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Morning Red Sox notes: Reunion in Lakeland 03.15.11 at 10:00 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — A Red Sox traveling contingent boarded a bus in Fort Myers at 7 a.m. to barrel into Central Florida. Veterans typically are anything but fond of such an undertaking, but on Monday, catcher Jason Varitek seemed downright giddy about the prospect. It would offer him the chance to catch up with “close friend” Victor Martinez, with whom Varitek was paired from the time that the Sox traded for Martinez at the trade deadline in 2009.

Varitek stayed in touch with Martinez during the offseason, when both were free agents, exchanging texts and calls. The two had hoped to get together in the Orlando area, though the timing didn’t work out. So, Varitek was eager to catch up with a player with whom he enjoyed a remarkable partnership in Boston for a season and a half.

When Martinez’ defensive abilities were being doubted, no one was a bigger advocate of his than Varitek. The Sox captain once got into a shouting match with fans behind the bullpen last year who were riding Martinez’ defense, and to this day, Varitek remains insistent that the criticism of his former teammate’s work behind the plate was off target.

“There’€™s stuff that he was working on from the year before that maybe needed a few months. Maybe you don’€™t see it when it’€™s early and it’€™s 30 degrees out and windy and nobody can get a grip on the baseball and a guy gets a running jump,” said Varitek. “How many runs did he save by blocking the ball? Nobody’€™s going to write that one down. He did a good job with his fingers behind the plate. Nobody’€™s going to give him credit for that, either. He made himself very well-rounded.”

All the same, the Sox parted ways with Martinez this past offseason, largely because their contract proposal to him reflected their concern that he would not stay behind the plate long term. The team thought he could remain an everyday catcher in 2011, but that as soon as 2012, he would begin a process of transitioning from behind the plate. On the Sox, that would almost surely mean that he would be relegated to DH duty.

Martinez’ departure set in motion the course of a Red Sox offseason that resulted in the acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. (In a fascinating twist, the Sox had offered Martinez to the Rays for Crawford in the previous offseason.)

–One interesting footnote to Martinez’ tenure: With Martinez, Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the 2010 Red Sox became just the second team in big league history with three switch-hitting catchers (min. 10 at-bats). The other was the 1997 Tigers, who featured the illustrious group of Raul Casanova, Matt Walbeck and Marcus Jensen. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jason Varitek, victor martinez,
Why Sunday was so important to Josh Beckett’s season 03.14.11 at 11:21 am ET
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Why these Red Sox are perfect role players to Terry Francona 02.23.11 at 3:43 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — You’d be hard pressed to find a Red Sox fan past infancy who doesn’t remember how the Manny Ramirez era ended in Boston in 2008.

There was the perception that he cared more about his own career than winning a third World Series title with the Red Sox. It was ultimately that perception that clouded the clubhouse and made life so difficult for manager Terry Francona that the Red Sox dealt him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-way trade that brought Jason Bay to Boston minutes before the July 31 trade deadline.

Francona didn’t mention Ramirez by name on Wednesday but when he was asked indirectly about one of his least favorite subjects – how a particular player might fit into the batting order – he talked not about the lineup but team chemistry and unity.

“You can have some guys that maybe don’t always have the team’s goals the same but they better really be good. And we’ve had that sometimes in the past,” Francona said. “It’s not a perfect world but it certainly makes for a much better atmosphere when you have guys that care about winning.

“It sets the tone for young guys better buy in. It’s a heckuva a lot easier for me to make examples of people when you have veterans running around working harder than anybody in camp.”

Ramirez hit .312 and belted 274 homers in a Red Sox uniform, winning the 2004 World Series MVP. Clearly, he put up some of the biggest numbers in club history and was arguably the greatest right-handed hitter to ever play for the team. But eventually, he became a distraction that no one could manage, not even Francona.

Last Friday, when GM Theo Epstein addressed reporters at the Red Sox player devolopment complex, he recalled not Manny being Manny but a far more subtle and far less recounted example of team chemistry gone bad. And in this case, Epstein DID mention the name.

Jay Payton played just 55 games with the 2005 Red Sox – primarily as a fourth outfielder behind Ramirez of all people. After a confrontation with Francona in late June about the way he was being used, he was designated for assignment and eventually dealt to Oakland on July 13 for reliever Chad Bradford.

Where will he hit Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez? Can he really get around have two lefty batters back-to-back? Is Jacoby Ellsbury better at the top or bottom? What about J.D. Drew?

And on Wednesday, it was “What about David Ortiz?” How easy will it be for him to hit wherever Francona decides to bat him in the order?

“Again with David, I don’t think you’ll see a role change,” Francona said. “The batting order will take care of itself. Anytime you have good players that want to place the team’s goals first, that makes for a real good atmosphere, that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Read More: Boston Red Sox, David Ortiz, J.D Drew, jason bay
Jason Varitek can walk down stairs straight so he’s good to go for 2011 02.20.11 at 1:52 pm ET
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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.

Jason Varitek is no different, as he reminded everyone on hand for a spring training presser outside the Red Sox clubhouse at the minor league complex.

