Francona: Important to keep perspective


Francona: Important to keep perspective

By Sean McAdam

CLEVELAND -- After going winless in their first four games, the Red Sox stressed the importance of keeping perspective and not overreacting to the results of the first week.

One more loss to the Indians, 8-4 on Wednesday, makes that ever more difficult.

Asked before Wednesday's game how he would respond to the fact that no team has ever won a World Series after losing its first four games, Terry Francona responded: "I guess I would say that we've got 158 left, so I don't think we're going to pack it in. I think it means that we've had four bad first days of the year."

Still, Francona acknowledged that a losing skid at the start of the season feels bigger than a similar streak in the middle of the season.

"You don't get asked questions about 0-4 teams not winning the World Series in August," said Francona. "You're aggravated, but you're not answering those questions. That's the one thing we talk about in our meetings: everything gets overblown and overanalyzed the first two weeks of the season.

"Saying that, I wish we were playing better. But you just have to deal with it."

Francona added that while a losing streak in the first week of April feels different than one in the middle of summer, the way he reacts to it should be the same.

"The whole idea is being consistent," he said. "Regardless of what my personality is, or that of the coaches, if we don't maintain some consistency, I think that's going to send up a red flag out in the clubhouse. I think that's the best thing we can do is be consistent.

"The players know we want to win. I know they want to win."

Hours before Wednesday night's game, with a tarp covering the infield due to light rain and regular batting practice wiped out, players converged in the clubhouse as they might before any game. Some played cards. Others listened to music or used iPads. A trio of pitchers -- John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jonathan Papelbon -- competed against one another in a golf video game.

"It's our responsibility to take the temperature," said Francona. "I think they care. I see good emotion in the dugout and guys trying. It just hasn't translated into a win yet. I don't want to downplay it; that's why we're here. But because it hasn't worked out doesn't mean they're not trying or the effort hasn't been good. We've had guys taking extra hitting and doing all kinds of stuff. It just hasn't translated out on the field yet."

Francona said he tries to avoid overreaching when the team struggles, fearing that that would send the wrong message to the players.

"You see a hitter struggling and they try to go 3-for-1," said Francona. "As a manager or coach, you can do the same thing. It's kind of dangerous. We just need to pay attention to what we're paying attention to. If you start thinking, 'Well, we can win two,' then you go out and give up a couple of runs and that frustration sets in.

"So how you combat is just by paying attention to what you're supposed to. Then, all of a sudden, you look up and you're kind of where you're supposed to be."

When Francona makes changes this early in the year to try to get his team out of a rut, he's careful not to make moves for the sake of making them. When Francona dropped Carl Crawford to seventh last Sunday in Texas, he had bench coach DeMarlo Hale talk to him the night before, so as to not have Crawford think he was being singled out.

This marks the second season in a row that the Sox have broken slowly from the gate, but Francona said it's hard to compare this start with last April.

In 2010, the Sox had an unhappy Mike Lowell on the bench, taking playing time from two established players -- Adrian Beltre at third and David Ortiz at first.

"It's a little different," he said, "because last year, we had a roster that was a little bit redundant. I was trying so hard to get guys in. I think I got in the way a little bit. I don't think that helped. We weren't playing real good to begin with, and with days off and bad weather, I think it just took us a little longer to get going.

"The first two weeks, it's always the same way: you're battling off-days, maybe weather. You're trying to keep guys sharp, but you want to get guys going. It's always the same every year."

Sean McAdam can be reached at Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.