Red Sox

Red Sox West? Lovullo and Hazen have Diamondbacks among N.L.'s best

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Red Sox West? Lovullo and Hazen have Diamondbacks among N.L.'s best

BOSTON — Even as the Red Sox hit their stride with a five-game winning streak and Dustin Pedroia plays caroms with sorcery, the Sox have a worse record than the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Sox look better now than they have at any time this season. At 48-35, they’re three games up in the American League East. It’s an incredibly talented team.

But the D-backs (52-31) have been better. At .627, they’re one of three teams in the majors with a .600 or better winning percentage.

It’s amazing, considering the Diamondbacks won just 69 games a year ago. But it wouldn’t be the first time Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo, who are in Year One running the show after leaving Boston, helped turn around a 69-win team. 

The 2012 Red Sox won that number of games ahead of winning the 2013 World Series.

Boston West is thriving. Amiel Sawdaye and Jared Porter, assistant GMs in Arizona, were previously front-office forces for the Sox as well. Porter had a stopover with the world champion Cubs first, and there are Indians and Pirates influences at play under Hazen too.

“That was the narrative early: how are you going to bring Boston west?” Lovullo said recently. “But what we really wanted to do... let’s take things that we know work, that we saw work inside of that environment in Boston and bring 'em here and do it, because that’s all we know. Watch it work, because that’s what we expect. And then perfect certain things that we want to put our own special touch on.”

Lovullo, the beloved bench coach in Boston from 2013-16 who was briefly the Sox’ manager when John Farrell was ill in 2015, did not see success coming quite this fast. No one reasonably could have.

“I had zero expectations coming in,” Lovullo said, which is not to say he had low expectations. “I knew that there was a group of guys that cared about one another and I just kept telling them that if we care about one another and rely on one another, something pretty powerful could happen.”

Lovullo went to great lengths to reach out to his players ahead of spring training. What he found was a group that had come up together and already had a bond, something that could be fostered.

But not everything has come easy for Hazen and Lovullo, nor could it have. 

Hazen spent 11 seasons with the Sox, from the Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington years to the start of the Dave Dombrowski era.

“It’s harder than I thought it was going to be,” Hazen said of being the top baseball operations executive for the first time. “Having the people that I worked for prepared me as probably as [well as could be] — I’m indebted to those guys forever. But it’s harder than that. 

“You take responsibility for everything that happens. You take responsibility for every decision that’s made. You’re responsible for the minor league system to the draft to everything else. And I think that is something that makes it more challenging. 

“At some point, you got to ride a bike without the training wheels. ... It’s every single day, it’s every single minute of every single day. But it’s fun. And being with Jared Porter and Amiel makes it awesome.”

Time management is key when so many different people need you. Lovullo will want to talk to a player sometimes, for example, but then something will come up with the medical staff and he has to play catch up the rest of the day.

Managing in the tougher National League, Lovullo wishes he pulled the trigger on some decisions quicker.

“It really is very unsettling, because you can’t let your guard down. I think I was prepared on a certain level, but managing in the National League took me a little while to get in the flow of it,” Lovullo said. “I made some mistakes, no doubt about it.

“Maybe the pitcher’s coming up, and I'm not quite sure enough what direction I want to go. And I got to send the pitcher up on deck, and I still haven’t made up my mind — I got to call him back last minute.”

Hazen and Lovullo didn’t clean house when they got to Arizona. Perhaps what’s most impressive about the regime is how they’ve been able to institute change without wiping out what was in place. 

The first year for new GMs is often an evaluation year and Hazen acknowledged there’s some accuracy to that. But he emphasizes listening to what was already working well. A straight replication of the Red Sox model just wouldn’t work.

“There are pieces to every organization that are really, really good. Every single organization,” Hazen said. “And we’ve tried to identify those things and tried to build on those. ... And then there have been parts of the process that we felt like, I think, some of the things we had learned in other places, we felt like may have been done better.”

Like?

“There are things that we brought into, say, the draft from an analytics standpoint,” Hazen said. “[Director of amateur scouting Deric Ladnier] was awesome. We have a lot of really good scouts...And those guys embrace that stuff.

“It never overrode the quality scouting, and I think that’s important because that’s how we did it in Boston too...We’re trying to bring more information into all of our decision-making models. And so that can be, that impacts medical, that impacts analytics, that impacts scouting process. That impacts everything. And so we’re trying to really build that up.”

That, of course, means the use of something like Carmine — the database system the Red Sox are now phasing out in place of something meaner and leaner, Beacon.

“We do [have one], from a systems standpoint,” Hazen said. “But again, that’s something that we’re continuously trying to build and improve and develop, so they already had a system that we’re using and we’re, I think all 30 clubs probably have that now. 

