12/07/09 9:30 PM EST
Francona keeping in touch with players
Skipper confident in Papelbon, thinks Dice-K will rebound
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
While general manager Theo Epstein spends the winter trying to construct a 2010 roster, Francona spends time keeping in touch with his players and getting a feel for where they are in their preparations for Spring Training.
One of the players he has been in touch with is closer Jonathan Papelbon, and Francona has no fear that his All-Star right-hander will have a hangover effect from the ninth-inning mishap that ended Boston's season in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
When Papelbon spoke in the immediate aftermath of his blown save, he said he would be over it as soon as he walked out of the clubhouse. Then again, Papelbon also said he would watch the tape of the inning gone bad while lifting weights over the winter.
"He's OK, he's all right," said Francona. "I take Pap's interviews with a grain of salt. He kind of contradicted himself, which Pap is good at. [But] he cares. It's not going to affect him next year. But I do think it will help drive him, too.
"He wasn't quite as good [in 2009], and again, he set the bar so high. And I don't know if you can show up every year and walk five guys. It's probably not realistic. But saying that, his command wasn't quite the same. He lost his split sometimes. You know, he was trying to do some things mechanically. He's still one of the best in the game. He just picked an inopportune time to make a couple of bad pitches."
Another pitcher the Red Sox need an improved performance from in 2010 is Daisuke Matsuzaka. The right-hander, continuing his increased focus on conditioning that started during his summer rehab assignment in Fort Myers, Fla., will train for three weeks at the Athletes Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz., beginning on Tuesday.
"He went back to Japan for a little bit, but for the most part, he's been in Boston for the winter," said Francona. "His weight is lower than what it was when the season was over. That doesn't mean [much] -- but that's good. He's going to start throwing, and I think he's scheduled to be in Arizona for three weeks at the API thing. We have been through so much. He knows how we feel. We know how he feels. We just really want him to be good."
While there is so much talk this time of year about the players the Red Sox might acquire, Francona was very enthused about the one who was secured last week -- shortstop Marco Scutaro.
"I was really happy about this. I think people who watch him play will come to appreciate him very quickly," Francona said. "He has tremendous on-base skills. He can steal a base. He's not a high stolen-base guy, but he's a very good baserunner. He will hit an occasional home run. He's a good teammate. You have to remember how much [Alex Gonzalez] stabilized our shortstop position the last couple of months. So we'll have that right from the beginning this year with a guy that has on-base skills. That should really be helpful to us."
As for other changes Epstein might make, Francona won't get consumed by it. He has full trust in the front office and figures he will have a championship-caliber team at his disposal in Spring Training. The Red Sox have been to the postseason in five of Francona's first six seasons, winning the World Series twice.
"I know our guys are really working at it," Epstein said. "This is sort of the official meetings, but our guys have been grinding it. They are pretty well organized. I've been to enough of these where some years it's crazy and people are stepping up to podiums, and some years, I walk down to the lobby just to hear what you guys [in the media] think. So who knows. You just don't know."
The Red Sox lost two of their relievers from 2009 last week, as Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito both signed with the Braves. One thing that could help make up for the loss of those two veterans would be the resurgence of Manny Delcarmen, who had a major dropoff in the second half and was left off the ALDS roster.
"He kind of owned up to us a little bit at the end that he was sore and didn't tell us," Francona said. "You like that, because part of the reason you like pitchers is they want to play. But we talked with him at length about the ability to be honest, because we probably would have had him available in the playoffs if he would have told us earlier.
"For whatever reason, he kind of lost his lower half. However you want to say it, but he was kind of running away from his delivery. His stuff was not quite as electric as it can be, and it hurt him."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.