|Red Sox name Dana Levangie bullpen coach||02.05.13 at 6:40 pm ET|
On the cusp of spring training, the Red Sox completed their coaching staff by announcing that longtime scout and staff member Dana Levangie will take over as the team’s bullpen coach and catching instructor, replacing Gary Tuck, who informed the team last week that he was retiring.
Levangie had spent the last seven years as a major league advance scout for the Red Sox. The familiarity with big league hitters that he’s gained in that job represented a considerable attribute for a man who will be charged with overseeing the preparation of relievers as they get ready to enter contests. Indeed, in the press release announcing the hiring of the 43-year-old Levangie, the Sox noted that he will continue to assist in the team’s advance scouting.
‘We are extremely pleased to add Dana to the major league staff,’ manager John Farrell said in the press release. ‘He has been a valuable asset to the Red Sox in a variety of roles and his vast knowledge of the Major Leagues, particularly the American League, will enable him to make an impact on our staff and with our bullpen.’
Including his playing career, Levangie has spent 22 years in professional baseball, all of them in the Red Sox organization. He was selected by the team in the 14th round of the 1991 draft and spent parts of six years in the organization, reaching Triple-A for a pair of brief stints. In 1997, he left behind his playing career to become the bullpen catcher in the big leagues for the Sox, a role in which he spent the next eight seasons. In 2005, he moved to pro scouting before joining the advance scouting staff in 2006, a role in which he’s regularly interacted with the big league club.
Levangie emerged from a group of internal candidates that also included minor league catching instructor Chad Epperson and Double-A hitting coach Rich Gedman. His familiarity with big league hitters proved the decisive factor in his selection.
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|Jason Varitek not a likely candidate to replace Gary Tuck||01.30.13 at 3:06 pm ET|
There will come a time, and it may be in the near future, that former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek can commence his big league coaching career with virtually his pick of jobs. But for now, even though the Red Sox have a newly created need for a bullpen coach and catching instructor on their big league staff with the sudden retirement of Gary Tuck, it does not appear that Varitek is being considered — or even wants to be considered — for a full-time return to uniform, according to a major league source.
Varitek retired because he wanted to spend time with his family, and while the 40-year-old embraced the opportunity to return to the Sox as a special assistant to GM Ben Cherington, that job seemingly represents the work-life balance that Varitek would like to maintain for now. There’s little question that a coaching future is available to him, but for the present, he’s likely to remain in his role.
That, in turn, means that the Sox must work to find a replacement for Tuck with less than two weeks before the official reporting date for pitchers and catchers. Given that compressed timetable, while the Sox had yet to contact candidates about interviews as of Wednesday afternoon, the team plans to select from an internal pool of candidates already within the organization.
Three stand out as fairly obvious:
— Chad Epperson spent the last two years as the Sox’ roving catching instructor, a capacity in which he’s worked with the likes of Ryan Lavarnway and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (as well as minor leaguers such as Dan Butler, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart) for years. Last year, when Tuck had to take a leave of absence for personal reasons, Epperson joined the big league staff as his fill-in. He also knows a number of the team’s homegrown pitchers, having coached or managed players like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard, Ryan Kalish, Felix Doubront and Daniel Nava while they were coming up through the system. Read the rest of this entry »
|Bullpen coach Gary Tuck leaves Red Sox||01.29.13 at 7:08 pm ET|
Multiple major sources have confirmed that Red Sox bullpen coach Gary Tuck has chosen not to return for the 2013 season. It is unclear why Tuck has chosen not to return after initially agreeing to join manager John Farrell‘s coaching staff earlier in the offseason.
Earlier this offseason, the Red Sox had retained the services of Tuck, who was in the option year of his contract. The 58-year-old had been with the Red Sox since 2006, serving as both the team’s bullpen coach and catching instructor, having been courted by John Farrell to become the Blue Jays bench coach prior to the ’11 season.
Tuck, who had left the Red Sox for a stretch during the 2012 regular season due to personal reasons and also required time to recover from double hernia surgery in spring training last year, would have been the lone member of the Red Sox’ 2012 major league coaching staff to return for ’13. At this time, there is no known replacement for the highly regarded instructor, though it is worth noting that Chad Epperson, the team’s minor league catching coordinator, filled in for Tuck as the bullpen coach during his leave in 2012.
Tuck was hugely protective of both his catchers and members of the Red Sox bullpen, forming a pirate-themed club among Sox relievers that carried over from season to season. Besides working with the backstops, he also was credited with the development of numerous Sox pitchers, with one example being former Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima. Early in the 2007 season, Tuck taught Okajima the changeup (or “Okee-doke”) that helped turn the lefty into an All-Star.
