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Archive for June, 2011

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Rico on the Red Sox


Boston Baseball welcomes back Rico Petrocelli for another season. A two-time All-Star during his 12-year playing career with the Red Sox, and a key member of both the 1967 Impossible Dream and 1975 American League Champion Red Sox teams, Rico shares his thoughts on the Red Sox with us each month during the 2011 season.  


Boston Baseball: Rico, in the spring it’s all about how your team looks on paper; at midseason, it’s all about your depth. The Red Sox have had to deal with a lot of depth issues, particularly on the pitching side, over the last two months.  We’ve seen three of the five starting pitchers land on the DL, with Matsuzaka done for the year, and now we’re looking at a whole new pack of guys in the bullpen.


Rico Petrocelli:  The good news is that they have so much talent on this ballclub that they seem to be handling it pretty well. They had guys waiting for an opportunity, and by and large those guys have stepped up. Of course, just having the talent doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to run away with the title. I still think they will!  But nothing comes easy. We’ve seen other teams over the years that had talent, that we felt good about, and it ended up a disaster.  That’s why you have to credit the Red Sox with being smart and having the guys ready in Triple-A to fill these roles.  


BB:  Of the three guys who have stepped into the rotation at various times — Alfredo Aceves, Tim Wakefield, and now Andrew Miller — who has the ability to contribute over the long term to this ballclub? 


RP:  I think all three of them can and will contribute.  Aceves — I like him!  He’s a guy who knows how to pitch.  Miller has great stuff, and now he has an opportunity.  When you have a hard-throwing lefty in there, boy, they’re tough. They’re hard to hit!  


BB:  In spring training, a lot of people didn’t know what role there would be for Tim Wakefield on this team. Some openly asked why he was coming back, when he’s stated that he prefers to start and there just didn’t seem to a spot for him. Now, of course, he’s back in the rotation, and although he’s going to be 45 in August, he’s pitching very well.


RP:  I just marvel at the job he’s done. Wakefield may prefer to start, but he can be a swing man; he can come out of the bullpen; he’s a very valuable guy, and you hope he can pitch to age 55!


BB:  Rico, what do you remember about facing Wilbur Wood when you were a player?


Alfredo Aceves

RP:  I faced Wilbur Wood many times when he was with the White Sox. I faced Hoyt Wilhelm as well, who had a great knuckleball. 


Wood was incredible because he could make his knuckleball move in to righthanders or away to righthanders. I don’t know how he did it, but he did.  He was like a regular pitcher where you had to zone, away or in.  Wilbur would pitch doubleheaders. He started 49 games in 1972, and that was back when the season was 154 games! He could go on and on. That’s such a valuable guy for a team to have.


BB: In the bullpen, the Sox lost Rich Hill, who was off to a strong start; they lost both Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler for a spell; and Hideki Okajima was demoted to Pawtucket.  They traded for Franklin Morales, and he went straight onto the DL.  The Sox were forced to call up career minor-leaguer Tommy Hottovy and give him an audition as their left-handed specialist. Yet the bullpen continues to get it done, mostly thanks to the strong work of Matt Albers and Daniel Bard in setting up Jonathan Papelbon.


RP:  That’s the thing about pitching.  It’s difficult to project a pitching staff because of injuries.  Good pitchers are like gold, and it’s the tendency of every organization to kind of baby them along.  


That’s why pitching counts became so important to a lot of baseball people, because the last thing they want to do is  overwork these kids in the minors.  Now the big debate is over whether it’s hurting them not to throw more! Maybe they should be throwing more innings. Counting pitches certainly hasn’t reduced the number of arm injuries, at least as far as I can tell. 


BB:  It’s interesting that you mention pitch counts. A lot of people, in trying to figure out where the Red Sox went wrong with Daisuke Matsuzaka, wonder if we should have let him go on with his Japanese schedule of throwing, throwing and more throwing. Maybe we in the United States are too hung up on pitch counts.


RP:  Sure, he did that in Japan, and he was extremely successful over there, but it’s different here. 


We can look back now and say maybe we should have let this guy go through his own exercise routine, allowed him to get ready in his own way, and let him pitch.  Maybe that would have made a difference. To me, the big surprise with Matsuzaka was the fact that he didn’t throw strikes!  He would nibble, he would try to work the corners, and you know what? He didn’t have that gyroball that we all thought he had — that was disappointing! 


Matsuzaka would go out there and throw 100 pitches in five innings. What were the Red Sox going to do, let him keep going and throw 180 pitches?  Maybe that should have happened a few times; let’s see what he can do!  But that’s not the philosophy here in the United States.


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