Archive for February 17th, 2013

Steven Wright: R.A. Dickey ‘re-wrote the book’ on the knuckleball’

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

FORT MYERS, Fla. — When 38-year-old R.A. Dickey won the Cy Young award last year in the National League, it was revolutionary on many fronts. A pitcher salvaged his career with a pitch still thought by many to be a gimmick pitch.

Dickey went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA for the Mets, and after being traded to the Blue Jays in a package that sent a pair of top prospects to New York, he received a two-year, $25 million extension for 2014 and 2015 on top of his current contract.

Red Sox right-hander Steven Wright was paying very close attention. He knew that Dickey was on the fringe of his major league career before he started throwing his knuckleball harder, with the same arm velocity as his fastball.

“I think he just re-wrote the book on it, to be honest with you, because what he did last year was unbelievable, for any pitcher,” said Wright on Sunday. “The fact that he did it with a knuckleball I think shows you can compete at a high level with the best of the best with a knuckleball. The harder knuckleball is easier to control in a sense because the movement is not as big. He’s just re-writing history as far as the way people look at the knuckleball.

“I think eveyrone thinks they have a knuckleball. I think more teams are going to be open to letting guys try it, I really do. I think that somebody like myself, I was able to compete with my other stuff but I never really had an out pitch. I think if a guy gets to that point, I think teams are going to be like, ‘Okay, let’s see what you’ve got,’ and maybe give him a little more time than previous to R.A.”

Wright was a 2006 draft pick of Cleveland out of the University of Hawaii who could throw 94 MPH. In 2011, with the help of Tom Candiotti and advice of Charlie Hough, Wright added the knuckleball to his repertoire, pitching at both levels of Class A, as well as Double-A and Triple-A. The results were mostly mixed, going 4-8 with a 4.58 ERA.

“That’s why I was getting frustrated,” the 28-year-old Wright said. “I have one good outing then I have one bad outing and I was like, ‘I’m going to throw fastballs and I’m going to throw my knuckleball off of that and adjust from there,’ instead of just flush, throwing hard and try to throw a pitch at 60 miles an hour.

“I’ve been throwing it since I was nine years old. So, it was one of those things I knew how to throw it. So, when I talk to Candiotti and Hough, they were telling me you just have to go with whatever feels good in your hands. So, I would just close my eyes and was like, ‘That’s what it is and that’s my grip.’ But I didn’t really get to understand it until I started working with Charlie Hough. Once I worked with Charlie Hough, he helped me simplify the pitch because it’s not as complex as I thought it was going to be. You just have to have your checkpoints and once you have your checkpoints, you stick with them so you can repeat them so that if something goes wrong, you just go back to what your checkpoints are.”

Last season was a breakthrough. He went 10-6 with a 2.44 ERA in 21 starts at Double-A before being dealt to Boston for Lars Anderson. He initially joined the Double-A Portland team before being promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he went 0-1 with a 3.15 ERA in four starts. (more…)

John Farrell notes: Mike Napoli ‘very soft hands,’ will be ‘very good first baseman’

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Mike Napoli took grounders at first base for the first time in a Red Sox uniform Sunday and the early reports are very promising, on his hips and his hands.

“He took ground balls after BP today so we’ll gradually build that up,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. ” Fifty ground balls at first base. He’s got very soft hands. Even when you watch him take BP, his movements are smooth. We’re confident he’s going to be a very good first baseman.

There’s something else Napoli can provide, a catcher’s perspective on the American League, having caught with the Angels and Rangers. He’ll be able to contribute to conversations with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross. How much?

“As he switches to first base fulltime, some of that remains to be seen,” Farrell said. “But he’s not going to look past his own personal history with the league. And I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of conversation between he, David and Salty just to share their experiences to come to some commonality that we also would have through our advance reports. But as far as funneling that from the adrenaline rush of leading a pitcher through a given game, that remains to be seen, how that’ll play out on the field.”

Then there’s Ross.

“An encouraging catcher, and encouraging from the standpoint encouraging the pitcher,” Farrell said. “Just talking to the guys that have thrown to him, there’s such positive feedback on the interactions they’ve had, either after a bullpen or while they’re actually throwing their pen, just on David’s comments in between pitches. He engages every guy he catches and I think that pitchers feel that connection and they feel the support from him, and that’s one of the things that makes him so valuable to get the most out of a given pitcher.

“That goes back to his game-calling ability. Not only is he smart in reading swings and getting a feel of a guy in the batter’s box when he’s trying to make an adjustment, but he speaks with confidence to the pitcher. And I think anytime that a pitcher hears that, as Ross speaks with that kind of conviction, they feel it and trust a pitch that is called in a given moment.”

Farrell said Ross can have a big impact, even on the days he doesn’t catch.

“As he builds a rapport with each pitcher, yes,” Farrell said. “It’s not to step over Salty or whoever else he might be with, it’s to know that his intentions are from the right spot and he cares about the guy on the mound, and you sense that.”

On Stephen Drew and comparisons to brother J.D. Drew: “A lot more talkative than J.D. That there seems to be no ill-effect from the ankle injury, through his ground ball work, the team defense that we’ve run through so far. He’s very particular in just looking for feedback, whether it’s in between rounds of BP, to the way the ball carries across an infield, trying to generate the exact rotation and backspin on throws to keep them true. He’s pretty meticulous in his work.”

On the bizarre lob-toss of Alfredo Aceves during live BP to Jonny Gomes and Saltalamacchia: “His session on the mound didn’t go as intended. He’s healthy and it’s been addressed.” WEEI.com’s Alex Speier has an in-depth look into the incident.

On Ryan Dempster: “A very consistent and professional approach. He’s a competitive guy, even in those games where things might not go well in the early innings, he finds a way to get through the middle or latter part of the game to keep some of the pressure off the bullpen on a given night. There’s a long history of big inning totals in given years and we’re looking for more of the same, to provide that leadership by example, more than anything.

“I think we’d sign up today for four guys who would give us 200-plus innings but it’s a consistent point for us to begin a game every night for that starting pitcher to control the tempo in the game into those later innings, and it sets us up for a chance to win on a consistent basis.” (more…)

Alfredo Aceves baffles Red Sox with unusual pitching session

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The buzz circulated throughout Red Sox camp, and no one could make sense of it. Everyone played the role of speculative arm chair psychologist while wondering: Did you see it? Did you hear about it? What on earth was Alfredo Aceves doing?

Sunday marked the second day of live batting practice, in which pitcher’s face their teammates from behind the protective “L” screen. The exercise is meant to give pitchers an opportunity to build arm strength while introducing a hint of the competitive adrenaline that will characterize games. It also helps hitters to get used to seeing pitches at game speed.

But when it was Aceves’ turn to throw to Jarrod Saltalmacchia, Jonny Gomes and Mauro Gomez, he did not throw at full speed. He did not even throw at batting practice speed. For about 15 pitches, he simply lobbed the ball to the plate, at approximately the speed at which a pitcher might toss a ball into an umpire if he wanted to replace it.

Members of the Sox staff were flummoxed. Triple-A pitching coach Rich Sauveur tried to get Aceves to pick up the pace. Manager John Farrell asked the pitcher if he was OK; Aceves responded that he was, but kept lobbing the ball to the plate. Finally, pitching coach Juan Nieves visited the pitcher on the mound, at which point Aceves finally started throwing with something resembling the intended intensity of the exercise.

At the conclusion of the session, Farrell summoned Aceves to discuss the pitcher’s approach to his first live batting practice session of the spring. (more…)