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Gammons on The Big Show: ‘No way they’re moving Bard’ to closer

06.25.10 at 9:05 pm ET
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Peter Gammons

MLB Network and NESN analyst Peter Gammons made his weekly visit to the The Big Show Friday afternoon to discuss bullpen woes for the Red Sox and give a little praise for the likes of Adrian Beltre, Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald. Of Beltre, Gammons said: “He’s exceeded everything, on the field and off the field, and in terms of his part in the clubhouse. It’s been a great story.”

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

What’s your take on take on [Jonathan] Papelbon? What do you think is going on here?

Well, I realize all the numbers and I know his strikeout rate is down about 22 percent, his balk rate’s up, home runs are up. He’s gone through these periods of losing his delivery. I thought the last homestand was the best he’d been in two years. And the thing that Jason Varitek has pointed out several times is his attempts to re-adjust. He came up as a three-pitch starter, and by last year was a one-pitch reliever. And he’s been trying to get his split and his slider back. He keeps promising me he’s going to have something side-arm the second half of the season — I don’t know if I want to see that. I think at times it just slips away from him. And they’re very fortunate that Darnell McDonald made that catch last night or that the line drive went right at [Kevin] Youkilis.

There’s no way they’re moving [Daniel] Bard into the ninth inning. They want Bard to pitch a couple more years in the seventh. In a lot of way it’s a lot tougher to pitch seventh and eighth and then start out a clean ninth inning and not beat Mariano Riviera over John Wetteland again. But that’s usually the best way to do it.

I do think that last night he just seemed so mechanically screwed up. As if he was trying to overthrow everything. His split wouldn’t move. I don’t really buy the whole, “It was in Colorado, the ball doesn’t move.” I don’t buy that. I just think that he’s gotten himself into a rut and my guess is that he will come out of it. I remember we were doing one of those games about two weeks ago on a weekend, and Eck and I both sort of jumped up. He threw a couple splits that were just unbelievable. And last night every split was that good. Almost every hit has come on one of his two secondary pitches, which is scary, but at the same time I think [Jerry Remy's] right. [Papelbon] kept saying it was a fastball that [Jason] Giambi hit out, and Remy was right — it was a split he hit out.

Obviously we dwell on the closers and what happened with two straight blown saves, but nine runs given up by the bullpen last night. [Manny] Delcarmen had a rough night, [Hideki] Okajima had a rough night. How concerned should Sox fans be about the makeup of that bullpen getting to Bard and Papelbon?

Well, I think they should be concerned. Two catchers keep telling me Okajima’s fine, he’s going to be fine. You still want to see that. But you just can’t go get rid of guys. I was thinking yesterday, because I know in Bobby Valentine’s discussions today with the Marlins ownership, he was going to say, “Look, you’ve got to go out and get me a couple of relievers. We can’t continue.” And I knew they loved Manny Delcarmen, so I was thinking what can they get from Florida and then how they replace him. And I could never come up with any way to replace him.

I mean, maybe in time there are substitutes. I’m guessing that [Scott] Atchison is going to pitch a lot more in the seventh inning. He throws strikes, he’s got the cutter, he can go either side of the plate. And you know he’s not getting flustered. So, OK, he becomes a more important pitcher, they have to hope they get Okajima back and then eventually, somewhere out of their system they have to hope that another pride of the Golden League, Robert Coello, who’s had an unbelievable minor league season, or Michael Bowden or somebody like that progresses and they can use him in the sixth or seventh inning. But it’s a concern.

Unfortunately … it’s a concern for 24 other teams — where bullpen arms have gone. It’s just incredible to me. You’ve got all these young pitchers, starters, that throw 95. And yet the bullpens, with the exception of maybe the White Sox, they don’t have more than two good arms in any of them.

This offseason they’re going to be faced with Jonathan Papelbon going to arbitration and people expect this offseason maybe they start taking some phone calls for him. I’m wondering, what’s the value, what kind of play do you get back for Jonathan Papelbon? Can he stand alone in a trade, or is it Pap and somebody else? Because one year left in arbitration and then I don’t know if a team wants to tie up and close it long term.

I’m not so sure, either. I don’t think they’ll get very much for him. And that’s why I think he’ll be here. They’ll play it out and let him become a free agent. They’ve enjoyed that, and who knows what the compensation system’s going to be for 3,000 free agents by then. But I think you’ll see them play it out until 2012. Keep Bard in the middle, eventually you’ll have Alex Wilson up there who’s sort of the coaching staff’s idea for the potential next closer. And then you’ll probably have Coello in the mix, and Kyle Weiland in the mix next year, and go out and get another veteran or two, and hope they put the bullpen back together for 2012, 2013.

