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Gammons on Big Show: Sox might need changes behind the plate

04.16.10 at 7:27 pm ET
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Hall of Famer and NESN analyst Peter Gammons made his weekly appearance on the Big Show on Friday to discuss the state of the Red Sox. With the lineup coming out for tonight’s game against Tampa Bay featuring Jason Varitek at catcher, Gammons said that he thinks the Sox captain will regularly be behind the plate when Josh Beckett is on the mound.

“Josh is very comfortable with him and Victor Martinez is going to catch Wakefield,” Gammons said. “So I think it works. I really do believe, and I agree with Jason, that this is a role he can do for awhile. He is more relaxed and you are getting more production from him.”

Staying on the topic of the catching situation, Gammons also talked about the concerns with Victor Martinez’ play in the field. Gammons said that his problems behind the plate in Cleveland led to the Indians stop playing him at catcher, and that his difficulties controlling the running game (opponents are now 12-for-13 on attempted steals against the Sox) might have a negative impact on the pitching staff.

“I think it impacts the pitching staff. You have guys thinking about, ‘Uh oh, I better be quicker about getting to the plate.’ … Unless [Red Sox bullpen coach] Gary Tuck comes up with some miracle, I don’t know if they can do this.”

Gammons gave an update on the injury situations of Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury. With the Sox becoming woefully thin in the outfield, Gammons said that the team believes Cameron will be ready to play tomorrow.

As for Ellsbury, that issue is more foggy. “There are a lot of questions,” Gammons said. “It is more like a pull because [of] the way the rib separated when Adrian Beltre crashed into him. They don’t want to put him on the DL and then find out in three days he can play. So they sort of put the whole Josh Reddick thing on the backburner.”

Gammons did say that there should be a decision in the next few days as to whether the Sox will call up Reddick and put Ellsbury on the DL.

Bullpen troubles have also plagued the Sox early in the season, and Gammons said that he believes the team might be overworking Daniel Bard. The big issue for the Sox is that there does not seem to be much help on the horizon in the minor leagues in terms of middle relief.

“What worries me about the Red Sox is that I don’t see a Daniel Bard coming up from Pawtucket,” he said. “Their relievers in Pawtucket are probably not going to be guys that you are going to be using in the 7th or 8th inning in July. They might have to go outside the organization to get someone.”

A full transcript of the interview is below. To listen, click here.

Interesting to look at the starting lineup tonight. Pedroia third, Drew second and Jason Varitek is catching. Is it safe to say with him in the lineup that that might be the battery from here on out?

Yeah, I think so. Josh is very comfortable with him and Victor Martinez is going to catch Wakefield. So I think it works. I really do believe, and I agree with Jason, that this is a role he can do for awhile. He is more relaxed and you are getting more production from him playing a lot less frequently because he is such an intense player. I think that part of the catching situation will work out pretty well.

What does worry me is Victor Martinez behind the plate, and the way he is throwing the ball. He has had this problem in the past, but what about this weekend against a team that likes to run to begin with and may be looking at the video from the last few games and saying, “Let’s go out and have a field day here, boys.”

Well, there is no question that becomes a major element. They were 31 out of 35 running on Boston last year in 18 games. I think it is going to be a track meet this time around. Lou knows. [Martinez] had problems throwing in Cleveland, that is why he stopped catching. This is an issue. To me there are three issues on this team: obviously the Ortiz issue is a major one that is related a little bit to the Martinez issue, and then middle relief. I don’t know if, unless Gary Tuck comes up with some miracle way of getting Victor more consistent, I don’t know if they can do this and have so many stolen bases against them. Which may require going out and finding another catcher or bringing up [Mark] Wagner or whatever they want to do.

With this whole run prevention thing, you are going to be victimized an awful lot if you are putting guys on first base and they are automatically getting to second.

