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Transcript of Terry Francona on The Big Show: Sticking with veterans has worked in the past

07.19.11 at 4:05 pm ET

Red Sox manager Terry Francona joined The Big Show for his weekly interview Tuesday to discuss the team’s success, struggles and Sunday’s marathon win over the Rays.

J.D. Drew‘s underwhelming performance has been well documented this season, and with Josh Reddick and Darnell McDonald waiting in the wings, Francona was asked who he plans on playing in right field as the pennant race rages on.

“[Drew] has a long history of doing what he’s done, and you’re right, to this point it hasn’t been what he normally does,” Francona said. “[Reddick] doesn’t have the history, but he’s been a huge part of what we’re doing for the last month. So it creates a little bit of a — I don’t want to say dilemma, because it’s good. I just don’t know exactly how it’s going to work. It’s easy just to put the guy that’s hot out there, but as a manager you have to think, ‘OK, am I hurting down the road more than I’m helping today?’ So that makes me think a little bit.

“I really couldn’t think back to a veteran that we stuck with that we weren’t rewarded for,” he added. “If we think somebody can help us, we do try to stick with him. How many times was I told I should not play David [Ortiz] the last two years? Well if I had listened to them it wouldn’t have been very smart. [Dustin] Pedroia, [Mark] Bellhorn, I mean you can go on and on and I just don’t think we’ve stayed with guys too long. Maybe I’ll miss a name or two, but I think for the most part if we think they can help us, we want to let them play or we’re going to miss out on some good baseball. And I don’t want to do that.”

Following is a transcript of the conversation. To hear the interview, check out The Big Show audio on demand page.

Were you a little bit concerned based on the travel and the late game [against the Rays on Sunday] that your guys might be a little too tired for that one last night?

Not really. Our schedule is so crazy, most of the time we play a lot of Sunday night games and we get in at 4:30 anyway, so what the heck is the difference of an hour and a half? The rule of thumb is if you can get to bed before the sun comes up, you’re generally OK. We didn’t quite make that, but we try to make some adjustments. We’re not hitting on the field tonight. We’re trying to save up our energy and use it in the game. We’re deep enough in the season now that we don’t need to hit on the field all the time. We’ll be OK. And we sent [Tim] Wakefield ahead to try to make adjustments, but you try to not let things get in the way of winning.

That game against Tampa Bay was so long that by the time we got to the 16th inning we almost forgot that Josh Beckett started the game and was brilliant again. Is this the best you’ve seen Beckett pitch since you’ve been in Boston?

It’s certainly the most consistent. I mean, every time he goes out there, he’s finding a way. I mean that was a spectacular outing. It wasn’t like he’s throwing 100 miles an hour, but the only hit he gave up was a ball that hit the side of his shoe that caromed off towards the infield. It’s just nice and quiet and efficient and just mowing them down. Yeah, it’s huge. We’ve seen him pitch awful well, some pretty big playoff games in our time and even before he got here in Florida. But it sure is nice to see him on this run.

As Beckett is becoming older and more mature, is he becoming a better pitcher, a more learned pitcher where he was more of a thrower before?

He’s older, he’s not more mature. Yeah, remember when he first came over here and we talked that first year about him kind of being stubborn? And he was throwing 95-96 and it was sometimes flat in the middle of the plate and it was going a long way. You don’t see that very often anymore. When the crowd gets going and the noise gets going and everybody is amped up, if you can slow down, that usually helps. He’s throwing that changeup now, he’ll throw an occasional cutter. He’ll pitch and he’s not just trying to reach back and rear back, that’s when it flattens out and somebody hits it a long way. And I tease him about his maturity because he’s kind of a lunatic during the games, but he’s done a really good job.

During that 16-inning game, when did you get the sense that the first run scored would win the game?

You really don’t know that. We had opportunities. You just don’t know. When the game’s over you look back and think, “Wow. All the things that you missed.” I mean [Adrian] Gonzalez hits a ball down the left-field line and off the bat that was so fair, and we’re going to score two runs. Well, it’s about six inches foul and you go another seven innings without scoring. You just never know. We had bases loaded, we couldn’t score. Those are the way those games go. It’s dangerous on the road because if you mess up and they score, you go home. But our pitching did a great job and kept us in it.

J.D. Drew has not been productive out there in right field. This has been over a long period of time. There hasn’t been that hot month. What do you do out there?

I was asked that yesterday why we hit [Drew] in front of Reddick. And the reason is if you’re going to pinch hit for one guy, where right now we’re mostly electing to pinch hit for [Drew] and you have your lefties bunched together and the one that’s in front, then they can’t bring in the righty to face McDonald, so that’s part of the reason we’ve done that. When [Ortiz] comes back we’re going to be one lefty too much. You’re looking at Reddick, McDonald and [Drew] out in right field. [McDonald is] easier when you’re playing against some of the left-handers, but against the righties that’s where it’s going to be a bit of a logjam.