You talk about how difficult it is finding bullpen help especially at the deadline — everybody’s trying to do that. Felix Doubront is a guy that’s obviously that depth, that Triple-A starter down in the minor leagues. You’ve got [Josh] Beckett coming back, [Tim] Wakefield probably going back to that ‘pen. I’m sure they want to keep Doubront a starter, stretched out in case you do need him. But will there come a point when they sit there and say, “You know what, this is a guy that we can use?” Is that time September?

I think it might be. I think it’s a really good point. I think it was great for him to come up and perform admirably. And it clearly showed that his fastball and changeup is good enough to start in the big leagues at 22. He obviously needs work on his breaking ball. But I think the way they look at it is this guy is a third or fourth  starter. We both like a lot of those guys pitching in Cleveland. … This guy’s got much, much better stuff than any of those guys. I think he will help in September. I’m not so sure with the transformation they made with Bowden’s delivery and how good he’s been since April, I think he’ll end up a situational right-hander in the bullpen and they’ve got those kids Alex Wilson and Weiland in Double-A that probably won’t be here until next year, but they’re really, really good.

It’s pretty interesting to see all of the injuries they’ve had to the outfield, beyond [Jacoby] Ellsbury and [Mike] Cameron and J.D. Drew in and out of the lineup or whatever. Where would this team be without McDonald and now Nava, and how does that happen? How is that you get guys that are a little bit up there in age that are able to come to a big league ball club and produce the way they are able to produce?

I love the Nava story. We all do. Tom Myers, who manages Brewster [of the Cape Cod League] … was telling me he was the assistant coach [at Santa Clara] when they had to cut Nava. But he said he loved the game so much he let him keep all the pitching charts. He said nobody ever believes this story. This guy weighed like 105 pounds as a freshman.

He was the team manager.

He did the laundry. And last weekend when the Dodgers were in town, Don Mattingily patted me on the shoulder and said, “I know the whole story.” But that guy’s got a great swing.

Especially from the left side.

I actually thought last night a key thing … I thought that 10-pitch at bat so frustrated Huston Street that he ended up grooving it to [Dustin] Pedroia. He kept making great pitches away, away, away, and Nava kept fouling it off. He finally made an out, but it was almost like — Huston Street, who is coming off arm problems, he just looked like he was exhausted from him. That was a great at-bat.

Darnell McDonald, he’s almost more incredible because I went back, because I remember what a great prospect he supposedly was in the ’90s in the draft. So I went back to the Baseball America guide. He was the No. 3 prospect in the ’97 draft. The only reason [football standout] Cedric Benson ended up at the University of Texas was that he wouldn’t sign his letter of intent with Texas Tech because if McDonald was going to play baseball then he could have that scholarship that they’d already given to McDonald. He was such a good football player that when he was struggling in Triple-A, Butch Davis called him up from the Cleveland Browns and said, “You know what, forget this Triple-A baseball, come and you can return kicks right now for the Browns.”

And with all that, guys that are that highly touted, on the cover of Baseball America at 17, don’t keep going in their 14th professional year. And that’s an amazing story to me that a guy that clearly was the golden boy in high school stuck it out all these years. And I think that more and more he’s learned to lay off the breaking balls that he could never do in the minor leagues and become a much better hitter over the last three months than he ever was in his life.

Has there been a better one-year contract signing than Adrian Beltre?

No, that was very smart by Theo [Epstein], very smart by Scott Boras. You don’t think he’s going to pick up that $5 million player option for next year? [laughter] It was a great signing. It will be interesting to see and I think Scott’s going to probably want $15 million for him for five years. They won’t give it to him. But he loves it in Boston so much.

Do you guys remember what it was like the first five or six weeks of the season? He and [Marco] Scutaro never spoke, and they were clearly a little intimidated by Boston. And now they both have thrived on the attention, on the intensity. Beltre is always saying to me, “It’s so great. People care so much.” … It’s been a great mix. I know Scutaro’s been the same way. You talk about Nava and McDonald, Scutaro played six or seven years in the minor leagues before they let him play shortstop. In fact, in the Instructional League one year, Victor Martinez was the shortstop and Scutaro had to play second base.

What amazes me about [Beltre] is we expected him to come here as this phenomenal defensive third baseman. … I think we all question his ability to hit, certainly as we look at his 2004 numbers he had because we were all, wink, wink, those numbers seemed a little bit off the charts. And yet he’s excelled at the plate so far this year, coming up with some huge hits for this team.