Tuck is believed to be the only coach in major league history to have won World Series rings with both the Red Sox and Yankees. He has developed a reputation as one of the game’s premier catching instructors, having played professionally at the position during a three-year minor league career with the Montreal Expos.
|A very Yankee look to the Red Sox coaching staff||11.29.12 at 10:24 am ET|
In retrospect, the fact that Greg Colbrunn emerged as what Red Sox manager John Farrell referred to as the clear choice for his hitting coach should have come as no surprise. After all, Colbrunn spent the last six years working for the Yankees.
Colbrunn spent 2007-12 on the staff of the Single-A Charleston RiverDogs, New York’s Single-A affiliate, spending all but one of those years (2010, when he was the manager) as a hitting coach. He represents the latest addition to a staff with deep roots in the Yankees’ minor league system.
Pitching coach Juan Nieves got his start in coaching with the Yankees in 1992; he spent five years as a pitching instructor in New York’s minor league system.
Third-base coach Brian Butterfield‘s late father, Jack Butterfield, was a Yankees director of player development. Butterfield got his start in coaching with the Yankees, working as a coach and manager in the minors with them from 1984-1993 before getting promoted to their big league coaching staff under Buck Showalter in 1994.
First-base coach Arnie Beyeler‘s first coaching jobs came with the Yankees from 1997-99 before he joined the Sox in 2000 as the manager of the Lowell Spinners.
Bullpen coach Gary Tuck spent time as both a big league and minor league instructor in three stints with New York between 1989-2004. Read the rest of this entry »
|Why Jonathan Papelbon will be forever grateful to Mariano Rivera and Gary Tuck||02.18.12 at 9:08 pm ET|
CLEARWATER, Fla. — Thanks to a lesson learned from Mariano Rivera the first time Jonathan Papelbon met him at the 2006 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, Papelbon won’t be obsessing about that fateful ninth inning from last September that ended his career in a Red Sox uniform.
“I don’t think about it at all,” Papelbon said Saturday while wearing his new Phillies uniform. “When I was a rookie and I made my first All-Star Game, I had a chance to talk to Mo about what was the biggest thing that was going to make me successful in this game. His first answer was, ‘short-term memory.’ So, you have to be able to learn from them still, learn from those situations but man, I don’t sit there and think about it all spring. You go over things and you try to learn from them but you have to be able to turn the page.”
Papelbon still has in his mind the goal of someday passing Rivera for the all-time saves lead. But that might be next-to impossible as Papelbon has 217 coming into this season, the first of a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies. Rivera currently sits at 603. If Rivera doesn’t throw another pitch, Papelbon, now 31 years of age, would have to average 39 saves over the next 10 seasons to pass him.
“I think what Mariano has meant to the game pretty much speaks for itself,” Papelbon said. “But for me, I call him ‘The Godfather’ jokingly because he’s the Godfather of closers but at the same time, I think that he’s the guy you have to go after. Every time I saw him last year, I told him, ‘Man, you’re making my job harder to catch you every year. He’s found some kind of Fountain of Youth somewhere. To me, he’s always been special because I may not be sitting here today if it wasn’t for him.”
But there’s someone else Papelbon is grateful to, someone with a bridge from Rivera in New York to Papelbon in Boston and now Philadelphia – bullpen coach Gary Tuck, who stayed behind with the Red Sox and manager Bobby Valentine.
“For so many years there in Boston, I was able to be under Gary Tuck, who was also with Mo for all those championship runs in New York,” Papelbon said. “How many times I heard ‘Repeat [your] delivery,’ I don’t know, but repeating your delivery and conditioning your body to do one thing, repeat your delivery. Mariano was religious about it and Gary kind of took of that into his role with me and making me realize how important that aspect is. Read the rest of this entry »
|Jason Varitek can walk down stairs straight so he’s good to go for 2011||02.20.11 at 1:52 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Ask any athlete who has reached the golden years of his playing career and every one of them will tell you the moment you stop adapting to the changes around you is the very moment you’re career is done.
“I think I’ve adapted as a human being, first and foremost, and then as a player,” Varitek said. “I’ve gone through changes that way. It’s fun for me and I love talking about the game, sharing the game and I love listening about the game, too. You can learn and soon as you’re arrogant and ignorant enough to think you can’t learn, it’s time to hang up the spikes.”
