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Gammons on The Big Show: ‘I can’t figure out Daisuke’

05.21.10 at 7:20 pm ET

National Baseball Hall of Fame writer and current NESN analyst Peter Gammons appeared on The Big Show Friday afternoon to discuss the future of the Red Sox, David Ortiz, and the mini-drama that is Daisuke Matsuzaka. “I can’t figure out Daisuke,” Gammons said. “His stuff is so much better than it was, he gets swings and misses, but it really bothered me when all of a sudden it started up about, “Oh, it’s the catcher.” When the previous two years it was, “I had trouble with [Jason] Varitek.” A couple of players said to me, “It’s always going to be somebody else’s fault.”

Gammons went on to praise Varitek and the selfless work he has done this year as a part-time player.

Below is a transcript. To listen to the interview, visit The Big Show audio on demand page.

Things have looked good for the Red Sox recently, especially the pitching staff.

It is. I mean the statistic that defines the American League East race is that, beyond the quality starts, and the starters’ ERA, and the number of times your starters have got to the eighth inning, is the fact that the Yankees and Red Sox starters each have allowed five earned runs or more 16 times. Tampa Bay has allowed five earned runs or more for their starters once. That’s the race in a nutshell.

I thought there were two things that were encouraging this week, and believe me I don’t have a good feeling about going into Philadelphia and Tampa Bay and having Matsuzaka and Wakefield pitch on the weekend against the best team in the National League, but, with that said, I thought that the way they came back two nights in a row against the Yankees says something. Yes, I mean, they blew the game on Monday night, but as I have been saying all week, never again in my life will I see three consecutive games in which Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon and Mariano Rivera blew games and lost.

I mean, those things happen. But they did battle back, and then, Rob [Bradford] didn’t you say it during the winter, I have long believed in the end their two best pitchers will be [Jon] Lester and [Clay] Buchholz. And for them to just dominate the Twins, and keep the bullpen, except for one inning of Daniel Bard, keep the bullpen seated going into Philadelphia and Tampa was really important.

The bullpen had three outs in two games.

They are not deep in the bullpen. They do miss [Takashi] Saito. ‘€¦ I understand why these guys leave, but at the same time they’re not deep the way they were last year.

Were you surprised they took out Lester?

They are going to be very careful with these guys for the whole season. In the end, because Lester and Buchholz get so many ground balls, they work so quickly, they’re going to be the guys, along with [John] Lackey, giving them the most length. People laugh about that but it’s really important. ‘€¦

That Rays bullpen can be really bad, and yet they’re never out there. I believe [Matt] Garza has pitched eight innings already five times, I think it’s 42 percent of their games their starters have got them into the eight inning, which is almost unprecedented. Now, they’re all young, will they hold up in June, July, August? I don’t know. They certainly won’t have to face a lot of pressure in front of 14,000 [fans] every night in Tampa.

Do you think the Red Sox are starting to turn a corner?

I do, for this reason: I just don’t worry that much about, “OK, where are those other teams?” If you just worry about getting the team together, having the starting pitching be close to what they thought it would be ‘€¦ Now that David Ortiz is one of the two or three best DHs in the league, it’s incredible, but Victor Martinez has started to hit, you get [Jacoby] Ellsbury back, you don’t worry about it.

I was shocked last night when we were doing the show [on NESN], when Tom Caron said, “Why worry about Tampa Bay, they’re 3½ games behind the Yankees,” and it just stunned me. It reminded me of a couple of years ago, and last year, when the Yankees were way behind the Red Sox, and didn’t think about it, and just played, and they  played, and they played, and all of a sudden there they were, in the rearview mirror.

Regarding David Ortiz, what do you think will happen with the DH position going forward?

I think they will see whether or not they can sign Victor Martinez at a DH price or at a catcher’s price. If its a catcher’s price I don’t think Victor will come back; if its a DH price I think they’ll bring him back.

Do you think he’ll be a DH or catcher in the future?

His throwing has improved a lot, his throwing is actually, his time to second base is now better than Varitek; 2.03 [seconds] is not bad. He works on it a lot. But I think they view him more as a hitter. ‘€¦ But the whole Ortiz thing, I’m glad to see him get really mad. You know is a little of it is excuse making, yeah, but most great athletes get in denial about certain things. ‘€¦ Don’t you get upset when Mark McGwire says steroids didn’t help him hit the ball 550 feet? You know what, he’s just trying to live his life. Most great people have some form of denial. I think its good that David has taken on an edge here.

What was he saying to you in the dugout the other day?

We started out about ‘€¦ he said: “Well, a lot of people said I couldn’t hit a fastball. I said, “You didn’t for a while, David,” but I said, “What bothered me ‘€¦. what’s different about you now is that it looks like you’re so worried about cheating to get to the fastball, you’re swinging at balls out of the strike zone up and in that you never did in your prime.” And he said: “That’s right.”