“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 »

Read More: 2011 Spring Training, bob boone, Boston Red Sox, Carlton Fisk
Red Sox Roundup: What happened in Fort Myers on Friday 02.19.11 at 7:31 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The gang’s all here.

The Red Sox are set to conduct their first full-squad workout of the spring on Saturday, one day after position players went through their physicals. That will occur after a rare full-squad meeting that manager Terry Francona does with his players, in which he goes all Knute Rockne to discuss the team’s expectations for its players and its organizational values. Other participants to that conversation will include GM Theo Epstein and the men who opened the Sox’ wallet this offseason, principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and CEO/President Larry Lucchino.

Somewhat remarkably, Henry, Werner and Lucchino are entering their 10th season at the helm of the Red Sox. Almost inevitably, whether from the owners themselves or from a reporter, joking mention will be made this morning of the fact that they remain the “new owners.”

As for the product that they are paying for this year:

–Much to the relief of several members of the Red Sox (most notably Jason Varitek), Carl Crawford will no longer torture them. The former Rays star was a constant thorn in the Sox’ side for several years, and so his new teammates are looking forward to having the shoe be on the other foot.

–Crawford shrugged off the notion that his seven-year, $142 million deal will result in any kind of added pressure on him this year.

The outfielder recalled with gratitude a key piece of advice he received early in his career from a current Red Sox instructor.

–On the Dennis & Callahan Show, GM Theo Epstein discussed how the Sox “stumbled into” signing Crawford after initial skepticism about their ability to do so, as well as a host of topics surrounding the team, including areas of concern for team depth and the questions about the team’s starting pitching. For that, click here.

–On the Dennis & Callahan Show, Daniel Bard contemplated possible future jobs: closing, middle relief, starting, selling hot dogs. For more, click here.

–Food was apparently on the Red Sox’ brains on Friday. Marco Scutaro said that manager Terry Francona‘s affirmation that the Sox gave him reason to host a couple of celebratory barbecues this offseason.

–Red Sox prospect Stolmy Pimentel was a rail-thin 16-year-old when he signed for $25,000 out of the Dominican in 2006, but he had what VP of International Scouting Craig Shipley suggested was a projectable body. Well, that projection now seems to have been fulfilled. Pimentel has grown a couple inches and, thanks to a rigorous commitment to the team’s strength program, he’s added quite a bit of muscle. He is now 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, touched 95 mph at times last year in High-A Salem and expects that he might be able to add even more velocity. The starter, who was added to the 40-man roster this winter, is likely to spend much if not all of the coming year in Double-A Portland.

–Not quite Sox-related, but there was an interesting chance encounter with “Jim Leyland.”

Read More: carl crawford, Daniel Bard, Jason Varitek, jim leyland
Carl Crawford: Pressure, what pressure? 02.18.11 at 3:50 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — If Carl Crawford is feeling any pressure from signing a seven-year, $142 million deal on Dec. 11, he certainly isn’t showing it. In a 17-minute session with reporters outside the player development clubhouse, Crawford talked about making up with Jason Varitek, chatting with David Ortiz and hearing from Jim Rice about the great left fielders like Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski who have preceded him in a Red Sox uniform.

“If I’m not, I better get ready pretty soon,” Crawford said when asked if he’s ready for the pressure that comes with wearing a Red Sox uniform after nine seasons with Tampa Bay. “I’m not worried about fans being at games. That’s one of my least worries. I’m excited to have the chance to play in front of all those people. Whether I do good or bad, it’s just a chance to have the opportunity to do that is exciting enough and I don’t really think I’m going to falter that much.”

And given the fact that he has led the American League in steals four times and triples four times, there’s no reason to change his offseason approach just because he changed uniforms.

“I just took the same approach like I take every year, get ready for the season the same way,” Crawford said. “My main goal is to worry about winning and that’s all I’m worried about.”

On Thursday, Ortiz said he had a good conversation with Crawford about hitting at Fenway. On Friday, Crawford spilled the beans.

“He was like, ‘If you can hit that Green Monster, try to because all times the wind might be blowing in a lot so you might get into a ball good and it might not go anywhere.’ That’s pretty much the plan I had already but to hear him say it makes me more comfortable trying to do it.”

Crawford certainly showed no nervousness when he laughed hard when asked if his big stolen base totals will go down now that he can’t torture Red Sox catchers, in particular Jason Varitek.

Crawford also joked that he “hugged” Varitek and “buried the hatchet” with the Red Sox captain after giving him nightmares on the base paths. The Red Sox certainly won’t miss facing him in a Rays uniform.

Crawford stole six bases on May 3, 2009 against Varitek and has won the American League stolen base title four times since 2003.

“I try to get as many as I can every year,” he said. “That’s my goal, to come out and put pressure on the other team and steal as many bags and try and get into scoring position.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2011 Spring Training, Boston Red Sox, carl crawford, Carl Yastrzemski
Red Sox find relief from Carl Crawford at 1:51 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — As an opponent, he inflicted a strange form of torture. Members of the Red Sox simply hated to face Carl Crawford.

