Two huge early signs
Beckett, Papelbon big news at camp
Jonathan Papelbon showed up to camp a day early, giving him a chance to meet new teammate Josh Beckett. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- ''Jon Papelbon," the 25-year-old said yesterday, extending his pitching hand to teammate Josh Beckett. There wasn't a Boston cameraman or photographer in sight at the Red Sox' minor league complex yesterday afternoon, and the instant when the pitchers made each other's acquaintance on Florida's west coast went undocumented. But the moment was a fascinating study of just how much power could be atop the Sox' rotation.
Papelbon is listed at 6 feet 4 inches, 230 pounds, Beckett 6-5, 220. But their bodies are discernibly different. Because, before the chubby face, before the goatee, before the prodigal arm, before anything else, when you look at the former Marlin, your eyes take you to his legs. The bio says Beckett is 1 inch taller than Papelbon, but it doesn't mention anything about distribution of those 77 inches, and Beckett's torso rises noticeably higher than Papelbon's. Upon first sight, the source of Beckett's power -- the transference of kinetic energy between legs and right arm -- comes as little surprise.
''This kid shakes your hand," manager Terry Francona noted yesterday, ''and your whole body shakes."
Beckett and Papelbon weren't due in camp until tomorrow, but both showed up yesterday, and Beckett, along with former Indians reliever David Riske, threw bullpen sessions on side-by-side mounds outside City of Palms Park. Beckett was spinning off curveballs and locating fastballs, and, after disappearing into a weight room, emerged to say he believes he's healthy.
''I think I'm fine," he said. ''I threw a bullpen today. I've thrown about eight other bullpens. I haven't had any setbacks. We're good."
Beckett is quickly learning he's no longer pitching for old-school skipper Jack McKeon. At the Sox' behest, the 25-year-old, who dealt with elbow tendinitis last season, cut his offseason throwing program nearly in half (eight bullpens vs. the 14 he threw an offseason earlier). The Marlins, Beckett said, went with a four-man rotation last spring and wanted those four to show up ready to pitch.
''I think things are a little different over here," Beckett said. ''They want us to ease into it."
Problem is, Beckett doesn't ease into much, and Francona has made it a point of reminding Beckett, ''The last thing I want you to do is throw 98 [miles per hour] the first day. I want you to throw 95 in August.
''I'll remind him another 10 times," Francona said. ''It's human nature to want to. I know he's pitched in big games, so he's not nervous. But, he's also human, he's new here, and he's trying to show everybody what he can do. I told him, 'Don't do anything stupid. Just get ready for the season.' "
Beckett has already made one wise move, he figures, in electing to wear No. 19. Both he and Papelbon will draw enough comparisons to Roger Clemens without putting the No. 21 he wore in Florida on his back.
''I don't want all the comparisons," said Beckett, who wore No. 19 in the minor leagues and in high school and still has to negotiate a purchase price for the number with Mike Lowell, who'd intended to wear 19. ''I wanted to be my own person. I want it to be my own deal."
And by all accounts, Beckett seems to be his own man, capable of and willing to say what he thinks. For instance, when asked about his new team's prospects, he said, ''We'll see. Baseball's not played on paper. We proved that last year with the Marlins.
''We had the best team I've ever been on," he said, including the 2003 edition that won the World Series, with him as MVP, ''and we couldn't put it together."
This time around, in a new city, team, and league, Beckett refuses to address his own expectations.
''Expectations?" he said. ''That's a weird word."
''I just want to stay healthy," he said. ''That's it. That's my only goal. If I stay healthy, I think the other goals will take care of themselves."
The adjustment, he said, will be eased with the presence of former Marlins Lowell (2005 National League Gold Glove winner at third base) and Alex González (not a Gold Glove winner, but in that discussion each summer) over his right shoulder.
''It's kind of cool," Beckett said. ''I've got the whole left side of my infield. As everybody knows, those guys can pick it. It's going to help me. As far as I'm concerned, Alex González could have won the Gold Glove in the National League the last three years. And Mike Lowell finally won one last year. I think [voters are] finally getting out of the deal where your average has to be over .300 and you have to hit 30 homers to win a Gold Glove."
Papelbon, meanwhile, came to camp gladhanding clubhouse attendants as would a veteran arriving for the umpteenth time. In actuality, he's never been in big league camp. A year ago, he worked out with the minor leaguers until the summons came to pitch that fateful spring game at Fort Lauderdale, where he blazed a fastball up around Sammy Sosa's head, in retaliation for overpowering righthander Daniel Cabrera twice going inside on, and once hitting, Jay Payton.
Papelbon, before that March afternoon, had never pitched above Single A. But, with the poise he exhibited at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, Johnny Damon said Papelbon was ready to be a member of the Red Sox. It sounded like hyperbole, but Damon wasn't far off. Did Papelbon realize the kind of seminal moment that was?
''Now that I look back on it, maybe so," he said. ''At the time, no. I was just trying to compete. I just wanted to earn the respect of my teammates. I guess maybe I did that. It feels good to have guys want you on the team."
Now, he has a spot on the team, which even he still has difficulty grasping.
''I don't feel like I have a spot here," he said. ''I still feel like I have to earn my keep here and keep showing Tito and the guys that I'm here to win."
Francona said Papelbon will likely prepare during the spring as a starter would, to ready his arm for that kind of workload. But how he fits -- with seven starting pitchers reporting to camp, and with Keith Foulke's effectiveness an unknown -- is anything but resolved.
Francona has talked to Papelbon about how to prepare himself, but, the manager said, ''I can't communicate something I don't know. He's going to pitch with a lot of responsibility. We view him as a starter, myself included. Do we get to that on April 1? I can't guarantee that. I think it's safe to say we'll treat him as a starter [in camp]."
Papelbon, who closed games at Mississippi State, intends to do as asked.
''Of course I would like to be a starter, yes, but at the same time I want to help my team win," he said. ''If I'm helping my team win in the bullpen, that's what I want to be doing. If I'm helping my team win in the rotation, that's what I want to be doing.
''For me, whatever they want me to prepare to do, I will. Hopefully, down the road, things will start getting clearer and clearer for me."
He realizes there is work to be done, some mental (learning the hitters, learning the league), some physical (he's adding a two-seam fastball with movement, to complement his riding four-seamer).
''I think my two-seamer will be the pitch to really take me to the next level," he said. ''Right now, I'm mainly a four-seam guy. If I can get that down, I think I'll be all right.
''What I want to improve on is my mental approach. What I realized is once I got up there, it was tougher and tougher on a day-to-day basis to stay focused and figure out what I need to do. I'm just going out there trying to be Jonathan Papelbon, not Roger Clemens, not Josh Beckett, not anybody else."
He and Beckett got the introductions down yesterday. Now comes putting something behind those names.