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Terry Francona on D&H: Kalish ‘a keeper’

09.15.10 at 4:27 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona joined Dale & Holley on Wednesday for his weekly conversation and talked about the Red Sox’€™ philosophy as the team heads toward the end of the season with a playoff berth being highly unlikely.

“It changes, but the philosophy of our games certainly don’t change,” Francona said. “Regardless of who plays, you try to play the game right and you try to win. Obviously, we’re incorporating some younger kids in the lineup, and we’re trying to get them to understand what a huge honor it is to play in these games. If you’re a Lars Anderson and you’re playing a couple of games instead of a Mikey Lowell, he needs to understand that, ‘Look, man, this guy has had a long career and you’re taking some of his at-bats, so get after it.’ And I think they’re doing that.”

Francona discussed being loyal to players such as David Ortiz when they may be struggling, and also how the team is trying to work some of the younger players into the lineup.

Following is the transcript of the conversation. To hear the full interview, visit the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

You’€™ve had a well deserved reputation that you’€™ve developed here for being faithful to your players.  You go back to that example of Dustin Pedroia‘€™s rookie year and hitting .180 in April and everybody wanted him out and [Alex] Cora in and you stuck with him and reaped the rewards. Is David Ortiz another example of reaping the rewards by standing by someone?

Well, I think we’€™ve stood by people when we think that that’€™s the best thing to do. I mean, again, and I believe in loyalty, but there’€™s a difference between being loyal and not being very smart.  When we felt like [Jonathan Papelbon] should replace [Keith] Foulke, we did it. When we feel like we need to make changes, we do.  But when I feel like somebody’€™s struggling, and to make a knee-jerk reaction, that’€™s not, to me, a good manager. That’€™s just making a reaction. You’€™ve got to let these guys play a little bit, and David’€™s a great example of that. He’€™s maybe the only one that believed in himself, and I’€™ll be darned, you look up later and he’€™s got 30 home runs, he drives in 100 runs, good for him.

Back in April, did you see this at the end of the season?

Well, I guess I hoped, but we didn’€™t see it at the beginning of the season. And because of the way our roster was configured, we’€™d get to the point where David was hitting against a few lefties and we were pinch-hitting for him a couple of times, it was tough. David was not very happy with anybody, and I was probably near the top of that list. But to his credit, he turned it around and we told him, right straight up said, “David, if you want to play, hit.” And he did that, so, good for him.

Unless you have some plans for Jon Lester that we’€™re not aware of, he’€™s going to pass 200 innings pitched this season, he’€™s already set his career high for victories, he’€™s having essentially the same year he had last year, if not a little better than last year. How would you assess Jon Lester, what you’€™ve seen so far compared to what you’€™ve seen in the past?

Well, I think he’€™s probably better in the sense that he understands the league a little bit more.  He understands how to attack hitters, that’€™s why the strikeouts seem to be growing. You know, he keeps his body in such good shape, he can handle the rigors of a long season. I mean, look at him now, he’€™s not on fumes, he’€™s throwing the ball as good as he ever has. That’€™s a compliment to him. I think I said a long time ago that he’€™s situated to log a lot of innings with his body, his arm action, he should be able to handle the rigors of this and he’€™s doing that.

Do managers and pitching coaches like high strikeout totals, because it certainly means higher pitch totals?

Again, if it’€™s high strikeouts and no walks, I mean, we’€™re looking for wins and there’€™s a lot of ways to do that. If you’€™re looking to the guy that will take us out there and walk 10, that’€™s not going to work. But with Lester’€™s combination of stuff, he’€™s going to get strikeouts. Now, if they decide they want to attack him early and put it into play, he will get some quick outs, but they’€™ll not necessarily be balls that were hit hard.

Talking about starting pitching, and one of the most bizarre sights I’€™ve seen is a guy who I think has just had a great year, Clay Buchholz, really struggle and have in two innings give up five runs, what do you think happened in that game?

You know what, he was flat coming out of the bullpen, and a lot of times you’€™ll see good pitchers struggle through a first inning and kind of find it. Well, he struggled through the first and it didn’€™t look like he was finding it, so rather than let him slosh through three or four innings and hope he figures it out, again, drive that pitch count up, I think that’€™s what tires pitchers out more than just a hard pitch count, is struggling through innings. So with what he’€™s logged this year, keep him out of there, we had enough pitchers in the bullpen, so he can come back today and be refreshed and hopefully give us one of those games that we’€™re used to.

In that game, could you see it?  Could you see very early that, “Oh man, this is going to be a struggle for Clay, he doesn’€™t have it tonight?”