Oh, absolutely. And I think it impacts the pitching staff. You have guys thinking about, ‘Uh oh, I better be quicker about getting to the plate’ or I better do this or that. If you start worrying about the base runner and not the hitter I think that you end up diminishing yourself by 10 or 20 percent. I think it is something they will monitor very closely. I think it will be an interesting month as they watch Ortiz, as they watch Martinez and as they decide what to do with the pitching staff as Daisuke [Matsuzaka] is going to be, what, one more start in the minors and then see who heads to the bullpen and who do they keep in middle relief.

With this bullpen, I think Clay Buchholz gives you more value than a Tim Wakefield. It is going to be a tough decision that, like I said, could break this kid?

Well, I look at it two ways. I know exactly what you are saying. In the long run, you’d like to think that Buchholz is going to be the best of the three. But in the short time, with the problems they have in relief, would Buchholz be okay with them saying, ‘Okay Clay, go out there and concentrate on throwing your two-seamer down in the strike zone and just concentrate on throwing pitches’? As Daniel Bard likes to say, dumb-down and go from hitter to hitter. Maybe he would be better off in the long run if he goes out there and throws strikes and keeps the ball down. I think there is a chance that would really work with him. And then come June or July he is back in the rotation and ends up fine.

There are injury concerns with Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury.

They think Cameron will play tomorrow.

What about Ellsbury?

There are a lot of questions. It is more like a pull because [of] the way the rib separated when Adrian Beltre crashed into him. They don’t want to put him on the DL and then find out in three days he can play. So they sort of put the whole Josh Reddick thing off for a couple of days until they determine what Ellsbury’s situation is because they can backdate his time on the DL back to when he got hurt. But he was starting to really hit and they don’t want to be caught in a situation when he is able to play for five, six or seven days and he doesn’t. I think they will probably make that decision today or tomorrow on whether to bring Reddick up.

We talk so much about David Ortiz and his slow start. People talk about leash, and this year there are other options out there. How long is this leash?

I think one month. I think what has been discouraging for everybody is he has been getting in hitter’s counts. He had that one game against the Yankees where he had 2-1, 3-1, 3-1 and got fastballs over the plate. He is leaking so much that he is not driving the ball in the air to left center like he did in his prime. The other day against Kansas City, on Sunday, I can’t remember what reliever it was — it was a guy who was completely clueless — he had him 3-0 and he still threw the ball by him.

Robinson Tejeda.

Tejeda. Right. That is what they worry about with him. Is this that he is embarrassed or has he just lost his reflexes. I think they will give him as much room as they can, but against left-handers you will see Mike Lowell in there. I thought at the time when they got [Jeremy] Hermida it was a fascinating move and I think he is going to end up a guy who is going to be important to them. When they are facing Jake Peavy and [AJ] Burnett, good breaking ball right-handers, I thought all along as the season wore along that he would be playing left field and Ellsbury would be in center, and they would give Mike Cameron the day off. If he hits the way most people in baseball thought he was going to hit when he came up — and he just turned 26 in January — I think he becomes a very important guy.

I agree with you. They gave nothing up to get him and he was a guy who was highly touted a few years ago. But why has this happened to him? He is kind of a guy like J.D. Drew with his personality, not driven enough. Is that it?

If you go and ask Joe Girardi, he will say just the opposite. He came up with Joe, and Joe really likes him. The current group of people … they believe in swinging the bat. That is why they didn’t draft Jason Heyward, because they thought he was not aggressive enough. Well, he is the best young hitter in the sport. So plate discipline is a part of it. I would be very interested to see — I have [not] found anyone to complain that Hermida is too low-key here in Boston. Is he quiet? Yes. But it is one of those things where he just bounces back and says, well, it is not my day. I think he will be a fascinating guy as this season comes along. He came up the same time that Jeff Francoeur did and I remember people all around baseball when Francoeur had that one great month, they said to me, ‘Well, measure them up over their careers and Hermida is going to be a much better player than Francoeur.’ So he has definitely come to the right park and the right situation in the right time in his career. He is 26 so he has plenty of time to go back and restore himself.

Peter, is the bullpen going to be alright and what is wrong with Daniel Bard?

