Archive for February 18th, 2010

Atchison returns to the Red Sox for a good reason

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Scott Atchison knows he could have made a lot more money in Japan. But he also realizes it was a lot more important to be back in the United States.

Atchison finished 2009 as a valuable commodity, having performed admirably out of the Hanshin Tigers’ bullpen for a second straight season. One agent estimated the 33-year-old could have made as much as $3 million if he chose to continue his career path in Japan. But he didn’t, and now he finds himself on the back fields at the Red Sox‘ minor league training facility vying for a spot in the Sox’ bullpen with a contract that could pay him $430,000.

The decision was an easy one for a very uneasy reason.

“My family wanted to come back,” said Atchison after a workout at the Red Sox’ minor league training facility. “We have two-year old and she has a couple medical issues that are minor stuff but we wanted to be around here for it.”

Atchison’s daugther’s “medical issues” might be considered somewhat minor, but they are issues just the same. The kind of which were enough of a concern that staying another season in Japan wasn’t an option.

Callie was born with a rare condition called “TAR” (Thrombocytopenia-absent radius), which is characterized by the absence of the radius bone in the forearm, along with a dramatically reduced platelet count. It is a problem that promises to improve, but also requires specialized medical attention at this stage.

“We feel more comfortable over here,” the 6-foot-2 righty said. “The medical stuff over there was good but it’s not the same.

“She’s done really done well, never had a problem with her platelet. She uses her hands great. It’s unbelievable to see the things she does. She still needs to work on different things and it really is restricted because the radius is the inside bone so the thumb is very weak. They get better. She will always have a little different use of her hands compared to the person with normal hands. It’s nothing major, but we just felt a little more comfortable being over here.”

The decision of Atchison to choose the Red Sox should come as no surprise. After playing with the San Francisco Giants in 2007, he had signed with the Sox on Dec. 7 before ultimately choosing to leave for Japan two weeks later. There was also the prospects of playing in a city where medical help was as abundant as anywhere in the major leagues.

“Anywhere over here was going to be fine. We could take care of anything she needed. Mostly, it was being back in the States so if she needed to see her doctors it’s a four hour flight at the most to Texas instead of 14 hours,” said Atchison, who figures to be fighting for the final spot in the Red Sox’ bullpen. “I like to have my family with me wherever we are going and them coming back and forth over the Pacific Ocean wasn’t in the realm of things. We’re happy with Boston because anything and everything we cold possibly need we can get.

“I still feel like I can pitch and do it in the major leagues, so we wanted to come back and try it over here. It all worked out.”

Daisuke Matsuzaka press conference

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daisuke Matsuzaka talked to the media Thursday morning. This was the first time the American media got a chance to speak with him. Matsuzaka discussed his groin injury last year, his back injury this year, and his comfort level in Boston, among other things.

Lackey press conference

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox pitcher John Lackey chatted with the media for the first time at spring training. Lackey talked about his experience in Boston so far, the starting rotation, and playing in a playoff atmosphere (among other things).

V. Martinez ‘obviously’ would like to stay with Sox

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez, who arrived at the team’s minor league training facility on Thursday, suggested that “it’s all in [the Red Sox'] hands” as to whether or not he will discuss a contract extension with the club during spring training. The 31-year-old did make clear that he would “obviously” like to re-sign and remain with a club with which he found a nearly instantaneous fit after being traded from the Indians at last year’s trade deadline.

“Who don’€™t want to be here in the long term?” asked Martinez. “This is the organization, this is the team that everybody wishes to play here, especially a team that is always in the race, always in the playoffs. As a baseball player, that’€™s what you want. That’€™s what you work for. You work really hard to make it to the playoffs and get a ring.”

Even so, Martinez would prefer not to devote too much of his attention on the questions surrounding his future beyond the 2010 season. This is, after all, his first year taking part in spring training with the Red Sox. It is an opportunity for him to learn his new pitching staff at some length, rather than the shotgun education that he received after being traded to Boston at last year’s trade deadline. Though the process of learning a new group of pitchers in the middle of the season went about as well as Martinez could have hoped, thanks in no small part to the tutelage of teammate Jason Varitek, Martinez is now looking forward to the opportunity to gain a more complete familiarity with the Sox’ staff.

“This is the time to work on the stuff that you really want to work in, especially with the pitching staff,” said Martinez. “I got into Boston, and it was kind of late into the season. When you’€™re in the middle of the race, you don’€™t really have the chance to work on something. But now, definitely, it’€™s the perfect time to get to know the pitching staff and to get to work with them.

“One thing is hitting against them, and another thing is to be behind the plate for them and to call the game for them. … At the same time, Jason Varitek makes it a lot easier for me. He was unbelievable. He came to me and kind of explained pretty much every guy. That was a big help. It was a big help for me.”

Martinez has already been pronounced the Sox’ everyday catcher for the coming season, supplanting a role that Jason Varitek has held every season since 1999. A return to everyday catching duties will represent a bit of a departure from the 2009 season, when Martinez played first base in 70 games and caught in 85, posting strong offensive numbers (.303/.381/.480/.861, 23 homers, 108 RBIs) in a year in which he set a career high with 155 games played.