“It’s not something that I feel like we’re — I hate to say it, it’s so cliche, but reinventing the wheel here.”

Corner infielders Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb have led the way offensively. But it’s the success of the D-backs rotation that’s been most notable. Zack Greinke has a 3.05 ERA and Robbie Ray 3.06. Hazen picked up Taijuan Walker from the Mariners as one of his first moves. He has a 3.30 ERA.

Hazen gave credit to the prior D-backs administration, to Dave Stewart, and to Tony LaRussa. The latter remains in the organization. 

“That’s the majority of the club that’s out there on the field,” Hazen said.

Both Lovullo and Hazen miss Boston. Arizona is a much different market, but Hazen isn’t necessarily enjoying being away from the fishbowl.

“I don’t feel differently in that regard,” Hazen said. “I can’t speak apples to apples because I wasn’t in the same position. But I think the pressure that you feel is, it’s an internal pressure...I mean, I personally don’t know if I could have felt worse about you know, some things [in Boston]."

The outlook for 2017 in Arizona has changed, Hazen said, because of how well the team has done. But the general plan is unaltered.

“One of the things we talk about more than anything else was ensuring that the process was going to remain a process no matter what,” Hazen said. “Torey and I have tough conversations. About things that have gone on during a game and I think what we’ve tried to, what we want to, establish is a commitment to really playing really good baseball every night. That’s going to take time. We’re a young team. That takes a lot of really good coaching.”

They’ve had that. There was certainly a contingency of fans in Boston that thought Lovullo should have taken over for Farrell. There’s a contingency that dislikes Farrell no matter what he does. 

Lovullo knows the criticism his former mentor faces.

“I just would like people to remember about the people that he’s touched and the branch of people that have fallen off of John Farrell,” Lovullo said, motioning in the dugout to Hazen, who was nearby. “This guy’s one of 'em right? He hired Mike Hazen. No one knew who Mike Hazen was. He’s also won a world championship and he’s won an AL East title in four years. He’s done some really special things, and I'm grateful for my relationships with him. I’m grateful for what he’s taught me. And I'm thankful for all that because I wouldn’t be here without him today.”

Here, today, the Diamondbacks have a better record than the Red Sox, a surprising and excellent way for Hazen, Lovullo, Sawdaye and Porter to begin their next chapters, no matter how the season finishes.
 

Pedroia, healing well, says he could have handled 2017 differently

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Pedroia, healing well, says he could have handled 2017 differently

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Often, Dustin Pedroia is not one to expound on his feelings publicly. His interviews with media can be amusing and witty, but they also can be terse. In 2017, they tended toward the latter. 

A welcome-to-spring session with reporters on Saturday brought out 20 minutes of another side of Pedroia, one that seemed almost eager to expound. He was cast in a poor light last season, the year's troubles started to compound early.

Pedroia said Saturday the knee he had repaired in the offseason had been bothering him since April. He called the surgery “the best decision I could have made.” 

“My knee doesn’t hurt,” Pedroia said. “Last year, waking up and walking around was painful. It’s not fun to live your life like that. Having the surgery, I could tell immediately that I was feeling better. Not one time did I have any pain in the entire process. Now, it’s just building strength and getting back to being athletic and things like that and your body picks that up quick.”

Pedroia, 34, didn’t share a timetable. The initial expectation, at the point Pedroia went for the surgery, was that he would be out until at least May.

He shared how he thinks the Red Sox need greater leadership as a group, not just from one individual.

"I’ve thought a lot about this, you know and I’m thinking, man, you know, you guys write all these stories about how we don’t have enough leadership and all this stuff,” Pedroia said. “I’m like, thinking about it, I’m like, when did the Red Sox start getting successful? From 2002 or whatever on. You know, they had Tek [Jason Varitek]. But not only did they have Tek, but they had David [Ortiz], they had Trot Nixon, they had Johnny Damon. There was a ton of core players that were leaders. 

“And then you look at the next championship they won, they had David, Tek, Mike Lowell, Alex [Cora]. There’s multiple leaders. And then ’13, there’s multiple leaders. So I think our core group, our guys that [are young], it’s my responsibility, I need them and they need me and we all have to work together. Because it’s not one leader. And everybody always says that, it’s not one guy in baseball. 

“We have to go be together and know that. I know David’s gone, but you know when Tek was done, we were okay. Because he built that into David, and David’s built that into me to where I got to do a better job of finding a way to get everybody to realize that it’s not one guy, it’s everybody. And that’s — after thinking about it — that’s what it is."