It’s the very same attitude that allowed great catchers of the past to play into their late 30s and even 40s before hanging up the spikes for good – greats like Bob Boone, Johnny Bench and of course, Carlton Fisk, who played until the ripe old age of 45.
“I love talking to Pudge whenever he comes [to Boston],” Varitek said. “I could sit and talk to him all day long. I wish he were around more often. I spent time talking to [former White Sox strength and conditioning coach] Steve Odgers, who used to work with Pudge. I think now, for me personally, the work I [did] 10 or 15 years ago, this is when it’s starting to show and pay off and do things. Maybe not as much then but it’s allowed my body a position to handle different things. If I hadn’t done that work, it’d be a lot different if all of sudden I started it.”
Odgers now works as a strength and conditioning specialist for athletes represented by Scott Boras.
For now, it’ll be Varitek – who turns 39 on April 11 – serving the role of mentor for 25-year-old Jason Saltalamacchia. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett are on record as saying they can already see a lot of Varitek in Salty.
“I can’t say it’s teaching,” Varitek said. “Salty is going to be Salty and hopefully, that’s not what he’s living with is to live with that or not live with that. I believe Salty is his own person and he’s going to be his player. He’s extremely talented. I don’t know if I had those abilities he has when I was that young and broke in and done those things. Yeah, we’re big catchers, switch-hit and strong-armed throwers and love to play the game. His work ethic and the things he’s displayed, it’s been an easy bond right away.”
Varitek spent Sunday catching the bullpen side of 44-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, a role he hasn’t fully served since his first year in 1998. Varitek said he will look forward to that challenge again in 2011. Read the rest of this entry »
|The art of selling Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Red Sox pitchers, and why it matters||02.16.11 at 3:21 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — There’s a common theme that’s been ringing through camp in the first two days of workouts for Red Sox pitchers and catchers – Jarrod Saltalamacchia looks just like Jason Varitek behind the plate.
Whether it’s Terry Francona, catching coach and guru Gary Tuck (via Francona) or pitchers Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, the sentiment is that the newly tabbed regular catcher will do just fine because of how hard he has worked.
“Tuckster said he’s never seen somebody buy in so much as Salty did,” Francona said. “Tuckster really rode him pretty hard. We talked about the opportunity for Salty, I think he’s actually earned this. He’s worked hard at this. We wouldn’t have just done this out of the goodness of our heart. We want to win really bad. He’s bought into everything. The idea that somebody is dropping a Varitek [comparison] on him is a pretty big compliment.”
What Saltlamacchia is ‘buying into’ is the meticulous way Red Sox catchers go about physically preparing for the season and getting accustomed to the mechanics of each and every pitcher they could handle over the course of a season.
‘I think I know him as a person,’ Beckett said of the still 25-year-old catcher. ‘I definitely want to throw to him some. I’m looking forward to it. He’s got the best catching instructor in the world I think working with him. It’s funny. He does things like Tek now. There’s a lot of things, and there’s not a better guy to follow if you’re in that position, I would think. Everybody said the same thing, ‘He looks like Tek when he [catches] us.’ That’s a pretty damn good guy to look like.’
“That’s the way it should be,” Lester added Wednesday. “That’s way guys like that fit in around here. We’re don’t like guys that kind of pussyfoot around. We’re used to Tek. You know how he is. He comes out and tells you the way it is. There’s no getting around it, and you listen to what he has to say. You may not agree with it at that time, but you know that when it’s all said and done, he’s probably right. Salty’s got that same kind of mindset.”
Saltalamacchia has made it clear he appreciates the support of the pitching staff and the organization.
“It’s real important,” he said. “Pitchers and catchers are a family. We work together. So,the main thing for me is just get to know them, their situation as far as what they like to do with people on base, with nobody on base, just get into their heads a little bit and be able to work on the same table.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Jason Varitek doesn’t have to worry about Carl Crawford now||12.11.10 at 2:09 pm ET|
‘In my opinion, he’s probably the most athletic player that’s in the game,” Varitek said. “Seeing him develop as a hitting, just being an athlete, playing more. Every year he just seems to get better. The dynamic, like Johnny Damon, his athleticism is his biggest attribute. Sometimes things happen at the plate that are so far against the book because he’s just an athlete. Him on the bases speaks for itself. Him running down balls speaks for itself. It’s a pretty interesting dynamic.’
Crawford has been a living nightmare for Varitek and other Boston catchers, going 62-for-66 in his career in steal attempts against the Red Sox. Even the great catching coach Gary Tuck had reached his wits’ end with Crawford.
