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Gammons on Big Show: ‘Pretty serious concerns about middle relief’

04.09.10 at 6:55 pm ET
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Hall of Fame reporter and NESN analyst Peter Gammons checked in with the Big Show on Friday to discuss the early-season lessons offered by the Red Sox-Yankees series. Gammons identified two chief concerns about the current Red Sox: the team’s bullpen and, if he continues to struggle, the David Ortiz dilemma.

“The biggest thing is I have some pretty serious concerns about middle relief ‘€”getting to [Daniel] Bard, [Hideki] Okajima and [Jonathan] Papelbon,” he said.

As for the other hot topic, David Ortiz, Gammons suggested that there are questions about whether he can still handle fastballs, and that Ortiz needs to stop trying to pull the ball in his at bats.

“I still want to see what happens if he goes back to taking the ball the other way like when he first came here,” Gammons said. “If he does that and gets the ball in the air, maybe he will go back to ‘€” maybe not a 50-something home run guy ‘€” but if he has a .390 on-baseand hits 30 home runs, he is going to be pretty valuable because of all the guys that are going to be on base in front of him.”

Gammons was asked about what he believes the Sox will do once Daisuke Matsuzaka is ready to come back to the big leagues. Matsuzaka is currently on a rehab assignment with Pawtucket and will pitch on Saturday, but he is likely to get slotted back into the rotation when he is healthy. Gammons said that his guess would be the Red Sox would put Tim Wakefield in the bullpen, but not necessarily permanently.

“At times during the season I am sure that they will use a six-man rotation to get extra rest so they make sure Beckett and Lester and Lackey and Buchholz are fully healthy,” he said. “But I think that is the direction they will end up going and I think that is very hard given the fact that Wakefield was an all-star last year in the first half of the season. But it might be that he is your only guy that can pitch out of the bullpen.”

Gammons also touched on the comments made by umpire Joe West about the pace of Red Sox-Yankees games. “I think the league can talk to the Red Sox and it can talk to the Yankees, but I don’t think that is Joe West’s place to be blasting the players,” he said.  “And he didn’t offer any solution. So if he doesn’t have a solution, just go to the league and let them come up with some way to have them play faster.”

To listen to the interview, go to the Big Show’s audio on demand page. A full transcript is below.

You have a terrific relationship with a lot of the players around the game. But on the whole, there is not a great relationship between the athlete and the media today. Has it changed because of the money?

Because time is so restricted and access is so restricted today, there really isn’t a lot of time that the media has with players, managers and coaches. Now you can’t go into the clubhouse until 3:30, I mean I understand that. The size of the media is so much more overpowering today than ever before.

I remember when Richard Justice, one of my journalist friends, was covering the Redskins. He said, “Do you realize that you spend more time with players on a three-game homestand than I spend the entire season with the Redskins?” They were so restricted in being able to get there.

I think it is a lot that players are very guarded in what they say. I was kidding Derek Jeter the other day. In all the interviews I have done with him after games and so forth, there was actually one after Pedro [Martinez] threw at Karim Garcia and all that happened after that, Jeter actually called the whole scene a disgrace. He said to me, “I slipped.” I said, “It is not that big a deal,” and he said, “Ugh, I let my guard down one time.”

That’s the way a lot of athletes are. They are suspicious. It is hard when you are in a large pack of people to know who you can trust and who you can’t trust. And that is why it is so important … [to] try to get time alone with people.

Is the real difference now that there is a whole different tabloid media out there right now?

You are absolutely right. For instance, I go back ‘€” and hopefully I am not hurting the reputation of these people ‘€” I go back to the mid ’70s and there was a raid at one bar and [inaudible] and Rogelio Moret just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t believe ‘€” I think there was a story about [inaudible] because he was arrested. The time that Moret was supposed to pitch against Jim Palmer on Monday night baseball and he had a slight accident at 5:20 in the morning in Connecticut, that was part of the notes but it wasn’t a huge deal. It is now. I actually think that for instance Deadspin is really good at what they do, because people want to read that and they do it well. TMZ does a really good job at what they do. That is what people want to read, and they go out and get it. But it creates a huge guard for the athletes, and I don’t blame them. I think one of the amazing things ‘€”and we were talking about this all week with the Yankees here’€” is that Derek Jeter has essentially managed to stay clear of this. He is a mega-star in New York and is a mega-personality.

But he has been single up to this time, right?

That is right. I remember that Mike Lansing once said to me, ‘George Brett is my idol. He played 20 years and then got married.’