Yet the idea of spending most of his time behind the plate is also familiar to Martinez, who spent more than 80 percent of his time behind the dish prior to the 2009 season. Given that experience, Martinez suggested that he would have no problems with the idea of an expanded workload behind the plate in 2010.

“Remember — I used to catch a lot,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to have any problems with my body.”

The Merloni/Lackey interview

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

FORT MYERS, Fla. —

John Lackey throws a bullpen session

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

FORT MYERS, Fla. — John Lackey was at the Red Sox minor league facility Thursday morning and threw a bullpen session with his new teammate Tim Wakefield. Pitching coach John Farrell looked on as Lackey and Wakefield pitched.

The battle of the batting cages

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

FORT MYERS, Fla. — On the way to work drove by Mike Greenwell’s Batting Cages once again, but this time did so with a discerning eye. It turns out, there is competition in the Greater Fort Myers area. Over on Route 41 we find another former member of the Red Sox staking claim to the batting cage industry — Julio Zuleta.

Zuleta, a journeyman slugger who showed tremendous power potential, was in the Red Sox’ camp in 2003, having slugged his way all over the minors, Japan, and eventually the Mexican League. (Some compared him to the character in “Major League” Pedro Serrano when Zuleta was with the Sox.) He ended up playing 79 major league games, but did hit a combined 135 homers between the minors and Japan in his pro career.

Now he’s taking on Greenwell.

It is just one of the items adding intrigue to the local scene, with another coming courtesy the Calusa Nature Center (who else?). The feature event this time around: The Venomous Snake Experience. I’m thinking it coincides with the Fort Myers ambulance races.

As for the drive to work this morning, it was undeniably highlighted by our man Alex Speier insisting that Thomas Edison had a history with LSD, and trying to find proof on Google. Alex was, after all, the only media member to feel obligated to visit the Thomas Edison Home, where he learned that the inventor had a huge role in developing the rubber for tank treads.

WEEI.com … always educating ourselves.

As for baseball today, it will be the first instance of the clubhouse opening for the media with that access coming after workouts later this morning. The minor leaguers have moved back over to City of Palms Park, leaving Alex scrambling for his “Minor Developments” feature in the Report From the Fort.

Be back later with more video and reports, including the endless insight from the latest WEEI.com contributor to burst on the scene, Lou Merloni.

The Fort Report: Wednesday’s developments

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Technically, the reporting date for Red Sox pitchers and catchers to spring training is on Thursday, but by Wednesday, virtually all of the pitchers who are competing for major league spots this spring had arrived.

John Lackey essentially completed the group when he showed up at the Red Sox’ minor league training facility on Wednesday afternoon, after nearly everyone else had cleared out of the complex for the day. With all of his teammates having departed, Lackey ended up playing long toss with his new pitching coach, John Farrell, the man who tried (unsuccessfully) to recruit Lackey to Oklahoma State out of Grayson County Junior College.

The Sox are thus positioned to begin to assess the hurlers who will be chiefly responsible for the team’s much-discussed run prevention in 2010 … or at least most of them.

Daisuke Matsuzaka will lag slightly behind the rest of his pitching colleagues, as the Sox have decided to take a conservative approach with what general manager Theo Epstein described as “a really mild strain” in the pitcher’s upper middle back. The 29-year-old will not throw until at least Friday, when the team will administer physicals to all of its pitchers.

That likely brief setback notwithstanding, Epstein said that Matsuzaka — who may have incurred the injury during his ballyhooed participation in the conditioning program at Athletes’ Performance Institute — should be able to assume a normal spring training workload. That being the case, the team remains hopeful that Matsuzaka’s fourth year in the majors can quickly erase the memories of his third big league season, when he went 4-6 with a 5.76 ERA and spent most of the year on the disabled list.

‘€I know he’€™s worked really hard this winter to make up for last year and come out and have a big season. That’€™s what we’€™re all hoping for him,” Epstein said. “We want to slow this thing down so we don’€™t turn something small into something big. Last year, he never really was able to get into condition to pitch in part because of the way things went early in spring. We want to make sure we avoid a repeat of that.’€

— The Sox fully expect that Matsuzaka will be fine come the regular season. Even so, his setback offered a reminder of the importance of rotation depth. Toward that end, the Sox aren’t in any hurry to start thinking about committing pitchers with the potential to assume the innings load of a starter to relief duty. Manager Terry Francona, asked whether Tim Wakefield could be considered for the bullpen, said simply, “Wake’s a starter.” Likewise, the team expects to stretch out swingman Boof Bonser — who spent his Twins career in both the rotation and the ‘pen — as a starter. (More from Francona is here.)

And even though there are some talent evaluators who believe that both Michael Bowden and Junichi Tazawa could ultimately land in the bullpen down the road, both will be kept on starters’ schedules this spring, given the immense significance of rotation depth. It is worth recalling that last year the Sox had just two starters who made at least 30 starts: Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. The Sox were one of just 10 teams in the majors last year with no more than two pitchers who made at least 25 starts.

