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Dan Duquette alumni 03.22.09 at 11:25 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Former Red Sox G.M. Dan Duquette is in Fort Myers today, having made the trip with the U.S. Military All-Stars, a barnstorming group of U.S. military personnel that plays against pro clubs. The All-Stars are comprised of active-duty personnel (including LT Junior Grade Will Sheehan of Boston and Hoptial Medic 3rd Class Jeff Heriot of Franklin) who are on leave from their assignment, so the roster turnover is immense — last year, Duquette said, the team had 150 players.

While his current team hit in the cages, Duquette was greeted by Sox catcher Jason Varitek. Varitek, of course, was acquired in the epic deadline deal in 1997, when he unloaded Heathcliff Slocumb to the Mariners in exchange for Derek Lowe and the Sox catcher, now in his 12th spring training with the Sox. Aside from Varitek, here are the other Duquette alumni who remain with the Red Sox: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Dan Duquette, dusty brown, Heathcliff Slocumb, Jason Varitek
Kottaras hopes to stick as backup catcher 03.19.09 at 7:38 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona talked briefly with George Kottaras on Wednesday morning, telling the catcher only that he would not be making the trip to Sarasota on Thursday to play the Reds, instead staying behind to catch Wakefield in a minor-league game. It wasn’t until a few hours later that Kottaras received a call from his agent with potentially career-changing news.

Josh Bard, who had been presumed (by virtue of his veteran status and his frequent work with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield this spring) the favorite to win the back-up role, had been cut by the Sox. About five minutes later, Kottaras received another call from Red Sox bullpen and catching coach Gary Tuck confirming the news and its implications: Kottaras is in the driver’s seat to claim the job of Boston’s backup catcher.

The 25-year-old Kottaras admits that, after six years in the minors, the idea that he is on the cusp of a major-league job is tantalizing. Nonetheless, he does not take it for granted. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: george kottaras, josh bard, Tim Wakefield,
Pedroia prepares for return at 5:52 pm ET
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SARASOTA, Fla. — Dustin Pedroia did not make the trip to Ed Smith Stadium to play the Reds tonight. But then, because of injuries to some of the team’s starters and the absence of a designated hitter rule in the National League park (something that prevented David Ortiz from making the trip), almost no recognizable names on the Red Sox made the roughly 75-mile trip.

“I turned around (on the bus),” manager Terry Francona admitted sheepishly, “and I didn’t know anybody.”

Though Pedroia was held behind at City of Palms Park, however, his day was anything but lost. The second baseman swung for the first time since suffering a lower left abdomen strain while playing for Team USA at the World Baseball Classic on Saturday, taking live batting practice at the Red Sox’ spring training facility. The session went without a hitch, and so the 2008 MVP will be back in the lineup on Friday when the Sox play the Pirates.

He is expected to get two at-bats on Friday, stay back to take batting practice on Saturday, and then increase his workload to three at-bats on Sunday.

“When he first came back we were all holding our breath a little bit,” said Francona. “After the initial relief, once he started getting back into what he was doing, we thought he was going to be okay.”

Prior to taking B.P., Pedroia reiterated that he is encouraged by his progress.

“I feel good. I haven’t felt (the injury) since (it happened),” said Pedroia. “The training staff has done a great job.”

A few other pre-game notes:

–In the absence of a D.H., Jon Lester will hit in tonight’s game. Lester looked a bit befuddled when confronted with a batting helmet in City of Palms before he hit the road for tonight’s start. Francona did not go so far as to say that Lester must superglue his bat to his shoulder.

“We may have him bunt,” said Francona. “We’€™ll see. I don’€™t want to give away too much strategy.”

–On a day when Tim Wakefield‘s knuckleball was giving fits to a team of Twins minor leaguers, George Kottaras looked comfortable behind the plate. Wakefield allowed one hit and fanned three in five scoreless innings, throwing 48 pitches (32 strikes). Through the first three innings, Kottaras boxed one nasty late-breaking pitch (with no base runners aboard), but otherwise, did a good job of keeping his hands close to his body and receiving the ball late. Kottaras has received very positive assessments of his receiving ability. More on him in a bit.

–The day after he looked strong in a two-inning minor-league stint, Brad Penny reported no setbacks, and the big right-hander is set to start on Monday in a Grapefruit League game against the Tigers. “(Penny was) real upbeat. That was good to hear,” said Francona. “I thought he was strong. That was a good step forward.”

Kevin Youkilis will be examined by a foot specialist on Saturday. Until then, any work he does will be off the field. When examined, then the team will figure out his schedule for a return to the diamond.