Well, I think you see that a lot of times, but like I just said, pitchers, they have a way of finding it. A lot of guys come into games and it takes them a while to kind of get in a rhythm, to find their pitches. But hopefully, if that’€™s the case, you either get a ball hit at somebody or they find a way to make a good pitch and get an out or get a double play or something, and then they kind of get in their rhythm, that happens a lot of times. But in Clay’€™s case, they got runs early and it looked like he wasn’€™t really going to stop it in the next inning.

Jason Varitek made his first start for you since he got hurt and was able to play. And like you said, it was an awfully long game last night, I bet it was for a guy making his first start back. Can you give us an idea of what he’€™s been like, as the captain of this team and obviously has been with the team throughout this, what he been like with the guys and the young guys especially during this whole injury issue?

I mean, you guys have heard all the things I’€™ve said over the last six or seven years, he’€™s been that and more. He’s been the captain, he’s never once not been there for somebody. He supports everybody. He’s vocal, he’s probably more vocal than he used to be. He’s done a terrific job being the captain. He’s worked hard to get himself back to being available. Again, it’€™s all the things we’€™ve said that just haven’€™t shown up on the field because he hasn’€™t been on the field. But he’s taken all his positives and all his attributes and he’s taken them into his therapy and his rehab. And the way he helps the players, it’s fun to watch. That’€™s why he’€™s the captain. He’€™s probably learned and matured and better than he used to be.

Can you see him playing again next year?

Certainly. Certainly. He was having a very good year as far as a backup catcher. And then he got hurt, he got a broken bone. That happens. This wasn’€™t something out of old age or something. He just got a broken bone. I think he wants to play.

I know the season’€™s still going on so you don’€™t have the time to be having retrospectives about what all the numbers mean, but I’€™m just looking at the numbers of your team right now. We’€™ve talked a lot about the Red Sox and that they’€™ve been disappointing at times, but your team is 81-64. Which means you’€™ve got the same record as the Texas Rangers, you’€™ve got the same record essentially as the Padres and the Giants and the Reds, yet you’€™re seven games out of the divisional lead. When you step back and look at it, isn’€™t that kind of strange that you actually have a good team but it isn’€™t necessarily perceived that way?

Yeah, that happens. But again, we’€™re in the American League East and we’€™ve been in the American League East. Unless Mr. [Bud] Selig is coming up with something I don’€™t know, we’€™re going to stay in the American League East, so we better figure out a way to win close to 100 because that’€™s what we’€™re going to be measured against.

That’€™s what’€™s happened in the past. How many years have you heard people talk about the Angels coming out of the West and how good they are, and then they come to play us in the playoffs and we beat them? We go through a pretty tough part of our schedule ‘€” and that’€™s taking nothing away against teams in the other divisions, but our division’€™s good and we beat up on each other. And when you win as many games right now as the Yankees and Tampa are, that tells you how really good they are because they’€™ve got to play in our division so much.

Your schedule was re leased for 2011. Your home opener again is against the Yankees. Do you have any problem with opening against the Yankees?

I actually only looked. I saw we open in Texas. I love opening on the road. I think there’s so much going on, the first couple of games, all the pageantry and all that stuff. I love doing that on the road. Then you get all that stuff out of the way. Then you can come home and play. I’ve got no problem with that. I don’t care who we open with. I don’t care who we play. You’re going to have to play them a certain amount many times, I [couldn't] care less when we play them.

You’ve also got the Cubs coming in for the first time since 1918. You were managing at that time, weren’t you?

I was like 12 years old. [laughter] I feel like it.

I know you’re not necessarily crazy about interleague play, but I’m excited about Cubs-Red Sox at Fenway Park. What do you think about it?

Well, I think this is what interleague is trying to generate is some excitement for the fans. And the Cubs-Red Sox will certainly do that. That will be one of those series that will be sold out way ahead of time. There will be a ton of interest. That’s what they’re trying to accomplish in interleague. I don’t think they always do it, but there are certainly some series that really catch the fans’ eye, and that’s what they’re trying to do.

Lars Anderson has surprised me with how he’s played defensively at first base. Has he surprised you?

Not surprised, because we’ve been getting the reports from the minor league and player development people that he had really improved. But if you’re asking if we’ve seen the improvement, yeah. He has really come a long way. [Roving instructor] Gary DiSarcina and [Pawtucket manager] Torey [Lovullo] and [Portland manager] Arnie Beyeler, they probably deserve a ton of credit ‘€” and Lars ‘€” because he is a different first baseman now than what we saw in spring training. And that’s exciting to see.