— Though position players have yet to report, there are more perceived questions about that group of players than about the pitching staff. Of course, the most prominent issue facing the Sox remains the future of Mike Lowell, whose role as the everyday third baseman came to a somewhat awkward conclusion this winter when the Sox agreed to trade him to the Rangers (only to have the deal collapse due to the need for the third baseman to undergo surgery), and then, after he remained with the team, still signed free agent Adrian Beltre to become the everyday third baseman. Francona said that the situation could be “a little bit uncomfortable” for Lowell this spring, but Lowell disagreed in an interview with WEEI.com.

Lowell suggested that the issue is not as challenging as it seems, given that the situation is fairly straightforward. The 36-year-old suggests that, if he proves he is healthy and ready to play in spring training, then other teams likely will be interested.

“If I’€™m healthy and teams out there think I can play every day, there’€™s going to be a team that wants me to play. If that’€™s beneficial to the Red Sox, I don’€™t think any of this is contingent on whether it’€™s beneficial to me. It doesn’€™t matter. I have no say,” Lowell said. “But if it’€™s beneficial to the Red Sox, then yeah, they’€™d make the move. And then you’€™d go wherever they send you. That’€™s the thing. I can’€™t say, ‘€˜Hey, I want to leave,’€™ or, ‘€˜Hey, I want to stay.’€™

‘€œIt doesn’€™t matter what I think or say. The only time I had that decision was after the World Series when I was a free agent. That’€™s the only time that I had the say. After that, you’€™re a product of the industry. I’€™m not sour about that. I’€™m cool with it. If you told me that I’€™d get traded and then they’€™d take away my contract, then I might have a much bigger issue with the way things are going.’€

— There would appear to be an increasing likelihood that, if the Sox make it through camp with both Adrian Beltre and Kevin Youkilis in good health, Lowell will end up as the backup corner infielder. In some ways, he’s an imperfect fit, since Lowell — like Beltre and Youkilis — is a right-handed hitter. That explains why the Sox were interested in seeing whether there might be a fit with a player such as Russell Branyan, a power-hitting left-handed corner infielder. But it is exceedingly difficult for the Sox to convince an available corner infielder such as Branyan to sign with them, given the limited playing time available for a corner infielder.

Bill Hall (also a right-handed hitter) is most comfortable at third base and in left field, but the team also wants to give him time at shortstop after working with infield coach Tim Bogar. The team would like to move him around the diamond, giving him a look at both second and first. Hypothetically, the Sox could end up with six right-handed infielders if they entered the year with Lowell and Hall in reserve roles behind Beltre, Marco Scutaro, Dustin Pedroia and Youkilis.

QUOTABLE

“We’€™re a veteran team and we’€™re built to compete to win. That’€™s the way it’€™s supposed to be. If we showed up and there are eight spots open, I’€™d say Theo had a rough winter. We’€™re supposed to have a pretty good team in place.” — Red Sox manager Terry Francona on the possibility that the team has just two or three open roster spots this spring

THE INJURY WARD

— Matsuzaka will not throw until he takes his physical on Friday.

— Wakefield and Lowell will be held out of the team’s initial conditioning drills this spring.

NO MINOR DEVELOPMENTS

Outfielder Ryan Westmoreland, rated by many as the top Red Sox prospect (or at least one of the top two Red Sox prospects), has been taking part in batting practice sessions in Fort Myers, a noteworthy development if only because his 2009 campaign was cut short by a broken clavicle. The 2010 season will be a significant one, since it will represent the 20-year-old’s first opportunity to play for a full-season affiliate, likely Single-A Greenville of the South Atlantic League.

Many evaluators view Westmoreland as a potential five-tool talent. Even so, part of his prospect status (including suggestions that aspects of his game are reminiscent of Indians superstar Grady Sizemore) relies upon his playing in center field to maximize his value. That said, ESPN.com’s Keith Law, in a conversation with the Dale & Holley show on Wednesday, suggested that it remains to be seen whether or not center will indeed be Westmoreland’s long-term position.

The Rhode Island native had plenty of arm strength as a high schooler, but given that he has barely been able to play a position as a professional due to labrum surgery after the 2008 season and his season-ending injury last September, it remains to be seen whether he will be in the middle of the field or if diminished arm strength will force him to a corner.

“[He can stay in center] if he can throw. This is the big question. Speed, range ‘€” yes, absolutely. And before shoulder surgery, he had a plus arm. I saw him throw at the Area Code Games, which is a showcase every year in California. He hit 90 out there. So, he’€™s had plenty of arm, but I just don’€™t know where his arm is now,” Law said. “He barely threw last year. They were babying him back in left field because he was coming off of a fairly serious shoulder operation, but I just don’€™t know. If he can still throw, can he play center field? Absolutely. If he can’€™t, then he’€™s a left fielder, and he’€™s certainly got to hit more to be the same kind of impact player that I thought he’€™d be as a center fielder.”