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Gammons on Big Show: Sox starters must dramatically improve

04.23.10 at 6:32 pm ET
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NESN analyst and Hall of Famer Peter Gammons made his weekly appearance on the Big Show to discuss the state of the Red Sox.

The Sox will open up a three-game series at Fenway against the Baltimore Orioles Friday night after taking two out of three from the Texas Rangers. With the Yankees and Rays opening up the season with great starts, the Red Sox need to capitalize against weaker opponents if they want to stay in the race in the AL East. In order to do that, Gammons said that the starting pitching will need to be significantly better than it has been. “Their starters are last in the American League in ERA, quality starts, wins’€”if that doesn’t change dramatically they are not going to catch the Rays or Yankees,” he said.

Gammons was asked if Daisuke Matsuzaka will be ready to help the rotation. “I don’t know,’ he said. “I know that when he had the shutouts in the first two starts, he was okay’€”89-91 mph with an occassional 92. He may get to the big leagues and really dial it up. I feel very badly for Tim Wakefield for having to be the guy who has to step aside for awhile, but they need to find out what Daisuke is going to be.”

Gammons did say that he thought Victor Martinez’s troubles at catcher have been a factor in Wakefield’s performance, though not as big as some have made it out to be. “I guess so, although Victor last year caught him better than Mirabelli caught him,” he said. “It is one of those issues, and I think also because they want Buchholz to be in the rotation and they have to find out about Daisuke, Wakeifled ends up being sacrificed as usual.” Gammons did add that with the issues Wakefield has had with his back as well as his age, the eventual move might leave him better off in August.

Gammons was asked if the performance from the rotation has been the team’s biggest disappointment, considering the high expectations. “Yeah, it has been,” he said. “I don’t think that is going to continue. I thought Buchholz’s stuff last night was the best I have seen all year. I’m not worried about him.”

” I think that this week that Delcarman through the ball better than he has since May or June last year and Bard continues to make huge leaps,” he added.

Gammons commented on a rumor that came out today that the Red Sox might be interested in acquiring catcher Chris Snyder from the Arizona Diamondbacks. “The report is a little misguided because they actually talked about Miguel Montero,” he said. “That was a year and a half ago and Bard’s name came up. But it was Montero that they wanted.”

“I think they should get Snyder,” he added. “Arizona has had a terrible start and they are down I believe 20% in attendance. The problem is that Snyder is a $5 million contract and the Red Sox have been a little touchy about the money. Are they going to spend $5 million dollars on Chris Snyder when they may have to hold that money to get a big piece come July? I don’t know whether they’d go that way.”

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

How are you doing, Peter?

I’m doing well. This is kind of an important stretch for the Red Sox to get the ship righted against Baltimore, Toronto and then Baltimore’€”although Toronto is a lot better than people thought at the start of the season. Although they’ve got to get their starting pitching going. OK, it is very early in the season but their starters are last in the American League in ERA, quality starts, wins’€”if that doesn’t change dramatically they are not going to catch Tampa Bay or Yankees.

When you look at this, I think we thought there would be some challenges to this offense. But isn’t this the most surprising and disappointing part, that their starting rotation has really been awful?

Yeah, it has been. I don’t think that is going to continue. I thought Buchholz’s stuff last night was the best I have seen all year. I’m not worried about him. The other three guys will be fine. The front four I think will be outstanding. I will say that I think that this week [Manny] Delcarman threw the ball better than he has since May or June last year and Bard continues to make huge leaps forward. That is okay. They probably need a couple more relievers somewhere along the line, but I don’t know. I look at them and I say, ‘OK, you are probably going to be a month on [Jacoby] Ellsbury and maybe two months on [Mike] Cameron.’ That is a big problem. And then you’ve got the issues of what are they going to do about David Ortiz and how long are they going to go. And are they going to continue to catch Victor Martinez ‘€” they have allowed 36 stolen bases and The next team in the Major Leagues has allowed 18, Florida or Arizona. If they decide that they have to DH Victor, not only who catches but how do they work this arrangement where they have three DH’s on the roster: Martinez, Ortiz and [Mike] Lowell. So they have some issues that have to be resolved in a division where you don’t have a lot of time. You may have until May 10th or May 15th if you really pitch well, but you have to figure out how all those things are going to come today.

There is a report on foxsports.com that the Red Sox are interested in Chris Snyder, the catcher from Arizona. But they won’t be able to get him for another five weeks until Miguel Montero comes back from knee surgery. Can they wait five weeks, Peter?

