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Buster Olney on M&M: Junichi Tazawa has ‘probably the best stuff in that bullpen’

05.08.13 at 1:32 pm ET

Buster Olney of ESPN spoke with Mut & Merloni on Wednesday about the potential for protective caps for pitchers after the Jays’ J.A. Happ took a line drive to the head Tuesday, the state of the Red Sox pitching, and the constant suspicion that players are using performance-enhancing drugs if their performance improves.

In the wake of Happ’s injury, the discussion about requiring protective headgear for pitchers has come up again. Olney noted some of the issues that would make it hard to implement such a rule, including the effect it would have on pitchers’ mechanics and the players’ general resistance to change.

“The number of instances of this happening is actually on the increase, according to research that Willie [Weinbaum, of ESPN] has done,” Olney said. “Major League Baseball, for good reason, is concerned, because the 60 feet, 6 inches is not going to change. What Willie has found is that they’re having a difficult time coming up with a lined cap, and if you go beyond a lined cap — maybe even with a lined cap I think you’re going to get the initial response from a lot of players, which is, I don’t know if I want to wear that, that looks kind of weird. When David Wright wore that oversized helmet, there was definitely that old-school pushback on style.

“In 2007, Mike Coolbaugh, who was a coach in the minor leagues, was killed by a line drive, and after that Major League Baseball basically made a rule saying all the base coaches have to wear a helmet. And initially there was pushback on that, and now we don’t even notice. I think when you’re talking about pitchers going out there wearing some kind of a cage, like cricket batters, I think that we are a long, long way from players ever agreeing to do something like that. And hopefully it doesn’t take some terrible accident where they’re taking that more seriously.”

Olney said headgear for pitchers likely would have to be implemented first at the youth level.

“Any type of change would have to literally take place with kids who are learning how to throw the ball,” he said. “It’s not only a style component, but let’s pick out someone older, say, Ryan Dempster. Let’s say MLB said we want to have head protection on a pitcher. There’s a mechanical issue there, too. The way you use your hands, you draw your hands over your head, and suddenly you have some kind of headgear device — that would not be something that could be embraced overnight by anybody, no matter what the risk was. It would literally alter how these guys would have to throw the baseball. If in fact there are changes, and the velocity keeps accelerating and we get more and more of these kinds of things, it’s only natural that his conversation’s going to take place. It would have to first take place in Little League.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Red Sox coverage, go to weei.com/redsox.

On the possibility of Allen Webster replacing Felix Doubront in the rotation: “I don’t think there’s any question that what their plan is is to get Doubront back into the rotation, because he has value. They’ve seen it. Certainly they weren’t happy necessarily with his conditioning, but in order to maximize what he is, they’re probably better off in the big picture having him in the rotation. But ‘€¦ these players can absolutely force an issue with one game. If someone comes up and they look fantastic, they can alter plans. Look at Jackie Bradley in spring training. ‘€¦ I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I think you always leave open the possibility that it could happen.”

On Joel Hanrahan’s injury and Junichi Tazawa closing: “I’ve had general managers privately say to me during the years, when we say forearm, we’re really talking about a potential elbow thing. I don’t know what’s wrong with Hanrahan — hopefully it’s just some kind of a muscle strain — but typically it does lead to an elbow thing. But I will say this, I think the Red Sox are uniquely positioned to deal with this because Tazawa’s stuff is probably the best stuff in that bullpen. Early in spring training I was talking to David Ross and he had just caught Tazawa in the bullpen for the first time, and he said to me, I think that’s the best splitter I’ve seen since I caught John Smoltz. That’s the type of electric stuff. For the Red Sox he’s just going to be filling in that depth, and whether or not someone like a [RubbyDe La Rosa gets moved into a relief spot, does he get called up later, do they look at the trade market during the course of the year, if a Jose Veras is made available by the Astros. Who knows, maybe they decide to see if Alfredo Aceves can come up and be someone who can help them. That’s the reason they hung on to him, in spite of all the issues, because he does provide depth.”

On the accusations of Clay Buchholz putting an illegal substance on the ball: “The balls are rotated out of the game so often, it’s not like you can load up one half of the ball with a great effect without anybody noticing if you’re doing something really bad. I’ve also had some pitchers tell me they will try to get some kind of tackiness, they will put some pine tar, but not in a way that they’re trying to be Gaylord Perry. They’re literally trying to get a grip on the ball. When you talk to pitchers, they say, hey, hitters get to use pine tar to grip the bat — how come we can’t do that? And as long as you’re not loaded up big on one side — and I really don’t think you can do that if the ball’s in the game for such a short time — why not?”

On using the rosin bag: “That’s all they’re going for, some kind of composite, something that just gives a little bit of tackiness. Especially when you talk about games played early in the season, you’ll hear pitchers talk all the time, when it gets colder they feel like they’re throwing a pool ball. I kind of wish baseball would liberalize the rules to make it clear that putting some sort of a liquid on your arm and putting rosin on your arm is not a bad thing, because it allows you to be able to dab it and put some kind of grip on the baseball.”

On David Ortiz and PED accusations: “It’s going to go on forever. As long as we cover baseball this is going to be part of the conversation. I actually had a conversation with David in spring about steroids — he felt angry about a lot of what’s going on in the last few years, where there clearly has been a rising use of performance-enhancing drugs. He thinks it reflects poorly on all of them, but that’s just the way it goes. Jose Bautista had to answer similar questions. I tweeted out something the other day about Melky Cabrera, who has had a nice couple of days but generally speaking, his OPS is 300 points lower this year than last year, and I just tweeted it out that his numbers are down so much, and Chipper Jones actually tweeted back — he said, ‘Boy, that’s a surprise!’ sarcastically. A lot of people are saying that’s not fair to suggest that. My feeling is, you know what, it is. If the players are upset about it, then they can blame the guys who used in the past and they can blame the guys who didn’t do anything about it for 20 years. ‘€¦ If they get busted, after that, to me, it’s all fair game.”

Read More: allen webster, buster olney, felix doubront, J.A. Happ
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