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John Farrell's state of the Sox address

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John Farrell's state of the Sox address

NASHVILLE -- You'll forgive John Farrell if he felt like a man caught between two cities on Tuesday.

The new Red Sox, and former Blue Jays, manager was surrounded by both Boston and Toronto media members at his Winter Meetings press conference, and nearly a quarter of the questions he was asked referred to the Jays. The Canadians, it seems, still haven't quite forgiven Farrell's leaving the Blue Jays for what he's termed his "dream job" in Boston, and the Jays' aggressive offseason have them wondering if he regrets the move. (Hint: He doesn't.)

The Boston media was able to squeeze in some Red Sox questions, and Farrell was able to discuss, among many topics:

Newly acquired Mike Napoli
"He's a guy that is a type of player that we want to bring in . . . We see him as a first baseman primarily, but with the ability to catch and to acclimate him to our pitchers in spring training. One of the things we would do . . . is . . . have him catch in spring training early on, but then certainly make sure that we've got enough reps at first base for not only him to feel comfortable there, but for us as well."

Whether or not he knows if any Sox players will participate in this spring's WBC
"Not yet. We haven't had that list of invites or requests by their respective countries. When that does come out, we've got to take into account if there's any physical ailments that guys are lingering through the offseason, whether it's David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia. Just to name a couple of guys that might be on the invite list."

On whether they've contemplated using Ryan Lavarnway at first base
"Not yet. And I say not yet because we're looking to exhaust every development time with him, and he's got maintenance, as every player does, to be as proficient behind the plate.

"One of the things we're still building with him is just the overall number of games caught in any given year. Last year being the highest, right around 100 games caught. Right now our focus is to keep him behind the plate.

On whether he's talked to Will Middlebrooks, and where he's at healthwise
"Health-wise, to be ready for spring training. I spoke to him a number of times from Boston with situations coming up there. I'm planning to go to Dallas a couple of weeks from now to see he and John and maybe some other players that might be in that area. So it will be another opportunity to connect with him.

"There's no lingering effects with the wrist or anything like that or the hand."

On where he sees Middlebrooks hitting in the lineup
"Without placing any limitations on any guy, you could see him growing into a middle-of-the-order bat. In the interim, if we've got a chance to have him somewhere in that second half of the order, it just speaks that we've created further depth in the lineup. He's a good looking young player, there's no doubt. Just in the time I've seen him across the field, it's an exciting young player.

The health status of David Ortiz
"Everything has progressed on schedule. I know he's I think he's due to come back to Boston sometime middle of this month to get another recheck, but the rehab that he's been going through, the treatment he's been getting, all of that has been able to respond in the time frame and the overall, I guess, prognosis of his rehab to be ready for spring training."

The health status of John Lackey
"He'll be advanced on the calendar, but as far as total number of innings pitched, structurally, I think it's at least put his mind to rest that he got to somewhat game speed before the offseason approached.

"We'll go into spring training with a normal progression for him. Spring training is going to tell us a lot about where John's at, and we fully expect him to be ready to go."

On relievers who might become starters
"Franklin Morales is the one internal guy that we've talked about. Whether or not we choose to go that way with Alfredo Aceves remains to be seen, but typical with a guy that's been a multiinning reliever or a swing man type, we're always going to look to get multiinning outings in spring training. Further developments to the offseason are going to give probably more guidance to who those candidates might be as well."

On the back end of the bullpen
"I think general manager Ben Cherington will always look to upgrade. But I don't think we saw the true end of closer Andrew Bailey last year after he came back from the injury.

"One, any time you're coming back from an injury, and, two, you're trying to play catch up, sometime in August, after guys are so entrenched in their performance in a given year, yeah, he's playing catch up. But this is a successful closer in the past that right now you look to him to be in that role."

On the setup men
What Junichi Tazawa has done in his emergence coming back from Tommy John, he's put himself in that mix coming back into the game. The ability to mix up with lefties that are in house right now, both strike out with power stuff. Daniel Bard, there's work to be done with him, and conversations with him are starting that process. I know pitching coach Juan Nieves will travel to see him and begin that relationship building on their end.

"Knowing Daniel and the conversations that have been had to date, we've got to get back to what has made him so effective and really so powerful."

More on Bard
"The separation of mental and fundamental is a great debate, what's going to come first. I think it's first and foremost that we get him in a position to command the baseball a little bit more regularly. Just in reviewing some video from last year versus a couple of years previous, there's some noticeable changes there just from a physical side. So I think to address those first and then have some reminders through video of where he was, either on the rubber previously or where his arm slot was or what his mindset was to begin to discuss what he tried to do as a pitcher.

"And what I mean by that is in the role of a late inning, one inning guy, it's a completely different mindset than the attempt to manage a game over six or seven innings. I think he tried to, quote, unquote, pitch rather than be dominant with his stuff. So those are the angles that I would want, and I would both look to take with him and get him back to a more simplified, more power type of approach . . .

"I think you turn the page as the calendar turns. I don't know that you can fully separate yourself from the experiences that took place. Those are going to continue to shape who he is as a pitcher going forward, and to learn from the adversity that he faced. I think along the way he's probably learned more about himself as well . . .