That is the thing. We were talking about Jeter on the program because people reference him all the time and say, “Derek Jeter never does any of that stuff.” People forget that Steinbrenner reprimanded him because he had too much of a nightlife and then they covered it all up with that MasterCard commercial. And it was funny.

It was. Derek knows how to protect his privacy. He and [Jorge] Posada, nobody ever knows where they are. He is very smart that way. But I think it is amazing that considering this time when everyone has a cell phone with a camera, he just doesn’t get photographed. There are a couple people who show up all the time on like Deadspin because somebody is in a bar and takes a picture of them; there are like archives. Not only athletes, but people in the news media. It is a whole different world. The person with the cell phone could be calling 911, or they could be taking a picture.

Was there anything that came out of this series that you didn’t recognize before the series started?

The biggest thing is I have some pretty serious concerns about middle relief ‘€”getting to [Daniel] Bard, [Hideki] Okajima and [Jonathan] Papelbon. Maybe this is just mechanical with Manny Delcarman and he will get straightened out and get back to 95 miles per hour. I trust that that can happen. But he and [Ramon] Ramirez had amazing records last year in that their earned run averages went up every single month of the season. We haven’t seen anything from Ramirez that would tell us he is going to be any better. That is a concern and obviously the whole Ortiz thing is something that we watch. I really can’t figure, like Sunday night, 2-1, 3-1, 3-1 with [Kevin] Youkilis in scoring position, he gets fastballs and he is trying to pull them. I don’t know if he is going to hit the fastball again. I think part of it is his insecurity; he is trying so hard to be Big Papi. To me, he is forever trying to pull the ball when he became Big Papi because he hit the ball to left center.

It might be also that he is trying to cheat a little bit.

Oh, I think there is no question. That is why when somebody throws him a breaking ball he usually wraps around a little bit. I still want to see what happens if he goes back to taking the ball the other way like when he first came here. If he does that and gets the ball in the air, maybe he will go back to ‘€” maybe not a 50-something home run guy ‘€” but if he has a .390 on-base and hits 30 home runs, he is going to be pretty valuable because of all the guys that are going to be on base in front of him. But that is one of those issues that is going to be very tricky for Terry Francona to work through.

If Ortiz does continue to struggle, how long will Mike Lowell continue to sit there and bite his lip?

If Ortiz struggles, I think Lowell will start DHing against left handed pitching and they will see what happens from there. I don’t think Lowell will say things, just because it is not his style. I understand that he is frustrated; he believes he can hit, but at the same time how do you move all these guys around. I think that he will DH against left handers. I didn’t think it was the right time, considering how proud Ortiz is.

It is just too early, isn’t it?

Yeah. I still want to see, again, if he thinks about driving the ball to left center field. He pulled breaking balls but he only hits fastballs to left center and center. I think about a Wednesday afternoon when he hit the home run against B.J. Ryan. It was a 97 mile per hour fastball down and away and he drove it to the center field bleachers. I want to see what happens in time. When he was really great, I don’t think I realized how much he is like everyone else in that he is very insecure.

Well he is sensitive.

He is sensitive and he is embarrassed. Most guys are, most players are. A number of Orioles players told me that Cal Ripken is the most insecure human being they have ever met. So we will just see on that but it is really tough and I think it is really weighing on him right now. He might be better off playing on the road for a few weeks.

There were a couple times where Ortiz would not get a hit and the NESN cameras would show Lowell, and you could see the frustration on his face. Because he still believes, like you said that he should be out there.

Yeah, I mean you look at his numbers last year, and Mike Lowell was still a good hitter even though the hip was obviously bothering him. Now I don’t know if he is going to be able to play third base again, but he can still hit. It is up to Terry to figure out different ways to get people in there. It is a very sensitive issue with Ortiz and the question is going to be when is he going to show signs that he is going to get it back.

Watching some of the new guys, what interests me is watching Curtis Granderson. The guy has two home runs against very good right handed pitchers in a ballpark that is very difficult for left handed home run hitters. This guy against right handed pitching in that ballpark, hitting that low in the lineup in that ballpark, that is a little scary, Peter.

It is. I think that Granderson and Nick Johnson will have 65 home runs between them

How many games does Johnson play? That is the question.

The fact that he is DHing will help. Seeing Nick Johnson hit second with that .406 or .402, whatever it is, lifetime on-base percentage and Granderson down there lower in the order with no pressure and then when they get to that ballpark. I think there are some disturbing signs that the defensive jitters that Granderson had last September in Detroit ‘€“ they didn’t get rid of him because of money. They got rid of him because they didn’t want to pay him because he really struggled defensively. It will be interesting to see how that goes. But those two guys, they are going to be big offensive forces on that team. And I think [Robinson] Cano is going to hit 35 or 38 home runs before it is over. He doesn’t move too well at second base but he is going to hit a lot of home runs.