OK, why just swing at fastballs on the inside part of the plate? [Tigers pitcher] Max Scherzer was 95 miles per hour, inside corner, but he got to him, because it was a strike. Then he was talking about trying to stay with the strike zone away, and he was having problems with the umpires, because he said, “I can’t hit the ball for power six inches off the plate.” I think you heard me say, “That’s why Tom Glavine won 300 games, he knew how to get guys out.” [laughs]

But he’s really broken down. I mean, this guy is so proud. It’s fascinating to listen to him break it down, not when he’s mad about something, or saying the manager is giving up on me, but when he’s analytically breaking it down. ‘€¦ He’s really thought this out and is trying to make it work.

You look up last night, he’s second to Luke Scott among DHs in home runs, third in the league in OPS. If he ends up hitting .270, hits 35 home runs, has an on-base percentage of .390, then he’s a way above average DH. He gives them a little bit more, I mean, home runs. ‘€¦ Obviously, he’s second in the league in home runs, thats not a huge problem, but you still like to have a couple of guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark at Fenway at any time. I look this up every day, the average American League DH, the average team production is .241 with five home runs. In other words, it’s basically Casey Blake. So, the DH has been devalued, there are a lot of 35-, 36-year-olds who used to have the juice of life that don’t have it anymore.

Ortiz brought up accountability with umpires. Who is monitoring them?

I think the umpire knew he was wrong. I think what hurts David is he is so demonstrative. Even when he was great he was demonstrative. I think he takes a beating from [the umpires]. I thought [Dustin] Pedroia would take a bit of a beating for his comment, “They must have had an early flight,” [laughs], which was a great line that we all use.

The umpires in the major leagues are not trained by Major League Baseball, they’re trained at schools run by umpires ‘€” Harry Wendelstedt, guys like that, they have their own umpire schools. Major League Baseball doesn’t spend the money to develop and control umpires. I think that they need to.

Jim Leyland has made this point a lot, he said that umpires have an attitude because they think that everybody hates them, between QuesTec and all the little K-zones, none of which are accurate because they’re not directly from center field, because you can’t see directly to the pitcher. Those angles you see, that was a strike, that’s not accurate. But they’re so bitter about the way they’re second-guessed now.

I wrote a column a couple of weeks ago saying I refuse to believe that the umpires in the [1950s] were actually better than umpires today. But everybody thinks they are. ‘€¦ Umpires think everyone hates them and they get that attitude. I don’t remember which game I was watching yesterday, last night I was watching some umpire go mental screaming and yelling. ‘€¦ It was the Giants, Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti are getting screamed at. The umpire stopped the game and went halfway to the dugout to throw Bochy out of the game. I’m sorry, it wasn’t necessary. I agree with Leyland, get general managers, managers, players, umpires all together. ‘€¦ They’re all in the game together, the better the umpiring, and the better the relationship, the better the sport is. I think he has a great point, its time to stop beating on the umpires, and say, “OK, let’s all work together.” The umpires make more money if the game makes more money, and that’s a fact of life.

I think it’s amazing MLB doesn’t train the umpires.

A lot of that ‘€¦ don’t let them give you any grief, and that attitude, puff up your chest, that comes from how they’re taught in those umpire schools. And it’s a defense mechanism. It drives me crazy sometimes when I see some of these games, I don’t want to waste two minutes while the umpire is walking over to the dugout, yelling at somebody in the dugout. That would be like, and I never see it because I have a lot of faith in police, but that would be like somebody saying something to a policeman on the street, and the policeman leaving his position and going after him, “Don’t you ever talk to me like that.” That doesn’t happen.

What is going to happen to Mike Lowell?

I think somebody eventually is going to pick him up. I know his agents, who I like a lot, have said there are eight, 10 teams that are interested. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think the problem the Red Sox have finding a place for Lowell, and I do think they need that roster spot for an infielder or more flexibility, particularly with [Mike] Cameron and Ellsbury coming back in the next week.

I have yet to figure out where he’s going to get more playing time than he does here. He needs to go to a place that needs a DH, or an occasional first baseman/third baseman. Texas is probably out because of Vlad Guerrero, so they need to find another spot. I thought maybe Florida even though there is no DH, because he could play first base for Gaby Sanchez, once in a while play third, they don’t exactly have great defense at third base. I also thought he could be a pretty good influence on Hanley [Ramirez]. Thus far they have yet to decide what they want to do, I guess they’re not going to give Mike Stanton up for Mike Lowell [laughs]. I hope he goes somewhere, I think its very hard on him. ‘€¦ He’s speaking out because he’s trying to get moved, but at the same time there is clear remorse about doing it because he knows people perceive it to be something damaging to the team. He’s caught in between. I said, “You’re a jerk if you talk and an idiot if you don’t.” [laughs]

Talking about a release, you have Tampa and New York, but they’re kind of like flies in the ointment.