What didn’t he have before that he has now?

He’s much more confident. He’s much smoother. He’ moves his feet. He’s making plays that he didn’t used to make. He used to be, you could see him out there and he was like thinking like you could tell he almost didn’t know if he wanted the ball hit to him. Now, he’s out there and very rangy and he’s making the plays. He will only get better because of his wingspan. He’s going to be a pretty good first baseman.

Do you think Ryan Kalish can be a starting outfielder for the Sox next year?

Boy, he’s done a great job. And he probably got here a little quick, because of all our injuries. But whatever he ends up hitting  the last two weeks, whether he gets hot and gets up to .300 or sags a little bit and goes down, I don’t think that’s the end-all for him right now. I think the at-bats he’s getting are huge in his development. I don’t know if he’s ready to be an everyday center fielder on our team next year — maybe he is. But even if he’s not, this six weeks is going to be huge for him. And at some point in his career in the not-too-distant future, he’s going to impact this team. This is a keeper.

Monday night, when you started Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick in the outfield, it was the first time the Sox started three rookie outfielders since October 1987, when it was Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks and Todd Benzinger.

Boy, those are pretty good names. That’s what happens sometimes when you’re beat up and you’ve gotten to this point in the season. It’s not bad, it doesn’t mean you’re throwing up the white flag or the red flag or whatever color that flag is. It just means that we’re a little beat up. But the good part of it is we have guys that can come in and help us win. That night, Reddick, Lars, Nava, they all played a big part in that win. That was exciting.

Lots of different names, lots of different lineup constructions. How does that affect you? Because I can’t imaging another season where you’ve had this much complexity when it comes to just writing out a lineup.

Well, that part’s OK. DeMarlo [Hale] and I spend ‘€” we’re pretty much on the same page every day about that. In some instances it’s actually kind of challenging in a good way. You get a chance to coach. You get a chance to talk to these guys and see what they’re thinking, because they are still learning. So, it’s kind of fun. One of major not concerns but goals is to just make sure these young kids understand what an honor it is to play in these games. Don’t take it for granted. Go out there and try to do what you can do, and be respectful about it. And then help us win.

You asked us a couple of weeks ago if we could talk football. Who’s your sleeper in the National Football League?

I’ve got to tell you guys this. We have the fantasy football league on our team, and I like it. I think it’s good for ‘€” what’s the word? ‘€” team-bonding and team-building. We did the draft in Baltimore a couple of weeks ago. DeMarlo and I are teams this year because [Brad Mills] is gone. So, DeMarlo and I teamed up, and the name of our team is Ebony and Ivory. We’re actually so good that I think we’re going to end up offering back a couple of players, just because I think we’re going to run away with it. It’s hard not to be arrogant. That’s the only way I can put it.

I hope you’re better than that song, “Ebony and Ivory.”

After we won the other day, on the plane I was singing that song. I think I saw a couple of people dry heave.

Mike Lowell has reiterated a couple of times he will retire at the end of this season. When you think back on Mike Lowell’s Red Sox career, what will you remember?

Hoo, boy, a lot of good things. The 2007 run, the season, the [World Series] MVP. I tell you what I remember a lot, though. In ’06, when he came over here, and we struggled in ’06, I remember having a team meeting out in Anaheim because we were falling apart. Nothing was going right, we could barely field a team. And I remember Mikey kind of coming to the forefront. And I remember thinking after that meeting, this is setting the tone for next year. There’s lot of loyalty getting built up, a lot of trust. And Mikey was right smack in the middle of that. That’s what I’ll remember.

Any lineup changes tonight?

Yeah, we do. Let’s see, we had the guys that were facing the lefties yesterday, [Bill] Hall and those guys. Today we have kind of that younger lineup again — Reddick and Nava and Kalish. We’ve got [Marco] Scutaro back in there today. We’ll probably give him the day off coming back off the trip. And we’ve got Lars at first.

You mentioned something about Kalish and being ready to be a center fielder. We’ve talked about him at the plate. Everybody focuses on him with the bat. How is he in the field? What does he have to learn?

Until you go through stuff, you’re always trying to learn. And then hopefully continue trying to learn. But he’s got a nose for the ball. He’s a very smart kid. He’s as aggressive as can be. I’ll tell you what, he’s a better outfielder than I ever thought he would be. He’s kind of a big kid, so you don’t realize how fast he is. And then you watch him in center field. He’s a true center fielder. And that’s a compliment. Some guys you can send them out there, but this kid can be a true center fielder. And that’s good.

Read More: Clay Buchholz, David Ortiz, ryan kalish, Terry Francona
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