Boston Baseball:  Rico, this team has a lot of talent, they’re getting paid a lot of money, and they’re not getting it done. If they fail to make the playoffs for the third straight year, is it time to blow up this team and start over?

Rico Petrocelli:  I don’t think you can blow the team up!  You can make some changes.  The team is scoring a ton of runs, and the bullpen is doing a very good job.  The trouble lies in the starting rotation — that’s where this team is all screwed up.  Jon Lester… I believe his problems are mental, not physical. It’s really frustrating, watching him pitch. His fastball isn’t moving lately, and if he’s not careful with his location, boom! His cutter is not good at all. He’s missing with it.  And after a while, when you miss your spots and you get hit hard like he has, you have a tendency to lose confidence.

 

BB:  It’s not just Lester.  Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz — these guys have all been outstanding at various times in their careers, but this year they’ve performed like fifth starters. Is it a coincidence that they’ve all hit a downturn at the same time? Is it coaching, catching, conditioning, what?

RP:  Buchholz’s last few outings were outstanding!  I watched that Texas game and he had great movement. The one pitch that’s really an equalizer for him is that changeup.  He’s got an outstanding curve, but when it’s on, he’s got an excellent changeup, which Beckett and Lester do not have now.  Their offspeed pitches are up in the strike zone.  I was at Fenway Park when Lester got roughed up by Toronto [July 22], and the first pitch of the game was out of the ballpark. That pitch was right down the middle. Lester was surprised that the guy would swing!  A lot of teams are telling their hitters to go after the first pitch now.  And why not?  That pitch is usually right there, down the middle.  Pitchers are going to have to come up with a new plan and move the ball around a little bit.

 

BB:  As you said, we have to work with what we have here, because this team has so many bad contracts they couldn’t blow it up if they wanted to! There are too many big contracts the Sox can’t possibly unload. Who would trade for Crawford, Beckett, Lackey, or Gonzalez unless Boston continued to help pay their salaries?

RP:  That’s true.  But I’ll tell you the truth, I wouldn’t blow this team up — I would try to make a couple of deals.  I can understand, from a business standpoint, that the Red Sox might want to dump some of these big salaries.  But as you said, who’s going to take these players unless the Sox kick in some money?   We’ve got to work with what we have.  Maybe do something with the rotation, move them around, mix in a sixth man maybe, get them an extra day of rest, you know? Maybe that would help Beckett and Lester.  Doubront is pitching well, but the guy with the best stuff on this staff is Buchholz, based on his last few outings.  If he can stay healthy and be consistent, he’s a 15-game winner.

 

BB:  Rico, is there an analogy to be drawn between the 2007 Red Sox and the 1967 Red Sox? Both teams won with great young talent, and everyone assumed they would be on top for a while. But after ‘67 it took the Red Sox eight years to get back to the postseason! The 2007 team made it back in ‘08 and ‘09 as the wild card but went nowhere, and since then they haven’t even been able to reach the postseason.  Things don’t always work out as planned.

RP:  [Sighs] We all thought as players, ‘We’re going to be together for a long time, and next year, when we win the pennant and go to the World Series, we’re going to win it this time!’  That’s how we were thinking. But guys got hurt.

 

BB:  Jim Lonborg breaks his leg, Tony C. gets hit by a pitch…

RP:  Jose Santiago, too. A bunch of guys got hurt, and it made a difference.  You know, it is very similar to this team in some ways.

 

BB:  What do we draw from that?  That nothing is given to you in baseball, no matter how rosy the situation may appear?

RP:  Absolutely.  That’s why you have to appreciate it when you get to the World Series!  It’s just not that easy.  You don’t see a lot of teams repeat, do you?  It’s tough.  But that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to have high expectations. The players, the fans, the media, the front office. You have a talented team, you have some guys making big money, and you expect to win. And then when it goes south, as it sometimes does, you get these guys calling into the radio stations, claiming ‘that guy doesn’t care anymore.’  Please!  Every guy that goes out there to perform, to play ball, CARES about his performance, wants to help the team out.  You think any of the players want to struggle? The Red Sox organization has to figure out a way to put these pieces together.  Maybe a six-man rotation, give these guys an extra day.  You’re not panicking; you’re trying to find a way to take a little pressure off of these guys, let them go and find themselves.  If they give up as a team, thinking they’re not going to win it, or they get disgusted or discouraged, you’re not going to win anything.

Filed under: Boston Baseball Magazine Interviews Rico Petrocelli

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