Were you surprised that the Josh Beckett deal got done so quick?

When it was sort of played out to me how it went about, I think it speaks volumes about Josh Beckett’s maturity. I remember being down [at spring training] the day before pitchers and catchers reported when John Lackey came in about 2:30 in the afternoon. Beckett and [Jon] Lester were there waiting for him. Lackey got the contract that Beckett thought he was going to get, and that just speaks volumes about who Beckett is. He never really played out the impact of the whole contract negotiation.

He said to me the other day, ‘I am getting pretty good money here. I have a chance to win every year. John Lackey actually gives me a better chance to get a ring. Why leave?’

I thought it was really interesting that he made mention of the fact that Theo Epstein called him as they were signing Lackey. He took that as a tremendous amount of respect from the front office. Who knows exactly what the numbers are going to be anytime you sign a guy? But the thing that you know, and have heard from him too, is that in 2000 the Marlins doctor wanted him to have surgery. And Dr. [James] Andrews now says that his shoulder is stronger now than it was then.

Yeah. He says, ‘I remember them talking in the other room and they said I needed the surgery.’ And that is what really drives him.

He forged a very close relationship with Dr. Andrews. I think it is a huge advantage to have to much pitching tied up for a long period of time. I think we see that the worst decisions on free agents are made with pitchers because of the unpredictability. So now, whether it is Jayson Werth or whoever it is going to be this offseason, the price isn’t going to be as high as it would be for Cliff Lee, who I think is a tremendous physical risk.

If everybody is healthy when Daisuke Matsuzaka comes back, who is the odd man out in the rotation?

I think they will figure that out when they get to it.

Who would you say is the odd man out of the rotation?

Well my guess is that [Tim] Wakefield ends up in the bullpen. I’m not sure but they think [Clay] Buchholz is a [No. 1 or No. 2 starter] and it is his time. Nine out of 10 quality starts down the stretch, so I think they just figure out what to do. At times during the season I am sure that they will use a six-man rotation to get extra rest so they make sure Beckett and Lester and Lackey and Buchholz are fully healthy. But I think that is the direction they will end up going and I think that is very hard given the fact that Wakefield was an All-Star last year in the first half of the season. But it might be that he is your only guy that can pitch out of the bullpen. I think that Buchholz is so good that there is no reason to put him in the bullpen. But it is an interesting situation. Last year with all the injuries they had and the disappointments with Brad Penny and John Smoltz, they had 55 starts where their starters had a 6.28 earned run average. It is amazing they won 95 games last year given how many problems they had holding their rotation together.

What do you think of those Joe West comments?

Well, I was sitting behind home plate and I was muttering and cursing because Joe West was missing so many pitches. He was part of the problem with the delay of that game. Angel Hernandez blowing two or three calls at first base didn’t help. Look, the Red Sox and Yankees ‘€” both teams have talked about how those games get to be excessively long. But it is the nature. It’s the pressure, it’s the intensity. Both teams are built to try to get the other teams starters out by the sixth inning. OK, they may wander around a little bit. But these guys stepping out didn’t just start happening now. It used to drive opposing teams insane that Dwight Evans and Marty Barrett were forever trying to upstage pitchers by stepping out during their delivery. Angel made his point the other night, but I don’t know. I think some of the umpires should be a little bit careful blasting players when the whole umpire structure in Major League Baseball is being called out constantly. I think they are trying, but the umpire’s union has far more power. And Joe West is the head of the umpire’s union, so therefore he got the opening night home plate.

I was pretty happy with the pace. Three games, all were under four hours. For Red Sox-Yankees, I would say those are brief encounters.

They are, especially since all three games were tied in the 7th inning. They were all very tense games. I think the league can talk to the Red Sox and it can talk to the Yankees, but I don’t think that is Joe West’s place to be blasting the players. And he didn’t offer any solution. So if he doesn’t have a solution, just go to the league and let them come up with some way to have them play faster. But if the games are memorable ‘€” if they are five hours long and they are won in the 14th inning on a grand slam or Aaron Boone hits a home run ‘€” people want memorable games, not just games that are played very fast. A 5-1 game played in an hour and 51 minutes is not very memorable. Just ask the fans in Kansas City.

Read More: Curtis Granderson, David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, Joe West
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