Is Reddick hot enough to get the majority of the at-bats over J.D. Drew?

I don’t know. First of all, we’re not there yet because we have to get through the series. I don’t feel like I have to make the lineup out ahead of time. I don’t know what manager in their right mind does. I mean this is a young kid that’s really hot, really done some really good things for us. There’s times when he can leave the strike zone and I kind of guess I feel like it’s my responsibility to play him when I think he can help us and that’s what we’re kind of trying to do is match him up against guys we think he can really have success against. If there’s some guys maybe he will struggle with, maybe we’ll play somebody else.

You sound like you just woke up a little while ago.

I can talk all I want about the players not being tired. I was tired.

Were you comfortable with how the penalty came down [on Ortiz]? Did it go as you expected?

Well, actually, I didn’t have much to do with it. I was kind of on the outside looking in. I kind of said when it happened when you get involved in things like that you’re at somebody else’s mercy and you have to take your medicine. That’s what we’ve done. I thought [Ortiz’] comments, I was kind of proud of him. You know what, it happened, it’s over, let’s move on. And that’s how we’re going to deal with it.

The Muddy Chicken [Pedroia] is suddenly on a tear out there. You didn’t give him that name, did you?

He gave himself that name, so that to me … it’s like the Laser Show. Nobody gives yourself a nickname. I was actually telling him that yesterday. He sure is a good player, though. He can do whatever he wants.

It just seems like a switch went off after he went in there and found out that the knee was fine. Did you see suddenly a more confident guy?

I agree with you and I don’t think it’s that easy. Part of it is he’s one of the best players in the game and at some point he was going to get hot because he’s just too good. But I don’t think that hurt. When he came out of that meeting with the doctor, he knew that it still hurt but he wasn’t going to hurt himself, he was a better player. That’s why we did it. We were pretty honest about that. But he’s on some kind of run right now and then the good part of it is that it may not go away. That’s the type of player he is.

We get a lot of calls about [John Lackey], a lot of texts about Lackey, especially after Tampa, when he exchanged words with you. ‘€¦ That doesn’t seem to bother you at all.

Well, I don’t think he was exchanging words with me. That’s where I guess I get a little bit — I heard later how disrespectful he was to me and everything. He just wanted to face the next hitter. And I don’t have a problem with that. I’m glad he wanted to face the next hitter. He wasn’t saying anything to me that bothered me. If he did, I’d have said something back to him. I guess my perception of Lack is a lot different than other people’s. I know how the people feel about him in this clubhouse, myself included. So, I probably don’t look at things like other people do. That’s OK, everybody has their opinion. I just know how I feel about him.

Why do you think the perception of him and the reality of him is so different?

Well, I think a lot of it is how you handle yourself in the interview room or postage. Lack’s not always the most forthcoming. He can be a little gruff. He’s probably paying the price a little bit for that with the media ‘€” and with the fans. I don’t know that he cares. That’s just the way it is. Guys are different. And again, my job isn’t to react to how they do an interview or if they handle themselves completely appropriately after a game. What I care about is how they pitch or how they play.

I hear what you say about what players say, because a lot of times they’re not necessarily telling us the truth. You’ve admitted that before, as well.

Sure. Our agendas are different.

Absolutely. You’ve got to protect that guys within that clubhouse. You deal with a lot of stuff privately with those guys and deal much different publicly with us about an incident or a situation that went on. I think what gets the fans with Lackey is that he’ll pitch a great game — which he did two starts ago, it was phenomenal — and then he struggles even though he was that workhouse, he got you 5 2/3 or whatever. He says, “I did the exact same thing I did in the previous game and I just wasn’t lucky.” To us, looking at it from the outside, he looked like he was a totally different pitcher. Was he a totally different pitcher?

It’s hard for me to go back and answer something through an interview. I’m not totally comfortable doing that, either. And I think you understand why.

Let’s just stick with the games themselves, the last two outings.

Sometimes there’s different lineups. I think some of his point is he made — some of the breaking balls were actually the same pitch. He got some strikeouts on some of them, and a couple of them got whacked the other day. Sometimes that’s the way it is. I think he felt like he was the same pitcher, which is good. Because we’re looking for consistency. Again, location is so important with Lack. Sometimes when you throw a pitch down the middle and it gets fouled back and then you come back and make a pitch, sometimes you’ve got to be a little lucky.

Now, over the course of the year, it can even out. And you’d better be good, or it’s going to catch up with you. But again, I just think Lack’s not going to let you in there. That’s just the way he is. If it frustrates people, I understand it, but again, that’s not the end-all, be-all for me.

You know what people got upset about the other day? He has a great performance, he’s coming off the field and they’re giving him a standing ovation. I understand he’s probably pissed because the last time he came off they were booing him. But he’s coming off this time, they’re reacting ’cause he was great, and he wouldn’t tip his cap. We were getting calls about that.

