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Francona: 'It was a good step today talking to Dice'

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff  July 29, 2009 06:00 PM

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Red Sox manager Terry Francona said he spent “a pretty good deal of time” on the phone with pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka today, who recently voiced frustrations in the Japanese media over differences with the organization on how he should be training and the way its affected his performance this season.

Francona said the conversation was a healthy one, pointing out that Matsuzaka made an effort to speak in English, which Francona respected. In the end, Francona, who along with Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, initially said they were disappointed, made it seem as though the team and the pitcher had come to a better understanding of each other after the conversation.

“He made some points to me, which I appreciated,” Francona said. “He understood how we felt, and he was trying to make some points. The points I made to him were, 'Yeah, this is how we felt now where do we go from here.' I think that we had a real good day.

The goal of the conversation was to take the emotions out of it and move forward, Francona said.

“If you’re mad at somebody, or you’re disappointed in somebody, sometimes you raise your voice, sometimes you get mad," he said. "Hopefully, when you get take the emotion out of things, then you come up with, ‘How do you make this better?” That’s how you always try to approach it and we got there today.”

Francona said he gave Matsuzaka a written exercise asking him to list the things that bothered him, so the manager would have a clearer idea. Among the items on the list were pitch counts and mound visits.

“Trips to the mound, sometimes he didn’t view it like we do,” Francona said. “When John Farrell makes a trip to the mound, we’re not trying get in the way of the game, we’re trying to help. But if it doesn’t help then we want to try and know why."

Francona acknowledged that as much as the Red Sox had done to make the transition from Japan to America an easy one for Matsuzaka, that there were some things they couldn’t account for.

For instance, neither Matsuzaka nor reliever Hideki Okajima was prepared for the travel, Francona said. “Both of them kind of hit a wall,” he said. There was also the strike zone, significantly different between the two countries. Another subtle but significant difference was the actual American baseball.

“You pick up a Japanese baseball, and I think the best word is almost ‘supple,’” Francona said. “You don’t need to rub them up. You take it out of the box and go play and it’s got a nice feel. That immediately got in the way of his split, and I understand that.”

Francona frequently sympathized with Matsuzaka’s position.

“I don’t think it’s fair for us to expect him to come to the United States join our team and jump on board when he hasn’t done that his whole life,” he said. “Saying that there are some things that we’re not willing to bend on because of health and productivity, and he understands that. I don’t know if he fully agrees. If I grew up in a different environment with different training methods I probably would feel the same way, so we’re trying to put our heads together and come up with the best of both as opposed to knocking heads.”

At the same time, he said there were certain things that the team would be unwilling to bend on.

“We do not discourage him from throwing as long as his shoulder can handle it,” Francona said. “He likes that physically, the touch and the feel, the repetition which I understand. He has to be able to handle it or it doesn’t do him any good. He’s going to regress. His shoulder’s going to be weaker, he’s going to go to an area where our medical people know he’s asking for trouble.”

“So when it gets to that point, we don’t let him. We’ve had to shut him down, we’ve had to cut his throwing back. We’ve told him if he shows up and he’s in shape and his shoulder’s strong then we will not get in the way of his throwing. That’s where we’re at with him and he understands that. Now it’s his responsibility to be that so he can throw.

In all, Francona said, “It was a good step today talking to Dice.”

*** Francona gave an update on Tim Wakefield, saying that he threw from 60 feet yesterday, but also saying that there was no timetable for when Wakefield would throw from the mound.

“Wake is throwing as tolerated,” Francona said. “Yesterday he was about at 60 feet. We’re just not trying to go backwards. It’s a little bit slow. He is getting better. We’re encouraged I think he is. You guys saw him, he was walking crooked for about a week. I think he’s slowly starting to get better which is good. I don’t have a timetable when he’ll throw off the mound, but he’s doing better."

*** Francona offered some inside baseball after last night, when the Sox decision to give up third base to runners played a role in their 9-8 loss. Francona was of the school it was as risky to defend third -- giving up the gap on the left side of the field to hold the runner at second while at the same time covering third -- as it was to let him run, since a single would score most runners from second anyway.

“When a guy runs into third uncontested, and the crowd ooos and ahhs like we haven’t paid attention and they fooled us – there’s times when we elect not to do that. And that makes sense.

“There’s a lot of different things that we think about that actually is kind of fun to think about during the game that doesn’t ever get noticed, but it’s just interesting. A lot of conversation goes on in the dugout about why.”

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