There was more. A lot more. The team, Pedroia said, became too results-oriented in the short term last year.

“It was more ‘Hey, what are our results today? We’ve got to do good today,’” Pedroia said. “‘Bogey’s got to get four hits today. Mookie’s got to live up to huge expectations,’ instead of being who you are, and that’s especially in this environment that’s how you have to be. You have to understand you’re going to be bad and you’re going to be great.”

Twenty minutes in, the second-to-last question was a brief return to last year’s form. Terse.

Pedroia was asked whether there was a team discussion about the handling of the Manny Machado and Dennis Eckersley incidents.

"Yeah, we talked about those things,” Pedroia said, matter of factly. 

It was by far the shortest answer he gave Saturday and stood out for that reason.

Pedroia and everyone else listening knew well that the question, which he did technically answer, was meant to provide some level of insight into those discussions. 

The conclusion: last year still isn’t easy to talk about. Which may be a positive sign. Consider: Pedroia’s reputation as a team leader was questioned. A prideful person who believes in his work, who cares about his standing and his reputation, would be made uncomfortable by last year’s proceedings.

A follow-up question came, and it was something of a breakpoint. Did those discussions resolve the issues quickly, was anything lingering?

He could have given a similar yes-no answer again. 

He didn’t.

“Yeah, no, I mean, I think as a team, no, we were together all the time. You know, those things happen,” Pedroia said. “I mean it’s baseball. I think when you sit back and look at it. Could it have been handled differently? Without question. I mean, 100 percent. It’s like everything in life. You make mistakes and then you don’t make mistakes. So, you know you learn from it, you move forward, you understand if you’re in another situation like that, if you want to do something different, do something different. And that’s what we all took out of it.”

On Saturday, he did something different.

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Hanley Ramirez follows Tom Brady's plan, looks less like Ray Lewis

Hanley Ramirez follows Tom Brady's plan, looks less like Ray Lewis

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The 2018 Red Sox could be an episode of Hanley vs. Time.

Hanley Ramirez , the presumed Red Sox designated hitter — and perhaps more often this year, first baseman — said Friday at JetBlue Park he’s lost 15 pounds thanks to The TB12 Method. Ramirez was listed in the 2017 media guide at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds.

“More [TB12] bands,” Ramirez said. “I went on the Tom Brady’s diet. I think it’s 100 percent, everything he says in the book and the work he does, it makes a lot of sense.

“The good thing about Tom Brady is winning. He’s about winning and making his team better. When you’ve got a guy like that, who inspires people to get better and to show to others that age is just a number when you do the little things right, that’s what he does.”

Ramirez is still a big man, but now he's thinking more about little muscles. 

"When you’re young, you need the big muscles to get stronger,” Ramirez said. “When you get in that age past 30, you’ve got to concentrate on the little muscles. You get that power from the big muscles. When you get hurt, most of the time those little muscles stop working. So you’ve got to keep working on those little muscles, which is what those [exercise] bands do.”

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Not a bad entrance for Ramirez, invoking the GOAT publicly. But Ramirez is loud normally. Friday was his first day at Sox camp.

“He made sure we knew he was here. He was loud in that clubhouse,” manager Alex Cora said. “That’s always good. I visited with him in December and he talked to me about his workout program, his offseason program, his new one. I saw him today and he looks a lot different than what I saw the last two years. The last two years he reminded me a lot of Ray Lewis, as far as how big he was. Now he’s going to be more mobile, flexible and he’s upbeat.”

Ramirez is 34 and in what could be the final year of his Red Sox contract. He needs 497 plate appearances to trigger a $22 million contract option for 2018, an option the Red Sox like don’t want to kick in — particularly given the current state of the free-agent market. Of course, if Ramirez is absolutely mashing, they might feel differently.

He wasn’t mashing a year ago.

The drop in offense from the 2016 Red Sox to 2017 was remarkable, considering how many players’ numbers fell in concert. Ramirez was in that group. He hit seven fewer home runs (23) in 2017 while playing 14 fewer games than he had the year before, and saw 44 points fall off his batting average, from .286 to .242. 

Ramirez was bothered by his shoulders all of last year, both of them, and had the left one surgically repaired. How bad was it?

“Literally, I was hitting with one arm last year and I hit 23 [homers],” Ramirez said Friday. “Now that I feel good, there are not going to be excuses. Better go out there and hit 30."

His throwing shoulder, his right, was not repaired. But that shoulder is said to be better as well. He said he’s been throwing for three weeks, and that includes some long toss. If his shoulders stay strong he should be more readily available at first base. He played 133 games there in 2016, but just 18 games in 2017.

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