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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.

Read More: Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera,
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