Read More: Dustin Pedroia, Tim Wakefield, WBC,
Kottaras prepares to work with Wakefield at 11:48 am ET
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Ordinarily, a mid-day start by Tim Wakefield at the Red Sox‘ minor-league complex would pass rather quietly. Yet today’s start by the 42-year-old carries some added intrigue.

Wakefield will pitch for the first time since the job of catching the knuckleballer was declared George Kottaras‘ to lose on Wednesday. The 25-year-old Kottaras will now be subject to heightened scrutiny for the way in which he tosses each of Wakefield’s throws. With the Red Sox scheduled to play tonight in Sarasota, the event of the pairing of those two battery mates will assume center stage during the day.

A couple of additional notes at the minor-league complex this morning:

Jason Place is still trying to get past the ligament strain in his right ankle, suffered at the end of last season. He is taking batting practice but being held out of games. Place hopes that he will be able to start competing in the next couple days.

–While in major-league camp, Lars Anderson wore the number of a defensive lineman (No. 78) while Josh Reddick played the part of a wide receiver (No. 82). Now, following their re-assignment to minor-league camp, both have been given digits more suitable to baseball, with Anderson wearing No. 5 and Reddick No. 30.

–With ever greater attention given to the notion of the Red Sox catcher of the future, one potential catcher of the distant future has shown some intriguing tools in camp. Oscar Perez, a 17-year-old from Venezuela who was the jewel of last year’s class of international amateur free agent signees (non-Junichi Tazawa division), has shown impressive all-fields power at an early stage, and will certainly be intriguing to monitor as he prepares to play in the U.S.

Read More: george kottaras, jason place, Tim Wakefield,
Why George Kottaras is Boston’s Backup Catcher 03.18.09 at 3:16 pm ET
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Brad Penny threw at the Red Sox‘ minor-league complex today, showing good arm strength (he touched 95 m.p.h. on multiple occasions) in a three-inning outing in which he allowed a run on just one hit (a double) and an error while striking out four. After his outing, Red Sox G.M. Theo Epstein spoke about the decision to release Josh Bard and anoint George Kottaras the likely backup catcher to starter Jason Varitek.

Epstein praised the work done by Kottaras behind the plate this spring, suggesting that the young catcher had shown both good hands and had been throwing well throughout this spring training. The 25-year-old worked with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on Saturday and showed little discomfort working with the pitcher.

“(Kottaras) looked comfortable catching Wake the other day, which shouldn’€™t come as a surprise because he’€™s got good hands and he’€™s been very comfortable catching Zink in the minor leagues,” said Epstein. “He and Dusty have been throwing well. Jason has been throwing really well, too. That was really the biggest issue now’€”(Kottaras’) throwing.”

While Bard had been receiving well — in particular, Epstein suggested that he did a better job of catching Wakefield’s knuckleball than he had in his first brief tour with the Sox in 2006 — his actions behind the plate were not quick. Other teams had been running with relative impunity on him this spring, whether Wakefield (whose signature pitch makes it difficult to control the running game) was on the mound or not. The Sox hope to give Varitek more rest this year than in seasons past, and so the issue of shutting down other teams on the bases with the rest of the staff seemed of even greater concern than it might have been previously.

Offensively, Kottaras had an interesting mix of power and patience at Triple-A Pawtucket last year. He hit .243 but with a .348 OBP and .456 slugging mark, as well as 22 homers in just 395 at-bats.

“He’€™s got a strong throwing arm. He’€™s got really good hands,” Epstein continued. “He’€™s got some life in his bat. He’€™s got some knowledge of the strike zone. He’€™s not going to hit for a really high average, but between his walks and his power he still manages to bring something to the table offensively.”

As a left-handed hitter, he provides a better theoretical complement to Varitek, since Varitek’s left-handed stroke is not as strong as his right-handed one (something that is also true for the switch-hitting Bard). But Epstein cautioned that such a consideration was not meaningful in and of itself.

“He has the potential to be a nice complement to Jason as a left-handed bat,” said Epstein. “(But) that in and of itself doesn’€™t mean anything. He’€™s got to go play well.”

The release of Bard does nothing to change the Sox’ outlook regarding the catching market. The team continues to examine the market for a potential successor to Varitek, but there is, according to Epstein, nothing that the team is looking to do in the immediate future.

“We’€™ve been saying all along that we’€™re happy with the young guys,” said Epstein. “Maybe this move will help emphasize it a little more. We’€™re not in any active talks. There’€™s nothing imminent at all. For now, we’€™re going to address this internally. Sure, someone that we think can be a real upgrade as a No. 1 catcher when Jason’€™s career comes to an end, we’€™ll always be on the lookout for that guy. But we’€™re happy with what we have internally right now.”

By releasing Bard this morning, the team freed more time for Kottaras to work with Wakefield, and for both Kottaras and Dusty Brown to work with the rest of the pitching staff.