Well a) the report is a little misguided because they actually talked about Miguel Montero. That was a year and a half ago and Bard’s name came up. They didn’t offer Bard for Snyder in spring training. That was a year and a half ago during the offseason, but it was Montero that they wanted. Montero is a really good player. Although, they are not going to trade Daniel Bard now. There is no way. I think they could get Snyder. Arizona has had a terrible start and they are down I believe 20% in attendance. The problem is that Snyder is a $5 million contract and the Red Sox have been a little touchy about the money. Are they going to spend $5 million dollars on Chris Snyder when they may have to hold that money to get a big piece come July? I don’t know whether they’d go that way. I have been scouring every catching name possible. One would be, would you trade a big pitcher to get ‘€” probably the best guy in the minor leagues that might be traded is Wilson Ramos with Minnesota, because obviously he is not going to replace Joe Mauer. But I don’t see a match there. They would want Buchholz or Bard and I don’t think that is going to happen. So I don’t know where they go. I raised the question yesterday that if Ortiz doesn’t hit, how much difference is there between the offense of David Ortiz and Mark Wagner? Because Wagner can at least catch and throw. But they set this team up to get offense out of catcher and DH, so that is a tough change in direction without a real answer.

Peter, what do you hear about and what do you expect from Daisuke Matsuzaka when he comes up?

I don’t know. I know that when he had the shutouts in the first two starts, friends of mine who were scouting saw him and he was okay. 89-91 with an occassional 92. We’ll see. I’m not really sure what he is. He may get to the big leagues and really dial it up. I think that is another thing they have to find out about. I feel very badly for Tim Wakefield for having to be the guy who has to step aside for awhile, but they need to know exactly what Daisuke is going to be. I don’t think there is any question that if they are going to win the divison, Buchholz is going to be one of the four starters. That is what they have to figure out here between now and the middle of May.

How much of a difference do you think the top spot of this offense would be if Ellsbury were in their every day?

I think it makes a lot of difference. I will admit that I think I underestimated his impact on the rest of that team because he has so much speed and he is a very dynamic player. He struggled at times learning the strike zone last year, but I thought in the second half when he really learned how to start handling the ball on the inner half of the plate and really drive it he was starting to become a far better player. You watch early and now you watch them without him, it is just not the same. I mean, Marco Scutaro gets on base but it is not the same as that guy who can steal home and score from second on a wild pitch, that kind of thing. I think we could see that the Red Sox seemed to be nervous whenever Carl Crawford was on base in that Tampa series.

Well, they were nervous when Nelson Cruz was on base.

Yeah, and in time ‘€” I give Jason Varitek so much credit for being who he is. He actually got into it with a fan the other night who was all over Victor Martinez, just yelling at him for getting on Victor Martinez. Jason is adamant that he is going to be able to turn it around, be able to throw much better, that he blocks balls really well. All of that is great; that’s who Jason Varitek is. And you guys know teams need people who are totally selfless.

The amazing thing about Varitek is that most people in this town wanted him out last year. He is only back because he had a player option in his contract. And yet the other night he comes in from the bullpen in the seventh and gets a standing ovation.

You know, the last two years he got off to reasonably good starts. He cares so much, he is so intense that I think he just wears down. He really can be a very good player in the role he is in now, catching 60 games a year or 50 games. Getting the time off, he has a lot more bat speed this year. So maybe that works. But it just amazes me that he lost his job and he is probably the best friend and the greatest advocate for the guy who took his job. I really respect that. I’m not sure I’d be that way.

What have you seen from Jon Lester in the first couple of games?

I think he has become such a perfectionist. John Farrell feels this way, that sometimes he doesn’t realize that all he has to do is throw the ball over the plate. His stuff is so good and I think we saw that with Buchholz last night where he just said, ‘OK, I’ll throw fastballs over the plate in early counts.’ And Lester can be the same way. We’ve seen him be close to the best left-hander in the league down the stretch and it is just a matter of not complicating things. He is so intense that he just gets himself in trouble that way. I’m certain he will turn it around, but for their sake they need him to turn it around fast. They need Lackey, Lester, Buchholz and Beckett to pitch well. They are finally out of this horrible schedule ‘€” they had a long stretch there against the three best teams in the league in the Yankees, the Rays and the Twins. They are going to have to start beating up on Baltimore and Toronto. If they go say, four and five or five and four in this stretch, then I am really worried.

