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New Red Sox pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe is stone-skipping champ, Masahiro Tanaka admirer 02.12.14 at 8:24 am ET
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Shunsuke Watanabe has already made quite an impression in Red Sox camp. (WEEI.com photo)

Shunsuke Watanabe has already made quite an impression in Red Sox camp. (WEEI.com photo)

FORT MYERS, Fla. –€“ It didn’€™t take long for Shunsuke Watanabe to distinguish himself.

The 37-year-old Japanese pitcher strolled into camp Sunday morning, wearing workout clothes visible from across the JetBlue Park complex thanks to streaks of fluorescent orange on his shirt and shorts.

But that was just the beginning.

Watanabe, who is in camp on a minor-league deal with the Red Sox (and will be working out with the minor leaguers), is primarily known for having perhaps the lowest arm angle in the world. As he pointed out through a translator, his knuckles actually hit the ground “once or twice a season,” although never to the point of pain.

It is an arm motion that he began as a 14-year-old upon his father’€™s advice, and has served him well through 13 seasons as a starter for the Chiba Lotte Marines.

“It’€™s not that I’€™m trying to go lower, but I’€™m just trying to get the ball to hop,” the 5-foot-10 Watanabe said. “I’€™m not very tall and my specialty is my flexibility so in order to fully utilize that it was probably the best way to maximize my starts.”

Besides his pitching production (which also included an appearances in the 2006 and ‘€˜09 World Baseball Classic tournaments), the arm action has also led to another bit of notoriety: Watanabe holds the Japanese record for skipping stones.

As it turns out, Watanabe appeared on a Japanese variety show (that former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine also happened to be making an guest spot on) when he was put to the stone-skipping test. A new record was soon discovered.

“Twenty-seven,”€ he said when asked what the mark was.

Watanabe can also offer something else of interest to Boston baseball fans. He has first-hand knowledge of the pitcher many view as one of the keys to the American League East race, Masahiro Tanaka.

While the new Red Sox pitcher rates Texas’€™ Yu Darvish as the most impressive Japanese pitcher he’€™s ever watched, Watanabe also believes Tanaka can be a difference-maker for the coming season.

“He’€™s very good. His physical strength is very impressive,”€ he said regarding Tanaka. “He might do as well as Darvish. But Darvish is the best I’ve seen. Every year he gets better.”

As for Watanabe’€™s chances, he is a long shot to make the Red Sox out of camp. The righty has done due diligence, working out with major league baseballs since October, while also coming to camp understanding he has to excel as a reliever (a new role for him) from Day 1.

“I’€™m ready to pitch now,” he said. “€œWhatever is needed.”

Read More: Bobby Valentine, Masahiro Tanaka, Shunsuke Watanabe, spring training 2014
John Farrell named Sporting News AL Manager of the Year 10.22.13 at 2:17 pm ET
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John Farrell

John Farrell

The first of what is expected to be many awards for the Red Sox this year was bestowed upon John Farrell on Tuesday, as the Sox skipper was named American League Manager of the Year by the Sporting News.

One year after the Red Sox lost 90 games, Farrell took over following a stint as manager in Toronto and led the Sox to a league-best 97-65 record and the American League pennant.

Pirates bench boss Clint Hurdle was the National League winner after guiding Pittsburgh to its first winning season (94-65) and playoff appearance since 1992.

Voting was done by a panel of 19 major league managers, who voted only in their own league.

Farrell received five votes, two more than Indians manager Terry Francona, who was manager in Boston when Farrell was the team’s pitching coach from 2007-10. Bob Melvin (A’s) and Ron Washington (Rangers) received one vote apiece.

Hurdle also received five votes, beating out the Braves’ Fredi Gonzalez (3) and the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny (1).

Read More: Bobby Valentine, Clint Hurdle, John Farrell, Terry Francona
Buster Olney on M&M: John Farrell deserves Manager of the Year award 10.02.13 at 1:33 pm ET
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Buster Olney

Buster Olney

ESPN’s Buster Olney appeared on Mut & Merloni on Wednesday and made his picks for the Manager of the Year award and the World Series winner.

“I turned in my picks the other day, I’ve got John Farrell,” said Olney. “I think we can’t have a conversation last year about what a disaster Bobby [Valentine] was and see the team improve as much as it did and see John Farrell’s presence make as much of a difference — and I know they added other players as well — without giving him a lot of the credit for the turnaround there.

Farrell took a 69-93 team from last year and made the Sox into AL East winners with the best record in baseball (97-65) in his first year at the helm.

“I think Terry [Francona] has done a phenomenal job in Cleveland, but I’d give it to John,”  Olney said.

