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Terry Francona on the Big Show: Not a tough call to keep Jon Lester in game

05.31.11 at 4:14 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona joined The Big Show for his weekly chat and talked about giving Jon Lester a few days off, John Lackey‘s return to the rotation and whether Jonathan Papelbon has matured this year.

There was also some roster moves to discuss as the Sox planned to activate Bobby Jenks from the disabled list in advance of Tuesday’s game with the White Sox. Michael Bowden was sent to Triple-A. Francona also said that Darnell McDonald was in the Pawtucket lineup on Tuesday.

Here’s highlights from the rest of the conversation:

What went into the decision to keep Lester on the mound going into the sixth inning on Monday?

This was not as difficult one as maybe was perceived after the game. He can go into the start of the inning, I think he was at 97 [pitches], he’s given up three runs. He can go into the next inning. We’ve got [Dan] Wheeler up to protect him, but we wanted Lester to get through the inning. As the inning unfolded we have a leadoff hitter, then a left-handed [batter], we certainly going to let him face him.

[Alexei] Ramirez is the next hitter who [was] going into the game 1-for-10 off Lester and hitting .203 off left-handers to boot. He ends hitting a ball about 110 feet down the right field line that falls inside the chalk, it’s two runs. We bring in Wheeler and it’s two more [runs] and it opens everything up to second-guessing which I understand. But for me that was not a tough inning. As long as Lester hadn’t given up a run that was his inning at least through Ramirez. Plus the fact going into the game that we knew he wasn’t pitching until next Tuesday so that gives him an extra three days.

He’s been pushed back three days. What’s the reason for that?

We have two days off coming up which is kind of rare. You don’t see too often and we want to get Lack into the rotation. He’s pitching tonight in Pawtucket. We’ll bring Lester back against the Yankees. It just seems like a good fit and it gives him a little bit of a blow, something I think he could actually use.

Is Lester relying on the cutter too much?

He even said last night that he didn’t command anything last night and it was pretty obvious to everyone. He was scattering balls all over the place and he thought the cutter was the one place he could go to get out of it, which he probably can. I think you run the risk when you throw that many. He’s too good, in my opinion. He’s got a fastball that’s 94, 95 with some sink. He’s got one of the best changeups in the game and a good curveball. Sometimes you’ve got to remind guys how good they are and not lose sight of their other pitches.

Are you surprised it’s taken this long for the offense to kick in?

I was a little surprised at the way it unfolded that we weren’t scoring. There’s reasons. It’s cold. Carl Crawford, he’s laughing now, he wasn’t laughing then. He says, ‘I didn’t know how cold it was up here.’ I know they panned to him during the game and he’s sitting there with his jacket on. It bothered him. He never had to put up with that before. Only on sporadic trips up here because he was playing in the dome. A lot of players when the weather gets warm they get warm. David Ortiz is the same way. Fortunately [Ortiz] held his head above water. Now you watch, he should get really hot. That’s the way David is.

Is Carl Crawford at home in the sixth spot?

I don’t know. Things change so much. When somebody goes down or somebody comes out of the lineup or somebody gets nicked up, one move generally necessitates another. I’m not in love with JD [Drew] hitting eighth but his production been down and I don’t want to run all those lefties in a row. Carl’s hot right now. I think we scan take advantage of it. He’s a little bit of a free swinger, maybe we can take advantage of that too. The guys that are free swingers you try to take advantage of where it fits.

Is it a catch-22 in that you move guys down to take pressure off them and yet some guys may look at that and say they don’t have confidence in me?

You try to recognize what’s important to whom. Any time we think a move in the batting order is going to bother somebody we try to talk to them. If we’re going to offend somebody we want to at least be honest with them. We don’t want somebody to walk in and have a surprise. You remember that [Jorge] Posada thing with the Yankees. We don’t need that. This game is hard enough. We’ll tell the guys how we feel, why we feel that way. And hope that we’ve built up enough trust where you can have one of those conversations.

Has Lackey’s progress been what you expected?

