|Kevin Youkilis, Jason Varitek explain ‘weirdest play’ catcher has ever seen||04.06.11 at 11:55 pm ET|
CLEVELAND — Kevin Youkilis’ first thought was to drop the ball. After that, he expected some sort of chaos. Just not this kind of chaos.
To set the scene …
With nobody out and the bases loaded, reliever Dan Wheeler had been brought on to face Cleveland outfielder Michael Brantley. Hitting lefty, the Indians’ leadoff man shot a line-drive toward Youkilis at third base. The infielder’s first instinct was to execute a play that rarely works because of umpire’s discretion — drop the ball, catching the baserunner off guard, and then take advantage of the frozen baserunners to get multiple outs.
But as the ball approached, Youkilis discovered that the option of getting the final decision when it came to how the out was executed had gone out the window when the liner took an unexpected turn to the left.
“I was messing around with it in my head,” Youkilis said after the Red Sox’ 8-4 loss to the Indians. “It kind of went far. I was trying to go back and do it, but it worked a little too much. It got Tek a little off guard. We play around, not to trick … I never thought I’d be the guy to pull that off. At first I was like try to drop it. Then it was a little too far out of my range, so I tried to catch it, literally. But that was in the back of my head to try and drop it.”
Once the ball was on the ground, and the third base umpire Dan Iassogna ruled it was a legitimate drop, Youkilis scooped up his miscue, ran over and tagged third base for the force out and threw home. The problem was that catcher Jason Varitek didn’t see Youkilis tag the bag and subsequently failed to tag Travis Buck, who accounted for the hosts’ fourth run.
“I’m trying to figure out — it’s probably the weirdest play I’ve ever been part of,” Varitek said. “I’m trying to see and learn what I could have done different besides, obviously, tagging him, but I didn’t actually see the play.”
Youkilis said he never yelled to Varitek to tag the runner, and Wheeler explained that while he wanted to warn the backstop that that force play was off, he couldn’t get the words out in time. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez did manage to shout a warning, but was too far away for it to take effect.
“Yeah I was trying to yell, but heat of the moment, it’s hard for them to hear you,” Gonzalez said.
“Once the ball got out of my glove, I was like, that’s a double play, easily,” said Youkilis, who remembered Mike Lowell adeptly making the same sort of play from time to time. “That play will always work. As a runner, you’re going back to the base. At that time, it was a crazy play. A lot of times it works, most of the time the umps call it.”
Following the miscommunication, the flood gates opened as Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera launched a Wheeler sinker into the right field seats for a three-run homer, making it 7-2 Indians. It would be all the Tribe would need to hand the Red Sox’ their fifth loss in as many tries.
“We all know we’re in a hole, but the big thing is we’ve got 150-something games left,” Youkilis said. “This is a team that can get so hot, you roll of eight out of 10, you’re back over .500. I think that’s one thing we have to try to do. We can’t win this series, but we can salvage a ‘W’ tomorrow and go into the next series and try to win that series. It’s a long road. A lot of crazy stuff happens. You saw it tonight. This team’s going to be a good team. Once we start swinging the bats a lot better, you’ll see a lot more ‘W’s’ start coming up.”
Red Sox manager Terry Francona joined The Big Show Wednesday, telling Glenn Ordway and Michael Holley that after the team’s 0-4 start to begin the season, he believes in being more concerned than panicked.
“I’d say that’s a good way to put it,” Francona said. “I don’t think there’s anything to be smiling about right now, but I think there’s a difference between being concerned and being panicked.
“I don’t think anybody’s too happy with our start, but it’s our responsibility to turn it around. I don’t think panicking is the right way to do it, but when things aren’t going the way you want them to go, you try to work to fix it.”
Francona said that given the team’s disappointing stretch to open the season, players have to avoid trying to do too much.
“I think the last thing we want to do is try to win a game in Cleveland that we lost in Texas,” he said. “That’s a dangerous way to play the game.”
Francona said that “you’re going to see a much better player” in Carl Crawford as he gets more and more comfortable. Crawford signed a seven-year, $142 million deal as a free agent in the offseason and is hitting .133 in a Red Sox uniform.
“I think it’s more [trying to impress everybody], not so much the money,” Francona said. “That kind of goes out the window, I think, once the game starts. I think he’s on a new team and he’s a real conscientious kid, and I think he’s trying a little bit too hard. I think it’s human nature. .. Right now he’s just trying a little too hard to do too much, and that happens sometimes. We wish it didn’t, and our job as coaches is to try to help these guys not do that, but you always fight that at the beginning of the season.”
Regarding the batting order, Francona stressed that he wants to be able to put newcomer Adrian Gonzalez in a position to drive in runs. Gonzalez had three RBI in the season-opener last week, which have accounted for a quarter of the Red Sox’ 12 runs this season.
“I think he’s going to be comfortable with wherever you put him in the order. He’s a bonafide really good hitter. I really want [Dustin Pedroia] up there, either second or third. He may not be the prototypical No. 3 hitter, but I think he has the ability to maneuver the bat, run the bases, get on bat in front of [Kevin Youkilis] and Gonzalez.”
As for the catching situation, the manager said “there isn’t really a rotation,” and that Jason Varitek will be catching Wednesday because the Sox plan on using Jarrod Saltalamacchia Thursday. Using Varitek Wednesday allows the Sox to give Saltalamacchia two games in the series without having him play a day game following a night game.
Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons joined the Mut & Merloni show Wednesday afternoon to talk about the slow-starting Red Sox. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
“They just haven’t had anybody get off to a particularly good start,” Gammons said. “Again, it’s only four games. It is amazing, that statistic that nobody’s ever won the World Series starting 0-4.”