Bard had signed a $1.6 million non-guaranteed contract with the Sox in December. As such, by releasing him this morning, the team is only on the hook for 30 days of termination pay ($262,295). While Kottaras has caught Bard just once this spring, the Sox still felt comfortable with the move. The front-office did not seek Wakefield’s feedback on this specific course of action, though they have gotten his assessments of the catching situation throughout the spring.

“We get (Wakefield’s) feedback all the time, but we’€™re paid to make these decisions,” said Epstein. “It’€™s tough to let a guy go who is a good person and doing his best. (Bard) has had a good career but we felt that this was the best move,the right fit for the organization at this time.”

Read More: george kottaras, josh bard, Tim Wakefield,
George Kottaras and the knuckleball at 1:45 pm ET
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We’ll have more on the release of Josh Bard later on — along with an encouraging outing by Brad Penny over that minor league complex in which Red Sox GM Theo Epstein said the pitcher touched 95 mph (after living between 89 and 92 mph in his previous outing). What we do know is that the Sox were impressed with Kottaras’ throwing ability (which was a step up from Bard), along with what he’s done at the plate this spring.

“It’s his job to lose,” Epstein said of Kottaras, who is hitting .429 (6 for 14).

In Tim Wakefield’s last start the knuckleballer went out of his way to praise Kottaras, who had one passed ball but did an admirable job otherwise. To get an idea of how the 25-year-old approaches catching the knuckler here is an entry we had earlier in the spring that might shed some light.

More to come …

Read More: Brad Penny, george kottaras, josh bard, Red Sox
Red Sox Cut Josh Bard at 10:56 am ET
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The position of backup catcher has proven one of the most unstable on the Red Sox roster in recent spring trainings. In 2006, John Flaherty tried to catch Tim Wakefield for a game, found the task of spearing his knuckleballs so daunting that he retired and conceded the job to Josh Bard. Bard was overmatched by the task one month into his Red Sox career that year, and so was traded to San Diego to bring back Doug Mirabelli. Mirabelli remained in Boston until last March, when he was shocked by a mid-camp cut in favor of Kevin Cash. Cash was not tendered a contract this past offseason, became a free agent and signed with the Yankees, opening the door for Bard’s return.

But today, the Sox announced that they would cut Bard, continuing the merry-go-round of catchers paired with Wakefield. The move comes as something of a surprise, since Bard had done a passable job in his work with Wakefield this spring (though he had been unable to control the running game, whether working with Wakefield or other pitchers) and was hitting .429 (6-for-14), though it is worth noting that Bard, like starter Jason Varitek, is a switch-hitter who does a significantly better job against left-handed pitchers. So in some ways, his skill set was redundant with that of the starter’s.

General manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona are expected to offer insight into the roster move later today. At first glance, it would appear that George Kottaras would be the front-runner to become backup among the in-house candidates. Kottaras is left-handed and out of minor-league options. Still, as recently as Sunday, Epstein suggested that the Sox continue to monitor the market for catchers (especially one who might qualify as a “catcher of the future”), and so it may be premature to suggest that Kottaras is on his way to a backup spot.

Bard’s $1.7 million contract was non-guaranteed, so the Sox will only have to pay only a fraction of it.

More in a bit.

Read More: george kottaras, josh bard, Tim Wakefield,
The Tortoise and the Hare 03.08.09 at 6:05 am ET
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Tim Wakefield is known for his success in the absence of velocity. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s defining asset is his speed. Today, the two are linked, if only because they were among the few Red Sox regulars making the trip to play today’s exhibition game against the Rays.

Wakefield’s line wasn’t exactly breathtaking, as he worked three innings and allowed four runs. But he did strike out three batters, a key indicator of the ability to gain movement on his knuckleball, and seemed happy with the outing. At this point, the pitcher said, there is little for him to work on. Unlike other pitchers who look to add a new wrinkle in spring training — like Jonathan Papelbon, who is working on a slider, and Jon Lester, who is refining his changeup — Wakefield suggested, “I feel like I’m game-ready now.” He needs only to boost his pitch count on the loooong road to Opening Day (Wakefield’s first start should fall between April 8-10, more than a full month from now).

“I’m happy with the way I felt today, the way the ball was coming out of my hand today,” he said. “Good movement, threw a lot of strikes, swing-and-miss and some strikeouts. So I feel confident.”

Josh Bard was Wakefield’s batterymate for the third straight outing. Bard had a couple of muffs, and permitted two stolen bases, though Wakefield expressed no concern.

“I was comfortable with him last time he was here,” said Wakefield. “I’m still comfortable.”

Wakefield did suggest that he believes that the current build-up of starters — not only Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Brad Penny and Wakefield, but also John Smoltz, Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden — will help him this year by providing a built-in rest sometime this year.