I think we were really pleased. There was a lot of speculation [about his elbow injury]. Lack wanted to pitch pretty bad as he always does. We took the ball away from because it was too early in the year to let him go out there. We know he can pitch and we know he can survive but we want him to do more than that. So we got the cortisone shot in his elbow and immediately it helped, which is good. He’s been going out, he’s been throwing freer and easier. Hopefully that’s going to show in the results on the mound.

Have you noticed any difference in Jonathan Papelbon? He seems like a more mature guy.

I actually agree with that. He’s a real fun-loving kid. If you know Pap like you guys do, his heart’s in the right place. He doesn’t have a filter. I think maybe this year he’s had a little bit more of that, which is OK with me. I’ve told him in the past I get tired of cleaning up his messes. He doesn’t mean anything by it, but I end up having to answer things because it doesn’t go through the filter, it just comes out too quick. I agree I think he is getting a little more mature and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

You’€™ve had a lot of different characters over the years here. How do you deal with it in that the public sees one view of it, but how are you dealing with stuff privately, internally with these players?

Well I think you just made the good point is privately. I think when I have something to say to somebody it needs to be private. Managing in Boston, managing anywhere, you have your own ideas but I think it’€™s a little bit different in Boston. Part of my job is to help these guys handle some of the extracurricular stuff because there’€™s so much of it. And me burying guys in the paper or embarrassing them or standing on the top step screaming, that doesn’€™t help them. Now if I have something to say to them, I’€™ll say it. They know that, again I don’€™t hold anything back, I’€™m always honest with them. But I don’€™t think the way to do it is through the media.

Have you ever been tempted to yell at someone from the top step of the dugout?

You know what, no not really. No I don’€™t feel that way. I don’€™t have to force myself. We all get mad about games and everything. We want the game to go perfect and it doesn’€™t. I think because I was such a mediocre player I know the game’€™s hard. No I just think it’€™s part of my job. Sometimes being patient is not easy, but that’€™s what the job requires.

In other towns if you say something, the story’s dead and buried in one day. But in this town, because there are so many media members, all you’€™ve done is set up chapter one of the story. Tomorrow it’€™s chapter two, then everybody’€™s searching for chapter three, and they want to write a whole book on it.

I remember about three years ago we were in Toronto and I think it was Gregg Zaun was the catcher and I forget who the pitcher was but they said some horrible things in the paper about him, it was a miscommunication and they had a little altercation on the mound, and it was a little column about three inches long. I remember sitting in the coaches room the next day saying, ‘My goodness if this was in Boston, it wouldn’€™t be on the sports page, it would be on the front page.’

But the flip side is that’€™s what makes Boston, Boston, and what makes some of these other places kind of ‘€¦

That’€™s where I need to be careful sometimes about not complaining, because this is what I love to do, or what we love to do, and it’s important to people. So some of that comes with it. I know we go into places sometimes and I read the paper and I’m thinking, ‘Boy, it’s almost like a cheerleading-type atmosphere.’ I don’t think I would like that either. There’s a little bit of an edge here, that’s OK.

Did you have trouble at the beginning here, or was the training period in Philadelphia enough for you?

Oh no, I had great training. You kidding me? No I had four years of internship in Philadelphia.

Did that get vicious for you there?

Yeah it got a little ugly. It got ugly. I used to have to change my parking spot about once a week and I’d get my tires slashed. It was tough man, it was awful.

God, I thought Boston was bad ‘€¦

I mean I got warned a lot when I came up here about Boston, and I always think, ‘You know, I can handle this, I’€™ll be ready.’ I had no idea what I was getting in for. You can’€™t until you live through it. But I was so naïve I think it actually helped me.

Well you came in, 86 previous years were pretty frustrating for people. I would say this: had you not won’€¦

Oh you’€™d be talking to somebody else. If Dave Roberts is out?

You’€™re out.

Oh yeah, I’€™m with you.

Forget about another parking spot, you’€™d need another car.

Dave Roberts? It’€™s amazing, he was almost out. That’€™s not good.