Peter, what are your early routines on Beltre and Scutaro?

Scutaro ‘€”OK. He made a couple of errors. One of them I didn’t really think was his fault because the ball hit a mud patch and took a brutal hop. The thing that has bothered me about Beltre ‘€” one walk. He can be such a good hitter if he stays in the middle of the field but it looks like he has been trying to kill hanging breaking balls. He has swung at a lot of bad pitches and the nightmare if you are looking at it from, ‘What is the worst case scenario,’ is that he swings at everything. And right now I think that really has been an issue. That is a vast disappointment.

I look at the stats here and they have 113 strikeouts and guys like Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew are higher than you would think. Is this a team that is swinging and missing at an alarming rate or am I misreading that?

No, I don’t think you are misreading that at all. Because of David’s struggles, Youkilis struck out 130 or 140 times last year and Drew ‘€” I watch him in the outfield and he has been really good. He gets really good jumps on the ball. There are times swinging when you start to think, ‘At 34, is he old?’ Now, I will admit that I thought that and said that this week and realized that they are playing Tampa Bay, which is the NFL combine. They are so athletic they are ridiculous. So it is a little unfair to judge the Red Sox age and agility when they are playing Tampa, but it is something to watch. And I think your question on Drew is a good one. Maybe he is too pull-conscious right now and he is not using left field, but it is still something that is a concern. Because they have to have a good year out of Drew. They absolutely have to. By that I mean hit 25 home runs, have an OPS of about .900 and walk. His strike zone hasn’t been the same and his bat ‘€” it seems as if he is cheating to hit fastballs, and that is not something he has ever done in the past.

It looks like Wakefield is going to the bullpen. Has he been victimized in that Martinez has not been able to catch him?

I guess so, although Victor last year caught him better than Mirabelli caught him. It is one of those issues, and I think also because they want Buchholz to be in the rotation and they have to find out about Daisuke, Wakefield as usual ends up being sacrificed to a degree. It always seems as if he is the guy who gets left out. I still get angry when I think about ’99, when they took him off the playoff roster after he lead the team in saves and innings pitched I think it was. But one thing would be that with his age and his back, maybe Tim Wakefield will be a lot better in August than in the past. Maybe resting him for awhile is good for him. I don’t know if that went into the thinking, but I wonder if that might be possible. It might be that I’m being a Pollyanna here in that I wish so much good for him because he has been so terrific for that team and has done so many things for them over the years. I don’t want to see him have to come to a close here. But I guess it is better to have six guys than having to call up Paul Byrd in June and ask him to come back.

Unlike other years, I am not sure they have much time here. I think they might be so far behind what might be the two best teams in baseball, I’m not sure they can catch up.

It will be hard to catch up. If they don’ get dramatically better pitching and don’t find a couple of those answers to things we talked about… The thing about Tampa Bay is their young pitching is really good. [Wade] Davis is really good, [Jeff] Niemann keeps getting better, [David] Price has a chance to be really good and [Jeremy] Hellickson might be the best of them all, though he is still in Triple-A. But will the young pitchers wear down at all pitching in the American League East? Also, I’m very suspicious of their bullpen. I know Joe Maddon thinks Hellickson will be great in there in the second half.

What do you think about Rafael Soriano?

He still scares me. His history ‘€” plus his injury history. But if Tampa Bay is going to be caught those weaknesses have to shore up. I think one of the hopes about the Yankees that every team has is that one of these years those guys from the ages of 35 t0 40 are going to start to get old, but they’ve never given any sign that they are going to. Dustin Pedroia says it is a testament to the character of most of those players. They are just guys that haven’t aged at all ‘€” to watch [Mariano] Rivera and [Derek] Jeter and [Jorge] Posada at their ages, it is just amazing. It really is. Things can happen, but if I were a Yankee fan I would’ve been so encouraged by Phil Hughes the other night. Now, Oakland is a terrible offensive team but at the same time it wasn’t only that he had a one-hitter. It was that he didn’t even have his changeup; he basically threw fastballs and cutters and was dominating. I thought at the time when Joe Girardi did it and I really believe that he made the tough call on Joba Chamberlain, but in the end Joba pitching the eighth inning is going to be so much better than Hughes. Plus, I think Phil Hughes is going to be a guy that can throw seven innings almost every start and be good and I’m not sure Joba could do that.

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