“Not only for me, but everybody. It’s a great backup to have when we need a spot start to give somebody a rest,” said Wakefield. “Last year, I could have taken a break but I was pitching so well and we didn’t have anybody to call up to pitch. … I was on such a good run, I think I had 10 quality starts in a row, that it was hard to sit down.”

Scheduled rest should be beneficial, since in each of the past two years, he ended up getting shut down at some point late in the year due to a SLAP (superior labrum anterior and posterior) tear in his right shoulder, a condition that leaves him more prone to shoulder fatigue. The options, aside from rest, for addressing the condition are few.

“Surgery. That’s probably it. I don’t want to have it. At this point, if I have labrum surgery, I’ll probably miss a whole year. I’ve just got to maintain it, maintain my strength, rehab it between starts and maybe take a break during the course of the year,” said Wakefield. “You get to that 150, 180 innings, I get fatigued. There’s an internal impingement when that happens. I try to pitch through pain. I had five cortisone shots last year to try to pitch. It just shut down eventually. That’s what happened the last two years.”

Though Ellsbury was wrapped in ice after the game (for a foul ball off the shin, and also his left shoulder), he is not worried about getting shut down. To the contrary, he geared his offseason program at Athletes’ Performance to making sure that he would be ready to withstand the physical rigors of the year.

There is a degree of confidence that he has in knowing that Coco Crisp is gone, and that centerfield is his defined territory. Even so, while it can’t hurt him to play one position all season, he suggested that he had no problems bouncing between the three outfield spots last year while starting in center or filling in as a corner outfielder (for Manny Ramirez early in the year, and J.D. Drew towards the end of it).

He acknowledged that pitchers got the best of him at times last year by busting him with fastballs up and in, and suggests that he is working to correct the issue. He talked with hitting coach Dave Magadan several times during the offseason about altering his approach, and did a significant amount of work off a tee to correct this issue.

“It definitely wasn’t an issue of whether my hands were quick enough. They’re plenty quick. The issue was just maybe I was looking on the outer half a little too much. It’s more of an adjustment, I would say. It wasn’t a matter of if (my hands) were quick enough or anything,” said Ellsbury. “I didn’t want to work too much on the inside pitch and then leave the outside. So I balanced it out. I like where my swing is at right now, take that pitch and drive it to center, right-center and right down the line. I feel really good at the plate.”

Read More: Jacoby Ellsbury, Tim Wakefield,
How to catch a knuckleball 02.25.09 at 8:42 pm ET
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With all the talk surrounding Josh Bard catching Tim Wakefield it seemed like the perfect time to bring you today’s Extra Innings Mechanical Tip of the Day: How to catch a knuckleball.

Serving as your teacher, catcher George Kottaras …

“The big thing is to just trust in yourself and not get all amped about going and get the ball. Just letting the ball come to you and catching the ball deeper into your body rather than going out and getting it.

“With the stance, we’re more turned to the side, with our chest pointing toward the second baseman and our left knee tucked in a little bit just to free up our left hand. When you’re squared you’re a little more tied up so when your knee is bent it allows for a little more range of motion.

“You just keep your thumb up to the sky because Wake’s throwing to our facemask and he’s got his focal point already so he’s not looking at a target. So just keep your thumb up so you can roll over. You kind of give with the glove anyway, but you want to start (on the side) with the knuckleball.”

Read More: george kottaras, josh bard, knuckleball, Red Sox
What Wakefield said at 8:26 pm ET
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Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield went two innings in his start against Minnesota at Hammond Stadium, giving up three runs (2 earned) on five hits while walking two. He will pitch another two innings Sunday, following Josh Beckett.

“I would have liked to have better results but my shoulder feels fine. I just need to work the rust off a little bit. It’s the first time in a game facing hitters. I just need to work on some things.”

“You don’t want to make a fool of yourself out there so you have to keep the adrenaline up. I felt really good out of the lineup today, out of the stretch I felt a little rusty.”

(On catcher Josh Bard) “Fine. I thought he did a great job.”

“You guys have covered me a long time, weird innings. It is what it is. I’m glad I got to throw my number of pitches. I got a little fatigued in the second. I’m glad I was able to work through that and make the pitches when I needed to with that final out. Now I’ll go get them again on Sunday.”

(The number of spring training openers) “Fifteen. It’s the same routine. Now the games have started. Nothing really surprises me.

“It’s hard to explain. I throw good knuckleballs, and I did tonight. It’s just my mechanics are a little off. They’re not in the strike zone. In the windup their fine. I think my timing is a little off, so to speak. It’s just a matter of more repetition, getting in game situations again, and working it out.”

Read More: Minnesota Twins, Red Sox, Tim Wakefield,
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