Yes they are. Because you think about Tampa, you say, they have Hank Blalock, but he could play a little first for Carlos Pena, although Carlos does hit left-handers pretty well. He could DH against right-handers once in a while in lieu of Blalock. You don’t want him going to Tampa, I don’t think it would work with the Yankees. ‘€¦ It’s not a great alternative. The Mets earlier looked like they were a good destination, they had Alex Cora trying to broker it, but now Ike Davis has become the hero of New York and the Mets are so desperate for anyone who can pitch that I don’t think that would work there.

It’s tough to market him when he see’s so little action.

I realize his speed is a deterrent for people trying to pick him up. But at the same time, if he played a little more, that speed and reaction time might come back. I mean, he does look at times like he’s 70 years old going out of the box, but when you play once a week that’s going to happen — you’re not constantly breaking out of the box. And batting practice doesn’t do anything for you.

Is Daisuke for real, and how nice has Jeremy Hermida been?

I’m a Hermida guy. I think he was getting buried in Florida, they gave him a reputation. They love guys who go up and swing the bat, and they didn’t draft Jason Heryward because they thought he was too passive at the plate. ‘€¦ They would have had Heyward and Stanton in the first two rounds — the two best young players in the game.

Is [Hermida] a great player? No, but he’s been very useful. I think he’s going to be useful, he’s hit good pitchers. That pitch he hit off Rivera the other night was a good pitch. I can’t figure out Daisuke. His stuff is so much better than it was, he gets swings and misses, but it really bothered me when all of a sudden it started up about, “Oh, it’s the catcher.” When the previous two years it was, “I had trouble with Varitek.” A couple of players said to me, “It’s always going to be somebody else’s fault.”

When Victor reacted the way he did the other night it was eye-opening, when Daisuke insinuated there was miscommunication.

I think that was ‘€¦ you get no sympathy from the other catcher, who as we know, has been the greatest support that Victor Martinez has had in his career. I was telling a bunch of friends of mine from other teams, Jason Varitek has risen to a place, in my mind, far above what he was when he was hitting 30 home runs  as an All-Star. He has been the greatest team guy in that role all year. It’s fascinating to be around him because he’s a brilliant guy. If he wants to be a manager or general manager that’s what he’s going to do. He really dedicated himself. ‘€¦ He’s so defensive for his teammates. He actually started up into the stands after a guy who was screaming at Victor one night when they were stealing bases on him. I mean, there aren’t many players who would go from making $10 million to $3 million, or go from catching six days a week to catching one or two days a week, and act and behave the way Jason has.

Not only that, but defending the guy who took your job.

I think he know he’s better off with more time off, because he is so intense. But he really believes he can play three or four more years. I made some comment about the money ‘€¦ and he went, “If they wanted to pay me $10 million, they would have.” But he seems very happy to be in Boston, in this role, and being supportive of the team. To me, it’s been the the brightest of all the bright spots on the team, as someone who has great admiration for him, I have more admiration for him now then I ever had before.

Regarding Wakefield, you can tell there’s a prideful thing going on.

No question. I think he totally understands now that he is not going to replace Buchholz, I mean Buchholz, since August 28th of last year when he really went into the rotation, he’s the winningest pitcher in the league. I believe he has the most quality starts in the league at that time, and the same amount of wins as Roy Halladay. Both Victor and Jason were saying, “He’s got to have the best stuff in the league.”

I think it bothers Tim that this whole Daisuke diva thing keeps going on. It used to bother Wake when Pedro [Martinez] would always be late for picture day. I said to someone the other day, Daisuke as a diva makes Pedro Martinez seem like Greg Maddux. Here’s an idea I want to throw out, this is a conspiratorial thing with Varitek, how great would it be to bring back Pedro for the last four months of the season as a two- or three-time-a-week middle reliever? Jason’s feeling is is that you’re home, you’re down 4-2, he’d light up the ballpark and energize everybody.

Is there anything to the [Chris] Iannetta signing?

They tried to get him two years ago. They have been looking at him, but I think now that Ortiz is hitting, I think it lessens there need for him. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they went out and got him at the end of the year. I just don’t know right now if they could expend what Colorado would want. Colorado really needs pitching depth because they have four guys on the disabled list. Chris is a much better player than he has done this year, it’s really a shame. The Red Sox do really love him. If they can get him cheap, maybe they find a way, they bring him here and have Victor be catcher, DH, first baseman, and you just find a way to gerrymander the whole roster.

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