"I think, if we could snap our fingers and go back to 20092010, I'd be looking at one of the top two or three setup men in baseball. Clearly a weapon that, depending on where you were in the lineup, he was always matched up against the middle of the lineup, regardless if it was lefthanded or righthanded, and pitched a lot of high leverage innings in that seventh and eighth situation."

On Alfredo Aceves
"Personally, I see him as a very dominant reliever late in the game. Whether we sit here today and fully define what that role is. I don't know if we're here to do that. There's a lot of discussion internally that he could still provide a depth starter for us or possibly a fifth starter.

"The one thing we have is a talented pitcher that can do some things physically that not many can do. That's the frequency with which he pitches and the number of pitches he'll throw in a given outing. He's a valuable pitcher."

On Allen Webster
"Power armed righthander with a good live sinking fastball. We still see him as a starter. Whether or not the arrival to the major league level, we don't know when that date is going to be, but he's a guy we're extremely excited about coming over in the trade.

"This is someone that personally looking forward to seeing him, other than video I've seen so far. We see him as a starter going forward."

On Ruby De La Rosa
"We still see him as a starter. He did obviously get into game activity before the season concluded last year. We'll bring him into camp, stretch him out, but I think it will be important for guys coming off of Tommy John, particularly young guys that have only experienced the major leagues in a small number of innings, I think we've got to get him going in terms of consistent turns through the rotation, starting to build his innings foundation, and more importantly, that first year back there's always that last mental hurdle to get over.

"And that probably is similar in Ruby's case."

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

BALTIMORE — Baseball records are so precise. When to pursue them, when to value them even if minor risk is involved, is not nearly as clear cut.

The Red Sox, Chris Sale and John Farrell have stumbled upon that grey area, and it will continue to play out in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Sale reached a tremendous milestone on Wednesday night, becoming the 14th different pitcher in major league history to reach 300 strikeouts in a single season. No one else has done it in the American League this century. Clayton Kershaw was the last to get there in the National League two years ago.

“It was really fun,” Sale said of having his family on hand. “My wife, both my boys are here, my mother-in-law. Being able to run out and get a big hug from him and my wife and everybody — it was special having them here for something like this. … I’ll spend a little time with them before we head to Cincinnati.”

Now, there’s another mark ahead of Sale: Pedro Martinez’s single-season club record of 313. And the pursuit of that record is going to highlight the discussion of what matters even more.

The tug-of-war between absolute pragmatism and personal achievement was on display Wednesday, when Farrell gave ground to the latter. 

The manager was prepared for the questions after a celebratory 9-0 win over the Orioles. His pitchers threw 26 straight scoreless innings to finish off a three-game sweep of the Orioles, and the Sox had the game well in hand the whole night.

With seven innings and 99 pitches thrown and 299 strikeouts in the books, Sale went back out for the eighth inning.

If you watched it, if you saw Sale drop a 2-2 front-door slider to a hapless Ryan Flaherty for the final strikeout Sale needed and his last pitch of the night, you surely enjoyed it. Records may not be championships, but they have their own appeal in sports that’s undeniable. 

But Sale could have recorded strikeout No. 300 next time out. Surely, he would have. He needed all 111 pitches to do so Wednesday.

In this case, the difference between 299 and 300 wound up being just 12 pitches. 

It’s doubtful those 12 pitches will ruin Sale’s postseason chances, particularly considering he was throwing hard all game, touching 99 mph. 

Nonetheless, the Sox hope to play for another month, and they've been working to get Sale extra rest. So, why risk fatigue, or worse, injury?

“The two overriding factors for me,” Farrell explained, “were the pitch counts and the innings in which he was in control of throughout. Gets an extra day [for five days of rest] this next time through the rotation. All those things were brought into play in the thinking of bringing him back out.

“We know what the final out of tonight represented, him getting the 300 strikeouts. Was aware of that, and you know what, felt like he was in complete command of this game and the ability to go out and give that opportunity, he recorded it.”

If Sale makes his final two starts of the year, he’ll break Martinez's record of 313. At least, Sale should. But he might not make his projected final start, in Game No. 162, so that he’s set up for Game 1 in the Division Series.

(So, if he could do reach 314 Ks in his next start, he’d make this discussion disappear — but 14 Ks in one outing is not easy.)

When should exceptions be made to let someone get to a record? Where do you draw the line? 

Would it be reasonable to get Sale an inning or two against the Astros in Game 162 if he was a few strikeouts away, even though he may face the Astros in the Division Series?

Letting the Astros get extra looks against Sale is a different matter than Sale throwing 12 extra pitches. But neither is really a guarantee of doom. They're small risks, of varying size.

Consider that if Sale is on, he should rough up the Astros no matter what.

What's 12 pitches Wednesday for a guy who leads the majors in average pitches thrown per game? Not enough to keep Farrell from letting Sale have a go at one milestone.

Will the Sox work to put Sale in position for the next?

Records don’t usually fall into such a grey area. Outside of the steroid era, anyway.