Gammons said the Red Sox didn’t seem as energized when he saw them in Florida, but they were not alone in lacking intensity coming out of spring training.
“Except for the teams that had a lot of competition for positions, it just seemed as if everybody was bored by the 10th or 15th of March this year,” Gammons said. “The Red Sox basically had no jobs open for positions players. It just seemed like spring training mode. What have they won, like two games since March 13 or something? It just seemed a little muted. It didn’t upset me that [Jon] Lester and [Daniel] Bard both seemed a little out of whack, but I think sometimes that does happen to teams, where they have trouble getting going.”
Added Gammons: “It’s not the end of the world, but at the same time, you kind of go: All right, it can’t go too long because they play the Yankees, the Rays and the Jays in the first week-and-a-half of the season at home.”
Gammons said the Sox hitters deviated from the team’s strategy of showing patience and instead started consistently swinging at the first strike Tuesday night in Cleveland. And new outfielder Carl Crawford “is pressing dramatically. I’m not really sure why it’s happening.”
As for Crawford being moved around in the batting order, Gammons predicts he’ll eventually settle into third. “I think Terry [Francona] first and foremost is trying to get Carl comfortable,” Gammons said. “Just, ‘Please, you’re not here to carry the team. You’re here to just be what you’ve been in your major league career, which is a great player. He was out jumping at everything in Texas, and that sort of carried over last night.”
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has caught all four games for the Sox this season. Gammons said that might have to do with Jason Varitek not being at full strength.
|Clay Buchholz on Big Show: Chemistry with Jarrod Saltalamacchia not ‘something that happens overnight’||04.05.11 at 4:44 pm ET|
Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz joined The Big Show Tuesday, discussing a number of topics with Glenn Ordway and Michael Holley. On the subject of his first start, in which four of the five hits he allowed to the Rangers left the park as solo homers, he noted that he could expect mistakes to be hit hard in Texas.
As for having a new starting catcher, Buchholz preached patience for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He said that the 25-year-old, who has started all three games thus far and is 0-for-10 at the plate, is learning with both the pitchers and Jason Varitek.
“He’s definitely got a person that he can go to in ‘Tek to figure out some of the things that he needs to know as far as what our pitchers do, what our staff does, what the bullpen does,” Buchholz said. “We sat down a couple of times, talked about what I like to do as far as being ahead in the count, throwing strike one and going from there.
“It’s not going to be something that happens overnight. It’s going to be repetition that you have to go through to make it sort of a second nature type of thing. That’s what you’re working for. You want to be on the same page all the time with your catcher, and that’s definitely what we’re trying to do here.”
|Morning Red Sox notes: Reunion in Lakeland||03.15.11 at 10:00 am ET|
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 »
|Why Sunday was so important to Josh Beckett’s season||03.14.11 at 11:21 am ET|
Josh Beckett threw more changeups than any other pitch in his first two innings Sunday afternoon in Bradenton. Why is that notable? First, listen to what the pitcher said following his latest spring training start.
“It’s a big pitch for me,” he noted. “I look back at any successful stints I’ve had in the big leagues, whether it’s been with the Marlins or Red Sox, I’ve always had a good changeup. I’ve always felt like that’s a really good pitch for me, front to back.”
Now, let’s go back a few years to understand where the strategy comes from …
During the outset of 2007 spring training, I did a story for the Eagle-Tribune, asking what kind of adjustments Beckett might be making after struggling through his first season with the Red Sox.
He instantly pointed to the changeup.
Beckett explained at the time, “They were drilling into my head about (the changeup) being too hard. I don’t know if I started believing it or what. It was one of those deals where you come to a new place and you want to get along with everybody. It took me half the season to feel comfortable to the point where I had to say something. But it’s definitely something I want to focus on this year.”
The moment that truly crystallized Beckett’s need for the changeup came during one of his worst starts in his career, a 1 1/3-inning outing against the Yankees on June 5, 2006. During that start not one of the righty’s 45 pitches was a changeup.
“I talked to Jason [Varitek] before every game. Before one game I talked to him about (throwing the changeup) more often,” Beckett said in ‘07. “I had been talking to my dad and he was asking why I wasn’t throwing my changeup. It kind of hit me that that was what I needed to do. I tried, but it is such a feel pitch that you just don’t go out there and throw it. You have to try it before every start.”
It is for this reason you’ll find March days like Sunday, with Beckett bombarding spring training hitters with his changeup.
As for the pitcher’s assertion that when he’s going good, his changeup is usually leading the way, let’s look at what was arguably the best run of Beckett’s career, from May 5-Aug. 12, 2009.
During that span Beckett went 12-2 with a 2.17 ERA, striking out 114, walking 26 and holding opponents to a .208 batting average. He threw his changeup 36 times during that stretch. Eight were put in play, 11 found the strike zone, five resulted in a swinging strike, four were strikes looking, and three resulted in hits (all singles).
Perhaps most interesting is that Beckett threw the changeup 10 times in that span with two strikes. Clearly he had some confidence with the pitch.
Was the changeup THE most effective pitch for Beckett during the run? No, it’s hard to ignore that he threw his curveball 536 times, with hitters managing just a .142 batting average against the pitch.
But, as Beckett points out, the changeup serves as sort of a litmus test to how the feel for all of his pitches stand at. If the changeup feels good, so does the curve, two-seamer, and four-seamer … and so does the pitcher.
That’s why you saw what you saw Sunday afternoon.
|Why these Red Sox are perfect role players to Terry Francona||02.23.11 at 3:43 pm ET|
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.”
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