Before the start of the playoffs, Olney chose Boston as the team to beat in baseball. However, he’s had a change of heart.

“I wound up picking Oakland, because I think they’re playing really well down the stretch, I do think that like Boston, they have a heck of a home-field advantage,” said Olney, who added that one could make a case for seven of the eight playoff teams (leaving out the Indians due to their lack of pitching depth). “The way they’re playing right now, they’re not concerned with convention or how people perceive them, they are going really well and to me that’s a really dangerous team.”

The wild card-winning Indians and Rays square off in Cleveland on Wednesday night for the right to play the Red Sox, the top seed in the AL. This is Cleveland’s first playoff appearance since 2007.

“The city’s all fired up, everywhere you go everyone’s wearing Indians garb,” Olney said. “I was in the Indians clubhouse after they clinched they other day, and they celebrated hard. This means a lot to those guys, and I think Terry Francona especially.”

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Read More: Alex Cobb, Alex Rodriguez, Bobby Valentine, buster olney
Cubs fire former Red Sox managerial candidate Dale Sveum 09.30.13 at 1:58 pm ET
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Dale Sveum (left) is out after less than two years as Cubs manager. (AP)

Dale Sveum (center) is out after less than two years as Cubs manager under GM Jed Hoyer (left) and president of baseball operations (right). (AP)

In November 2011, Dale Sveum appeared to be the frontrunner for the managerial vacancy in Boston after the departure of Terry Francona. But when Sveum met with Red Sox team owners at the GM meetings in Milwaukee, the owners were not ready to extend an offer to the then-Brewers bench coach, and so the Cubs swooped in and hired the former Sox third base coach. That, in turn, led to a search that resulted in the Sox’ ill-fated hiring of Bobby Valentine for one season, before Valentine was fired and replaced by John Farrell.

While it wasn’t as stormy as Valentine’s tenure, Sveum’s time in Chicago has now likewise reached a conclusion. After a last-place finish in the National League Central, including losses in 41 of their final 59 games, the Cubs on Monday announced the firing of manager Dale Sveum.

Sveum, a former Red Sox coach, finishes with a 127-197 record in two seasons at the helm in Chicago. The Cubs finished 66-96 this year. Sveum had one year remaining on the three-year deal he signed before the 2012 season.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi is reportedly a candidate to replace Sveum. A Chicago-area native who played college ball at Northwestern and broke into the majors as a catcher with the Cubs in 1989, Girardi was rumored to be a target when the position was vacant two years ago as well, but he was entering the second year of a three-year contract that expires this offseason.

Read More: Bobby Valentine, Dale Sveum, John Farrell,
Larry Lucchino on D&C: ‘It’ll be great when [Xander Bogaerts’] time comes’ 08.08.13 at 9:23 am ET
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Larry Lucchino

Larry Lucchino

Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino joined Dennis & Callahan on Thursday morning, and with the Red Sox’ come-from-behind win over the Astros Wednesday night meaning they have surpassed their 2012 win total, Lucchino had plenty of praise for first-year manager John Farrell.

Lucchino noted that Farrell had been the team’s first choice in the fall of 2011 following Terry Francona’s departure, but when the front office couldn’t pry him away from the Blue Jays, they ended up hiring Bobby Valentine.

“I don’t want to attribute it all [the improvement from last season to this one] to a difference between Bobby Valentine and John Farrell. John Farrell has done a fantastic job. He is a solid leader. He was our first choice last year,” Lucchino said. “But John has done everything, everything right. There’s no question. One of the things he did right was help select the coaching staff that is as dedicated and hard-working as any coaching staff in baseball. So there is not just a kind of chemistry among the players, but there is a chemistry among the players and the manager and the coaches in the clubhouse.”

Lucchino went as far to say that chemistry factored into every move general manager Ben Cherington made during the 2012-13 offseason, mentioning Jonny Gomes in particular as an example.

Aside from Gomes’ ability to hit lefties, the Sox noticed that wherever he went, his team was successful, and they liked what he brought in terms of “clubhouse demeanor.”

“We weren’t trying to put together a team of nice guys who kind of got along,” Lucchino said. “We were trying to put together a team of talented baseball players who also happened to have the personality characteristics that we thought were important to winning, to changing the culture that we had here that had developed — unintentionally, of course — over time. There was a real examination.”

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Read More: Bobby Valentine, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, John Farrell
Our turn to learn: A baseball tradition reconsidered 08.07.13 at 6:42 am ET
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Gabe Kapler taking batting practice prior to a Yomiuri Giants game. (AP)

Gabe Kapler taking batting practice prior to a Yomiuri Giants game. (AP)

As I strolled up to the plate at the Tokyo Dome, on a random date early in my only Japanese (partial) season of 2005, a thought bubble appeared above my head: “How in the world did I get here?”

