Pregame interview with Terry Francona
Red Sox manager discusses lineup changes, Lester's recovery
I remember last year at the baseball winter meetings I asked you about Jon Lester, and you were taking the approach that baseball is a good goal to have, and I'm paraphrasing what you said, let's get him healthy, and if he gets healthy and comes back, that will be a beautiful thing. Well, here we are on the eve of Jon Lester pitching in the 2007 World Series. The optics are pretty touching, wonderful to talk about. Can you talk about how you feel sizing up what he's gone through and what he's about to experience?
TERRY FRANCONA: Well, I respected Jon. I don't know what he's gone through. We were proud of Jon before this. What he went through was a very difficult winter I'm sure for he and his family. He handled it with grace, a lot of dignity, a lot of perseverance, and because of that, some really neat medical people, the fact that we're even talking about baseball is really awesome.
I think before Jon picked up a ball this year it was already a successful year. Now, saying that, I think Jon is a smart enough young man to know that when he steps on the mound it's all about beating the other team. It makes for a wonderful story that people want to write about, which I understand, but it's about him being better than the Rockies, and I think he has a very good understanding of that, especially for a younger guy.
We all learned in Game 2 that Brad Mills calls your throw overs. Can you talk about some other things he does for you that make him so valuable to you?
TERRY FRANCONA: Yeah, and I don't want to give away the farm in the scouting report, but he does a lot. He's given a lot of responsibility. You know, back to spring training, he organizes a day, he's about as organized as you can get, but he does all the signs from our dugout going to the field, from the pitchers to the catchers to the infielders. I think I'm stating the obvious when I say there's a lot of faith on my part. I know in spring training if I get pulled in a different direction, the day is going to go just like we expect it to go, whether I'm there or not. He's been a good friend and he's a good worker.
Sometimes when things happen on the field you get a chance to maybe brag about things that people do every day, but especially under these circumstances, and that makes me feel good.
Could you talk a little bit about what Ellsbury gives you at the top of the order?
TERRY FRANCONA: Well, we're hoping he'll give us a guy that gets on base a bunch of times tonight, maybe a couple stolen bases, runs scored. You don't know until the game is over. The feeling was, though, just to break up he and Ortiz, not have back to back left handed hitters. Since Youkilis isn't playing we'd like Pedroia to hit second.
The Ortiz decision, I know -- when you're going through that, are you always appreciating that this is -- other teams don't have this decision because they don't have as valuable a designated hitter and as good a third baseman and first baseman? Are you always able to keep it in that positive light while making that evaluation?
TERRY FRANCONA: No, not always. I think there's times we get a little whiny about it. I think during Spring Training during Interleague Play I had my fair share about that. But I understand your point and we're appreciative of the fact that we have good players. I get asked this so much and maybe just wasn't expecting that. Again, that's probably my lack of foresight. The other thing that didn't surprise me is the way Youk handled it.
I guess maybe people were expecting this to be an issue, and never once did it enter into my mind that it could be an issue. I wish that we could play under different rules, but we can't, so we'll do the best we can, and our players understand that.
We see Jon's numbers this year, but how did he pitch when he got in trouble? How did you get in trouble and how do you project him for years to come as far as pitching?
TERRY FRANCONA: Jon has a way, as a lot of young pitchers do, of kind of maybe working himself into trouble. What's sort of special about him is he has a way of working himself out of trouble. He's had games the last two years, and again, we can't lose sight of the fact that he's a very young pitcher in the Major Leagues. His pitch count can get elevated a little bit. His development also got -- the pitching part of the development got stopped, also got impeded, which didn't help.
The last I'd say six weeks or so, the ball is really starting to come out of his hand kind of like the reports we got in '05. Even last year when Jon came to the big leagues, and there's no way of knowing when this started to be a factor of his pitching -- we talked about his back hurting for a while and things -- we just didn't know. But we didn't see the '93 to '94, '95, with the tight cutter all the time. He still had a way of competing and he had a good record and he was good, but there were some reports back in '05 that -- probably the development people didn't know, Papelbon, Lester, which is a pretty awesome comparison. The last six weeks the ball is starting to come out of his hand again. I think in the future you're looking at a young, sturdy left hander with a real clean delivery that we think can be a good starter for a long time.
You mentioned wishing the rules were different. What would you prefer to see at this level for the DH situation? How would you rather see it?
TERRY FRANCONA: Well, I'd rather have a DH, and some of that is not just because of the game, it's just because we're set up that way. We have a very special guy in David Ortiz, so some of it is personal wanting us to win, not just the rules of the game.
The season J.D. Drew had, it's fair to say he wasn't so well received all the time from Boston fans. Can you talk about how you saw his season and what the production he's provided in the last few games might mean for him and his relationship with the people in Boston?
TERRY FRANCONA: Well, his relationship with the people in Boston, again, he's not running for mayor. We want him to help us win. It was a little bit inconsistent at times, and the production wasn't always there. There's a lot of different reasons for that. And sometimes that happens. This is -- you know, you try to plug in before the year how you think your team's numbers are going to end up, but it's not fantasy baseball, and there are people involved in health and emotions and children, and that's just the way the game is. But we could have run away from him or we could stay patient. I think the patience is paying off. He's been a really good player.
You touched upon the approach that Jon has taken, especially down the stretch. He seems like he wants to focus on just playing baseball, not even really wanting to touch upon what he's gone through too much. How impressed are you with the approach he's been taking and just kind of -- he just wants to basically seem like a regular ball player, doesn't he?
TERRY FRANCONA: I think he is a regular ball player. He's gone through some traumatic things in his life, and that's what I was trying to touch upon in the beginning. He's a very smart young man, and if you get a chance to talk to his folks, which you probably don't, but I think he has a very good understanding when he gets on the mound what this game is about. I think he also has a very good understanding when he's off the mound of what his life is about.
I thought he was a very grounded young man before this all happened. Now that he's gone through what he has, I think we think it's even more -- gone through a lot. He's handled it with a lot of grace, like I said before, a lot of dignity.
When you decided to take Youkilis out, did you consider anybody else besides Ellsbury for one of the top two spots in the lineup, or was that just kind of all the same decision?
TERRY FRANCONA: Well, we thought about certainly -- Coco is always in the thinking because this centerfield is big. But then the reason we had put Ellsbury in was to try to get more offense, so all of a sudden you take a guy that was in at the bottom of the order, you elevate him to the top of the order, those are some of the conversations we had, and we ended up going this way. There were certainly some other ways we could have done it, but this was how we felt. And again, we have to do it before the game instead of after, which isn't always the easiest, but this is how it felt like we could line up the best tonight.
Can you talk about Jon Farrell's name has been out there as a managerial candidate. You talked a little bit about Brad Mills earlier. How surprised are you, he's been with you almost every step of the way, that Brad's name isn't mentioned more as a candidate for Major League Baseball?
TERRY FRANCONA: Maybe that's hurting him. I am surprised. I don't understand it. It's kind of one of those situations where you hate to lose somebody, but you certainly, for their career or their wants or desires, you'd like to see at least get an opportunity. And I really don't understand it. I think there's some organizations that are maybe missing out on a guy that could make a difference, because he does that every day here.
Courtesy of FastScripts by ASAP Sports. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.