He has. He still has maddening at bats. You know, for that 2004 … he’s bigger now than he was then. I just think that he is — he can play middle linebacker for the Patriots. He’s so strong and so quick. But it’s been a great story. I know he was miserable in Seattle — he hated that ballpark. I think there were certain personality traits on that team that he didn’t like. And he’s loved it in Boston. He’s certainly fit in very well with the guys they have. …

Beltre walked up to me at the batting cage one day and said to me, “How cool is this Daniel Nava story.” And I was thinking, how many veteran players would walk up and say that. But that’s who he is. It’s unusual for a guy when he comes in as a free agent to be exactly what you thought and hoped he’d be. Because I know much teammates have always loved him. But sometimes you get to Boston and certain things happen and it’s not the same. He’s exceeded everything, on the field and off the field, and in terms of his part in the clubhouse. It’s been a great story.

Based on what you just said, expectations, what do you think the reaction would be to John Lackey, the big offseason acquisition, if [Clay] Buchholz and [Jon] Lester weren’t a defined, solid 1 and 2? Because Lackey has really been OK if you’re looking at a 3. Do you think the reaction would be different if those two guys weren’t, because Lackey would be expected to be the top of the rotation guy?

That’s a very good point. He’s been OK, but he’s had a lot of run support. He does eat up innings, but at the same time, no, I don’t think there’s any question. If you take, in my mind, their four best pitchers this year, Buchholz, Lester, [Daniel] Bard, and other than the last two nights, Papelbon, they’re all home-grown guys, all guys taking about a two-year or three-year period in the draft, and make a total of less than $14 million. Those four guys combined make $2 million less than John Lackey. I think there would be a hue and cry if Buccholz and Lester weren’t so good. I agree with you. I think it would be a big disappointment. The one thing is, Lackey’s been able to give them enough innings so they can afford to make sure Josh Beckett’s healthy before they bring him bacl. I do think that’s important, because I still don’t think they’re going to get in the postseason without Beckett having a good last few months.

This outfield, people are saying maybe they need to go get an outfielder. Even when everyone is healthy, do they still need one? Do they need another bat even with all these other guys that have filled in?

They do, especially a guy who can play center field and defend. They tried with Texas to bring David Murphy back, and they’re in a pennant race and they just said, “We need him, he’s not available.”

I thought for a while that maybe an ideal guy, once he gets back, and I believe he was activated yesterday, would be Rick Ankiel. Because he’s a great defender in three positions, the best throwing outfielder in the league, and he might hit .240 but he’s got a ton of power. And I think he’d flourish in Boston. And I don’t think he’d cost much. The one thing is you’d have to work out the $6 million mutual option next year because I don’t think the Red Sox would want to be on the hook for $6 million for Ankiel. And Kansas City, I know [general manager] Dayton Moore talked to Theo for the first time in a long time yesterday, but I don’t think it was about any outfielder. I think it was just trying to see who’s interested in taking Jose Guillen and if Kansas City needs some of the money.

I think they’ll go out and get somebody. I think they’ll get an infielder, another reliever and an outfielder before now and July 31st, if somebody else doesn’t get hurt.

How tough will it be to find an arm that can help you in the bullpen?

I think maybe what you do is just take a chance on a guy that’s really struggling. Arizona’s bullpen, which is the worst, which I think is still is a run an inning, if I’m not mistaken — but they have good arms. Maybe you take a shot, bring them in, knowing they’re going to be free agents at the end of the year, and hope you get six weeks out of them. Maybe something like that works.

You look at other teams that are out of it. And it’s very tough. The Angels bullpen is very thin. And Seattle now is beginning to think, “You know what? We have [Cliff] Lee, [Felix] Hernandez, Erik Bedard, [Ryan] Rowland-Smith. For the last three months of the season, we can get to .500 — and as you know they have huge TV/radio rights there — then they’re respectable and they sign Cliff Lee. I don’t think they’re going to move any relievers either.

Yesterday, Mike Lowell was put on the DL. We’ll be just about to the All-Star break when he’s available to come back. What happens to Mike Lowell at the end of this?

I think he has to decide whether or not he really wants to keep going. I’m told he just knows at this point it’s been embarrassing to him. I think he’ll rest for a while, get some treatment and sit down with the club and make a decision about whether or not he wants to continue. I think it’s at that point.

What I really find fascinating is, those hip operations are only 10 years old. And I’ve talked to doctors — [Marc] Philippon is a great doctor, who did A-Rod’s and Chase Utley. They really don’t know what the outcome’s going to be. There’s no history of where these hip operations go. And we see A-Rod is continually coming up with injuries that are related to the hip, and Utley has not been the same guy. So, I really worry about the future of what they’re going to be like at the end of their contracts. A-Rod’s got what, seven years left? What’s he going to be like — as hard as he works, maybe those hip operations really don’t solve anything. And if that’s the case, then maybe there should be rethinking of some of the medical practices in baseball.

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