I had begun to feel like a character in a comic strip as I surveyed the stands and heard the drums banging in unison. A chant had begun to fill the stadium, “KA-PU-AH, KA-PU-AH.” The fans seemed to find it immaterial that I was off to the worst start of my career and they couldn’t sense the level of embarrassment that permeated my body in the moment; they simple wanted to see me ‘Ganbatte’ (do your best!). The Japanese fans never booed their own players.

The experience got better and . . . stranger.

I stepped in the batter’s box and stared down my Japanese counterpart. I allowed the moment to sink in. I represented the only Western face in sight. In a flash — and before I was ready — the pitch was on its way. A sinker at about 90 mph stayed up in the zone and in the middle of the plate just enough. It was likely the only pitch, speed and location that I had any chance to put a good swing on instinctively at the time and I smoked a high line drive into the left-center field seats. The cheering sections in the stadium halted their calculated, rhythmic approach and went bananas in unison.

As I rounded third base, the experience climaxed in comedy. Jumping up and down behind home plate were two young women in pigtails and Yomiuri Giants colors holding giant stuffed animals. I crossed the plate and the women thrust the furry toys into my arms. My second thought bubble arrived. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: batting practice, Bobby Valentine, Casey McGehee, Gabe Kapler
Cody Ross on M&M: Red Sox ‘lied to my face’ regarding contract negotiations 08.02.13 at 2:07 pm ET
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Cody Ross

Cody Ross

Diamondbacks outfielder Cody Ross, who was one of the few bright spots on the 2012 Red Sox, joined Mut & Merloni on Friday afternoon as he prepared to play his former team in a three-game series at Fenway Park. Ross expressed his disappointment that he was not able to re-sign with the Red Sox, and he talked about the difficulty the 2012 Sox had playing for Bobby Valentine.

Ross left Boston as a free agent, but he said it was his clear preference to stay with the Red Sox. He said he still doesn’t understand why the team did not give him a fair shot.

“We might have made the mistake of going to them first and saying that I like it here, kind of I guess you would say showing your hand,” Ross said. “I guess it’s called showing your hand when you tell a team that you want to come back, you want to play here. I don’t see how that could hurt me, but I guess it did.

“When they didn’t trade me [during last season], I thought we were going to get something done. Ben [Cherington] sort of [dragged it out] and let it go to the offseason when we could have gotten it down easily during the year. The problem was they were hung up on the years. They wanted me for two, and I wanted three. We could never come to terms on that.

“To be honest with you, the day until I signed with Arizona, I thought it could still possibly happen someway, somehow. Maybe it was wishful thinking.”

In the end, the Sox went in another direction — giving other players the contract length they told Ross he could not have.

“Once I got into free agency, I didn’t drive the price up or do anything that would possibly affect me coming back here,” Ross said. “I just wanted fair value and fair years. They weren’t willing to go there — for whatever reason, I have no idea.

“They told me that they didn’t want to sign guys to long-term deals, and then they gave [Shane] Victorino a three-year deal, and then [Mike] Napoli a three-year deal or four-year deal, whatever it was [later shortened to a one-year deal after health issues popped up]. So, basically they lied to my face. At that point, I kind of got a bad taste in my mouth and wanted to move on, and that was it.

“It is what it is. Like I said, it was a great time being here.”

Ross joined the Red Sox as a free agent in January 2012, just as Valentine took over for the popular Terry Francona. Valentine had a tough time in Boston, and it ended with his removal as manager after one season.

“There were a lot of people here that were unhappy,” Ross said. “Maybe it was the fact that a lot of the players were just so used to the way Tito ran things and the way he did it, and then Bobby comes in and tries to change the whole culture and the whole everything. Nobody really wanted to buy into it, and it sort of rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. That’s just kind of how it went. … We could never really get on a roll or never play well. The injuries sort of tampered it a lot, too.”

Added Ross: “Bobby and Mike Aviles had a little deal that happened [a confrontation in spring training], and from then on it was just like one thing after another, player after player. It was tough. It was tough having to answer the questions every time day in and day out just about it. You know how the media is here, obviously. They’re not going to let up on it.”

Ross was one of the few Red Sox who did not make news for a dust-up with Valentine.

Said Ross: “To be honest with you, I might have been the only guy who didn’t have issues with him.”

To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Red Sox news, visit the team page at weei.com/redsox.

Read More: ben cherington, Bobby Valentine, Cody Ross,
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