis has manned the leadoff spot 98 times, totaling a .282 batting average, .382 on-base percentage and .806 OPS. He hasn’t started a game in the spot since 2006.

Here are the other players who have hit leadoff this spring: Mike Aviles (4), Punto (2), Jose Iglesias (2), Ellsbury (2), Nate Spears (1), Pedroia (1).

Read More: Bobby Valentine, karl ravech, Kevin Youkilis,

How the new CBA is hitting Red Sox players in the back pocket

03.15.12 at 7:36 am ET
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Dustin Pedroia cruised through the clubhouse the other day, took one look at the footwear of a reporter — which consisted of spring training flip-flops — and started screaming that the new collective bargaining agreement was being violated. He was right. Reporters are being forced to dress (gulp) more respectively this season per the new CBA.

Then Pedroia went on the defensive: “Look. Not in my pocket. In my hand.”

What the second baseman was holding was a tin of chewing tobacco. What he was referencing was another new CBA rule that fans might not notice right away, that players aren’t allowed to carry tobacco products in their uniforms. You know what means: No more of the trademark tobacco tin ring in back pockets of players.

Another CBA-related item comes from Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra, who outlines baseball’s new social policy. In a nutshell, here are the new rules:

Players can’€™t make what can be construed as official club or league statements without permission;

Players can’€™t use copyrighted team logos and stuff without permission or tweet confidential or private information about teams or players, their families, etc.;

Players can’€™t link to any MLB website or platform from social media without permission;

No tweets condoning or appearing to condone the use of substances on the MLB banned drug list (which is everything but booze, right?);

No ripping umpires or questioning their integrity;

No racial, sexist, homophobic, anti-religious, etc. etc. content;

No harassment or threats of violence;

Nothing sexually explicit;

Nothing otherwise illegal.

Are the Red Sox pushing the envelope? Probably not. The last tweet from Cody Ross (@IamCodyRoss) was a caption contest, with the winner passing along this for the following picture: “So this is what Pedroia sees when he steps up to the plate…”

Other recent Red Sox tweets: Darnell McDonald (@MacDime54) – “Don’t really get into college hoops”; Ryan Sweeney (@RyanSweeney12) – “Our bed is like a concrete slab so I caved and bought a memory foam mattress cover AND a down mattress cover, this crap better work…”; Kelly Shoppach (@ShopHouse10) – “Ft. Myers Beach is packed. Spring Break”

Read More: Cody Ross, Dustin Pedroia,

Ryan Lavarnway is still impressing … Bad news for Quiznos, good for the Red Sox

03.14.12 at 11:57 am ET
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Bobby Valentine says any time you talk about the Red Sox catching situation, he demands Ryan Lavarnway‘s name be included in the conversation. The manager also passes along that he hasn’t seen a young hitter the likes of Lavarnway — one which understands what he is doing and needs to be done — in quite some time.

In a camp which is being kept buzzing with the potential of such prospects as Will Middlebrooks and Jose Iglesias, it’s the 24-year-old catcher who may be offering the most complete package among the youngsters. It started with a home run in his very first at-bat of the spring, has continued with obvious defensive improvements — (for more on this, see the excellent Minor Details podcast with Alex Speier talking to Lavarnway about his evolution as a catcher) — and, of course, been punctuated by the overall offensive presence, one which resulted in 32 minor league home runs in 2011.

So how did he keep the momentum going?

Work Ethic. Continued maturity. Attention to detail. Acceptance of instruction.

There was another key, however.

“I lost 25 pounds twice this offseason,” he said.

The first wave of weight-dropping came when he became ill while playing in Venezuela. But then, after returning to the United States and regaining the poundage, the real significant transformation started kicking in. While working out at Athletes Performance in Phoenix, Lavarnway discovered the art of eating better. Particularly of note was the understanding of why he had found himself in a bad place weigh-wise at the conclusion of  the ’11 season.

“I definitely needed to lose the weight. I got big at the end of last year,” he said. “I got into a rhythm where I was hitting well where I would eat something that wasn’t great for me. So I was thinking, ‘I have to eat the same thing as I ate yesterday because I hit well yesterday.'”

That “same thing” became a Quiznos “Traditional” sandwich.

“I thought it couldn’t be that bad for me, but looking at the nutritional information afterwards I was eating it for breakfast and it was 1,500 calories,” Lavarnway said.

“I could definitely feel the difference. My body isn’t fighting itself any more. I feel lighter, which helps me on my feet, my flexibility, helps me recover faster. I’ve put on some weight in each season and that’s just the way my body works, but I’m going to try to put on less weight this year.”

There was one last concern upon showing up to camp, however: would the power still be there if the additional weight wasn’t? Well, thanks to that first at-bat, in a ‘B’ Game over at Hammond Stadium against the Twins, that question appears to be answered.

“It was definitely nice,” he said. “One of the few worries I had when I did lose all that weight was wondering if any of the pop was going to go with it. It was nice to know that I didn’t even get all of that ball and it still got out. It’s nice to know I can be leaner and physically have less body mass and still hit with power.”

Should Ryan Lavarnway start the season in the major leagues?

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