I think Bard just got used so much. He pitched in five of the first six games because Manny [Delcarman] was struggling and [Ramon] Ramirez has really struggled. I am not particularly worried about Bard. He has given some up but I think he is so vital to that team.  When he gets that breaking ball going a little bit he will be fine. I think there are serious concerns otherwise. I think the Delcarmen, Ramirez, Schoeneweis group is who they are really concerned about. I don’t think they are worried at all about Bard, especially as he keeps honing that changeup. But the rest of the group, I think there are some serious concerns there.

You look at the three teams — the Red Sox, the Yankees and the Rays — and you could argue that this division, and maybe the postseason spot, is going to be won out of that bullpen.

It could be. The Rays have really struggled in the bullpen as well. I personally thought that the move of Joba Chamberlain back to the bullpen was absolutely the right move. I think Phil Hughes has the better chance to be a good starter, especially with that changeup he is honing now. It is amazing that the Texas Rangers have the best ERA and the best starter’s ERA in baseball right now, so those things do change. Tampa’s starters have been terrific, but their bullpen is a little shaky. Not as shaky as Baltimore’s, but it is a little shaky.

Well, they need Rafael Soriano to have a big year for them.

They do. Dan Wheeler is good, but they need some more guys. They are not going to get [J.P.] Howell back probably until June. I don’t think [Randy] Choate is going to be an answer. So they will probably make some changes there. What worries me about the Red Sox is that I don’t see a Daniel Bard coming up from Pawtucket, where you say, ‘OK, this guy is going to come up and help.’ Their relievers in Pawtucket are probably not going to be guys that you are going to be using in the 7th or 8th inning in July. They might have to go outside the organization to get a guy or two.

That bullpen has really been a concern even before the season started. When you have question marks and you can’t go to these guys in big situations, two things are going to happen. One, you burn out the good arms and then those other guys are not sharp when you need them. This year is not starting off at all like last year.

No, it’s not. That game last Sunday against the Royals, you figure that Delcarmen gets through and goes two innings. You figure they can go to Ramirez and he can finish up an 8-3 lead, but they ended up having to use Bard and [Jonathan] Papelbon at the end of the game. At that point, that was the sixth game. Bard had already appeared in five. I actually texted him after and asked if he had an incentive clause if he made 135 appearances.

If Ortiz doesn’t hit in a month, what happens to Big Papi?

I don’t think they are going to keep him here and sit him on the bench. Every bit of my heart says I hope he bounces back. I think it is going to be a very difficult decision for Tito [Terry Francona] and Theo [Epstein] to decide what to do.

Would they let him go?

If it was bad enough, I think they might have to. It is tough to have David Ortiz and Mike Lowell sitting on the bench because you need 12 pitchers at some point or another and you can’t have a totally inflexible bench. It is one of those things where we are getting ahead of ourselves because there have only been nine games, but at the same time it is one of those things where they are very much aware that this kind of decision is eventually going to have to be made.

Lou mentioned the other day that he might be looking at this differently than a year ago because now he is down to the last year because that option year is looking less and less likely to be exercised. His whole career suddenly changes dramatically. How much do you think that is playing on a guy like David Ortiz this year vs. last year?

I think that is something to think about. I think there are so many things going on in his head, which is why more than nine games is required to decide where he is.

The least of them being Jay-Z, right?

Yeah. Come on Jay-Z, when he is striking out, don’t be picking on him. But that business of — he seems so afraid to get to two strikes, and that used to be his hallmark. Obviously take, take, take until he got something he wanted to hit. And that is a tough thing for hitters. I think I mentioned here last week that was something Travis Hafner and I talked about a lot this spring. He got hurt and he got afraid, and Lou knows from playing with him that he used to be great. He used to sit up there with two strikes fearlessly. And he told me he got so afraid about getting to two strikes when he got hurt that he was swinging at everything. Papi is kind of that way right now. And Hafner got healthy and he has had some great at bats this year. So maybe there is a hope that Papi gets his confidence and his health back and all of a sudden he starts putting the ball in the air to left-center field, which is how he became a great hitter.

Read More: Clay Buchholz, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek
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