“I don’t think I’ve thrown him out. I was telling him this [Friday],” Varitek said. “Tuck and I call it a window. I get to throw a ball, boom. When I throw a ball, I know if a guy’s in that window, where’s he at, if he’s going to be safe or out. I know I’m going to get him, know it’s going to be close or I know I don’t have a chance. It’s just a certain area you vision.”
The game that haunts Varitek more than any other came on May 3, 2009 at Tropicana Field when Crawford was 6-for-6 against Varitek, tying the modern MLB record for steals in a game.
“There’s probably been three times that I’ve known I’ve thrown the ball on Carl and said, ‘I’ve got him. No, I don’t got ‘em.’ His acceleration the last 15-to-20 feet was the most different view. And I’ve seen Rickey [Henderson] slide into second. I’ve seen Ichiro [Suzuki] slide into second. I’ve seen some really good basestealers. But he was different. He’s almost accelerated to the bag more than any player from that view so it’s nice to have him.”
Turns out Varitek was underselling his skills against Crawford as he has thrown out Crawford before – once in 2004.
“Oh, I did? Good for me,” Varitek said in slamming his hand down on the conference table in celebration.
|The knuckleball machine||03.26.09 at 7:32 am ET|
In his quarter of a century as a professional coach, Gary Tuck has developed a reputation as the foremost catching instructor in baseball. If he hasn’t seen a catching drill or a piece of catching equipment, it likely doesn’t exist.
And so when the Red Sox bullpen coach and catching instructor says that the machine that spits knuckleballs in a batting cage behind the Red Sox clubhouse is the only one that he’s ever seen, it bears notice. The origins of the unusual piece of equipment are slightly murky — one Sox employee thought that it had been rigged by Tuck, while Tuck said that the machine was around when he joined the club in 2007.
Regardless of its creation, the practical value of the machine is noteworthy. Earlier this spring, Sox manager Terry Francona described the unique challenge posed by trying to catch Tim Wakefield, a man whose knuckleball moves unlike any other in professional baseball.
“Wakefield’s a different animal,’ said Francona. ‘He’s ruined guys’ careers. The ball is not a normal knuckleball. That’s why he’s 42 years old and still pitching in the major leagues. It affects our decision-making. It has in the past. It’s something you always have to be aware of, because there’s a lot of guys who just can’t catch it. ‘¦ You watch someone on another team who seems to be handling a knuckleball, then you put them back there with Wake and it goes right by him.’
Yet the machine, perhaps more than anyone else who throws the pitch for a living (with no disrespect meant to the likes of Sox prospect Charlie Zink), may offer the closest facsimile to the movement of Wakefield’s pitches. On Wednesday morning, George Kottaras (the front-runner for the job of Sox backup catcher) and Dusty Brown squatted in the cage as a modified pitching machine released balls without any spin.
The balls offered a Wakefield-esque lesson in physics, as they sailed in all directions in often-uncatchable fashion. Brown and Kottaras did their best to stay back, not to lunge at balls that were willing to dart in all directions without the control of Boston’s resident knuckleball specialist.
The task was greeted with a mix of amusement and frustration, the occasional profanity being barked by a pitch that proved elusive. In a best-of-five drill between Kottaras and Brown, each catcher corraled three balls.
“It’s really good. It’s coming in a little harder (than Wakefield’s pitches), but it throws a few where I’ve seen action kind of like Wakefield’s,” said Kottaras.”It’s a good tool to work on in between days. I had never seen one of those before (coming to the Sox). It’s a good drill, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Kottaras received raves for his most recent pairing with Wakefield. On Tuesday in Tampa Bay, he was virtually flawless during the pitcher’s 5.1 innings of shutout ball. Former major-league catcher and manager Buck Martinez stopped in the Red Sox broadcast booth with Jon Rish and Joe Castiglione for a couple of innings, and noted that the ability of Kottaras to catch cleanly each Wakefield offering – on a night when his pitches were remarkably active – was exceptional and impactful. The fact that Kottaras did not miss, even with the bases empty, allowed the pitcher to stay in a great rhythm on the mound that lent itself to effectiveness: throw, catch, return, throw…
Most of the credit, of course, belonged to Wakefield and Kottaras, the pitcher for delivering nasty knucklers, the catcher for squeezing them. But it seems fair to say that a unique piece of equipment also played a small part in a pairing that showed quite a bit of promise.
“It works really well,” said Kottaras. “You’ve got to do something to prepare yourself, and (the machine) is a big help.”
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