It’€™s amazing when you think about that one little change in history, and it has a domino effect. And they could have given it to [Derek] Jeter too because there was that little swipe tag he had.

You know it was amazing because it’€™s easy to go back and have revisionist history. I never in a million years thought he was gonna be out, and I enjoyed like crazy watching that play unfold, but when [bench coach Brad Mills] came running down the tunnel after the inning he goes, ‘Hey, you gotta see this. He was almost out.’ I’€™m like, ‘Uh oh.’

Any lineup changes, additions, subtractions that we should be aware of?

Let’€™s see. Tonight we got [Jason Varitek] back in there tonight, day game tomorrow and [Jarrod Saltalamacchia] will catch. We’€™re trying to get Jed [Lowrie] back in there tonight, I think we can. Other than that, we’€™re OK. Darnell McDonald‘€™s going to go down tonight and start rehab in Pawtucket. [John] Lackey‘€™s gonna pitch tonight in Pawtucket, so Bobby Jenks is activated tonight, and we optioned Michael Bowden back to Triple-A.

Is there anything that you see right now that still concerns you going forward that you gotta get control of?

Oh yeah there’€™s never a day, or a rare day where you come out of there and think this is exactly how you’€™re supposed to be. Our bullpen, which is always constantly, even when you’€™re winning, trying so hard not to overdo it. And getting to [Daniel] Bard and [Jonathon Papelbon] is always going to be a challenge. I don’t know who has a bullpen where you have six guys that are just shutdown guys. And the challenge for me is not trying to wear out Bard. That’€™s an easy one because he’€™s so good. I know he’€™s given up some runs but his stuff is so dynamic that anytime there’€™s runners on base you want to go to him, and you got to fight that a little bit.

Saltalamacchia has hit a little bit for power, but now he’€™s starting to throw people out. Are you seeing some signs that he’€™s starting to figure it out?

Yeah I am. He’€™s backed off a little bit at the plate this past week, which happens, but he’€™s playing with a lot more confidence. I think the best way I can say it is the game is slowing down for him a little bit. I think [Varitek] is a big part of that. [Varitek] took a little bit of his work load, but also was a pretty good mentor to him and a good friend and I think he’€™s helped him slow down. I think our players have been patient with [Saltalamacchia]. When he was heaving balls all over the place, nobody said much, they were just kind of there for him, which is important. As much pressure as these guys get from the outside, if they’€™re getting it from the inside, it’€™s worse.

How do you set pitch limits for different pitchers on your staff?

We don’€™t really have pitch limits. I mean we keep track of every time they pick up a ball. Whether its in the bullpen, whether it’€™s on their side day, for the bullpen guys how many times they were up, how much energy they’€™ve expended. Because it’€™s not just being in a game. I actually keep notes to myself how much they’€™ve worked during innings, because that’€™s a big thing for me. If a guy has to extend himself early in the game, I keep track of that for later in the game. If they’€™ve worked to get out of a jam like Lester did yesterday, that to me goes a long way into his next start, but he’€™s got a couple extra days so that’€™ll take care of that. We try to keep track of their work load so they can pitch healthy because we feel like when they’€™re healthy, they’€™ll be more productive.

On that same line, rain delays. 55-minute rain delay, manager brings the pitcher back out on the mound. How do you make that call?

That’€™s a tough one. The one with [Clay Buchholz] here, remember a couple weeks ago? That was a hard one for us because certain guys have the ability to do it more than others, but at the same time there’€™s a little trepidation there. The fact of the matter is we didn’€™t really have a lot of options. I mean [Buchholz] was more than willing to do it, and he did a great job of staying loose, and we certainly cut him back, but we were gonna have to go to guys in the bullpen and run the risk of over-pitching them and hurting them. So we were in quite a bind that day. [Buchholz] handled himself really well.

Was that question better than last week’€™s question? (Do you take into consideration or monitor the throws a pitcher makes holding a runner on base?)

That was awful, by the way. That question last week. If he shows up at wherever we’€™re going for dinner, Mohegan Sun, I’€™m not going.

Read More: carl crawford, john lackey, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon
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