I was probably out on the mound, and I don’t pay much attention to that. He may not, either. I think you guys would be surprised at what we don’t hear. I’ve been asked that so many times, “Hey, what did you think about this reaction?” I’m like, “Whoa, I didn’t even know there was a reaction.” If there’s a reaction going on in the game, there’s probably something that we’re thinking about. There’s a lot of times when I actually don’t hear stuff. And maybe Lack’s the same way. I don’t know, maybe he isn’t. Maybe he didn’t feel like it. I don’t know. I’m just saying that’s not probably what I would react to.

A couple of questions for you about Jacoby Ellsbury. First of all, the logic of putting him at DH last night. I know obviously Ortiz wasn’t there. Were you thinking to give him a bit of a rest on his legs in the field?

Yes. As soon as that ball that [Derrek] Lee hit the wall that [Reddick] kind of ran around and looked like he was getting car sick, I asked Jacoby, I said, “Do you like DHing?” He goes, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, it’s your last game.”

But I think it was good. Since’s David’s out, we’re going to try to rotate a little bit. Jacoby’s been getting — he’s so beat up on the bases, and playing the outfield, especially in that 16-inning game. I thought it would do him a lot of good.

Also for Ellsbury, on the power, I’m a little surprised by it. Did you envision him becoming this type of guy, who wasn’t trying to hit home runs but because of his natural swing might wind up with 15-20 per season.

We really don’t know. And to be honest with you, that’s probably the last thing I am concerned about. If he gets on base, he’s enough of a talent where if he’s on base, that’s going to disrupt the game for the other team. I think just over the course of him getting at-bats and learning about the pitching and learning about himself, he’s going to hit some balls out of the ballpark because I think he’s stronger than people realize. But again, back to the end-all, be-all, that’s not it for me. If he just gets on base — his talent alone, he’ll hit some balls out by mistake, but that’s not the biggest number for me.

Are you concerned about [Clay] Buchholz right now?

Yeah, but I think we got some pretty good news yesterday. Anytime you don’t know exactly where you are with somebody, that’s a little bit of a concern. At least with [Jon] Lester, we knew where we were. We knew what we had to deal with. But when you can’t quite put your finger on it, yeah, it creates some anxiety. Yesterday, he was out to 120 feet and he let it go pretty good. Curt Young came in and he said, “Wow.” He goes, “He was getting after it.” So, that’s good news. But until we get him on the mound, there’s still some more hurdles. Because we need guys like that. In the short term, you can find ways to win. But in the long term, it’s hard when you don’t have your horses out there.

Time for Mohegan Sun’s Dinner With Tito Question of the Week: Is it possible that participating in the Home Run Derby has disrupted Adrian Gonzalez‘ swing and timing a bit?

No, I don’t think it does that. I think there’s a couple of things it can do. First of all, hitters are so routine-oriented. In batting practice, most of the guys’ first round they hit the ball the other way. And they work their way around the field, trying to get to the point where the last round they’re starting to hit the ball out of the ballpark and get ready for the game.

Obviously, with the home run contest, you’re not doing that. From pitch one, you’re trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark, and you’re cheating to get the pitches, which is exactly what you don’t want to do in the game. So, there’s some concern. We’ve seen some guys — Bobby Abreu in Detroit that one year, won the thing and then he came out and I don’t think he hit a home run in the second half. So, you hear those stories.

I think the biggest thing of all is it just tires the guys out. I know Gonzi came back and he was like, “Wow, that’s a lot of swings.” I don’t think people realize how much that takes out of guys. First of all, just going to that thing, and all the wants and people are grabbing at you. Guys come back and they’re worn out. And then to have that added, they just get worn out. That’s probably my biggest concern.

To the flip side, does it worry you with David Ortiz? He took the swings in the Home Run Derby, but he hasn’t had a lot of at-bats here in the month. Obviously, National League baseball, and now the suspension.

Yeah, I know, I know. He didn’t have any hits on that road trip, but he had 13 at-bats. So, that didn’t concern me. We really were pretty fortunate the way it worked out. It hurt his batting average a little bit, but he got his at-bats. This is a three-game series; he’ll be OK. He’s allowed to take BP, he’s allowed to go out and work out. He’s just got to go hide during the game. But he’ll be OK.

You already told us that Jacoby Ellsbury’s going to be playing center tonight. Any other changes to the lineup?

No, actually, we’ve got the same lineup. We just, we’ll have Crawford DHing tonight. We’re just trying to move some guys around a little bit. Maybe tomorrow you’ll see a different name or two with the 12:30 turnaround. We’re just trying to put a lineup out there that we can win with and also just kind of maximize getting somebody off their legs while David’s not there.

Read More: David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, J.D Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury
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