That notion truly commenced on Opening Day of the 2003 season, when one unlikely walkoff homer golfed from just off the ground against a Chad Fox slider managed to blow up the Closer-By-Committee concept before it ever had a chance to succeed. Over the years, the frustrations continued.

There was a straight steal of home in 2006 against Jason Johnson. There was the game in 2009 where Crawford stole six bags against the Sox, running circles around Jason Varitek and Brad Penny.

Crawford has played nearly a full season’s worth of games (144) against the Sox in his career. He is a .300 hitter with a .330 OBP, .442 slugging mark, .772 OPS and 12 homers against them, but those numbers barely tell the story. He has swiped 62 bags against the Sox — far and away his most against any club — while being thrown out on just four occasions.

And then, of course, there were the innumerable times that Crawford tracked down anything that was hit into the left field corner or the left-center field gap against the Sox.

“The ball never hit the ground,” said manager Terry Francona.

In short, he was a source of tremendous frustration to virtually every member of his new club — something that came up even on the day that he first put on a Red Sox uniform for his introductory press conference, when he encountered catcher Jason Varitek. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: carl crawford, Jason Varitek, tampa bay rays,
Red Sox Roundup: What happened in Fort Myers on Wed. 02.17.11 at 7:13 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The second day of Red Sox workouts was tranquil, particularly in comparison to the expected-yet-still-stunning news across the state that the Cardinals and franchise icon Albert Pujols had not been able to reach an agreement on a long-term extension. By comparison, nearly any news would seem trivial, particularly on a day that featured little more than another round of drills and side sessions being tossed by pitchers.

Of course, the news that Pujols intends to test the free-agent waters also raises a fascinating question. In a world in which the Sox didn’t already have Adrian Gonzalez — and an agreed-upon framework to keep the newly acquired first baseman in Boston for years to come — would the team be better served pursuing Gonzalez or King Albert? For a closer examination of that quandary, click here.

In other news from Sox camp:

Jacoby Ellsbury arrived in Red Sox camp eager to put 2010 behind him while looking forward to the coming season. The return of Ellsbury to full speed could create the basis for a fascinating competition between him and new teammate Carl Crawford, the latter of whom is expected to arrive in Fort Myers on Thursday. Ellsbury faces no restrictions this spring.

–Right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka is in his fifth spring with the Red Sox. He is healthy and has already been given the green light to pursue a more aggressive throwing program than some of this teammates. This year, he is able to enjoy a spring in near anonymity, as the following of his every move has dwindled. For the 30-year-old, that could be a good thing.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is earning early raves in camp. The trust he’s earning from his teammates is important.

Mike Cameron asked manager Terry Francona if he could play both left and right field during spring training. Cameron shows no reservations about moving from center to a corner position, despite the fact that he had a devastating injury the last time he was not playing center field.

Jon Lester had a shot at 20 wins in his final start of 2010. The fact that he failed to reach that goal left him with a “bitter taste” during the winter. Lester said that he wants to cut down on walks this year.

Brandon Duckworth and Tony Pena Jr., a couple of non-roster invitees, received clean bills of health after undergoing MRIs.

Jason Varitek showed up in phenomenal shape, and has put himself in position to play as long as he wants to, said Francona.

–Prospect Oscar Tejeda is not your usual second baseman. The 21-year-old is turning some heads in Red Sox camp.

Read More: adrian gonzalez, Albert Pujols, brandon duckworth, Daisuke Matsuzaka
The art of selling Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Red Sox pitchers, and why it matters 02.16.11 at 3:21 pm ET
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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.

‘€œI think I know him as a person,’€ Beckett said of the still 25-year-old catcher. ‘€œI 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 »

Read More: Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Daisuke Matsuzaka, gary tuck
Managerial musings: Francona on Ellsbury, Daisuke and more at 1:54 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — After the Red Sox‘ second day of spring training workouts, manager Terry Francona touched on the news of the day. Naturally, as one might expect from a time of year when games have yet to begin, the topic was primarily about who is and is not camp. Towards that end, Francona was asked whether any position players are expected to be late to report, or if all are expected to check in by Thursday.

“I haven’t checked to see if Manny will be here,” he said with a grin, in memory of the annual tardy arrival of former Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez. Incidentally, Ramirez checked into Rays camp on Wednesday.

Among current members of the Sox, Francona expects all position players to be in Fort Myers by Thursday.

In other news of the day:

Daisuke Matsuzaka threw a 45-pitch bullpen session, surpassing the 30 pitches that most of his teammates logged. The right-hander did that with the Sox’ blessing, however. Whenever possible, he wants to throw at some length, and the Sox are willing to sign off on that so long as his physical condition suggests that he can tolerate it.

“He’€™s obviously worked very hard. You can tell by the way he came into camp. We’€™ve always told him, it’€™s no secret, he wants to throw more, generally, than most of the guys we’€™ve had because of his background. We always told him, if he could withstand that, we had no problems with that,” said Francona. “Today he threw 45 pitches. Most of our other guys threw 30. That’€™s because he’€™s in good shape. We have no problems with that. If that’€™s a comfort zone for him but he can handle it because he’€™s strong enough, I think that’€™s terrific.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: brandon duckworth, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek
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